Just living is not enough… one must have sunshine, freedom, and a little flower. ~
Hans Christian Andersen

Between the years of 1965 and 1971 (my age of 12 to 18) something happened to make the world on one side of that divide all but unrecognizable to the world on the other side. For better or for worse (it very much depends on who you ask), those seven years revolutionized western – and eventually global – culture as utterly as any of the great turning points in our history. What happened was us hippies. Long hair, free love, grass, LSD, rock ‘n roll music and the other great festivals from Monterey Pop to Woodstock, antiwar protests and political activism, communes, spiritual seeking in Eastern religions and personal transformation in therapies and practices from est to gestalt, the first stirrings of the modern environmental and feminist  movements: we hippies were defined by virtually everything so-called straight society was not.

1965 was the formation of the key psychedelic rock bands, including the Grateful Dead and the Jefferson Airplane. In 1966 the Hare Krishna movement was born.

On March 8, 1965 the first US combat troops arrived in Vietnam where 3,500 Marines landed at China Beach to defend the American air base at Da Nang. They joined 23,000 American military “advisors” already in Vietnam.

By December 1965 nearly 200,000 American troops were stationed there.

On March 9, 1965 President Johnson authorized the use of napalm made by Dow Chemicals, a petroleum-based anti-pesonnel bomb that showered hundreds of explosive pellets upon impact, burning any unfortunate human being in its path to death.

On their first tour of America the Rolling Stones missed San Francisco, and then on May 21, 1965 they played the Civic Auditorium in San Jose.

There was a lot of underground activity in San Francisco and the Bay Area in the summer of 1965 – individual actions and events which together gave rise to the extraordinary phenomenon of Haight-Ashbury.

A lot of new bands came together that summer.

The woods were filled with the roar of Harley Davidson’s as the Hell’s Angels descended.

On August 11, 1965, in the middle of the summer heat wave, a minor incident in the black South Central neighborhood of Watts fled into full-scale rioting.

It took 16,000 National Guardsmen, city police and county deputies to quell the riots, in which an estimated 35,000 American-Americans took part.

There was more trouble ahead.

1966 opened with a potent of things to come when, on January 3rd, a small store at Haight and Ashbury opened its doors as the Psychedelic Shop, and immediately became the place to hang out. Prior to that there had only been the laundromat. 1966 was also the year that psychedelic posters really took off. I was not allowed to have any in my room. The price of pot in 1966 was $8 to $10 for an ounce or a “lid.” A key or a kilogram went from $50 to $75 depending on how good it was, and how much was around on the street at the time. Most people rarely paid more than $65. The boutique and shop owners on Haight Street were doing very well.

1967 was the year of the Summer of Love in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury and the realization of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper. In 1968 politics erupted into violent clashes from Chicago to Paris.

On September 7, 1968 the women’s movement announced its existence to the world by disrupting the Miss America Pageant broadcast live on nationwide television from Atlantic City.

The hippie phenomenon was able to define a small town like San Francisco. Talk of communes and drugs filled the air. 1968 was a year of violence for many people.

1969 demonstrated the possibility of the communal spirit at Woodstock (and yes, I was there – age 16) as well as its limits at Altamont.

The Woodstock Aquarian Music and Art Fair was held on August 15,16, and 17, 1969 at Max Yasgur’s 660-acre dairy farm in White Lake, near Bethel, about 100 miles north of New York City. The original plan was for “three days of peace and music” in Woodstock, the village in the Catskills where Bob Dylan, this manager Al Grossman and the Band all lived in upstate New York. They expected about 50,000 people a day, and the catering, toilets, plumbing and water supplies were all set for that many people. What they got was well over 400,000 people. There were two births, three deaths and a few thousand injuries, of which those were mostly cuts to bare feet. Four hours before the festival began, there was a fifteen-mile traffic jam all around the town of Bethel. People had been arriving for days before and the organizers rented additional space behind the stage for tents and teepees. The music program changed quite a bit from the advertised line-up.

The festival opened on Friday evening with Richie Havens, and then Country Joe McDonald performed a solo set. Arlo Guthrie played later that evening, then Joan Baez played for an hour, ending the evening at 2am. I am not able to recall everyone who played. I had taken LSD.

Santana played the next day, as did Canned Heat, Creedence Clearwater and the Grateful Dead. It was declared a free festival. The only people who in fact paid were those who bought tickets in advance. Then the Who played at some point on Saturday.

Janis Joplin came on, however, performed badly.

Sly and the Family Stone played, and they were brilliant and we all danced until 3am.

Jefferson Airplane played Sunday morning at 7am.

It had rained several times and it was muddy.

People were bathing naked in the lake.

Joe Cocker played on Sunday And the rain started again. People were soaked and many just removed all their clothes and went completely naked.

Blood, Sweat and Tears came on followed by Johnny Winter, Crosby, Stills and Nash came on at 3am and people were starting to drift away.

The final act was Jimi Hendrix.

Many people didn’t see him as it was 8:30am Monday morning. About 40,000 people of the 400,000 were left. Jimi performed this brilliant version of the “Star Spangled Banner.” I survived along with my cousin. We had run away from home to attend.

1970 was marked by the first Gay Pride marches and the first Earth day in the U.S.

Also out of the counterculture came the gay rights movement, sparked by the Stonewall bar riots in New York in 1969, when gays on Christopher Street had finally had enough of having their heads broken by police clubs any time the cops wanted to move them along and suddenly fight back. The summer of 1969 brought the Manson Family killings.

The early 1970’s were filled with laid back rock.

May 4, 1970 students at Kent State were fired upon by National Guard troops. Sixty-one shots were fired in thirteen seconds, killing four students and wounding nine.

The true face of America was now obvious to us young people and an increasingly number of adults. More than anything else, what marked the end of this era was the break-up of the Beatles. Their break-up was the cause of much weeping around the world. The 60’s had been more or less heroin free, however, hard drugs appeared to dominate the following decade.

Rock stars continued to die. Brian Jones, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison.

By 1971, even politicians were wearing their hair down to their collars, and many aspects of the hippie way of life, had taken permanent root in the general community.

It is not the 60’s anymore, or even the 70’s, yet many people still hold onto the same ideals of that time period: being a free spirit of peace and love. These beliefs take us to a much more loving place, one where we aren’t so glued to our smartphones and remember the value of nature and the human spirit. Our beginnings were small.

Opposition to the Vietnam war was certainly a big issue. Throughout the late 60’s, until the last American helicopter escaped from the roof of the US Embassy in Saigon in 1975, the anti-war movement was a continual presence in my life. I was deeply involved.

Why were hippies important? Because we were able to look at things objectively – to see what was wrong – to see what we wanted to change.

The ecology movement had its beginnings in the 60’s counterculture.

The counterculture questioned sexual morality and proposed many different models.

It was from the questioning of sex roles that the women’s movement began.

The 60’s counterculture really was about sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll.

Girls looked for old-fashioned, second-hand dresses in thrift stores, favoring worn, soft fabrics like lace, velvet and often opting for long granny dresses. Then there was the music. The 60’s transformed pop music into rock music, from entertainment to art.

The 60’s brought us rock festivals, which, even in the mud, were enjoyable community experiences, beloved by thousands. Now music is a commercial affair. Sponsorships drive up the prices. No wild camping in the woods, or anywhere else.

If nothing else, Earth Day, Gay Pride and Woodstock represent some of the major changes wrought by the 60’s counterculture. Being a hippie gave me a heightened awareness. I hope the young people of today realize the power they have to change things and the opportunity to save the planet.

Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment. ~ Buddha. 


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