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Reflections on the Summer of Love: Part Eight

By: 
John Elliott

 

This is the eighth installment in an ongoing memoir in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love in San Francisco. Previous installments are here.
 
Where does the time go? Anyone alive today and who remembers those turbulent 1960s probably wonders like I do, where did those 50 years go since the Summer of Love? For me, it was college, four decades in two different careers, marriage, and two kids. It seems like it all passed in the blink of an eye.
 
When I think back on the 1960s, the last three years of that eventful decade and the first few years of the next decade (at least until President Nixon resigned in 1974) are all filed in the same drawer of my memory bank. Music was such a huge part of these years, and the group It’s a Beautiful Day captured for me the essence and what became our collective perception of time.
 
It’s no surprise that this band, fronted by violinist David LaFlamme and vocalist Pattie Santos, formed during the Summer of Love in 1967. Several of the mega-hits of the so-called genre Psychedelic Rock, of which they were prominent proponents, spoke to the perception of time. 
 
The Chamber Brothers’ hit  “Time Has Come Today,” released on Columbia Records in 1968, became the anthem of many Summer of Love veterans. They were four soul brothers originally from Carthage, Miss.
 
After the eldest brother, George, finished his stint in the Army in the 1950s, the rest of the family relocated to Los Angeles to resume performing gospel music with their older brother. Their 11-minute-long hit was released in 1969 and started a trend in psychedelic music where long versions became the norm.
 
The Chambers Brothers’ “Time Has Come Today” captured the day and helped all of us celebrate joining the anti-establishment movement. But it was It’s a Beautiful Day’s “Time Is” that defined for a “turned on” generation how we would experience each moment in the here and now and for the rest of our time on Earth.  
 
Many children of the ‘60s thought then that their lives would be cut short in a world threatened by war and environmental chaos. We could not and did not want to picture ourselves as growing old.
 
Time is too slow for those who wait. 
And time is too swift for those who fear.
Time is too long for those that grieve.
And time is too short for those that laugh.
But for those who love.
But for those that really love
But for those who love.
Time is sweet time
Precious time. Lovely time.
All the time, time, time, time…
Time is eternity.
 
Of course, there were lots of other groups who rode the 1960s and 1970s rock-and-roll wave to unprecedented popularity. But none of these bands — with the possible exception of Jefferson Airplane and their generational album Volunteers, released in 1969 — ever captured the essence of what it meant to experience the Summer of Love and the so-called Hippie Movement.
 
Unfortunately, the spirit of the ‘60s and the enlightenment of the Summer of Love soon flickered out, extinguished by the terrible events that followed. John Densmore, the drummer of the Doors and now 72 years old, spoke on the subject in an interview with the Washington Post in 2017. 
 
Densmore said that the spiritual awakening of the 1960s only really existed for parts of three years 1965, 1966, and 1967.
 
“That was it,” he recounted. “That was pure across-the-board renaissance of music, art, film before it all got co-opted, the assassinations started [Malcolm X, 1965; Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy, 1968] and Vietnam. It [Vietnam War] was horrific, but our [generation’s] protests helped stop the war, and if we got through that, we can get through Trump. So I try to look at him as a catalyst coalescing everyone who’s been semi-asleep — and that assuages my depression.”
 
* * *
 
Meanwhile back in Haight-Ashbury, called simply “the Haight,” you might recall, our  cross-country driver, Doc, had just dropped our young party of three near Golden Gate Park. We were taking in the sights of all that was going on even though it was well past midnight.
 
As we walked farther up the street, there was a crowd of mostly kids who looked a lot more hip than us. We only had the clothes on our backs and, for me, that consisted of a three-quarter-length sleeve striped cotton T-shirt, a pair of worn Levi’s, leather English walkers, and a purple windbreaker emblazoned with the Colt 45 logo. 
 
As a 16-year-old, I thought it was cool to advertise the fact that I had at least experienced getting high on Colt 45 malt liquor. Among this crowd of merry pranksters, it sure didn’t matter, but the jacket helped slightly against the bitter cold of the San Francisco night.
 
We mingled among the growing crowd, and I asked a young couple — they couldn’t have been even 15 years old — why is everyone here and what’s happening? 
 
“The Diggers are coming, they said. “They’ll bring some free food and maybe some warm clothes too.”
 
Now that was music to my ears because we were all hungry and freezing cold. 
 
“Who are the Diggers?” I naively asked. 
 
“They are these cool cats that just want to help everybody.”
 
In a few minutes this psychedelically painted van pulled up and the rear doors swung open. Sure enough, a costumed-duo — she dressed like Cat Woman and he like Deputy Dawg — started passing out day-old sourdough bread and some lukewarm chili.  It was delicious, and for us hungry vagabonds it was manna from heaven. 
 
The Diggers also passed out a few blankets to some kids who didn’t have jackets and were barefoot. And then they provided advice on how to survive, at least temporarily, these crazy streets.
 
What I remember them saying was to avoid sleeping in “the park” [Golden Gate Park] because you will be swept up by SFPD. They said it was best to roam the side streets and find a safe house with an “open door.” 
 
Those were words and food to live by, and we were off to find an open door and a place to crash.
 
To be continued…   
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