Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume. 34, Number 16. September 8th 1971
Interview with Charles Reich
Interview with Charles Reich
"There is a revolution coming. It will not be like revolutions of the past. It will originate with the individual and with culture, and it will change the political structure only as its final act. It will not require violence to succeed, and it cannot be successfully resisted by violence. This is the revolution of the new generation."
-Charles A. Reich in The Greening of America.
This modest observation introduces a recent book called "The Greening of America." Many readers will find nothing very startling about Reich's thesis that much of society's hope surely lies with its youth, but this idea has nevertheless plunged its author, a mild-mannered Professor of Law at Yale University, into an enormous controversy.
Meanwhile, however, camps formed: "The New Consciousness, of course, was a cliche long before this book" Joel Kramer wrote in The Village Voice. "What is new and subversive about "Greening" is the thesis that the style is a necessary historical outgrowth of this society gone amok." This was reasonable criticism, but what has been truely remarkable is the reaction of the straight press. "A Bag of Scary Mush", headlined Stewart Alsop in Newsweek ("The book is profoundly anti-intellectual. . . obvious fascist overtones.") Time Magazine was most upset because "He slightingly compares Beethoven's Ninth Symphony with the Rolling Stones . . . his assumption that man is inherently good until corrupted by society is simply a disastrous philosophical cop-out"; of an unprecedented seven reviews and articles on the book in The New York Times, one pundit was most offended by Reich's aversion to homogenized plastic peanut butter: "A man of Professor Reich's eminence should not stoop to include this in his indictment of our power structure."
"The Greening of America" has obviously struck a nerve. Reich gets 30-40 letters a day from adults who thank him for helping them understand their children and straighten out their own lives. But many "social commentators" seem to have been offended that a bona-fide, impeccably credentialed, over-40 Yale Professor should suggest that young folks may be on to something.
Hiding out from the Eastern Media (he's so far refused the night-time TV talk shows), Charles Reich recently came to Berkeley where we met in a small motel off Telegraph Avenue. He wanted to get to Bolinas Beach, but over the next few days we wandered around Berkeley in the rain, shopping, seeing how the book was selling in various stores, eating some good Organic Chunky Food Mill Peanut Butter we bought him, and generally having a fine time.
It's plain to see that Charles Reich has it all together for himself at least, and that one of his greatest gifts is the loving zeal, good energy, articulation and persuasiveness with which he presents his own vision.
A number of critics have attacked you for saying "Oh Wow!" in your book...
I know a lot of people have attacked me for saying "Oh Wow!". But I knew just what I was doing. I've been through so many bad places in my life' Now I've found someplace good and I feel like Saying "Oh Wow." If anybody wants to laugh they can, because I'm still going to say "Oh Wow." Nobody is going to make me retreat from my happiness.
You seem extraordinarily happy. Happier than anyone I've met lately. Does this have anything to do with the publication of the book?
No. No. Well, the book was a nice thing to happen. But I was happy before the book. I've been happy ever since I found out there was going to be a new community, ever since I began to realise the existence of this new consciousness and just how widespread it was getting to be, how much it was growing. I'm really grateful to the kids for making a happier life possible for me. I'll never get over that sense of gratitude and in a way the book was my gift back to them for what they've done in terms of my own life.
There are several ways you can write a book like this. One would be the outside observer, a sociologist, right? A professor writing about some phenomenon like creatures in a zoo. I couldn't do that. Another way would be to pretend to be a spokesman for another person and I wouldn't presume to do that anymore that I would ever say that the Beatles or Dylan or any artist is a spokesman for anybody but themselves. But the third thing you can do, and this is what I did, is to share my life with them. The book takes you through all of the bad places I've been to, takes you through the whole horror of my life in Consciousness II. Listen I wasn't writing about somebody else when I wrote about the old consciousness, that was me!.
So I'm really grateful to young people for what they've done and for what they continue to do... Monday, for example, was a really sunny day in Berkeley and I was thinking about going to the beach. But all of a sudden I was invited to visit a whole bunch of kids at a high school in Walnut Creek. They wanted me to come because I mentioned them in an article. They put out a yearbook which got them into trouble with the Administration and I wrote that up. Anyway, I went to Walnut Creek instead of going to the beach and for four hours I talked to 15, 16, 17-year-old kids. And it was just wonderful, just answering questions, we talked about everything.
What did you say to them?
Well, we talked about the whole change that's happening in America. But first I want to say; everybody that's pessimistic about this revolution or doesn't believe in it, should see those kids. Because here they are from a rather conventional suburban town, Walnut Creek, and they are the most beautiful kids. I just couldn't believe it! For example, I was telling them about how among my generation, if you lost your job or were accused of being a Communist or something, probably you would lose your friends as well. One of them was very startled and he said "What are you talking about? How could you lose your friends? You're just a person who doesn't have any friends to begin with." He couldn't even imagine how the word friend could be used to describe a person that would leave you when you were down and out.
Then I talked to them about communicating with their parents. I thought I could talk to them usefully about that. I talked with them some about drugs; I talked with them some about the progress of the revolution. But I couldn't tell them anything important they didn't know already.
How are they getting along with their parents?
Most of them don't really believe that their parents want to understand or communicate with them. I tried to say that they'd given up too soon, that there was still some possibility, some hope for that. You see, one thing that I know that the kids don't is that the older people are still human beings too and that they want to be port of this thing. So I talked to them about how I propose just making the parents listen to the words of their songs my theme for the four hours was to get your parents a set of headphones. They've got to hear the words of an actual song like "Teach Your Children" or "Wooden Ships" to understand what kids feel and are singing. Over and over again songs express relationships to parents that ought to bo talked about.
For example, I was thinking about "Four Days Gone" by the Buffalo Springfield. "Four Days Gone" seems to be an encounter between a young man running away from some government madness and two older people who pick him up as a hitchhiker and are nice to him but don't really understand him. But that's a very superficial understanding of the song. The really deep message of the song, it seems to me, is about a boy and his parents, but they can't really help him and finally he's got to leave and go running off on his own. That way the song becomes something profound about kids and their parents. "Draft Morning," for example, that song by the Byrds. It says in effect, Mother and Father, you want to know why I don't want to go to work. Because they're going to teach me to kill!
What did you say to them about drugs?
Well, first I got the hard stuff out of the way. Heroin seems to represent nothing but a desire to escape from a society so horrible that you can't even look. So I said I really want to talk about the psychedelic drugs and those I conceived of primarily as tools. They're as good as the use you make of them or as bad as the use you make of them. If you use drugs to increase experience or awareness, knowledge of other people or to find something out about yourself, if you use them in such a way as to discover truth then I think you're making good use of drugs. If, on the other hand, you're using them just to get zonked out and end up like some of the glassy-eyed kids you see on Telegraph Avenue who can't relate to any other human being, well that's pathetic. It seems to me to be a case of knowing what you want to do with drugs. If they are used by a very unstable person they are likely to drive him off to the psychiatric ward. So I don't go around preaching the use of drugs, but drugs like grass and hashish are good things for those that are using them well. And they ought not to be banned.
Now in the book I say drugs are a truth serum. It sounds a little evangelical more than need be, maybe. But it's necessary because our society has kept people in prison by the use of false consciousness. Back to Marcuse, who says that people's minds have been messed up by the media, by the schools, by all this phoniness they've been conditioned with. And so, when there's a moment of truth that sometimes can be brought to a person only through drugs, it works as a truth serum because it reveals all the falsity. To use a great phrase that one of my good friends and students used, he said "All of us have a San Quentin in our minds" and if we could only break down that prison we'd just see out and know the truth.
And you think that drugs help...
They help some people. But I'm not going around advocating anybody to take any special trip. People have to find out what they want to do themselves. You know, find out what your trip is and do it. I'm an evangelist for the new consciousness but not for any particular trip.
What did you say in Walnut Creek about the progress of the revolution?
Well, to all superficial appearances, things are not going very well right now. I mean, you walk around Berkeley and I've never seen it so depressed. It's undoubtedly true at Yale, too, where students are terribly apathetic, depressed, down, gloomy.
Particularly in contrast to 1967
Oh yes, yes. Looking at politics, it looks like things could never have been worse, they're getting worse all the time. But I try to maintain my longer-range perspective and I believe the revolution is coming and and coming very fast and that nobody should be discouraged. I think that there are several different reasons why it doesn't seem to be working just at the moment. The first is that there's so much to be learned. If I can put anything in italics now for this interview, I'd say there is so much for all of us to learn. We know only the most elemental things, like how to play the guitar, how to sit around in a circle in a room and listen to music. But learning how to do medicine, or law, or architecture in such a way that it is non-alienating, rewarding and good for the person that does it, good for the people you do it for - we haven't learned any of that. We have to help each other, we have to learn from each other.
Another reason why the students are depressed and frustrated is that the revolution is in no sense going to be political, so to all appearances nothing is happening on that front. The fact is politics in America today simply doesn't deal with the issue of how we live. You don't hear politicians debating anything that matters like whether it's good to use drugs or what makes a valid consumer society. No politician debates whether or not you should work under authoritarian discipline like in the factories. Nobody debates whether the school system is nothing but an obedience school or whether it really encourages kids to learn and think. Politicians have managed to exclude from their debate everything that is relative and important and interesting.
Ultimately I do believe in the democratic system. But for the moment what they've done is turned politics into something utterly sterile and meaningless: so it's going to be up to all of us outside of politics to develop our own debate and individual resolutions about life without the help of Senator this and Representative that and Secretary so and so.
If the revolution isn't going to be political, how would you characterize its progress?
The revolution is going to come up from below and it's going to be a change in our consciousness and how we live before it effects any political change. It won't be and isn't now the kind of revolution you can always read about in the newspapers.
Once in a while you may hear about something like the Gls who go off into the jungle and smoke dope instead of just killing people as ordered - that was in The New York Times actually but most of it you won't read about because it's a very personal thing all around us. The real indication of this revolution are changes all of us are going through, changes we can feel and see in our own friends, people getting off the old tracks. So many of my law students and lawyer friends, people my age, are getting out of the old consciousness, the old institutions and structures and trying to use their skills and good work in a new way.
You use the expression "old consciousness" and "new consciousness"... Could you tell us exactly what you mean by this and how these different kinds of consciousness" are described in 'The Greening of America'?
Well, I started out to write about what has been wrong with America. Originally it was to have centered on a structural description of what I call the corporate state, the machine. A machine that is now out of control and in my view making war on human beings wherever one can find them; it is making war on people in Southeast Asia, it is making war on our own people at home. I wanted to make an analysis of how that machine works; I thought that I had learned how it works by being a lawyer in Washington DC for seven years.page break
You begen the book ten years ago?
That's right. The original title was "The Coming of the Closed Society." It was a depressing book and it would have been a big down to read. Eventually, as it went along, I began to see that there was something very big missing in my analysis, but it wasn't until '67-68 that I began to really understand what it was. I began to realize that the thing that was really wrong in America was that most people couldn't understand their own society. And because they couldn't really understand it they couldn't do anything about it when it got out of hand. This ignorance, of course, was fostered by all the media, by the politicians, by just about every contact that came into them. So the people in America were victims of a whole false view of their society. And so we have the fantastic situation of today, when we see most politics and most politicians are talking about issues that don't exist.
Talking as if people who are on welfare are there because they are lazy. And still the myth is predicated; they should go to work! There is no work for them to do; there is no way they could work; there is no training that would enable them to work at the present time. And we go on deceiving ourselves and we are wilfully deceived by those to whose advantage it is to deceive us. So I began to see that there were just incredible gaps in our understanding of reality. And, for example, when you had an argument with a man who began with a different conception of reality, you were just wasting your time because he would just never meet you head on.
From that I got the idea, for which I later had to find a word. The idea is "consciousness" or awareness, or knowledge of reality, which is by no means my own idea. It's as old as Plato. Marx worked with it and Marcuse worked with it and a novelist like Henry James was concerned with it. And what I did is to begin to say is there any systematic way in which we can observe major kinds of consciousness in America, individual kinds of perceptions and realities. And I thought about it and I tried many different kinds of arrangements. Six kinds, eight kinds, types "a" and "b" and so on. I never aimed at labeling people but I was interested in talking about the problem of gaps in reality and the major kinds of differences in consciousness. I finally got down to three. And I think that they ring true even though they are constructs or fictions or over-simplifications.
It seemed to me that one major sort of consciousness — what I called Consciousness I — was that which believed that the individual can make his own destiny in an economic sense by competing against other people and succeeding where they fail. Like a sports event, a track meet or a football game: good, vigorous, healthy competition, the best man wins, the old morality play that we see when we watch pro football. And that man had to believe in a kind of pioneer America before the days of massive organisation, where the good fight is good for the rest of us, good for society.
Of course that's often carried one step further - sort of fuck your neighbour before he fucks you.
Well, that's right. And it becomes a very terrible thing, a kind of jungle world. One of the things that's so awful about the people of the first consciousness is their incredible suspicion of other people. Their absolute lack of faith. Even if they're your friend, they're not really your friend because in some sense they never really trust anyone. This state of consciousness makes people unable to deal with present-day society first because they don't understand it at all, and second because they feel absolutely alone and the only way you can handle this thing now is to get together. It's only by establishing a sense of community that there is any power in any of us today.
The second kind of consciousness Consciousness II accepts the fact that we live an organized life and says that reality consists of where you have gotten yourself in the organisation. It is just as profoundly mixed up about reality as the first consciousness because it says, for instance, if I am an assistant vice president, or if I am an associate professor, or if I have just been to a dinner given by very important people for very important people, that's happiness, that's good, that's human, that's success. And Consciousness II doesn't know anything about, lets say, beaches or mountains because those are not reality to Consciousness II: it thinks that if you are an assistant vice president you're happy. Happiness is is power relationships with other people.
Beaches can figure in that status.
Right, they become a kind of token of status. That is you have a villa on the beach, or you have an elegant cocktail party. Any of those things could be used for status. But it's a complete false use of an ocean to use it to prove what a success you are. These people have become the consciousness of liberalism, of intellectuals, of the organisation man, of the achievement-oriented person, of the meritocracy, the person who wanted to get good grades.
Self-worth, self-evaluation as defined by role.
You are just as good as society says you are.
A lot of people like that commit suicide.
Sure, because if they slip a little or get put down, what do they think of themselves, who are they then and what's the point of their lives? You can see people like that in high school, already accumulating class offices, athletic awards, good grades. High school produces the model boy who gets the principal's pat on the head and has good grades and a good out-of-class record and he's president of his class. His happiness is a wholly artificial thing. It's been put on him by society. And if he didn't have all these people telling him he was a model boy, he might find he was wretchedly miserable because he wasn't doing anything he really wanted to do. You can't say to Mr. Associate Professor of English, "Wouldn't you rather be on a beach right now?"
The answer that Associate Professor or Vice-President might make would be, "Well sure I'd like to go, but I've got a job to do. I've got a wife and family to support. I've got a society to build, we've got to be responsible." What would you say to that?
I'd say to that he's not doing anybody any good. First of all not himself, second of all not his family and thirdly not society, unless he's making himself into the kind of person he wants to be. The Vietnam war was made by people who thought they were doing good for society, but were so messed up personally that they ended up by doing bad for society. You look at the intellectuals who have been around in the White House basement fanning the war - they honestly think they are doing good for society. But they don't have any self-knowledge. I wouldn't be surprised if it was really bad for their own selves, their personal lives, their family. Because you can't do good for anybody unless you first do good for yourself. That's why the revolution has to start with each individual person.
Which brings us to Consciousness III.
Nearly. It seemed to me that there was no way out that there would only be a short road to despair or a police state or whatever else was coming. Unless there could be a new consciousness of reality a new knowledge of what was important about being a human being. Up to '67 I thought it was going to still be a case of a few individuals that understood these things. A minority. Always a minority that already had two strikes against them because they were maybe already black, or in disgrace, artists or homosexuals, people who were already unaccepted by the society, so nobody would take what they said seriously. Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Holden Caulfield of Catcher in the Rye - the people who knew the truth seemed to be people who couldn't make it, or hadn't made it, never met a payroll, never made a touchdown pass. Who could listen to them? Losers.
Right. Then I got out - in the depths of despair - I got out to Berkeley in the early summer of 1967 - came out wholly for personal reasons without any notion of learning anything or seeing anything... And incredibly I saw that my vision was about to come true. I couldn't believe it. I saw it - if some sociologist asked me how did I know it, I haven't got any statistics, I haven't got anything except my eyes and my ears and my feelings. But I knew it instantly. I knew that all of a sudden there were all kinds of people who knew and felt the things that I'd known and felt for so long but hadn't been able to communicate with anybody because I was sure I'd be taken for a misfit myself.
Were you taken for a misfig?
No, I was taken for a very successful person that fitted in, but that's because I was going around with the stars - protective cover. But suddenly I saw that there were all kinds of people who knew the truth.
What did you see?
Well, John Lennon had said it all in "Here Comes the Sun" — I saw that faces were getting more beautiful, that there was a thaw in people - that people were becoming less rigid, less uptight, less determined to adhere to some image, that they were beginning to bloom in terms of their clothes, of their relaxation and their whole love of life was coming out of them. It was like the Beatles said: it's been a ong, cold, lonely winter. And suddenly people were getting together, people were starting to be nice to each other. I felt such a surge of happiness. I'd been thinking about this so long so that when I saw it I knew what it was.
What was it?
It was, in the metaphor that I've used, humanity coming up through the cracks in the pavement. It was a rebirth. And if I could have had my own way, maybe, with the subtitle of the book, I would have called it "The Rebirth of People in a Sterile Land" because that's what it was - humanity being reborn refusing to be coated with cement and coming up right out of the pavement. Incredibly enough, they weren't being reborn just in Cuba, or in the Bahamas, or on some mountain top, they were being reborn right in the heart of the monster. Suddenly right out of the machine were coming people who were once more capable of love.
This is what you call Consciousness III?
Yes, this was the new consciousness. And in the summer of '67, I said to myself - this is the greening of America, this terrible, ugly, hideous landscape is becoming green - by green I meant every colour, I meant all the colours of Spring, I meant that the world was going to it and I've never for one second backed off from that wisdom. That consciousness has seen bad times and will see more bad times, but I've never doubted for one second the truth in what I saw.
How did you see it manifested specifically in terms of life style and personal relations?
Well, it was in little things, like a person smiling at a stranger, or a person coming up to a friend and instead of shaking hands, hugging. All of my life I've wanted to hug people — all my life I've had a desire to hug people that I cared for but I never dared to do it. I always thought people would back away or look horrified and suddenly it was a thing that people were doing.
Then another thing is I heard two albums. The first was Sergeant Pepper and the second was the Jefferson Airplane's Surrealistic Pillow. I grew up in the Forties. Then there was rock and roll in the mid-fifties and I immediately liked it. But I was afraid. I'm an intellectual, what business have I got liking this — I was sort of embarrassed. I have a very fine collection of 45s bought in that period. But there was no person my age that wouldn't say, "Oh how ridiculous. Why don't you listen to Mozart or Beethoven."
(Incidentally, I've been quoted rather widely as putting down Beethoven. What I said was the Rolling Stones reflect concerns and energies of today and that Beethoven could only reflect his own time. Beethoven may have produced as great a work of art as there ever will be on earth but he can't say all the things that have to do with us now.)
Anyway I understood instantly the incredible act of love that the Beatles had done for us all when they said, "What would you do if I sang out of tune".: would you stop listening? Because "I've got to tell you".. we've got a new role to tell you about, they were saying. And I could have, being 39 years old or whatever - I could have said 'I don't want to know about your new role and I don't want to listen to you and I don't want to hear you sing out of tune.' But I wanted a new world, too. So I said, alright Beatles, you can sing to me and I'll listen. Well, if you were filing, the Beatles were going to take you to Pepperland. These incredible four people showed us that with the help of one's friends it was possible to go to some new place. It meant leaving home, leaving your old place, "she's leaving home" . . .you know. But you will have your friends; and when you got to this new place it would be like turning on. I knew that they were singing about a world that I had never experienced. I think older people can have two kinds of reactions to this; one is envy and anger, the other is to go there yourself.
Then there was the Jefferson Airplane: those incredible notes of those electric guitars going up, up, up. You know before I bought the record I had an apartment in Berkeley and I first heard it coming out of other peoples windows. And that's what really got me going. I just thought this music was straight from heaven. I'd always known that fog and mist and ocean and trees were beautiful, that I cared more about them than I did about a law library, or an office, or a testimonial dinner, or getting a new title. So I said, "Wow, I've had all these dreams, but I haven't believed in them enough to really live or act on them." And now these kids come along and they show a person like me to have been a riser of my own dreams - to have not lived my own dreams. And I'm not going to weste another minute because they can't tell me a thing about flowers and trees and the sun because I've already known all about those things.
But what about this new consciousness. Consciousness III? Once you get there do you just go off to the beach?
We're clearly down to the most important subject we're going to talk about. Because the new consciousness obviously involves all the things that human beings do - all the kinds of work they do, all the ways they live together in society; it isn't just music and trees. Every person wants to function and functioning for a person means using their abilities and their power and strength.
I just met a fellow who said "I'm reading 'Greening of America' and think maybe I should drop out of Law School."
Well maybe he should maybe that's not his trip, maybe he went to law school because his parents wanted him to go. But there are some people who love law, though, and only the people that love it should do it. The biggest problem now in the new consciousness is that most of us haven't learned how to do most things in a new way and so we're in a moment which in some ways seems almost a moment of dispair. In a sense were exhausted, for the moment at least, the possibilities of just hitch-hiking and playing the guitar in the streets, just wearing groovy clothes. When you get into that for two or three years, when you've been through the drug thing for a while, you begin, it seems to me, to want to start functioning on a level that is personally satisfying. That means a different thing for each person - for some person it might mean being a doctor, for another person it might it might mean working with handicrafts, for another person it might mean design, like architectural design. But I could never be happy just sitting on a beach the rest of my life, much as I love beaches, because I have abilities in me that cry out to work.
Work is a biological necessity, just like sex. Real work is like when people who love music play music. Most of us can't play music but there is something else that we can do. For example, one talent that I don't question in myself is that I'm a good teacher. Teaching means being able to explain things, to express things, to articulate things in a way that other people can relate to, and I've always been able to do that, all my life. If I could do it on the guitar. I'd do it on the guitar. I can do it because it's in my genes or whatever.
What role do you see music playing in this consciousness and its expansion?
The new music is, first of all, incredibly important because its the chief language and means of communication for the people of this new consciousness, particularly young people. The kids have discovered a new means of communication, like extra-sensory perception. We don't have to send each other messages through the mail because we have a magical netwoekrk of communications, and the chief vehicle of that is music.
Let's go back to the Fifties for a minute. The very first thing that began to happen when rock come in on a mass cultural level was it started to say "we feel lonely and alienated and frightened" and music had never said that before. Blues always said it, I'm not talking about the black consciousness. But white people were told how happy, how romantic, how nice, how smooth the world was. And that didn't reflect the truth.
Then all of a sudden there was Elvis Presley singing about "Heartbreak Hotel" full of lonely people, and he said no matter how full it is, when you get there you're lonely because none of those people can communicate with you and you can't communicate with them. You see, the first step toward the new consciousness is to acknowledge your own misery, your own loneliness and alienation. If you can't be honest with yourself about where you're at, how are you going to get anything better? So the first truth of rock, the first big communication was to say things aren't that good. In an early song like "Lonesome Town" Rick Nelson sang about loneliness. (Incidentally, he's a fine example of how people can begin in moss culture as an artificial person and come out to be something real.) You think about "Donna" by Richie Valens he song that he almost ceased to be alive, ceased to be a person because he's lost contact with another person since you left me - and it isn't just a love song, oh I love you and I miss you, but it's a song about losing your key to existence. Remember "Blue on Blue, Heartache on Heartache," "I Wander Down the Street All Alone"? All of these songs begin with an acknowledgement of the terrors of this world.
Then along comes a second kind of song that begins to acknowledge the glories of lust and sex - and that's another truth that nobody had been telling.
Are you talking about early rock and roll - Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Fats Domino. Bo Diddley?
Sure, People who sing like that - you can almost touch the sensuality of the songs. By the late Fifties people began to know that there were other people who were lonely, other people who liked sex. Rock began to tell more and more truth - one thing after another came until finally about 1967 or 1968 you get incredible complexity and depth and height and feeling, incredible energy and really supreme poetry. I think rock today is a medium that can communicate almost anything that any of us can feel or experience. Now that doesn't mean that I think every new release is a great work of art. Often the particular artist hasn't got much to say, doesn't say it very well or has run out of ideas. But we have developed a medium that can say almost anything anybody has to say.
Who are the practitioners of this medium who you most respect?
Nobody has ever surpassed the Beatles and the Stones. They express very different things, yet each in their own world is supremely great. The purest and the greatest prophet in America has been Bob Dylan. The incredible thing is to go back to 1962-3 or whenever he first cut those records and see that he was saying things we can only now understand. He knew where things were at so early, so much before anyone else. When he sang "Blowing in the Wind," that told the whole thing - but most of us didn't hear it back then. Like a liberal might say, "What's your program, when is it goining to happen, what candidate are you going to work for." And Bob Dylan said, "My friend, it's blowing in the wind." And he said "My friend" with just that edge of slight sarcasm. Ho said just Relax, it's blowing in the wind." There was that great sound of prophecy in his voice. Then a little later he said to the liberals. "I used to be a flaming liberal, but I was somewhat older then." I used to do all the things, work for all the causes, used to argue with my friends, all that sort of stuff - but that's when I was old and now I'm younger. I'm becoming like a child, that is I'm recovering myself, my life. Dylan has never, never really lost it, he's always been one step ahead of people.
Two other American groups which remain supremely great are the Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead. Both of them just go on and on and on, further and further.page break
Is the music reflecting or leading...?
Well, in the case of the greatest artists, it's leading. I'm sure that in the ones I've mentioned it's way out ahead. But I think we're in a period now of energy loss. The average artist, he can only do as well as the culture permits. At the moment many groups are experiencing the same down as that of their friends. The new culture isn't going anywhere very fast at the moment, the scene hasn't changed for the better in two or three years and so their music is sort of - you know, they can't transcend it at the moment, they're just sort of singing about where it's at.
We've noticed that as soon as something like Hendrix and Joplin happens critics like Albert Goldman of Life Mayazmu can hardly wait to bad mouth rock and the new consciousness, to say it's over, it never was any good and thank God we're done with it.
Look, Hendrix and Joplin were victims of the bad old society, the exploitation, the de-humanization, the whole sick scent!.
Look, Hendrix and Joplin were victims of the bad old society, the exploitation, the de-humanization, the whole sick scene, and it's a tragic thing that each of them took that whole I Kid trip. Some people can handle stardom and the excitement and the pressure, and the esteem, better than otherer people. Dylan can handle anything; the Beatles can handle anything, maybe Mick Jagger can handle anything. But for some reason that you and I don't know, Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix couldn't. It was too much for them, but their tragedy was the same tragedy that happened to people in the past it has nothing to do with the new consciousness.
What other cultural manifestations of the new consiousness do you see besides music? You haven't said anything about, let's say film.
Listen. What we've had in America in the last forty or fifty years, after the age of handicrafts had ended, is a people without a culture. We didn't make anything of our own, we've had songs imposed on us, music imposed on us. It's fine to listen to Irving Berlin but unfortunately it isn't you that wrote it. Mass culture was completely in the hands of mass producers the record companies, the film companies and so forth. The growth of rock has represented a battle to retrieve the mass culture from the people who owned it and were putting it out. Now it's a seesaw battle and I sure that we feel sometimes that the record companies have captured it back. Many times a young artist will start out really fine but maybe he'll find out that he's been taken over by the exploiters, maybe he's been taken into the bad old system. But look at the Beatles and the Stones. If either of them give out it will be because the artistic thing can't run on forever in every person. It won't give out because they've sold out. So what we're learning to do in many different ways is to make our own culture out of the phoney mass culture that used to be.
I worked out a theory, which is heavy, but if you don't mind a heavy moment in this interview, it goes like this: Marcuse said that in the first stage of an industrial society there is repression made necessary by scarcity. In order to make everybody work harder, to have enough to eat, you've got to repress. In the second stage, which he described in One Dimensional Man, social repression is carried out with consumer goods, surplus goods you don't need, refrigerators, or frozen foods. By making you take all those trips, we're kept from finding out the truth about ourselves because we're so busy opening and closing the refrigerator, so busy unpacking those frozen foods.
But my theory, and I hope it's right, takes us one step further and says: this kind of repression is a mighty dangerous thing for the repressive society to engage in because all of a sudden a new generation can come along and can say we're going to take all these things, the stereo, the motorcycles, the things in the supermarket, and the music above all and we'll command them. Now they'll be tools of revolution instead of tools of repression because we'll use them as we wish. So what I see happening, in both films and in music, is that people are now making their own culture right in the heart of the repressive machine. .They're taking the music and they're palying what they want to play and want to hear. They're taking the films now arid making films that they want to see. That's the miracle of it. They don't have to go outside, they can make money and laugh at the machine and that's what's so extraordinary. The machine is prepared to destroy itself through people using the culture in their own way.
There's something else which I sense in America. The blacks started it but some Italians and Irish and Indians and Jews are picking up on it too. America never really was a melting pot. We're all from different kinds of cultures. Each of us has our own consciousness, our own cultural tradition, and in some places this is being revived and restored.
I think America was a melting pot in the worst sense of that term and it was a very bad thing. In the 1890's America began a process of trying to make every person hate himself, his own background, his own culture. The blacks learned to hate themselves long before, but it wasn't just them. The worst thing you could be if you were an Irishman was the kind too close to Ireland, too Irish, too Jewish, too Polish or Ukrainian, or German, or Swedish, or Italian - speaking the mother tongue, cooking the mother dishes. That was a tragedy for all of us. We all learned self-hatred.
Now I'm Jewish and I know all about Jewish self-hatred because we were ashamed of being Jewish. Jews don't conk their hair but they did everything else to pass, to look as unJewish as they could. And one of the things that I hope to sec as a result of the new consciousness will be that each of us recovers our own past, our own ethnic heritage, that we start remembering our past, that we find out about where we came from. And of course that's one of the most important keys to communication between kids and their parents; their grandparents. It's going to blow their minds, the older people, when parents find out that their kids say now, m[unclear: other] and father, you [unclear: camy] over from Yugoslavia, tell us about that, tell us about the dances, tell us about our grandparents, tell us about what kind of food you cooked, sing us some of your folk songs. Rock is the new culture, but look, rock is made out of black blues and white country music, two authentic kinds of culture. Now if it doesn't seem too far out for me to say it, rock is a protean music that can absorb any new ideas, and I'd like to see it absorb all the cultural ideas that are still waiting to be rediscovered. I'd like to see it absorb the folk music of Eastern Europe, or the songs of France or the folk music of England. In other words, I see no reason why rock can only take its material from our Southern blues.
The Beatles have already absorbed and made use of several cultural backgrounds - American, English, European, Eastern.
Right But it's strange that our own kids are more ready to go toward Oriental or Eastern traditions, than to Hungary or Poland or Germany. All of this might be because of their parents, because older people in this country have no culture of their own. I still hate my own past, I fear and I won't get over it until I work it through a lot more than I've done yet.
To what degree is it necessary for people to go through certain experiences before they can realize this consciousness, experiences like drugs, political confrontations...
Political confrontation is only a small part of it. A much more important factor, particularly for older people, is that the absurdity and sterility of their life comes home to them in one fashion or another all of a sudden. Each person has his own experience and reality. Probably the most important factor for change is the model that the new consciousness is supplying people who are still in the old consciousness or on the borderline. And this model speaks louder than any media, any word, any magazine article. Everybody knows what long hair means, what the clothes man, all the kinds of bad reactions to my book for reviewers is even more an indication that they all do know but just won't admit it. Long hair means freedom: some are frightened and angry; some come over.
Many people arc depressed today because this consciousness may be expanding, but at the same time everything else is coming down and it may just get to be too late.
Well, we are in a race between the police state and the new consciousness. It's a nip and tuck race. My book is not a cheerful book, I'm not a silly optimist. It's a love book or a happy book, but not a cheerful book. There is clearly every sign that fascism is coming. Why didn't I talk about it more in the book? Because so many people are talking about it. Because we all know it. I don't have to talk about fascism - just ask any black man, ask anybody who's been in jail. I assume that people who understand the book would know I've been to that place already.
Ok. It's a race. Where I differ from most people is that I think there's no question about the outcome. To begin with there cannot ultimately be repression of a group which constitutes an entire new generation. You can repress a class of society, or a race, or something like that - a particular race - but you can't repress your own children. First of all because they will ultimately be adults themselves and you'll be dead. And secondly, more immediately - and for some reason every commentator who has talked about this whole thing has missed this point - because most parents love their children.
Do you think there is any chance that the consciousness will change as this new generation grows older?
Well, the kids at Walnut Creek said, what are we going to be like when we get older? Are we going to be just like our parents? No, I said, there's not a chance in the world that you'll become like your parents. In the first place nobody who's ever tasted something better is going back to something worse. The new consciousness is not reversible. If I experience a really genuine relationship with another person, friendship and trust and love, do you think I have time anymore to go to some cocktail party in New York?
Secondly, when I was in high school, I told the students I was just so plain scared of the other kids that it dominated my whole experience. I felt if I ever dressed wrong, if I ever tried to shoot at a basket and missed awkwardly, if I wasn't some kind of a hero on or off the sports field or a success in class, that they would despise me, they would have no use for me they would kick me out of their group. And because of fear, I was willing to forget my dreams and the things I believed in. But kids today cherish and love each other and are not going to treat each other badly because one of them can't shoot a basket, or one of them can't play football very well. They're going to support each other, reinforce each other, hold each other up. Because it's aloneness that makes you give up your dreams. It's the fear of being out there all by yourself that makes you quit.
One morning I went down to the Oakland Induction Center, just to see what it looked like and by pure accident that day there was a boy who was going to refuse induction. That would scare me so much. The thought of jail and prosecution - I can't tell you how it would scare me. But out on the street, gathered there, were about 25 of his friends. Some older, some younger including the minister of his church, a Lutheran minister. And they all stood there out on that street, all the time that he was in there, just to express their solidarity. They held a service, they put a table out that had bread, and California plain old red wine and they played the guitar and they sang "Get Together" and they played "Blowing in the Wind" and everybody tasted the wine and the bread And I stood there and I was crying and I was feeling, well, if I had people like this who were my friends then maybe I would have courage.
Many of your critics have said it's terribly naive to think that the state isn't going to continue to repress this consciousness, to force it more and more underground, to make it less and less publicly acceptable.
Of course there is going to be more incidents like People's Park like Kent State, of course there are going to be things like that. But I don't think that they will be like the massive repression of detention camps and like Hitler or Russia under Stalin; I don't think that it's going to get to that degree because the instruments of repression are turning against their masters We're going to have an army that won't fight. You're going to have to look around for the National Guard? It's going to be young people and they may not be willing to shoot other young people.
That hasn't been the case so far.
No, that has not been the case so far, but I think it will be the case. Our National Guard example is from the midwest, a part of the country that is somewhat behind the times in many ways. I don't think it's going to be possible very much longer to count on the instruments of repression to perform their bad tasks. And let's see what's going to happen to the hardhats. The young men on the production line are revolting against discipline, revolting against strict authority, some of them are smoking dope right in the plant. How do I know this? I haven't read it anywhere. But many of my students who have spent summers working in a factory say lots of young workers there are starting to get into the whole new thing. Up to now, it's been possible to brainwash hardhats, to tell them the reason they're miserable is because of hippies and blacks. But how long can you hide the truth from them? And when they find out the truth, they are going to know it's the system, not the hippies or the blacks.
Where are the blacks now in your scheme of things?
Smiling at the whites for the first time and it's great!
I'll tell you - I had the enormous good fortune to have a long, long talk with Bobby Seale in prison in Connecticut And he is just a fantastically beautiful person. He's a black hippie. And he'd be glad to be called a black hippie He talked a lot about long haired white kids and how beautiful they are. And he said that one of the things the Panthers might like to do meday is to buy land and have not only black people on the land but white kids and anybody else who'd like to come on with them. And his whole conception is not separatist in any sense but rather that of all the revolution together.
Do you think the average black person is interested now in getting a piece of the pie, rather than any kind of fundamental change in consciousness or society?
Well, we're only at the very beginning of the new consciousness. I'm sure you could show me to some college where 90 percent of the kids are just interested in getting a piece of pie. You could show me many students at Berkeley who are just interested in getting ahead in the world. So it's true, the consciousness hasn't touched many blacks yet. But all I can say is that the thing is coming that evolutionary thing - each year there are more people, black and white who represent the new consciousness.
Do you think it is necessary to have had a piece of the pie - to have achieved some kind of middle class status before you can afford the luxury of this conciousness?
The very first people to make it into the new consciousness were the losers. Now the second group are the winners, who have been through affluence. Now a third development will be skipping a generation or two generations and saying no we don't need to take somebody else's bad trip. We can see that affluence is no good and we don't have to go through 40 years of it to find out for sure. I say fewer and fewer people, white or black, will have to go the whole route in order to learn this.
The New York Times Book Review put you down for not coming to grips with the real terror and alienation that young people still experience today.
That reviewer well, like his trip is despair. He says at the very end that we mustn't evade the awful truths about where we are. He's trying to tell me about despair. So in a certain sense he really didn't understand the book That is, you see. I've been there - to despair. I'm old enough to have had many, many years with just this kind of feeling. But this book is written on the far tide of despair. I page break was written by a person who thought the world was going fascist, who thought we were going to live in a closed society all our lives who thought that we were going to have to pretend to be different kinds of people than we really are in order to survive. Loneliness alienation, terror - I've been to all those places. My book is hopeful because out the other end of the tunnel I started to see something better.
Another criticism of the book has been that it isn't responsible. Because - it said - what we have to do is pull together and work for political change. And if that doesn't work we'll try bombing; and if that doesn't work we'll leave the country. But we can't just do nothing, we can't just wait for this consciousness to expand because it's too awful oil around us right now.
You think it's bad now, go back before there was even rock music, go back before there was any new consciousness - go back to the Fifties and McCarthy. All I can tell the kids is you maybe have to be my age to know how good it is now. They've got their music, they've got their friends they've got so any things that we didn't have.
Anyway, you're right, the book has been described as a cop-out, as Mr Marcuse says, an establishment version of the revolution. And although he said that, I still consider him one of my great heroes, a true prophet of the very revolution that I'm describing. His own books show the way, particularly Eros and Civilization.
But if what people mean is that you ought to go work in a ghetto or in a political campaign for Muskie or something like that, I say if that makes you fell better, go ahead and do it. But I don't think that's how change is going to come. Real change is going to come as individuals change their lives. I am by no means advocating a do-nothing program. I'm simply not advocating a program in the sense that a liberal would use the word: a strategy for new structures and new politics and door to door bell ringing and all that kind of thing.
I'm advocating that you strenuously and with a great deal of hard work and self discipline and struggle, that you change your own life, that you live according to the way you really believe in and that when you are ready to begin to help other people live their lives differently, then that's the revolution as I see it. That's not doing nothing, I think that is doing a great deal There was an interview I read somewhere with Ken Kesey in which he said just this. They were asking him what he was doing to free John Sinclair. He said man, I'm doing a whole lot. What he meant was just this that he was working on his own life and helping other people live theirs. And that's no cop-out.
You mentioned that the next book would be more personal.
Well, what this book has done for me is given me some additional freedom, some money and some free time I could take the celebrity trip and go to cocktail parties and stuff like that but it's no fun.
It would really be a trip if you were still in Consciousness II, the penultimate trip.
It sure would, but it's not the trip I want to take. I'm going to spend every cent of my money for education or consciousness in a wide sense-education of myself and my friends and whoever else can get into it. It's goinging to be learning in a communal sense.
Are you thinking of a commune?
I don't know yet, I really don't know. But whatever it takes that's how the money should be used Maybe some of the money will go to help other people do their own thing friends who want to try this or that. Some of it will go into changing my life expand the many ways to live that I wouldn't have dared try before. I think that the only requirement of doing that is to record it for other people to read.
Most of the things you are talking about don't require money.
Well, that's true, but for a person like me who is still rather scared of this world it may require some money. For example another person can hitchhike to California but I can't and I never will be able to - I'm a cripple of the older generation in that way I'm just scared. So there are things - it won't take much, but it'll take a little to do these things.
The thing I would like to write about eventually is one person's change of conciousness, what it means to go through these changes. I'd like to share my feelings with older people who can relate to the things that I've learned I've been getting so much mail from people who say, "I'm 50 years old, my husband is 56, we have one son who is 5 and one who is 1 or 16 and we have felt and thought all of these things and we couldn't say them." I've learned this incredible thing about what people call Middle America. I've learned that Middle America has all the feelings that I've expressed in my book, but has not believed in them, repressed them, denied them. These people couldn't go directly to Rolling Stone or even to their own children.
Now there's one lady who read the New Yorker article and she wanted to read it out loud to her husband But in the middle she broke down and began to cry and then she described how he took the magazine away and he read it aloud to her and she said they both realized that their kids have been right about everything and what they've been trying to say all along is really the truth. She said they both sat there and made up their minds that they weren't going to hassle their son any more about his clothes or his hair These letters, from small places in Massachusetts or Oregon or Colorado, these letters say you've given us a new vision of this whole generation.
Is there anything we haven't covered?
Well, I want to tell young people if that's who the readers of Rolling Stone are. I want to tell them about what I've discovered about the older generation. The older generation is not the enemy and it is not hopeless and is not beyond having it's own aspirations. I've sort of uncovered this whole goldmine of feelings in older people just by getting all this mail. It's blown my mind and I'd like it to blow their minds. Because the magazines and the newspapers don t tell you the truth about how many people there are who really groove on what the new consciousness is. There's a whole underground movement in this country and it's just the opposite movement from what Spiro Agnew is referring to - it's not a movement of fear and hatred and polarization, it's a movement of reaching out towards the younger people, reaching out toward their experience and reaching out toward new discovery of self - it's happening everywhere, not a mass movement yet but it's there all around, all you need is eyes and ears. This thing is as inevitable as evolution.
I wonder if it's evolution of Just a flash, a little spurt In the history of man's overall suicide trip.
My own conviction is that in other periods the basic underlying material fact of life - and here I get back to being a Marxist in a way - was scarcity. You had to fight other people because there wasn't enough. And I think the basic, material fact of our lives now is that there can be enough I don't say there is. God knows most people in this world still live in hardship and poverty. But for the first time in all of human history there can be enough.
We have the technology to produce more than enough.
Therefore man is no longer a wolf. Man is no longer the enemy of every other man because now there is material basis for a real human community. My book is an attempt to express that truth; we have arrived; for the first time we have the resources now to enable us to be totally human. You could say that we may yet throw away that chance. But I'm on optimist and what I did in the book was to project a vision - you might almost call the book utopian fiction, you know, like the three consciousnesses are like fictional ideas in a way - but the idea is I wanted to present a vision; this is how it could be, this is how it can be, this is how it will be if enough of us feel the vision.
Not ell of us are so optimistic. But it's really enormously encouraging to read your book. I had to stop once in a while when it brought tears to my eyes and say to myself. I sure hope he's right.
But isn't it part of making it happen to have the vision? No good world is made out of despair. Let's put it this way supposing for a moment that the vision is a mistake. What then have we got to look forward to: the police state, fascism, sterile art? So why not let's have the vision. The point is that the alternative is unimaginable. One of my greatest friends said that there used to be no future. She said that none of us used to believe in a future, in any future, that there was no such thing as a future. And now we have the chance to believe in a future and if enough of us do there will be a future. The book is an attempt to make it happen and I say there's nothing wrong with that.
Remember what John and Yoko said: war is over if you want it. So I say the vision is hero if you want it, you know. That's the idea in the book. I'll leave it at that the vision is there if you want it...