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The Year of the Hippie Dream

I visited the San Francisco Bay area this past August. No matter where I went during my visit I was reminded that it was the fiftieth anniversary of the so-called Summer of Love. Most of the reminders were of the commercial kind. In other words, the cultural trappings of that particular cultural moment were being used to sell something. From Trader Joe’s to special craft brews, the marketing was on. I have to admit that I found the advertisers’ use of the art style and the music more appealing than the style prominent today, but the fact remains it was just a capitalist manipulation of the one-time hippie dream.

It is that dream that is the subject of Danny Goldberg’s recently published book, In Search of the Lost Chord: 1967 and the Hippie Idea. Goldberg is a music executive who managed several well-known acts (Nirvana, Warren Zevon, Steve Earle, to name a few) has made a fair amount of money from the culture he discusses in this book. Consequently, that partially defines his current relationship to that culture. It is a relationship defined by a rejection of most of its anti-capitalist elements and a generally non-critical acceptance of the profit motive. To be fair, his viewpoint is considerably more common among those who grew up in the era and were influenced by its culture. Opposite this predominant group are those like the Yippies and other more political types who believe it was the profit motive that was among the forces that changed the culture’s basic ethos of community.

In Search of the Lost Chord (the title is taken from the Moody Blues album celebrating the hippie culture) is a general and lively history of the year 1967 told through Goldberg’s personal viewfinder. As someone who graduated from high school that June, he was the perfect age to participate fully in the hippie summer. His experience was not a full-blown one in that he moved to San Francisco and gave up everything for a new way. However, he went to numerous concerts, read the right books, attended protests and ate his share of LSD and smoked weed. In other words, his experience was one shared by millions of suburban white teenagers in the late 1960s. Indeed, it was that experience which seems to have given him his impetus to make music is career.

Goldberg’s book is what one might call a survey of the period. His narrative skillfully weaves the music, the drugs, the politics and the spiritual searching of the hippie counterculture into a tale that moves quickly and smoothly. While the story is naturally focused on the heart of the hippie culture in San Francisco’s Bay Area, he brings in its other epicenters—Los Angeles, New York, and London—moving back and forth between these cities. In doing this, he brings up the universal similarities of music and marijuana while making clear that there were genuine differences in how hippies in each city experienced the hippie phenomenon. Furthermore, Goldberg’s description of the political elements of the period, while certainly not Marxist in its approach, is one that understands the importance of Marxist and anarchist theory in the New Left. His discussion of the Black freedom movement, although minimal, reflects a similar awareness. The fact that he is more or less a mainstream Democrat today does not mean he was not more radical in his youth.

What Goldberg has achieved in In Search of the Lost Chord is laudable. Not only has he provided his contemporaries with a very readable and fairly wide-ranging look at an important time in their youth, he has also given today’s younger readers a useful and well-told historical survey of a subculture and time they hear about quite often. No matter if they disparage that subculture or try and emulate certain aspects of it, younger folks should find Goldberg’s text a book that not only informs but entertains them as they share his perception of what went down so many years ago. If I were teaching a course on the 1960s to high school or college undergraduates, this would be one of my required texts.