"For What It's Worth," the Buffalo Springfield song that is permanently looped, in the popular consciousness, behind footage of American soldiers in Vietnam (or maybe hippies sticking flowers in the barrels of National Guardsmen's guns), isn't really about war. It's about the right to party on the Sunset Strip. Stephen Stills wrote the song in response to the first of the Sunset Strip Curfew Riots, on November 12, 1966 (47 years ago today), and BS, just off a stint as the house band at the Whisky A Go Go, recorded it a few weeks later. In the early sixties, the Strip (and the US, really) was transitioning from the glamorous Rat Pack days into the kid-driven rock and roll era; in 1962, Jimmy O'Neill, who hosted the groundbreaking music show Shindig!, opened the purple and gold Pandora's Box club on a traffic island at Sunset and Crescent Heights, and the teens flocked (it was followed a few years later by the Whisky and then the Roxy). The flocking teens made traffic jams, the square old neighbors complained, and in 1966 LA County (WeHo was not yet incorporated) decided to start enforcing a decades-old 10 pm curfew law for anyone under 18.
Someone organized a demonstration for November 12 and more than a thousand people came out and shut down Sunset, singing and waving signs and holding hands and all that protest stuff. There are a lot of different accounts of what happened after that (the square-ass LA Times obviously reported tons of bad behavior on the kids' part; it's possible some off-duty Marines started throwing punches), but eventually police and sheriff's deputies raided the crowd and started making arrests. Demonstrations continued off and on over the next few months. And that's what inspired "For What It's Worth." Stills first performed the song at Pandora's Box, reopened for one night only on Christmas that year (it was demolished in 1967 and the street's been realigned). The riots also inspired other songs, by the Monkees and more. Listen to them here and watch some footage of the riots:
Footage from the riots:
A hilarious and not-entirely-accurate report from 1966:
Frank Zappa, "Plastic People":
The Monkees, "Daily Nightly":
The Standells, "Riot on Sunset Strip":