By Caille Millner : sfchronicle – excerpt
In our Summer of Discontent, what can we learn from the Summer of Love?
Since the Summer took place before I was born, I have no nostalgia, passions or bad memories about anything that happened in San Francisco in 1967.
I can tell that for some people it was a seminal event, judging by the extent of attention I’ve seen around the 50th anniversary. There have been at least 10 Bay Area museum exhibits celebrating some aspect of the Summer of Love this year. There have been endless free concerts, tours and tie-dyed public posters. There’s been even-more-extensive-than-usual glorification of the Grateful Dead.
I appreciate how all of this is an opportunity for a segment of Bay Area Baby Boomers to indulge in youthful memories of the good times. (Have fun, kids!)
But for those of us far too young to have been there, the Summer of Love has never felt as far away as it does in 2017.
On my way to the de Young Museum’s “Summer of Love Experience” exhibit, in Golden Gate Park, I traveled through the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood. My misgivings began there.
San Francisco’s advanced state of economic inequality and neighborhood gentrification have led to strange street-level juxtapositions all over town. But the Haight is still a special place; these juxtapositions maintain a hard edge…
As I walked past the multimillion-dollar homes flanking Buena Vista Park, I passed a group of young people who appeared to be camping there. Their faces were red from substance abuse and sun exposure. Several large dogs were in their care. As these dogs snarled and strained toward passersby like myself, they laughed and mimicked them.
I crossed the street to avoid further confrontation, but I couldn’t help thinking about them for the rest of the afternoon.
The Summer of Love is in a museum, I thought, but San Francisco still hasn’t figured out what to do with the burnout children left behind. The answers as to why can be seen in the exhibit itself, if you look closely.
You do have to look very closely, though. The first thing I saw, walking in among a horde of foreign tourists, was a selection of hippie-child clothing against a flower-powered background.
Huh, I thought, looking around for context.
I found a little bit at the very beginning: a small display case of books, from writers like Thoreau and Allen Ginsberg, that supposedly inspired the Summer of Love. There was also a newsreel, offering one of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s stirring speeches. (I know the good reverend dropped by the Bay Area during the summer of 1967, but I only counted one other image of an African American adult in all of the exhibition’s photos, videos and documents, so it seems facetious to claim him as the Summer’s animating force.)
Still, the Summer’s animating force, according to the rest of the exhibition, wasn’t peace at all. It was friction-free fun. When I walked into the next room, the wall text receded and the room decor turned increasingly psychedelic. The other exhibits were a kaleidoscope of drugs, concert photographs, music posters and plenty more wild-child clothing.
There was no indication that the United States was engaged in a war in Vietnam, or that cities were burning across the country, or even that the Black Panthers were massing across the bay in Oakland. All was gauzy and dreamy and aspirational for the other visitors, who happily snapped selfies of themselves among the paisley.
I get it. During tough political times, like, say, the United States in 1967 or 2017, we all want a little glamour and fun. I, too, am susceptible: I couldn’t help but smile when I heard Timothy Leary exhorting me to “drop out” in one of the rooms. The idea of taking time for mind expansion in an era of $3,000-a-month rent — it seemed so innocent and hopeful. I wanted to be the kind of kid who could believe in the idea of free love and good times.
Alas, I live in the Summer of San Francisco’s Discontent, and what enlightened me the most was not the music posters or the photographs of drug-enhanced concerts in Golden Gate Park.
It was, instead, a poem toward the end of the exhibit. It had apparently been pinned to a community board at the Psychedelic Shop in the Haight, and it was the only time I felt a connection between the kids left behind by the Summer of Love and the ones I’d just left behind in 2017-era Buena Vista Park. “There are no meth freaks, no speed freaks, no freaks,” it read. “We are not freaks. We are frightened.”
Fifty years on, and some things about San Francisco haven’t changed one bit… (more)