Jay Meehan: The summer of attachments and alienations
May 30, 2017
On this particular trip, we didn't get strafed by bats as Raul Duke and Dr. Gonzo would four years later. These puppies, upon closer inspection, much more resembled Pterodactyls with as yet undiagnosed pituitary issues.
Four of us had left Malibu in a van on a covert mission to retrieve a similar vehicle from mechanics holding it hostage in some obscure quadrant of the galaxy called Utah. I had never been there, but, growing up in the panhandle of Idaho, I had gotten to know a family of Mormon refugees.
While crisscrossing the southern routes by thumb, I had also heard Herb Jepko's all-night radio talk show on 50,000-watt clear channel KSL. Actually, there was no escaping it. Its signal-to-noise-ratio was such that you could pick it up on your dental work. So, I had that going for me. I figured I could get by if push came to nudge.
Following tough negotiations for the release of the now fully repaired van in the town of Beaver, we cranked a hard left and entered into the terra incognito of the west desert. There remains little, if any, recollection of this part of the journey. But, then again, not one of us could remember driving through Las Vegas only an hour after the fact.
This was 50 years ago almost to the day
— the late spring of ’67, the cusp of what hyperbolic history would remember as the Summer of Love.
How could an entity with the sensory footprint of Las Vegas, for Liberace's sake, totally escape notice? Additional Pterodactyl influences, no doubt. You'll have that.
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With mountain passes from Tioga northward to Donner still closed due to late season snowpack, making it over to the western slope of the Sierras proved somewhat problematic while also changing our not-exactly-rigid itinerary. We decided, being that far north and all, to drop in unannounced on friends at San Jose State.
This was 50 years ago almost to the day — the late spring of '67, the cusp of what hyperbolic history would remember as the Summer of Love. Our friends had only recently returned from a quite eventful border crossing at Tijuana as it turned out and pulled up right behind us after "visiting their money" at their neighborhood bank branch.
They also had in their possession a vinyl of the just-released-that-day "Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band." With "Rubber Soul" and "Revolver" having only recently brought me into the Beatles-fan fold, it piqued my interest to no end.
The year was already pretty full of touchstones, what with ending 1966 at the Fillmore, followed by an adventurous romp down through the Mariachi and Norteño music riddled Mexican state of Jalisco. And now this, a concept album rumored to bridge the gulf between "pop" and "art." We slapped it down and spun it around.
Then it was back to LA for a refueling stop. Only a couple of weeks later would find us camping on the football field of Peninsula Junior College on the outskirts of Monterey. There was this three-day concert event, you see, that had the counterculture all abuzz and who were we to not ingratiate ourselves with the larger tribe, as it were. Love was in the air.
A scant week later found the "love" being dispersed by canister outside a $500-a-plate fundraiser for President Lyndon Baines Johnson at LA's posh Century City. I learned to love the smell of tear gas in the evening. What with protests and concert events and love-ins and be-ins, we became hard pressed to even fit in Haight-Ashbury, whatever that was.
Just kidding. It wasn't long before we had settled in to quite comfortable digs in a relatively old-growth grove at Golden Gate Park close by the Digger sponsored food and music happenings in the Panhandle. After a spell, however, the siren's call of Morningstar Ranch commune had us relocate up north to Russian River country. Did I mention that love was in the air?
Now up at Morningstar, my inexplicably quite excellent karma ushered me into a most fragrant and visually profound section of what was known as the "Redwood Grove." I kept expecting shutterbugs from Art and Architecture magazine to show up and do a full spread. Location, location, location!
All in all, that summer 50 years ago, despite all the media-driven embellishments and aggrandizements, proved to be fertile soil in which the underground print scene along with so many other organic efforts in the arts, could grow and, if not flourish, at least hold the mainstream up to the light.
Between the murals of Guadalajara and the tear gas of Century City, there were intervals of rapture and ecstasy. Love was in the air.
Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and has been an observer, participant and chronicler of the Park City and Wasatch County social and political scenes for more than 40 years.