The Fab Four kicking off the Summer of Love fifty years ago (almost today)
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet. So claimed William Shakespeare, and who dares to contradict the Great Bard? The Skeptical Malt Ball, that’s who. Names are everything. Italian restaurants usually have Italian names. There’s something off-putting about Schultz’s Italian Eatery. Names give us hooks on which to hang our perceptions. So it is with the Summer of Love, celebrating its 50th birthday this year.
For those who don’t know about that particular summer, it took place in the year 1967. Someone must have thought that a special name was needed to distinguish that summer from the summer of 1966. The main difference between the two was pop culture. ’66 was black and white TV, button-down collared shirts, button-down everything. The Summer of Love was sudden, full color. It wasn’t just color either; it was bold, psychedelic color. There were explosions of color. Patterns were in-your-face. Stripes and modest checks gave way to bursts of paisley. Girls’ clothing went through a revolution with the paper dress, but boys were safe for a few more years; their ‘65-‘66 stuff was still okay in ’67.
Music changed that summer. A mere twelve months earlier, every pop group looked like the Beatles. Matching haircuts (bangs) and matching suits. A world that had been rocked first by Elvis, then in an even bigger way by the Fab Four, had found a way to preserve its sanity. If all the groups looked basically the same, they could all be put in the same box. Things couldn’t get too crazy. But then came Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, with the Beatles breaking all the rules again. How could sanity be preserved in a world where the Beatles no longer looked like the Beatles? Where did those mustaches come from? And the 19th Century marching band suits in psychedelic colors? One teen magazine printed a picture of the transformed Beatles over a caption reading “Is this the beginning of the end? Probably.” Sure enough, they broke up just two years later. But in ’67 they seemed to pave the way for wild groups like the Doors and Jefferson Airplane. Pop lyrics jumped from “The mornin’ sun is shinin’ like a red rubber ball” to “One pill makes you larger, and one pill makes you small. And the ones that mother gives you, don’t do anything at all. Go ask Alice, when she’s ten feet tall.”
Most people did not go psychedelic. They went on working, paying their bills, enjoying their backyard barbeques. They maintained the status quo while the world changed around them. The alterations were presented to them in manageable, bite-size doses on TV. The “boob tube” didn’t tell them that thinking was changing. Yes, there are always thoughts behind events. Everything seemed quaint, amusing, safe. Look what the kids are doing now.
In the summer of 1967 a gallon of gas cost you 33 cents. A movie ticket came to $1.25. The average income was $7,300.00. Israel won a six day war against Egypt and its allies. Thurgood Marshall was confirmed to be the first black Supreme Court Justice, and the Court stopped states from making interracial marriage illegal. A new magazine came out by the name of Rolling Stone. The Constitution was amended again, and Mohammad Ali was stripped of his heavyweight title for refusing induction into the military. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting was created.
Every year has its news, and with the news comes change. In that sense, 1967 was no different than any other year. So why is it remembered as something special? Simple. Shakespeare was wrong. A rose by any other name would NOT smell as sweet. Calling it a sausage would dent the allure somehow. 1967 might have been just another year that had a summer. Like every other year. The unhappy effects of drugs on the takers and their families plus an escalating war in Vietnam hardly made for thoughts of love. But that particular summer, by getting the name Summer of Love, became (to borrow some other words from Shakespeare) the stuff that dreams are made on. In this case, the name gave the flower its scent.
You can tell that it’s not 1966 anymore.