Weekly newspaper of Three Rivers, California, and Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Parks

REFLECTIONS ON THE SUMMER OF LOVE: PART NINE

By: 
John Elliott

 

When I began this memoir last summer it had been 50 years since the “gathering of the tribes” in Haight-Ashbury during 1967’s Summer of Love. Commemorative events and celebrations were springing to life all over San Francisco and the Bay Area.   
 
Thinking of the hundreds of boomers and ex-hippies attending these events, I wanted to share my story of a 16-year-old Ohio kid  (me) who, on a whim, hitchhiked cross-country and landed in Haight-Ashbury during that historic summer. I expected my adventure to run five or six articles but here we are at number nine.
 
As more readers, especially those who experienced the Summer of Love firsthand, read the memoir, it’s been like traveling back in time. 
 
Many of these folks, who are now seniors like me, realized they had Summer of Love memories of their own. Sharing prompted more memories for me so now there are nine episodes and counting. 
 
I left off last time after becoming acquainted with the Diggers. I realized later there would have been much less to love that summer in San Francisco without the Diggers. But who were these strange cats?
 
In many ways, the Diggers epitomized that true hippie spirit or whatever it was we all hoped to experience that epic summer.
 
Diggers: Guerrilla theatre takes to the streets— The Diggers were one of the legendary groups who converged on Haight-Ashbury, positioned center stage at the epicenter of the 1960s counterculture. The counter-cultural movement of that era fundamentally changed America and the world.   
 
Shrouded in anonymity and mystery, the Diggers took their name from the original English Diggers (1650) Protestant dissidents, who like our own Kaweah utopian socialists, envisioned society without private property. The San Francisco Diggers were born out of two radical traditions that were thriving in the Bay Area in the 1960s: the Bohemian underground art/theatre scene, and the New Left/civil rights/peace movement.
 
The SF Diggers combined street theatre, anarchist direct action, and art happenings like spontaneous street art: think chalk drawings on sidewalks, walls, and building facades. The “events” were all part of a social agenda to create a Free City in the Haight district. 
 
Besides street theatre, the Diggers distributed free food and creative energy wherever crowds gathered. The Diggers also opened several free stores where everything was free for the taking. 
 
Like their English counterparts, these modern-day Diggers opposed buying and selling of anything. There were enough resources to go around, they reasoned, so it was just about distributing “surplus energy.”
 
At the epitome of their influence in San Francisco, they baked delicious whole wheat bread in two-pound coffee cans, which, of course, was distributed freely. These Diggers established the first free medical clinic during the Summer of Love that soon inspired the opening of the
Haight-Ashbury Free Medical Clinic that is still thriving today.
 
Tie-dye clothing and communal celebrations marking the soltice or equinox  were opportune times for the Diggers to preach their free society agenda.
 
San Francisco nights— The next few days of my stay in Haight-Ashbury (1967) are little more than a blur in my memory. It was the nights I remember best. The Haight district was like a city of youthful exuberance that never slept.                      
 
My traveling companions and I spent most of the daytime hanging out and dozing, but the nights were a different story.  We were constantly on the move from one gathering to another and always on the prowl for a longer-term place to crash. In other words, a short-term rental without the rent. 
 
Everywhere we went there was music; oversize speakers blaring with psychedelic rock from every house, porch stoop, and vehicle. Spontaneous jam sessions with groups of musicians just sitting, picking, and playing could happen at anytime anywhere. 
 
Frequently, a player or two from one of the hottest local bands of the era — like Jefferson Airplane, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Santana, Big Brother & the Holding Company, Eric Burdon and the Animals — might sit in with one of these impromptu jams. It was truly electric to experience one of these sessions.
 
A couple of blocks south of Golden Gate Park, we found an inviting house where there were so many kids (just like us) stretched out or sitting in every first-floor room. Upstairs was off limits out of respect for the person(s) who allowed us to be there.  
 
In these safe houses, it was difficult to find enough space to even sit down. But in what must have been the living room, there was one of those impromptu jams really cooking with at least six guitars and an odd assortment of percussion instruments.
 
“Were you here last night when Janis sat in with the musicians?” asked a bleary-eyed hippie stretched out next to me. “Janis Joplin and Sam Andrew [guitarist and founding member of Big Brother and the Holding Company] pay the rent on this place.”
 
I never saw Janis Joplin that summer but everyone in Haight-Ashbury talked about her escapades. She was the Queen of the Blues and literally thumbed her nose at all conventional authority. To cope with her wild new world she simply got stoned, all the time.
 
While I was thinking how cool it was to even be in a house frequented by Janis, the buzz that night was that Eric Burdon — of Eric Burdon and the Animals — might stop by. I never got to meet him that night either but I was told later that he did show up and even sang a few verses from his soon-to-be top-10 single. 
 
Burdon, a transplanted British subject, called his timely song “San Francisco Nights.”
 
Strobe lights beam 
   create dreams
Walls move minds do too
On a warm 
   San Francisco Night
Old child, young child 
   feel alright
On a warm 
   San Francisco night…
Cops face is filled with hate
Heaven above he’s 
   on a street called love
When will they even learn…
The children are cool
They don’t raise fools 
It’s an American Dream
Includes Indians too.
 
I don’t remember the warm part but I do remember those exhilarating San Francisco nights. A part of me wishes they had never ended. 
 
Next: My Summer of Love abruptly ends with a visit to San Francisco Juvenile Hall. 
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