One of my novels is about a girl who lived in the Haight-Ashbury during the sixties, so I regularly do research on everything having to do with the hippie movement. The novel, Far Out: The Journey to Oblivion…, is one I intend to revise during the next year or two. I wrote it in 2004.
Here are some things I’ve learned through my research, added to personal recollections and perspectives:
The hippie movement started in the Haight in the early to mid-sixties. (We who have been associated with that location generally say Haight rather than Haight-Ashbury District.) At that time many young people moved into the neighborhood because it provided cheap rental opportunities. A college student could rent a room in a flat there for $25. Because so many young people gravitated to the area, a community spirit came into being that included community newspapers and other shared creative experiences.
The movement was, at its inception, a creative movement. The spark of creativity sent showers of bright brilliance into the hearts and minds of hundreds of young adults there, causing artists, musicians, writers and others to be empowered to bring forth amazing creative works in a massive inner-community sharing. This light was seen by others, and many were attracted to it. At that time the movement was still young and pure.
Then the media got hold of the story. They degraded the movement by emphasizing the role of drugs (marijuana and hallucinogenics) and free-love (promiscuous sex). Plus the message of “love everyone” was added to the media version of what the Haight was about. All this served to attract thousands of young people from around the country, who flooded the neighborhood in search of. . . . something. Perhaps some came for the drugs, others for sex, others for the joy of participating in a movement where everyone was loved and shared love. But while they enjoyed the creative works of the founders of this revolution in human thought, they did not, for the most part, share or understand the creative spark that got it started.
I was one of those that found the Haight after it had already been changed by the media. At the time I was a teenager living across the Bay, in Richmond. My father always subscribed to the San Francisco Chronicle so I had access to all the early articles that brought attention to the neighborhood. At some point in early ’67 our family drove through the Haight just to see what it was like. There were thousands of young people milling about on the streets, newspapers being sold, and other than that, I mainly remember the outlandish clothing and happy faces. Later that year a friend of mine wanted to cut school for the day and go to the Haight, and I agreed to go with her. It was a memorable day, and more of the same. I thought it was all beautiful; I saw no fault with it – but I was only fifteen that year and couldn’t remain a part of it.
My recent research revealed that at one point all the marijuana and LSD became unavailable for a few weeks, and then heroin flooded the area. It must have been intentionally done, by someone, somehow, for some reason… to further destroy and degrade the movement. Most of the people who started the movement were long gone – often to communes where they could continue what they’d started and live in peace with people who shared their values.
Only a few years later I was 18 and moved to the Haight after spending the summer working in a cannery in Santa Cruz. I met the man who would become my first husband the night I got there, and later we lived together in a room at the back of a flat at 1649 Page Street. That was on a block that was one of four that surrounded the infamous intersection of Haight Street with Ashbury Street.
By the time I moved there in 1971, the Haight-Ashbury was dead. Most of the happy faces were gone and a few distressed-looking drugged out street people remained. The head shops and poster stores were all boarded up. Only the Masonic Cafe survived at the corner of Haight and Ashbury, and down the street there was a small store selling handmade soaps. Compared to what it once was, the neighborhood was depressing! A saving grace was the proximity to Golden Gate Park, and that’s where we spent a large part of our time. The park was and is a magical, joyful place.
Years later I watched The Beatles Anthology and heard George Harrison make a disparaging comment about the “dirty” street people he’d seen during his one visit to the Haight-Ashbury when it was in full bloom. A few days ago I mentioned this to a high school friend who said he’d literally bumped into George while he was there. I was surprised my buddy agreed with George’s assessment, since I tended to see only the beautiful aspects of what was happening, and ignore the negatives. So I’ve done some analysis of what those comments are based on. I believe George was looking for spiritual enlightenment within the Haight’s community, and that he arrived way too late. He may have sought out that original creative spark that motivated the early artists and musicians, but instead found the massive assault of wannabes who flooded the area looking for cheap thrills and that ever-elusive “something”, and love.
My last article in this blog (Be God-Like; Create Beauty) may have come off a bit religious-sounding, but it wasn’t meant to be religious… as a matter of fact, my spiritual understanding of the universe is nothing like any organized or formal religion I’m aware of. I wrote that in a moment of cosmic consciousness … in my notebook, right before going to sleep the night before. It was something I felt so strongly I wanted to share it with all of you – and it served another purpose in getting me to write in my blog again, something I hadn’t done since I finished my last NaNoWriMo novel in November. Maybe that was MY creative spark. It felt like a writing epiphany… and though I may not see “God” as being the same thing many religious people believe He is… I do remain a believer in the Great Spirit as the supreme creative conscious force bringing benevolent joy into our lives.
My character in Far Out: The Journey To Oblivion… is a 100% fictional teenage girl who lived near where I lived in the East Bay Area. Though her life is far different than mine was, I drew on my personal experiences of having lived in the San Francisco Bay Area during the 1960s. A lot of what my fictional character experiences in the novel may be my wild fantasies of how I wish things had been for me. Other parts of the novel would have been a nightmare for anyone… but that’s the way it is for fictional characters. You have to make them suffer to make them interesting at all.
I’d like to hear from others who experienced the Haight-Ashbury and who have additional information or opinions they may want to share, whether they agree with or differ from mine. Please write to me by leaving a comment to this post, or by using the ‘contact’ link in the left-side column of this blog. I like blog comments better so please do that unless you need the privacy of an email.