In my view, nothing is a coincidence. So I found it interesting, ironic, profound, maddening, and outright sad that AXS TV’s documentary about 1967’s Summer of Love debuted on a heartbreaking day in American history fifty summers later. Given the state of politics and what transpired on this day, I think some might see 2017 as the Summer of Hate. But as an eternal optimist who is fortunate enough to see good and enlightenment happening all around, I’m refusing to see it that way; I see it as yet another generation needing to effect change in a world that is both very different yet very much the same.
Summer of Love‘s thought-provoking societal commentary provides insight into how pop culture established a revolutionary voice in 1967 – and of how this week’s riots in Charlottesville, Virginia are both a continuation of the battle against hate, and at the same time a completely new generational shift in an age of new fears. I suppose we knew it had to happen – the world is a vastly different place than either the baby boomers or its kids grew up in. As I say on my own About Page:
I feel lucky to have grown up when I did: two decades of relative peacetime; the last generation of kids who got to play outside without fear of being kidnapped or shot, and coming of age in the limitless excesses of the ’80s. It was the last decade before the world came crashing down in a haze of antidepressants and terrorists, before musicians started singing about how life sucks instead of changing the world or having fun, before the Internet, before this reality. I both blame and thank the pop culture of the first half of the 20th Century, particularly the break-on-through age of the ‘60s and ‘70s that brought us to that ‘80s climax of good times. And I accept some blame that it was our excesses that likely brought it all to a screeching halt and freaked out the kids of the ‘90s.
I was three years old in 1967. A year or so later, when I discovered I could play my parents’ 45s on my Sesame Street record player, I developed a life-long passion for ’60s rock, folk, and soul music. Atop by toy-box-turned-stage, I performed both the Doors’ Light my Fire and the Supremes’ Baby Love. I went through a hippie phase in high school, obsessed with Woodstock and peace and love and making the world a better place. I remember Jim Morrison’s Rolling Stones magazine cover with “He’s Hot, He’s Sexy, He’s Dead” and reading No One Here Gets Out Alive, his biography. I followed my bohemian soul through adventurous times in my 20s (in the 1980s), surviving to reach parenthood and law school in my 30s (in the 1990s), and empty-nestedness and graduate school in my 40s-50s. And, as psychologists predict in their human development theories, I am now reflective on it all.
The cable box information summary described Summer of Love as “[a] picture of San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district during the summer of 1967.” While the film certainly culminated in what Haight-Ashbury was all about, I might describe Summer of Love as “[t]he world-wide events that led to the development of the Haight-Ashbury culture.”
Summer of Love gave me some interesting viewpoints to ponder:
The producers and some of the commentators on Summer of Love, apparently the same group that produce the enjoyable Rock Legends documentary series on AXS TV, are British-based (I haven’t looked this up, just an obvious observation). I learned that in Britain in 1967 the “revolutions” of Sergeant Pepper, LSD, light shows, colorful fashion, mini-skirts, and beautiful people, both black and white – and Brigette Bardot, Twiggy, Saint Tropez and “Swinging London” – all came together to give the working class people, the children of World War II, a sense of hope for a brighter, playful future. It didn’t matter where you came from or your social status, it could all be transcended into possibility, into something better. It provided a much needed change – sunshine, rainbows, and unicorns over the gloom of a generation still reeling from war in a devastated city – and as they note, a “noble” war.
I learned about Radio Caroline, an offshore pirate radio station, that defied the BBC’s monopoly and spread the music. And that transistor radios – the first form of portable music – came to be, further enabling the rock n’ roll revolution.
As one commentator states, in Britain, “it was the greatest flash mob in history.”
However, this musical hippie flash mob of a revolution was so much more in United States: it was protests, Martin Luther King and civil rights, Black Panthers, the Cold War race to space travel, and Vietnam, a decidedly un-noble war. It was about Mohammed Ali’s articulate stance against Vietnam, and his inspiration to people, both the draftees and their moms and dads, to come out and stand up against this inexplicable war. This was the first war broadcast to the people, in all its suffering and horror, its incessant reality of dead sons, brothers, classmates – all because “old white men” demanded it without justification. So in the U.S., this revolution was more serious. It was threatening to authority.
It was also threatening to American parents – kids rebelled by refusing to conform, growing their hair, dressing wildly, experimenting with drugs, free love and birth control, and needing to expand their consciousness into something other than what the parents thought was satisfying. The picture-perfect values the parents worked for were being tossed aside; they were no longer realistic.
While Summer of Love is all about the music, it isn’t really about the musicians, though it has a poignant musical backtrack featuring the game changers of the era: the Beatles, the Kinks, the Supremes, Marvin Gay, Buffalo Springfield, the Animals, The Young Rascals, Lulu, James Brown, Stevie Wonder, The Doors, Elton John, Elvis, the Mamas & Papas – and Ed Sullivan. And of course the Monterrey Pop Festival, Otis Redding and Jimi Hendrix and the Who and Janis Joplin. The film doesn’t delve deep into their stories but rather reflects their messages, their influences, and their roles.
It also reminds us that once upon a time people used to buy an artist’s album and sit around and carefully listen to ALL of it, ALL of the way through – the lyrics, the notes, the tunes, to each and every song – and read ALL of the liner notes, band members, producers and thank-yous. I do miss that.
One piece of musical commentary that stood out to me was a mention of how the Jefferson Airplane’s White Rabbit warned of “the darkness about to come.” The vibe of that song chills the soul to this day. While the Summer of Love may have provided a “brief period of wonderland escape” where peace and love coincided with war and change, the ugly side of drug culture, the continuing fight for civil rights, the continuing war and its aftermath, continued on for years.
And so it continues today. To me, the Summer of Love symbolizes the intensity of a revolution of hope, whether yesterday’s or today’s…hope that things can change, that things will get better, that there will be more wonderlands, more flash mobs, more humanity, more peace and love. That the film debuted on the day it did – I guess that’s something for the reflective, pondering minds to wonder at – whether of my generation or not. Either way, it’s a good show about an important era in American history.