Summer of Love: A half century ago Flower Power, The Doors and Jefferson Airplane came to Colorado Springs
Fifty years ago, in the summer of 1967, 15-year-old Debbie Swayne announced she was running away to San Francisco to be a Flower Child.
Her mom, being a supportive and "very cool" parent, offered to take her.
"It was the first time either of us had flown," Swayne said. "I was excited. It was the Summer of Love and I was a kid from Colorado Springs and I was going to the heart of it."
The seeds of the Flower Power movement may have taken root more slowly in Swayne's hometown, but the summer of '67 resonated - in tie-dyes, bell bottoms, mindsets and music - especially among teens and young adults in a military town that was just starting to grapple with growing anti-Vietnam War sentiments.
Six months before the Tet Offensive, and several years before the shootings at Kent State, the ripples of the peace movement were passive, subtle but steady.
"You get this peace movement awakening; it's still pretty much in its infancy and it's happening more in cities on the coast, but you have pockets of change everywhere - even Colorado Springs," said Matt Mayberry, director of the Pioneers Museum.
Inklings of change received occasional ink: Say, a chilly peace rally in late February of 1967 that drew 25 people, and a photographer from the Gazette-Telegraph, to Acacia Park. The gradual groundswell's local impact can be charted by other slow-growing and more intimate forces, however.
"Look at Wasson and Palmer high school yearbooks in '67 and '68; guys still wore suits and had short hair and there wasn't much evidence of any obvious counterculture - no peace signs or flower art or anything like that," Mayberry said. "By the early '70s, there was a huge sea change. The yearbooks had flowers and psychedelic designs. Even teachers had long hair. They probably started growing it out around The Summer of Love."
Music led the way
Music professor Michael Grace was a freshly arrived Colorado College faculty member - closer in age to students than staff - as the "hippie bubble" was about to burst.
"1967 was a special time, when society was really split politically and generationally. There were these basic issues we were facing: the war and the draft, civil rights, and a generation feeling it wasn't being taken seriously," Grace said. "The draft board was about three blocks south of the college, and there were protests. Colorado College was a little, liberal enclave, vigorously opposed to the war."
As it did for the nation at large, music led the way. It provided a wedge in a widening cultural divide, stitching together the ideologically aligned as well as - for a time, at least - fans who grooved on the sounds without, necessarily, embracing their message.
"Back then, radio stations had no problem playing rock 'n' roll, country or folk and then back to rock. Artists had no problem with breaking format, and if you listened to the radio you were exposed to all styles of music. That summer started the divide," said Sean Anglum, who was 15 years old in 1967 and heading into his sophomore year at Wasson High School. "There was a feeling among my friends that the draft might soon be breathing down our necks. We weren't out marching in the street, but Vietnam was on TV every night, war came up in conversations and in the lyrics of the music we listened to."
Anglum remembers the late spring day The Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper" was released. The album had a nearly unfathomable influence on pop music - and helped inspire in Anglum an enduring love for the formerly mop-topped Liverpool quartet.
"They'd performed their final concert in Candlestick Park the year before and people thought maybe they were breaking up," Anglum said. "Then here's this album and they look totally different. They've got mustaches, goatees and none of their suits matched. It's like they grew up."
America was about to do the same.
The Doors played for CC
While the coastal cities were busy turning on, tuning in and dropping out under the spotlight, Colorado Springs quietly (in a few cases, unintentionally) lured an array of now-legendary bands: The Who, Paul Revere and the Raiders, The Yardbirds, Young Rascals, Jefferson Airplane and The Doors. The Los Angeles band fronted by the late Jim Morrison played the Colorado College homecoming dance - a show booked at The Broadmoor International Theatre the previous year, before the band skyrocketed to fame with the summer chart-topper "Light My Fire."
About a month prior to the Broadmoor gig, the group was banned from the "The Ed Sullivan Show" when, during a live, televised performance, Morrison reneged on an agreement to swap "better" for "higher," because it could be construed as a drug reference.
"People drove for thousands of miles to see that dude," said longtime Springs and Pueblo deejay and show promoter Steve Scott, who hosted "Summer Swing-Dings" at the City Auditorium and emceed many of the era's storied performances. "Music really drives the culture, and '67 really was the zenith of pop music and the heyday for concerts. It was a pretty fun time to be here."
A three-day Jefferson Airplane engagement in late July at The Broadmoor was arranged by a booking agent who thought the group was a folk act, said Anglum, who is now in charge of community engagement and outreach for the Pikes Peak Library District.
"We were kind of a sleepy little town then, not all that hip. And then they booked these great bands. I'm not sure they knew what they were getting into, but those of us in the know thought it was too cool," he said.
Springs attorney Dan Rector was in high school then, and recalls that summer as the beginning of a mythic interlude between the seminal Monterey Pop Festival, in mid-June of '67, and Woodstock, in August 1969.
"There was a spontaneity to the time. People weren't wearing band T-shirts and there wasn't the kind of advertising for bands or concerts that you have now; there was a concert and we all just went, because that's what you did," said Rector, who was on hand for the final show of Jefferson Airplane's turn in the Springs, on July 29.
Grace Slick, Paul Kantner and company arrived on stage by swinging in on ropes; they sang about drugs and sex, strafed fans with toy machine gun fire, and invited the audience to join them on stage or just "dance in your minds."
"I'm sure there were Broadmoor employees in the back of the room with their jaws dropped," Anglum said.
His classmate, Michelle "Mikki" Andersen, was there, too.
The 14-year-old cheerleader had a brother and private-contractor dad in Vietnam, and was seeking more than good tunes from the mentality coalescing around her.
"My awareness came from all sides. My older sister was definitely conservative, and did not approve of little Mikki with her long hair, long dress and clover garland," Andersen said. "I was definitely rebellious, but I was conflicted. I didn't believe in war and didn't like that my father and brother were over there, but I also wanted to please everybody."
By 1967, Andersen was among a growing number of American girls and women starting to question and push back against gender expectations and the status quo enforcing them.
"When I was in high school and junior high, men wrote the rules and they were in charge," said Andersen, who recalled breaking with conformity by wearing a handmade dress and going barefoot to class. "Women who rebelled would be used as an example. I felt compartmentalized, and it was like running up against a brick wall all the time. To think of all the things that changed as a result of that time . "
The academy perspective
Anthems that lit the fire of America's counterculture movement are now a soundtrack for digestion at the fast-casual brunch spot where retired Col. Dick Rauschkolb sips coffee on a mid-June morning, at a commercial plaza east of the Air Force Academy.
This shopping center was a ceaseless, scrubby plain, and Academy Boulevard a dirt road, when Rauschkolb heard the tunes for the first time in the years before he graduated from the academy in 1970.
He'd just finished his freshman year when the hippie movement kicked off in an urban-bohemian flashpoint about 1,300 miles due west.
Rauschkolb's Summer of Love was a far cry from flowers and group hugs. His class was the first at the academy to undergo a special three-week summer training program - SERE, or survival, evasion, resistance and escape - meant to better prepare them for the war to which they would be heading.
"We were put in a prisoner of war camp. We had laundry bags put over our heads and we were fed fish heads and rice for several days," said Rauschkolb, who served as an intelligence officer in Thailand during the Vietnam War, to which he lost nine members of his graduating class. "As part of the training, they would take us out and interrogate us, put us in a box where we had our legs and arms all cramped. This was not a lot of fun. Guys lost 20 or 30 pounds."
After that, in July 1967, Rauschkolb headed off for a three week "Zone of the Interior" tour that took him and his fellow cadets to Hamilton Air Force Base, and then hippie Ground Zero.
"The big song in that day was 'San Francisco,' so we knew about hippies and Haight-Ashbury," he said.
The image conjured up by pop songs and headlines - gentle people with love to spare - was nothing like what they found.
"We didn't exactly fit in with our short hair, blue blazers, white shirts and ties. We looked like a bunch of nerds," Rauschkolb said. "It wasn't what we thought it would be, at all.
"There were drunken bums, guys doped out. It wasn't like there were a bunch of girls with flowers in their hair."
Haight-Ashbury 'scary crazy'
Debbie Swayne's experience as a starry-eyed 15-year-old wandering Haight-Ashbury was similarly disillusioning - an observation echoed by no less than Sgt. Pepper bandmate himself, George Harrison, who found the resident hippies to be "hideous, spotty little teenagers."
When her mom returned to pick her up that day, and offered to bring her back the next, Swayne declined.
"It was really frightening. These people were scary crazy on drugs and it was horribly uncomfortable," she said.
She and her mom ended up taking a "nice tour of the city," and even got to see George Harrison perform an impromptu concert in Golden Gate Park.
The eye-opening visit didn't turn Swayne off her counterculture leanings, which continued to gain steam through her high school years, and beyond, back in the Springs.
"I smoked pot and I did LSD. I did the whole thing that was going on at the time," said Swayne.
She wore miniskirts and strings of bells around her ankles and neck. She hung out in Acacia Park and even lived for a time on a commune before opting for a different path - college, and a career in hospital administration.
Today, she organizes a group of Wasson grads who meet regularly at Johnny's Navajo Hogan.
Some - like Mikki Andersen - were already good friends by The Summer of Love; others, she grew close to in the decades since.
"There's just something about those childhood relationships. We all had very different experiences, and we went our different ways, but we never talk about how we were different back then," she said. "It was a wonderful time to grow up - a time of change and rebellion. It made me who I am."
Contact Stephanie Earls: 636-0364