By any means necessary – Right on!

September 19, 2012

I never cease to be struck by the foam brought forth as the consumer/pop culture engine churns relentlessly,digesting everything and belching out its transformations.  Especially when it come up in the restricted area of my professional domain.

Wisdom of Charlie Manson-Karamazov

October 29, 2010

This  biography of Timothy Leary I’m reading is alternately tedious and fascinating.  Leary’s tolerance for vast quantities of industrial grade  LSD is astonishing.  (I mean that literally – he had access to shipments from Sandoz, Inc.) The book reads as an endless series of orgies, police entanglements, fugitive exits, psychedelic ecstasies that have no effect on anything but their subject, and bizarre pseudo-intellectual jibberish.  Leary’s narcissism, egotism, and total disregard for the welfare of those around him is monumental.  It’s amazing he wasn’t killed somewhere along the line.

As I skim about the narrative, I come upon this gem of a situation:  Leary is confined to solitary confinement in Folsom State Prison in California in 1973.  His next door neighbor is Charles Manson.  (How time passes.   Not everyone will know who he is…)  They communicate via the airshafts.  Their dialog, as recalled by Leary, pits them as equals and total opposites.  The good angel of LSD vs. the bad angel of Helter Skelter.  A passage reminded me vividly of the story of The Grand Inquisitor from Dostoyevsky’s Brothers Karamazov.

Leary: Hey, did you send me The Bugler and food?  Thanks.

Manson:  I love everyone and try to share what I have.  I’ve been waiting to talk to you for years…Now we have plenty of time.  We were all your students, you know.  You had everyone looking up to you.  You could have led people anywhere you wanted … And you didn’t tell them what to do.  That’s what I could never figure out… Why didn’t you?  I ‘ve wanted to ask you that for years.

L:  That was the  point.  I didn’t want to impose my realities.  The idea is that everybody takes responsibility for his nervous system, creates his own reality.  Anything else is brainwashing.

M: That was your mistake.  No one wants responsibility.  Everyone wants to be told what to do, what to believe, what’s really true and really real.

L: And you’ve got the answers for them?

Charlie goes on to say that he has it all figured out, it’s in the Bible.  It’s all the fault of the women. 

Does it matter?  One line is just as good as another, right?

The Harvard Psychedelic Project

October 28, 2010

It was mushrooms, not LSD, but the name says it all.  I read about it in this biography of Timothy Leary.  He’s one of those figures at the edge of my historical memory – I missed all that, going to college in the late 1970’s.

No wonder we got into the Vietnam War.  Those guys at Harvard were nut cases!

Phil Ochs redux

April 10, 2010

In an earlier post, I mentioned how Phil Och’s ‘prophecy’ fell flat, but at a tribute concert to him tonight, I was struck by this lyric from the Power and the Glory:

But our land is still troubled by men who have to hate
They twist away our freedom & they twist away our fate
Fear is their weapon and treason is their cry
We can stop them if we try

Fear is their weapon, and treason is their cry…  I was thinking about Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann, featured in Gail Collins’ column today.  Those words certainly apply and could have been written about American politics today, but Phil Ochs is not here to sing about it.  He foresaw that too:

And I won’t be laughing at the lies when I’m gone
And I can’t question how or when or why when I’m gone
Can’t live proud enough to die when I’m gone
So I guess I’ll have to do it while I’m here

Oh yeah, I guess we should change it to men and women, or people who hate…

It’s too late, Elaine!

February 12, 2010

The climactic scene in The Graduate, as everyone knows, is when Ben crashes the “arranged” wedding of his inamorata, Elaine, stands on the glassed-in balcony over the aisle watching them kiss before the minister, starts shaking the glass, and wails, “Elaaainnne!!”

The older generation goes berzerk, Elaine responds with “Bennn!”, and the two young people fight their way to the door of the church.  Elaine’s mother, Mrs. Robinson, grabs her and shouts, “It’s too late, Elaine!” to which she retorts, “Not for me, Mother!”  Ben flails about with a cross and locks the crowd in the sanctuary by ramming it into the door  and they make off in a yellow bus to the consternation of the other riders.

That short exchange between mother and daughter is what the movie is all about.  The dried up, lifeless, loveless, older generation tries to ruin the lives of their children, as theirs were ruined, but love is stronger, the vitality of youth breaks free, life has a chance.  The older generation sends the kids off to war in Vietnam, but the kids protest and fight back.  They want her to marry a cookie-cut medical student – she wants to marry Ben, who doesn’t know what he wants to do.

They sit in the back of the bus, giddy, a little sobered by what they’ve done.  They’re young and beautiful.  Ben is inwardly bubbling at the thought that he’s finally done something he really wants to do.  Elaine may be wondering what she’s getting herself into with this guy.  The problems of real adult life come later.  For now, the fairy tale carries the day.

If, then…

April 5, 2009

if_roof malcolm_mcdowell1

If… , a film by Lindsay Anderson that introduced Malcolm McDowell to the world in 1968.  The tale of a an oppressive English public, i.e., private school, and the violent rebellion it engenders, or does it?  One of those films I’ve heard about for years, and finally saw.  A film that is often referred to with terms like iconic of the 60’s.

In the lengthy notes with the Criterion DVD, Lindsay Anderson says that he didn’t intend this film to be like those other works of the 40’s and 50’s in which middle-class Englishmen reveal just how frightfully awful their childhood experiences  in school were (cf. George Orwell and Roald Dahl).   Well, that’s exactly how it appeared to me!  McDowell comments that Anderson was a celibate homosexual – he never came out – so perhaps he was repressing more than his erotic urges.

The film is rather long, and nearly all of it is about the brutality, indignity and stupidity of the school social life, in which new boys are “scums” to be ordered around as slaves by upper-classmen, and a few “whips” rule the student body like dictatorial dandies, using the cane and other punishments to keep everyone in line.  All of this is tacitly accepted by the school masters:   no doubt they were brought up the same way.  It’s all rather boring.

Still, I couldn’t get the film out of my head.  Mostly it’s McDowell, as Travis, who is weird, confused, but basically humane, keeping his sanity by hanging out with two like-minded friends.  He is the center of the film, with his adolescent glorification of violence and rebellion – pictures of Che and guerilla fighters are pinned up over his bed with the sexy girls – and his superficial praise of war.  But what do you expect?  He’s just a kid, trapped, by his parents and British society, in this idiotic, destructive system that explicitly glorifies, and trains boys for war.

The film is sometimes realist, sometimes comically satiric.  It shifts at random from color to black and white.  Dreamlike scenes are interspersed without explanation, e.g. the school mistress walking naked through the boys’ dormitory while they are away.

In the end, Travis and his confederates smoke everyone out of the chapel during an assembly and then open fire on them from a roof.  The military men in the crowd return fire.  The film ends with a close shot of McDowell gunning away.  Shown realistically, the sudden cutaway at the end leaves us concluding it was a dream.  “What I would do to these sods if…”

Many have commented on the “political” nature of the film, but I can’t see it.  Nobody in it rebels against the system in reality.  It’s a story about successful of indoctrination of youth.  After all, Anderson himself commented that there is a lot of “affection” for the school in it.

Five Easy Pieces…

November 28, 2008


…the title of this film from 1970, nowhere explained in the final version, but referring to a beginner’s piano exercise book.

This image is from the most famous scene, in which Jack N. wants some toast but the waitress tells him the rules don’t allow for side orders of toast.  He orders a chicken salad sandwich on toast, but hold the chicken…”between your knees.”  When she demurs, he sweeps the table settings crashing to the floor with a swipe of his arm.

Wikipedia remarks that this scene is “iconic” of the anti-authoritarianism and rule breaking of the 60s and early 70s, and I think that it was certainly taken that way by many.  Watching it now, and thinking about the end of the film in which Jack’s character, Robert Eroica Dupea, decides to continue his life of aimless wondering and running away from messes he makes, I have to think that the film’s take on 60s counter-culture was a little bitter.  Bobby breaks all the rules…into pieces, you might say…and he’s got nothing left at the end.

The woman on the right, with the long black hair, is another bummer from the 60s.  She’s fleeing to Alaska with her friend, and goes on ceaselessly about the filth, dirt, and general scumminess of mankind.  In Alaska, she thinks, it’s clean, because she’s “seen a picture of it.”  She is a twisted piece of work.