When Counterculture Went Pop The Human Be-‐In and Haight-‐Ashbury, San Francisco – 1967 Brett Ruffenach 1201748370 30 April, 2012
The election of President John F. Kennedy in November of 1960 served as a milestone for a new generation. Filled with charisma, intellect, and a type of pragmatic political rhetoric that caught the ears and imagination of young people around the country, President Kennedy served as a beacon of hope for the future of the United States. “For the young,” Helen Swick Perry notes in her book The Human Be-‐In, “President Kennedy was the earliest classic example of someone at the highest level telling it ‘like it is.’”1 As the first president born in the 20th century, Kennedy clearly understood the magnitude of the moment when he stated in his inaugural address “that the torch has been passed to a new generations of Americans…unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this nation has always been committed,”2 President Kennedy wanted to galvanize the youth of America to act for a better tomorrow. Most notable of those who saw President Kennedy as the first to “tell it like it is” were the politically active intellectuals of elite higher learning institutions throughout the country – the “best and brightest” of their generation. These students, inspired by Kennedy’s message, began to work with political associations in an effort to create change both locally and nationally. Among the most effective of these organizations was the Student Non-‐violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), which was a product of the larger American Civil Rights Movement. SNCC began to have significant success in civil rights efforts throughout the south and ultimately attracted like-‐minded college students from across the country. Among these was Mario Savio, a Berkeley student who, after spending a summer organizing political activities with SNCC in 1 Perry, Helen Swick. 1970. The Human Be-In. New York: Basic Books, Inc., 43.2 Kennedy, John F. "Inaugural Address, 20 January 1961." John F Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, http://tinyurl.com/c3bv3jn (accessed April 23, 2012).
Mississippi in 1964, brought his newfound political activism back to his own college campus in California. Savio and his fellow students began to speak out against the Berkeley administration with accusations that they were treating their students as objects on an assembly line rather than human beings. This newfound consciousness and activism ultimately led the university, in an attempt to quell the growing sense of unrest, to ban the distribution of all political materials on the university campus. This only further motivated Savio and his fellow students to be heard. Savio went on to lead the Free Speech Movement, a protest effort on the Berkeley campus that aimed to reverse the limits of free speech imposed by the University.3 Consistent with other on campus civil rights efforts across the country, the Free Speech Movement illustrated the consciousness developed amongst college students in the late 1960’s. Having grown up in the prosperity of post-‐WWII United States, the move to a college campus found many students shocked and saddened upon exposure to racial strife domestically and a misguided war effort internationally. This led thousands to reconsider their lives and the implications of a commercialized American life. For many of these students the first choice was to act and attempt to change the system. But this idealist mindset soon ran into harsh political reality. Activist students experienced violence and even death during their time volunteering for SNCC. In addition, resistance from the Democratic Party in adopting their proposals on the national level, and continual oppression by the Republican Party to stop their 3 Chafe, William Henry. The Unfinished Journey: America since World War II. 3rd ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995. 310.
various protests and demonstrations made meaningful political in-‐roads all but impossible. In 1964, many new young activists were disheartened. By 1966, after the escalation of American forces in Vietnam and combined with the recent Republican victory of control over the Senate in the Midterm elections, these young individuals found themselves disillusioned, disheartened, and disengaged by the entire American political process. To many students, the only choice that seemed available was to step outside of the establishment and rebel from mainstream society. The disenfranchised students decided that maybe it would be best to follow the expression coined by Marshall McLuhan and ultimately made famous by Timothy Leary; “turn on, tune in, drop out.” “It became the battle cry for a new alternative: If the establishment refused to be reformed, give up on it.”4 Fortunately, at the very same time, a new culture was developing just across the bay, which presented these disillusioned students with opportunity to indeed “drop out.” With a similar mindset to those at Berkeley, many young people in San Francisco in 1966 looked at the mainstream culture of the United States, a society that they saw entrenched in “the middle-‐class opiates of television sit-‐coms, swimming pools, and alcohol,”5 and decided that this not only was something that they did not want to associate with, but also something that was literally harmful to their mental health. These people looked at the grey-‐flannel suited, married-‐with-‐children middle class American population and chose to create their own culture; a culture counter to those of mainstream society. While this counterculture was born out of many smaller reactionary movements in San Francisco and other parts of the 4 Perry, Helen Swick. The Human Be-In. 495 Greene, John Robert. 2010. America in the Sixties. Syracuse, NY, USA: Syracuse University Press. 139.
country, it fully bloomed in the Haight-‐Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco, where it gained full momentum in the summer of 1967. Importantly, months before that famous “Summer of Love”, the Oracle, a local paper based in the area, announced an event to be held in Golden Gate Park on January 14th, 1967 called “A Gathering of the Tribes for a Human Be-‐In.” this event gave not only full traction to the counterculture movement that was brewing in the Haight-‐Ashbury neighborhood but also led to important national exposure. Some 30,000 people of all paths, so-‐called hippies, as well as families, students, middle-‐class workers, and journalists attended this event, which was covered with intense interest by print and television media alike. It would ultimately serve as the major jumping off point for the inevitable immersion of counterculture into pop culture. Shortly following this event, San Francisco was viewed as the place to live, denim became the de rigueur style of clothing, and Jim Morrison and the Doors showed up on the Ed Sullivan show the following September.6 The very thing that these young tribesmen had wanted to get away from was the thing from which they could not escape. The Human Be-‐In, because of what it was and what it represented, served as the nexus between counter and pop culture. It was the first step towards the commercialization and eventual demise of the counterculture movement. The Arrival of the Seekers From as early as the 1940’s, Haight-‐Ashbury had served as an epicenter of cultural diversity. Although populated by a wide range of different ethnicities that would ultimately give it its passion and politics, those who would lay the path for the counterculture movement actually did not live in Haight-‐Ashbury. Rather, they 6 The Doors | Ed Sullivan show." SOFA Entertainment. http://www.edsullivan.com/artists/the-doors
lived in North Beach, an area just northeast of the neighborhood. This small bohemian area served as the home of the Beat Generation throughout the late 1950’s. Here resided many counterculture pioneers, including Allen Ginsberg and Neal Cassidy, who developed their mindset, style, and beliefs, and eventually laid the foundation for what would occur in Haight-‐Ashbury years later. Beginning at the east entrance to Golden Gate Park and extending east until it hit Market Street and is redirected northeast, Haight St. was originally surrounded by a smaller neighborhood with traditional bars, shops, and stores occupying the storefronts. The Haight-‐Ashbury moniker was applied in the late 1800’s in memory of two San Francisco city planners.7 Because of location and inexpensive rents, Haight-‐Ashbury quickly became known as a melting pot of different ethnicities, with its very own unique culture. Helen Swick Perry, a psychology researcher, was one of many who came to Haight-‐Ashbury in 1966 to see and study its culture. Her personal account of the transformation of the neighborhood as well as herself from an outsider to a self-‐proclaimed “hippie” is beautifully documented in her book The Human Be-‐In. At the beginning of her experience in the fall of 1966, Perry found herself as a stranger in a strange land. The new bohemians of the neighborhood with whom she quickly identified and joined, initially numbered less than 1,000 in a district of 30,000 people8, but they flooded the streets daily and brought a very visible culture with them. Along with the growing sense of freedom and change, the opening of new shops in the area brought radical changes to the Haight-‐Ashbury scene. By 1966, “seekers” or “flower children” – their original names before the onset of the widely 7 Carlisle, Henry C. "San Francisco Streets Named for Pioneers" Virtual Museum of the City of San Francisco. http://www.sfmuseum.org/street/stnames4.html (accessed April 15, 2012).8 Perry, Helen Swick. The Human Be-In. 9
accepted term “hippie” – found themselves frequenting the cheap storefronts such as The Psychedelic Shop, Mnasidika Boutique, and I-‐Thou coffee, which was actually opened by a State College Instructor.9 These shops, which reflected their customers’ beliefs and attitudes, ultimately attracted a younger audience such as Beatniks, artists, and students. Fearing this new group of people and weary of their personal choices (particularly those associated with drug use), the older storeowners opposed the new merchants and their storefronts, creating a series of conflicts between the two. One of the most heated conflicts between a new and the old merchants occurred in the fall of 1966, when Morris Moscowitz attempted to purchase a large storefront. He was the owner of the popular Telegraph Ave student meet-‐up spot in Berkeley called Moe’s Book Store. Foreseeing a further influx of Berkeley intellectuals and Free Speech Movement activists, the older merchants fought against the opening. Through a series of legal maneuvers involving insurance on the property, the older merchants prevented Moscowitz from opening the store. As a result, a store opened temporarily in the space known as Print Mint, creating a completely unintended result for the old merchants. As described by Perry, “Throngs of peace lovers, students from Berkeley, costumed ones from all over Christendom, and finally jostling and eager tourists pushed their way through its doors, buying famous Fillmore posters, peace posters of all kinds, salacious and/or political buttons, large blown-‐up photos of every daring artist anyone had ever heard of; in time, even one of the old merchants would enter the Print Mint rather sheepishly to make his own purchases for “interested relatives” in another part of the country.”10 9 Perry, Charles. The Haight-Ashbury: A History. 7710 Perry, Helen Swick. The Human Be-In. 35
The people who would compose the counterculture movement had arrived, and those who resided in the neighborhood prior to this transformation were not supportive of it. It quickly became apparent that it could not be stopped. Slowly, relations between the old and the new improved, largely through the dialogue and corporation facilitated by the Haight-‐Ashbury Neighborhood Council (HANC) that was started in 1959 and remains active to this day.11 HANC was a group of individuals who represented all aspects of the Haight-‐Ashbury neighborhood. Composed of residents, merchants, community organizers, and even professionals who only worked in the area, HANC managed, coordinated, and organized many aspects of the neighborhood. One major activity in which HANC participated was organizing events; many of them addressing what the committee thought were important political issues. In 1966, HANC organized a small event called the Festival of the Peoples, which was the first event Swick-‐Perry encountered in her study of Haight-‐Ashbury. This event took place in what is known as The Panhandle – a small extension of the east end of Golden Gate Park, one block north of Haight. The event served primarily as a political rally leading up to the 1966 election, with various politicians speaking and churches and community organizations represented. Perry attended the event believing it would be filled with her newfound associates. However, she was disappointed to learn there were virtually no hippies at this affair. She found the entire event horribly disorganized and boring. “I saw no particular evidence of a festival…I felt the almost complete anomie of the group.”12 Perry recalls. As it turns out, the animosity and estrangement developed between the hippies and the older merchants that made up 11 "History." Haight-Ashbury Neighborhood Council. http://www.hanc-sf.org/history/.12 Perry, Helen Swick. The Human Be-In. 13
of large part HANC is what caused the newcomers to not attend the event. In fact, Perry notes that many shops around Haight-‐Ashbury had hung signs that advocated hippies to not attend the event. HANC, too, took measures to actually prevent what they referred to as “tourists” from attending the festival.13 While HANC did indeed serve as a way for different groups of people who resided in Haight-‐Ashbury to communicate, they were initially unwelcoming to the newly developing and quickly growing hippie population. However as hippie culture became more present in Haight-‐Ashbury culture, their values became better understood and ultimately accepted by HANC. A Neighborhood Turned On By the time the 1966 election arrived, the counterculture movement was clearly gaining momentum in the neighborhood and with it new brought new challenges to the community infrastructure. Though there had been a jump in population as the older residents of the neighborhood had expected, to their surprise resources been set in place to compensate for the stress in infrastructure the increase had created. One example of neighborhood services provided at the time was the work of the Haight-‐Street Diggers.14 This group of individuals in Haight-‐Ashbury provided free services to the public in order to support the influx of new residents moving in the area. Described as the “worker-‐priests” of the hippie population by Hunter S. Thompson, the Diggers provided food, clothing, and shelter to the often hungry, homeless, impoverished people roaming the streets.15 The services provided by these groups positively contributed to the relationship 13 Ibid. 1614 "A Peoples History of the Sixties." The Digger Archives. http://diggers.org/history.htm (accessed March 13, 2012).15 Thompson, Hunter S. 1967. “The ‘Hashbury ‘is the Capital of the Hippies.” New York Times (1923- Current file), May 14, 1967.
between the hippies and the original residents and their cooperation would serve as an important part of maintaining stability in the neighborhood. As this area grew in population, the city of San Francisco was becoming increasingly concerned and began actively discouraging young people to come to San Francisco. Mayor John F. Shelly wrote a controversial letter to the Board of Supervisors of San Francisco, condemning the hippies of Haight-‐Ashbury, and proposed initiatives to stop migrants from sleeping in parks and organizations from providing free food or shelter, all in the name of preventing “a chaotic condition detrimental to themselves and to the residents of San Francisco.” It was at this point that HANC initially chose to officially stand behind the hippies. In a letter released in their official publication in April 1967, HANC affirmed its values in keeping Haight-‐Ashbury open to all people. In addition, HANC spoke out against the Mayor’s wishes and claimed that the proposed actions were unconstitutional and intolerable in a free society. 16 This support of the Haight-‐Ashbury hippies by HANC served as a milestone in the eventual adoption of hippie culture into mainstream San Francisco society. As time went on, the dialogue that occurred through the Council allowed the counterculture philosophy to be accepted and understood by all parties of the community. Hippies did very much compose a culture that was indeed counter to that of mainstream society, and while it is common for a younger generation to rebel against those before them, the hippies rebelled to a larger and more extreme degree than ever seen before. What was exceptional about this alternative society straining for their utopia was its location. Historically deviant groups would separate 16 Perry, Helen Swick. The Human Be-In. 23
themselves from mainstream society by setting up Tribalist communities in desolate natural areas such as the late-‐1800s transcendentalist community in Fruitlands, Massachusetts.17 While the counterculture movement embraced many elements of philosophy about nature, they chose to put their community in an urban environment. And so, joined by a common geography and united by a shared spirit, the Tribalist philosophy behind the Haight-‐Ashbury counterculture movement was clarified and ultimately composed of a few key ideas: Communalism. The hippie culture of Haight-‐Ashbury believed in the existence of a community as one. Food, housing, and other life-‐necessities were shared among all of its habitants. Although some of those involved in the counterculture movement with a more extreme Tribalist view took issue with the communities’ urban setting, their proposal to migrate and create a group in the forest where an entire community could be completely independent, sustainable and separated from “straight” culture never gained traction in nascent urban hippie community of San Francisco. 18 Flexibility. Hippies did not assume everything would go according to plan; in fact plans often were never even made. The concept of a schedule or arranging appointments was foreign to them, as they would constantly change plans if something more important came up.19 Egalitarianism. Hippies constantly considered and questioned the social hierarchy of their community and their position within it. This was a serious concern of theirs and they consistently strived to create equality amongst each of its 17 Ibid. 2718 Thompson, Hunter S. 1967. “The ‘Hashbury ‘is the Capital of the Hippies.” 12119 Perry, Helen Swick. The Human Be-In. 21
members. This philosophy was also reflected through their views on sex. Communal sex, or “free love,” as the hippies dubbed it, was based around the idea of everyone sharing their bodies with everyone else. Rather than viewing sex as a private, personal experience between two individuals, hippies viewed sex as a gateway to further immerse oneself into a connected community. The hippie movement’s elements of sexual freedom largely tied into a sexual revolution that was simultaneously occurring in mainstream society. Sexual freedom was a key aspect of the hippie philosophy. It meant cultural emancipation. It played into the communal lifestyle of hippies and contributed towards the heightening of hippie consciousness.20 This philosophy and lifestyle was clearly displayed by those who came to the streets of Haight-‐Ashbury-‐ often with flowers in their hair. Hunter S. Thompson’s article “The ‘Hashbury” is the capital of the Hippies,” published in The New York Times 14 May 1967, is a personal take on the state of the counterculture movement and more specifically the epicenter of it – the Haight-‐Ashbury district. Noting the origins of those who made up the counterculture movement, Thompson provided a specific description and analysis of what made up a “hippie,” and illustrated the culture that had accumulated in what he calls “the Hashbury”. Thompson in particular addressed drug use among hippies, “A serious problem in writing about the Haight-‐Ashbury is that most of the people you have to talk to are involved, one way or another, in the drug traffic.” Thompson discussed the byproducts of proliferated drug use in the neighborhood, noting that bars, clubs, and other 20 Greene, John Robert. America In The Sixties. 143.
recreational establishments had mostly closed down, and further explained that the use of psychedelic drugs and widespread poverty prevented most hippies from participating in any type of conventional entertainment. “Drugs have made formal entertainment obsolete in the Hashbury,” he explained, “but only until somebody comes up with something appropriate to the new style of the neighborhood.”21 Another interesting point made by Thompson was that the proliferation of LSD throughout “the Hashbury” made the streets significantly safer. “Burglars are still a problem but violence is increasingly rare,” Thompson reported, “…the fact that the hippies and the squares have worked out such a peaceful coexistence seems to baffle the powers at City Hall.” The final point that Thompson ultimately arrived at is that, while the traits of the counterculture movement were clearly present and centralized in the Haight-‐Ashbury neighborhood, these “drugs, orgies and freak-‐outs” were as familiar to a part of “the Bay Area’s respectable, upward-‐mobile society” as they were to “the colorful dropouts of San Francisco’s new Bohemia.”22 While these people chose to rebel against societal norms and operate outside of mainstream society, the very society they chose to abandon was changing and beginning to embrace the hippie philosophy. It seemed inevitable, much like the microcosm seen in the changing streets of Haight-‐Ashbury, that the counterculture would find common ground with pop culture. The first major step towards this union took place on January 14th, 1967. 21 Thompson, Hunter S. 1967. “The ‘Hashbury ‘is the Capital of the Hippies.” 12222 Ibid. 125
The Human Be-‐In The fifth edition of the Oracle, the major newspaper of Haight-‐Ashbury, was released in early January 1967, and featured a poster announcing a major event. The poster read that “A Gathering of Tribes for a Human Be In” was set to take place at the Polo Fields in Golden Gate Park on January 14th, 1967. Michael Bowen, an artist from San Francisco who played a vital role in organizing the event, created the poster in January 1967.23 The poster largely consisted of a picture of a shamanist-‐bearded man, with a triangle superimposed over his face and a third eye placed on the middle of his forehead, indicating in a not so subtle manner that this event was intended to be a spiritual journey based around internal self-‐discovery in pursuit of enlightenment. At the bottom of the poster in a psychedelic, occult stylized text, was a list of the artists set to perform, including now-‐legendary poets and speakers such as Allen Ginsberg and Timothy Leary. Below the spoken word performers, rather than listing the extensive lineup of bands including Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead, and Joan Baez, it simply read in large text “ALL S.F ROCK GROUPS.” Beyond the basic information regarding the details of the event, the only other text found on the poster was a simple suggestion: “Bring food to share. Bring flowers, beads, costumes, feathers, bells, cymbals, flags.”24 While the event did not possess a specific political purpose, it did serve as something in which each faction of the counterculture movement could gather together in peace and harmony. In a press conference held at Print Mint just two days before the event, Allen Cohen, the editor for the Oracle, made a statement describing the event as, 23 Cohen, Allen. "About the Human be-in" http://www.allencohen.us/24 Bowen, Michael. 1967. A gathering of tribes for a human be-in. San Francisco Oracle, 1967, sec 3 (accessed 02/09/2012).
“A union of love and activism previously separated by categorical dogma and label mongering will finally occur ecstatically when Berkeley political activists and hip community and San Francisco’s spiritual generation and contingents from the emerging revolutionary generation all over California meet for a Gathering of the Tribes for a Human Be-‐In…”25 The event took place roughly two miles from the eastern entrance to Golden Gate Park at Haight. With the stores on Haight Street closed, Hippies, flower children, beatniks, students, and middle-‐class professionals flooded the park. The weather was unusually clear and sunny for San Francisco and the park comfortably accommodated the estimated 20,000-‐30,000 people setting up their picnic blankets on the Polo Fields of Golden Gate Park.26 As the crowd on the Polo Fields grew, the Diggers set up to pass out thousands of turkey sandwiches while others distributed countless hits of a type of LSD called White Lightening. Owsley Stanley, the chief chemist and drug supplier behind the Haight-‐Ashbury trade, donated both the food and the drugs. The people attending the event were mostly dressed in fairly causal clothing; jeans, t-‐shirts, light jackets, skirts, and blouses. Others, however, came dressed in robes, flowers, long dresses and other exotic clothing. 27 Indeed, it was apparent that many event-‐goers had heeded the Oracle’s encouragement to “bring flowers, beads, costumes, feathers, bells, cymbals, flags.” But while the majority of those who came to The Human Be-‐In were Berkeley activists and hippies (as was the intention of those who organized the event), a good number of attendees came from more conservative life styles. Nurses from the nearby hospital, members of the church congregation just up the street, and most notably, news reporters from various local newspapers attended came to the Be-‐In. 25 Perry, Charles. The Haight-Ashbury: A History. 12226 LaMott, Kenneth. 1967. “A Non-Hip View of a Human Be-In.” Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File), Mar 26, 1967. A2327 Perry, Charles. The Haight-Ashbury: A History. 125
They were all there to witness and document what was widely felt to be a very important happening. But the presence of the photographers raised concerns among some of the hippies. As noted by Helen Swicky Perry in recounting her experience at the Human Be-‐In, “My firm opinion was that the seekers did not take kindly to cameras. But the vibrations were good at the Be-‐In, so the cameras were no problem.” Even she, a sympathetic and hippie supporter was pleasantly surprised at the response to the presence of the press “It was the flexibility of these young people that caught the establishment, including me at times, off guard.”28 Central to the attention of the growing crowd was a stage that served as a centerpiece of the event. As Allen Ginsberg gave Hindu blessings, photographers and journalists lined the front of the stage, continuing to closely document the day’s events. Soon Timothy Leary later came on and uttered his infamous proclamation to “turn on, tune in, drop out” to the 30,000 attendees. Later about a dozen rock bands from the area also took the stage and played long flowing enthusiastic sets much to the pleasure of the crowd who didn’t seem that bothered by the occasional loss of power. As the event was organized purely through volunteers, the PA system and electrical system set up on the stage experienced many difficulties throughout the day. When the sound system did manage to work, it lacked sufficient power to adequately reach the large crowd. Many of those attending were unable to hear or otherwise completely unaware of what was happening on stage. Still, a sense of calm and peace ran through the event. Even the Hell’s Angels, working as security and known to respond aggressively to any “security” issues, contributed to the positive vibes flowing through the Polo Fields by supplying childcare and technical 28 Perry, Helen Swick. The Human Be-In. 87
assistance for the sound.29 As the event came to a close in the evening, the crowd followed Ginsberg’s request to provide help in throwing away their trash, leaving the park unexpectedly clean. It was an unprecedented event for the Hippies, and it led the mainstream public to be exposed to the counterculture philosophy in a manner like never before.30 The major achievement of the Human Be-‐In was the counterculture mindset and philosophy that was communicated to mainstream society. The newspapers may have captured the event in photographs, but the true significance of it was documented in the articles written by the reporters who were there. For example, in a report to The Sunday Ramparts, Jann Wanner describes her experience at the event: “There they were, twenty thousand people having a good time all at once. It was anti-‐war only in the sense that the idea of war could have been the furthest thing from anyones mind. A thousand people gathered in Los Angeles and other cities on the same day for a similar get-‐together. Perhaps it was love.”31 The idea, the feeling, the philosophy – all of the exciting and indeed somewhat unsettling traits of this unique culture were brought to light by the reporters who found themselves in Golden Gate Park that Sunday afternoon. Throughout San Francisco and ultimately across the nation, mainstream society was turned on to the idea to just be. A Nation Turned On Following the Human Be-‐In, the counterculture movement began interacting with mainstream society more than ever before. Publications 29 Wenner, Jann. "The Gathering of the Tribes" The Sunday Ramparts, January 29 - February 12, 1967, 1967.30 Perry, Helen Swick. The Human Be-In. 8831 Wenner, Jann. “The Gathering of the Tribes.”
based around events in Haight-‐Ashbury exploded in popularity, with the Oracle reaching up to 500,000 readers, some editors estimated.32 New newspapers were started, too, such as the Haight-‐Ashbury Tribune and the Haight-‐Ashbury Maverick. The Berkeley Bard also began regularly reporting on what was happening in the area, contributing immensely to the new connection created between the Berkeley students and Haight-‐Ashbury hippies. The neighborhood became an epicenter of culture for the city and ultimately the country. As the events and lifestyle of the neighborhood became more known nationally, young people began heading west, in search of a way to be. The idea of heading west was further popularized by Scott McKenzie’s hit song “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair),” which, while in the process of reaching number four on the Billboard Hot 100, circulated a feeling of peace that was believed only to be found in San Francisco. Six months following the Human Be-‐In, the summer brought up to 100,000 young people to Haight-‐Ashbury in what became known as the Summer of Love.33 In addition to the influx of young people migrating to Haight-‐Ashbury, so too did San Francisco experience an increase in tourism, with people from all over the country coming to the city in pursuit of seeing this new culture firsthand. The Grey Line Bus Company capitalized on this and created a “San Francisco Haight-‐Ashbury District ‘Hippie Hop’ Tour,” advertised as “the only foreign tour within the continental limits of the United States.” Tourists were given a two-‐hour tour through the area, guided by a “Glossary of Hippie 32 "Summer of Love: Underground News." Public Broadcasting System. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/love/sfeature/oracle.html33 Perry, Charles. The Haight-Ashbury: A History. 172
Terms” provided to them at the beginning of the trip, and a bus driver with extensive knowledge about the area.34 This new interaction with mainstream culture created a sense of cynicism about the entire counterculture movement among those living in the area, beginning the inevitable decline that would occur in both the infrastructure and population of Haight-‐Ashbury. By October of 1967, the hippies who resided in Haight-‐Ashbury were fed up, and chose to proclaim “the death of the hippie.” In a report to The Washington Post, one reporter describes the march that occurred on October 6, 1967, with the intentions behind the event described by Digger Arthur Lisch. The residents of Haight-‐Ashbury waved flags and incense in the air and marched down the street, declaring “Hippie is dead. Now we are free.” An event led by The Diggers, Lisch describes the funeral as a way to “symbolically purge the area of its evil”. The very people who had worked endlessly the past 18 months to maintain some form of social stability through providing free resources to the Haight-‐Ashbury residents now faced a new society, overrun by “bad vibes” – an evil created by the influx of tourists and late-‐adopting hippies who were unable to follow the hippie mindset of “do your own thing.” Lisch goes on to discuss the recent move of many of Haight-‐Ashbury’s most creative people to more rural areas outside of San Francisco, and places the final nail in the hippie’s coffin with the announcement that the Psychedelic Shop would be closing in the coming 34 Ibid. 171
weeks.35 Haight-‐Ashbury had come to be just 18 months earlier, and now as the Diggers saw mainstream culture begin to absorb it, it chose once again to drop out, and declare the hippie, and its utopian society, dead. When Counterculture Went Pop Even those who didn’t leave their lives within the establishment and move to San Francisco began changing their lifestyle to align with the counterculture movement. This was particularly noticeable when it came to fashion. Moving away from 1950’s fashion – crew cuts, hats, and suits for men, and swelling, bouffant haircuts and knee-‐length dresses for women – the 1960’s and more specifically the counterculture movement brought new elements to fashion in pop culture. Most notable of this change was the adoption of blue jeans – described by John Robert Greene in his book America in the Sixties as “the quintessential article of youth protest clothing from the 1950s.” The adoption of denim by middle class largely represented a change in culture and mindset. Greene goes on to say, “Moreover, what became known as the “hippie look” – tie-‐dyed shirts, sandals, torn jeans, love beads – was worn by middle to upper-‐class college youth who were many things, but hardly hippies.”36 The philosophy of the counterculture movement was further popularized and commercialized through music and film, bringing the attitude so deeply entrenched in Haight-‐Ashbury to a national level. In particular, Bonnie and Clyde was among the first major motion pictures to bring to light the sentiment towards mainstream culture that so many young 35 “West Coast Hippies Play Dead.” 1967. The Washington Post, Times Herald (1959-1973), Oct 07, 1967.36 Greene, John Robert. America In The Sixties. 147
people in the 60’s seemed to identify with. Released in August 1967, Bonnie and Clyde served as “a veritable parable of radical youth in the 1960’s, a Rosetta stone for deciphering their utopian aspirations, destructive impulses, and revolutionary pretentions,”37 The Graduate, also released in 1967, also served as a way to display the confusion and loss of identity that was experienced by young people in the 1960’s, created by a life of expected comfort and prosperity. Whether placed in the context of self-‐destructive outlaws or introverted college graduates, expected comfort and prosperity within a consumer lifestyle was the very thing that created the counterculture sentiment. Having grown up in a society where what you own made up determined who you were in society, the youth of the 1960’s chose to reconsider their role in society, and after becoming alienated from and disillusioned by the American political process, chose to rebel against this culture and lifestyle of expected comfort and prosperity. Through this reconsideration and rebellion, a unique bohemia was organically created in the streets of Haight-‐Ashbury. As this society grew, it’s proximity to various facets of mainstream culture – beginning with the Human Be-‐In – became closer, and with this a greater understanding and acceptance of their philosophy and values. From HANC standing up against the Mayor in support of their new residents, to Scott McKenzie’s Summer Of Love anthem nearly topping the charts in late-‐1967, as the counterculture increased in popularity, mainstream culture continually absorbed it, mutated it, and found a way to combine it with a consumerist society. 37 Braunstein, Peter and Michael William Doyle. Imagine Nation: The American Counterculture of the 1960s and 70s. New York; London: Routledge, 2002. 261
Though the original intention was to rebel against the modern capitalist system, commerce played a key role in the inception and eventual end of the Haight-‐Ashbury counterculture society. The opening of shops aligned with the early-‐hippie mindset drove the right people to this neighborhood, and through the casual settings provided by Print Mint, I-‐Thou Coffee, and the Psychedelic shop, a petri dish for a budding culture was created. Through the development of a legitimate philosophy, culture, and arguably sustainable society, many goods which encapsulated this culture – jewelry, clothing, music – were commoditized. The unique lifestyle of these costumed strangers seen by so many through a television, a movie screen, or a magazine article gave way to the counterculture’s increase in popularity, and with this consumers developed a new interest the goods which seemed to represent this sought after utopia. Many businesses were able to capitalize and meet the new demand for denim jeans, tie-‐dye shirts, psychedelic light shows, and “acid rock” music. And while the counterculture movement undoubtedly had a significant affect on the mindset of many Americans, its legacy largely lies in the goods and services provided by large corporations – a reality that is quite contrary to the fundamental hippie philosophy. The counterculture movement may live on today, but seemingly only in the multimillion dollar music festivals put on throughout the world, in the tie-‐dye shirts found in the boy’s section of Target, in the high end stone-‐washed jean retailers in San Francisco, and in the Arts Centers throughout the country putting on productions of the musical Hair. The inception of the counterculture movement, and more specifically the utopian society of Haight-‐Ashbury from 1966-‐1968, was driven by commerce. And in the end, commerce is what brought it to its demise.
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