- This past weekend I participated in a series of concerts with International Voices Houston, which I did not publicize on this blog for a mixture of reasons not worth delving into here. (I did publicize it on Facebook, for what that's worth.) I have now sung in the IVH's low tenor subsection for four consecutive performance cycles—i.e., since April 2018. The choir rehearses mostly on Mondays; last spring, no longer having Green Party duties on Monday nights, I gave in to the entreaties of some fellow choristers at First UU Church and (sort of) auditioned.
- I am a vicarious psychonaut—i.e., I have never (to my knowledge) consumed hallucinogens, but I enjoy hearing and reading accounts of trips from people who have, including some friends and acquaintances. The reason I don't indulge is that, in my 20's, an acid-eater friend of mine informed me that LSD amplifies your emotional and mental states; even as a youth, my emotional and mental states tended to be pretty dark most of the time.
- For decades, I have suffered from literal nostalgia: per Webster, a wistful or excessively sentimental yearning for return to or of some past period or irrecoverable condition. In my case, I've caught myself weeping as precious memories leap out of their boxes when I hear songs I associate with poignant moments—even goofy songs like "Rock Lobster." Don't you dare judge.
"The World Is a Stage" was a concert featuring a couple dozen songs from about 20 different Broadway musicals spanning more than 80 years, from Porgy and Bess to The Greatest Showman (adapted from the film). When it comes to musical theatre, I have pretty particular tastes, and at the outset I worried that this show would be an exercise in pandering. Happily, it wasn't. Artistic Director Mark Vogel's taste in musicals is roughly similar to mine.
I was particularly grateful for the inclusion of the medley from Hair, "Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In." It closed the first half of the show. (The second half opened with a heart-tugging "I Know Where I've Been" from Hairspray.)
Even more gratifying, we didn't just stick to what the middle school–level arrangement prescribed: Providing a more graceful segue between the parts, our two sightless and soulful sopranos Jessica Callahan and Jennifer Parrish wailed out "Flesh Failures" minus the "Manchester England England" part. By the time we got to "Let the Sunshine In," I could barely sing for the lumps in my throat.
A Blotter of Hope
In my lifetime, the US's best hope for evolving out of its imperialist/corporatist habits was the peace movement of the 1960s. Through a combination of lethal force and serpentine finesse, the establishment crushed that movement, not quite killing it but making it sadly unfashionable. Counterculture and dissent have been perilous pursuits for most of this nation's history; after the corporate state kills movements, it co-opts them, just like America's penchant for killing Indians and naming cities after them.
The second-best hope, in my estimation was Occupy Wall Street, which was also crushed, but whose influence has since spread in multiple directions. Sorry, fellow aging punkers, but Punk takes third place at best, likely because we could never agree on a catchy slogan like "Make Love, Not War" or "We Are the 99%."
It's no exaggeration to say that hallucinogens—LSD in particular—contributed greatly to the elevating of consciousness in the Vietnam era, not just to the great music of that time. Trippers could see and grasp the value of everyone and everything, and could thus embrace a vision of a world in which people are not cannon fodder, not mortar targets, not merely replaceable corporate assets. Once that vision takes hold, the real world becomes a huge disappointment, like the let-down Burners feel after returning to Default World after a Burn. Combine chemical enhancements with friends coming home from Southeast Asia in body bags, multiply it by a million or two, and you've got yourself a revolution.
It's also accurate to say, and important to acknowledge, that hallucinogens of varying degrees of purity have contributed to an awful lot of bad trips and even permanent damage. A friend in college, who was fond of LSD, one night apparently tried to fly from a ninth-story balcony*—darkness amplified.
Connection Made Belatedly
Somehow, when I watched the film version of Hair, I didn't catch the words to the last part of "Flesh Failures," before "Let the Sunshine In" starts—words that couldn't be sung on TV in the '60s:
Our space songs on a spider web sitar
Life is around you and in you
Answer for Timothy Leary, dearie.
So I revisited the last few minutes of Hair on YouTube, and I cried. I listened to Jessica and Jennifer's passionate wailing, and I nearly broke down right on the stage in all three shows. Even if the lumps in my throat wouldn't let me sing, I let my enthusiasm show as we clapped on the upbeats and did that step-touch-step-touch movement that passes for dancing on a crowded riser.
If I was weepy and lumpy, it was only partly owing to beauty of the music. It arose from the bitter disappointment of realizing that our situation is not so different from 50 years ago. War, racism, ecological devastation, and the like have never really gone away, but we now have people in power who view war, racism, and ecological devastation as good things. Millions of people and hundreds of entire ecosystems may die if business as usual continues, but the short-term profits are phenomenal.
We have progressed some in the intervening 50 years, but history is cyclical as well as linear. If you believe Hegel, or Marx via Hegel, there will always be an established thesis resisting social progress, the anti-thesis. The two will clash and produce a synthesis, which eventually becomes the new thesis. Under our current thesis, the establishment has learned from the Vietnam War to make the body bags less visible to the public.
The establishment has learned to put the steering wheel of war in the hands of a political party that claims to favor peace and justice.
The establishment has learned to use the mass media to manipulate public opinion more effectively: Walter Cronkite, who put the horrors of Vietnam on American TV screens, would be kicked off the nightly news if he tried the same thing today.
The establishment learned pretty quickly in the '70s to make cocaine, a substance which does not boost one's inner vision, the fashionable drug.
The establishment is Late-Stage Capitalism. It is desperate and gives zero fucks.
A Taste of Enlightenment
"Let the Sunshine In" is a simple and repetitive gospel-tinged crowd-pleaser. It's easy for audiences to sing and clap along, as with the four-minute coda on "Hey Jude." But its simple message is ultra-important, especially in tandem with "Aquarius":
Strive for enlightenment, even if you can never achieve it in this life; in the distant future—perhaps when the nutation of the earth's axis reaches a certain point and the sun rises in the house of Aquarius on the Spring Equinox, perhaps sooner—all beings will be enlightened. Our descendants will have all the "harmony and understanding, sympathy and trust abounding...the mind's true liberation" they can stand, but our species has to practice that shit now so they're ready for it.