Get Your Own Summer of Love

In 1967, San Francisco, a city theretofore known for its earthquakes, Rice-A-Roni and a place for Tony Bennett to leave his heart, gave American culture its greatest gift: The Summer of Love (We Are the People Our Parents Warned Us Against: The Classic Account of the 1960s Counter-Culture in San Francisco, by Nicholas von Hoffman- $19.95). Yeah, there was lottsa sex and brain ravaging hallucinogenics, runaways, very bad poetry and bead and flower combinations that would persuade a kindergarten teacher to fail a 6 year old, but the “SoL” also gave us the Jefferson Airplane, Big Brother and the Holding Company the Grateful Dead, and CCR (Season of the Witch: Enchantment, Terror, and Deliverance in the City of Love, by David Talbot- $16). It was indeed a magical time that transformed simple words into sometimes extraordinary things (or at least other simple things). Bad became awesome, bread became money, cat became guy and a pad became a home. Wow. Can you imagine anything groovier? (Dictionary of American Slang 4th Edition by Robert Chapman- $45). What the “SoL” means to American history depends, of course, on your interpretation of what’s important and what is not. To our more politically conservative readers, the late 1960s offered the targeting of teenagers and non-conformists as viable markets. It also has stoked the economy by providing manufacturers (mostly in China, though) the most ubiquitous of Halloween costumes: The Hippie. To me, and others of my ilk, the “SoL” served as both a catalyst for and the galvanization of something that was transcendent: the marriage of compassion and action. Born out of the sense that anything was possible and that we are all far more similar than different, the simple folk of the “SoL” served as midwives to a wide array of contemporary movements, including:
  • Disability, women’s and minorities’ rights advocacy.
  • Environmentalism and concern about protecting wildlife, recycling and seeking and employing clean and renewable energy resources.
  • Vegetarianism and concern about animal welfare.
  • Programs dedicated to protection of vulnerable populations — incorporating free clinics, and free meal and food distribution services.
Sadly, the one publication that best codified the sensibilities of the late 1960s, The Whole Earth Catalogue and all its permutations is now long out of print (but can be read on the internet at: Steve Jobs compared The Whole Earth Catalog to Internet search engine Google in his June 2005 Stanford University commencement speech. During the speech, Jobs also quoted the farewell message placed on the back cover of the 1974 edition of the catalog: “Stay hungry. Stay foolish.” In 2007, Andrew Kirk wrote, Counterculture Green: The Whole Earth Catalog and American Environmentalism ($19.95) as both an homage and an assessment of the Catalog’s unique brand of environmentalism. Kirk recounts how San Francisco’s Stewart Brand and his counterculture cohorts in the Point Foundation promoted a philosophy of pragmatic environmentalism that celebrated technological achievement, human ingenuity and sustainable living. By piecing together the social, cultural, material, environmental and technological history of that philosophy’s incarnation in the Catalog, Kirk reveals the driving forces behind it, tells the story of the appropriate technology movement it espoused and assesses its fate. In June of 1967, during the nascent days of the counter-culture movement, Dr. David E. Smith founded the Haight Ashbury Free Clinics in San Francisco. As thousands of youth arrived in the city, many were in need of substance abuse treatment, mental health service and medical attention. The clinic became the model for the modern form of the free clinic. The clinics are currently composed of four core programs: medical clinics, substance abuse treatment services, jail psychiatric services and rock medicine: on-site medical services for public events and concerts. One of the few “gettable” books on this underappreciate slice of history is Dr. Dave: A Profile of David E. Smith, M.D., Founder of the Haight Ashbury Free Clinics by Clark S. Sturges ($15). To tree-hugging, Bambi loving, tofu noshing souls like my kids and me, Vesanto Melina, R. D., Brenda Davis, R.D. succinctly summed up the “SoL’s” ethos in Becoming Vegetarian: The Complete Guide to Adopting a Healthy Vegetarian Diet ($21.95). The late 1960s and early 1970s launched a new era for vegetarianism. Peace-loving “counterculture” groups sprang up with a message of ecology and natural (and humane) living. Ten Years That Shook the City: San Francisco 1968-1978 ($18.95), edited by contributors Chris Carlsson and Lisa Ruth Elliott follows the burgeoning social movements that grew from the seeds of the “SoL.” In this collection of essays that spans the tumultuous decade from 1968, the year of the San Francisco State University strike, to 1978 and the twin traumas of the Jonestown massacre and the assassinations of Mayor George Moscone and supervisor Harvey Milk, this volume provides a broad look at the diverse ways these 10 years shook the city of San Francisco and shaped the world we live in today. From community gardening to environmental justice, gay rights and other identity-based social movements, anti-gentrification efforts, neighborhood arts programs, and more, many of the initiatives whose origins are described here have taken root and spread far beyond San Francisco. Finally, as a little bonus (because if the “SoL” taught us nothing else, I really do love each and every one of you), an essential reading list for all those wanting to dip their toes into the pool that unites humanity:
  • Stranger in a Strange Land ($8.99) by Robert Heinlein (look, either you can “grok,” or you cannot).
  • The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test ($16) by Tom Wolfe
  • On the Road ($16) by Jack Kerouac
  • The Doors of Perception ($14.99) by Aldous Huxley (of Brave New World fame. Inspired Jim Morrison to name his musical troupe, “The Doors.”)
  • Howl and Other Poems by Allen Ginsberg ($7.95)
  • Naked Lunch ($14.95) by William S. Burroughs
Come on people now. Smile on your brother. Everybody get together. Try to love one another. Right now.

Tags: book review, reading, Summer, Summer of Love


Scott Harris

Liberal, Jewish and vegan. Scott has six kitties, a dog, four kids and a wife who saves peoples' lives. He operates EVERYbody Reads bookstore, 2019 E. Michigan Ave. in Lansing.

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