Reading QOTD (2009-03-21)

For school, I read Norman Mailer’s Armies of the Night, one of those too-cool “non-fiction novels” of the ’60s, which tells the story of the anti-Vietnam March on the Pentagon in October 1967. One of the major events in the book (and generally historically speaking) is the hippies’ show of attempting to levitate the Pentagon, engineered by Abbie Hoffman and emceed by Ed Sanders, the frontman of The Fugs. After reading Mailer’s rendition of the happening, I thought it was about time I familiarized myself with the Fugs’ music, so downloaded an album called Tenderness Junction. I was shocked to hear, right in the middle of the album, the recording of what Ed Sanders said to “exorcise the evil spirits” from the Pentagon:

In the name of the amulets of touching, seeing, hearing, groping, and loving, we call upon the powers of the cosmos to protect our ceremonies, in the name of Zeus, in the name of Anubis, God of the Dead, in the name of all those killed for causes they do not comprehend, in the name of the lives of the dead soldiers in Vietnam who were killed because of a bad karma, in the name of seaborne Aphrodite, in the name of the Magna Mater Deu Madea, in the name of Dionysus, Zagreus, Jesus, Yahweh, the unnameable, the quintessent finality of the Zoroastrian fire, in the name of Hermes, in the name of the beak of Thoth, in the name of the scarab, in the name… in the name of the Tyrone Power Pound Cake Society in the sky, in the name of Ra, Osiris, Horus, Nepta, Isis, Hippocrates, Hera, in the name of the flowing, living universe, in the name of the mouth of the river, we call upon the spirit TO RAISE THE PENTAGON FROM ITS DESTINY AND PRESERVE IT!

Which dissolves into a general chanting of “Out, demons, out!” and a fairly traditional exorcism-type thing that I can only juxtapose ironically with the only other famous exorcism I can think of offhand—what’s in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. I wonder what was going through the minds of Abbie Hoffman and the Fugs and all, then, when they planned this. I don’t know enough: how much political sarcasm lay behind the acided-out, freewheeling flower children? Mailer certainly shows us how the “beautiful people” front was perverted by soldiers who brutally attacked the protesters, which is an interesting and disturbing image, especially given the way that the hippies are so often mocked for their avoidance of the harsh reality that the soldiers faced in Vietnam.

Nevertheless, what I get out of that ridiculous speech, especially after hearing it spoken, is darkness behind its absurdity. The March on the Pentagon, of course, was an overtly political event, but even Woodstock had its political overtones. These aren’t just acid freaks, you know? They knew what they were doing.

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