Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Summer of Love

Originally uploaded by pingting

June 19th is Freedom Day or more commonly called Juneteenth Two and a half years after The Emancipation Proclamation, General Gordon Granger landed in Galveston Texas with the news that the slaves were now free:
The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and free laborer.
One hundred and forty-two years on, it's a day right to remember.

[I wrote most of this on June 19th, but a lightening strike took out my computer before I could finish it.]

Forty years ago 1967 was the Summer of Love. Some of us remember; I was 12. My recollections are like the Buffalo Springfield song, written by Stephen Stills, For What It's Worth. Forty years on I'm still not at all clear what's happening.

A friend commemorated with a party at his house and showing of D. A. Pennebaker's Monterey Pop. It's a great film, which seems surprisingly current.

My friend has two lovely daughters and one, who has just graduated college was there with a friend of hers. I cringed listening friends trying to explain the significance of Jimi Hendrix, and with the frequent question during the film: "Is it like Bonnaro? I'm not at all sure what young people today make of our nostalgia. We were awfully earnest then and so young and foolish. The talk after the show revealed that none us were are all that certain why exactly the summer of 1967 was so darn important, but most of us certain it was.

Thomas Frank, who as it happens is ten years younger than I, made an important point about the counterculture in his book The Conquest of Cool:
Every rock band with a substantial following was immediately honored with a host of imitators; the 1967 "summer of love" was as much a product of lascivious television specials and Life magazine stories as it was an expression of youthful disaffection; Hearst launched a psychedelic magazine in 1968; and even hostility to co-optation had a desperately "authentic" shadow, documented by a famous 1968 print ad for Columbia Records titled "But The Man Can't Bust Our Music." So oppressive was the climate of national voyeurism that, as early as the fall of 1967, the San Francisco Diggers had held a funeral for "Hippie, devoted son of mass media."
Certainly my memories of the summer of 1967 involve Life Magazine images. I also remember struggling to understand what was happening. I suppose the question in my mind was: Just how are kids supposed to act?

On the way to the grocery store today I passed two boys furiously riding their bikes. In that passing moment I was struck by how beautiful the boys were. I best qualify saying beautiful boys, lest I arouse prurient suspicions. Mark Danner, distinquished journalist, professor and author, delivered a remarkable commencement address to the graduates of The College of Rhetoric at the University of California Berkley, earlier this spring. In it he attempts to convey something of the reality in Iraq, first from am Iraqi relating the collection of a nephew's remains after a car bombing, and then from his own recollections of an American soldier he met in Iraq. He describes the soldier's face as beautiful. What I mean, and what I think Danner saw in that soldier, is...well, an "is-ness." A few days after his interview with the soldier, the man with the "beautiful sleepy face" died in an explosion near Fallujah. Seeing those boys as I passed by the awareness of how precious and irreplaceable their beings are registered. Perhaps seeing them also jogged my memories of being around twelve, like I supposed they are now, back in 1967.

The Summer of Love seems now more a celebration than protest. Stephen Stills points out that For What It's Worth was about police mistreatment of club goers in Hollywood's Sunset Strip. Something worth celebrating is how beautiful we are. That's the sort of celebration the Summer of Love was, but the painting it as narcissism misses the empathy and expressions of love. The point wasn't to appear beautiful, but to be beautiful.

In my own life the summer of 1970 was more significant than 1967. Personal circumstances, my age and location made it so, however there's a sturdy thread which connects my experience in 1970 backward to the Summer of Love. I was 15 in the summer of 1970. While my parents were attempting to resolve important family matters I was provided some measure of independence by being shunted off to various relatives in New Hampshire. I got a job at a county fair which lasted ten days or so making more money than I ever had.

It was the summer the Woodstock movie came out. I managed to buy The Beatles' Abbey Road and Crosby, Stills, Nach & Young's Dejavu and put them on the record player as often as I was able. I dreamed of forming a student union and planned an environmental movement at my school, and furiously wrote out my ideas in a spiral bound notebook. I was as awkward and shy then as I am now, and knew my being a leader was unlikely. Nevertheless, I earnestly believed that a with a change of mind young people could find a better way. I wanted to do my part.

At the time, bell-bottomed jeans seemed important to the cause. A pair of those and a Black Watch Pendleton shirt along with my two album purchases consumed my summer's earnings. I tried in vain to see Woodstock, but the movie was restricted. That fall I tried awfully hard to put some of my plans into action and I managed to see the movie.

In America we're anticipating the July 4th Independence Day celebrations. Freedom Day passed with the barest of mentions. With some of my friends we celebrated the summer solstice as is a long tradition. For reasons I can't quite draw out, I want to mark the 40th anniversary of the Summer of Love.

My friend pingting encourages me to make sure it's a multi-generational affair. He makes a good point. My fondest hope is that Baby Boomers might drop their cynicism and that we might open our stony hearts to experience the feeling that we can make the world better once again. We aren't kids like we were in 1967. There were so many of us and the giddy excitement that together we could create something good made quite an impression. The celebration shouldn't be a celebration of a generation, but rather celebrating life and love.

1 comment:

Chloe said...

What an amazing post!! Thank-you for sharing what it was like during a time that influenced so much that is important today.