In San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park at the deYoung Museum exhibit, Summer of Love – Art, Fashion and Rock, I hoped for a peek back fifty years. I was there in 1967, freshly graduated from Healdsburg High School, a farming community then. Like so many other ‘Boomers’ (that word I don’t recall hearing until at least a decade later), I was drawn to the center of the culture of change San Francisco. Golden Gate Park was filled with Hippies and tens of thousands seeking fellowship in a new society. The music of that time seemed to come out of the walls in the City. I spent many, many evenings at the Avalon Ball Room, a block from my apartment, Wonderland, Fillmore Auditorium and the famous Fillmore West, an old dance venue of the swing band days. The auditorium was upstairs from a car dealership at the corner of Market and Van Ness Avenue. This was home base for the impresario, Bill Graham. I look back on those musical nights and cringe, the music was so loud it was hard to hear anything for a day or so after a concert. Today I blame much of my hearing loss on the pounding music of my youth. It was with great expectation that I went to the deYoung with my cousin, Donna Manu, who was often by my side back then.
As we entered the exhibit there were huge photos, the audio explained each and went into some details of major events marking that year. One was the first, Day on the Green, just another concert for us, except that many thousands showed up turning what was an open-air concert into a ‘happening’. Some artists of the time arrived by helicopter to be part of the event. As we walked through the exhibit rooms I was struck by the number of female mannequins, dressed mostly in clothing purchased in the high fashion stores of that time. Although a narrow view, it was mildly interesting. Room after room featured the same concept of women’s high fashions and it began to wear thin. There is a ‘poster’ room that did capture the amazing art form; we spent several minutes there reading the accounts of the unique works that were nearly impossible to read. Fifty years ago reading them was like doing a crossword puzzle, best when high. Unlike another famous Boomer, former president Bill Clinton, I did inhale, frequently. There are also rooms dedicated to the light shows that were a big part of concerts then.
At the end of the exhibit I was standing next to two women in front of yet another set of mannequins. I said, “Am I missing something or were miniskirts a big part of fashion then?” “Oh yes” one replied, “It was hard to remain demure wearing them, I had several.” I also noticed that there were major cultural nuance missing, women’s lib was emerging, throwing off the yoke of the rocket nose brassieres and girdles of the 1950s, bra burning and a sense of freedom prevailed. Omitted was the impact of the ‘pill’ which led to the sexual revolution, for the first time unwanted pregnancy was avoided by a visit to a free clinic. I found the exhibit wanting in terms of capturing the Summer of Love in spirit and cultural change. We shared a distaste for the ‘Establishment’ and a costly war in far away Vietnam. Perhaps my expectations were too high, maybe I expected to see John Lennon wearing pink, heart shaped sunglasses, or painted youth dancing naked in the park. In any case, the deYoung did an exceptional job of artistic display and an accurate audio docent guide. The gift shop does a fairly credible job of small goods. I did not see a single lava lamp or catch a whiff of musky Patchouli oil, elegant Sandalwood or alluring White Shoulders. Perhaps, like my hearing loss, the heady scents of the Summer of Love drove me from being a smart smeller.
To visit the deYoung:
https://deyoung.famsf.org/visit-us Adult is $16, senior $10, student $6 under 17, Free
Bill Hanson is a Sonoma County native and a lifelong sportsman. He is the former president of the Sonoma County Mycological Association. Look for his column in The Community Voice each week.