The clips may be in color, but the scenes might as well have taken place eons ago.
The often grainy, 8 mm. film that documentarians usually pull out of storage or download to YouTube to illustrate the events of 50 years ago called the Summer Of Love reveal a timecapsule quality, replete with the flowing tie-dyed clothes, unkempt hair, free-form dancing and unstructured music.
Ah, the Summer of Love, and the eternally young hippies who converged on the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco and to a lesser extent in major cities in the US and Europe, are part of ancient history – encapsulated like the Civil War and the Great Depression. The participants in that grand experiment of freedom of expression are now in their mid-60s or older, if they’re still alive.
Looking back at that heady time, they still don’t know whether they were trying to launch a new world order by throwing away the traditional mores of square America, achieving a new level of human consciousness or simply getting high, hoping to get laid and listening to trippy music. It was probably a combination of all those elements – to paraphrase Israeli pop’s Teapacks – all wrapped around life in an overstuffed joint.
But the “turn on, tune in, drop out” Summer of Love mantra espoused by Timothy Leary at the hippie movement’s debut, the Human Be-In at Golden Gate Park on January 14, 1967, has had a lasting effect on culture, music, and fashion, helping to launch the social and political upheaval of today.
“I wasn’t part of the politics so much, the Abbie Hoffmans and the SDS [Students for a Democratic Society],” says SallyOren, who experienced the Haight-Ashbury scene from her backyard as an unfettered teen in 1960s San Francisco. “I was still in high school and our interest was more the music scene and hanging out.
“My sisters and I wore smocks we made out of Indian bedspreads. We lived a nice middle-class life during the week and we became weekend hippies.”
Oren, the former wife of MK and Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Michael Oren, grew up as Sally Edelstein, the daughter of liberal, somewhat bohemian parents who used to frequent the beatnik Light Bookstore to hear readings by poets like Allen Ginsberg.
“They accepted and encouraged our alternative lifestyle,” says the teenage-thin Oren, still wearing a flowing smock and drinking Americano coffee at a café on Jerusalem’s Emek Refaim Street. The mother of four and grandmother had just arrived from her weekly class in Qigong, a form of tai chi that she is getting trained in – one sign that the expansive spiritual quests of the ’60s have proliferated in the ensuing decades.
Frequenting the Avalon Ballroom and the Fillmore Auditorium run by family friend Bill Graham, where musicians and friends would gather and play through the night, Oren and her older sisters befriended many of the bands that were just starting out – like the Quicksilver Messenger Service, the Grateful Dead and especially Jefferson Airplane.
“I was 15 and had a big crush on [Airplane singer] Marty Balin, and one day I got the nerve to go up to him and start talking,” says Oren, adding that Balin and the other musicians in the scene “adopted” her.
“It was always very light, easy banter. I was, to put itnicely, jail bait, but they were always very sweet to me. I’d just sit at the table and giggle. I thought I was hiding it well, but it was clear I had a mad crush on Marty.
“After about a year, Marty came up to me on Sunday at the Fillmore and said, ‘Sally, we just wrote two songs about you.’ I just about died on the spot. That night, they performed it, announcing it was about Sally. My sister started crying.”
One of the songs, “Young Girl Sunday Blues,” appeared on the Airplane’s third album, After Bathing at Baxter’s. The other song was never released, and it was only decades later, when Oren was living in Washington along with her thenhusband who was Israel’s ambassador to the US, that the story of her hippie past emerged in an article in The Atlantic.
Besides generating some nostalgic head-turning amid time-passing recollections of songs such as Bob Dylan’s “Times They Are A-Changing” (especially the line “Come senators, congressmen, Please heed the call, Don’t stand in the doorway Don’t block up the hall”), the disclosure proved unremarkable. This is most likely because so many former flower children have become part of the Establishment, now in positions of power and influence.
50 years later, was the hippie movement a bump in the timeline of history? Did the hippies sell out, settling for Volvos and pensions, or have their ideals of peace, love and understanding been incorporated into the daily life of the 2000s?
ACCORDING TO 70-year-old Summer of Love veteran Michael Wiese, who owns a successful alternative lifestyle publishing house, Divine Arts Media, traces of the “age of Aquarius” permeate every facet of today’s world.
“As a child of the Sixties, I didn’t just watch history being made, I jumped right in. Now I’m an elder and I can look back and see how the seeds planted during that decade unfolded like fragile ferns, influencing just about all my endeavors and attitudes about the world,” says Wiese, an American who lives in Cornwall, England.
“I arrived in San Francisco in ‘65 just in time for the Be-In and The Summer of Love. I left no stone unturned. I drummed in a protest band, started the country’s first underground, midnight movie theater, made human potential films with Esalen (an inter-species communication film with dolphins), tested consciousness-expanding substances and meditation techniques, and studied Balinese music and religion at the Center for World Music.
“My mentor, Buckminster Fuller, instilled in me the awareness of ecology and optimism for making the world work for everyone.”
For Wiese, the Sixties were a mash-up of fashion, pop art, cinéma vérité, world citizenry, civil rights, protest, many genres of music, Eastern arts and religion, a search for meaning, sexual freedom, feminism, gay culture, psychedelic art, underground films, and “a blind faith in the future.”
“Not every hybrid survived, but many did beyond anyone’s expectations. Who would have thought then, that today there would be yoga studios in every shopping center? No, it wasn’t an opportunity missed; instead, we planted the seeds of change,” he says.
“It was a grand experiment – a kind of cultural petri dish – where anything could and would happen. It awakened in me a desire to explore, question and experience everything around and within me.”
According to Prof. Motti Regev, a cultural sociologist at the Open University in Tel Aviv, the kids gathered in San Francisco paved the way for many changes that have become mainstream in today’s society.
“The culturally adventurist spirit of that period and the openness – the way they looked, dressed, their sexual conduct, gender issues – it was all a moment of avantgarde exploration that some looked at as being deviant,” he says.
“But they really were pioneers at that moment in history, exploring how to formulate the new aesthetics and morality that were vastly different from the ones they were raised on.
“So, yes, the fact that today we are living in the multicultural society that’s very fluid and open in terms of lifestyles and acceptance derives directly from that key moment. Opening western culture to multiple possibilities in terms of dress, music, behavior, and gender exploration all derived from that period.
“Of course, the idealism of that time has been diluted and absorbed by all kinds of cultural and commercial interests.”
For Oren, the Summer of Love ended by the late Sixties, when hard drugs had infiltrated the scene, hustlers and addicts had taken over the Haight and peace and love turned ugly, with the deaths of icons like Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix and violence and death at the Altamont festival outside San Francisco as the Rolling Stones played.
“I left at the right time. I graduated from high school in 1969 and joined one of my sisters traveling around Europe,” says Oren. “There was a sense of relief to be leaving the US; there was something intense and not healthy happening already in San Francisco.”
Oren wound up in Israel in 1970 and stayed for eight months, the beginning of an attraction to the country that culminated in her aliya in the early 1980s.
Looking back on the revolution brought on by the Summer of Love, she expresses mixed feelings.
“I think the ideals of the time were great – peace and love, right? But I think one manifestation of that was it got taken two steps too far by some people, and you especially see it on campus. There’s a direct progression from political correctness to BDS, which I feel stems from the Sixties in a negative way, really taking it to the extreme.
“Because of what I’ve seen from being close to Michael’s work, I’ve seen firsthand this withdrawal from Israel and it’s painful for me. It’s the camp I belong to, and they’ve gone astray.
Still, from ecology to vegetarianism, Oren tends to focus on the positive social awareness outcome of the Sixties.
“In the way I see the world, I still feel like a product of the Sixties very much. I have some friends who maintained that kind of lifestyle, but I can’t say I did.
“Sometimes I’ll take one of those quizzes on Facebook – ‘Were you a hippie in the ’60s – and I’ll fail and it’s really upsetting. How did I get so straight? But then, look at what I do – tai chi, meditation… it all comes from there. I just don’t think about it, it’s my life.
“We didn’t talk back then about making history, and thinking about 50 years since the Summer of Love is bizarre. How lucky we are to have lived through that and to be here today.”