I was digging through a storage trunk the other day when I came across this odd little booklet – The Hippy’s Handbook: How to Live on Love, by Ruth Bronsteen. I bought it for a buck or so in a thrift store in downtown Durham, North Carolina around 1990.
The book was published in 1967, when “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear a Flower in Your Hair)”, a haunting pop song by singer Scott McKenzie, was floating across the radio airwaves and thousands of young people were pouring into that city. John Phillips of The Mamas and the Papas wrote the lyrics that included these lines:
“For those who come to San Francisco/Summertime will be a love-in there
In the streets of San Francisco/Gentle people with flowers in their hair”.
The song was popular during the Summer of Love, which was launched June 21, 1967 with a celebration of the summer solstice on a hillside overlooking San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district. Harvard University professor Timothy Leary was there. With flowers dangling from his curly, tousled hair, he told the crowd to “turn on, tune in, and drop out.”
Leary’s preferred method of achieving this total unplugging from the mundane daily grind and tuning in to the elegance of creation was by taking lysergic acid diethylamide, better known as LSD or acid.
LSD is a powerful hallucinogenic drug that can, according to medical literature, cause “profound distortions in a person’s perception of reality.”
Whether you think it’s a good thing or a bad thing to have your perception of reality profoundly distorted is an individual choice. It seems likely, however, that there was some widespread voluntary distortion of individual realities going on when young people from all over the U.S. were pouring into San Francisco to absorb the Summer of Love.
As many as 100,000 kids were there 40 years ago this month. In a recent documentary about the Summer of Love on PBS’s American Experience, writer Theodore Roszak noted that the kids were seeking “a simpler way of life, less consumption-oriented.”
These were kids who grew up, as Roszak observed, in a time of rigid roles, when dad was the breadwinner and mom was the homemaker and everything seemed safe and stable – except that when the kids were at school they regularly practiced what to do in the event of a nuclear attack.
So somehow, I guess, those conflicting seeds sewn in 1950s childhoods – rigid but comfortable affluence at home and duck-and-cover drills in elementary schools – produced some strange fruit in the 1960s.
“You had a generation of kids who arrived in high school and college trying to make some sense of a world they’d been told is just and grand and wonderful and there’s nothing to complain about anymore,” Roszak said. “And on the other hand, (when) you look a little deeper into it, (the world) is just awful and scary.”
Roszak said the combination of “affluence and anxiety” was “a crazy-making combination” that deeply affected the postwar Baby Boom Generation.
That might explain the outlandishness of those who took part in the Summer of Love. Here’s an illustration of hippy haute couture from The Hippy’s Handbook.
Bronsteen says in her book that she likes the hippies because they are “sympathetic, bright, aware, unpretentious, naïve, direct, open and unrealistic.”
But she also notes that they are “clannish and provincial in their hippydom,” and “concerned with postures and appearances and they like to keep their turf for ‘their own kind.’ ”
They're also “completely self-absorbed,” she writes.
The only printing of The Hippy’s Handbook was in September 1967, when the Summer of Love was winding down. By the time it ended, the summer dream had turned sour. The latecomers to San Francisco were more interested in buying and selling drugs and getting laid than achieving any kind of spiritual awakening.
And although the concerts at Woodstock and its evil twin at Altamont were still two years away, some participants thought the Summer of Love was the last gasp of the Flower Children.
“A Utopian moment had been and gone,” Mary Ellen Kaspar noted in the American Experience documentary.
As for Bronsteen’s book, it’s apparently become a highly collectible memento from that colorful period. Amazon.com is selling it for $50 a copy.