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Personal Perspective

Summer of Love, Plus 30: Older, But Are We Wiser?

June 22, 1997|Paul Krassner | Paul Krassner's newest collection of satire, "The Winner of the Slow Bicycle Race," has just been published in paperback (Seven Stories Press). His comedy CD, "Brain Damage Control," will be released in July

OK, get your stereotypes ready, because it's here the 30th anniversary of the Summer of Love. Ancient history to some; a scapegoat for current problems to others and, for those who were there (Austin Powers wasn't), flashbacks to living an alternative to the blandness and repression of the Eisenhower-Nixon era, further fueled by the assassination of John F. Kennedy, which left a void that the Beatles would partly fill. Sgt. Pepper to the rescue.

But the Summer of Love was about far more than sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll. The blossoming counterculture was, at its core, a spiritual revolution, with religions of repression replaced by communities of liberation. Psychotropic drugs were their sacrament.

Actually, the Summer of Love began on the afternoon of Oct. 6, 1966, the day LSD became illegal. In San Francisco, precisely at 2 p.m., I stood with thousands of young people who had gathered for the purpose of simultaneously swallowing tabs of LSD in front of police. Internal possession was not a crime. We were sending a simple message: We trusted our friends more than we trusted our government.

The event had been publicized by a latter-day "declaration of independence," asserting it was "necessary for the people to cease to recognize the obsolete social patterns which had isolated man from his consciousness and to create with the youthful energies of the world revolutionary communities to which the two-billion-year-old life process entitles them . . . . That the creation endows us with inalienable rights, that among these are: the freedom of the body, the pursuit of joy and the expansion of consciousness, and that to secure these rights, we the citizens of the earth declare our love and compassion for all conflicting hate-carrying men and women of the world."

Originally, the CIA had envisioned using LSD as a means of control; but millions of young Americans dropped the hallucinogen to explore their own inner space. The nuclear family was exploding into extended families. The way you lived your daily life echoed the heartbeat of your politics. There was an epidemic of idealism, and altruism became the highest form of selfishness.

By 1967, there had been an evolutionary jump in consciousness. Herman Kahn, director of the Hudson Institute, a conservative think tank, was the personification of Mr. Jones in Bob Dylan's song--some-thing was happening and he didn't know what it was. He asked me to give him a tour of the Lower East Side. "The hippie dropout syndrome," he complained, "is delaying the guaranteed annual wage." Then he bought a copy of "LSD and Problem Solving."

When Time magazine prepared to publish a cover story on the hippie phenomenon, a cable to their San Francisco bureau instructed researchers to "go at the description and delineation of the subculture as if you were studying the Samoans or the Trobrian Islands." It was an appropriate approach. At the summer-solstice celebration in Golden Gate Park, the same hippies who had ridiculed President Lyndon B. Johnson's call for a national day of prayer were imploring the sun to come out at 5 a.m. They had given up trying to influence the administration, but were still trying to influence the universe.

However, as the Vietnam War escalated, the flower children began to grow thorns. They participated in peace demonstrations, from floating a yellow submarine in the Hudson River to exorcising the Pentagon. The CIA's scenario had backfired.

Although San Francisco had become the focus of a hippie pilgrimage, the Summer of Love was being celebrated across the nation. Shortly after the seminal Monterey Pop Festival presented Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Otis Redding, I performed stand-up at a concert in Pittsburgh, featuring the Grateful Dead, the Fugs and the Velvet Underground. Never before had so many local freaks been in the same place at one time. They were both astounded and reassured. It was as though all the only-Martians-on-their-blocks were attending their first Martian convention.

The underground papers, with the aid of the Underground Press Syndicate, played a vital role in spreading the word about the Summer of Love. But the word wasn't always the truth. In New York, editors of the East Village Other were intrigued to learn that LSD released serotonin in the brain, and wondered if it could be found in nonchemical substances. Deliberately mistaking serotin, which is found in bananas, for serotonin, they launched the Great Banana Hoax.

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