We gathered in a circle, some of us in chairs, others of us on blankets, on a sunny afternoon, celebrating a friend’s 40th birthday. It’s a lovely day — quality time with friends, all of us pleased to be together, laughing, telling stories, sharing observations and enthusiasms. Afterwards, I reflect upon Allen Ginsberg’s centering of Carrie Nation in the midst of the vortex in his antiwar poem “Wichita Vortex Sutra.” Nation was a temperance zealot. She ran around cities like Wichita attacking alcohol-serving establishments with a hatchet in the decades prior to Prohibition. I recall there being a straightedge band named after her in the 1990s, as well as a fictional band in Russ Meyer’s 1970 film Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. Is Ginsberg suggesting that Prohibition birthed Vietnam? What is a vortex? In his 1914 essay “Vortex,” modernist poet Ezra Pound described the latter as “the point of maximum energy.” But of course, Pound was a fascist. Is his essay one we need to read to understand Ginsberg? It’s a modernist manifesto, one that launched the short-lived movement known as Vorticism. (British fascist Wyndham Lewis is the other major figure linked with the movement.) Pound was obsessed with “race” and “race-memory” and attacked hedonism. Yet he’s widely considered one of the most influential poets of the twentieth century. The “Vortex” essay ends with a quote from Pound’s lover and contemporary, the modernist poet H.D. The latter is a curious figure, for sure. H.D. experienced “visions,” sought treatment from Sigmund Freud, and dabbled in the occult. For further discussion of H.D.’s interest in the latter, see Matte Robinson’s book The Astral H.D.: Occult and Religious Sources and Contexts for H.D.’s Poetry and Prose.
I wish I could convince others to enjoy birds whistling, the tap of a woodpecker, dogs barking. But students prefer Ozzy Osborne’s angsty theatrics, several of them requesting we listen to “War Pigs / Luke’s Wall.” I can hold off, soak in some rays of sunlight, wait until the time is right. Sit beside trees and practice breathing. Expand consciousness into new modes of sensitivity and sensibility. One way I do so is by listening closely to “Fortunate Son” by Creedence Clearwater Revival.
Berkeley-born John Fogerty sings from the standpoint of a critical working-class subject suffering persecution at the hands of hawkish militaristic elites. He calls the latter out, naming them for what they are: hypocrites / phony “patriots” who wave the flag but send others off to fight in their stead. (The rich were able to exercise influence to receive deferment from the draft, while working-class males had no choice but to fight or flee the country. One thinks here, for example, of former US president George W. Bush and other warmongers who themselves never served.) Drums and guitar notes shimmering with reverb, the song kicks into action. It starts marching at you, picket sign aloft, hips swaggering. On the album cover for the band’s fourth studio album Willy and the Poor Boys (1969), they’re seen performing like an old-time jug band on a sidewalk before an audience of African-American children. When Fogerty says, “I ain’t no senator’s son, son,” he’s damning benefactors of nepotism, he’s damning multi-generational elites, he’s damning the entire American anti-democratic system of inherited privilege.
Michael Wadleigh’s Woodstock (1970), co-edited by a young Martin Scorsese, overlays sounds and images, especially in its use of split-screen, in order to represent the crowd as a cooperative beloved community. The collective intelligence of audience, performers, and crew is astounding, comparable only to that other collective intelligence, the US military. With the walkie-talkies and the helicopters and the ever-present talk of food and supplies, the festival was clearly the War in Vietnam’s deliberately inverted double.