Acid flashback to 1968. Haight-Ashbury is the happening place, Jack Nicholson is a hippie, and deaf people can magically hear again after taking psychedelics. Oh, and the truth is in the flames. Whatever that means.

San Francisco may never live down 1967, the Summer of Love. The media swarmed on what those crazy kids were up to, and even Hollywood did a little, er, research to get in on the act. A year later, Psych-Out hit the theaters.

Director Richard Rush wanted to capture the moment, resplendent in its free stores, dirty communal houses, plethora of hallucinogens and pot, wild music, and vibrant sex life. Oh, the good ol’ days. To tourists, those days never left. But we know better than that.

Despite what the Chronicle says, the Haight runs on gentrification, boutiques, and commercialism rather than flower power. Now, when you go to San Francisco, you ditch the daisy for an American Apparel scrunchie in your hair. But let us briefly revel in the past, according to Psych-Out:

  • Hippies like to look at shiny things, like plastic beads.
  • Even though they preach love and peace, hippies can beat up square thugs, especially when they’re tripping and imagining themselves as knights slaying monsters.
  • Kaleidoscopic vision is a natural effect of sex and hallucinations.
  • STP bad, LSD good.

People like Stoney (Nicholson) and Jenny (Susan Strasberg) did exist in this era, but today they’re a lot harder to find (try Berkeley). The counterculture’s ideas, however, have become a part of San Francisco’s general culture, to varying degrees of popularity. For example, it’s safe to say that the Bay Area is 420-friendly, with SFBG listing all the places you can snag some weed for free. We have a local chapter of Food Not Bombs. Anarchist groups. The Haight Ashbury Free Clinic still trucks on. And sometimes, it’s OK to admit you’re a socialist/pinko commie bastard. But hippies themselves? Not so much.

People grew up, had kids, got jobs. LSD dropped out of fashion, and all of a sudden, free love had costly consequences like STIs and the aforementioned children. One movement gave way to the next until the gutterpunks replaced the flower children. In 2009, if you find someone sporting tie-dye and tattered clothing on Haight, it’s probably a tourist.

Sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll (and free stuff) defined the hippies. Outside the ’60s, these folks are “New Age,” “progressive,” “college students,” “freegans,” or crazy uncle Dave who came out and then moved to Amsterdam because San Francisco was a LIE. You know.

Ironically, San Francisco will always be hippie central as long as that impression brings in money. 1967 marked an important turning point in American culture, whether “real” San Franciscans like it or not. Haight-Ashbury stands as a cultural and historical testament even as fashionable boutiques close in on the tourist-friendly headshops. You can call it a false sense of nostalgia or a lingering gawk at a long-past freak show, but people like the hippie era even if they don’t like hippies. Apparently they didn’t hear about the funeral.

Psych-Out is available on Netflix and Amazon.

Starring San Francisco is Appeal events editor, Christine
Borden’s, take on the city’s cinematic past to illuminate today. Have a locally set film you’d like to see featured? Tell her at

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