Rummaging in my souvenir clothes, next to the glitter cowboy shirt and the Moroccan jelaba, I found my 1967 paisley shirt and multiple-patched bell-bottoms. Somehow without popping the buttons, I squeezed into the shirt with only my belly exposed (After all it’s been fifty years.) Properly outfitted, I gathered a friend who dressed the part too with a flower crown and ripped jeans and my brother, the cameraman and experimental musician, and journeyed back to the merry-go-round in Griffith Park, Los Angeles.
Over the decades the Sixties has achieved a kind of mythic reputation for its music, drugs, free love, and protests, but at the core of it was something more organic, more timeless, and more ephemeral—Community. That deeper impulse of the movement has often been forgotten in last year’s 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love, 1967. What brought it all together was the almost pied-piper like call and mass response by the youth of the day. No social media to provide an ersatz sense of connection, a gathering could only be physical; the only virtual experience was on TV or in some kind of psychedelic haze.
We young people wanted to be with our tribe, whether at an anti-war march, a concert, or a love-in. In the late Sixties and early Seventies in LA’s vast Griffith Park, around the merry-go-round, hosted a weekly Sunday love-in. At the love-in (as long as you were cool without bad vibes) you could get a free meal provided by Cleo Knight and his Green Power, play bongos and guitar, share a joint (no bogarting allowed), and essentially just hang-out without supervision. Going from my suburban home to the love-in meant leaving a world of tract houses, shopping malls, and stifling conformity, and entering a place where friendliness, love, individuality, and kindness ruled.
Connection with like-minded individuals fuels many gatherings, but our zeitgeist called for personal expression and freedom as well. I recall snide comments by college professors (who mostly wore white shirts and ties) back then that we hippie youth were conformists. Nothing could be farther from my experience. In fact, within certain parameters (long-hair, jeans, beads) we created our own styles. Like the bell-bottom jeans I had patched or the military jackets that I confiscated from my father. Almost anything old, different, or colorful could qualify as hip. Special clothing stores popped up that catered to the new styles. Expressing a rebellious streak, for a season or two, the American flag inspired shirts and accessories. Anything that pushed boundaries of ‘normal’ was OK.
In August, 2017, dressed in my authentic hippie clothes, I attended the fiftieth anniversary of the first LA love-in hosted by Georgianne Steele-Waller. I expected to see a few dozen old hippies nostalgically rewriting history, but the majority of the 150 attendees weren’t even born until the 80s. I met a twenty-something young woman from Australia who called herself Serenity, a serious young Latino man from Garden Grove who came to make a political statement, a thoughtful thirty-something man, Alejandro, and an assortment of millennial generation vendors selling Indian trinkets and incense and organic ‘wonder’ potions.
Most of the young people didn’t even know there had been love-ins fifty years ago. By way of introduction, I shared the front page of the LA Free Press from those days to one circle of young people; one would’ve thought it was precious artifact from a lost civilization: Passing it around, someone asked if it was real. “Not only that,” I explained “20,000 showed up on that Easter morning, 1967.”
A spontaneous eruption, the original love-in went off without a hitch to the surprise of the mainstream media of the day. A simple announcement in the Free Press, LA’s underground weekly, got the word out. From sunrise to sunset a variety of rock bands played, people danced, and loving community prevailed. Even the few LA PD officers went along with the vibe and accepted flowers from the hippies. Good vibes wafted in the air, like the patchouli incense and marijuana smoke.
Young people want to congregate and party in any era, but in those days teenagers were just discovering the freedom to hang out and the opportunities were rare. Not like now, when an outdoor concert such as the Twilight Concerts on the Pier in Santa Monica, attracts 10,000 partiers and the police worry about security to the extreme. In 2017, Santa Monica Police marked lanes in the sand to be able to make quick incursions into the crowd for ‘emergencies.’ Too much of a good thing, the Santa Monica City Council has terminated the annual pier concerts.
LA’s original love-in followed the previous year’s police riot on the Sunset Strip. Heads were banged and many youths arrested, while protesting the demolition of a popular teen hang-out (Pandora’s Box). Immortalized in Steven Stills’ For What It’s Worth by Buffalo Springfield, the song announced a new, assertive attitude from teenagers. Rather than turning up the pressure, the police took a different tack at the Easter love-in a year later, very few arrests were made and even the Los Angeles Times gave a neutral, if muted report.
San Francisco paved the way with its’ Human Be-in. (The suffix –in came from the civil rights movement where protesters would stage a sit-in at a segregated café and then in the Free Speech Movement in Berkeley which held teach-ins). At the January 1967 Be-in a line-up of notable speakers that included Timothy Leary, Allen Ginsberg, and others heralded a new era of the various counterculture ‘tribes’ of liberal San Francisco coming together. In keeping with ideals of freedom and community, the Diggers (one of whom would later become a well-known actor under his assumed name Peter Coyote) distributed free food, clothes, and sometimes crash pads (place to sleep). SF planted the seed with the Be-in, but LA’s version kept up the tradition for many years.
And now, fifty years later some of the originals returned. Mercy from the GTOs (Girls Outrageously Together, a Frank Zappa group) shared some of her memories and her friend, Corby reported how she used to hitchhike from her home in the Valley until the Hells Angels began to disrupt the scene. Johnny Echols from the seminal LA interracial progressive rock band, Love, expressed his concern that the goodwill and racial unity of that time has regressed, but he remains hopeful for a renewal. A wild guy dressed in cannabis inspired clothes and hat promoted the marijuana museum on Hollywood Blvd. One slightly drunk/ stoned fellow claimed to have attended when he was a kid and his aunt brought him. Everyone had a big smile.
For that one day in August 2017 the ideals and dreams of the hippie movement lived again. Cross-generational, inter-racial, and un-commercial, people of many backgrounds came out and fanned the embers of a long ago time, when anything was possible together. Not a mirage or a myth, the Love-in expressed the yearning that dwells in many; not a brand, not a programmed show, and not a celebrity showcase, just the authentic yearning of people for community, expression, and freedom.
YouTube and social media may entertain, but the desire for live human connection still exists. The human spirit wants community. Events like the Griffith Park Love-in peep into that part of us that yearns to reach out of boxes and labels of generation, nationality, race, and class. And come together in love and harmony.
Where did you find community in high school or college? If you were around in the Sixties, where did you connect with like-minded young people?
How do you find community these days? Is it commercial or organic? Step out and try a new activity with the only goal of enjoying yourself.
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