Haight-Ashbury - Alive and Well

by Maritravel

Haight-Ashbury, the hub of hippiedom in the sixties and the epicentre of life for the spaced-out days and nights of thousands of the world’s flower children, is alive and well.

It’s still the coolest place on the Bay. Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead and other rock bands that rose from the area may have gone, but their spirit lives on at the intersection of San Francisco's two streets, the famous Haight & Ashbury.

In the sixties it was home to thousands of flower children who blissed out on the music of Janis Joplin and The Grateful Dead. Today the area is still a counterculture enclave where the sweet smell of hash drifts from the dark, psychedelic shops manned by throwbacks to the sixties. Occasionally you’re solicited for a few dollars by a panhandler who’ll tell you he’s a veteran. The current version of earlier incense burning, moccasin-wearing children just smile vaguely at you and hope you’ll press a buck or two in their hands.

Pixabay (free source)

The Revolution that Swept the World

Flower Power

It’s easy to see why Haight-Ashbury launched the youth revolution that swept the world.  Before the advent of flower-power the area had been home to the beat poets from nearby North Beach where Ferlingetti, Ginsburg and Kerouac had hung out.  It had provided cheap student lodgings then, but in the early sixties ‘alternative’ life style shops opened selling outlandish clothes and crazy hats, macrobiotic foods and dope.

Life started to take on an anarchaic quality that was soon being echoed in poetry by the  writers who lived there. Lawrence Ferlingetti’s City Lights bookstore still stands on Columbus Avenue, a monument to an era and a generation that spawned a revolution in poetry and student politics.   Pictures of Che Guevara still adorn the walls, Ginsburg’s books fill the windows and you can still savour a whiff of revolution in the air.

Still standing also, is 710 Ashbury Street, home for a period to Jerry Garcia and The Grateful Dead, now a landmark for those who visit the area for more than a Cherry Garcia ice-cream from the Ben & Jerrys that stands on the corner.  There’s little else to remind anyone of that time when, for a few precious years, it seemed that the dawning of Aquarius was a real possibility.

San Franscisco
San Franscisco

Ferlingetti' Bookshop and The Grateful Dead

Haight-Ashbury in its heyday

Genuine alternative communities flourished in tolerant San Franscisco and in the sixties I wanted to live there forever.  My uniform of mocassins and beads, long hair and plaited flowers was my entry into a community of hedonistic, feckless young people.

But something went wrong.  The pushers came for the tourists who had come to look on this human zoo, and by the time the Rolling Stones staged their free concert at the Altamont in 1969, Haight-Ashbury had become a haunt of heroin addicts.  When Janis Joplin died a year later it heralded the end of dreamtime.

The Grateful Dead
The Grateful Dead
Crearive Commons, Wikipedia

Things Ain't What They Used to be

Today's Haight-Ashbury is somewhat different

 I went back there a few months ago to a sense of instant deja vu. The new generation of hippies now set up their stalls to sell incense, candles and leather belts, with the odd piece of Indian silver studded with fake turquoise stones thrown in as a homage to Native Americans.  The rock bands and the flower children have disappeared.

The smell of pot still hangs in the air but the sense of sweet charm and toleration has gone. The drop-outs who genuinely want to live a nomadic life are being swamped by aggressive veterans of the two Gulf and the Vietnam wars, by homeless, rootless kids of the kind you’ll find in every city and the crazies’ - their term not mine - who look at you wildly and shout obscenities as you pass.

Janis Joplin's House in Haight Ashbury
Janis Joplin's House in Haight Ashbury
Creative Commons, Wikipedia
Jimi Hendrix - Wax Statue in Mdme. Taussauds, London
Jimi Hendrix - Wax Statue in Mdme. Ta...
Denis Bourez at Creative Commons, Wik...

The Changing Culture

 But attempts are being made to change the culture, and shops selling sixties artefacts now alternate with vegetarian restaurants and cast-off clothing stores.  Good coffee is available, and there's even the fashionable over-the-top selection of Double-no-funs (de-caf. and fat-free milk) and Maya Lattes (cholesterol heaven, chocolate, coffee, full cream and extra cream on top).

The tourists are coming back - slowly.  Some searching for a past; some who merely want to add Haight-Ashbury to the list of counter-culture places they’ve visited.  Radical chic is still alive and well in today's U.S.A.

Junction of the famous Haight & Ashbury Streets
Junction of the famous Haight & Ashbu...
Creative commons, Wikipedia

A Hymn to the Past

Nostalgia for Janis and Jimi

 It was nostalgia that took me back there but as I stopped at Ben & Jerry's and bought my Cherry Garcia I thought again of those days of great bands, of Janis and The Holding Company, of Jimi Hendirx, Jefferson Airplane and the rest.  Our dreams didn’t survive the seventies but somehow, the continuance of Haight Ashbury - even in a debased and ugly state - makes me think it wasn’t all in vain.

Haight-Ashbury stands as a monument to a dream that failed, but it failed honourably.   Go see it now, before they colonise it into a theme park.                         

Jerry Garcia's Rosebud Guitar
Jerry Garcia's Rosebud Guitar
By Adam Jones from Kelowna, BC, Canada [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Updated: 08/30/2015, Maritravel
Thank you! Would you like to post a comment now?


Only logged-in users are allowed to comment. Login
Maritravel on 08/31/2015

Yes, it's sad when places like this lose their raison d'être. More so, when what replaces it is a poor mirror image of what it once was.

CruiseReady on 08/31/2015

Haight-Ashbury then was such a mecca for those whooo looked forward to tohe triumph of peace and love. Their ambitions started out so nobly. Now, it sounds as if it's just another place that once was a symbol of an age But some still ask, "Where Have All the Flower (children) Gone?"

janisleofwight on 08/31/2015

This is the first time I have heard of this place - clearly my education has been lacking!

You might also like

6 Quirky Things I Learned About Disneyland When I Worked There

Working at Disneyland many years ago I learned a lot about the park. In this...

Convict Lake, California Camping

Try this vacation spot for dry RV camping and tenting. Trout fishing is good ...

Disclosure: This page generates income for authors based on affiliate relationships with our partners, including Amazon, Google and others.
Loading ...