The death this week of Scott McKenzie stirred up mixed feelings about “flower power,” hippies and Haight-Asbury’s “Summer of Love.”
There was a simple-mindedness to that brief and shining era. Young people actually thought they could change the world — without doing anything except making love, making music and making themselves one with the universe by smoking pot and tripping on the LSD.
One result of this was that nothing really happened — many forces merged and met to force the end of the war in Vietnam and the enactment of legislation to protect the rights of minorities and women, but it had little to do with the hippies and wannabees panhandling for coins at the corner of Asbury and Haight.
Another result of the Summer of Love was music by psychedelic rock groups with names like Strawberry Alarm Clock and the 13th Floor Elevators.
And guys like Scott McKenzie, who really seemed to possess a sweet and sincere belief in the power of love when he sang his song — co-written with John Phillips of the Mamas the Papas — urging young people to come to San Francisco and to be sure to wear a flower in the hair….
There was a dark underbelly to the so-called Summer of Love: Lots of runaway kids with no place to live and no food to eat; lots off sexual violence and teen pregnancies, lots of drug burnouts. George Harrison of the Beatles visited to check out the San Francisco scene, attracted in part by the peaceful vibe emanating from McKenzie’s song. But mystical Beatle got the hell out of there when he looked around and realized, very quickly, that all was not incense and peppermints….that there was plenty to hate about the reality of the Haight.
Still, though, sappy lyrics and all, Scott McKenzie’s song stirs a sweet nostalgia, a longing for a simple time of beautiful swirling twirling dreamers with stars in the eyes and flowers in their hair.