Friday, June 1, 2007

It was forty years ago today...

That The Beatles released what some argue is the best rock and roll album of all time: Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. June 1, 1967. Remember what you were doing on that day?
If you don't, you might not have been born yet.

If you don't you might have just been caught up in the spirit of things. It was, after all, the beginning of The Summer of Love.

That summer was the last one I'd spend in my hometown in western, Massachusetts. It was the summer of the Red Sox " Impossible Dream. " A summer of hatred in the middle east. Here, it was The Summer of Love, a virus of the heart that was first experienced out west, then spread east, where I and my friends caught it.

Young men and women my age were drawn like lemmings to the state of California. At least our thoughts were pulled there. The city we wished to be in? San Francisco. We wanted to grow our hair long and plant flowers behind our ears. We weren't the most ambitious of 20 year olds. The only position we sought was the lotus position.

I'd taken a doctor's advice ( Dr. Timothy Leary ) and dropped out ( of college ) in the spring of that year. I knew what I wanted to drop out from, but had no idea what I wanted to drop into. I had no plan. No road map. If I'd had a resume, its legs would have been shaking, its feet tap, tapping to the beat of an indifferent drummer. But I had no resume, because I had no experience, other than going to school.

All the sheets of paper in my pad were blank. I was reckless and feckless. Like a prisoner plotting his escape, I used to sit at the window of our apartment on Main Street and stare off at the blue/gray walls - those mountains that surrounded the town in which I'd grown up. And was now growing out of.

I wasn't alone in my desire to hit the road and head west. " Are you going to San Francisco? " was the lyric each of us was hearing over and over, echoing off the pale green lathes in the factory where we all worked that summer.

Tom, Freddy, Larry and I worked at Stanley Home Products, the largest of several mills in Easthampton. It was boring, mind numbing work, but it was honest work. The kind of work many of the parents of the kids our age had done all their lives. Much of the work we did was done away from the din of the machines and the production lines. As we toiled for the minimum wage, we talked. About jazz. Existentialism. The War. A new band called The Doors. Rock-solid, well known bands like The Jefferson Airplane.

The Doors. Jefferson Airplane. San Francisco bands. The music they played was like siren song, pulling us in a direction we knew, just knew was the right one.

Summer jobs don't last forever; there is an escape clause called September. We knew this, and the subject of many of our late summer conversations can be summed up in two words: What next?

All of us were college kids, but none of us planned to go back in the fall. As the days grew shorter and the shadows cast by the mountains grew longer, we planned our escape. How would we get there? That was easy, a no brainer. All summer Freddy had been driving around in a big, black hearse he'd got cheap back in the spring. The hearse. That's what we'd hit the road in. Maybe the radio would be playing some Grateful Dead tunes as we rolled out of New England. We'd open the windows and turn it up loud.

What could be more groovy than that?

But the best laid plans and all that. We never went to San Francisco. Our summer jobs ended and we went different ways. I joined the Air Force. I don't know what my friends did. That was 40 years ago. It was The summer of Love. And Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band had just been released.

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