Saturday, May 26, 2012

Lb4Lb#11 - The Trouble With Hippies

I was not a "child of the '60's" by any stretch of the imagination.

My exposure to the 1960s was solely through the filter of my very straight-laced parents and their record collection: Dean MartinThe MonkeesGlen CampbellCherPeter, Paul and Mary, and... Leonard Nimoy. Yes. THAT Leonard Nimoy. The Way I Feel (you should find the LP some time and check it out). We had a couple of Beatles records, but as I later discovered, they fell out of favor after John Lennon's remark about being "bigger than Jesus" - and that copy of Rubber Soul was as close as I got to "counter-culture" until high school.
Thinking positivity
If you wanna be with me
I'll take you to the promised land
Come on baby take my hand
Stop Draggin Around
Of course, I did grow up in the 1980s, and nostalgia for "flower power" was all the rage. I missed a lot of that because our family lived out in the sticks, and we didn't have a VCR until 1989 - so while my friends were into the Vietnam-era war pics and Cheech & Chong, I was mostly sitting home, not a part of the whole scene.

Not that I wanted any part of it - that silly hippy-dippy drug culture stuff was for sinners. I was deep into my church and considered myself above all of that nonsense. I saw myself as above it all, and I resisted "temptation" like a good boy.
I've been lost in the name of love
And we kill our brothers daily in the name of god
We'd better chill before we take on some tribulation
And if we realized
Then we'd make a little love
now sing
What The Fuck Are We Saying
Puberty changes things. That is an intentional understatement.

It was easy to dismiss the New Age philosophy and all of the political talk of the 1960s with the benefit of hindsight (and lots of coaching from Grandpa and my church family), but hormones bring home a truth that is hard to ignore. Feeling my body take over my mind in so many ways made me understand that "control" is not simply a matter of following rules. I began to recognize that the things people feel are real to them - and unless you've felt what they feel, you can't judge them.
My mama said
That it's good to be fruitful
But my mama said
Don't take more than a mouthful
And my mama said
That it's good to be natural
And my mama said
That it's good to be factual
Always On The Run
After I started questioning my principles, I was freed to explore things that I had always disdained. Music was the most exciting area to explore, because it felt both defiant and safe; I could try out crazy ideas without necessarily DOING crazy things. I could listen to stories and feelings and see places and pieces of history that had passed me by while I was trying to fit the world inside my Bible.

Some things are easier to get into than others, though, and a lot of the really revolutionary, underground, and radical stuff from the Summer of Love and the early 1970s still shocked my sensibilities. I couldn't get into Lennon's politically charged anthems, I couldn't grasp Jimi's wild guitar work, and I really had no idea what to make of Zeppelin. There were singles that I liked, but there was so much out there - and much of it was so FAR out there - that I couldn't figure out where to start.

And there was another wrinkle to this musical blockage.

A white Southern Baptist kid never feels comfortable with certain things. What it is they are uncomfortable with will vary, but for me, it is Soul music. It's not that I don't like it, but rather that I become self-conciously hyper-aware while I am listening to it that I am an awkward white kid, and that something deeply sexual is happening that I should probably not be exposed to. Much of the Sixties vibe revolves around an exploration of Soul. Sometimes it's more Blues, sometimes it's covered up by the bombast of Rock; but underneath it all is the sexually charged subtext of black people and their freedom from the Puritanical roots that my ancestors instilled in their descendants.
So many tears I've cried
So much pain inside
Baby it ain't over 'til it's over
So many years we've tried
And kept our love alive
'Cause Baby it ain't over 'til it's over
It Ain't Over Til It's Over
All of which brings me to my point: why Mama Said is such an important album to me. With all of these many paragraphs of prologue, you might be expecting something deep, but like the counter-culture, and hippies, and free love and drugs, there's really not much beneath the surface.

There is an important thing inside all of us that sets limits. For people like me, those limits can sometimes be deeply ingrained, almost like a moat, and it takes something special to bridge the gap to the other side. Lenny's sophomore album made these things safe for me.

That was all I needed.
You say you can't trust me
Have you tried?
You say you don't love me
That's a lie
There are so many so many rainbows
That we were to climb
But baby baby why can't we survive?
We've got to get our heads untangled
And free our state of mind
The Difference Is Why
Lenny's music is not deep - the lyrics border on vapid, and the rhymes are sometimes forced to the point of ridiculousness. The music has been widely criticized as being derivative of Hendrix and Zeppelin, and there's no doubt that this is true.


For a white suburban Southern Baptist kid intimidated by his sexuality and the wide world he was facing, Mama Said gave me a place to relate and unwind. It didn't matter that this guy was singing - in falsetto! - about sex, because it was relatively harmless. (At least compared to Prince.) And it didn't matter that the guitars were only a little loud (courtesy of Slash), because these songs rocked! It felt to me like what it was for Lenny: a celebration of a lot of really good things.

The trouble with hippies is that they tend to be shallow and frivolous. But somehow, the magic of this album was that it didn't have to be deep or important. It wanders through Fields of Joy, and if you learn to relax, you will find that the limits you set for yourself don't have to be shattered to be softened. You don't have to destroy yourself to grow. You can just take it as it comes.

And there's really nothing wrong with that at all.

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