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The Impact Of The 'Summer Of Love' Still Reverberates

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love in San Francisco. For people in Northern California, the commemorations are inescapable as are the predictable critiques of those claiming it wasn't really all that great. Who knows because as the saying goes, if you remember the '60s, you weren't there. But as KQED's Rachael Myrow tells us, the politics of that time are still with us.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHITE RABBIT")

JEFFERSON AIRPLANE: (Singing) One pill makes you larger. And one pill makes you small.

RACHAEL MYROW, BYLINE: By many accounts, the Monterey Pop Festival in June of 1967 launched the Summer Of Love. That's when Bay Area acts like Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead and Janis Joplin shot to international fame with three days of loud, riotous rock. Ben Fong-Torres, one of the top music journalists of the era, says it was impossible to avoid getting swept up in the energy of the moment.

BEN FONG-TORRES: More and more young people began to see music and hear music as something more than pop songs on the radio. They became, really, a soundtrack to this emerging counterculture.

MYROW: That counterculture was already in full bloom by June. Women and men wearing their hair long, bright psychedelic fashions and art, open drug use. The media called them hippies.

MARTINE ALGIER: No, I never really liked that word (laughter). Just a young woman exploring life.

MYROW: Martine Algier hosted dinner parties in the Haight Ashbury neighborhood, danced at concerts in Golden Gate Park, sold her own clothes and brewed tea from local herbs she picked herself. She says she felt part of a tribe of cultural and economic revolutionaries.

ALGIER: That's part of what youth is about - to be idealistic, to be visionary. And we envisioned a better world.

MYROW: New revolutions were beginning to brew like feminism, gay liberation, new age spirituality and environmentalism.

ERIC NOBLE: All of these ideas came from the counterculture. And you find evidence of that all throughout American society today. So the counterculture, I think, was successful in that sense.

MYROW: Eric Noble runs a website about the political street theater group called The Diggers, who, in 1967, gave out free food and questioned capitalism. Noble doesn't think the counterculture succeeded in that sense or in weaning Americans off war.

NOBLE: It wasn't just about peace and love. The Vietnam War was hanging over everyone's head.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: It's a great pleasure that I introduce to you the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

(APPLAUSE)

MYROW: An estimated 5,000 people showed up at UC Berkeley in 1967 to cheer on Dr. King as he spoke out for nonviolence.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.: We have not learned the simple art of walking the earth as brothers and sisters.

TODD GITLIN: It doesn't really make sense to ask what was the impact of the Summer Of Love as such. It was an incident in a continuum.

MYROW: Todd Gitlin was a student activist in the 1960s who went on to write the book "The Sixties: Years Of Hope, Days Of Rage."

GITLIN: What's happening is a kind of conceptual mush and factual blur. And because it also had a popular song attached to it, it came to take on a kind of significance in itself, which it didn't actually deserve.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SAN FRANCISCO")

SCOTT MCKENZIE: (Singing) If you're going to San Francisco...

MYROW: Fifty years later, the San Francisco hippie with flowers in her hair is an enduring American archetype - a sweet reminder of the time when baby boomers were young and optimistic. They believed they could change the world, and they did. For NPR News, I'm Rachael Myrow in San Francisco.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SAN FRANCISCO")

MCKENZIE: (Singing) You're going to meet some gentle people there. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.