By Brett Weiss
Half a century ago, wayward teens, disaffected twenty-somethings, political dissidents, and others from around the country flocked to San Francisco, especially to the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood. These hippies, hippie wannabes, and latter day beatniks came for the music, the casual sex, the psychedelic drugs, to protest the Vietnam War, and to rebel against the type of consumerism, conformity, and societal norms born of the 1950s. Some of the people, swayed by reports on the news, simply came out of curiosity and to check out the “happening scene.”
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love, when San Francisco grew in population (at least temporarily) by more than 75,000 people. Many members of this counterculture revolution had flowers in their hair, as Scott McKenzie sang in his hit single, San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair), which was penned by John Phillips of the Mamas & the Papas. Many sported long hair (during a time when doing so could get you beat up if you were a guy) and donned such ragtag garb as satin hip huggers, second-hand blue jeans, and tie-dyed T-shirts. Shoes were optional.
One attractive aspect of the Haight-Ashbury district, which was named after the crossing of the two streets, was its cheap housing, where young people, including artists, writers, and musicians, lived communally in large, two-story Victorian houses. Well-known denizens of the area included the Grateful Dead (first known as the Warlocks), who shared a house on Ashbury Street. Janis Joplin lived down the road from the Dead, as did Country Joe McDonald of Country Joe and the Fish. The members of Jefferson Airplane lived nearby as well. In fact, the title of the Airplane’s 1987 compilation album, 2400 Fulton Street, reflects the address where they lived in the Haight.
The Summer of Love reaching the half-century mark has sparked renewed interest in “hippie” memorabilia, as reflected by the recently ended Entertainment and Music Memorabilia Signature Auction conducted by Heritage.
One of more expensive items sold at the auction was the original Tony Curtis cutout from the cover of the Beatles’ highly influential Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album, which was a key release in June of 1967, acting as a signpost of sorts for the Summer of Love. It went for $57,500. Not only is this cutout a unique rock music artifact, it is desirable for those interested in Hollywood memorabilia as well, since Curtis was a big movie star, appearing in such films as The Defiant Ones (1958) and Some Like it Hot (1959).
Also selling for $57,500 was a factory sealed copy of the original “butcher cover” for the Beatles’ Yesterday and Today (1966). The album cover photo, shot by Robert Whitaker, depicts the band wearing white butcher smocks and covered with chunks of raw meat and body parts from plastic baby dolls. McCartney saw it has their commentary on the Vietnam War, but adverse reaction to the gruesome photo caused Capitol Records to recall the album in order to replace the cover image with something more benign. Thus, few copies of the original made it to the general public.
The Doors, an L.A. band with psychedelic overtones, were represented in the sale by a signed copy of Waiting for the Sun, which went for $6,250, and a circular poster advertising one of their shows at the Kaleidoscope, which sold for $8,125. Items featuring the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, and Janis Joplin also sold for thousands of dollars.
On the other end of the spectrum pricewise, a number of psychedelic rock concert posters sold for “just” $500, including an original uncut sheet for two 1968 New Year’s Eve concert posters painted by Lee Conklin featuring the Grateful Dead, Vanilla Fudge, and the Quicksilver Messenger Service.
During the mid-to-late 1960s, and up through the early 1970s, posters such as these, with their ornate lettering, dayglow colors, bizarre imagery, distorted figures, and dreamlike landscapes, were used to advertise concerts at such venues as the Fillmore West and the Avalon Ballroom. Painted by the likes of Rick Griffin, Bonnie MacLean, Stanley Mouse, Alton Kelley, Wes Wilson, and other masters of outré art, psychedelic posters exhibit influence from a number of styles, including Art Nouveau, Dada, and Pop Art.
Joe Goldmark, co-owner of Amoeba Records on Haight Street in San Francisco, recalls acquiring promotional psychedelic posters from a local shop during the Summer of Love.
“I would go down to the Psychedelic Shop every week and get my free poster for concerts at the Fillmore. I was at the Human Be-In in 1967 with my girlfriend when I was in junior high school.”
Held at the polo field in Golden Gate Park on Jan. 14, 1967, the Human Be-In was a precursor to the Summer of Love. Organized by artist Michael Bowen, it was a “Gathering of Tribes” advertised by press releases, a press conference, posters (now worth $2,000 or more each), and, of course, word of mouth. It was also announced on the cover of the fifth issue of the San Francisco Oracle (early issues of this underground paper routinely sell on eBay for $100-$200 each).
Reflecting on the Human Be-In, Barry Miles, author of Hippie (2004, Sterling Publishing Co.), wrote, “All day long, people drifted to the park. The crowd was not there to protest anything, they had no demands to make, it was simply a celebration of being together.”
In Hippie, Miles describes the Human Be-In crowd of roughly 30,000 thusly: “The field girls were in long dresses and mini-skirts, mothers were with babies, people wore masks, fancy dress, leather capes, feathers, body paint and see-through tops. There were people with tarot cards, astrologers, sufi dancers, Hare Krishna dancers, chanters, jugglers, stovepipe hats, porkpie hats, soap bubbles, balloons, people carrying kittens, people high on marijuana, people high on acid.”
The Human Be-In paved the way for the Monterey Pop Festival, which took place June 16-18, 1967 at the Monterey County Fairgrounds in Monterey, Calif. Monterrey Pop, which spawned a 1968 concert film by D. A. Pennebaker, featured such acts as the Who, the Steve Miller Band, the Quicksilver Messenger Service, Eric Burdon and the Animals, Otis Redding, the Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin with Big Brother and the Holding Company, Ravi Shankar, and The Jimi Hendrix Experience.
Predating Woodstock by two years, Monterey Pop epitomized all that was good about the Summer of Love, according to Dennis McNally, the Grateful Dead’s longtime publicist and official biographer. In a recent interview with the Associated Press, he said, “Every fantasy about the summer of ’67 that was ever created — peace, joy, love, nonviolence, wear flowers in your hair and fantastic music — was real at Monterey. It was bliss.”
McNally is one of the curators of an exhibit called “On the Road to the Summer of Love,” which runs through Sept. 10 at the California Historical Society in San Francisco.
By late August of 1967, the majority of Haight transplants had left San Francisco to resume their college studies or to simply to return home, and many of the original hippies had abandoned the Haight to live in communes in the surrounding rural areas, where they wouldn’t get gawked at by tourists coming through on buses. The true hippies, such as the Diggers, hated all the media attention.
Although hippies were still plentiful through the late ’60s and early ’70s, especially in larger cities, the Death of the Hippie ceremony was an official ending of the mass migration to San Francisco, as the event’s organizer, Mary Kasper, explained: “We wanted to signal that this was the end of it, to stay where you are, bring the revolution to where you live and don’t come here because it’s over and done with.”