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Sleepless in San Francisco

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Photo by Malingering

Wait... the Summer of Love is officially over? And we're just finding out about it now?!

Tuesday's LA Times featured a piece titled "There's not a lot of love in the Haight" focusing on the street kids and drug addicts that populate San Francisco's famed Haight-Ashbury district.

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The scoop? Although Jerry Garcia used to drop acid in the Haight, "the legions of idealistic wanderers who migrated here during the Vietnam War" have been replaced by homeless drug addicts, and the current residents of the Haight (some of them aging former hippies) are frightened because they've "never seen anything like this crowd."

It's undoubtedly true, but it aint news. Gutter punks dominating the Haight have been around at least a decade and a half. Longer, I'm sure. Back when I was a sheltered, suburban Bay Area teen making periodic trips into the city to troll Haight's vintage clothing stores and record shops, there were tons of street kids around.

I went to a lot of punk rock shows and met plenty of kids like these. My stepbrother was one of them. Weeding out the fashion punks -- the middle-class kids who sport the mohawks and torn up clothes but live in decent homes -- a good chunk of these people, as this article points out, are homeless, drug-addicted street kids who come from troubled homes. This has little to do with "rebellious punks trampling the free love hippie aesthetic" or even "former hippies becoming tools of the establishment." The real narrative here -- and it is told the world over, throughout time, I am convinced -- is about how disenfranchised people who have no stake in society are treated as worthless and in turn often treat the society around them that way.

Here's another thing most former hippies will never acknowledge: "the hippie revolution" although it indicated a dramatic shift in certain societal values was NOT a universal experience. It was a set of socially organized choices that were most readily available to people of a certain socio-economic status (read: middle class). Fast forward a couple of decades and turn that same lens on punk music, which in this country has always been a predominantly white, middle-class thing. One could draw a number of interesting parallels between the two genres.

As for street kids and "gutter punks," we have plenty of our own right here in Los Angeles. But maybe homegrown human misery isn't as piquant as the San Francisco variety.

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