4. High School Alienation – 1961-65
As time passed, I became evermore aware that somehow I wasn't like everybody else, that I didn't fit in. My independent studies led me to question authority and challenge teachers, with a predictable outcome. Indeed, in the 1965 the conservative administration of the private high school I attended took action against me when I submitted a social studies essay titled "An Education of Lies," in which I cited Karl Marx's "Theory of Alienation" and referred to teachers as "trainers" and "propagandists."
Rock'n'roll was being suppressed during the early 1960s, and early icons like Elvis, Chuck Berry and Gene Vincent were replaced by clean-cut teen idols like Bobby Vee, Bobby Vinton, Bobby Rydell and Frankie Avalon. But beatnik inspired folk music was also becoming popular, and I dug it. The television show "Hootenanny" took the stars of folk music to a different college campus each week, and Pete Seeger hosted a program on an educational network.
I soon became fascinated by the folk and protest music scene. The lyrics inspired me and I wanted to participate in the social movement behind the scene . . . and, of course, I totally dug folk music girls. I started collecting the recordings of my favorite folk artists: Buffy Sainte-Marie (she wrote "The Universal Solider") and Bob Dylan. Naturally, I wanted to be a folk and protest songwriter. I dreamt of forming a duet with my little sister.
Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don't criticize
What you can't understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is
Please get out of the new one
If you can't lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin'.
- Bob Dylan, The Times They are a-Changin'.
I awoke from the American Dream around 1962-63, which was synchronicous with a flurry of Civil Rights and Anti-War demonstrations in the US. Conditions were worsening at school and at home. Then during late-November 1963, President Kennedy was assassinated — after that everything changed.
My father started spending more and more evenings with my older sisters, E. and J., who were now married with children. I would often accompany him on the visits, as I did on an evening exactly two months after the assassination of JFK. He seemed uneasy on the way to E.'s home, and spoke of how he feared what would become of M. if something happened to him. "What sort of woman would she grow-up to be with a mother like that . . . ?" At E.'s, father told my sister and brother-in-law that the situation with mother had become unbearable, that she had repeatedly refused the family doctor's suggestion that she undergo treatment. It was the first had I heard about anything of the kind, but I was relieved when E. proposed that father and I stay with her until we find an apartment together. No, he couldn't do that,father replied. He was afraid to leave M. alone with mother.
Soon after leaving E.'s home, father suffered a heart attack. An ambulance was called, E. and my brother-in-law would accompanied him to the hospital. J. and mother were notified to come, and E. ordered me to stay with my two little nieces. Father died soon after mother arrived.
A year or so later, E. and my brother-in-law told me what went down at the hospital that night. Briefly, when mother arrived, she barely looked at father on his death bed before launching into a histrionic display about how worried she was to leave eleven year-old M. home alone. "What if someone came to the door or broke in?" At that, father turned his head away from her and died.
I met up with a precocious girl about the time The Beatles came to America. Linda was the fourteen year-old daughter of a twice divorced thirty-two year-old single mother. LaVita's previous husband was a bearded lounge singer, and in my young eyes, she seemed sophisticated and hip. Indeed, I might have had more in common with LaVita than with her daughter, and she was probably the first older person to recognize and accept me as an individual. In Linda's and LaVita's home I found a treasure trove of books and records. The Naked Lunch by William Burroughs, Howl by Allen Ginsburg, On The Road and Dharma Bums by Jack Keroac were all there, as well as Huxley's Brave New World, The Doors or Perception and Heaven and Hell, and works by Satre, Nietzsche, Hesse and others. Linda loved playing comedy records like Tom Lehrer's Be Prepared. She taught me a lot about Geminis and daughters of single mothers.
I don't want to live my life like everybody else,
And I wont say that I feel fine like everybody else,
Cause I'm not like everybody else.
- Ray Davies, I'm Not Like Everybody Else
About this time I started experiencing a lot of vivid psychic and telepathic activity. I quickly learned to recognize psychic flashes which would tell me things . . . things like if I set out right now for a certain intersection I would see my girlfriend pass by with another guy.
Aldous Huxley, founder of the psychedelic revolution and author of Brave New World (1932) and The Doors of Perception (1954), died the day President Kennedy was assassinated. At Huxley's request, his wife injected him with LSD on his death bed.
The situation with mother quickly declined after my father's death, and it became clear that she wanted to get rid of me, even if it meant destroying me. It culminated with mother committing me to a state hospital when I was age seventeen, following the action of school authorities against my long hair and my essay "An Education of Lies." I was placed in a locked ward for three weeks while under observation. Everyone was older than me, and there were a number of men undergoing electric shock treatment. It was quite an education, though I wouldn't want to live there. Fortunately, Miss Single, my social worker, saw that it was all about mother. Miss Single counseled me that I was experiencing a passing adjustment problem brought on by mother's behavior and actions. She even confided that she phoned mother and asked her to come in for an interview. Mother lashed out, saying, "How dare you suggest such a thing! There is nothing wrong with me, I am perfectly normal!"
During those weeks I spent a lot of time reading and writing. The experience inspired the composition of one of my epic song/poems, "The Funny Farm Blues."
Miss Single must have briefed Dr. Shankar, the young psychiatrist in charge of my case, because after administrating the required tests, he went straight to the heart of the matter. Somehow he had insight into mother's psychology and advised that she was driven to destroy me. Surprisingly, Dr. Shankar didn't try to reform me or "straighten me out." Instead, he encouraged me to follow a creative path and warned me to get away from mother as soon as possible. "If you can't stay with one of your older sisters," he advised, "move to Greenwich Village on your own. But get away from your mother as soon as you can."
I wasn't accustomed to older people saying anything supportive about me, let alone condoning my unconventional attitude. Most of all, I was impressed that Dr. Shankar would urge me to live on my own in the Village. I figured he must be hip, pretty cool. So we started talking about meaningful things, and it didn't take long before I mentioned Aldous Huxley, which led to "The Doors of Perception," after which he confided he was engaged in conducting LSD sessions.
From then on, psychoactive drugs became a hobby of mine.
Read Chapter Five:
Freaks of the Village
Greenwich Village Acid Freaks • The Mothers of Invention
The Fugs • Jimi Hendrix •
Timothy Leary & the Millbrook Scene • First Human Be-In
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