The Mecca of Beautiful People during the Summer of Love was San Francisco, where you had to be sure to wear flowers in your hair. The city's most revered precinct was the Haight Ashbury district, where flower power had first been fomented in the happenings chronicled by Tom Wolfe in The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. LSD provided the inspiration for free form events at which rock groups performed lengthy improvisations before back-projections of swirling colours and the audience would loon around wildly, or sit quietly on the floor.* However, as Harry Shapiro puts it: "If LSD was the icing on the counter-cultural cake, marijuana was its basic ingredient."
As the influence of flower power and of the bands that grew out of the San Francisco scene became more pervasive so did pot smoking and, at the large outdoor rock festivals that superceded the Acid Tests, smoking pot became almost obligatory. The Flower Power era was formally inaugurated at the Monterey Festival in June 1967, climaxed at Woodstock in August 1969, and came to an abrupt end at Altamont in December 1969, within a week of the indictment of Charles Manson and five members of his cult-like 'family' for the slaughter of the actress, Sharon Tate, and six others.
During this eighteen month period, smoking pot ceased to be a minority activity. For a generation of young people, igniting a joint was a defiant, quasi-political act indicating dissatisfaction with conventional society, identification with the hippie values of peace and love, and a sure-fire way to worry their parents. For the hippies, sharing a joint was a ritualistic way of affirming a communality of purpose, however vague that purpose may have been.
In 1969, Easy Rider, depicted Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper as two white Staggerlee-types riding across America and turning on George Hanson, the drunken lawyer played by Jack Nicholson in the role that made him famous. After he busts them out of prison, Fonda and Hopper offer Jack's character a j:
"You- you mean marijuana. Lord have mercy, is that what that is? Well, let me see that. Mmmmm-mmm. Mmmm....I-I-I couldn't do that. I mean, I've got enough problems with the - with the booze and all. I mean, uh, I - I can't afford to get hooked...it-it-it leads to harder stuff."
Then, thinking it has "a real nice, uh, taste to it," George (Jack) gets high and his prompted to begin, hilariously, elucidating his belief in aliens and UFOs. The joint has gone out and Wyatt (Fonda) advises him to save the rest of it for the next morning as, "It gives you a whole new way of looking at the day."
Together with the film record of Woodstock, Easy Rider is the most enduring celluloid evocation of hippiedom and it's soundtrack contains several of the era's quintessential songs, including If Six Was Nine by the Jimi Hendrix Experience, The Weight by The Band, and Don't Bogart Me by The Fraternity Of Man, which became better known when performed as a rousing live favourite by Little Feat as Don't Bogart That Joint: "Don't bogart that joint my friend, pass it over to me, to me... you've been holding on to it, and I sure will like a hit". 'Bogart' was a reference to Humphrey, who was rarely seen without a cigarette in his mouth and never shared it around.
Probably the best known song from Easy Rider is the bikers' anthem, Born To Be Wild, by Steppenwolf, the lyric to which gave rise to the term 'heavy metal' ("I like smoke and lightening/Heavy metal thunder..."), but the soundtrack also includes another song by John Kay, which denounces hard drugs and dealing, The Pusher ("You know I smoked a lot of grass, Oh Lord, I popped a lot of pills..."). Steppenwolf's second album, called The Second, included another of Kay's songs, called Don't Step On The Grass, Sam, which was revived in the 1995 by Government Mule - the jamming band fronted by Warren Haynes, who formerly played his guitar in the Allman Brothers Band - for the NORML benefit album, Hempilation: Freedom Is Normal. The lyric remains pertinent thirty years after it was written, describing a TV debate about marijuana in which a red neck politician, self-righteous Sam, denounces the holy herb as "mean and evil, wicked and nasty" and the chorus retorts, "Don't step on the grass, Sam."