On the Road to Rishīkesh

In addition to the numerous released songs that the Beatles composed in (or about) India, there are others that were not completed, including these:

1. Child of Nature (became Jealous Guy)

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nzw0ww7jap4]

2. India

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zzltijILEfA]

3. Dehra Dun

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Krl—QD5dY]

The Beatles stay in India ended on a sour note and aside from George, did not change them in a permanent way. And yet this opening to India produced a revolution in the West. Cults and Eastern religions in general now got a hearing with younger generations that they had never experienced before.

I remember reading a book on cults when I was a kid that included ISKON and the Moonies, I think it talked about the Beatles influence. I would like to see something in depth on the subject, to trace just how influential the trip to India was on the popular culture.

Slovenly Moderns

In his book From Dawn to Decadence, Jacques Barzun uses the term “demotic” to describe our era of decline. Demotic means “of the people.” I was struck by his analysis of casual style, and this is an extended excerpt from the book:

Casualness took many forms, and to wear jeans that were torn and stained was casual, but only at the start. When one could go to a shop and buy the jeans ready-made with spots and patches, cut short and unraveled at the edges, a new intention was evident. When young women put on an old sweater, pearls, and evening pumps together, when young men went about in suits of which the sleeves covered their hands and the legs of the trousers were trod underfoot, they made known a rejection of elegance, a denial of feminine allure, and a sympathy for the “disadvantaged.” Such clothes were not cheap; their style was anti-propriety, anti-bourgeois; it implied siding with the poor, whose clothes are hand-me-downs in bad condition. To appear unkempt, undressed, and for perfection unwashed, is the key signature of the whole age. As in earlier times the striving was to look and act like “quality,” whether aristocrat or upper bourgeois, now the effort was to look like one marching along the bottom line of society. The hitherto usual motive behind self-adornment-vanity-had the advantage of concealing physical blemishes, thereby showing regard for the onlookers’ sensibilities. The reverse, the self purposely uncared for, expressed at once demotic anti-snobbery and demotic egotism.

The Unfitting appealed to the young but was not their monopoly. A sample of the casual style among adults had been to sport a business suit at the opera; this expanded into the open collar and no tie or jerseys and T-shirts almost anywhere, even in church. Airport crowds offered a typical fashion show. Where office workers were still required by their employer’s rules to wear business suits, “free Friday” relaxed them to usher in the weekend. In schools, extreme unfitness caused a reversal. Dress codes were enforced despite protests and strikes, so as to put an end to the distraction caused by the bizarre and sometimes indecent garb that the pupils had devised, unchecked by their parents. It turned out that discipline in classes and hallways improved, further evidence that the unfitting was an aspect of the unconditioned life.

Clothing was but the most obvious sign of the demotic style. Other choices expressed the same taste, for example, getting married underground in a subway station or around a pool, in swimming suits. And since unfitness meant freedom, other conventions should be defied, notably those classed as manners. The word was seldom used and the practice highly variable. Business firms and airlines thanked their customers effusively, but civility between persons was scant, especially in cities.

Deference toward women had decreased and was sometimes resented by feminists as condescending. Nor were the elderly entitled to more courtesy than other equals. The curious use of first names soon after acquaintance was a convention that showed the demotic paradox about convention itself.

The need to hurry, real or imagined, had created fast food, available at all hours, and it begot eating and drinking everywhere at any time. Shops, public offices, libraries, and museums had to post “No Eating or Drinking” signs to protect their premises from accidents and the disposal of refuse. The consumer society consumed, and up to a point one can sympathize with the impulse. In a heedless, uncivil world the driven needed to look after their wants as soon as they arose, to pay themselves back, as it were, by self-coddling. The indulgence was after all but the extension of the habit of EMANCIPATION. So many curbs and hindrances to desire had been removed-the legal and conventional by new laws and new conventions, the natural ones by techne with the aid of science-that the practice of permissiveness sprang in fact from the workings of welfare, coupled with the power of doing innumerable things by pushing a button.

Pleasure first and fast in a society that oppressed only unintentionally was bound to make instinctive rebels. At work, criticism or reproof was felt to be intolerable; there is a human right to make mistakes. Observers spoke of the decline of authority, but how could it survive in a company of equals? Distrust attached to anything that retained a shadow of authoritativeness-old people, old ideas, old conceptions of what a leader or a teacher was meant to do.

I realized that my youth came at the tail end of this process, when the last mores were crumbling. The idealization of the Sixties by the media colored my early reality. I sometimes think I will spend my whole life attempting to undo the foolishness I took for truth when I was young.

Harrison and God

A timely article (for me) has appeared on the subject of George Harrison and his god, a subject I have been looking into. An excerpt:

“He had two personalities,” Ringo says. “One was this bag of [prayer] beads, the other was this big bag of anger.” Yoko Ono seconds that emotion: “He had two aspects,” she says. “Sometimes he was very nice. Sometimes he was [long pause] too honest.” Paul McCartney, coy as ever, says, “He was my mate, so I can’t say too much. But he was a guy, a red-blooded guy, and he liked what guys like.”

Nudge, nudge, wink, wink. Say no more.

You have to read the tell-alls, such as the memoir of his first wife Pattie, to get the details about Bad George and his heroic capacity for cocaine, brandy, and adultery. The combination resulted in, among other things, the spectacularly gruesome scene he made in 1973 at a dinner party at Ringo’s house. The party went sour when George stood up to announce that he was sleeping with Ringo’s wife and planned to run away with her. (In the event, he quickly moved on from Mrs. Starr.) Just another potluck with the Starrs and the Harrisons.

As a pastor of mine used to say, idolatrous gods can do nothing for you, but they ask nothing of you.

Steve Jobs

I just finished reading the Walter Isaacson biography of Steve Jobs. In many ways, it struck me as a stereotypical story of the Baby Boomers. Jobs came of age in the Sixties and his adoptive father was a hard working veteran who was able to provide a middle class upbringing to Steve.

He dropped acid, loved the Beatles and Dylan and got into eastern religion. He flew to India and spent time there, then embraced strange practices such as week long fasts or eating only a certain fruit for weeks at a time. He was a vegetarian who liked going around barefoot and didn’t shower because he was convinced that his diet prevented body odor. He took a pilgrimage to India and embraced meditation. He believed that all the religions are just different doors into the same room. He spurned cheaper state colleges so he could attend offbeat Reed College, in something of a spoiled fit. He got his girlfriend pregnant and told her he was okay with her getting an abortion, then ignored his daughter for years after she was born. He was petulant and hurtful to people, excusing his behavior as “just the way I am.” His affinity for alternative therapy probably killed him because he tried fruit juices and other offbeat treatments instead of surgery, until it was too late.

His aesthetic taste was immaculate and he spurred the development of great products. He pushed people to do far more than they thought they were capable of in search of perfect products. He was a visionary. And yet his life is, like all of our lives, sad in that it ended in a death that snuffed him out and took his knowledge to the grave with him. I hope that somehow he turned to Christ in his last hours and embraced the faith that he was taught as a young boy in the Lutheran Church. There is no evidence that this happened, but who knows what prayers he might have offered in the midst of his pain?

But his life, to me, summarizes the Boomers: all religions are the same, ultimate truth does not matter as much as some sort of enlightenment (which does not impact how we act towards one another), talk the talk about materialism whilst pursuing consumerism with a vengeance, and embrace weird therapies instead of western medicine. Future historians will be able to look at his life as a template for what the Sixties generation believed and how they lived it out.

 

Josephus on Transvestites in 70 A.D.

The depravity of Jerusalem prior to its destruction in 70 A.D. is highlighted by Josephus in this account:

for he permitted them to do all things that any of them desired to do, while their inclination to plunder was insatiable, as was their zeal in searching the houses of the rich; and for the murdering of the men, and abusing of the women, it was sport to them. They also devoured what spoils they had taken, together with their blood, and indulged themselves in feminine wantonness, without any disturbance, till they were satiated therewith; while they decked their hair, and put on women’s garments, and were besmeared over with ointments; and that they might appear very comely, they had paints under their eyes, and imitated not only the ornaments, but also the lusts of women, and were guilty of such intolerable uncleanness, that they invented unlawful pleasures of that sort. And thus did they roll themselves up and down the city, as in a brothel-house, and defiled it entirely with their impure actions; nay, while their faces looked like the faces of women, they killed with their right hands; and when their gait was effeminate, they presently attacked men, and became warriors, and drew their swords from under their finely dyed cloaks, and ran every body through whom they alighted upon.

There is nothing new under the sun.

No Capitalist Civilization

Discussing the London riots for the London Review of Books, Marxist Slavoj Zizek makes a telling observation on capitalist civilization in the midst of an otherwise dreary review:

Alain Badiou has argued that we live in a social space which is increasingly experienced as ‘worldless’: in such a space, the only form protest can takes is meaningless violence. Perhaps this is one of the main dangers of capitalism: although by virtue of being global it encompasses the whole world, it sustains a ‘worldless’ ideological constellation in which people are deprived of their ways of locating meaning. The fundamental lesson of globalisation is that capitalism can accomodate itself to all civilizations, from Christian to Hindu or Buddhist, from West to East: there is no global ‘capitalist worldview’, no ‘capitalist civilization’ proper. The global dimension of captialism represents truth without meaning.

Sounds like Baudrillard. But I believe he is right. Although capitalism rose from within Christendom, it has now supplanted Christendom to become a global civilization without spiritual underpinnings. Acquisition, risk, thrift and private property are good things when tethered to a moral framework, but now when they themselves are the moral framework.

Leisure

Thomas Fleming’s commentary is fantastic:

Only a maniac would have devised the Protestant Work Ethic, and only a fool would try to live his life according to it.

The ancients knew better. If they had any money, they had slaves to do all the heavy lifting, including going over the accounts and taking dictation and reading books aloud. For the Romans, otium—leisure was the desired state, while the opposite word, negotium—non-leisure—is the word we routinely translate as business. (The Italians know the score, and negotium has become negozio, shop or store, a place where people have to a work that is necessary but undesirable. The late Josef Pieper understood the ancient and the Christian mind, and his little essay, Leisure the Basis of Culture is a wholesome antidote to the great American obsession with the supposed virtues of work. What other country could have created such preposterous humbugs as Dale Carnegie, Napoleon Hill, or—the ultimate in humbuggery—Rick Warren, whose very title (The Purpose-Driven Life) gives me the jim-jams. Imagine a country that could produce such a book and, worse, produce enough readers to make Warren a success. My people, my people.

We have demonized the sense of otium, which survives in English as the adjective otiose, used sometimes to mean “indolent” but more typically in the sense of “serving no practical purpose.” When we do celebrate leisure, it is usually in the form of “leisure-time activities,” expensive and time-consuming sports and hobbies that we pursue with the same grim determination we apply to our jobs. A bass fisherman without tens of thousands of dollars of equipment cannot be taken seriously, and golfers—just listen to them talk about their handicaps, the length of their drives, the 78 they shot on the back nine. It’s all a matter of keeping score.

If a golfer did not continue to buy the latest technology or keep score of his accomplishments, he would be simply having a good time that serves “no practical purpose.” It’s not the competition, even in sports and hobbies is not healthy and, for normal men at least, inevitable, but we Americans seem to care less and less about the game itself and more and more about the statistics. Just try watching a game on television some time, as the game-changing triple or strike-out interrupts the play-by-play announcer’s recitation of irrelevant facts about other players in other games.

How do you know you are winning if you are not keeping score? Forty years ago, as I recall, a man in business was supposed to make, at a minimum, as many thousands as he had years. Now, I suppose, it is double that. We have blood pressure scores, weight loss scores, and men know how much weight they can press (Don’t ask, because my answer is sure to embarrass someone.) When we are born, we are assigned an Apgar score; later we are given a Personal Vitality Score. Fortunately, I have never learned what they call the mortality score they assign to dying people.

There is nothing too trivial or too important not to receive a number. We grade women in a bar on a scale of one to ten, and we use the same scale to evaluate decisions. “On a scale of one to ten, how highly do you value access to a beach in your retirement community?” Part of this obsession can be blamed on teachers who think test numbers actually correspond to some reality. But a lot of it is related to our need to be important.

Americans who are anybody are determined to be a somebody, whether it is on Wall Street or the Country Club. St. Paul has that nice phrase about people who say they are something. He was warning his readers about taking themselves too seriously as objects of importance. I do not know what he could have said to modern Americans, who are positively convinced that it is their duty to be somebody.

Most of us fail to become the Donald Trump or Barry Bonds or Michael Jackson we are in our dreams, and when we do we are not content to settle down with the girl next door and lead the normal human life we were made for. Some of us waste our time on schemes to make ourselves rich and famous—Jackie Gleason’s Ralph Cramden is a more tragic and pathetic character than Willy Loman. Or we spend our lives wailing over what might have been. “I coulda had class, I couda been a contender, I couda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am.”

Most of Martin Scorsese’s best characters are driven mad by the desire to be somebody among the hundreds of millions of nobodies that fill up these United States. The Taxi Driver takes on the burden of avenging the sufferings of child prostitutes, and the King of Comedy dreams of being the next Johnny Carson. (Johnny who? That guy before Letterman and Leno?)

Back in my misspent middle age, when I used to read (and occasionally write for) The National Review, I was forever seeing ads for Mr. Buckley’s personal accounts of his own life. In books like Cruising Speed and Overdrive, as I recall from brief extracts, poor Bill never had a moment to himself. It was breakfast with Henry Kissinger, meetings with the secretaries of this and that, rehearsals for a harpsichord concert at Carnegie Hall, a spy thriller chapter banged out, more meetings with more secretaries, and an evening out with some of the Beautiful People. Lord, how I pitied the poor fellow.

George Harrison’s Approach to God

     I think it is worthwhile to examine George Harrison’s thoughts about God, ethics and the afterlife. This might seem like a trivial investigation into pop culture, but I think it illustrates much of what passes for religious thought in the populace of our day. Whether or not the Beatles and Harrison are responsible for the ‘theology’ of our day, or whether they were just riding the wave (as John Lennon said) I will leave for others to decide. I do think that Harrison’s theologizing stands in sharp contrast to what God has revealed to us in Scripture and also that Harrison’s version of Hare Krishna is much more amenable to our way of life.


Harrison as a Born-Again Krishna Devotee

     Harrison was born into a Roman Catholic household. His portrayal of Christianity seems to be stiff and stereotypical, not corresponding to what he might have discovered if he had studied the riches of the faith. Harrison’s advocacy for chanting in a Hare Krishna temple contrasted the experience with his Christian background in the Catholic Church. He said:

But part of Krishna consciousness is trying to tune in all the senses of all the people: to experience God through all the senses, not just by experiencing Him on Sunday, through your knees by kneeling on some hard wooden kneeler in the church. But if you visit a temple, you can see pictures of God, you can see the Deity form of the Lord, and you can just hear Him by listening to yourself and others say the mantra. It’s just a way of realizing that all the senses can be applied toward perceiving God, and it makes it that much more appealing, seeing the pictures, hearing the mantra,smelling the incense, flowers, and so on. That’s the nice thing about your movement. It incorporates everything–chanting, dancing, philosophy, and prasadam.

Let’s consider Harrison’s thoughts: first, he contrasts experiencing God through all the senses vs. just experiencing him on Sunday on your knees on a kneeler. Coming from a former Catholic, this strikes me as particularly puzzling. Catholic churches use incense, statues, pictures, rosaries and the ritual action of the liturgy as means to experience God. Harrison goes on to mention pictures, incense and movement as part of the appeal of Hare Krishna! You would think he was coming from some sort of harsh background that forbid pictures in worship, but he wasn’t. The only conclusion I draw is that he was very poorly catechized in the faith of his birth.
The only practice he mentions that I can see being absent from Catholicism is dancing (in worship). And I’m sure that there was a sense in the 60’s that Christianity was dead and formal whereas the new religions were full of life and light. That is the sense I get from reading anyway. 1950’s Protestantism and Catholicism don’t strike me as particularly exciting. They seem to have lost the excitement of the Christian story in the fervor of the modern Atomic Age. This is a generalization of course. Currently, on the other side of the massive revolution that occurred in church music and experience it is hard to imagine the contrast in formality and dress that the Krishna movement (or the Jesus People for that matter) presented to someone in 1968. So maybe the more uninhibited nature of Krishna worship impressed people like Harrison, but his characterizations of the Church are not accurate.
[To be continued]