Wednesday, April 12, 2017

1967 The MH de Young Summer of Love Experience

Art, Fashion and Rock & Roll

It has never been easy for me to fully convey what it was like growing up in the Bay Area during the 1960's. When I was 5 (circa 1961) I remember seeing my first beret clad "beatniks" sitting on porches in Berkeley. My dad drove by them whispering curses under his breath. Dad just couldn't fathom the point of these chain smoking students playing bongos. Clearly something new was emerging culturally in the US.

Locally we witnessed the rise of the Black Panther Party, the murder trial of Angela Davis, the abduction of Patty Hearst, the murder of Oakland's new superintendent of schools (Dr. Marcus Foster) and a seemingly endless number of violent campus riots and protests at UC Berkeley and San Francisco State.

Then, over the next few years, America went on to experience the national heartache of repeated assassinations, wrenching civil rights battles and the escalating war in Southeast Asia. 

The sixties emerged as a brutal, prosperous, yet confusing era. The nation was experiencing a full generation of post war prosperity. Its population was heavily comprised of a young, powerful baby boomer middle class. A middle class increasingly able to take family vacations, buy suburban houses, new appliances, a new car every few years and color televisions.

And, as boomer parents became defined by their stuff, many of their kids increasingly began to resent their parents materialism.

Add a war to that resentment and the hippie generation began to emerge as a natural evolution from the "beat" or "beatnik" generation.

 The Age of Flower Power Begins

The first real hippies I remember seeing seemed to be mainly the disillusioned kids rebelling against the Vietnam war and parental authority. The next waves included a healthy dose of lost souls and wannabes.

All determined to come to San Francisco to experience the music, drugs, free love and wear flowers in their hair.

Young Man Against Plywood
(Gelatin Silver Print by Elaine Mayes)

By 1967 Golden Gate Park and the nearby Haight Ashbury neighborhood had become the epicenter of the hippie "movement" and San Francisco entered its "Summer of Love".

On April 8th, the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love, the MH de Young Museum launched an exhibition of art, fashion and music of 1967.

While some say if you remember the sixties you weren't there, I think, for a lot of us, the imagery of this exhibit will shake loose some of those memories.

The Summer Begins

You'll see Hippie fashions embracing colors, natural fibers, tie dye, headscarves, hats, ponchos, Levi's jeans®, and granny glasses; everything aimed at making a statement. 

Yet, much like the tattoo fad today, once the initial shock of the "look at me" non-conformist fashion wore off (and seemingly every teenager in California became proficient in throwing dye in the washer), the non-conformity became conformity and Bay Area residents became inured to it all.

Hippie Fashion - Colorful Symbols of Youthful Rebellion

 The Shoes

 The Chic

 The Painted Levi's

Besides fashion, in music the drift from folk to rock & roll became a defining force of the era. Bands went into open competition to come up with extreme names: The Grateful Dead, The Jefferson Airplane and Big Brother and the Holding Company. And all of the 60's bands performed with elaborate light shows, courtesy of rock promoter Bill Graham, at his Fillmore Auditorium, Avalon and Winterland Ballrooms.

The de Young exhibition showcases the dazzling posters and postcards Graham used to promote his shows.

 Bill Graham's Concert Handbills

Psychedelic Poster Art
(Lights By Holly See and Music By Janis)

The Grateful Dead

The music, art and fashion always included relentless anti-war themes reminding America that the draft was chewing up America's youth for a war few seemed to really understood. This led artists and actresses like Joan Baez and Jane Fonda to emerge as spokespersons in the anti-war movement.

Joan Baez Instructs: 
"Girls Say Yes to Boys That Say No"

Sadly, the exhibit presents only a superficial visual extravaganza of the trappings of the era, without any attempt to unpack the underlining meaning of the hippie movement and what came next; America's era of drug use that so devastated much of the generation that had come to San Francisco feeling "immortal".

Glamorization Begins For a New American Drug Culture

There is no discussion of the narcissism of the protestors whose "peace" protests abruptly stopped the day after Rumsfeld cynically got Nixon to stop the draft (and then both went right on waging war for many years to follow).

It simply proved that many of the protesters weren't against the horrors of the war, they were against having to put their own lives on the line. Once they were no longer at risk, most quit caring and far too many openly abused the returning soldiers who had gone to fight.

The Summer of Love Exhibit is scheduled to run through August 20, 2017 at the MH de Young museum in Golden Gate Park.

Its fun, its pretty, just don't come with expectations to find a deeper understanding of what it all meant.

And, if you visit the de Young before April 30, be sure to go see Danny Lyon's photographic exhibit. His photos are simply mesmerizing.

Roadboy's Travels © 2017

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