Balloons, Bananas, Laughter, and Love

New York's Be-In

by '69
Amherst Student

The Be-In began at dawn. Sheep Meadow. Central Park. Not many around then, but enough to be promising. Everything seemed blessed from the beginning. The sunrise seemed to inhale and hold its breath, until about noon, so that thousands could arrive with a new day, and not after it. A fantastic prolonged morning. Then, by about 2:00, bright, warm sunlight all over. More people swarm in. By sunset, there are 10,000 there. A few thousand more bandied about the various parts of the park at various times. Jellybean ecstasy. Balloon epiphanies. Banana Crusades. Soft wind worship. The password is LOVE.

a huge crowd of people in Central Park, New York. One man sitting on the shoulders of another holds a huge model banana aloft

There is no real way to define a Be-In. People merely wander about in one general area, together, and proceed to exist. As perhaps they always do. Or perhaps as they would like to do.

The N.Y. Be-In was apparently more spontaneous than the one in Frisco. No stars present to speak, no platforms, no bandstands. It just happened all at once. As if there were no choice. There were small little bonfires on the hills, people cooking marshmallows, or, maybe, bananas. One hippie patiently heated up a recent issue of "Ramparts." Getting the mustard read.. It actually looked good. Music everywhere. No plugged in bands. Just people with weird drums, hand cymbals, tambourines, guitars, blue harps, a sitar or two, and voices. The sounds arrive with wild pulsating fervor. Electric leather in the air. Or, usually, something different. Blonde-haired, pea-jacketed teeny-boopers release melodies and let them fly: soft, gentle, sad, and overjoyed to be that way. Quicksilver lyric strokes from everywhere. These quiet beautiful girls walk through the park in slow motion, with dream-like montage motions. A great look of piece in their eyes. They've finally found their world. Alices in Wonderland. Only they've read the book first. Their eyes shine with calm under lens-less Ben Franklin glasses. At every male hippie they pass, they sweetly flash on the message of their neon melancholy. Help me, please. Life is so beautiful, they flicker, and I just can't seem to make it last. And so couples are formed, and long into the night, lovers vibrate and freak-out and enclose each other in their gentle rain and protective fog for as long as they can.

Most cops enjoy it, though. The kids practice the love strategy. They run up to the cop-cars and sprinkle jelly beans down on them. 'We love cops, turn on cops", they yell. The cops usually leave. Unable to deal with such abnormality. Psychedelic colors abound. Smells of flowers surround everyone. And there is more than just the sensory satisfaction, too. Inhibitions are gone, and, for a while, the hippies can forget about rebelling against a sick world. They can spend one day showing themselves and everyone else who cares to watch that there can be an alternative. The potential is there. In the people. Eden's Children.

Prism orphans starting a new life, a new world. Silly? Utopia always is. Childish? Well, the point is, they don't bother to sermonize. They just are. They escape criticism, or condemnation, or even objective praise: Only contact will work. Critiques are dead.

People are in trees. Making animal calls. Answered by other trees. Sometimes by real animals. Thoreau would love it. Two men attempt to strip off their clothes, while reciting "Howl". They are gently stopped by the cops. Whitman would exault. Plastic spadechicks glide about, isolated, encased within thick chocolate poems of their own making. Which are slowly melting under the hot reverent gaze of white worshippers. Huge crowds form great circles, hundreds of yards in diameter, and swirl about, suddenly breaking to hurtle to the center in an ecstatic, embracing, caressing, exploring, crushing, giant united pile.

People know the password. LOVE is sung, chanted, painted on foreheads, and spelled out on costumes. The clothes are varied. Psychedelic capes, robes, vests. Old military uniforms. Mod material. Easter bonnets. Dungarees. Turbans. Top hats. And, oh yes. Bananas. Everywhere. Around necks. In pockets. In cartons. Huge wooden bananas are carried about. Deified. Let the bananas rise and take their rightful place in society. Forever.

The whole event is surreal, hallucinogenic, baroque, and, as one reporter decided: "The Be-In seems almost a sacred event, harking back to medieval pageants, gypsy gatherings, or the great pow-wows of the American Indian. With bananas substituted for peyote, of course. At the same time, it is a new and futuristic experience which, once refined, offers great promise. But it should be refined carefully. It is a lot of energy to deal with."

The crowd gradually disperses…late into the night, as the last couple take their blanket off the grass and start to go, a small yellow fish leaps out of the quiet pond, and hovers above his splash for a long while in the blonde mist. For a long while he hovers. Waiting. Until the boy and girl have left the park, humming "Strawberry Fields Forever". Laughing gently at themselves, and preparing to sleep.

Source: Amherst Student archives, Image taken from film footage