BY ED MURRIETA
The band member known as The Quiet Beatle had his loud-and-clear say about hippies and the Haight-Ashbury in the Summer of Love.
As rock ‘n’ roll chronicler Ben Fong-Torres detailed the story 34 years later, George Harrison arrived in San Francisco on Aug. 8, 1967, telling reporters he was curious about the hippie phenomenon.
Based on Harrison’s assessment of the scene, the Beatle wasn’t amused.
Harrison is quoted in the 1989 biography “Dark Horse” saying he thought the Haight “would be something like King’s Road (in London), only more. Somehow I expected them to all own their own little shops. I expected them all to be nice and clean and friendly and happy.”
Instead, after touring the hippie ‘hood and encountering a “wild band of jeering hippies” during an impromptu song sesh on nearby Hippie Hill in Golden Gate Park, Harrison declared hippies to be “hideous, spotty little teenagers.”
In “The Beatles Anthology,” a mini-series produced in 2000, Harrison said, “I went there expecting it to be a brilliant place, with groovy gypsy people making works of art and paintings and carvings in little workshops. But it was full of horrible spotty drop-out kids on drugs, and it turned me right off the whole scene.”
Perhaps contact with hippies triggered in Harrison a year-old flashback to the Philippines — when the Beatles, no longer loveable mop tops, angered many Manila citizens who chased the band in the street threatening bodily harm after the quartet inadvertently snubbed a breakfast invitation from the island nation’s corrupt first lady, Imelda Marcos, while on tour in 1966.
The Beatles never returned to the Philippines. But it appears Harrison still had some feelings of peace and love for the hippies remaining in the Haight in 1974, performing benefit concerts to ease the financial plight of the Haight-Ashbury Free Clinic, which opened July 7, 1967, just one month before Harrison’s first hit of the Haight’s hippie phenomenon. Harrison raised and donated $66,000. The Haight-Ashbury Free Clinic is still helping people today.
The day after the San Francisco benefit concert, Harrison toured the clinic and left the Haight unmolested, fulfilling the anti-social sentiment of Harrison’s cynical and catchy 1963 ditty “Don’t Bother Me.”
Harrison’s humor skewed attitudinal, an acerbic echo of the young Harrison’s adenoidal sneer.
Harrison’s turn as an unwitting, unwilling and uncontrollable force mistaken for an actor auditioning to play a character much like the pop star who just wandered into the wrong office in the 1964 comedy “A Hard Day’s Night,” or at least the role of Harrison he himself portrayed in the behind-the-scenes Beatles farce, is a master class in amateur acting brilliance.
Harrison died Nov. 29, 2001 from lung cancer at age 58.
Those hippies Harrison encountered 50 years ago must have been something.
But no matter.
The hippie phenomenon that Harrison didn’t get to fetishize would be officially declared dead just two months after Harrison visited. The Psychedelic Shop, San Francisco’s first head shop, opened in January 1966, becoming the Haight-Ashbury’s epicenter of hippie culture and commerce, including extra-legal drug sales and on-premises pot smoking. It closed in October 1967 when its LSD-loving owners declared the hippie movement dead, along with their enthusiasm for being full-time businessmen.
Nails for the hippies’ Summer of Love coffin were lined up Oct. 2, 1967 when 11 people living at 710 Ashbury St. — Grateful Dead band members Bob Weir and Pigpen, two managers and seven women variously described as “friends,” “visitors” and “just girls’” — were arrested on questionable marijuana charges, sparking social-justice and plant-therapy issues that have defined pot politics for 50 years.
Someone’s floating the question of whether San Francisco officials owe the Grateful Dead an apology.
No matter, man.
Even today, all the Beatles in heaven couldn’t conjure up Harrison’s Utopian but ultimately unrealistic pipe dream of hippies in the Haight-Ashbury.
Horrible, spotty drop-out kids on drugs, like Beatlemania, don’t go away.