“Season of the Witch” is an enthralling — and harrowing — account of how the 1967 Summer of Love gave way to 20 or so winters of discontent. As Salon.com founder David Talbot tells it, San Francisco was famous for extending a welcome mat to outcasts long before it became the epicenter of the 1960s youth rebellion. Yet the city had an old guard that resented the influx, tried to squelch the rock concerts that gathered the young and the restless into a tribe, and did everything possible to shut down novel enterprises, such as street clinics, that sprang up outside official channels. None of which is to say that the challenges posed by the flower children wouldn’t have taxed the patience of saints. No other American city — probably no city anywhere — was any better prepared.
Talbot lovingly evokes the salad days when a group called the Diggers set the tone. Their Free Store (motto: “You can’t steal here because everything is free”) reflected an ethos that has endured: “Decades later,” Talbot argues, “echoes of the Digger philosophy could still be heard in web mantras such as ‘Information wants to be free’ and other slogans of the digital age.”
(The Free Press) - ‘Season of the Witch: Enchantment, Terror and Deliverance in the City of Love’ by David Talbot
Also in effect was a lot of plain old looking out for one another. Talbot tells an amusing story about a rising local band called the Grateful Dead. On their way home from a grocery run, band member Jerry Garcia and his girlfriend, Mountain Girl, were hailed by a neighbor from her window across the street. “I’m so glad you got my groceries,” the neighbor hollered. “Come up right now.” The pair picked up on what was happening: a police raid of their house, which — the Dead being the Dead — was not a drug-free zone. Garcia and Mountain Girl accepted the invitation and “weren’t arrested that day.”
Meanwhile, some shoppers had needs that not even a free store could meet, such as treatment for the overdosed and justice for the harassed. Striking what Talbot calls a “devil’s bargain,” the denizens of the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood, ground zero for the Summer of Love, enlisted a thuggish motorcycle club called the Hell’s Angels as guardians. “In return for protecting them from violent cops, bad drug dealers, and other rogue elements,” Talbot writes, “the neighborhood turned a blind eye to the Angels’ own bare-knuckled behavior.”
Legitimizing the Angels came with a price. In 1969, several miles inland from San Francisco Bay at Altamont Pass, the Rolling Stones threw a free concert for which the Angels provided security. In the parlance of the day, they proved to be the problem, not the solution, when they stabbed and stomped a concertgoer to death. The anguish caused by the incident was only a prelude. As Talbot puts it, “No city would go through more convulsions than San Francisco as it processed the 1960s.”
There was the terror reign of the Symbionese Liberation Army, which kidnapped Patty Hearst, demanded a gargantuan ransom from her wealthy father and robbed a bank before coming to a fiery end. There was a wave of random killings by black militants. The police responded with racial profiling and brutal crackdowns, and Mayor Joseph Alioto proposed massive civic renewal, which would have entailed razing certain troublesome neighborhoods. Skeptical citizens portrayed the city as facing a clear choice: “Was it to become a Manhattan of the West, whose office towers and high-rise apartment buildings overshadowed everything else, or remain an affordable, human-scale city of light nestled into the hills and hollows?” In the midst of all the turmoil, then, San Francisco was called upon to wrestle with its identity.