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George Harrison visited San Francisco’s famous neighborhood, Haight-Asbury, the hippie capital of the world, in 1967. It wasn’t what he expected. Then, a mob of hippies swarmed him like he was God who just descended on his people.

George Harrison playing guitar for fans at Haight-Ashbury in 1967.
George Harrison at Haight-Ashbury | Bettmann/Getty Images

George Harrison thought San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury would be a beautiful place

In Here Comes The Sun: The Spiritual And Musical Journey Of George Harrison, Joshua M. Greene wrote, “According to astrological calculation, by 1967 Earth was supposed to be emerging from a thousand years of confusion under the sign of Pisces—two fish swimming in opposite directions—and entering a golden age under the sign of Aquarius. 

“Writers and poets prophesied that this new age would be one of harmony and understanding, and underground newspapers depicted San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district as its epicenter, the home of LSD consciousness, filled with beautiful people in colorful costumes, dancing to psychedelic music and living the dream of the Aquarian Age.”

Initially, LSD played a huge part in George’s spiritual awakening. So, he was excited to see what the hallucinogen had done for the hippies of Haight-Asbury.

In 1967, George and his then-wife Pattie Boyd visited Boyd’s sister Jenny and her husband, Mick Fleetwood, near Haight-Ashbury. They parked their limousine a block away and explored the hippie neighborhood.

“George had dressed in psychedelic pants, tassled moccasins, and heart-shaped sunglasses, expecting to be part of something beautiful ‘with groovy people having spiritual awakenings and being artistic,'” Greene wrote. “What he found left him dismayed.

“Garbage littered the streets. Hippies lay sprawled on benches and sidewalks. Panhandlers—’horrible, spotty dropout kids on drugs,’ George called them—haunted the streets begging for coins in the name of love and peace.”

Later, in Martin Scorsese’s documentary, George Harrison: Living in the Material World, George said, “I went to Haight-Ashbury expecting it to be this brilliant place. I thought it was gonna be all these groovy kinda gypsy people with little shops making works of art and paintings and carvings.

“Instead, it turned out to be just a lot of bums. Many of them were just very young kids who’d come from all over America and dropped acid and gone to this mecca of LSD.”

Hippies started treating George like the Messiah at Haight-Asbury

George got into a little bit of trouble once the hippies of Haight-Ashbury began to recognize him. In Ashley Kahn’s George Harrison on George Harrison: Interviews and Encounters, George said a mob of people swarmed him.

“We walked into the park and it just became a bit of a joke,” George said. “All these people were just following us along.” George was their leader.

Then, everyone gave George every drug they had. By then, George had become disenchanted with LSD. He was grateful that it had opened a door for him. However, George knew he wouldn’t get anywhere in his spiritual journey if he took it consistently. Plus, when he looked at LSD under a microscope, it looked like an old rope. He didn’t want to touch it after that.

“A hippie is supposed to be someone who becomes aware–you’re hip if you know what’s going on,” George continued in Kahn’s book. “But if you’re really hip you don’t get involved with LSD and things like that. You see the potential that it has and the good that can come from it, but you also see that you don’t really need it.”

“We’d walk down the street and I was like being treated like the Messiah or something,” George said in Scorsese’s documentary. “I was really afraid because I could see all these spotty youths, and they were still an undercurrent of Beatlemania but from a kind of twisted angle.”

The hippies tried giving George an Indian pipe, books, incense, and other things. They were like disciples adorning their God with offerings.


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The former Beatle said the hippies were hypocrites

George was upset that the hippies of Haight-Ashbury weren’t open to learning about other ways of enlightenment. Unfortunately, they didn’t consider that LSD was good and bad.

“Haight-Ashbury was a bit of a shock because although there were so many great people, really nice people who only wanted to be friends and didn’t want to impose anything or be anything, there was still the black pit, the opposite,” George said in Kahn’s book. “Haight-Ashbury reminded me a bit of the Bowery. There were these people just sitting round the pavement begging, saying, ‘Give us some money for a blanket.’ These are hypocrites…

“I don’t mind anybody dropping out of anything, but it’s the imposition on somebody else I don’t like. I’ve just realized that it doesn’t matter what you are as long as you work… In fact if you drop out, you put yourself further away from the goal of life than if you were to keep working.”

For George, the hippies at Haight-Ashbury acted like addicts. His experience at the capital of love was eye-opening. It only reaffirmed George’s spiritual journey.

How to get help: In the U.S., contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration helpline at 1-800-662-4357.