Saturday, September 25, 2010

Howling Antiquities

            Seven hundred turned out in 1967 to see the Great Angry Poet.  We came to hear him howl.  We came to cheer as he banked coals of invective against the walls of the establishment.  We came as a congregation to stand in the light of the conflagration.  We meant to use the flames to melt our chains, to weld us together, to illuminate the dark hidey-holes of life as we knew it.
            The Great Angry Poet had other ideas.  He had shucked his black clothes, un-knit his black brow.  He showed up in a flowing white robe—all-natural fibers.  He floated in the middle of an all-natural entourage.  He brought thumb cymbals, a tambourine, a squeeze box, for crying out loud!  He glowed with the inner, hidden fire of brotherly love, the too-cool flame of nebulous mysticism.  He just wasn't that angry anymore.  He wasn't going to burn down anything.  The pilot light was out.  Seven hundred strong, we seethed in uncertainty.  We stumbled in the dark.
            The Great Angry Poet chanted mantras.  He shook his tambourine, clanged his little cymbals, squeezed his squeeze box.  The all-natural entourage, skinny boys and skinny girls, crawled around the stage like adoring cats, curled at his feet,  purred a harmonious OMMM in rhythm with the cycles of the universe.
            Somewhere in the middle, the Great Angry Poet read his Great Angry Poem to remind us what it was that made him Great in the first place.  But, out of context, it didn't remind anyone what made him Angry, and so the multitude looked at one another furtively as if to say.  How are we going to knock any walls down with these few little loaves and fishes?  Or, man, you should have been there when he was really pissed.
            When it was over, the Great Angry Poet took questions from the audience.  Only no one asked the real questions like WHAT ARE WE SUPPOSED TO DO NOW? or WHO'S THE NEW ENEMY THEN?  IT'S NOT THE RUSSIANS AGAIN, IS IT?  Or more succinctly, HUH?
            We were rescued, finally—all of us:  the multitude, the Great Angry Poet, the moment, the Age—by a cheerleader.  She was blonde, naturally, maybe.  She wore a plaid skirt, white blouse, green blazer, knee socks, penny loafers.  She was the perfect prep-school perk-noid.  She was impertinently pertinent.
            "IS IT TRUE," she began.  Her voice, clear and strident, ricocheted around the room, scraping bits of its flesh off on every surface until nothing was left of it except the bare bones of contention, the soul of censure.  "IS IT TRUE THAT YOU ARE MARRIED TO A MAN?"
            We all sucked in our breath.  The Great Angry Poet dropped one end of his squeeze box, which sucked in its breath too, and noisily.
            "WHOOSH," went our breath.
            "WHEEZE," went the squeeze box.
            "OMMM," went the all natural entourage.
            "UHM," went the Great Angry Poet.
            "WELL?" went the cheerleader.
            "Yes," said the Great Angry Poet at last.  "Yes that is true, but we don't fuck anymore."
            Six hundred ninety nine of us took flight in a swarm, the way having been lit, finally, by the Great Angry Poet who wasn't getting any anymore.  His flame rekindled by a perky spark, he shone like a beacon, lighting the hidden recesses of craggy convention.  We flew in its face.  We dive bombed.  We strafed.  We harried.  We defoliated.  The Great Angry Poet was a flare in the night.  We picked our targets and fought and fought and fought.
            Convention plodded on.  Sure it stumbled a few times, seemed ready to go down once or twice, but convention was already thousands of years old.  Convention had built up a lot of momentum.  Even if we had distracted it, convention had only to look at its wake to see what direction it had been headed. 
            Bored, convention yawned and we were swallowed up.  Some of us persisted, refusing to be assimilated.  We were thorny roughage—fibrous and resilient.  We would give convention a belly-ache.  We would give convention gas pains.  We would never break down.
            And we didn't break down.  Forty years later, nature having run its course, we came out the other end wearing steely grey pony tails and Birkenstock sandals, the uniform jack-boots of ancient hippies, our defiance emblazoned on silk-screened T-Shirts.  Thank goodness for male pattern-baldness.  You can finally tell the boys from the girls.
            We're still plenty pissed, but maybe not so focused anymore.  We need the T-Shirts to remind us of our agendas.  We need the Birkenstocks so our tired feet don't distract us from our purpose.  Instead we're distracted by our children and grandchildren.
            We worry that they would rather watch Brady Bunch re-runs than fire bomb the administration building, rather play video games than picket, rather have a new iPod than a clue.  We want to find them a pertinent cheerleader, but the cheerleaders are all drinking Jack Daniels and puking in the bathtub while skinny boys with earphones video the event and post the innocence lost on the Internet.  Nobody's not getting any anymore, and that sure takes the edge off.
            The Great Final Irony is that our children are angry at us.  Of course the most they can bring themselves to do about it is to whine, but when they can manage to pry their consciousness out of Grand Theft Auto or Resident Evil and unplug themselves from whatever current alternative to music has been boiling their corpuscles, what they want to know is, how come we didn't get down to business when we had the chance and leave them a world that included a place for them to work... or at least a BMW?



A Lawyer Mom's Musings said...

Yes, and even less "pertinent" cheerleaders are posting to the internet, these days, things we wouldn't have even dared whisper to our best friend. What a difference a decade makes. What a difference the internet makes.

On a lighter note . . . who was the poet? Am I (admittedly) too low-brow to understand you were being metaphorical? I'm definitely too low-brow to deny I'm curious.

Jonah Gibson said...

So true. So true. The poet was Alan Ginsberg. 'Howl' is his most famous work. It's the poem that made him famous...for a poet at any rate. Not the kind of thing likely to end up in a high-school curriculum though. The book banners would have a conniption.

Jane Bradley said...

Having tried to read Howl as well as other works by Ginsberg's friends, I have decided that they were just a bunch of drunks and druggies who were adored by our generation for breaking the rules. In reality they were as pretentious and silly as the aging Ginsberg seemed to be at his poetry reading at your school. My boys did read these authors (Ginsberg, Kerouac, etc) in high school and they still think they have something to say. Me, I'd much rather read Tolstoy.