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ter> Fear and Loathing in a Clockwork Age Ah! The noble search for identity. That intangible achievement that all artists lust after and lay in torment over. And during the post war era that struggle reached incredible magnitudes.
The world cried out for legions of anti-heroes, who were only virtuous in their unapologetic and brutally honest lack of virtue. And the art world provided as many counter culture messiahs as was needed to "Damn the Man." The Beats, hippies, and punks are evidence that behind the white picket fence of suburbia lay an America that wanted more out of life than the sugar coated portrayals of domesticity and patriotism it received from pop culture. The unfortunate side of authenticity often lead to the conclusion that autonomy was an impossible dream and that just mere existence required an individual to compromise his integrity. The post-war generation developed an interesting love-hate relationship with the mass culture of its time. Some, like Andy Warhol, embraced the inevitability of mass cultural ization in order to control the beast (yes, this is a reference to Revelations). While others recognized the American Dream as being a hypocrisy and so chose the Golden Eternity instead.
The Beat generation and early hippies sought to separate themselves from mainstream society where they believed they could start anew and fully experience life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The flower child philosophy was in fact very Transcendental, minus the stuffy New England mentality. The sexual, spiritual, and intellectual freedom and autonomy that characterized the Haight-Ashberry scene were closer to the Whitmanesque ideal than anything achieved during his life time. Postwar America was extremely prosperous from the stand point of the middle class white suburbanite. The only problem was that not everyone fit that mold. And even those who were born into that environment often found its conventions limiting and unfulfilling.
At home the issues facing minorities went, for the most part, ignored. Jim Crow laws were allowed to stand in the south until major Supreme Court decisions like Brown v. Board of Education declared segregation to be unconstitutional. But even still that did not solve the problem of good old fashioned prejudice, which was as rampant as ever.
And not every woman was delighted to once again be her husbands house servant. The war machine of WWII had given many women their first pay check. And the sense of power and freedom even menial jobs provided was not something many wanted to trade in for being cooped up in a split level tract house with only the companionship of a vacuum cleaner and a screaming five year old. To the Beats the only solution to a life of domestic stagnation was to pack up and let life lead you down one winding road after another.
There was a certain comfort in the unknown. Ambiguity turned survival into a triviality, while one could find the deepest meaning in chance and whimsy. When mere existence doesnt seem to be guaranteed its the little moments of perfection that become ones focus. No other Beat poet understood that concept as well as Jack Kerouac. "Jack Kerouac single handedly created the beat generation. Although Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso and William Burroughs Brought their separate and cumulative madness to the beat generation, it was Kerouac who was the Unifying Principle. " (Kim, p. 4) While Kerouac certainly lived for the moment it would be missing the whole point of his work to claim that was just trying to get his kicks in before it was over. If anything, he eagerly awaited his termination.
And found his solace in moments of pure tranquillity, since they were the closest he could come to the state he named the Golden Eternity, which he believed awaited him after death. This was in opposition to his friend and fellow beat Allen Ginsberg. Ginsberg believed "in grasping after life as much as you can because of its sweet sadness and because you would be dead someday" (Hipkiss, p. 63). The Golden Eternity was a perfect void. The beauty of this state of total nothingness was that existence was reduced to its pure and un contrived elements. A far cry from the outwardly prosperous, but inwardly hollow and commercial suburban life.
Kerouac was a Roman Catholic with a strong fascination with Buddhism and other Eastern philosophies. He melded that into a unique set of beliefs that would not have flown with any Pope, past or present. The vegetative existence he sought was based on the "do nothing" state the Chinese call Wu Wei (Hipkiss, p. 63). Kerouac was particularly interested in mastering the four noble truths.
The first being that all life is suffering, and the fourth being that all suffering can be repressed. Although the only way to repress lifes suffering, aside from maintaining constant and intense meditation, was to return to the blissful void of death (Hipkiss, p. 65). In the " 113 th Chorus" of Mexico City Blues is a perfect explanation of this blissful void. Since only two lines address life ("Got up and dressed up, and went out & got laid"), it is clear that Kerouac's emphasis is on the hereafter. It is only after everything has ended, that perfection is achieved. The lines "Yet everything is perfect, Because it is empty, Because it is perfect with emptiness, Because its not even happening" echo Shakespeare's philosophy on existence.
Examples of such beliefs can be found in the famous "to be or not to be" soliloquy from Hamlet. Where Hamlet recognizes that only while he is inactive does he have possibilities. As soon as he commits to any one course of action his fate is set. Oberon, in his speeches expresses similar sentiments.
The last stanza equates emptiness with a state of total knowledge, which is destroyed once we become something. "Everything", which is the opposite of the void, is ignorant. While the void, or the starting place, is Teaching. The implication is that if one were to " numbly not get there" they would be able to achieve and maintain a state of divine emptiness and knowledge. Part of that knowledge was an acceptance of everything else as divine (Hipkiss, p. 70). Kerouac delves deeper into the essence of divinity in "Poem. " The first half of the poem is a description of how he came to find the Golden Eternity.
While most of his poetry is centered on death, Kerouac believed that if one must endure life he should at least stop to smell the roses. Which is exactly what Kerouac was doing right before he passed out and traveled into the void. During his blackout he sees three divine images. The single word that binds these images is "alone. " The last stanza is an obvious contortion of John 1: 1. Which says "In the beginning there was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. " Kerouac clearly states that not only is Christ capable of divinity, but all things. And like Christ we must chose death to realize our divinity.
In fact the Beat mentality, which rejected worldly influences in order to achieve divinity, was a very Christian notion. At the end of Kerouac's black out he has permanently achieved an altered higher state. This is because of the strange syntax of the line "woke up flat on my back in the grassy sun. " Unless it is one horrible typo, it is obviously an indication that Kerouac has graduated from a terrestrial plane to a celestial one. He succeeded in escaping the earthly cycles of rebirth, that are found in the Buddhist religion. These cycles are a motif through out "Poem. " He compares life, in the first stanza, to "the iridescent paraphernalia of radiating candles" and "mentation. "Mentation" is an interesting word of Kerouac's own invention. It is a hybrid of the mental and the cyclical process of menstruation.
Also "Poem" ends on a image of radiation similar to the one in the beginning of the poem. Thus creating a cycle within the poem. "And end with it, your goal is your starting place" (Mexico City Blues " 113 th Chorus"). The entire Fifties and Sixties were colored by Cold War apprehension. Mass hysteria had reached such a fever pitch in the mid fifties that Senator Joseph McCarthy was allowed to conduct the largest witch hunt since Salem. Communists were so vilified by the government and the media that America, in its attempt at containment, started to become the same totalitarian state it claimed to oppose. Questions began to arise as to the governments size and power.
How truly democratic could a nation be if it was imposing its government on others by force? Is there such a thing as free speech anymore? And if the first amendment was more than merely a sham, the Hippies would utilize it to the furthest extent of the law to keep the government off the peoples backs and out of Vietnam. Since they were Americas youth, it was their bodies that would be lying in the soggy Vietnamese soil. Not surprisingly, these youth rebelled in spirited protests and public burning of draft cards. These common ideals bound the hippies into tight knight communities like the famous Haight-Ashberry district.
There they could just be. They were free to let their eccentricities flow on rivers of illicit drugs. Dilated pupils were as de river as tie dyed clothing. And no one was on a longer or stranger trip than the Grateful Dead. Besides just being a living, breathing, and touring monument to the Sixties, the Dead had a disciple like following of hippies, young and old, nicknamed Deadheads. A running joke being that old hippies dont die they just stand in line for Dead concerts.
But what was the key to the Grateful Dead's pied piper quality? The only answer is the beautiful and tripped out lyrics of poet Robert Hunter and the dizzying jams that whirled together a psychedelic mix of rock, folk, and blue-grass. They provided a place to escape from a hostile and close-minded world for a few hours, or in some cases a few years. "Truckin. " What more perfect anthem for the bohemian generation? With its steadily rolling beat and Garcia's gentle voice, full of yearning, "Truckin" walks a slightly tipsy line between fulfillment and searching. All things are taken with patience and acceptance, because of the transitory nature of the song. The only constant is motion.
The lyrics follow a wave like pattern. The song begins with mostly positive images, and then towards the end reaches a level of fatigue. But instead of simply sloping of there is a promise of regeneration, "Back home- sit down and patch my bones and get back Truckin on. " Death is equated with settling down. No wonder the Dead were in so much conflict with the mainstream, which valued its security above all else.
In the song, home is just one more destination in a string of many, with no more holding power New York or New Orleans. " St. Stephen" is true gem, rich in imagery and allusion. First we have St. Stephen for whom the song is titled.
While there were several St. Stephens, the song is most likely named after "the protomartyr, for he was the first Christian to die for the Faith. Although not an Apostle, Stephen was one of the seventy-two original disciples, and after Pentecost was appointed one of Jerusalem's seven deacons. Accused by pious Jews of preaching blasphemy, he was arrested, tried before the high priest, Caiphas, and condemned to death by stoning" (Kelly, p. 260). And with him we have the perpetual Grateful Dead image, the rose. In Christianity the rose is a symbol of perfection and eternal life.
For example Christ is often refereed to as the Rose of Charon. The rose is that completion and perfection that is all but impossible to achieve, especially during this life. How fitting that it is St. Stephen who has achieved the rose, and is now able to travel freely " in and out of the garden. " It may also be also be noted that the skeleton with a rose garland, that is such a hallmark of Grateful Dead art work, is commonly identified as St. Stephen. He is a prime example of one of the grateful dead, who lead a life of integrity, kindness, and faithfulness, and was rewarded with eternal life.
That is ultimately the Grateful Dead motto. Live life according to your own rules, seek only truth and kindness, and dont worry about what life has in store for you for all things pass and the truly dedicated will be rewarded. The life of a saint is clearly detached from all things worldly. "Stephen prosper in his time, Well he may and he may decline, Did it matter? Does it now?
Stephen would answer if he only knew how" shows how truly inconsequential wealth is in the big scheme of things. In fact the question is so absurd that if you posed it to Stephen he wouldnt even be able to answer because his mind is so far removed from such matters. The skeleton is the perfect image for Stephen, because not only is the skeleton total stripped of all societal convention such as clothing (remember that Adam and Eve were naked in the garden) but he also does not have to deal with temptations of the flesh, because he simply doesnt have any. The next interesting image is the "wishing well with a golden bell. " It follows the classical notion that hell is located at the center of the earth, as can be seen in the line "bucket hanging clear to hell. " This image is also found in several other Grateful Dead songs. The fascinating part about this scene is that instead of filling the bucket at the bottom and drawing it up, St. Stephen fills it at the top with his own overflowing waters of eternal life and then lowers it down to the poor souls in hell.
This is an allusion to the story of Jesus were he tells the woman at the well that she will receive the waters of eternal life. The source of the evil is indicated by the golden bell. The message being that if one prizes wealth to much, it will cost his soul. Then there is a scene of dawn searching for meaning.
This is most likely the hell, which is "halfway twixt now and then. " Answers come with the sun, as in Plato's "Allegory of the Cave. " The rest of the song deals with knowledge and enlightenment. There is a dichotomy between the knowledge of society and the true wisdom of St. Stephen. The knowledge of the world is like the "speeding arrow, sharp and narrow" and the Answer Man.
The Answer Man was the star of an old radio program, who answered listeners questions with such speed that he seemed the all the worlds knowledge at his finger tips. Obviously this type of knowledge consists of concrete facts, but cant accommodate the bigger questions that really count. The only other person in this song besides Stephen who has the broader type of wisdom is the Calliope woman. Calliope was the muse of epic poetry in Greek mythology, so obviously her great amount of experience with life has granted her wisdom. "Uncle Johns Band" could be called the Dead anthem. The fact that it openly invited fans to pack up and follow the Grateful Dead, could explain why many towns tried to ban the bands shows from their towns.
Basically it asks people to leave behind conventional society and form their own community centered on peace and love. The image of America is a hostile one, as one can see from "Their walls are built of cannonballs, their motto is Dont Tread on Me. " After that Hunter invokes a baptismal image of Uncle Johns Band beside a river. The river, besides just being a symbol of life, is an allusion to John the Baptist baptizing in the river Jordan. The things that need to be discussed are clearly metaphysical because "Its the same story the crow told me. " In Christian mythology the crow brought wisdom to holy men wandering in the desert. In a way this is metaphor for those seeking enlightenment who are all alone in a world deserted of meaning. The song ends on a salvation image of the band leading its flock home.
The simple arrangement and gentle fatherly quality of Garcia's voice give the song the simple sweetness of a childrens song or country hymn. And that makes it all the more inviting. While Garcia's view of the government may have been that of a cold fortress, it was nothing compared with totalitarian ogre of Anthony Burgess A Clockwork Orange. A Clockwork Orange was actually written a few years before the Grateful Dead came around. At that time America was at the height of the Cold War. It dominated the foreign policy of President Kennedy (Downey, p. 34).
In an ongoing race to be the most powerful, intelligence agencies on both sides seemed to go to any length to maintain national security. A Clockwork Orange portrays a future were the government has settled its foreign problems and turned its awesome strength against its own citizens. The shocking apathy of its youth is merely a reaction to the desensitization and debilitation they experience at the hands of their government. Alex, our rebellious yet humble narrator, is an eerie foreshadowing of the Punk movement that swept both England and the US in the seventies and eighties. His taste for "ultra violence" is simply an attempt on his part to control something, in a world that has robbed him of every other choice. Alex uses destruction to master the powerlessness he has been subject to his whole life.
If one looks at the scene were Dim and Georgie attempt to take power, ...
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