1158: If You're Going to San Francisco, Be Sure to Wear, Some Flowers in Your Hair
1158: Saturday, May 20, 2023
f You're Going to San Francisco, Be Sure to Wear, Some Flowers in Your Hair
May 19, 2023
REMEMBERING A LONG SEASON OF LOVE:
A Little Bit of History
San Francisco — 1967! The Summer of Love probably began on January 14th with the “Human Be-In” when 30,000 people gathered at Golden Gate Park. People remember Timothy Leary (1920-1996) calling on them to “turn on, tune in, drop out.” But the core speakers of the event were mostly serious poets who regularly centered around a small venue called SIX GALLERY and were the nucleus of the San Francisco Renaissance in Poetry.
My friend Jonah Raskin (1942- ) wrote this about Allen Ginsberg (1926-1997), who read his poem “HOWL” at the Be-In, and it likely applies to most of the people at that gathering. “Ginsberg dove into the wreck of himself and of the world around him to salvage himself and something worth saving of the world at large.”
1967 — Fifty-six years ago the United States was in a savage Cold War with the Soviet Union, and an increasingly dehumanizing war in Vietnam, and there were 159 race riots across our country. At the same time, most of the citizens took advantage of the post-World War II prosperity and bought bigger cars and bigger televisions.
Then something happened. Maybe it was a little song a member of THE MAMAS & THE PAPAS wrote in 20 minutes. It contained a line, “If You're Going to San Francisco, Be Sure to Wear, Some Flowers in Your Hair.” Somehow that seemed an attractive alternative to the wars and the consumerism for the thousands of people who descended on the Haight-Ashbury district.
A short time later the group that was to become the Starcross Monastic Community bought a house two blocks away from the corner of Haight and Ashbury and started considering spiritual alternatives and caring for vulnerable children, most of whom had severe medical challenges.
It was an exciting time and it went far beyond 1967. It had to do with redefining what it meant to be a human being. A local underground paper said it was a continuing attempt "to form a renaissance of compassion, awareness, and love and the revelation of unity for all humankind.” I think that was a pretty good summing up of intentions. But there wasn't a mass movement. What was accomplished was because of hundreds or even thousands of small efforts.
Our Sister Marti (1939-2016) had a remarkable relationship with one of the more radical groups. Arthur Free and his cohorts were part of The Diggers who believed in economic equality, as did a group back in the 17th century with the same name. They didn’t trust many people, but Arthur trusted Marti. Perhaps because she let them “liberate” our refrigerator regularly or were offered a sleeping bag and some floor space when times got hard.
I will always remember when the manager of one of San Francisco’s luxury hotels desperately called Marti for help because Arthur had disrupted an important meeting there, calling the participants hypocrites and worse. One participant, a well-known journalist, was chasing Arthur around the lobby with a chair leg threatening to kill him. Marti brought peace by soliciting a very generous donation of food from the hotel for The Diggers’ FREE STORE and a brandy with some TLC for the journalist. I was one of the eight people carrying the food down Nob Hill.
Young people grew up and many of them became civic leaders. A few years ago, I was attending a board meeting of some elected officials. And I knew that three of them had experienced life in San Francisco during the 60s and 70s. I fantasized what would happen to the incredibly boring agenda in front of them if they were to stand up, rip off their ties, pull out some beads and start singing “The Age of Aquarius.”
Perhaps the best way of remembering the Summer of Love 56 years later is to have another one in 2023! Come on all you millenials! Many of us older folk have turned a bit shy about revolutions, but it wouldn’t take much for us to fall in line behind you — if you don’t mind pushing a few wheelchairs!