Road Trippin' Through California: Celebrating 50 Years Since The Summer Of Love
Consider this your Sparknotes to the Summer of ‘67...
And so, with a sigh and an inch of fake tan because we’re still in denial, we bid adieu to summer. It was a good one. It was a fun one. It actually wasn’t a very hot one in the UK, but that’s ok because I legged it out of the concrete roofed icebox we call London to the perpetually sunny land of famous people and $1.60 tacos, California.
Before you frantically force quit this page for fear of plunging elbow deep in #legsorhotdogs holiday spam, I wasn’t just there to swan around in roofless jeeps and saucepan sized sunglasses. I mean, I did that too, but I was mainly there for the Summer of Love’s 50th Anniversary.
The name ‘Summer of Love’ makes it sound a bit like a bunch of teenagers frolicking around a field making sweet love and daisy chains. And yeah, it was a bit. But it was more than that. Crash course: America in the 60s was a pretty politically turbulent place. People were protesting the USA’s involvement in the Vietnam war, the lack of racial and gender equality, and its capitalist and consumerist values. This disenfranchisement paved the way for the hippie movement -- the counterculture at core of the Summer of Love.
Before Lana del Rey and literally everyone at Coachella, it was the hippies who donned flower crowns and flares and sung about sweet sweet love. They ensured rock ‘n roll gathered as much storm as a bunch of literal and metaphorical Rolling Stones, celebrated sexual liberation, and were intent on attaining a more peaceful, communal way of life through Buddhist values, meditation, and a few more, uh, illicit substances. To use the tagline that most people do when talking about the summer of ‘67 - it was sex, drugs, and rock and roll.
WATCH GEORGIE'S EPIC ROAD TRIP THROUGH CALIFORNIA HERE...
So I grabbed my tie dye and rose-tinted love heart spectacles, and road tripped from San Francisco to West Hollywood to retrace the key places, faces, and events of that year. Consider this your Sparknotes to the Summer of Love.
Hang out with the Beats in North Beach, San Francisco
The Beat Generation’s middle finger to the mainstream is largely credited for planting the seed of counter culture that would grow into the thriving flower power movement. Jack Kerouac is probably the most famous of the Beats for his book On the Road, where he talks in really long sentences and doesn’t use that many full stops, so it’s kind of like this stream of consciousness where you’re not filtering or editing anything you’re saying, like I’m doing now I guess, but much better, because he’s an iconic writer by the name Jack Kerouac and I am not.
The Beats lurked around North Beach -- San Francisco’s Little Italy -- drinking espressos, wearing turtlenecks, being all introspective and lots of other things we’re very familiar with here in Europe. But they went more than surface deep -- they were anti-consumerism, anti-establishment, and particularly interested in looking inwards to find inspiration and purpose to life. As part of that, they drunk a lot of alcohol, so naturally we did that too. For research purposes. I did not find the meaning to life but I did find a delicious tropical cocktail bigger bigger than two of my heads.
Get flowery in Haight Ashbury
The Haight was the epicentre of the Summer of Love. In 1967, over 100,000 young people flocked to this little part of San Francisco in a celebration of free love, liberation, and rock and roll. Kind of like Glastonbury, but without the organisation and the bag checks and the £300 tickets. While they were united by their long hair and flower crowns, the hippies’ intentions varied.
Some were about saving the environment, some were busy protesting the Vietnam War, a large part were in it for the music and others were just there for the drugs. But as famous 60’s band The Grateful Dead’s guitarist Bob Weir explained, “Yes, there was LSD. But Haight Ashbury was not about drugs. It was about exploration, finding new ways of expression, being aware of one's existence.”
Unfortunately, seasons are real, winter comes, and the intoxicating bliss of summer loving can’t last forever -- something I’m all to aware of sitting here typing this in three sweaters under a feather duvet with a hot water bottle down my track pants.
And so, on October 6, a funeral was held: RIP Hippie. May you enjoy long and blissful slumber infused with the scent of 1000 flower crowns.
Kiss the stage at Monterey Pop Festival
Ok - let’s rewind a bit, back before the funeral, back to June 1967, because we’ve barely scratched the surface and I didn’t coast all the down the Californian coast for nothing. (I would have though, it was insane). Anyway, music! This is MTV, obviously we have to talk about music. And if we’re going to talk about it in relation to 1967, we have to talk about the Monterey Pop Festival.
You know how I said that Haight Ashbury was kind of like Glastonbury? Well I lied. This is the closest thing to Glasto from that era. In fact, this is kind of the reason Glastonbury and Coachella and all the 128391721 or so music festivals you schlepped to over the past few months took place. It was essentially the first proper proper rock festival. Some of the most notable rock and roll bands from the 60s (and my Spotify playlist) all played. The blockbuster lineup included The Who, Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin, The Grateful Dead, and Jimmy Hendrix actually taking a lighter to his electric guitar to blow it up.
Back in 2017, we hopped onto stage and it was thrilling, it was monumental, it was… tiny? That’s probably because this festival took place in the 60s and rules were an optional extra, so while the Monterey Fairgrounds venue had approval for 7,000 attendees, estimates of the actual audience size have ranged from 25,000 - 90,000. Tickets were $3.50 - $6.00, which these days would be about $22-$47, or the price of a quarter of your Glasto tent.
Am I allowed to say ‘those were the days’ if I wasn’t alive then?
Recover in Big Sur and Ojai
As with any raging festival, it’s very important to go somewhere and be the personification of hashtag health afterwards. First, we drove past that famous bridge in Big Little Lies, before parking up beside the Big Sur river to do yoga on the grass and feel very zen. It worked, for a bit, until they brought out magnums of California’s finest bubbly and the best apple pie I have ever eaten in my life, oh god this apple pie was good, ugh (head to Big Sur River Inn for the world's greatest apple pie, y'all).
The next day we drove down to Ojai, quite possibly the most peaceful place on earth and the closest thing heaven I have ever encountered, if I believed in heaven. Continuing with the peaceful theme, there’s a place there called Meditation Mount, which is unsurprisingly a mountain where people go to meditate. It was founded in 1971, following on from the late 60s increasing interest in spirituality and meditation as a way of attaining peace and harmony, which was at the core of the hippies ideals.
It’s a nice thought, and one that unfortunately hasn’t picked up worldwide since given the current state of politics. Still, girl can dream meditate...
Throw TVs off the hotel roof in West Hollywood
When you think of rock and roll, the actual stuff and not that cover band forever jamming Journey hits at your extended family’s weddings, you probably think of private jets and throwing televisions out the window. And that’s not far from the truth. Following the Summer of Love’s celebration of rock and roll, the music and musicians captured the world’s interest and ears. The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, The Who -- these guys were Gods, capital G.
I also have a capital G in my name, so it was with great ease that I indulged in the lavish lifestyle these guys enjoyed way back when. We stayed at hotel called the Sunset Marquis, which was less of a hotel and more of an oasis that I want to move into. The white walled buildings were draped in curtains of greenery and pink flowers, the bathtub was the size of my bedroom in London, and there was a secret recording studio in the basement. I even started a band called Georgie and the Possums (my travel pal was Australian). We did not get signed.
We dined at what was once known as the “Riot Hyatt” and is now known as the flash Andaz hotel on Sunset Boulevard. Some history, for context: Led Zeppelin rented around six floors for his band and his entourage in the 70s, Keith Richards dropped a TV out the window in 1972, and if you’ve ever seen Almost Famous - well, this is the hotel that’s based on. I’m happy to report that all screens in presence stayed fully intact, except for my iPhone one but I smashed that ages ago.
In summary, I learnt that California is incredible and I want to move there. I also discovered what a turning point the Summer of Love was -- it demonstrated that youth weren’t going to sit back and let a crappy status quo dictate their life. Sure, it wasn’t perfect, and there’s was still a lot of change that needed (and needs) to follow. But despite all the world’s inherent crappiness, young people were pushing for political and cultural shifts across the board, questioning the norm and championing counterculture values. And having a bloody good time while doing it.
Hey, it doesn’t sound that dissimilar to today’s world, right?
MTV Travelled With... Visit California (check 'em out on Facebook here) and MTV stayed at Hotel Zeppelin in San Francisco, Big Sur River Inn in Bug Sur, Crowne Plaza Ventura Beach and Sunset Marquis in West Hollywood.
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