By Jim Steinman, '69
There was this button on the silk shirt of this long-haired freak in Chicago right before the police riots. “I am the AmeriCong:” it said. Has the War of Liberation finally come home? Where it belongs? Where we can keep an eye on it?
After this summer’s explosions, it became clearer than ever before . . . AMERICA NO LONGER GLOWS IN THE DARK . . . the flag has blown a fuse . . . America . . . the dream engine is grinding to a halt . . . I should mention here that this is an article on rock music, among other things . . .
Somewhere in Las Vegas at this very moment the last buffalo in America is dying. He is dying of onesomeness. The sky is leaving his face and he is choking on the neon fumes that waft over from the flashing hotel signs. Onesomeness. So like a huge lumbering beast, this country finds it harder and harder to breathe. It is suffocating while we make love to the rhythm of its gasps . . . And when the last beautiful buffalo in America starts to convulse and beg for help, iron robots disguised as cops will beat it to death on the eyes, and then go together to the locker room and whisper sweet nothings to their billy clubs . . .
There was a girl in Lincoln Park with a weed in her hair. She probably had the crabs. Or they had her. Whichever comes first. Anyway, she was smiling when the cops surrounded her, and her lower lip was bleeding. Pretty soon the rest of her would be too.
And the L.A. Free Press has reported that in Big Sur, in lovely California, a tribe of young kids are living on the cliffs, emaciated, tired, pimpled, drugged and rotting . . . just a bunch of American children going gently insane, their veins monstrously swelling as they fill them with strange chemical blood that they buy for $165 from the local dealer. For a year they’ve been living there in Big Sur in sunny California on the edge of America waiting for an earthquake. Because that’s why they went there in the first place, to see the goddamned earthquake from the best goddamned seat in the house.
It seems that this 15 year old girl, this perfectly normal stoned pubescent, was tripping on some special mixture of acid, heroin, and STP and had a vision and saw the entire west coast crumbling down off the rocks and toppling into the sea, floating off like a huge scab on the purple water. And all her friends believed her, and so for a year these fine middle-class young men and woman have been lying in each other’s skin, boy on boy, girl on girl, flesh on the rocks waiting for the earthquake. Can we ever understand why McCarthy failed to get them involved in realty?
The earthquake never happened there. Not in California. But in August, in Chicago, in Mayor Daley’s armpit, a twitch went berserk. A mad twitch in Mayor Daley’s armpit, and the seismographs are going bullshit, the country’s going to split like never before. And all the hiding places are hiding.
“I’ve had it, you’ve had it, we’ve had it, we’ve all had the climax! This is a turning point”
. . . from the score of “HAIR.”
In her new play, “Massachusetts Trust,” Megan Terry asks the musical question “Why are Richard Nixon’s cheeks so far apart? Because they’re so full of shit.” Does this sort of attitude provide any sort of constructive value?
Perhaps this is all inevitable, perhaps it really is cosmic calling time for a deadened kingdom to pay up. A broken bargain with Hopi priests is repaid in mythic time by Vietcong Warriors. The smashing of the Inca temples is revenged by new Africans burning the ghettos and dancing with the flames. The systematic murder of the country’s scared rivers, soil, air and forests does not go unmourned: a new army of tribal youth takes the place of the dead Iroquois: long stoned boys and girls who sleep in each other’s hair and wake up in unknown planets with no zip codes or names, who create their own insanity as the greatest insult they can give a society whose mental health can be measured in uniformed corpses and packaged decay.
We hear a lot of talk about revolution now, a lot of it the usual dogmatic nonsense . . . (The most moving plea to come from SDS recently was the lovely plea that begged: “Let’s get all our shit together now so it all hits the fan at the same time.” Empires are destroyed on such foundations). But I think that a new, largely apolitical style of street fighting may be taking shape today in the alleys of middle-class white youth.
Richard Goldstein in the Village Voice said: “Make revolution as you would make love.” Now what if we extend that to some other modern pleasures: Make revolution as you would take drugs, as you would dance, as you would hallucinate, as you would crash a motorcycle through a highway, as you would experience rock music: more than the body can bear. But never-never make revolution as you would make order, or as you would analyze, or study, or plan, or organize, or think. We are not concerned with intellect or theory here. The streets may have grown too hot for that.
I think it’s inevitable that rebellion in this country be transformed by drugs, rock, pop culture in general, and the freer aspects of the new sex scenes, the force of the new hedonism. Revolt may become less a road to reform and more a trip to intoxication. It begins to appear more and more futile to try and change the diseased roots of this society. Perhaps our main goal will become the protection of our own sanity within the larger cancer. In this case, revolutionary flare-up’s main value will be the purgative impact and assaulting power such confrontations have for the participants. The chasm between the young and old, the established and the alienated in this country goes far beyond any immediate political social or economic causes.
We may see violent confrontations with authority that seem to have no reason for being, at least any immediate rational reason, but clash will be inevitable because youth, at this time more than any other, needs magic, needs exalting release, needs mass ritual and catharsis. Such emotional purge may become a necessary component of survival in this country, and revolution may turn into a style of dark Dionysian pleasure-pain splashed on the streets. Rebellion as outdoor theatre, audience participation at its peak, and who has time for politics? The clash for the sake of the clash. The confrontation with power for the sake of the power of intoxication, a power that may keep many from madness.
In “The Birth of Tragedy” Nietzsche speaks at length concerning Apollo and Dionysos, ideas that may be considered as cosmic forces, archetypes, gods, ideals, universal processes, energy levels, paths to enlightenment, styles of artistic experience . . . simplified the ecstasy of Apollo is that of union, “tuning in” with the over-riding pattern of order and design unfolding in the universe. The unchanging meaning and fixed permanence of existence. One witnesses or even co-operates in creation of an emergent pattern, of order out of chaos, becoming part of an expansive, pre-eminent harmony. Now certainly there is an Apollonian component to the psychedelic and musical experience. But I think that today’s rock-drug culture is overwhelmingly Dionysian.
Dionysian ecstasy, vaguely, is that of being overwhelmed with the sheer glory of motion of what is beyond, being taken over by such motion, becoming no longer human but an instrument of the godhead, a tongue of flame in the sun. One delights in the very activity, in the wild dancing (whether internal or physically overt as well), in having laid down the burden of being human and surrendered to the overmastering cosmic whirl. Order, harmony are shattered. Kinetic drive rules. Music, pageantry, ritual, lightshows are the art of intoxication.
In “The Greek Musicrama” Nietzsche describes Dionysian ecstasy: “It is neither an arbitrary matter nor playful exuberance when, in the first beginnings of the drama, wildly excited mobs roam through fields and wood costumed as satyrs and sileni their faces smeared with soot and plant juices, and wearing wreaths. The overpowering, suddenly manifested effect of spring (we can substitute drugs or rock here. . . author’s note) also increases the vital forces to such excess that ecstatic conditions, visions and the belief in one’s own enchantment appear everywhere. Here is the cradle of the drama. For it does not begin in that somebody disguises himself and tries to arouse illusions in others; rather in that man is beside himself and believes himself transformed and enchanted.
“In the condition of this ‘being beside oneself,’ the ecstasy, there is only one more step needed: we do not return to ourselves but pass over into another being so that we behave as though enchanted. From that, in the last analysis, comes the deep wonder of the drama: one step becomes uncertain and with it the belief in the fixity and permanence of the individual. The Dionysian ecstatic is transformed.” Now, certainly a major aspect of being heavily stoned is this transformation into a godhead, because everything becomes possible in the drugged state, as everything is possible for a God.
And just as Nietzsche sees the cradle of the drama being an ecstatic ceremony, not a presentation separating audience and artists, so we can look at today’s most powerful example of ritual musicdrama, the total environment rock concert in a place such as Fillmore East or the Electric Circus. Here we have a huge tribe of people in a monstrous electronic womb assaulted by waves of crashing sound and curtains of swirling lights, energized to a peak response by the effect of drugs and close flesh contact. The physical motion is glorious, the sensual immersion complete. Here the separation of artist and audience is almost completely shattered. Almost. The audience is transformed. At such concerts drama comes closest to its birth.
The boundary between artist and audience will probably be broken down even more soon. And I think this corresponds again to a major aspect of the drug high. I said before that in the stoned condition everything is possible. This is largely because metaphor and reality merge when you’re stoned. They become one. Illusion and truth unite. I would say that one of the major intoxications of being stoned is the mixing of metaphor and reality, no separation, the former is the latter. In a corresponding way, the artist, supplier of metaphor, is breaking the boundary between himself and his audience, supplier of “reality.” The audience is becoming the artist.
Two recent examples of this were evident recently. In “Dionysos in 69” in New York the actors got the audience on the stage involving them in the drama and sexual action of the “play.” And in the Living Theatre’s performance of “Paradise Now” at Yale last week, by the end of six hours of ritualized performing, almost the whole young audience was on stage, nude with the actors, making love with each other together, chanting with the players merging with the play until the separation was nonexistent. The whole thing ended with actors and audience alike running nude into the street outside and being arrested for “indecent exposure.” The metaphor that separates the viewer and the player is shattered.
So we wind up with a generation of young drugged “artists” using reality as their material, and the audience is a thing of the past. Thus, the street riot becomes a gigantic pageant. It is no longer satisfactory to have catharsis through metaphor, only reality will do. So reality is created. The reality of the street clash as in Chicago. A magic theatre of intoxication. The cities of America are the new stage, the kids are the demonic visionary artists, the drama cannot be stopped.
In a terror-numbed world, perhaps we can stay sane by exulting in contact with the terror, riding wild through it, meeting it dead center, head-on collision. I’m not alone in this: I know a lot of kids who said they felt high during the Chicago bloodbath, really high in a strange new way. An impression I had is that running through the streets of that city, bloody pouring dripping, you couldn’t help but feel that anything is possible now, there are no limits at this moment, anything is possible at this level in space.
And add to this the effect of television, which, when focusing its electronic eye on the theatrical orgies like Chicago, immediately makes millions of viewers participants in the birth of a new modern mythology. And there you are, running wild, transformed into an ecstatic godhead, transforming yourself into a myth that millions will stare at in the dark through hollow glazed amazed eyes, worshipping their little television like supplicants at an altar.
The chaos in Chicago was just a beginning, a much needed long awaited release of rage and anger and emotion. The silent screams could finally break through to life and be heard. The volume and power of the “shrieks of Chicago,” “hog butcher to the world,” was music drama at its must cathartic.
So to today’s Dionysian drug high, sex high, and rock high we can now add the following level of revels: the “revolting high.” The time is right.
We can see the way these various components come together in some recent rock songs, reflecting the mood I’ve been speaking of. First, “Five to One” by the Doors on their last album, “Waiting for the Sun,” epitomizes the new brand of revolution-anthem. Unlike all those humane, liberal, soppy sincere folk ditties of the fifties preaching revolution, this is a snide, hissing, thumping, pounding sexual come-on. “Five to One”, by the way, is the position of the hands on a clock as they form the “V” sign of peace, love, brotherhood, a popular hippie gesture. By using this as the basis for such a violent, dark song, the Doors add a corrosive note of irony to the piece. This is clearly a wild invitation to the “enemy” to meet in one final, cataclysmic clash, all couched in sexual language. The weapon being used here is the sexual power of youth and the god like delirious strength of the drugged mind that can do anything . . .
“Five to one, baby, one in five/ Nobody here gets out alive/Well you get yours honey and I’ll get mine/Gonna make it baby if we try/The old get old and the young get stronger/May take a week and it might take longer/They got the guns yeah but we got the numbers/Gonna win yeah we’re taking over!/Your ballroom days are over baby/Night is drawing near/Shadows of the evening crawl cross the years/Trade in your hours for a handful of dimes/Gonna make it baby in my prime/Get together one more time/Come on honey/ I am the Lizard King. I can do anything!/I can make the earth stop in its tracks/Get together one more time.” This last invitation to “get together” is spit out with sinister shading: this is no call to a chick.
You could just see the kids in front of the Conrad Hilton sneering at the cops, caressing their girls with their free hand, smoking a joint and hissing: Come on, honey, come on cop, get together one more time . . . This rebellion is like a rape, probably from the back door. Political infiltration as anal penetration. Is this the way we’ll have it in the 1970’s? (The line “They got the guns but we got the numbers” has a double meaning since “numbers” is slang for a joint . . . rock, sex, drugs, youth revolution, pleasure . . . it’s all coming together, so to speak . . .)
The Rolling Stones, meanwhile, in “Street Fighting Man” are busy shouting about the time being right for violent revolution and street chaos and such and the way Mick Jagger sings it, with the gritty heavy foreplay of his leering vocal, you know these riots have got to be a gas . . . while the Stones’ previous song, “Jumping Jack Flash”, was a perfect evocation of the character of the new breed of street fighter named “Jumping” Jack Flash . . . I was born in a crossfire hurricane/And I cried at the howling driving rain/I was raised by a toothless bearded hag/I was schooled with a strap right across my back/I was drowned/I was washed up and left for dead/I fell down to my feet and I saw they bled/I was crowned with a spike right through my head/But it’s all right now in fact it’s a gas and it’s all right Jumping Jack Flash it’s a gas gas gas . . .” The violence of the lyrics mingle freely with the joy. Joy in the suffering. And in England today “Jumping Jack Flash” has become synonymous for an amphetamine capsule and an exceptional orgasm . . . Connections anyone?
This summer’s number one song was “Born to Be Wild” by Steppenwolf, a record that may qualify as the hardest rock since “Satisfaction.” A driving motorcycle hymn, it conjures up nightmare visions of shiny chrome bikes with bloodshot headlights, reproducing in nocturnal alleys and groaning with greasy pleasure. “Get the motor running/Shoot out on the highway/Looking for adventure/And whatever comes our way/Hey darling gonna make it happen/Take the world in a love embrace/Fire all of our guns at once and explode into space/And like a true nature’s child/We were born to be wild/We can reach so high we’re never gonna die/Making’ our own lightening/Heavy metal thunder/Racing with the wind/And the feeling that I’m under . . .” Whatever happened to flower-power? The song leaves no doubt that “the love embrace” might be a bear hug that would leave the world an empty lifeless victim. “Makin’ our own lightning, heavy metal thunder”: forget the metaphor. This is really it. Gods are being created. Perhaps in the next Chicago, hundreds of horny motorcycles will swarm over the troops and leave all the kids shattered but satisfied. “One in five, nobody here gets out alive.”
“I am the Lizard King, I can do anything!” We can see it now. Stoned hot young legions swarming through the streets . . . We came down the rivers and highways, we came down from forests and falls, we came down from Carson and Springfield, we came down from Phoenix enthralled. Brothers and sisters of the pale forest, Children of the Night, who among you will run with the hunt, who among you will run transfixed, transformed through the stains of the city, shivering with ecstasy, battered by bayonets, crushed by tanks, breathing the breathless, breathing the breathtaking, beaten cold with beauty . . . a very final beauty . . . beaten cold with a beauty that comes right before the end. And all the hiding places are hiding.