On the west side of this, and only this, tree
On the west side of this, and only this, tree
So here’s my theory for the arc of the season. A few years ago, I watched Monterey Pop and Woodstock within a couple of days of each other. I was struck by the differences in Hippie Nation between the two, the events in both occurring a little over two years apart. I’ma gonna throw around some cliches here, but Monterey was all sunshine, flowers and patchouli (with the notable exception of the chaotic antics of the Who). Woodstock is a descent into mud and madness – the gate crashing, overdosing, bad trips belying the communal ideas which groups like the Diggers and others were trying to uphold. Just the change in Hendrix is instructive. At Monterey, he’s a revelation, blowing apart R&B and “folk” rock with only his guitar and two other guys. Of course, he does set his axe on fire at the end, having to do something to upstage the Who. At Woodstock, he’s a diminished figure, the toll of his drug use and the weight of the expectations on him visible in his every gesture. Even though the sun is coming up as he plays, he’s well on his way to death and will arrive there in just a little while. At Monterey, Joplin storms the stage, takes the crowd by the throat and tears out a piece of her heart to inextricably bond herself to the crowd. She was still just a girl from a small town in Texas at that point. By the time Woodstock rolled around, she had become JANIS!, Just like Hendrix, the pressures she was experiencing, and the ways in which she dealt with those pressures, were ripping her to shreds. That arbiter of hippiedom, Abbie Hoffman, tried to storm the stage at Woodstock during the Who’s set, only to be dissuaded from delivering his screed by Townshend’s axe. Hippie nation was beginning to turn on itself and letting itself be destroyed, trying to put a flower in the gun barrel in front of them while failing to notice all the OTHER guns pointed its way, including some pointed from within. Pop will eat itself, indeed.
The book in the 33 1/3 series on Forever Changes by Andrew Hultkrans is what led me to start reevaluating the 60s and having a more jaundiced eye. Prior to reading that, I was blinded by my own naivete and willfully failing to see that Manson and the events at Altamont were as much of a result of the 60s as was flower power. Neil Young was never particularly hippie dippy. By the mid 70s he seems to have soured on the era he came out of. Revolution Blues, on On the Beach, is a scathing indictment of the idea that if only we can move away, live amongst only the like-minded and develop our own culture and morality, utopias will spontaneously emerge. The needle came, the damage was done, and flower power began to rot and stink, as will all beautiful things if they aren’t properly watered and cared for.
Back to Mad Men. I didn’t realize until this week how apropos the first word in the title is, in terms of insanity. Bob Benson, with his self-help honed interpersonal skills, is THE creepiest character they have ever had on the series. Creepier than Pete at his smarmiest, creepier than the fat Jaguar guy, more disturbing than Betty at her worst. He’s the Manson – mark my words – there is a reckoning coming this season, or maybe next. It will make the lawnmower incident and Lane’s suicide look like phantasms cooked up in a creative meeting. I just hope Joan, Kevin and Joan’s mom survive it. Part of me hopes I’m wrong, but the entire series is a mirror or macrocosm of its times, and I don’t think Weiner will avoid addressing the darker aspects.
Punk, photography, drugs, dissolution and the Maine coast? What’s not to like? I started this a few years ago and finally finished it a couple of months ago. Truthfully, I think the reason I put it down in the first place was that I didn’t care how the mystery was resolved, who the culprit was. It was pretty obvious anyway. The ideas behind the book are what fascinated me, and seeing from another review on here that part of it is likely autobiographical makes me want to hug the author and hang out with her.
I love outsider art, so called, and in a way the art created by the commune in the novel is the ultimate example of that. It’s so creepy, but at the same time familiar and understandable to me. Going off the rails, and the grid, and moving to a remote area with your compadres, creating a way of living and a society that allows you to indulge your impulses is attractive to me. It’s a cool idea, in theory, but the incestuousness, not necessarily in a literal way, of living like this can give rise to some weirdness that isn’t exactly the good kind. When your only frame of reference is yourself, and those like you, and you intentionally limit your contacts with the “outside” world in order to more purely refine the art of your life and of your work, the corruption can arise and consume you without your knowing it.
Patti Smith came to mind a number of times while I was reading this. Easter is my favorite album of hers, another example of the magic that can occur with a lot of third albums. There’s the first album, frequently work which has been developed and honed over years. The second contractually obligated album which is often a rush job, the band or artist being pushed by execs to get something out fast to capitalize (literally!) on the success of the first. The third is often more of a consistent artistic statement, its artistry combining the magical spark of the first album with artistic integrity hard won in the struggles with the suits.
This digression was brought to mind by the song Rock and Roll Nigger on Easter. In Generation Loss, outside of society is where they wanted to go, and so they did. As happened with a lot of the communes formed in the 60s, this society ate itself in a way. All the beautiful idealistic dreams last for a while, at least until the internal pressures which develop when you are so strenuously trying to exclude the “corrupting” influences of the outside world cause the fantasy to decay, or explode, or both. Nothing can exist and be healthy in isolation. It’s just the way the world works. The gleam becomes tarnished, and furious attempts to desperately shine it up again and return it to its former lustrousness result, tragically, in totally erasing the glow and showing the unvarnished truth. The truth of the situation can’t be handled, and subsequently disillusionment, dissolution and decay result. Utopias can’t exist in the real world, but as hopeful (and frequently somewhat delusional) humans we keep making our futile and vain attempts to create them. Hope does indeed spring eternal, but in order to taste the pure source, first we have to remove all the rotting leaves that will eventually sour the water. Sometimes we even have to allow outside sources of which we might be suspicious to enter and wash away some of the dreck. This can be threatening at first but ultimately, if one is open to it, will be seen as of benefit. It is important for the artist to guard his core integrity and make sure it is only enhanced, not tainted at its source, by the fresh input. Only through this process can he continue to create works which will astonish and delight both him and his audience.
Working on a longer post about this marvelous work. Has an album, or any other work of art, combined edifying, horrific and genuine like this one? I’m not sure.