PBS's television program American Experience has a new episode, which first aired on Monday night, “Summer of Love”, commemorating, describing, and explaining the invasion of San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury area by “Hippies” 40 years ago this July:
In the summer of 1967, thousands of young people from across the country flocked to San Francisco's Haight Ashbury district to join in the hippie experience, only to discover that what they had come for was already disappearing. By 1968 the celebration of free love, music, and an alternative lifestyle had descended into a maelstrom of drug abuse, broken dreams, and occasional violence.
Through interviews with a broad range of individuals who lived through the Summer of Love — police officers walking the beat, teenage runaways who left home without looking back, non-hippie residents who resented the invasion of their community, and scholars who still have difficulty interpreting the phenomenon — this American Experience offers a complex portrait of the notorious event that many consider the peak of the 1960s counter-culture movement.
Forty years. Wow. It's hard to imagine that it was that long ago. I was only ten years old at the time — old enough to be well aware of the whole scene, but too young to have thought to join the pilgrimage (though the documentary does show children on their own as young as 12 or 13, and includes a brief interview made at the time with a 14-year-old girl). Still, the “Summer of Love” scene, the music, and the Hippie movement in general seem such a central part of what I remember from my childhood and early teen years that I have a hard time thinking about it as “history”.
But history it is, and the documentary is
excellentfar out, as is most of the American Experience series. I recorded it so that I might watch it again. And in the NYC area, at least, it's being shown again on Thursday, in case you missed it and want to see it.
Update, 5 p.m.: I wanted to post my favourite quote from the program, so I've been watching the transcript page, but they haven't posted the transcript yet. So I reviewed my recording and transcribed the quote myself. It's from a radio host called Joe Dolan, and we see him on camera responding to a caller on his radio show:
Now certainly, these shaggies and hippies with their talk about peace and brotherhood, and understanding, and international amity — all this ridiculous nonsense — naturally the newspapers are going to play up the things they say, especially when these people bang tambourines, and, like Allen Ginsberg, go into these absurd chants, these Hindu chants... well, naturally they're going to play this sort of thing up. It would be absurd to expect that they're not going to do this.Yes, ridiculous nonsense like peace, brotherhood, understanding, and international amity, indeed. What were we thinking?