I was born in San Francisco, and I lived very close to Golden Gate Park and the Haight/Ashbury district, so I grew up believing that the City was a wonderland of colors and dogs and strange barefooted people who smiled a lot. My parents absolutely detested and feared the hippies and the Haight, and I was banned from going anywhere near there — even my favorite comic-book store — because my dad was certain that LSD was flooding all over the sidewalks (didn't TIME magazine say so?), and it would be absorbed by my Converse and transform me into a zoned-out loser. Or, perhaps worse, a long-haired musician —like those girly Beatles weirdos who ruined his weekly Ed Sullivan Show routine a few years back, and caused a bunch of other freaks to perform on the show since then that caused him to stop watching old Ed entirely.
But just as the Beatles appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964 had changed me — and our family and a whole planet of families — the San Francisco Summer of Love in 1967 cemented what a beautiful, alluring, and powerful force this exciting new community of young musicians, artists, writers, social warriors, and free thinkers was becoming.
It wasn’t really my world — I was too young — but I was brought into its wake by almost unfathomable luck: The older brother of a school friend actually liked taking his kid brother and I along with him to hear the bands at the Fillmore West, Avalon Ballroom, Straight Theater, Winterland, Longshoreman’s Hall, and Golden Gate Park. Looking back, I think he may have realized that gorgeous barefoot girls tended to surround him whenever we were around, because we were cute little things, and so in awe of the music and the dancing throngs.
Thanks to that subterfuge — I was supposed to be having sleep-overs while these concert trips were happening — I saw a ton of cool bands and was changed forever. San Francisco’s AM/FM radio stations and local record stores had a lot to do with the transformation, as well. I was in the middle of a cultural storm, and the music beaming into my brain from myriad directions forged my obsessive desire to play guitar and write about music. My path was set, and I thank the San Francisco Summer of Love for being a significant trigger for my life’s journey.
As I was going through some boxed-up mementos from my parents' house recently, I found my old stash of albums and 45s, and although I'm not much into nostalgia, I was transported back to the days when I hid down in my basement room and played records my parents couldn't understand, and started to embrace a cultural shift my parents feared. It's kind of crazy that I still possess the very records I spun so loud while dad was at work and mom was out shopping. Sigh.
So here’s a brief stroll through the songs of that summer in 1967 that most influenced, inspired, and supremely tripped out my young and impressionable mind…
“Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (reprise)”/“A Day in the Life”
The rocked-up “Sgt. Pepper (reprise)” morphing into the haunting and dreamy acoustic guitar and piano intro of “A Day in the Life” still causes me to tear up. Back when I was 11 years old, its effect was transformational. I felt like an adult when I heard “A Day in the Life” — wiser, more experienced, and a touch sad — and I could feel in my heart that this was one of those examples of how art could change the world.
The album itself brought the late-‘60s generation gap front and center when I played it in the summer home one of my dad’s Navy friends had near the Russian River in Northern California. His buddy would gleefully invite my family for little weekend vacations, but he was not happy hearing the Beatles’ music wafting across his pine deck and tree-lined yard.
“Take that crap off, young man!” he said, while rummaging through his own record collection. “This is real music,” he proclaimed, and he made me sit down and listen to a bunch of Benny Goodman discs along with other music from the World War II years. Well, that music is awesome, but I wasn’t having it back then. I was simply very much aware that "The Man" had shut down something that interested me immensely, and I finally understood the hippie’s “Don’t Trust Anyone Over 30” mantra on a personal level.
Jimi Hendrix Experience
My cousin — who was in high school at the time — introduced me to Jimi Hendrix when she played Are You Experienced during a family gathering at my grandfather and grandmother’s house. The adults always left us alone when we disappeared into my grandpa’s study to use the phonograph, so that room became a secret refuge of musical discovery for me. When the needle blasted out “Purple Haze,” I thought I was hearing music from outer space. It was strange and different and really exciting.
“Who is this guy?” I asked. “Only the sexiest guitarist ever,” my cousin answered, while holding the album cover tightly across her chest and making what I assumed was a dumb mushy face. I didn’t understand that reaction until much later — probably after this same cousin did what my parents would not do, which was instruct me about the birds and bees in fairly graphic detail. But the newness of the sounds and the soothing confidence of Jimi’s voice definitely provided me with a few “unfamiliar” shivers, as well, and his playing clarified in my evolving little musical mind what a “guitar solo” really was for the first time.
"Light My Fire"
You couldn’t escape this song in the spring and summer of 1967. It was all over the radio, all the time, but I didn’t care. I adored Jim Morrison’s voice, and the dark spell woven by Ray Manzarek, John Densmore, and Robby Krieger, who somehow managed to make his extended guitar solo sound like a magical journey. The song was a top 40 hit, to be sure, but it was so different from anything else on the airwaves — a bit dangerous and mystical and even a tad scary (but in a good way). During one of my youthful “secret trips,” I saw the band at the Avalon Ballroom, and I was completely stunned by Morrison’s beauty and his total command of the audience at the time. At one point, he froze for what seemed like hours as the music swirled around him, and then, suddenly, he screamed and dropped to the floor. This caused an immediate frenzy in the crowd — people screaming, bumping against each other, racing to the front of the stage, crying, clapping, trembling, cheering. I had never experienced anything like that. I thought Morrison was some kind of superhero, and I was further convinced that music had an almost physical power that I really couldn’t understand, but that I was committed to exploring further.
The album itself caused a war at the homefront. My mom misheard Morrison singing “For if we don’t find…” on “Alabama Song” as “F**k, if we don’t find…” She immediately confiscated the record — which I was in the process of playing the grooves out of — and even wrote a letter to Elektra Records president Jac Holzman berating him for poisoning the minds of the country’s youth. I couldn't have been more embarrassed if she had made me wear a tutu to hockey practice. I didn’t tell my friends, of course, and I managed to purchase another copy of the album on the sly — which I kept hidden in my closet for months.
Pleasant Valley Sunday
I was completely transfixed by The Monkees television show. I never missed it. But I also knew it wasn’t the coolest thing to be enamored of — at least to the hippie intelligentsia, or the older kids at school. But I couldn’t help myself. I loved them.
I had heard “Pleasant Valley Sunday” on the TV show, of course, but I didn’t really fall in love with the song until I was dragged along to one of my dad’s friend’s homes in Moraga — a suburb of the San Francisco Bay Area. Happily, the house was big and sunny and they had a pool. They also had a cute daughter, and she had a portable record player in her room, and guess which 45 rpm disc was on it? Yep. “Pleasant Valley Sunday.”
We played that tune over and over while talking in her room, and then we brought the player poolside to pay it over and over while swimming. I’m sure we drove the adults batty, but they were drinking and tending the barbecue, so they pretty much left us alone. It was a fantastic and fleeting day. As a result, I always reference “Pleasant Valley Sunday” to that white-walled mansion in the suburbs, a sunny summer day, and a swim date with one of the first girls my own age that I developed a crush on.
"Somebody to Love"
“White Rabbit” was beaming from radios all across town, but, perhaps presaging my future affinity for garage rock and punk, the churning rhythm guitars and slinky lead lines of “Somebody to Love” was the Jefferson Airplane track that caught my attention. Jorma Kaukonen’s twisted outro solo also defined, at least to me, the psychedelic approach of San Francisco guitarists.
As my mom was on the prowl for songs celebrating the hippie drug culture, I was happy to catch “White Rabbit” on the radio, and not bring the 45 in the musically dangerous and dictatorial environment of my home. Too many news stories had outted vocalist/songwriter Grace Slick on the druggy inspiration for the track, and I had learned my lesson already from the Doors debacle. But even the sentinel my mother had become could hardly have a huff with a song called “Somebody to Love,” so the single made it into my little 45 storage box without comment or censure. Something about the song stayed with me, and when I began trying to compose music myself around 1976, I recorded a garage-y homage entitled “Someone to Love” at my very first professional recording session. It wasn’t a very good song at all, but I was still carrying the Summer of Love with me — even as the punk era was about to explode.