Tuesday, June 01, 2010

The Summer Of Love Reconsidered

(Portions published in July 2007)
America is still suffering the horrible consequences of hippies who thought utopia could be found in joints and intentional disconnect.

It has been 43 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 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, 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.

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.

More from a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed piece by Nugent:
"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.
I have known a few of these 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 the first kernel, let's move on to the big nut:
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 made us more curious, more compassionate, more humble and . . . well, more human.
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 typical.

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 us died of acute alcoholism, but I believe that he was hard wired for that 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.
Photograph by Lisa Law

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

In the civil rights demonstrations
of the South, people marched in their Sunday best. I've often wondered if the Vietnam War would have ended a lot sooner if the Rubin, Hoffman, and others would have cut their hair and worn a tie.

"Dirty hippies" polarized the country and helped Nixon win in 68 and again by landslide in 72. In the media, the "endpoint" of all the dope and wierdness was the Manson Family.

Did Nugent mention how many people got rich (including "stranglehold" Ted) off of the "hippy culture?" Why was the "older generation" so lax?

Does Nugent understand the time was a cathartic response to the threat of nuclear war, Vietnam, and the Kennedy assassination?