American soldiers are fighting an unpopular war halfway around the world; peace groups protest and Congress is embroiled in a bitter, divisive debate.
At home, radios play the Doors, the Beatles, the Who and the Moody Blues. People flock to open-air concerts to see Eric Burdon and the Animals, Jefferson Airplane and Big Brother and the Holding Company. Concern grows for the environment and people feel good when they can buy organic food directly from growers.
It's cool to get in touch with your feelings. Fashionable women wear flower power mini-dresses and empire-waisted tops. Jeans, of course, are everywhere.
Is it 1967 or 2007? It's both.
Forty years after the Summer of Love that signaled a seismic shift in our culture, many of the concerns and issues -- even the looks -- are back again.
And as for the areas where we're not re-experiencing 1967 -- the sexual revolution, the drug culture, the civil rights movement, the civil unrest -- that's because the subculture has now become the culture, says Robert J. Thompson, founding director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University.
"Our entire lifestyle in the early 21st century significantly carries the genetic code of the revolutions and cultural and social changes in the late 1960s. And we don't consider them at all revolutionary," says Thompson.
As Jefferson Airplane's Grace Slick told the San Francisco Chronicle in May, "The spirit of the late, lamented counterculture lives on. It lives at every yoga class in a strip mall, at every outdoor rock concert, in the organic produce section of your local supermarket and even in the heart of every personal computer."
Thompson also sees the echoes of the Summer of Love in a most unlikely place -- in the popularity of Dr. Phil.
"The kind of touchy-feeliness that we associated with the subculture, the youth movement and hippies, some of that has totally penetrated the most mainstream parts of our society. I suppose any conversation with Dr. Phil has got some echoes of 1967. That's 'getting in touch with your feelings,' 'letting it all hang out.' In some ways, the opening up of things, the loosening of the uptightness, has become absolute orthodoxy."
>A 'cataclysmic period'
While the hippie community of the Summer of Love gathered in one place -- the Haight-Ashbury section of San Francisco -- its impact was felt everywhere. As teens and young adults identified with the hippie movement, suddenly the generations were speaking different languages, on issues both public -- the war and race relations -- and private -- sexuality, dress and long hair.
The generation gap never yawned wider.
"This was the cataclysmic period," says Thompson. "In some cases it was absolute reversals. You went from a generation who felt one way about race, for example, to a complete flip. That was not necessarily a peaceful transition, but it was extraordinary that it worked as well as it did as quickly as it did -- and it's not done yet."
"That time was such a fermentation period, when the world just changed so quickly in terms of social mores and how people saw life," says Tim Bartlett, general manager of the Lexington Real Foods Community Co-op.
While the changes launched that year -- and in the darker, more violent year that followed, 1968 -- were pervasive, they were not sudden, says Thompson.
"There were a whole bunch of things that actually got put on the burners right after the Second World War, and they all start coming to a boil all at once, and they boil over in 1968 with the Kennedy and King assassinations, riots at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, the Tet Offensive, Johnson deciding not to run again and Walter Cronkite speaking out against the war," says Thompson.
"The Summer of Love is the peaceful charming preface to things that were going to become ominous not all that much later."
>Hippie style returns
Perhaps it's a yearning for that "charming preface" that has young people today buying fashions from the late 1960s.
Danielle Loukataris, owner of Divine Finds on Elmwood Avenue, has a large peace sign in her store's window, a look that would not have been out of place on Elmwood in 1967. Her racks hold the sought-after vintage clothing, from bright-colored miniskirts to the A-line shift dresses, in bright paisleys and cartoonish flowers. A rack in the back holds an iconic hippie look -- short suede vests with knee-length fringe.
"Anything that's late '60s, shift-y, empire waist, A-line, has flowers, anything like that does not last long" before being purchased, says Loukataris. "Velvet, lace, Edwardian looks are popular too. I'm buying it, cleaning it and putting it on the floor as fast as possible."
People who are buying the hippie and mod looks range from age 13 to their early 30s, she says. People who experienced the '60s the first time around are nearing 60 themselves now and not interested in retro fashion.
Loukataris shipped some vintage clothing to costumers for the Sony Pictures movie "Across the Universe," which is set in 1967. The movie, which has a Beatles soundtrack, is scheduled to open Sept. 28. To get an authentic look, costumers sent out specs seeking "trousers, hip-huggers, cords, velvet pants, henleys, T-shirts, banded-collar shirts, a shearling-collared vest, ponchos," she says.
But it isn't just movie costume designers who want the vintage fashions.
"People are buying the A-line shift, the mini, the flower-power kind of pieces," she says. "I've been selling them for two years, but they're not going anywhere anytime soon. They're all tying in together -- vintage, mod, hippie, love, peace, war, all that stuff -- it's not going to go away."
Loukataris also says finding new buyers for vintage clothing fits into concern for the environment because "I'm recycling, reusing vintage things."
At the neighboring Lexington Co-op, echoes of the Summer of Love can be seen on every shelf.
Bartlett says the co-op opened its doors in 1971 after a few years as a buying club. The co-op movement is rooted in the late 1960s, he says, when "a real do-it-yourself trend was happening, a back-to-the-land movement, where kids started working on farms or becoming farmers again."
And now, Bartlett says, farms are beckoning again -- not to urban and suburban teenagers this time, but to older, educated people who want to grow food that's clean and healthful.
"Many of the farms that are starting today are people who have never done farming in their life and don't have farming in their history, and many of them are organic -- they're people who just feel the urge to grow organic vegetables," he says. "I think all of that stems back to the back-to-the-land movement of the late '60s. People don't have to come out of that period, but they come out of that mind-set."
The co-op was founded by members of the Buffalo counterculture and was one of many such cooperatives and collectives at the time, Bartlett says. "There were car-repair cooperatives and book collectives, bakeries and any type of business you could think of, there was a cooperative started to let people do it themselves and do it together."
Now, he says, "as the world has changed, and all these countercultural beliefs and movements became cultural, these people don't stand out as much as they used to."
>Sounds of the '60s
Bartlett called the July 7 Live Earth concert spearheaded by Al Gore "fantastic, similar to events back then, but we're a much more commercial world, so it kind of turned the commercialization on its ear -- change two lightbulbs in your house to compact fluorescents, and that's one way we can change the world and it's actually going to have an impact. It's not the bigger picture of peace, love and understanding, but it's change a lightbulb, change the world."
The idea of music festivals with political, cultural and social messages was formed during the Summer of Love, most prominently with the Monterey International Pop Music Festival in the middle of June, which drew 200,000 people and featured performances by Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Otis Redding and The Who.
It was not the first mass outdoor rock festival of its kind -- that honor belongs to a smaller festival held in Marin County earlier in June -- but with its lineup of stars, almost all of whom performed for free, its $1 admission charge donated to charity and its freewheeling three-day format, it was the prototype of festivals that would define the era two years later in Woodstock.
One of the performers at the Monterey Festival was Eric Burdon, with his band the Animals. Burdon's 1967 song, "San Franciscan Nights," became, with Scott McKenzie's "San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear Flowers In Your Hair)," an anthem of the Summer of Love in Haight-Ashbury.
Although the original members of the Animals are long gone, Burdon continues to tour and will appear in a free outdoor concert at Artpark on Tuesday.
Outdoor concerts of every kind, from blues to jazz to rock, draw thousands of people to the waterside village of Lewiston every year. Eva Nicklas, artistic director of the Lewiston Council on the Arts, missed the Summer of Love by a few years but fondly recalls her first outdoor rock concert as "magical."
"Now at 54 years old I am so grateful to have been a part of that whole trip," she says. "It influenced my life so, so much. It made me what I am -- I'm still a hippie inside my heart."
Fourteen years after the concerts were launched with a single blues concert, Nicklas says, at Artpark and other venues in the village, "music is offered somewhere almost every single night."
Besides providing entertainment to residents and visitors, the concerts in various village venues and at Artpark "bring people together, and probably some of the inspiration came from back then," says Nicklas. "The impression left on all of us when we were teenagers was to be able to go and listen to music with lots of other people, together, outdoors. If there was some way to bring back that magic of the '60s, I would do it in a heartbeat."
>The new peace movement
Some events of 2007 seem like direct repeats of 1967.
Peace activist Cindy Sheehan plans to protest the war -- in the cities of Iraq rather than the jungles of Vietnam -- during what she calls a "Gather-in of Hearts" today in Central Park. The event echoes the "Human Be-in" that drew thousands to Golden Gate Park on Jan. 14, 1967. Both gatherings feature speeches by activists and musical entertainment. At the '67 event, which was mainly attended by youngsters whose generation was being drafted, Timothy Leary urged the crowd to "Tune in, turn on and drop out," and LSD was handed out.
Sheehan, whose son Casey was killed in Iraq in 2004, led supporters of all ages, rather than just the young, from Texas to New York City for today's rally. Besides calling for an end to the war, the event will raise funds for Iraqi refugees and hospitals in Iraq.
"The big difference in antiwar movements is that we don't have a draft," says Thompson. "That's what really makes the difference between the position of youth on the war and how they expressed it in the 1960s -- they were vulnerable then. If the draft was reinstated tomorrow and 18-year-olds started getting greetings from the president to report, you would see a difference immediately."
The key issues that ignited the division between the Establishment and the youth culture during the Summer of Love were civil rights and Vietnam. Both issues remain this summer, says Thompson, but there's been a fundamental change.
"It's not like we don't have civil rights issues, we very much do. And it's not like we're not in a war, we very much are. But the manifestations of those two issues are much less focused than they were."