Bob Dylan Revisited on Wall Street

Note: this is a rejigged version of a post I wrote a couple of years ago:

Bob Dylan’s Mr. Tambourine Man is my all-time favourite song. I heard it for the first time in about 1964 or ’65, when my sister Laraine was on a Spring break from college. It was her second semester of college, I think, and after a stifling youth in the conservative suburb of Manhattan Beach, California, she was still on a high (in more ways than one) from the liberation that comes from leaving the family nest for the first time.One evening, she dug out a 45rpm and set up our “portable” record player. It weighed a ton, but was pretty high tech for its day. She told me to lie down, close my eyes and just listen to the words. At that time of my life, I was a pretty shallow character, but I looked up to Laraine because she was the brains in the family, so I complied with her request.I think I must have listened to that song a dozen times that night and every time I did, it had the same magical effect. For the first time in my life, I knew what it felt like to be transported. I’m not going to spoil the song for you or for me by analyzing it, but here is one of my favorite stanzas:

Then take me disappearin’ through the smoke rings of my mind
Down the foggy ruins of time, far past the frozen leaves
The haunted, frightened trees, out to the windy beach
Far from the twisted reach of crazy sorrow
Yes, to dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free
Silhouetted by the sea, circled by the circus sands
With all memory and fate driven deep beneath the waves
Let me forget about today until tomorrow

When Dylan went electric, many of his fans were appalled. While I was personally disappointed, I wasn’t appalled. It seemed to me like he was simply doing what he wanted to do at the time. Yes, I was critical and agreed with the general consensus that he had “sold out”, but it was his choice to make, not mine. Nothing of the magic of his early work was lost to me, but I quit looking for inspiration from him for decades.

I often return to those early Bob Dylan songs and for me they remain as magical as ever. I often wonder where the inspiration for them came. Apparently so does he. Here’s something I found in  Great Inspirational Quotes:

“I don’t know how I got to write those songs. Those early songs were almost magically written.”

This is highly relevant to me today as I contemplate trying to find something to say about the big news online today: Occupy Wall Street. Something about it has been bugging me from the beginning. On the one hand, I sympathise with them. On the other hand, their herd-like behaviour disturbs me. I’ve watched dozens of video clips and three things creep me out the most:

  1. The repetition of what is being said.
  2. The “consensus” rule that decides who will be allowed to speak.
  3. The collective high.

I saw all of that happen in the sixties, when my generation rebelled against the “establishment” only to become an establishment of our own. I learned this when I decided to cut my hair to make travel through the Middle East easier for me in 1970. Suddenly I wasn’t acceptable to my hippy culture any more. This wasn’t universally the case, but I certainly learned from the experience.

As time passed, so did the hippy era. Some clung to their ideals, but most got re-assimilated into the establishment. For the most part, those who embraced the American “ideals” of greed and selfishness the most were those who had embraced the hippy movement most ardently. Yes, while it was “cool” to do so, they passionately opposed the Vietnam War (especially those who were threatened by the draft) and called each other “brother” and “sister”, but it wasn’t long before the threat of military induction passed and “brotherhood” became an empty word.

I get the feeling that if today’s “establishment” wanted to bring OWS to a quick close, it could easily be done by offering the protesters jobs on Wall Street. Like the fear of the draft, most of them are driven by fear, not ideals. I hope I’m wrong and will be proven to be a cynical old man, but if you’ve ever seen a herd of sheep change direction out of fear or the promise of food, only to be sheered or slaughtered, you’d see what I mean. Why do I think this? It’s because so many of them were suckered into their college loans by the promise of high paying jobs and only got angry when the jobs weren’t forthcoming. Give them a job and they’ll go away and leave you free to rape and pillage again.

I’m going to close with a few more Bob Dylan quotes and a brief comment:

Everything passes. Everything changes. Just do what you think you should do.

I define nothing. Not beauty, not patriotism. I take each thing as it is, without prior rules about what it should be.

I don’t think the human mind can comprehend the past and the future. They are both just illusions that can manipulate you into thinking there’s some kind of change.

Another Bob Dylan song that I love is “The Times They Are a’Changin’”. At that time, I believed his words, but time proved Dylan (and me) wrong. Most of our generation was assimilated by the system and America returned to its greedy, war mongering ways. I like to hope that this time change will occur, but I don’t think it’s going to occur on Wall Street.

Being There Now with Be Here Now

I ran across Eckhardt Tolle’s bestseller, The Power of Now the other day. It’s an interesting book and highly recommended, but that’s not what this post is about. As soon as I saw the title, I went on a trip back in time, to when Ram Dass’s Be Here Now was the Now book of the moment. That’s what this post is about.

I met Ram Dass back in about 1969 or 70, after his guru, Neem Karoli Baba told me to go see him in Nainital, a beautiful city in the foothills of the Himalayas. I didn’t hesitate to go, but it wasn’t for the obvious reason – that Ram Dass was famous. In his incarnation as Richard Alpert, he was famous as the infamous (in conservative circles) Harvard professor who, along with Timothy Leary, helped popularize LSD. When he  traveled to India seeking enlightenment, he was introduced to Neem Karoli Baba and subsequently became Ram Dass. It’s a long story and one he tells best himself. If you want to read his story, check out his website.

The reason I did as directed was simply because Neem Karoli Baba told me to. I had only gone to see Maharaji out of curiosity, because he happened to be in Vrindaban at the same time I was, but after just one brief visit, I was already under his spell, if that’s the way to put it. There was just something about him. He shattered my preconceptions about what a guru should be like, but remained compelling to me in spite of my firmly held yoga purist’s convictions and prejudices.

I went to see Ram Dass as told and found him to be a really nice guy – warm and friendly and unpretentious. I also met some other devotees of Neem Karoli Baba. They came in all sorts of personality packages, but I found them refreshing. At the time, the world of Western Hinduism as I knew it was the world of yogic discipline. My summer job at the time was teaching hatha yoga and meditation at a retreat in the foothills of the Sierra Mountains. Maharaji’s followers didn’t seem “spiritual” at all. They just liked to hang out with Maharaji. No, they lived to hang out with him. I could relate to that, though I couldn’t quite put my finger on the reason why.

This will be a very long blog post if I don’t get to the point. The original title of this post going to be, “A Journey into Darkness.” It was going to be about how I let myself be driven by fear for a good portion of last week and the terrible realization that this and other negative emotions – everything from despair to greed, anger and pride – seem to be the driving force behind so many people’s entire lives. I’ve been aware of this intellectually for years, but the other day it hit me like a sledgehammer.

There were remnants of fear in my consciousness this morning when I sat down to work. I was going to bang out a quick blog post and then get back to work. Because I had been reminded of Be Here Now, I thought I’d google Ram Dass and see what he was up to. Then I randomly clicked this link and my eyes fell on these words from Neem Karoli Baba:

“The real contentment comes only when there is no desire, no hankering in your mind for anything. How can you say that you have got everything and do not want anything more when you are holding an empty vessel in your hand? You might be saying this with your mouth, but there would always be the worry in your mind about how the pot could be filled, always looking from side to side with the expectation that somebody will come and fill it up. Well, how can you call this contentment? When one sees that when the pot before him is full to the brim, it is emptied, and when it is empty, it is refilled of its own – that is contentment. If anyone wanted to give him anything, he would show that the pot was full already. What would he do with anything more? Even if he wanted to share it with others, where would he put it? This is the real contentment and it comes only through the grace of God. When you have full faith in Him, full reliance on Him, when you can surrender everything to Him, then that grace comes to you by itself – you do not have to ask for it or make any effort. Such is the value of faith in God.”

Neem Karoli BabaNeem Karoli Baba doesn’t look much like your stereotypical guru. He didn’t act like one, either. The only words of spiritual advice he ever gave me were, “love everybody and eat jalabis” and, when I asked him if he was my guru, he gave me an emphatic “No!” Jalabis are delicious Indian sweets, by the way, not a mysterious psychedelic drug. Make of his words what you will, they have been with me ever since that day.

I want to go on writing forever about the year I spent in India. To say it was magical would be an understatement. It’s time to close now, though. Thanks for visiting.

notes: I originally posted this about 2 years ago. I’m the guy with his hand on his hip at the top of the photo. It should be obvious who NKB is.