Monday, June 18, 2012

The Summer Of Love Reconsidered

America is still suffering the horrible consequences of hippies who thought utopia could be found in joints and intentional disconnect.
It has been 45 years since the Summer of Love and those unlovable right-wingnut Republicans, led by their knuckle-dragging shoot 'em up poster boy, are waging class warfare anew against a favorite target. But is it possible that gun-loving, Obama hating Ted Nugent has a point?

The Summer of Love actually began in January 1967 with the first Human Be-In in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco (photo) and ended with the Death of the Hippie March in Haight Ashbury in October of that year. In between, tens of thousands of high school and college kids drawn by media and first-hand accounts of the birth of the so-called hippie counterculture poured into the city.
" . . . [I]ts creators did not employ a single publicist or craft a media plan," writes Sheila Weller in an occasionally overwrought essay in the July issue of Vanity Fair.  "Yet the phenomenon washed over America like a tidal wave, erasing the last dregs of the martini-sipping Mad Men era and ushering in a series of liberations and awakenings that irreversibly changed our way of life."
Yes, I was part of the horde, although I spent most of my brief stay across the bay in Berkeley, which also was awash in free dope, free love, free music and free lentil loaf.
This from a 2007 Wall Street Journal op-ed piece by Nugent, who in his unrelenting bottom crawling recently declared that "I will either be dead or in jail" if Obama is re-elected:
"Turned off by the work ethic and productive American Dream values of their parents, hippies instead opted for a cowardly, irresponsible lifestyle of random sex, life-destroying drugs and mostly soulless rock music that flourished in San Francisco. . . . The bodies of chemical-infested, brain-dead liberal deniers continue to stack up like cordwood. . . . The 1960s, a generation that wanted to hold hands, give peace a chance, smoke dope and change the world, changed it all right: for the worse."  

Wring the hyperbole from Nugent's purple prose and he makes a very serious allegation: Those wild and crazy Sixties ushered in an era of moral decay that my generation has infected America with from family room to factory floor.

If you think you know where I come down on this, you might be surprised that I don't entirely disagree with Nugent, although the kernels of truth in what he says are obscured by his rank blunderbussing.

One kernel of truth is that the Summer of Love and flowering of the counterculture was open season for people who were more adept at changing hash pipe screens than their kids' diapers, let alone the world. This is where I do have a real problem. Driving a VW Beetle until it runs out of oil and blows up is one thing, but screwing up your kids' lives is another. And unforgivable even under the most lax standards of the time.

The vast majority of people who rode the counterculture wave have turned out just fine and arguably better than the right-wing crackpots who are hung up about anyone who won't worship their God, play by their rules and doesn't share their recidivistic intellectual constipation.
Many of us have indeed tried to make the world a better place and succeeded in many small ways. This is because the experience of the Summer of Love and what followed made us more curious, more compassionate, more humble and . . . well, more human. 

I have known a few of the disreputable slacker types, although there is something about human nature that has empowered most of their kids to shun their parents' behavior and grow up to lead comparatively normal lives.

Having dealt with that kernel, let's move on to the big nut: My circle of friends from that era – the folks who went on the road with me to like really far out Grateful Dead concerts, man -- are for more typical of the era.

One became a pediatrician, one a dentist, one a public defender, one a nurse, one a gourmet chef, one a building contractor and two school teachers. All have given back more than they have taken, and all have voted in every election, given to charities, done volunteer work, tried hard to be good parents and helped care for their parents when they became infirm. Yes, one of them died of acute alcoholism, but I believe that he was genetically hard wired for the disease and would have suffered the same fate no matter when he had come of age.

There is one more kernel of truth:

Although Nugent doesn't address it head on, I suspect that many graduates of the counterculture have been remiss in not being candid about their own experiences with their children when the time comes to talk about stuff like sexuality and drugs.  

I come down somewhere in between, although I have been unrelenting in passing on a message that I took to heart in the Sixties: Listen to your elders. Listen to public officials and politicians. But decide what is true and right for you.
Colorized photograph, original by Jim Marshall, via Vanity Fair

No comments: