Much of the power of the groundswell that was the Leftist Movement in the United States in the 1960s and 1970s was composed of the environmental movement. This aspect of the movement, which was otherwise considered largely political (or even, more accurately, one-dimensionally anti-war), was nowhere more powerful than in the music of the day. The Rock albums of the sixties are filled with paeans to the environmentalist notions of the time. Quicksilver Messenger Service, The Guess Who, and others nearly made a career of lamenting the damage being done to our environment, while bemoaning the happy, faultless state of peace that they claimed was our native population's legacy. Notwithstanding the error of that silly Rousseauean vision, it is interesting to note the Luddite character of this commonly held and romantically revered view of the world and our place in it.
This vision requires a couple of precursors. One, that mankind is a non-natural destroyer of the world environment, causing damage to a system that, without him, would exist naturally and blissfully for all of the other creatures and flora of the planet. The end-result of this view is that it would be best for the planet and its inhabitants if mankind simply ceased to exist. The other precursor is that the principle fault of man in his existence on this planet lies in his development and use of technology. In this view, held by a range of thinkers from hippies to the Unabomber, it is technology that hurts the environment and a return to less technologically advanced methods of making a living would be beneficial to the environment. Of course both of these views are tragically flawed, but they have powerful, romantic associations that make them attractive to many people. Who can deny the draw of the pastoral, unfettered by modern machines, view of the "state of nature"? Isn't it this romantic notion that fuels the hiking, camping and other niche industries?
Many of the ills of the modern world can be attributed to technology. Gun violence, obesity, nutritional related diseases, pollution, global warming and many other problems can be easily traced to an origin of modern technology. It is also true, however, that technology provides many cures for otherwise destructive situations and its usefulness far outweighs its destructiveness.
During the Movement, many of the proponents of change (i.e., revolution) were also caught up in the sexual and pharmacological aspects of the changing times. Over the course of what many felt was a "back to the earth" movement, a significant portion of the participants fell off the bus, due to drug problems and depravities associated with the new, more libidinous lifestyles.
Today, we find that the core of the Movement is still environmentalist in nature. The overtly political factions were peeled off into mainstream political parties or just dropped out. The "back to the earthers", though they may have been co-opted a bit in their need to continue in life and join the "work-a-day world", is still concerned with our pollution of the environment and mistreatment of animals. They may not have remained on the commune but they carry much of the same values with them in their daily lives.
I look at the song, "Thrasher", by Neil Young as a sort of history of this movement in the country. I have no evidence to back it up, but it fits nicely with the lyrics. I think there's little doubt about the drug abuse connection, but more obscure are the references to those seeking a new direction and the natural allusions of planting and harvesting. Obviously, the thrasher is a malignant force, though harvesting is not necessarily so. Is it the machine that's bad? Perhaps Neil should have been Amish?
Are his "companions" those in the Movement, who drifted into drug abuse, debauchery and the love of technology? Is the "light of day" the modern reality of technology? Certainly the reference to "the aimless blade of science" seems to be. Slashing the pearly gates seems to me to be the idea that pharmacology opened up heaven to anyone who wanted to use the hallucinogenic drugs that became available during the sixties. "Burned my credit card for fuel" indicates a return to primitivism. His companions had the best selection but became park bench mutations, lost in crystal canyons. Their motel waits with heated pool and bar, but Neil doesn't want any of it (he says). I really like some of the phrasing, here and the song itself is beautiful. I guess my interest in nature makes me susceptible to the lure of this philosophical view. I know I was enamored of Thoreau and Walden's Pond, as a child. I always wanted to learn to live off the land.
Anyway, read the lyrics and tell me what you think. The song is from "Rust Never Sleeps".
They were hiding behind hay bales,
They were planting in the full moon
They had given all they had for something new
But the light of day was on them,
They could see the thrashers coming
And the water shone like diamonds in the dew.
And I was just getting up, hit the road before its light
Trying to catch an hour on the sun
When I saw those thrashers rolling by,
Looking more than two lanes wide
I was feelin like my day had just begun.
Where the eagle glides ascending
Theres an ancient river bending
Down the timeless gorge of changes
Where sleeplessness awaits
I searched out my companions,
Who were lost in crystal canyons
When the aimless blade of science
Slashed the pearly gates.
It was then I knew Id had enough,
Burned my credit card for fuel
Headed out to where the pavement turns to sand
With a one-way ticket to the land of truth
And my suitcase in my hand
How I lost my friends I still dont understand.
They had the best selection,
They were poisoned with protection
There was nothing that they needed,
Nothing left to find
They were lost in rock formations
Or became park bench mutations
On the sidewalks and in the stations
They were waiting, waiting.
So I got bored and left them there,
They were just deadweight to me
Better down the road without that load
Brings back the time when I was eight or nine
I was watchin my mamas t.v.,
It was that great grand canyon rescue episode.
Where the vulture glides descending
On an asphalt highway bending
Thru libraries and museums, galaxies and stars
Down the windy halls of friendship
To the rose clipped by the bullwhip
The motel of lost companions
Waits with heated pool and bar.
But me Im not stopping there,
Got my own row left to hoe
Just another line in the field of time
When the thrashers comes, Ill be stuck in the sun
Like the dinosaurs in shrines
But Ill know the time has come
To give whats mine.