Haight-Ashbury & the Summer of Love in 1967 set the scene for a cultural revolution

Haight-Ashbury and the Summer of Love in 1967 at ClickAmericana com

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Summer of Love & the Haight-Ashbury district: The intersection of peace, music & revolution

In the beating heart of the mid-60s, the Summer of Love painted the world with a kaleidoscope of ideals, artistic expression, and boundless optimism. Fueled by the desire to create a utopian society, this brief but intense period of history played a pivotal role in shaping popular culture, music, and social movements.

Here, we’re revisiting the grooviest days of San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury, the iconic echoes of musical legends, and the blend of love, music, and rebellion that defined a generation.

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The song “San Francisco” written by John Phillips (Mamas & the Papas), vocals by Scott McKenzie


🌼 What and when was the Summer of Love?

As civil unrest simmered worldwide and a generation of young adults felt disenchanted with mainstream society, the Summer of Love burst onto the scene in a flamboyant burst of color on an otherwise austere canvas.

It was 1967, and the world felt propelled by division and conflict. The scars of war were ongoing, and social unrest rattled the foundations of the establishment.

Against this backdrop, a movement was brewing, personified by young people who sought to rewrite the rules. This is the stage where the Summer of Love would unfold — a seismic shift in collective consciousness that was destined to leave an indelible mark on history.

Summer of Love vintage news photo at Click Americana (April 30 1967) (2)

With the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco as its epicenter, this “hippies” movement sought to promote peace, love, and unity in a world teetering on the edge of chaos.

🌼 VIDEO: “Summer Of Love: The Psychedelic Revolution Of 1967”

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🌼 How did the Summer of Love start & what did The Beatles have to do with it?

Before the masses clothed themselves in fringe, flowers and peace signs, the roots of the counterculture movement had begun to snake through the soil of American society.

Civil rights battles, anti-war protests, and the fight for free speech rights throughout the earlier 1960s set the stage for a broader cultural shift that would come to be epitomized by the Summer of Love.

In May 1967, The Beatles released “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” an album that would become emblematic of the era.

That album in particular was a cultural milestone that echoed the burgeoning ideals of freedom, love, and peace. The album’s innovative sound and philosophical lyrics resonated deeply with 60s youth — serving as a backdrop to the transformative events that were about to unfold.

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As summer progressed, the ethos of “Sgt. Pepper” seemed to manifest physically in the streets of San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district. This neighborhood, already a melting pot of artists, activists, and free thinkers, found in The Beatles’ music a shared soundtrack to their aspirations. The album’s themes of unity, love, and questioning authority amplified the collective desire for change, acting as a catalyst for the gathering movement.

Haight-Ashbury, home to a burgeoning community of artists, poets, and bohemians, welcomed the masses with open arms, and the love fest was on.

ALSO SEE: 10 of the best psychedelic rock songs that defined the 1960s

George Harrison Summer of Love 1967
George Harrison – Summer of Love 1967

🌼 San Francisco as the Summer of Love epicenter

Long before 1967, San Francisco had cultivated a reputation as a haven for those who lived on the fringes of mainstream society. People like Allen Ginsberg and Lawrence Ferlinghetti — with their revolutionary poetry and literary contributions — had already sown the seeds of nonconformity and artistic freedom in the city’s cultural soil.

The creative works of these figureheads challenged societal norms and celebrated the value of free expression, setting the stage for the city to become a beacon for alternative cultures.

The Fall of America: Poems of These States 1965-1971 (City Lights Pocket Poets Series)
  • Used Book in Good Condition
  • Ginsberg, Allen (Author)
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As the calendar turned to 1967, San Francisco’s inherent openness and its burgeoning countercultural community made it the natural epicenter for what would come to be known as the Summer of Love. This wasn’t a coincidence, but the result of years of progressive thought and artistic expression, which had fostered an environment ripe for such a phenomenon.

The city, particularly the Haight-Ashbury district, became a magnet for young people disillusioned with the status quo, drawn by the promise of a community that valued peace, love, and communal living over materialism and war.

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This influx of thousands of individuals, many of them young adults and teens, was driven by a shared desire for connection, a quest for spiritual awakening, and a hope to forge a new societal blueprint based on harmony and understanding.

San Francisco’s parks, streets, and communal spaces became stages for this grand social experiment. Music filled the air, from impromptu guitar sessions in Golden Gate Park to legendary concerts that brought together the era’s most influential musicians, further solidifying the city’s role as the movement’s headquarters.

The Summer of Love in San Francisco was a culmination of a city’s long-standing embrace of the unconventional — and the place where ideas and ideals coalesced before they went on to influence global culture and society for decades to come.

Summer of Love vintage news photo at Click Americana (April 30 1967) (1)

🌼 Setting the stage for the Summer of Love

The journey to the Summer of Love was paved with a series of cultural and social shifts that resonated deeply with the youth of the 1960s. Central to this evolving landscape was the Human Be-In event, held in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park in January 1967.

This gathering was more than just a meeting of minds; it was a vibrant, palpable manifestation of the growing counterculture movement, drawing people from various backgrounds to unite under the ideals of love, peace, and communal living.

Make Love Not War poster 1960s

The Be-In became a catalyst, a moment of convergence where the ethos of the burgeoning hippie movement was joyously celebrated. Attendees experienced a sense of unity and collective consciousness, amplified by the backdrop of the warm California sun and the scenic beauty of Golden Gate Park.

ALSO SEE: The Jimi Hendrix Experience: First person accounts of what those concerts were like, via reviews from the 60s

The event was marked by music, poetry readings, and speeches, creating a tapestry of artistic and philosophical expressions that reflected the community’s diverse influences and aspirations.

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Key figures of the era, such as Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert (later known as Ram Dass), played significant roles in shaping the narrative and direction of the movement. Leary, with his famous call to “turn on, tune in, drop out,” encouraged individuals to explore their consciousness and question the societal norms that they felt were restrictive and out of touch with their values.

Be Here Now (Enhanced Edition)
  • Dass, Ram (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)

Alpert, too, advocated for spiritual awakenings and personal growth, often through the lens of psychedelic exploration, which many believed offered a path to greater understanding and empathy.

The impact of the Human Be-In was profound, sending ripples through the counterculture community and beyond. It demonstrated the power of collective action and the potential for a society built on the principles of peace and love.

As word spread, San Francisco became a beacon for those seeking to be part of this new way of life, setting the stage for the Summer of Love. This period would see an unprecedented influx of young people to the city, all eager to be part of a movement that promised a break from the conventional and an embrace of a more harmonious, interconnected existence.

How music & art converged to forge an era of love, peace & fellowship

As the Summer of Love unfurled, its heartbeat was a rhythmic thrum that echoed across the nation. Music was the primary vehicle for the transmission of the counterculture’s message, but it was just one element in a broader artistic frenzy.

🌈 The role of music festivals and iconic performances

No history of the Summer of Love would be complete without a discussion of its pulsating soundtrack and the vibrant art it inspired.

Local bands like the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, and Big Brother and the Holding Company became synonymous with the San Francisco Sound — a fusion of rock, folk, and blues music underpinned by an unabashed experimentalism and Eastern influences.

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The Monterey Pop Festival in June 1967, which showcased American and British rock royalty — including Janis Joplin, the Jimi Hendrix Experience and The Who — introduced this new genre to a global audience. The music was transcendent, and the crowd euphoric, setting the stage for change… and the world listened.

MORE: Janis Joplin: Find out how the rock legend lived fast and died young in 1970

🌈 Art as the mirror of the movement

Concurrent with the auditory revolution was a visual one. Psychedelic art, characterized by its bright colors, intricate patterns, and references to both the counterfeit realities and enlightenment offered by psychoactives, mirrored the movement’s values, and was often displayed alongside music and other forms of art.

ALSO: Make DIY tie-dye shirts & other fashions just like hippies did in the 60s & 70s

The swirling murals that adorned the Haight became a canvas for the bay’s psychedelic scene. Day-Glo colors, fringed leather, and flowers in the hair — the look of love flaunted by the movement painted San Francisco’s streets like an ongoing parade.

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Social & political activism: The dream of a just society

The euphoria of the Summer of Love may have looked like no more than a hedonistic escape, but it represented a collective yearning for a world governed by equity, peace, and mutual respect. This period marked a significant departure from traditional values, advocating for a society that embraced diversity and challenged injustices.

☮️ Peace and anti-war movements

At the heart of the counterculture movement was a fervent opposition to the Vietnam War. The demonstrations and peace rallies of the Summer of Love embodied a powerful rejection of violence and militarism. Participants in the movement envisioned a world where conflicts were resolved not through warfare but through dialogue and understanding.

The gatherings in San Francisco and beyond served as living examples of such a world, where individuals from various backgrounds came together in harmony, showcasing the potential for a peaceful global community.

Summer of Love vintage news photo at Click Americana (April 30 1967 - 5)

☮️ Civil rights and feminist activism

The concept of free love, central to the counterculture ethos, challenged conventional views on romantic and sexual relationships. Advocates of free love argued for the removal of restrictions and judgments surrounding sexuality, promoting a vision of society where love was unencumbered by traditional mores.

This philosophy extended into a broader critique of societal norms, questioning the status quo and advocating for a more open, accepting community.

☮️ Free love and alternative lifestyles

The concept of free love, central to the counterculture ethos, challenged conventional views on romantic and sexual relationships. Advocates of free love argued for the removal of restrictions and judgments surrounding sexuality, promoting a vision of society where love was unencumbered by traditional mores.

This philosophy extended into a broader critique of societal norms, questioning the status quo, and advocating for a more open, accepting community.

Hippie couple from the late 1960s at ClickAmericana com

☮️ Embracing communal living and non-traditional relationships

The movement’s inclination towards communal living was both a practical and ideological choice. Communes, proliferating across the United States, became laboratories for experimenting with new forms of social organization.

These communal setups rejected the nuclear family model, offering instead a vision of living based on shared resources, collective decision-making, and emotional bonds beyond conventional familial ties.

This approach to living was emblematic of the broader aspirations of the Summer of Love: to reimagine human connections and construct a society based on collaboration and mutual support.

Legacy and impact: The ripple effects of the Summer of Love

The Summer of Love was not a neatly contained season. Its echoes ripple through the fabric of contemporary culture, audible in the music, visible in the art, and tangible in the social movements that followed.

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🌱 Cultural, musical, and social impact on future generations

The legacy of the Summer of Love is vast. It birthed a summer soundtrack that remains in heavy rotation to this day, shaped fashion trends that continue to cycle, and planted the seeds for future social movements.

🌱 Love endures & the beat goes on

A look back at the Summer of Love offers a snapshot of a generation in transition — a cultural revolution that energized the collective soul and changed the trajectory of American culture.

In the end, the Summer of Love was less about a specific time and place, and more about the universal human yearning for connection, expression, and a more genuine experience of life.

Today, as we encounter similar challenges and opportunities for societal growth, the lessons of love, harmony, and togetherness from that era remain as relevant and necessary as ever.

So groove on, travelers of the cosmic highway. The spirit of the Summer of Love lives on, having indelibly woven its psychedelic threads into the very nature of our continuing human saga.

Hippies giving flowers to police (1967)
Hippie Demonstrator offering a flower to a military police officer – October 21, 1967

Article from 1967: A rollicking rock concert in Golden Gate Park

From The San Francisco Examiner (California) June 23, 1967

A soap bubble soared up out of the packed music concourse and floated into the Golden Gate Park Band Shell.

Pushed on by the good vibrations of the Steve Miller Blues Band, it drifted around the shell from one side to the other, then disappeared in the gleaming blue sky.

It was one of many that bobbed over the crowd of 6,000, most of them teenagers, who attended the first free summer Rock Concert sponsored by The Examiner yesterday.

Most of the 5,000 seats had been filled with youngsters when the five Sons of Champlin hit the first beat at 1 p.m., but as the crowd began to grow, it became evident that the audience was more than teenagers.

Summer of Love vintage news photo at Click Americana Jun 23 1967)

Camera-carrying tourists who had been driving by parked and joined the throng. People walked out of the museums on either side of the concourse and sat down in the sun.

Small picnics were laid out on the bordering lawns. There were hippies, but they were a surprisingly small percentage of the group. There were teeny-boppers — junior hippies — and a scattering of micro-teeny boppers, little girls in tiny skirts who didn’t know the steps and danced anyway while their smiling mothers watched.

Even Recreation Director Ed McDevitt, a relatively staid civil servant, was observed slyly tapping a toe. “It’s a fine afternoon,” he smiled. “The weather’s lovely, the kids are happy, and they have something to do. I wish we could have a pleasant crowd like this here every day.”

Biggest cheer of the day came when jazz critic Phil Elwood, who mc’d the concert, told the crowd the Examiner was contemplating further free concerts. Dancers who had been stomping up a cloud of dust with bare feet and moccasins in front of the shell cheered when he said that next time there’d be more room for them.

The Examiner, the Recreation and Park Department, and the San Francisco Youth Association cooperated in presenting the concert. While it was in progress, the Recreation and Park Commission approved a resolution calling for similar concerts on a weekly basis.

Article from 1967: San Francisco typifies hippie movement in America

By Robert Strand – Kenosha News (Kenosha, Wisconsin) June 19, 1967

On a chilly night three months ago, a slender girl stood for the first time on San Francisco’s Haight Street and smiled. Strangers smiled back, and that is why she came. In her Midwestern city, people don’t.

Sandra, a blue-eyed brunette, knew where to go. She had noted the address in an underground newspaper. Although $100 was tucked in her pocket, she preferred to doze off on the floor of an apartment crammed with three dozen others.

From there, it was an easy transition to a third-story railroad flat where the bathroom door was never closed. The flat was home for seven boys, four girls and a baby who lived communally, sharing all things. It was a haven for pot (marijuana) smoking, acid dropping (LSD), and record playing (folk rock) where books were seldom read and angry voices almost never heard.

Actress Julie Christie and hippie posters (Life magazine -1967)

Gal’s wisdom

Here Sandra thought she was discovering a wisdom not found at the large university where she won admirable grades for two years and wore a coveted sorority pin — how to live in exciting peace and warm love.

Sandra’s contribution to the commune was occasional cooking, proceeds from the sale of bead necklaces she made, and small checks that came in anxious letters from her mother.

But she knew mother wasn’t too terribly upset. The mother, she said, would forget the day after each letter because “that’s how she copes.”

One day, crawling on all fours, Sandra pretended to be an elephant, mimicking the mammal’s awkwardness and grace. Everybody laughed. With that, Sandra changed her identity, and became known to all as Dancing Elephant.

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Not so strange

The name was not strange in the Haight-Ashbury, headquarters for the hippie movement whose tentacles are shooting from pad to pad across the nation.

Nor would Dancing Elephant be out of place in hippie communities developing in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Detroit, Cleveland, Chicago, Boulder, Colorado; Austin, Texas; Los Angeles and Seattle, to name a few.

And Dancing Elephant is no longer a shock to some respected thinkers who seriously suggest the hippies’ rapid growth may be sweeping enough to become one of the 20th century’s more important events.

Mad Magazine - Beatles and hippies September 1968
Mad Magazine – Beatles and hippies September 1968

Others, like a San Francisco Examiner columnist, Dick Nolan, says, “the hip world is the slob world… Society’s sad sacks, traipsing around in Halloween costumes, reciting slogans as meaningless as their barren lives,” he writes. “They are pitiful.”

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Long reach

Whatever they are, the hippies’ influence is reaching not just into the suburban ranch house with a swimming pool of the Dancing Elephant’s father, a busy and successful pediatrician. To his neighbors’ houses, their message is being spread by psychedelic advertising, psychedelic posters reproduced in mass magazines and psychedelic sports shirts and psychedelic jewelry.

More importantly, the psychedelic rock music speaks in language, unfathomable to thoughts perfectly understood by the nation’s youth.

The Haight-Ashbury district is a 50-block area of post-Victorian flats inhabited by a variety of races and economic classes. Mainly, its rents are low, and that is what has been luring young people into the district for several years.

As the youths went hippie, “Get out of Vietnam” signs appeared in the windows. The spacious buildings proved easily adaptable to the hippies’ communes. And the district’s great advantage turned out to be its border on the 1,014 acres of San Francisco’s delightful Golden Gate Park. Since its acquisition, in 1868, the park policy has always been, ”don’t keep off the grass.”

Here the hippies now sit blowing their flutes, dropping their acid, strumming their guitars and letting their children run. The city should have gotten its first warning that something bizarre was happening in 1966 when 10,000 people passed in and out of Longshoremen’s Hall for a trips festival organized by novelist Ken Kesey.

Summer of Love vintage news photo at Click Americana (April 30 1967) (4)

Psychedelic trips

The event’s name referred to psychedelic trips. The entertainment was do-it-yourself. Everything went on at once. Electronic bands shouted, fantastic and sensual light patterns jumped up and down the walls, weirdly costumed spectators danced and groups clustered around stroboscopic lights whose effects were supposed to turn one on.

By the time Sandra arrived, the Haight-Ashbury was seething with excitement. A human be-in in the park Jan. 14 had attracted 15,000 people.

“Wow, if we can do that, we can turn on the world,” the hippies exulted.

Later in the spring, the be-ins occurred every Saturday and Sunday afternoon. Long forgotten ballrooms, the Avalon and the Fillmore, converted early in 1966 for rock bands, drew thousands each weekend night.

Summer of Love vintage news photo at Click Americana Aug 14 1967)

High on pot

Sandra, the Dancing Elephant, has been high on pot too many times to count. Four times she has taken the eight-hour long LSD trip, but she regards acid with caution. And with good reason. One of her experiments was a bad trip in which she sat shaking with panic and had to be talked down by an understanding fellow hippie.

Hippies are better physicians in such situations, she says, because they offer love instead of the coldness of an emergency hospital.

The LSD Rescue Service, a volunteer group whose telephone number is widely published, deals with another 20 or 30 a week in the immediate area of the city. The rescue service estimates 40,000 people here have taken LSD.

At San Francisco General Hospital, psychiatrists now treat about five bad trippers daily. About one out of five is kept overnight, and about one out of a dozen is committed for extended psychiatric care.

The hippies are warned by psychiatrists that the long tere consequences of taking LSD there’s evidence to suggest it may have physical, psychic and genetic damage which is permanent. But for the hippies, recently being called flower children, the danger is far outweighed by the spiritual insights claimed for LSD.

A good trip is said to awaken the senses to their environment. The walls, the floor, the ceiling and and the furniture all are supposed to vibrate in harmony.

“I saw God,” is the flower children’s refrain, and their frequent discovery is, “all is one.”

Despising conventional institutions, the hippies have organized a complete set of their own. Each is formless, and denies any strong personal leadership, for in the hippie creed — if there is one — the individual must remain a small part in the collective.

Hippie looks in tie dye from the late 1960s at ClickAmericana com

New community

The Haight-Ashbury’s “new community” includes a theater group to give free plays in the park, a job co-op, a housing agency, a group renovating an abandoned theater, several newspapers, at least 25 businesses, and a happening house, which plans lectures and discussion groups.

ALSO SEE: San Francisco in the 1970s: See photos of vintage downtown SF

All these activities have turned Haight Street, once a second-rate neighborhood business artery, into the place tourists want to see first, even before topless night clubs or Fisherman’s Wharf.

Auto traffic often is at a standstill. Long-haired youths sit in circles on the sidewalks. On every block hippies stand in the street waving The Oracle, their foremost newspaper. The last issue sold 100,000 copies.

Overlooking it all, a theater marquee is emblazoned with the single word, “LOVE.” But in the older stores, the merchants are full of hate and anger. Their customers can’t park, are accosted by panhandlers and must step over reclining bodies to enter the stores.

Summer of Love vintage news photo at Click Americana June 18 1967)

Loud music

In afternoons, amplified electronic music from the park smashes through walls of apartments of the elderly blocks away. Letters arrive daily at the hippie job co-op advising the flower children to jump off the Golden Gate Bridge. A bullet recently banged through the co-op’s front door.

Health authorities report venereal diseases in the district has multiplied six times in three years. Narcotics arrests, numbering 148 in 1965, now are running at the rate of 1,000 a year.

Police Chief Thomas Cahill has called the hippies “no asset to the community” and Mayor John F. Shelley and the board of supervisors have declared them ”unwelcome.”

A trouble here is just who are “they?” Nobody appears to have defined the term, hippie, with precision and clarity. It is difficult to define a phenomenon that keeps changing, a movement which includes many kinds of people. There are hippies capitalists, priests, social workers, artisans, do-absolutely-nothings and some who work 40-hour weeks.

ALSO SEE: The Lovin’ Spoonful made us believe in magic with their catchy tunes & upbeat vibes (1960s)

Thrill seekers

And there are what Police Capt. Daniel W. Kiely calls “pseudo hippies,” the thrill seekers who don a costume and “some looking for some of that free love.”

The flower children themselves define themselves variously “seekers” of spiritual wisdom, as being “self aware” and as those responsive to ”the vibrations of love.”

Something hippies are not is beatnik. And the notion they are filthy is based more on hair lengths than fact, although bare feet do get grimy. Besides advocating use of drugs, San Francisco’s “new community” has some common philosophical concepts.

Its members regard world leaders as probably insane and their capacity for solving any of the obvious problems of society as hopeless. But at present, they find protest of the establishment as futile, and choose “to live our protest” by creating a new way of life rather than by staging demonstrations.

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Half human

They believe their parents’ devotion to the acquiring of material things has made them unhappy and half-human, and that in our affluent society, there should be plenty for everybody.

They argue automation is making labor less and less necessary, and that their generation must individually learn to derive joy from leisure time. They conceive of love as sharing, and offer love as the supreme value.

What the hippies believe is worth study if for no other reason than that they may be signaling the unspoken thoughts and dreams of the young all over the nation.

In the view of Dr. John Milner, a University of Southern California professor, hippies reflect ”a general reaction against the establishment which cannot be dismissed as it might have been by previous generations as an adolescent fling or the sowing of wild oats.”

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End badly

Among the hippies themselves, a few think their trip will end in “concentration camps.” These pessimists foresee their own forceful repression because of their attack on all of the nation’s institutions. And they predict that resistance to the Vietnam War may take the form of widespread sabotage requiring thousands of arrests.

But most hippies are bubbling with hope. There’s talk of moving into the vast open spaces of Nevada and quickly outnumbering the state’s 183,863 registered voters.

Presumably, the hippies would abolish the casinos, set up free drug dispensaries, ban alcoholic beverages, establish marijuana farms and substitute group marriages for the quickie marriage and divorce business.

The dominant hippie personalities are confident that be-ins this summer in many cities will start vibrations leading to formation of thousands of new hippie groups.

Just “a fad”

The San Francisco Examiner has regarded the hippies editorially as ”a fad’ which will pass just as the city’s beatniks did. The beatniks attracted tourists in the 1950s to their North Beach haven. The tourists inspired gift shops and honky tonks which in turn brought high rents. The beatniks then moved.

Along Haight Street the process has begun, and big money is quietly acquiring storefronts where “love burgers” and psychedelic knick knacks can be hawked. A bar has introduced the topless.

As thrill seekers, exploiters, junior Hell’s Angels, and toughs masquerading as flower children invade the changing scene, the number of violent incidents is rising sharply. 

Some of the most “beautiful” people have already split, mostly for rural colonies close to nature, in Mexico, the Sierra, New Mexico, and on the California coast.

Sandra, by the way, left with Electric Octopus, a camera enthusiast who has been her constant male companion of late. They needed money, and the young man was taking a job with a movie crew. She said she wanted to stay with Electric Octopus “maybe forever.”

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Comments on this story

One Response

  1. The 1960s counterculture never went away so much as it was normalized and absorbed into the mainstream. So much of what seemed “freaky” and radical back then are just seen as different lifestyle choices today (sadly, the Manson murders were also a preview of things to come). That photo of George Harrison playing guitar with a bunch of kids looks as if it could have been taken yesterday… yet photos of the Beatles taken a couple of years earlier look genuinely old. What made the “hippies” stand out was what came before, and what they were rebelling against — a monoculture that was far more conformist and conservative than nearly anything we see now.

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