Summer’s almost over, which means commercial exploitation of the 40th anniversary of “The Summer of Love” is almost over too, though not commercial exploitation of 1967, or “the sixties” or…
I remember as a kid how pissed off I almost always was by the depiction in the media, especially in movies, of things I thought I knew about—Irish-American clan life, juvenile delinquents, rock’n’roll, etc.—which was a big part of the motivation for my writing a lot of the stuff I ended up writing.
It’s great that there’s documentary footage of what people looked like, and sounded like after “talkies” came in, but most people get their sense of any 20th century history from movies, and movies almost always fuck it up.
I was thinking of that the other night when my 9-year-old and I were looking for a movie to watch and on one of the channels we were surfing HAIR was just starting. I didn’t like the musical or the movie at the time, because I thought it was exploitative and getting it all wrong, as usual, so I wanted to look for something else, but he was fascinated and insisted we watch it.
Seeing it this many years later with a little boy who wanted to know if that’s what people really looked like and acted like, I had to say some of it was accurate, but a lot of it wasn’t, at least not in my experience. I don’t think I’ve ever seen any movie capture the decades I lived through the way I experienced them and saw them and tried to express them.
I remember when FORREST GUMP came out and the ‘60s political activists in that flick were portrayed as sexist and intolerant and all the things the 1960s activists I knew were fighting against! It seemed so fucking rightwing to me. HAIR wasn’t that bad, it just wasn’t real the way I knew it.
Then I got an e-mail from my friend, the poet Robert Slater, in which he was telling me how much he was digging Rolling Stone magazine’s issue on “The Summer of Love” and he said:
“I realized that in 1967, 40 years ago would have been 1927 & the whole wash of time made sense--as did the comment you made in an e-mail last week about dealing w/ ‘lots of ghosts.’ And there I was, 5 years old,in my grandparent's house, brushing my mother's hair.”
Not that he was 5 in 1967, he’s close to my age, but that the interaction of memory and time does strange things, many of them beautiful.
Which surprisingly many of the actors in HAIR weren’t, except for John Savage, who would have looked much more like the “hippies” I knew if he had been the one with long hair. Maybe I just didn’t get Treat Williams. Not that he didn’t do a good job, I just didn’t buy him as any “hippie” or especially as a hippie leader kind of guy.
But hey, it’s just one version of that time, made several years later. The movie that really captures what was beginning to happen nation wide that summer is the documentary MONTEREY POP. The music was mostly great, and there were a few kids interviewed that were closer to what was really happening to kids then, the way I saw it happening.
Then of course there’s the documentary of the Rolling Stones concert at Altamont where that whole “love” dream died, for many. And in between (only a few months earlier in 1969 actually) there was Woodstock, the orgasmic peak, in many ways, of the spirit of the summer of '67.
I’m gonna have to do a list of films that I think got the times, and often the experiences, that I lived through right, or at least more right than most other films.
But in the meantime, in the spirit of Slater’s observation I’ll share this: my father was born at the end of the 19th Century, I was born at the start of World War Two, and my youngest child, my little boy, was born at the end of the 20th Century. How amazing.