Tuesday, May 08, 2018

From The Archives-On The 50th Anniversary Of The “Summer Of Love”- “The Summer Of Love Experience” At DeYoung Art Museum In Golden Gate Park, San Francisco

On The 50th Anniversary Of The “Summer Of Love”- “The Summer Of Love Experience” At DeYoung Art Museum In Golden Gate Park, San Francisco

By Special Guest Social Commentator Alex James 

[I noted in an earlier introduction to a commentary by my oldest brother Alex that I had been “commissioned” by him and the surviving corner boys who had made the treks west for the Summer of Love, 1967 to put together a tribute book on their experiences. Alex, a lot closer to the action of the 1960s than I ever could be having only been touched by the experience around the edges and mostly second-hand through stories and research is again today’s special guest commentator since the subject matter is again about the Summer of Love, 1967 its 50th anniversary now being commemorated in places like San Francisco and Berkeley. His previous commentary had been about an exhibit at the Berkeley university museum entitled Hippie Modernism: the struggle for utopia and in that introduction I mentioned that he would be doing a commentary on an exhibition at the deYoung Museum in Golden Gate Park entitled The Summer of Love Experience which had first sparked his interest when he saw an advertisement for the project on a passing Muni bus. He will discuss his take on that today.

To explain further that “commissioned” mentioned above has to do with compiling a wide ranging series of writings, sketches really, and reminisces on the theme of the “Summer of Love, 1967” to be made into a small tribute book in honor of his and his “corner boys” from the Acre section of North Adamsville long departed friend Peter Paul Markin. It was Markin who was the main connection between them and the events which transpired in the Bay Area that long ago and which arguably changed their lives forever. Of if not changed forever put a big kink in the way that they were originally heading.]              
I might as well mention again as I did in the Hippie Modernism commentary that I am usually not much for writing outside of my business interests or I should say my law practice which is my business interest and leave the biting or witty commentary and penetrating social analysis my youngest brother, there were six of us to divvy up the social chores, Zack, who has made a career out of such endeavors. Except events this spring around the almost half-forgotten Summer of Love, 1967 which I, and the rest of the guys I hung around with all through public school, had been as Zack said one time “washed clean” by that extraordinary “new breeze” that got a big tailwind from that happening. “Happening” a word very closely associated with all the crazy, goofy, outlandish and in some sad instances pathetic things that went on when we were forced to head west and see what it was all about. “Forced” which is exactly the right word by one mad monk of a man, Peter Paul Markin, known as the “Scribe” from junior high school on after he had been given that moniker by the acknowledged leader of the Acre corner boys, Frankie Riley who has written something for the tribute book that Zack mentioned.

I mentioned in the previous article and it bears repeating here that Markin was a small letter “prophet” unlike a capital letter prophet like Allan Ginsberg who blew Markin away with his Howl in high school which he would recite to us when he was half drunk (or later half-stoned) and which we could have given a fuck about at the time since all we cared about was grabbing petty larceny dough, girls, and fast cars not always in that order, after all was said and done, what little good it ever did him in the long haul to “check out the new breeze coming over the land.”

All that will be, or already has been, detailed in the little tribute book we asked Zack to put together with his sketches on those times and our, the surviving corner boys’ remembrances, in honor of Markin. Like Zack said in his introduction I had been in San Francisco for a law conference and was walking up Geary Street and noticed an advertisement for the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park which was presenting an exhibition titled The Summer of Love Experience. Before I went to that exhibition I snuck over to Berkeley for their exhibit after I overheard a conversation between two old geezers about an exhibit over in Berkeley at the University art museum. They didn’t give the title of the exhibition at the time. Had just said it was about hippies. But when I went to look it up it had the title, the very interesting title-Hippie Modernism: the Struggle for Utopia I couldn’t resist before I left Frisco taking that exhibit in on two counts; it was an unusual way to describe a certain modernist artistic sensibility that I think we were trying to create and a very apt way to describe what the whole “seek a newer world” experience was about (a term Markin used incessantly via Robert Kennedy via Alfred Lord Tennyson when it counted when that man epitomized at the top what might have been before his assassination if the Molochs had been defeated), or what we thought we were trying to do. Zack has mentioned in a few of his sketches that we have faced more than forty years of blow-back from the Molochs (thank Allan Ginsburg’s Howl for that term) which show no signs of abating soon for not creating that utopia, or something close to it. He was right as rain on that score.               

So much for cutting up old touches now on to the DeYoung exhibit that was a lot less academically oriented as one would expect from a general audience production. I might mention here that at both Berkeley and DeYoung the overwhelming majority of the visitors were relics from the generation of ’68, people who had been through that amazing 1960s burn-out and had survived although I was shocked by the number of fellow seniors who were cane-bound, walker-bound, or roller-bound. Not a good sign for people who were probably somewhere between sixty and seventy-five. On the sunnier side I did make a coterie of people laugh when I asked whether this was an AARP meeting. I also wondered what today’s teens to twenty somethings would make of such an exhibit if they ever by accident found themselves in the bowels of the museum where the exhibit was being held. Probably like we did yawn and chortle over the odd way we carried on and what was the big deal anyway. But enough of that.      

What the folks at DeYoung had done was put together several rooms full of posters (posters which back in the day put up around town on walls and lampposts the old fashioned way to communicate, yeah primitive looked at now in the age of Internet/Facebook flash communications, and in selected known hippie hang-out bookstores and “head” shops if you my drift merely to advertise upcoming concerts but now at least the bulk of the selections certainly worthy of mention in the same breathe as pop art that came in the wake of the new dispensation), a glimpse of what the fashion of the day, hippie garb, looked like, photographs  and of course music which continues to define a lot of what was happening in that fateful summer of 1967 if not the whole damn decade.

Summer of Love is something of a misnomer in the sense that there had been a tremendous build-up all through 1966 and the spring of 1967 with an escalating number of concerts, festivals and social events like be-ins and “acid,” you know LSD, tests and would carry over at least until 1968. Markin had gone out there in the spring of 1967 after unwisely, very unwisely, dropping out of Boston University at the end of his sophomore year to “find” himself a thing a lot of kids were doing, according to one caption at least 100, 000 kids descended on the town during that period. Markin had come back in late summer to preach the word (that “preach” not always ironic since once he got the bug in his ear about something he would keep bugging us about it like in high school his always harping on Allan Ginsburg’s Howl  a poem that I have mentioned elsewhere the rest of us could have given a fuck about-then) and round up whoever he could to go back west with him. By the time he “recruited” me and a few others it was early fall so you can see the pull of the place held even after that actual summer was over.           

Looking at the poster art, there must have been a couple of hundred of them all together, beyond the artistic question of where they fit in as representative of the times culturally, I was amazed about how many concerts and festivals were being presented during those times. You could have gone to the Avalon, as we did, Fillmore, Golden Gate Park, also as we did on a whim on any given weekend and not been disappointed since some group was performing-for free or a couple of dollars-literally. One poster featuring an iconic group of the time, Jefferson Airplane, and a host of other well-known bands had been priced at five dollars. That is five dollars and that was for a three day concert-five dollars total. I mentioned in the Berkeley article that a few years ago I spent many hundreds of dollars getting so-so tickets for a Stones concert. I had to point out those ticket numbers to people standing around looking at the poster art and they couldn’t believe it either. The biggest thing that I noticed beyond frequency and ticket price was how many of the bands-that just mentioned Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin’s Big Brother and the Holding Company, the Doors, Quicksilver Messenger Service, the Grateful Dead were based in right in the area and that the sound that would define a generation’s musical taste had been created and nourished out there-on the cheap.                

I mentioned that there was also a lot of mannequin-etched fashions displayed and some of it was very good but somehow the presentation did not ring true. Maybe it was the mannequins all slender and appealing like live models these days and maybe it was the push to show high fashion back then for the celebrities and the well-off who wanted to show they were hip. But I recall that most of us wore tee-shirts and jeans boy and girls, and did not give a damn about fashion. Some people, me too when I was high and was on Captain Crunch’s magical mystery tour yellow brick road converted school bus, would create a momentary look, maybe wear a cowboy hat (me) or buckskin coat (Markin) or pretend they were pirates (Jack Callahan, the former high school football star who Markin somehow got to go out, and Bart Webber who actually had been getting ready to take over his father’s printing business) but usually we dressed simply(and changed less frequently than socially requirements would dictate especially after a three day high). Second-hand clothing from Goodwill, the Sallys and the like was a big deal and whoever was in charge of the production of these fashions had missed the point, had gotten the notion of what people were wearing from what say Neiman-Marcus thought was the “hippie” look. The only ones who went out of their way to be “dressy” were the drag queens in a grouping called the Cockettes which would hang around and look “beautiful” but that was for camp not a generation’s style.          

Above all though was the music of the times to be heard as you went around the various galleries complete with video effects making one, making me wish, I had a joint, you know some dope, you know getting high. I was tapping my toes throughout and totally flipped out when I heard the group It’s a Beautiful Day doing White Bird from their first album which I hadn’t heard in years and the Byrds’ doing Eight Miles High  I was ready to dance, dance and party down. As I mentioned earlier though my fellow veterans mostly looked like they couldn’t believe they had done such stuff when younger and looked so physically ravaged that there was no “party” in them. Markin in his happier days would not have been happy to see what that “fresh new breeze” he kept harping on had turned out to be like, what the survivors, the walking wounded looked like. But as I said in my last article and which is turning into something of a mantra for me this 50th anniversary of Summer of Love-“Twas bliss to be alive.” See this exhibit if you are in Frisco town anytime between now and August 20, 2017.

[I did not want to put this last point in the main body of my article but one, just one, photograph still haunts me. It was a photograph from a 1968 police “runaway” board filled with photographs of runaways being sought be anxious and worried parents who were desperate to find their kids. Not all of the Summer of Love was beautiful and not every kid who went out west survived literally, some wound up in some mental ward. The kids all looked like any all-American kids, white kids, before the “devil” got to them. A lot of photographs were from high school yearbooks. Markin, who also looked mostly like the all-American boy except a little nerdish, sad to say was not alone in not surviving the whole experience.]   

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