The Post-Modern Self   /   Spring 2017   /    Notes And Comments

The Summer of Love

Christopher Sandford

The Doors, June 1967, playing live at Mt. Tamalpais Outdoor Theater, Marin County, CA, Fantasy Faire Magic Fest.

Are you experienced?

Most retrospectives take the Swinging Sixties, and more particularly the Summer of Love, on their own terms. “Society was shaken to its foundations!” gushes the exuberant narrator of a 2013 BBC documentary on that supposedly transformative era. “All the rules came off, all the brakes came off…the floodgates were unlocked.… A youthquake hit the world.”

At least for most young Englishmen (of whom I was one), what this mainly seems to have meant was some very silly shirts, marginally better food (thanks to new European trade laws), and a slight increase in the use and availability of soft drugs. By a lucky bit of timing, the introduction of the female contraceptive pill also happened to coincide with the arrival of that other defining symbol of the Swinging Sixties, the duvet. Exact statistics are elusive, but as a result of these twin developments, it’s likely that a few more young women bunked up with their boyfriends, a societal trend celebrated in the Rolling Stones’ January 1967 single “Let’s Spend the Night Together”—itself a riposte to the Beatles’ earlier, and more decorous, hit “I Want to Hold Your Hand.”

But in truth, that was about it for the youthquake. For millions of young Britons, it seems fair to say that sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll took their place against a normal existence of knitting, cricket, and worrying about exams. A night out at the cinema for The Sound of Music, followed by the Berni Inn Family Platter, remained the height of most teenagers’ aspirations. When Time came to dub London the “Style Capital of Europe,” the magazine’s researchers were able to fasten on a few photogenic outbreaks of joss sticks, prayer beads, and other eastern paraphernalia, as well as on eye-catching developments such as miniskirts and Mick Jagger and Keith Richards appearing before magistrates on drug charges. Despite the subsequent claims of the BBC, these were not events that appeared to be part of any broader revolution under way against the Britain of Hancock’s Half Hour, with its grinding conformity and identical red-brick semidetached houses furnished just like your granny’s.

To read the full article online, please login to your account or subscribe to our digital edition ($25 yearly). Prefer print? Order back issues or subscribe to our print edition ($30 yearly).