When I heard Scott McKenzie had passed away at 73 on August 18, I could immediately hear his famous song in my head. “San Francisco” is one of those tunes that locks into your memory card, and there is no way not to remember a time and place associated with it.
Some probably would call Scott a one-hit wonder, and he did not write the song; John Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas did. Still, as could be said to be the case with many great songs, the man who sang it made it his own and very famous. “San Francisco” became the national anthem of the Summer of Love, a microcosm of the magical time of 1967 when perhaps anything seemed possible.
At the time, war raged in Vietnam, but McKenzie sings, “Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair” as a reminder of how to go to San Francisco. He also promises that “it will be a love-in there.” In 2012 with war still raging in Afghanistan and reports of American forces dying seemingly every day, the need for meeting “some gentle people” anywhere appears to be more pressing than ever before. No offense to Carly Rae Jepsen, but this summer’s anthem “Call Me Maybe” doesn’t come anywhere close to having the possible long range effect on the culture and the times as did Scott McKenzie’s humble tune.
All you need to do is watch this brief video of McKenzie singing this song at the Monterey Pop Festival in June of 1967, and you will be aware of the all-encompassing way in which the song captures the era. As you enjoy the video and see quick glimpses of passed on rock royalty (Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Mama Cass) you grasp the significance of the song, gaining a realization of the hopes and dreams of everyone in the 1960s who wanted peace and love instead of war and hate.
As too frequently happens, we do not appreciate people until after they are gone. Such is the case with McKenzie. When I listen to this song I think of not only the hazy, lazy days of that summer when I was a kid, but a time when I was innocent enough to believe that words could change the world, that flowers in your hair could temper the beasts of war, and that guns would be silenced when everyone understood the futility of violence.
Many years have passed since that Summer of Love in 1967, but Scott McKenzie’s “San Francisco” remains and its resonance can shake you up, if only you listen and accept its message. Rest in peace, Scott. It seems a given that wherever you are now, the people have flowers in their hair.
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