The idea of the Summer of Love, Pass says, "sounds dopey, doesn't it? But we really needed something like that at that time, because there was so much hate generated by the Vietnam War. We needed Sgt. Pepper and a whole lot more."
Indeed, for all the surrealism and subversive energy in New York at the time, the war overshadowed everything. Danny Fields, a Factory scenester and talent scout (he would soon bring the MC5 and the Stooges to Elektra Records), sums it up. "We had one religion," he says, "and it was the war." On April 4th, 1967 — one year to the day before he would be killed the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. declared his opposition to the war in a speech at Riverside Church in Harlem. Two weeks later, 400,000 people rallied against the war in Central Park.
Among the most liberal cities in the country. New York had a long history of activism. But just as a new generation was changing pop music and the other arts, so-called New Left activists altered the face of political protest. Abbie and Anita Huffman, Jerry Rubin and Paul Krassner formed the Youth International Party, known as the Yippies, in New York. The Yippies brought a guerrilla-theater approach to the protest movement. It was the politics of experience — an effort to alter people's consciousness as well as social conditions.
As an offshoot of a larger anti-war protest in Washington, D.C., in October 1967, the Yippies led a group of 50,000 people in an effort to exorcise the Pentagon, an event that became the subject of Norman Mailer's seminal book The Armies of the Night. The Fugs were close with the Yippies, and Ed Sanders wrote the exorcism ritual, which culminated in a fifteen-minute chant of "Out, demons, out!"
"We were telling the generals, 'You are possessed by the will to violence,'" Sanders explains. "Now there are a lot of generals speaking out against the war in Iraq because they remember 'Out, demons, out!' subconsciously. Not what we did, but the concept of going too far militarily, of using too much violence.
"It has legs, the Summer of Love," Sanders continues, "Can you imagine people in curved-toe boots and pantaloons carrying Shias and Sunnis together on their shoulders, in a whirling-dervish love dance through Baghdad? You say, 'Aw, that couldn't happen.' But that's what the message of the Summer of Love is: that it can happen. That was the good side of it."
The bad side was the inability of the good vibes to withstand the pressures of a culture ready to prey on the naiveté of the hippie movement — let alone the forces at work in a city like New York. "When we got the Dom gig, the band and people with us moved into the Grand Street apartment of a friend," Lou Reed recalls about the Velvets' first performance at a dance hall on St. Mark's Place that Warhol rented, "The very first gig, they robbed everything out of that apartment that wasn't glued down. If you want to know what New York was like back then, maybe that gives you a hint." And in October 1967, the murders of Linda Fitzpatrick, a wealthy eighteen-year-old Connecticut girl who had moved to the East Village, and a local scenester named James "Groovy" Hutchinson, sent a shiver up the spine of the scene.
But no question about it: As Sanders says, the Summer of Love and all that it represents "has legs." "When you talk about 1967, you're actually talking about the Sixties," Neuwirth says. "That was ground zero. It was also the other side of the culture war — though only the right thinks about it as a 'war.' It's only a war if you hate or are so afraid of what's happening that you have to declare war on it. The ground was shifting under everybody's feet. For a while there, in 1967, not everybody was terrified. The dividing line is who was afraid and who wasn't."
This story is from the July 12th, 2007 issue of Rolling Stone.
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