Monday, September 4, 2017

Summer of Love

As the 50th anniversary of the Summer Of Love comes to an end perhaps it's worthwhile to pause for a moment and compare the two summers. In the U.S. it all unfolded in the Haight Ashbury district of San Francisco where the counter culture hippie movement, use of drugs, and music scene came together but, while some of that spilled over into Canada, our main focus was the 100 year anniversary of Confederation and Expo 67 in Montreal. 1967 was a landmark year in many respects, particularly in terms of culture and politics but 50 years later it's hard to tell if any of it really mattered or if anything really changed. Sonny & Cher's song The Beat Goes On illustrated that no matter how much we think we modernize, the underlying things still stay the same.

In 1967 the drugs of choice were marijuana and LSD. The marijuana wasn't even a tenth of the strength of today's pot and the LSD promoted by Timothy Leary for "turning on, tuning in, and dropping out" was perfectly legal. The drugs in 1967 got you high and stimulated creativity and exploration. Today the drugs of choice are high test marijuana (which is now legal), cocaine, crystal meth, and fentanyl none of which are conducive to anything artistic and in fact are causing fatal overdoses in epic proportions.

The music scene however was an incredible mix of psychedelia, love and whimsy that produced a rich catalogue of unforgettable songs that contrasts sharply with whatever passes for music today. This was the year of the Beatles Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, & Magical Mystery Tour albums and all the hit songs they contained, Jefferson Airplane White Rabbit, Jimi Hendrix, Purple Haze, Procol Harum, Whiter Shade of Pale, Moody Blues Tuesday Afternoon, Strawberry Alarm Clock Incense & Peppermint, Traffic Dear Mr. Fantasy, Small Faces Itchycoo Park, Up Up And Away by the 5th Dimension and Vancouver's own Tom Northcott with Sunny Goodge Street. It was also the year of the Monterey Pop Festival that featured The Who, Jefferson Airplane, Grateful Dead, Jimi Hendrix, Big Brother & the Holding Company, Mamas & Papas, and Eric Burdon and the Animals who would later immortalize the event with the songs San Francisco Nights & Monterey. The songs of love included Love Is All Around by the Troggs, the Association Never My Love, Donovan's Wear Your Love Like Heaven, the Doors Light My Fire & Love Me Two Times, Jefferson Airplane Somebody to Love, Spencer Davis Gimme Some Lovin, Mamas & Papas, Dedicated To The One I Love, Happy Together, by the Turtles, Van Morrison's Brown Eyed Girl, Motown's Diana Ross, Marvin Gaye and Smokey Robinson with Love Is Here And Now You're Gone, Ain't No Mountain High Enough, and I Second That Emotion, The Letter by the Box Tops, the Rascals How Can I Be Sure, and the Rolling Stones Let's Spend The Night Together. And for whimsy what could beat the Rolling Stones Dandelion, Kind Of A Drag, by the Buckinghams, The Rain The Park And Other Things, by the Cowsills, Easybeats Friday On My Mind, Grassroots Let's Live For Today, Monkees Daydream Believer, the Tremeloes Silence Is Golden, I Had Too Much To Dream Last Night by the Electric Prunes, Blues Magoos We Ain't Seen Nothing Yet. the Rascals Groovin or Simon & Garfunkel's Feeling Groovy.

But it wasn't all love, in 1967 the U.S. was in the middle of an unwinnable war in Vietnam, just as it is today with the war in Afghanistan and the Middle East. The difference is back then there were massive protest marches led by students who wanted to see an end to the injustice and atrocities whereas today we just have massive indifference. 1967 was also the year of the 6 day war that saw Israel seize control of the Sinai in Egypt, the West Bank in Jordan, the Golan Heights in Syria, and East Jerusalem resulting in over 400,000 refugees being displaced. Fifty years later the situation is even more chaotic in the Middle East with an estimated 5 million Syrian refugees alone living outside their country.

In 1967 Che Guevara, the famous guerrilla and revolutionary partner of Fidel Castro, died. The left wing ideologies of the 1960's have all but disappeared now with the Soviet Union and China just as ruthlessly capitalistic as the rest of the world and, instead of rejecting the status quo, we have all become voracious consumers and slaves to the forces of marketing and banking. At the end of 2016, almost exactly 50 years later, Fidel Castro also died and now Cuba is trying to join the rest of the economic order and do something for its long suffering citizens.

In 1967 there were huge race riots in major U.S. cities with Detroit suffering hundreds of casualties and millions in property damage. Today there are again race riots thanks to the recent rise of white supremacists. 1967 was the year the movie "Guess Who's Coming To Dinner" debuted as well as "The Graduate" and "Bonnie & Clyde". Movies back then were trying to explore social issues whereas today that role is being left to streaming TV series and the movies are all about special effects and make believe. In 1967 Thurgood Marshall was appointed the first black Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court and in 2017 the first black President of the U.S. stepped down.

In 1967 revelations about President Lyndon Johnson's incompetence in handling the Vietnam War led to him not bothering to seek re-election the following year. 2017's litany of screw ups may turn out to have the same result for Donald Trump, the presidential clown currently occupying the oval office. It was China in 1967 that conducted its first hydrogen bomb test while today it's North Korea trying to play the nuclear arms game.

1967 was Canada's 100 year birthday celebration just one year before Pierre Trudeau would become Prime Minister. 50 years later a more muted celebration would take place under the eye of his enigmatic son Justin. Gordon Lightfoot penned Canadian Railroad Trilogy a history of the nation building railway through the country's vastness. Unfortunately these celebrations ignore the fact Canada has been around much longer than just since Confederation with First Nations people living on the land long before European traders and settlers arrived. In addition to long stalled treaty negotiations throughout North America with these First Nations people Canada also has the shame of having to now address the cultural genocide and abuse it supported with the residential school program.

In 1967 the space race between the Russian Soyuz and the American Apollo programs was well under way, in spite of occasional tragic set-backs, and the Cold War was in full swing. Today the Russians rent out their launching facilities to various commercial enterprises and in the U.S. the space program race is primarily between various private enterprises including Elon Musk (Tesla) SpaceX and Jeff Bezo (Amazon) Blue Origin with Richard Branson (Virgin) Virgin Galactic in Great Britain also competing.  Interestingly 1967 was also the year the Soviet Union and the U.S. signed a treaty banning nuclear weapons in outer space and today both countries actively share responsibilities for the international space station.

In the movie "The Graduate" the actor playing Mr. Robinson tells the hero Dustin Hoffman that the future is in plastics, a product of the petrochemical industry and something that today would seem to be on the wane in the wake of global warming and the massive plastic garbage patch circulating in the Pacific ocean. 2017 however marked a year of pipeline protest in both the U.S. and Canada as the world looks to find alternatives to oil & gas. In 1967 the first automated teller machine was introduced but, after 50 years of PCs, laptops and smartphones, the future of computing is now all about quantum physics.

If the heart symbolized love what could have been more symbolic than the first ever successful human heart transplant being completed in 1967 by Dr. Christiaan Barnard. The first successful liver transplant also happened in 1967.  Today we treat transplants with about as much awe as flying on an aeroplane with heart, lung, kidney, liver and other organ transplants happening by the thousands every month. As miraculous as these transplants and other medical advances have been it hasn't translated into looking after our health any better. Instead it has made us all very complacent and lazy with nearly 50% of the population now obese or overweight as opposed to only 10% in 1967.

As a prelude to the summer of love what could have been better than Elvis and Priscilla Presley getting married in the spring of 1967. Marriage and divorce rates have changed since then with people delaying getting married until later in life but, as a result, the divorce rate is also starting to decline. It's also possible for people of the same sex to marry one another. With love and marriage some things never change.

Summertime always makes me feel nostalgic especially now that all of us who were alive in 1967 have become pensioners. It's a time of sunshine and taking a break from work or school. It's when you go on holiday road trips, hang out by the water, and fall in love. It was also that magic year when it all came together in a very special place that maybe now is the centre of high tech but was once a place where you wore flowers in your hair.  The year was 1967 and, while the summer of love has long since passed, at least the music lives on in Scott Mackenzie's San Francisco Be Sure To Wear Some Flowers In Your Hair.