New Generation of Hipsters
The hippies did not pick that name for themselves: it was given to them by Michael Fallon, a reporter for the San Francisco Examiner, in a 1965 story about the new bohemian lifestyle that was developing in the city's Haight-Ashbury district (named for two streets that converge there—also called the Haight). Fallon got the name by shortening Norman Mailer's term hipster, and he applied it to the second generation of beatniks who had moved into the Haight from nearby North Beach. This new generation of drop-outs was more optimistic than the beatniks, however, more prone to talk about love, more flamboyant. They belonged to groups such as the Legalized Marijuana Movement and the Sexual Freedom League. In the summer of 1965 the hippies were few in number but were well on their way to creating a small, thriving society—a counterculture.
The Growth of a Counterculture
The hippie lifestyle, which included the use of such drugs as marijuana and LSD, drew thousands of young Americans to California in the mid 1960s. By June 1966 some fifteen thousand had moved into the Haight. That was the year that the largest generation of Americans ever—the baby boomers—reached ages eighteen through twenty. Most of these young Americans joined the workforce, married, or went to college and prepared for a career. But an increasing number of their contemporaries were chafing under the pressure to conform that had dominated the 1950s. A growing chorus of voices was exposing the inadequacies of the Establishment and encouraging the alienated to (in the words of Timothy Leary) "Turn on, tune in, drop out." To the young people living in the Haight, they were rapidly becoming an example to the rest of the country of a community formed without greed, loneliness, or any of the other anxieties of modern society. Eastern mysticism, astrology, the novels of German writer Herman Hesse, and science-fiction utopias such as the one in Robert Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land formed the basis of the hippie philosophy.
Checking the Scene
As the population of the Haight grew, bookshops, craft stores, head shops, coffee shops, health-food stores, and other businesses catering to the young crowd opened throughout the neighborhood. The most important of these was the Psychedelic Shop, which was devoted to books on drugs and exotic religions, crafts, records, and clothes, but also served as a hangout, information center, and post office for some of the citizens of the Haight (whose addresses often changed weekly). Local hands performed at several new night-spots, including the Fillmore and Avalon Ballroom, which featured such soon-to-be famous bands such as the Grateful Dead, Big Brother and the Holding Company, and Jefferson Airplane. An atmosphere of sharing and easy living dominated the neighborhood, which was necessary, since few of the hippies had steady jobs.
In late 1966 a secretive group called the Diggers appointed themselves the conscience of the Haight community and began issuing fliers encouraging the hippies to take a more active stand against the society from which they dropped out. They accused the merchants of the Haight of profiting from the counterculture in the best capitalist tradition. They soon began offering free food daily: "It's free because it's yours!" their fliers proclaimed. Nearly a hundred people began attending the Digger Feeds, which offered a menu of slightly wilted vegetables, day-old bread, turkey neck stew, and whatever other food the Diggers could hustle. On Halloween 1966 the Diggers disrupted traffic at a San Francisco intersection with a street puppet show. Local merchants, meanwhile, began considering a job cooperative for the growing crowd of jobless newcomers that were showing up on Haight Street. The Diggers also started the Free Frame, where people could find free clothes and household items. In December 1966 the Diggers led hundreds of costumed marchers in a Death of Money parade.
The Death of Hippie
The climax of the hippie movement was the Summer of Love, also called the Gathering of Tribes for the Human Be-In, in 1967. Tens of thousands of mostly homeless young people came to the Haight over a period of a few months. The atmosphere actually was not very loving: the sidewalks were too crowded for anyone to get anywhere; the drug scene had become seedier and more dangerous; police were cracking down more aggressively on the neighborhood; and racial tensions, as was the case over the rest of the nation, threatened to explode into violence. Still, hippies were making a big impression on the popular imagination, thanks to hit songs such as the Jefferson Airplane's "Somebody to Love" and Scott Kendricks's "San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)" and movies such as The Love-ins. Even car commercials had worked groovy into their vocabulary. Realizing that their dream had gone sour, the citizens of the Haight held a Death of Hippie service in October of that year, marching down Haight Street at sunrise with a cardboard coffin. It was time to fan out from San Francisco, they felt, taking the pure hippie message to the rest of the country.
Charles Perry, The Haight-Ashbury: A History (New York: Random House, 1984);
Helen Swick Perry, The Human Be-In (New York: Basic Books, 1970);
Jay Stevens, Storming Heaven: LSD and the American Dream (New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1987).