Sunday, February 9, 2014

Four Men Who Will Save the World (Part 7)

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

Four Men Who Will Save the World--Part 6

Gentlemen! You can’t fight in here—this is the War Room! —President Mervin Muffly, in Doctor Strangelove

For a long time I thought the big influence unleashed during the 60s was the Bomb. I grew up with the Cuban Missile Crisis, civil defense shelters in the grade schools, duck and cover drills, and movies like Doctor Strangelove. People might scratch their heads nowa­days over the subtitle to that film —“How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb”—but that was indeed what everyone had to do back then, like children in abusive homes who must learn to love their abusers. The Bomb taught my genera­tion the meaning of what H. P. Lovecraft called “the oldest and strongest human emotion”—fear. I used to have nightmares about someone dropping the Big One and waves of flame pouring across the world.

                And it was a generational fear. I remember talking to my mom about it as a teenager and realizing that she didn’t fear the Bomb the way I and my peers did. And I remember won­der­ing if her generation had to die before the world could do anything about the nuclear nightmare. My high school buddies didn’t expect to live past 30; we all figured the Bomb would get us. Mom, despite her wisdom, never understood.

                And The Big One is still possible. The under 30s seem to have learned to disregard this most fun­da­mental fact of 21st century existence, and many of their elders have too, but there’s plenty of us who haven’t learned to Love the Bomb and never will. Why do you think Obama got that Nobel Prize? It’s be­cause the people on the Nobel Com­mittee are elders like me, ones who grew up with that fear . . . and then this “funny-looking kid with a strange name and big ears” proposes to outlaw nu­clear weapons, and the world takes him seri­ously. At last! I’ve lived my whole life waiting for that seriousness. Why not give a Nobel Prize for hope? It’s been a long time since we had any.

                But now I think that it wasn’t the Bomb that revolutionized the consciousness of those young wo­men during the 60s. Fear seldom changes anyone or anything. Quite the reverse: fear freezes, ossifies, holds back, strangles. People with a lot of fear don’t want to grow, don’t want to change: they want cozy and comfortable, and they’ll worship anyone or anything that prom­ises to make the fear manageable—even if, in the end, the object of their worship makes things worse. Why do people join the Tea Party, or Al-Qaeda, or the NRA? Why would anyone in their right mind listen to Wayne LePierre?

                And isn’t it interesting that our current Tea Partiers like to play dress-up in Betsy Ross bonnets and three-corner hats when the real Tea Partiers dressed up as Native Americans?

The leader of the Nine [Nazg├╗l] is known as the Captain of Despair, . . . [but] he cannot induce it in others unless he first feels it in himself. —Paul Kocher, Master of Middle-earth

Fear is another fact of human nature the Masters know well, or they would not spend so much time and effort trying to induce it. Fear makes people into slaves, and how can you be a Master if you have no slaves? And to keep slaves is to be one yourself. The courageous have no need to frighten anyone. Yet a significant number of young women in the 60s—all over the world—seemed less afraid of the future, not more. And their children are still willing to gamble on the chance that the world could be better, or Obama would never have gotten that Nobel.

                But it wasn’t just the Nobel Committee that got him that prize. It wasn’t even the young people who put him in office. It was those four mysterious men who will save the world . . . . TBC