This summer marks the 50th anniversary of the “Summer of Love.” From an historical perspective, the “Summer of Love” wasn’t very “lovely.” Global civil unrest, racial tensions in the United States, meaningless “Cold War” rhetoric, and the bitter war in Viet Nam marred the summer of 1967. The series of events, now known as the “Summer of Love,” presented a collective contrast of traditional values and counterculture ideals, of established norms and emerging “principles(?),” and of conventional pragmatism and revolutionary mysticism.
The “60’s,” particularly 1967, was a period of bizarre contrasts and contradictions. While it was a time of peace, the nation was involved in a long, strange, and sad war. It was a period of equality and civil rights. Thurgood Marshal was confirmed as the first African-American Supreme Court Justice in August 1967. Yet the ugliness of “Jim Crow” segregation remained a part of life for many. It was an era of science, knowledge, and enlightenment. It also was a time haunted by ignorance, intolerance, hysteria, and paranoia. It was a moment in time when cynical hypocrites preached unchallenged drivel – disguised as truth – to the hapless, accepting masses.
It was a year when blood stained the pavements in cities, such as Newark, and in the distant, remote jungles of Southeast Asia. By 1967, the four lads from Liverpool that had captured the hearts of a grieving nation some three years prior on The Ed Sullivan Show had become a potent force, the juggernaut, for an inchoate youth movement that rallied around the “soundtrack” for the “Summer of Love, “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” (released June 1, 1967). These youths, “Hippies” and “Flower Children,” embraced the mantra “All You Need is Love.” Everyday speech in “67” became riddled with jargon such as “Peace,” “Flower Power,” and “Make love not war.”
Regrettably, today we realize that the poignant slogans of “67” became – or, perhaps, were nothing more than – mere banal clichés. As the Beatles sang about “Sergeant Pepper,” “Lucy in the Sky,” and “Four thousand holes in Blackburn Lancashire;” we realized that things just weren’t “Getting Better.” In many ways, things were getting worse. The struggles of humanity continued to plague society.
Even though four millionaires hypocritically told us, “All You Need is Love,” the bitter war in Vietnam would continue to rage on for another six years, and over 50,000 dead. Dope became “the monkey” for many. “Turn on, tune in, drop out” supplanted increased social awareness and enhanced community consciousness. The “Summer of Love” was a time of transition from conventional, rational practicality to a transcendental “spiritual regeneration,” from a harsh dose of reality to a self-licking psychedelic lollipop, from political cognizance to drug-induced “trips,” from Sinatra to Lennon, and from a push – a movement - that no longer looked for “change” or “progress” or even “revolution,” but merely to “escape,” to live on the outer circumference of a world that just might become the model for peace, love, and understanding. And now, some 50 years later, we’re still looking for that world.
John Di Genio