I was there, then. I am writing based on what I saw with my own eyes.
I graduated from high school in San Francisco in 1964 and from UC Berkeley in 1968. Almost everything I read about that time and place is biased, and not entirely true, based on comparison with my own personal experience. What is written either comes from those who were not there then, or from “leaders” who try to paint themselves as successful and positive. When media wishes to revisit those times, they pick the same “leaders” again and again to explain, thus only a partial truth ever emerges — “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.“
The Summer of Love was the end of the utopian phase of the “counterculture,” as it was the ultimate takeover of it by Manhattan’s Madison Avenue advertisers as well as the Hollywood music industry’s promoters. New York City media made the movement bigger, but it was also no longer utopian as it was targeted by promoters, hustlers and criminals who could spot a large number of potential victims in a utopian movement of youth.
There had already been several endings before this media-created summer. There was the psychedelically painted bus trip by Ken Kesey in the summer of 1964, followed by acid test parties with the Grateful Dead, ending with the last acid test on January 1966, the three-day Trips Festival at a labor union hall at Fisherman’s Wharf. This event was copied and attempted to be reproduced by the two weekly psychedelic dances, at the Avalon and Fillmore ballrooms, for commercial as well as psychedelic purposes.
Kesey disappeared in January 1966, following two marijuana busts, and only returned to the United States for a Halloween 1966 post-acid “graduation” which was not well-received by the “leaders” of the counterculture who viewed his “graduation from LSD” as a betrayal. He went against the then-massively profitable psychedelic business of music, drug dealing and businesses that profited on LSD and sex. He moved from his La Honda redwood home and went back to a family farm outside of Springfield, Oregon.
Sex and drugs and rock-and-roll were, by October 1966, a way for a lot of hustlers and promoters to make money while claiming to be the leaders of a movement for change. Utopian idealism was promoted and many still believed. Making LSD illegal in October 1966 changed its production from a legal Swiss pharmaceutical product into something for organized crime. Also, the legal production by countercultural entrepreneurs such as Owsley Stanley became illegal. He wasn’t a chemist, but he realized what product was required by the times and picked up a female doctoral candidate chemist at UC Berkeley’s chemistry labs who showed Owsley how to make LSD in the Berkeley labs legally until October 1966.
Despite LSD being legal at the time, their lab was busted. At this time, Owsley resided on Virginia Street, on the quiet Northside neighborhood of campus. Some of my roommates were acquaintances of his, as well as suppliers of LSD for the student housing co-ops. Turning a legal product into an illegal one changed the purity of the LSD product, which could now be faked with meth or heavily cut with meth and other easily-produced powerful drugs. Illegal drugs are unlikely to have the police verify their purity. And so, the LSD era was essentially over with the product being made illegal in October 1966.
Certainly the “establishment” was not thrilled by the counterculture having passed laws in October 1966 that made LSD illegal. It was no coincidence that the two LSD gurus, Timothy Leary and Kesey, both had two minor marijuana possession busts for tiny amounts for huge prison terms. They were both stated by the political leaders and law enforcement as grave threats to the morals of the country’s youth.
The “leaders” of every radical political and countercultural movement that was publicized during the 1960s were not from San Francisco or Berkeley. Go through the list. No one was from the city, except for Jerry Garcia; most were from New York City or Los Angeles. They emigrated there because of its well publicized tolerance of unusual ideas and behaviors that were driven out of other towns. If they all gathered in San Francisco or Berkeley, they could form a critical mass. None of it was homegrown from the people who grew up there, but the tradition of tolerance made it grow there, via immigration of rebels. Some were idealistic and some were criminals and predators who have the ability to spot victims from the idealistic and less strong. Both were attracted to the place.
For example, Charles Manson, when he got out of federal prison in the spring of 1967, immediately headed to the Bay Area, picked up and moved in with a bookish UC Berkeley campus librarian with a graduate degree and began picking up barefoot runaway girls on Telegraph Avenue and bringing them to live in his new girlfriend’s apartment. Then he saw even better pickings in San Francisco and moved his growing harem to Haight-Ashbury. But even he was appalled at what was going on there in the so-called Summer of Love. By the fall of 1967, he had gotten a painted former school bus, searched Sonoma and Mendocino for a place to continue, found the good spots taken and moved to the canyons outside Los Angeles, where the music industry artists lived along with their drug suppliers. If Charles Manson found Haight-Ashbury too violent and too much a predator hustler’s paradise and felt he had to take his new harem out of the mean streets of San Francisco, how could the promoters of the Summer of Love concept miss the obvious?
Growing up in San Francisco, I saw the precursors of the “Summer of Love,” the beatniks, the 1960 HUAC protests. Graduating from high school in San Francisco in 1964, I ended up being photographed at the strike during the Free Speech Movement in 1964. All the unusual people were immigrants to San Francisco and Berkeley, the beatniks, the leftist protesters, the Free Speech Movement leaders. Those locals like me who grew up in San Francisco or
Berkeley were not the leaders, or often, the participants in these movements. There is a joke that everything loose in the United States rolls to San Francisco. San Francisco always prided itself on its tolerance for the newcomers with unusual ideas and behavior who immigrated there.
The lesson learned is that if you have a good movement going, don’t let the NYC media know about it.
Ken Haliburton was The Daily Californian’s editor for the arts and entertainment section during the summer of 1966.