Luckily, They Never Allowed Me to Perform

Flashbacks of a Human Be-In: The Summer of Love

I was onstage right next to Allen Ginsberg at the Human Be-In. I had an autoharp, which I was playing in those days. Luckily, they never allowed me to perform, because it would’ve been a disaster.

There was a sea of 10,000 faces. Don’t know how many they actually counted.

I remember, in the sunset, this lone parachutist descended on the crowd. That was great.

They call that particular locale in Golden Gate park Hippie Hill. They’d had big crowds there before, but nothing like that.

At one point, Allen turned to me and said, ‘What if we’re all wrong?’ I don’t think I had answer.

I didn’t realize a big part of audience was quote “kids,” they were just turned on hippies of all ages. There was a lot of smoke in the air.

A lot of acid being dropped. Yeah, I did drop that day. It was terrible. It’s not a good idea to do it in a crowded place. The only other time I did it was in Big Sur. That was the kind of setting you should have. Actually it wasn’t so bad, I was just kind of confused.

During the Summer of Love, I got the impression kids from all over the country were descending on the Haight Ashbury. Word had gotten around the country, and they all came to San Francisco, just out of high school, still in high school, college kids.

It was about that time that things began to fall apart. Really heavy drugs came in. Before things went bad, everything was light, in both senses of the word, light physically in the sky, and also in the sense of light versus heavy. After that year, everything got heavy. Things just degenerated more and more. I think it was that summer. It’s so long ago. I’m looking through the wrong end of telescope. It’s hard to differentiate one year from another.

Before, up through the Human Be-In, the Haight was really sort of innocent, clean.

I remember the early Jefferson Airplane, which was very lyrical. I was going to the Fillmore quite a bit. (Poet) Andre Voznesensky and I performed in between sets of the Jefferson Airplane at the old Fillmore. Bill Graham generously offered us the stage. I was reading translations of Andre’s poems. He was doing them in Russian.

Yeah, there was a light show going on at the time. That movement changed the whole country. All the main aspects of the hippie counterculture were ingested into the middle class: The music, the clothes, the colors, the psychedelic colors, the anti-war movement.

Herbert Marcuse spoke of the enormous capacity of the dominant society to ingest its own most dissonant elements. That’s just what happened.

Personally, I guess I was changed by that period.

I suddenly got 20 years younger.

LAWRENCE FERLINGHETTI is a North Beach poet, publisher and owner of CounterPunch’s favorite bookstore: City Lights Books.


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