It has been exactly 50 years since the generational movement of the “Sons of Flowers” contributed to make San Francisco the perfect place where to cultivate the dream of a new non-violent society, where love and music reigned, and rock, above all, could play free.
We are talking about the so-called Summer of Love, a season that has been marked both by the many youth riots against the Vietnam war and in favour of civil rights, and by the development of psychedelic rock. Actually, they were years when drugs were seen as a tool to broaden mind and knowledge, in which the protest songs (Bob Dylan) or the exhortations to the discovery of the psychedelia (Byrds or Jefferson Airplane) were common and in which protests grew often so strong to turn into real pacifist parades, both in New York and in San Francisco.
It was in San Francisco that a specific geographical area was identified: Haight-Ashbury became the main place of meeting between more and more groups of hippies, which started experimenting community life and celebrations of psychedelic and sexual disinhibition. Journalist Hunter Stockton Thompson came to declare, on the pages of the New York Times Magazine, that “Ashbury is the capital of the hippies”.
That way, the breakdown of American values and social discontent led young people to react, giving rise to a real anti-culture based on new ideals of love and spirituality. Among the first to pursue self-management activities against the Government were the Diggers (by Peter Coyote), other associations such as the Family Dog and even a underground newspaper called Oracle. They formed the Council for the Summer of Love, in sight of the huge wave of young people who would have invaded the city of San Francisco during the summer period: “This summer, the youth of the whole world comes to holy pilgrimage in our city, to affirm and celebrate a new spiritual dawn. The role of the youth of the nation that gave life to Haight-Ashbury is a small part of the world spiritual awakening. The reasons for this do not count. It is a gift from God that we should welcome, nurture and treasure,” the council announced.
However, the main event of that period was concentrated between June 16 and 18 on the occasion of the first great music festival held in Monterey: over 200,000 people and artists attended the festival, including The Animals, Simon & Garfunkel, Canned Heat, Janis Joplin, the already mentioned Jefferson Airplane and Byrds, Ravi Shankar, The Greatful Dead, the Mamas & the Papas, The Who, Buffalo Springfield, Jimi Hendrix (who was introduced on stage by Brian Jones from The Rolling Stones) and many others. These three days marked the history of the United States and of music itself, so much that the Monterey International Pop Festival was considered the forerunner of Woodstock.
Anyway, the hippie utopia, that we can summarize in three simple words as “Peace, love, music”, lasted for a very short period: the gathering of so many young people had brought as a consequence also the gathering of many journalists and the media coverage became too much pressing (bus tours were also set up in order to see the hippie communities), turning everything into a show of folkloric taste. The noble ideals of the “Sons of Flowers” were subservient to the new consumerism which was going to affirm itself during the following decades. At some point, the Diggers closed the ’67 season staging a funeral procession called The Death of Hippie.
As if it were not enough, just two years later, at the end of the Woodstock Festival, the news of The Beatles split up, plus the tragic and premature death of Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison, made it clear that it was the beginning of the end for what had been created by the hippies, the end of this subculture. From the pacifist utopias, shared love and community spontaneity, people soon passed to a nihilistic and commercial dystopia aimed at turning everything into money. The new hedonism individualistic determined a radical change in every field, social, fashion, lifestyle and music, which was no more the soundtrack of a generation but was produced with the only purpose of selling records.