It's that time of year the news brings us those sad lists of celebrities who died this past year. And one name probably few recognize. Scott McKenzie.
But I won't forget him.
Scott McKenzie was a folksinger/songwriter. I first heard him sing in 1967, when my family took a drive to the Haight Ashbury. We strolled among the long-haired, bearded, young people, and my nine-year-old self was enthralled by the flowing clothes, sandals, peace symbols and love beads. I had no idea I was witnessing the Summer of Love, which would alter both San Francisco and the world. As we walked, a radio played groovy guitar chords of a song that came to symbolize San Francisco's hippies and the changing times of the '60s.
Scott McKenzie's mellow voice sang the far-out lyrics; "If you are going to San Francisco…Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair…" I never forgot the song, and found myself thinking of it many times since that summer. To this day, on Haight Street, I spot kids who look exactly like the ones from 45 years ago. "A whole generation with a new explanation…"
Passing psychedelic paint jobs on Victorian houses on Ashbury Street, it seems like no time has passed since the Summer of Love. "All across the nation, such a strange vibration…" And reaching the corner of Haight and Ashbury, the tie-dyed tee shirts and bell bottoms take me right back to "You're gonna meet some gentle people there…"
But, Haight Ashbury aside, San Francisco of today is a far different city than that love-in Scott McKenzie sang about. It's too expensive to be a hippie here, and the flower children who were still hanging around after the '60s have mostly moved on. The '60s became the disco '70s, Reaganomics '80s, dot com '90s and the stark post-9/11 world.
And I've changed, too. Today, I would probably find those hippies annoying and dirty, and in my 50s, my hair is too thin for a flower. And San Francisco has changed in other ways. In my neighborhood, the Castro, people not only don't wear a flower in their hair, they sometimes wear nothing at all.
But, once in a while, when the sun is shining and the city is ridiculously beautiful, I think of Scott McKenzie's song and I remember that exuberant '60s feeling of freedom, that in San Francisco anything is possible, you can be anyone you want…be sure to wear some flowers in your hair.
Rest in Peace, Scott McKenzie. Bummer, man.
With a Perspective, I'm Richard Swerdlow.
Richard Swerdlow teaches at Robert Louis Stevenson School in San Francisco.