Forty years ago the United States was a much more conservative place than it is today. Even though the civil rights movement had won some tough victories down south, and Vietnam dissension was heating up, most Americans were still tied to the traditional values of their parents.
For example, in my heavily ethnic neighborhood of Levittown, New York, if an unmarried girl got pregnant it was a huge scandal. Rarely was abortion even discussed because most of us were Catholic. The young girl usually got married to the father quickly and quietly. This happened to my cousin and two of my friends. An unwanted pregnancy was a major deal.
Drugs, also, were not acceptable. Addicts were shunned like lepers, and even marijuana was considered way out of bounds. In 1967, while some of my high school friends were drinking beer whenever they could, nobody in my crowd was even thinking about dope.
But out in San Francisco the “summer of love” was unfolding. Young people streamed into that city and congregated in the parks, where they were introduced to pot and hallucinogenic drugs by local dealers. According to a recent series of reports by the San Francisco Chronicle, thousands of young Americans spent the summer stoned and having sex with a variety of their compatriots. This led to an epidemic of overdose situations and social disease problems.
The press, however, did not concentrate on those negatives. Instead, the media immediately branded the summer of love crew as “hippies” and proclaimed the era of “flower power,” thereby creating a glamorous subculture. The glorification and marketing of that subculture forty years ago swept the nation and remains with us today.
Almost immediately, the music industry hopped on the hippie bandwagon and rebellious, drug-addled pop stars soared up the charts. The names are now icons: Joplin, Hendrix, Morrison, Slick, Garcia, and so on. No question, the summer of love changed America’s attitudes towards drugs, sex, and rock ‘n roll.
The unintended consequences of that summer are staggering. Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, and Jim Morrison all died at age 27 from drug and/or alcohol activity. Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead lasted longer, but his heroin intake ultimately did him in. All told, the damage the drug scourge has done to America is incalculable.
But you’d never know that by the media, which generally continues to glorify our permissive culture. There’s little mention that 70% of African-American babies are now born out-of-wedlock, while the overall birth rate outside of marriage has gone from eight percent 40 years ago to 37% today. Single mom homes, of course, are the major driver of poverty in America.
So, call me a fogy, but I’m not real nostalgic about the summer of love. I like the music it engendered, but you can have the acid trips and the poor hygiene. Certainly, love is a good thing in any season. But it must be accompanied by responsibility to truly flower.