Old women chalk up kind words on the sidewalks. Actions are what make it a vibrant village, arched dome overhead. Neighborhoods can also appear as they do in Lyubov Popova’s 1913 painting Composition with Figures. I’m reminded of old books like Eric S. Raymond’s The Cathedral and the Bazaar. Distributed control systems — when what I really want is a garden. I can’t hear the title of John Sinclair’s essay, “Rock and Roll is a Weapon of Cultural Revolution,” without picturing the Orpheus character in Samuel R. Delany’s The Einstein Intersection, who makes music with his blade. In the one, instruments are re-imagined as weapons; in the other, the weapon and the instrument are one.
I circle back as in a refrain toward M.C. Richards, her theme “the act of centering” returning again amid radical declarations, revolutionary self-fashionings, “Movement” speeches, street writings, prison writings, books like Abbie Hoffman’s Woodstock Nation and John Sinclair’s Guitar Army. The personal was fused with the political for these authors. They took psychedelic civil disobedience as locally staged stoned action and amplified it via seizure of airwaves, campuses, streets, courts of law. Kesey and the Pranksters did something similar a few years earlier, though without the militant intent. Theirs was more of a traveling roadshow, coast-to-coast trips across America, La Honda to New York and back. Minds changing themselves on the road, and in so doing, changing the minds of others.
Is the bourgeois subject the one who finds by way of money-power the way to a home? Shouldn’t self-determination of Oikos through communities of mutual aid take place wherever it can? Can we get a revolution? Jefferson Airplane seemed to think so in their 1969 song “Volunteers.”
“Look what’s happening out in the streets,” they sang. “Got a revolution / Got to revolution.” The revolution means dancing down the street like in a musical. Get people out singing in the streets. John Sinclair’s version was a bit more like West Side Story: “ROCK & ROLL, DOPE AND FUCKING IN THE STREETS.” But then others like the Stones demanded “Gimme Shelter.” And for them, that meant “Make Love Not War.” (Sinclair’s papers, but the way, are held at the University of Michigan, with boxes dedicated to Artists’ Workshop Society, Trans-Love Energies, and the Rainbow People’s Party.)
I listen to recordings from several weeks ago of friends and I jamming with guitars, laptops, effects pedals, and modular synths. Amazing how it all comes together into a synchronous spontaneous composition. Noise band as groupuscule, noise band as psychedelic assemblage. Isn’t that what John Sinclair had in mind? “A rock & roll band,” he wrote, “is a working model of the post-revolutionary production unit. The members of a rock & roll family or tribe are totally interdependent and totally committed to the same end — they produce their music collectively, sharing both the responsibility and the benefits of their work equally. […]. It’s time to turn on tune in and take over! Up against the ceiling, motherfucker!” Will Alexander helps in this regard, reminding me of exercises for “turning on,” like the ones specified in Edward de Bono’s book Lateral Thinking. Most importantly, he reminds me, “Leaps can be made.” Alexander calls the technique “flexible ambulation through one’s mental catacombs” (Singing in Magnetic Hoofbeat, p. 13). Through him I learn about the Cuban painter Wilfredo Lam, influenced by his godmother, Matonica Wilson, a Santeria priestess, healer, and sorceress who performed rites dedicated to African orishas. One drifts a bit, breathing, open to new experience. Voices respond by firmly chanting, “Aye!” as they do in the Supergrass song, “Coffee in the Pot.”
Let us try to see as others see. Try, try! Unforeseen outlooks, hidden powers, power on. Let us become creative in our capacity to heal. Bruce Mau’s advice also seems applicable here: “Take field trips. The bandwidth of the world is greater than that of your TV set, or the Internet, or even a totally immersive, interactive, dynamically rendered, object-oriented, real-time, computer graphic-simulated environment.”
Harried with work, days and days of grading midterms, I stumble free mid-afternoon into observation and contemplative reading of the Afros of the White Panther Party, dining on a side of green lettuce. How compartmentalized the days become under capitalist wage-slavery, I think with a sigh. Oscillations, electronic evocations of reality. Abbie Hoffman and John Sinclair in the midst of the last civil war represented themselves on the stage of history as revolutionary superheroes. But department stores are weird trips, man. Compartmentalized to the nth degree. Objects hung from racks in one thinly-populated zone, dense diverse clusters of people and sound elsewhere. How might we reconnect? I pick up a faceted wood vase and tap at it, questioningly. A voice in a nearby aisle proclaims, “it feels so real!” Materials when touched, not what they seem. And these motherfuckers no longer carry my Heinz Jalapeño Ketchup. Reality becomes ever more standardized, with me too jittery and anxious to connect, strike up conversation with others. As in the song, I become “lost in the supermarket.” It’s at least in part a fear of race and sexuality. But mainly it’s a fear that to others I might seem a weirdo, a creep, a stoner. I wish we could somehow become heads together. How do we re-establish communication across the plastic dome?