The Summer of Love hit Newford in '67, the same as it did pretty much every big city in North America. Kids flocked to the downtown core—which was kind of funny since sometimes collecting in the urban center was just the first step in their moving to some rural commune. I doubt they saw the irony in that. For the longest time, neither did I.
I was a city boy, myself. I was born in Beirut, but we emigrated when I was five, before the bombing started, so I had only dim memories of my homeland. None of them matched the bombed-out streets that appeared from time-to-time on TV news broadcasts. So far as I was concerned, I was a North American, but my shock of black hair and the dark cast of my skin lumped me in with the blacks and Puerto Ricans, along with all the limitations that being part of a minority entails.
The Summer of Love changed that—at least it did on the surface. And certainly for me.
I lived an unhappy life in a brownstone tenement and was mesmerized by reports of the whole hippie phenomenon. The Eastern mysticism and the drugs. The long hair and the free love. And the music, oh, the music. I'd never heard music like this before. Music that was actually about something more than just boy meets girl, or girl loses boy.
Growing up, I'd already decided I wanted to be a beatnik. A Bohemian poet, I thought. Or a musician. Maybe an artist. I'd dress in black turtlenecks and smoke Gitanes. I'd listen to cool jazz in clubs, getting up to read devastating truths from my notebook, leaning against the microphone, cigarette dangling from my hand. That is, if I wasn't playing in the band—piano, maybe. Or long cool notes on a trumpet.
Where did a Muslim boy get ideas like that?
Not at home, that's for sure. Not at school, either. And for sure, not at mosque.
It took an old guy living down the block to wake them up in me. His name was Mr. Henderson—call me Ed, he'd always tell us kids, so I did, even though in my head he was always going to be Mr. Henderson. He was probably a kid freak, because his big thing was letting us hang around his house, but he never hit on me or anybody else that I know of. Or at least, no one told me he had.