It was the summer of 1967 and young people almost across the world believed they could change the world. It was a naïve dream as time would prove wrong but during that summer, it seemed possible. It was the during the years of the 1960s’ counterculture movement – fuelled by hippies, rock music, pot and LSD; it was a clash between old and new, the ‘beautiful people’ firmly believing that love could change it all. It was the time of sex, drugs and ‘rock n roll’, set in stark contrast against the grim reality of the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement.
With its epicentre in Haight-Ashbury, San Francisco; this significant summer created a cultural and political rebellion before spreading quickly to New York, LA, Chicago, DC, Canada, Europe and Australia. To anyone that lived that time, it would be a sweet haze of music, psychoactive drugs, creative and sexual freedom, politics, love, peace and harmony. The subtle quality of an unbuttoned, flower-scented, music-on-the-breeze, bare-feet-on-fresh-grass atmosphere marked the height of this window of about seven to eight years that had never before been seen in the history of mankind.
As much as some laughed at this floral revolution, they couldn’t stop it. The establishment began to join in and clothes, music, advertising, design, journalism and even the BBC took on a new let-it-all-hang-out avatar. Everyone had an insatiable appetite for change and it showed in more ways than one.
‘Hippie’, ‘Bohemian’ and ‘Dandy’ encapsulate the fashion statement of this time. “What did we do in the Sixties?” asked John Lennon. “We all dressed up.” The freedom of the 60s spurred a move away from the haute-couture fashion of the 50s, which was quite formal, awkward and almost restrictive. The young and colourful look of the floral revolution was an amazing one really – the girls were very ‘Baby Doll’ and the guys were more ‘Dandy’. Kaftans, beads, headbands, paisley swirls, trumpet sleeve blouses, floral tie and dye – you could tell the hippies from a mile afar.
The music of the summer was The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix, the Mamas & the Papas, Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin, The Who, CSNY, Simon & Garfunkel and The Byrds among a pot full of others. The Monterey Pop Festival, regarded as one of the beginnings of the Summer of Love, was a three-day concert held in June 1967 and it set the shape for most future festivals – most notably, Woodstock which happened two years later.
The song ‘San Francisco’, originally written for the Monterey Festival became the anthem of the summer –
“If you’re going to San Francisco,
Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair
If you’re going to San Francisco,
You’re gonna meet some gentle people there”
The impact was so powerful that Hunter S. Thompson even renamed Haight-Ashbury as ‘Hashbury’. Timothy Leary’s ‘turn on, tune in, drop out’ became the slogan of the summer and there was tremendous optimism about how music and drugs could change the world. By the end of the year though, this notion was abandoned when people realised that they weren’t going to stop the Vietnam War or accomplish all the things they thought they could. It wasn’t a loss of faith, it was just that the Summer of Love had become too big for its own good.
They say that if you remember the Sixties, you weren’t there. I’d take their word for it. Fact to be noted though, is that there are things that we take for granted today that were a direct result of that period. From the recognition of environmental issues to the emergence of civil rights, and even the use of expletives in the media; all of these things can be traced back to that summer. As Carlos Santana rightly says, “The youth of today must go there to find themselves”. So what if the world is a twisted place? A little love and peace just might bring about a tiny change.