I was 16 years old when the Summer of Love hit in San Francisco. I’d like to say I was so hip that I hitchhiked out there and made the scene, but the reality was I was a year away from starting to grow my hair long. I went to Expo 67 in Montreal with my Aunt Flo and actually dimly remember seeing some hippies and writing something in my mind telling them to get a job. But between the books I read the next year and the music I listened to and the momentum of the times and the Rebel Without a Cause/ Catcher in the Rye developmental stage, it all started to appeal to me. Two years later I hitchhiked to Woodstock, walked some 20 miles all night to the concert site and slept on muddy ground while Jimi Hendrix played on the stage in the distance. Peace, justice, tolerance, mind-expansion, Zen and yoga, brown rice and organic vegetables, rock and roll, loose clothes and bare feet, free love— seemed like a good deal to me! When I came to San Francisco for the first time in 1972 and moved here in 1973, you could still ride on the waves of all that energy. For $45 a month rent and food stamps in a room with a view.
And as I said in a post in June, we have moved from the Summer of Love to the Winter of Hate. All that repressed anger in the South about losing the Civil War, all the undigested grief of slavery and genocide, all the unwept murders coming back as wandering ghosts to haunt us, all the unrelenting greed of the heartless Capitalist soul ravaging the world for a condo in Hawaii and private jet, the unpaid bills of our failures to live our promise of true life, liberty and pursuit of happiness coming due and the tax collector is not kind and understanding. Our refusal to look it all in the face and instead insist we have a nice day shopping at Costco and Walmart, our inability to properly grieve and weep over all we have done, the unchecked power of Wall Street and the circus of clowns in the houses of power knocking each other on the head with baseball bats—it’s all unraveling before our disbelieving eyes.
In my beloved San Francisco, there is still much to celebrate. But the overpowering large-penised Sales Force Tower blights the landscape with its ugly arrogance and a cheap basement studio apartment for one costs $2200 a month, without food stamps. Now the radical music of Dylan and the Beatles and Buffalo Springfield and Simon and Garfunkel and more is played on elevators and in dentist offices, while mainstream media offers a choice between banal formulaic pop and angry hip-hop music. That older anthem of freedom, jazz, worked out in basement clubs and accessible to the man (and woman) on the street is now a classical genre with white-haired white-skinned folks sipping wine at $90 a show.
Not exactly a lot to celebrate on this 50th Anniversary.
And yet. Marijuana and gay marriage are legal in many states, we had a black president and almost a woman president, legal mixed race marriage gave me my grandchildren, and my 8th graders know more about the true history of this country at 13 years old than I did at 33. We have Farmer's Markets, yoga studios galore, mindfulness training (and Orff Schulwerk!) in schools, better clothes and whole generations of hikers and backpackers. We have blogs and Facebook and like-minded friends in countries on every continent wishing us happy birthday, sharing the latest astounding artistic accomplishment filmed in people's kitchens or small villages. The level of political involvement determined to stop the madness is at a new high and even conservative Republicans are starting to consider that their agenda that led to 45 might need to be re-examined. (Repeal Obamacare failed 5 times!) Hope that seemed to be trampled in the mud of the anti-Woodstock Festival in Washington is rising again and folks can dimly hear the strains of Jimi Hendrix playing The Star Spangled Banner in the distance.
“Come on, people, smile on your brother, everybody get together and try to love one another right now.” That path is still possible, but not as easily as we thought with a simple song, some weed and flashing the peace sign. The road must past through grief and the ghosts must be appeased (see paragraph two). And today I go down to the Carmel Valley for the International Orff Course to do what we can to move it along.