This past Saturday, Scott McKenzie, best known for beautifully singing the John Phillips-penned song “San Franciciso (Be Sure To Wear Some Flowers In Your Hair)”, died. He was 73 years old.
Real name Philip Wallach Blondheim, McKenzie was born January 10, 1939 and was originally in a group with Phillips called The Abstracts which became The Smoothies. Instead of later joining Phillips in The Mamas & The Papas, McKenzie decided to pursue a solo career. McKenzie’s quickly rising musical star, however, just as quickly burnt out. Not for lack of talent, though, but because he wasn’t able to handle the fame and turned to prescription drugs, leading to a nervous breakdown.
When listening to McKenzie’s “San Francisco,” one can decide to visualize as a symbol of youth, naïveté, flower power, all that nonsense. Having recently read the book “Acid Dreams” written by Martin A. Lee and Bruce Shlain, as well as forgotten Diggers founder Emmett Grogan’s book “Ringolevio: A Life Played for Keeps,” I tend to think of “San Francisco” as something else.
It seems to me that the McKenzie’s song is something like Jorge Luis Borges’ singular point in “The Aleph.” The song contains the potential of San Francisco in the ’60s when people like the Diggers, Oswley Stanley (the LSD alchemist), the San Francisco Mime Troupe, and various other individuals and groups were attempting a radical reimagining of how society should work, before opportunistic drug dealers (like the mafia), the CIA, media attention and conservative hysteria, as well as mainstream recuperation of the countercultural ethos, tore the whole thing apart.
In that light, McKenzie’s “San Francisco” at once rides the light and darkness of that time. The infinite potential running up against the destructive power of America’s culture of greed and power.
And be sure to check out the rest of McKenzie’s discography today while you’re listening to his most well known song.