Drugged In Electrical Ecstasy
by Jim Steinman '69
The Valley Review
Leslie Fiedler called them the "new mutants", those of America's children who, for the first time, had the opportunity and the desire to seek something very alien to this country's character : a state of beauty, a style of poetry, and a world of peace.
At first it seemed to be just "All you need is love" or maybe for the already initiated, "I'd love to turn you on." All of which is pretty innocent, sweet, and entirely embraceable. But the children have advanced to a further, more dangerous stage. (And it's all theatre anyway, isn't it? Beauty in love may no longer be enough. Ecstasy is sought. Perhaps in delirium. Being poetic does not seem to be satisfying enough; it would help to be eternal, or at least feel that way, to feel dead perhaps, or maybe even to suffer strategically placed madness. The flower-petal saints are moving forward. Now each must become a god. Pot with its pleasant, smooth ride is not enough. That is not ecstasy. Insanity is the greatest high. But madness cannot come easily for most middle-class runaways. It must be looked for. And some of the more potent drugs are an answer, What better ecstasy than the expanding of one's consciousness beyond the point where anything can exist to be aware of… expansion to the limits of one's mind, off the edge to the point of destruction? How many can experience mind suicide and still live to dream and stare? The children sit in darkness, or perhaps in light so clear and bright it blinds, for it all results in the same night. They sit together and watch each other's lights go out. Human contact at last. They rob their own brains for richness, assault their own blood for reality, and murder their own souls in self-defense : All in the name of love, under a shroud of somewhere ecstasy. And perhaps they will create insanity for themselves – the ultimate insult to a world where mental health is worshipped so our sons will be sane enough to die. Madness: the final turn-on.
I was living for a while in a flat on St. Mark's Place in the East Village this summer with about four others. One night, about 5:30, I walked in and saw Janey, 19 and originally from Yonkers, and Rich, a 21 year old drop-out from Berkeley. And she was crying and laughing alternately, desperately trying to find a new patch of skin for the needle to enter Rich's arm. And he was cursing her for constantly ripping the skin without getting the vein. And his other hand was bandaged from burns he felt while attempting to fly through pain and test fires through the screen of DMT, a 65 hour trip that left bits of skin burning like marshmallows on the claws of the flames. And now the skin on his other arm was being ploughed up by just another flower child trying to learn the prayers. To find the way. With ecstasy, can violence be far behind?
Perhaps the best place to look for the varying moods of youth is their art, which is their music. "Goodbye and Hello", the title song of a stunning album by Tim Buckley on "Elektra" reveals the warm flow of the creative, positive sunlit side of ecstasy. A heroic return to the simplicity and grace of the natural world, the body of land and sea and rain and air, and the body of man, unadorned wonder of flesh on flesh. The end of judgments, the reign of personal contact. This song is perhaps the most succinct statement yet of youth's alienation and scorn for the lifeless death-masked vaudeville parade that seeks to suck them into its endless cycle.
The antique people are down in the dungeons / run by machines and afraid of the tax / Their heads in the grave and their hands on their eyes / Hauling their hearts around circular tracks / Pretending forever their masquerade towers / Are not really riddled with widening cracks... And I wave goodbye to murder, and smile hello to the rain... O the new children kiss (I am young) / They are so proud to learn (I will live) / Womanwood bliss (I am strong) / And the manfire that burns (I can give) / Knowing no fear (You the strange) / They take off their clothes (Seed of day) / Honest and clear (Feel the change) / As a river that flows (Know the way) / Know the way.
The final lines are startling and prophetic : “The new children will live for the elders have died… And I wave goodbye to America / And smile hello to the world.”
The whole song must be heard. You stand in awe of the purity of one man's belief in an honest way of life. And you follow, and maybe this is finally ecstasy . . . Know the way... And then you come upon the Doors, the best representation of the darker side of ecstasy. "Light my fire" is apparently a joyous song. But the words are shadowed with darkness.
You know that it would be untrue / You know that I would be a liar / if I were to say to you / Girl we couldn't get much higher . . . The time to hesitate is through / No time to wallow in the mire / Try now we can only lose / And our love become a funeral pyre / Come on baby light my fire / Come on baby light my fire / Try to set the night on fire.'
The fire/death images mingled with the f––k metaphor. Nothing new, really; present in a number of Elizabethan sonnets. Every time we come, we die a bit. But here, mingled with the never-ending peaks of drugged consciousness (…girl we couldn't get much higher”) the words, become more foreboding, more provocative. A new kind of death has mingled with sperm-snow ecstasy. “Before you slip into unconsciousness, I'd like to have another kiss / Another flashing chance at bliss.” This from "Crystal Ship." Terror curled in every whisper. Unconscious drugged suspension mingled with lips juice ecstasy / bliss. Then there's "The End," the most extraordinary rock aria I've ever heard – a stream of consciousness you could drown in. Or be cleansed in. Moments of pure, intense theatre and finally, amazingly catharsis. It's a song about murder, spiritual and conceptual death as opposed to physical death. It's about the destruction that must come with creation, the violence within the ecstasy and vice versa.
This is the end / my only friend, the end / of our elaborate plans, the end / of everything that stands, the end / I'll never look into your eyes again . . . Can you picture what will be, so limitless and free, desperately in need of some stranger's hand, in a desperate land . . . Lost in a Roman wilderness of pain / And all the children are insane / Waiting for the summer rain . . . The killer awoke before dawn, he put his boots on, he chose a face from the ancient gallery and he walked on down the hall. And he came to a door and he went inside and he said father, yes son, I want to kill you. Mother, I want to ––
And here there is an agonized, primal scream, showing again the magic we have given our words, and the word "f––k" still stands untouched, refusing to be recorded as part of our minds. “This is the end, beautifu1 friend, the end / it hurts to set you free, but you'll never bother me / the end of laughter and soft lies, the end of nights we tried to die / this is the end.”
“And all the children are insane.” Insanity is a spiritual death, the ultimate high that leads to what? Destruction? Yes ("the end of everything that stands"), but also creation that will hopefully come later with purification ("waiting for the summer rain"), that will come with cleansing, the beginning of reality. The end of the world as it stands, the world that gave life in the beginning, blocked out from the high mind forever. The end of oneself, the part of oneself being left behind as a new unknown mind-course is sought. “The end of nights we tried to die” can be seen as a reference to psychedelics, means of reorienting the body through "poisoning," rebirth after "death." “Nights we tried to die” are over, for this time it works, the final departure. And then there's that amazing middle section about the killer, apparently a modern re-enactment of the Oedipus legend. (“The killer chose a face from the ancient gallery”). Kill the father, screw the mother. Kill all of the things in yourself that are not of yourself, that are alien. The soft lies. These must die. F––k the mother is basic, get back to the essence, the dark areas within the mind, what is the reality, what is, mother-birth-creation-earth-all. The end of outside concepts, the beginning of personal concepts. Destruction-creation, Violence-ecstasy. This section is savage. At one point Jim Morrison, lead singer, chants "Kill! Kill! Kill . . . F––k! Kill!" as the instruments frenziedly paint harrowing image blurs of orgasm-violence, murder-release.
In their latest album, "Strange Day," the Doors are still genuine electric leather outlaws, but they are in danger of becoming Easy Listening for freaked-out heads. In "When the Music's Over" on the new album, appear many drug references, death images, tints of insanity and violence. At one point, Morrison screams "We want the world and we want it–NOW!" in what seems like a leftover from Marat / Sade. One of the lines is “Music is your special friend, dance on fire as it intends, until the end.” Music can be taken in the song as representing drugs, or inner consciousness, or even ecstasy itself. It is the “dance on fire” that is important. Again, the same image. Fire with its light that illuminates what it destroys; and the new mutants may soon go past Tim Buckley's soft joyous ecstasies and fly unprepared into the dangerous zones of the Doors. They will produce delirious fires inside their brains to light up their minds, to illuminate the pathways through which they tremble and stumble and dance and howl and finally fall. And maybe not come up again. Destruction is only half of ecstasy.
Mr. Steinman, a junior majoring in dramatic arts at Amherst College, briefly emceed a rock n' roll program on WAMF radio.
Source: Amherst Student archives