We’re here to enjoy ourselves, which means we are practicing the most essentially human of all undertakings, the search for joy. Not the pursuit of pleasure—any hamster can do that—but the search for joy.
—Ursula Le Guin
Two of the most powerful forces in existence in the 1960s—feminism and the Bomb—fail to explain the profound change that came over the women who came of age during that fateful decade, a change whose echoes resound to this good day. It echoes in ways the mass media are ill-equipped to observe or analyze: for it reverberates in the minds of those who were there, and in the secret messages that pass between the generations. Most young women of the 60s probably did not change, or did not change much, but went on with their lives pretty much as they would have. Yet enough did change that a certain tipping-point was reached—the butterfly flapped its wings, and a tornado was born. And it was those women’s openness to change that may very well tip the balance between a future of horror and a future of hope. No ideology drove them, no mass movement swept them along, no legislation transformed those special young women. So what was it, then? What power could arise in this world that is greater than ideology, greater than the Masters, greater than revolution, greater even than fear?
It’s time to do something we haven’t bothered with yet: ask the women themselves. Let’s see their faces, hear their voices, look into their eyes. Thanks to the wonders of modern technology we don’t have to speculate: we can watch the world change. So let’s watch this.
The place is Shea Stadium, the time is August 15, 1965, and the cause of all this chaos is the four young men who will save the world: John, Paul, George, and Ringo. The Beatles.
Or rather: it is, and it isn’t. Pay no attention to those men up on the stage. Look instead at those frumpy, plain-jane, beautiful young women. No TV special, no article in Rolling Stone, no coffee-table book can convey as this clip does the magnitude of what came to be called, rather flippantly, “Beatlemania.” Contrary to what you may have heard (and will see here at a passing glance), Beatlemania wasn’t about a bunch of crazed girls charging police barricades (and most of the “girls” were in fact women). It wasn’t about young ladies in Dippity-Do curls shrieking their lungs out. It wasn’t about media hype (Justin Bieber, anyone? Or Sarah Palin?), and it wasn’t about mass hysteria, social contagion, or the madness of crowds. Women screamed at Sinatra in the 40s, and nothing changed; they screamed at Elvis in the 50s and nothing changed; in the 60s they screamed at Frankie Avalon, Tom Jones, and Engelbert Humperdinck.(You remember Engelbert. Women used to throw their undies on the stage while he crooned. Probably still big in Japan.) Those jokers were deliberately sexual, purposefully provocative. The Beatles were deliberately non-sexual, purposefully boyish: no silky, insinuating voices, no Elvis pelvis. And no, Beatlemania wasn’t about the production genius of George Martin, or the marketing genius of Brian Epstein, or even about appearing on the Ed Sullivan Show. For this revolution could not be televised.
The joy of the happy ending . . . this joy, which is one of the things fairy-stories can produce supremely well, is not essentially “escapist,” nor “fugitive” . . . it is a sudden and miraculous grace: never to be counted on to recur. It does not deny the existence of sorrow and failure . . . it denies (in the face of much evidence, if you will) universal final defeat and in so far is evangelium, giving a fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief.
—Tolkien, On Fairy-Stories
Look again at those beautiful women. They’re not just enthused, or fanatic, or “hysterical.” They’re in agony. Each face is twisted into a rictus of pain; each body is racked with sobs; tears pour out of thousands of eyes. I don’t think we’re at a Phish concert, Toto! Or at a concert with Sinatra, or Elvis, or even Englebert Humperdinck. Nor is there any drug in the world that could do what those four young men are doing to these women. Meth addicts don’t look like this. Crack-snorters don’t look like this. The gods could not look this beautiful.
Journalists mockingly claim that at your typical Beatles concert “there wasn’t a dry seat in the house,” and they may well be correct. Yes, you’ll see something like this on the faces of women in the throes of orgasm (or so I vaguely recall). But you’ll also see it at tent revivals, and in delivery rooms, and even at political rallies—sporadically, in fits and starts, not the hour-long five-alarm blaze of emotion you see here. If you wish to demean this emotion by calling it “merely” sexual it’s your own beez—but in so doing you’ll dismiss, and therefore miss, the most important emotional sea-change of the past century. Perhaps of a lot of centuries.
Stout talk? Not to the Masters it isn’t. And I don’t mean the Masters of the 3 Cs. I mean the real Masters, the ones who free slaves, not own them; the ones whose kingdom is not of this world; the ones who’ve shown us a better one. You know who they are, and what they’ve told us: Dante and his vision of the White Rose; Beethoven and the last movement of the last symphony, the Buddha and what he found at dawn beneath the Bo-tree, Li Bo listening to his little girl, Tolkien at the shattered gates of Minas Tirith, welcoming the morning. Or the anonymous author of the Chandogya Upanishad:
Praano brahma, kam brahma, kham brahmeti.
Yad vaava kam tad eva kham
Yad eva kham tad eva kam iti (IV.10.4-5)
God is Truth, God is the Source, God indeed is Joy.
Joy, indeed, that is the same as the Source.
The Source, indeed, that is the same as Joy.
Until my lifetime appearances of the True Masters were like meteors streaking across the night, their messages landscapes lit by lightning. Yet I once heard a Tibetan Master say that sometimes —maybe once in a thousand years—a profound realization can come not just to the gifted few but to an entire generation. And this lama believed that during the decade of the 1960s there came such a shock of spiritual electricity.
I think I know what that bolt out of the blue was, and where it struck. For sometime in New York City, on a hot summer night, thousands of young women felt that lightning in their bones. It was not a vision of happiness, and certainly not of contentment. It wasn’t even orgasm. That lightning was Joy: Joy beyond the walls of the world, Joy poignant as grief. And it is that Joy, I believe, that even now, in subtle ways, is working to save the world. . . . TBC