Forty years ago, my editors put me on a plane and shipped me off to San
Francisco to live with the hippies. I always had great out-of-town luck. So,
on the ride, I met a nice, middle-class couple who were flying out to meet their
son. He was a drummer for a band called Big Brother and the Holding Company. He
met his parents at the airport.
"You want to know the scene?" he said. "Come with me tonight. We got a gig at the Fillmore."
That's how I entered the Summer of Love – a summer that changed America.
He took me backstage to meet the band's lead singer. This woman struck me as totally obnoxious. My idea of a lead singer was Doris Day. This woman, who was grungy, sat at a dressing table, patting Southern Comfort whiskey on her face. Her name, she grudgingly told me, was Janis Joplin.
When the show started, I left. It was too loud. I came from the era of Sinatra, and Janis Joplin came from a new age of screech.
The next few weeks were equally startling. The Summer of Love was a summer of sex, drugs, rock 'n' roll and dirty words. It was so foreign to me, I was sure it couldn't last.
Everybody used dope. The only question was, what kind.
I smoked some. I thought I had to. I took my first toke in a fraternity hovel where the bathroom was wallpapered in tinfoil and the housemother was busy baking organic bread. But I got bored and decided to go home.
A bus came along and I got on it. After about an hour, it dawned on me that it might not be the right bus. I pulled the cord and got off. I had no idea where I was. I flagged a cab and he took me back to Union Square.
I went into a bar and ordered a gin gimlet. The bartender wouldn't serve me. "You're stoned," he said. "I am not," I said. "I only had a couple of cigarettes."
Next morning, I called the city desk. "I turned on to pot last night," I told the city editor.
"My God," he said. "Get out of there right now."
When I got home, I wrote a four-part series about Haight-Ashbury. It got a lot of response. The saddest response was from parents who said: "Did you run into my daughter, Denise? She ran away from home. Did you see her?"
When I wrote that series, I was 28 years old.
So I thought the Summer of Love was just a fad. I was sure the screeching music wouldn't last. The summer of sex, dope, rock 'n' roll and dirty words would be left behind when these tie-dye kids grew up and joined the mainstream. My mainstream.
I have learned since, to my dismay, that those kids dragged their adolescence with
them, tugging it along like a security blanket and dragging the rest of us with it.
Sex used to be private; now it's public, in the commercials on TV. Drugs?
Well, there are two kinds – the illegal ones and the Viagra type that guarantees
Superman-like instant erections. Rock 'n' roll? When's the last time you saw
a violin in a commercial – even a commercial that wants to lull you to sleep.
And dirty language? It's commonplace. The words we never used to say
because we thought they were gross come regularly out of the TV, for our
children to hear, and find their way into music. Music without melody.
I didn't know it then, but the Summer of Love was a summer that changed the
culture. The kids – the most pampered generation we had produced for a long time – made American music unmusical and American speech obscene. They erased from the American scene any idea of civility or seemliness.
They dealt us today.
And now they're stuck with tomorrow.
Tuesday, July 17, 2007
Summer of Love Survived, Sadly
This is a great commentary by Dick Feagler in the Spokesman-Review on July 17, 2007. It bemoans the sadness that has become us.