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After Work: Summer Of Love Revisited

…The Summer of Love wasn’t bound by San Francisco’s city limits. The music, the colorful clothes, even more colorful characters, and the pervasive herbal aroma of pot were as close as New York’s Central Park. The scene wasn’t so much of a “happening”-- it just happened – a spontaneous combustion of sunshine, youth and music. Frolics around Bethesda Fountain. Blankets on Sheep’s Meadow. Wrap a bandanna around your fulsome head of hair. Take off your shirt. And be. Sweet times to be a hippie…

Dona Gibbs looks back 40 years to the Summer of Love, seeing sobering similarities between then and now.

Nostalgia plays tricks. It smears the lens of reality with Vaseline, creating a soft focused picture of the past. Nostalgia is a pleasant indulgence.

This year is the fortieth anniversary of the Summer of Love when thousands of young people headed to San Francisco back in 1967. Many followed singer Scott Mackenzie’s alluring suggestion, “Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair.”

Bring on the nostalgia. I see that the major media have really cranked up the nostalgia volume so I thought I’d sing along.

Can it really be forty years ago?

I didn’t get to San Francisco that summer. I was busy trying to cobble together a career in New York.

The Summer of Love wasn’t bound by San Francisco’s city limits. The music, the colorful clothes, even more colorful characters, and the pervasive herbal aroma of pot were as close as New York’s Central Park. The scene wasn’t so much of a “happening”-- it just happened – a spontaneous combustion of sunshine, youth and music. Frolics around Bethesda Fountain. Blankets on Sheep’s Meadow. Wrap a bandanna around your fulsome head of hair. Take off your shirt. And be. Sweet times to be a hippie.

If you wanted the grit of Haight-Asbury, the lower eastside of Manhattan was grit aplenty with squalid walkup railroad flats filled with artists, writers, and musicians – young strugglers of all persuasions. What some saw as romantic, others viewed as a downright dangerous part of town.

One of my friends, she of the swirling gypsy skirts and wild ringlets, was the proud tenant of one of these apartments. She was a true, “Slum Goddess of the Lower Eastside,” as the Fug’s anthem to the neighborhood went.

She informed her mother of her find. Her mother, two generations away from that part of town where so many immigrants had first made their homes, sobbed, “But your grandfather worked so hard to get us out of there!”

You won’t find the strugglers in what is now called the East Village. The East Village is filled with trendy restaurants, hip boutiques and bars packed with the chic.

Fashion with its endless recycling is now having its own Summer of Love moment. Take a look around. Where did all those wild curls suddenly spring from? And those dresses meant to trail in the dewy grass?

And while some hems are plummeting, others are inching up, up, up as a counterpoint to chiffon tops floating from thin young shoulders.

Cowboy boots and skirts? Yep, I still have a pair of cowboy boots in the back of the closet. I’ve seen this movie before -- and in Technicolor.

So far I haven’t given in to the trend. I follow the fashion dictate, “ Never wear something that’s trendy now that you wore when it was a trend before.” And when tempted, I remind myself of a co-worker’s explanation of why he had cut off his ponytail, a hairstyle he’d worn for over thirty years.

“I was walking down the street with my son and was looking at his ponytail and I thought, well it was time for mine to go.”

Like the Summer of Love, New York parks are filled with music these days. Musicians are popping up everywhere like dandelions, brightening our days.

But there’s something else going on. And it has a lot of the old familiar vibe about it. People in growing numbers are worrying aloud about the abuse of our environment.

An artist is laying a chalk line around the New York City, showing us where the flood zones will be in ten years’ time if we don’t do something about global warming. Back in the day, it would have been called performance art.

And Summer of Love Revisited shares another somber note with 1967 version: the growing discontent with the current administration’s view on Iraq. Many Americans –young, old, and in-between—want the troops home now.

Perhaps Country Joe and the Fish need to write a catchy song. With the youthful biting cynicism they did so well the last go round.

Something along the lines of, “One, two, three..! What are we fighting for?”

Maybe it should go, “All those young kids in Iraq, well it’s time to bring’em back.”

Just a suggestion. I’m counting on Country Joe.

The Summer of Love 1967 was awash with yearnings for love and peace. Like today, the fashions celebrated the unfettered. And they made a statement about the wearer’s politics.

What’s in the hearts under the tie-dyed tees today? I wonder.

But, hey man, don’t mean to get all heavy on you.

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