Sunday 22 September 2019

Summer of Love that was six months too late

George Harrison and his then wife Patti Boyd visit Haight-Ashbury in 1967
George Harrison and his then wife Patti Boyd visit Haight-Ashbury in 1967

Fiona O'Connell

It's the annual September of Love in Lisdoonvarna, a month that is neither one season nor the other. Much like the summer itself, with its overcast skies and fresh days followed by humidity.

Though not just meteorological weather can be out of whack, as that unofficial anthem to the counter culture, San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair), illustrates. For this soundtrack to that city's Summer of Love happened six months too late, the promise of earthly paradise having peaked at the January Human Be-In.

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Maybe it says it all that the song was written as an advertising jingle by a co-producer of that June's Monterey Festival. For the dream was doomed, with this pied piper tune the final nail in the coffin that turned nirvana into a living nightmare.

For the neighbourhood of Haight-Ashbury had been home to a few thousand hippies, or 'freaks' as many of them preferred to be called, considering the former tag too cutesy for the biggest utopian living experiment ever seen in the USA. Until the fledgling mass media and commercial powers lured up to 100,000 high school and college students into this supposed mecca of 'flower power'.

Some say the CIA was behind the spread of hard drugs into the district, comparing it to the military's distribution of alcohol to American Indians in the 19th Century. For many in the establishment felt fear and loathing for the lifestyle, with then Governor Ronald Reagan joking that a hippie dressed like Tarzan, walked like Jane and smelt like Cheetah. Others believe the dream held the seeds of its own destruction, having rejected time-honoured and tested values.

Whatever the cause, the area had become unmanageable by the actual Summer of Love, with hordes of homeless, drug-dazed teens preyed upon by violent drug dealers and other dark forces.

There are chilling photos from the Haight-Ashbury Free Clinic, which was overwhelmed by cases of mental illness and addiction. And tales of runaways lost to prostitution and who knows what. The 'contact' section of a local newspaper was filled with entries written by parents desperate to find their children. "Please write - Mom." "Please come home." "Let us know you are OK - we miss you so much."

George Harrison, who visited the city that Summer of Love, admitted years later: "It wasn't what I thought - spiritual awakenings and being artistic - it was full of horrible spotty drop-out kids on drugs. That was a turning point for me."

For the brave new world was already dead and buried - quite literally - the original community holding a mock funeral that October as a way of declaring the end of an era.

But maybe it had served its purpose, by shining a light on a post-war world as lost as the vulnerable young souls in San Francisco that summer. For peace and love is never out of time but transcends the seasons to flower forever.

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