“Apart from developments in audio recording, one of the most important technologies that was to become central to the era was the low-cost mimeograph,” says Danny Goldberg, author of ‘The Search for the Lost Chord’, about a document-duplicating machine – precursor to the photocopier – that allowed “the people to publish their own underground newspapers, fanzines and circulars cheaply. When somebody got hold of a Gestetner mimeograph, that was when they could broaden their reach.”
One such publication was the San Francisco Oracle, the paper that arguably made one of the most important announcements heralding the Summer of Love in the hippie community of Haight-Ashbury, although it wasn’t called the Summer of Love at the time.
“I was there, in the sense that I was a teenager, mesmerised by what was happening,” says the rock’n’roll veteran, one of the first journalists to break the news about the Woodstock festival, later becoming Led Zeppelin’s publicist and to this day managing international acts such as Steve Earle. “I wasn’t really old enough or cool enough to be one of those shaping the Summer of Love. But I was certainly in the front row of those receiving it.” He goes on to say that the social phenomenon came about in the US because, “there were a few things happening at the same time, some of which were shared in other parts of the world, particularly the UK, and some of which were unique to the US”.
The Civil Rights movement was, a century after the Civil War, in full swing, “while during the summer of 1967, there were the worst racial disturbances since the Civil War. At the same time, the war in Vietnam had become a life-or-death issue to 25 million young men of draft age. Whatever feelings we might have had about the Cold War, there was an imminent threat to the lives of those subject to the draft for a war that many of us felt the US government couldn’t explain.”
Simultaneously, with the Second World War a generation behind them, “enough financial prosperity had come to the middle classes that materialism, as a driving force, was ready to be questioned. I always look at the sixties writ large as a spiritual movement. For some it was a reaction to a narrow upbringing in western religions. But primarily, for me, it was an alternative to the dominant belief system, as it is now, of materialism. The sudden availability of psychedelic drugs contributed dramatically too. There was also a huge population of young people – the so-called Baby Boom – coming of age. This had an effect on the media, because the media then, as now, was driven by advertising and a premium was placed on younger people. The media clumsily put a microscope on counter-cultures in the US and the UK.”
Goldberg says that one of the unifying factors for this new generation was the emergence of technologies “that made it easier for them to connect with each other”. Stereo technology (by which Goldberg means the actual playback devices, rather than the channelling of audio signals into left and right speakers) was maturing in terms of “the availability of low-cost units, and were no longer a rich person’s trophy. There was a company called KLH that was making briefcase-sized stereos that became ubiquitous on college campuses. And, of course, headphones. I remember the first time I saw a set of consumer headphones: the idea was to get high and listen to [the Beatles LP] ‘Rubber Soul’.
“Then there were portable transistor radios, which meant that you could listen to music anywhere, rather than be locked to a large console in your living room. These were the bridges between the old media of the early 20th century, where large capital investments were needed for audio technology, and today’s connected internet world. The sixties were kind of a midpoint that empowered a lot of people, whether it was through records or underground publishing.”
Summer of Love: media myth?
Music critic Joe Selvin wrote: “The Summer of Love never really happened. Invented by the fevered imaginations of writers for weekly news magazines, the phrase entered the public vocabulary with the impact of a sledgehammer, glibly encompassing a social movement sweeping the youth of the world, hitting the target with the pinpoint accuracy of a shotgun blast.”
Nevertheless, the phrase affected reality. In April 1967 a small notice in the underground newspaper the San Francisco Oracle read: “While America nightmares its military hells of the mind, Americans loving love and hoping peace and seeking wisdom and guidance have turned toward the Haight-Ashbury and are journeying here.”
The notice exhorted new visitors to bring warm clothing, food, ID, sleeping bags and camping equipment.
The Oracle postulated that there were “two sides of the kettle” of Haight-Ashbury, the Oracle itself and the Diggers. The reality was that there were dozens of sides. The Diggers were not the only people in the hip community who felt the Oracle was too pompous. One sarcastic letter called it “The Hindu Science Monitor”.
Despite the internal differences, everyone in the community knew that both a great opportunity and a great crisis were at hand. The hype about the Summer of Love threatened the stability of Haight-Ashbury. Hundreds of teenagers arrived on an hourly basis in a section of the city without any capacity to contain them, while local businesses that had little or no emotional connection to a utopian nation pounced. A coffee shop sold “love burgers”, while tourist buses included hippies as a highlight of San Francisco.
Edited extract from ‘In Search of the Lost Chord’ by Danny Goldberg, reproduced with permission.
Goldberg reminds me that we are talking about half a century ago, when there was no electronic social media, mobile phones, digital recording or internet. The technology we take for granted today simply didn’t exist in any recognisable form. And yet, there were critical advances that changed the world.
“One of the great breakthroughs was the opening up of the FM radio band. In the fifties and early sixties, the only radio stations that played so-called ‘pop music’ were on AM radio bands, playing mainstream hits with intense adrenaline-fuelled announcers basically talking down to the audience.
“For various reasons, some of which were due to regulations and others to do with the maturing of FM radio technology, in the middle of 1967, starting in San Francisco, stations started playing hippie records, playing entire albums, often intermingling different genres. You’d hear a blues record followed by a sitar record, an obscure folk record, or a psychedelic rock record or something by the Beatles. You’d also get people phoning in to talk about peace or drugs. And so the radio station became what the internet is today: a switchboard for people starting to realise they were part of a community.”
Meanwhile, in recording studios worldwide, technology was growing rapidly. At London’s Abbey Road (once the bastion of EMI’s classical empire), British bands such as Pink Floyd and the Beatles were experimenting with new ways of recording music, integrating the latest pro-audio technology under the supervision of producer George Martin and engineer Geoff Emerick. “Recording studios became a much more sophisticated tool for musicians, producers and arrangers, primarily because of the ability to work with multi-track recording. Most of the records up to a certain point in the 1960s had been recorded live in the studio.
“Because they were the most successful band in the world, the Beatles had access to the most cutting-edge technology. This wasn’t just because of the money they were generating, but because anyone who was developing a new piece of equipment wanted nothing more than the Beatles to be using it. So their records were pushing the boundaries of what could be done in the studio in terms of sound effects, backward sounds and layered recording. They were taking the consciousness of what had gone into symphonies a century before and bringing it into rock ’n’ roll.”
‘In Search of the Lost Chord’, Danny Goldberg, is published by Icon Books, £14.99
‘In Search of the Lost Chord’
We read it for you
‘In Search of the Lost Chord’ is rock music veteran Danny Goldberg’s eyewitness account of the Summer of Love, a time and a movement 50 years ago when the world’s youth found its voice. While it was a time of the Cold War, Concorde and the Apollo Missions, it was also a time of a counter-cultural revolution that started in San Francisco. In 1967, the Doors released their first album, while in the UK ‘Sgt. Pepper’ reigned supreme on the album chart for 23 consecutive weeks. Set against the backdrop of the war in Vietnam, Muhammad Ali’s conviction for draft avoidance and Martin Luther King, it was also a time of technological revolution in the fields of communications and record production. Goldberg sets the scene with a vivid portrayal of an era that provides a direct ancestral line to the digital world we live in today. Great stuff.