Thoughts on poverty and homelessness in the U.S.A.

Posts tagged ‘jimi hendrix’

Et tu, flower child?

I thought that Wavy Gravy was just a Ben and Jerry’s ice cream flavor, but then I saw this (and “Saint Misbehavin”’ is a perfect title, by the way):

(“Saint Misbehavin'” trailer)

and this:

(“Woodstock Nation” documentary)

and this:

(Wavy Gravy at Woodstock)

and this:

http://www.rippleeffectfilms.com/wwwavy  (“Saint Misbehavin'” documentary film official web site)

“What we have in mind is breakfast in bed for 400,000…  In fact, it’s everybody.  We’re all feeding each other.  We must be in heaven, man.  There is always a little bit of heaven in a disaster area…”

Wait a minute, wait a minute.  Wait.  Wait just one darned minute here.  I am NOT feeding anyone else here but myself.  Personal responsibility.  Self responsibility.  I take responsibility for me, myself and I.  That’s all.  You need to take responsibility for yourself.  I work hard for my money and I have just enough food for myself, thank you very much.  I am not giving any of it to you, Mr. Moocher.  Get your own food.  Get a job.  Go to work and make some money and buy your own food.  How is it my fault that you made the choice to come to this concert, to listen to music?  You could have stayed home.  You chose to commute out here just to listen to some music, and you don’t have the money to pay for your food, to pay the musicians, to pay the promoters, pay for your spot on my land?  So how is that my problem?  Do you know how much money we put into producing this concert?  How dare you come here on my land and dirty it up with your unbathed bodies, and then you want free food too?  Who the heck are you?  My fellow American?  Ha!  How do I even know that you’re even legally in this country?  Can you prove that you’re a U.S. citizen?  Show me some I.D.  Ha, again!  You’re all a bunch of moochers!

And while we’re on the subject.  I have plenty of money to see a doctor when I’m sick, so don’t come whining to me that you can’t afford to see  a doctor, that you don’t have health insurance, blah, blah, blah.  Stop being such a lazy, whining, moocher and take self-responsibility.  Get $30,000 out of your pocket and pay for those medical expenses yourself!  If you don’t have $30,000 then work for it.  Take on a second job.  Or a third job.  Or a fourth.  Heck, you don’t need to sleep at night!  Work!  Take responsibility, work, and pay those bills.

Ehem.  (She stops to clear her throat, taking responsibility for her own phlegm, of course.)

The Mad Bag Lady has spoken!

Point is, we no longer live in a society.  (A society being people working, living and cooperating together, i.e., as a group.)  We are now, hundreds of millions of us, a bunch of rugged individualists who happen to live upon the same continent but separately.  We don’t want to share.  We don’t want to care.  We are individuals accepting responsibility only for ourselves, not for each other, nor for what we do or say to each other but for ourselves as individuals only.  What I say and do to myself matters.  What I say and do to you does not.  Do you understand?  I am here to help myself not you, to get what I can for myself, not you.  Comprendez?

Oh yes, now I understand exactly what you’re telling me.  And there’s only one small problem with what you’re describing:  That is not a society.  What we have here in the U.S.A. is a former society.  Some might call us a failed society.  Rugged individualists who only care about themselves, not the greater good, not even their neighbors do not form a society.  They’re like men trying to be islands.  Can’t be done.  We’re all dependent on each other in some way or another.  When we try to do it all on our own…  Well, it might appear glamorous when we tell stories of ourselves riding off into the sunset–the loner, the rebellious lone ranger whom no one understands.  But in reality, outside of the story, doing it all alone just doesn’t work.  Yet we insist on remaining a society of loners.  Our selfishness and greed have made us lonely.

But, apparently, this was not always true, as the footage above suggests.  Apparently, there was a time, not so long ago, in which many people, perhaps the majority of Americans–believed that we were all in this together, a society of people working, living, playing, enjoying music–together.  Yes, we can exercise our individuality by experimenting with different musical, clothing and living styles, but we are all connected, united–though our individual states may vary.

–Rod Serling understood this, by the way:

In the”Time Enough At Last” episode, Henry Bemis finds that, as last man on earth, he no longer needs to make compromises in order to deal with other people.  He is now, seemingly,  free to do whatever he wants.  Yet he is unable to even read a mere book in this destroyed world.  Everything that he took for granted–the entire society that he had lived in–had been created by other people who’d come before him, his parents, grandparents, and a surrounding community.  Now, along with his fellow human beings, everything the human race had collectively created (and was about to create) was gone.  Could Bemis possibly rebuild an entire world–a world that took billions–no more than that!–of people to create over a period of centuries?  All by himself?  In one, single lifetime?  Now Mr. Bemis has all the time in the world to read his books.  To be the rugged individualist, at last!  And no other human being can stand in his way.  But when his glasses fall and break, he realizes, there is no other human being alive to repair them.  So his new-found freedom really isn’t freedom at all.  He is limited by his own personal resources.  Without a community of other people to help him, he can’t even read a book–though books surround him.  And, it goes without saying, it took an entire human race to write, publish and produce those books.  Just as it took a human race to create the technology for glasses, contact lenses and LASIK surgery.)

But it’s interesting to note that Rod Serling’s “Twilight Zone” series aired during the 60s.

So what happened to us?  Flower child, where did you go?  How did your ideals change from peace and love, seeking the greater good to seeking what’s greater for Numero Uno, the biggest, baddest iPhone, iPod, I…I…I?  What made us change from singing songs about “love is all you need” and “put a little love in your heart” to “Move, B—ch, get out the way…I’m about to punch your lights out…” (Ludacris), “F–k You” (Cee Lo Green) or “We R who we R… Tonight we’re going hard, just like the world is ours, we’re tearing it apart…” by Ke$sha (and she actually spells her name with the dollar symbol?  Can she make it more obvious why she’s in the music business?)

Watch this old interview with Jimi Hendrix and tell me, honestly, could we possibly hear a rock star TODAY speak with such down-to-earth, philosophical candor, humility and intellect?  Name one current celebrity who could say these words in a televised interview:

“We’re playing for our sound to go inside the soul of the person…and see if they can awaken some kind of thing in their minds…’cause there are so many sleeping people…  I don’t really live on compliments.  Matter of fact, it has a way of distracting me.  I know a whole lot of other musicians and artists that are out there today, they hear all these compliments…so they get fat and satisfied, and then they get lost and they forget about the actual talent that they have and they start living into another world…  Money is getting to be out of hand now…  Musicians, especially young cats, they get a chance to make all this money and…they lose themselves and forget about the music itself.  They forget about their talents. They forget about the other half of them.”

Whew.  Would someone like Jimi Hendrix even “make it” today?  And further, in this age of Bill O’Reilly and Rush Limbaugh, would a mild-mannered, soft-spoken, thoughtful talk show host like Dick Cavett have any success today?  Perhaps if he changed his attitude and became aggressive, rude, loudmouthed and overbearing.  Yes, that would be more entertaining.  Why do we find that to be more entertaining?

Don’t get me wrong here.  I’m not on a “kids today are listening to the devil’s music” rant.  (I’m a bag lady, not an old lady, remember?)  And I like Katy Perry’s “Firework” which is currently number one on the USA Billboard charts.  I’m sure there are some nice, kind, soft-spoken, thoughtful, introspective, intellectual rock stars out there.  Somewhere.  Perhaps not in the US.  Perhaps not successful or famous.  Perhaps not anyone I’ve ever heard of.

But when we look at our culture, at the music, the films, the books, the everyday human interaction in today’s society how can we not see the death of idealism, the lack of community and the lack of love?  My question is, what happened?  It was little more than forty years ago, and now, suddenly, we’ve entered this era.  Not an era of “we” but of “me.”  We won’t gather at Woodstock, or anywhere else, unless we’ve got the money to pay for the tickets.  Partying, enjoying music, enjoying life in general is now a luxury reserved only for the wealthy.  (But then again, why gather anywhere with anyone when we can stay home and watch it all on TV?)

Yet many of us continue to lament the loss of the sixties.  We ask repeatedly, where did the hippies go?  Why did they betray us?  Did they all just “sell out,” deciding there was more money to be made in corporate America than in t-shirts, jeans, peace signs and good music?  Did those hippies who refused to let go of their ideals end up homeless and destitute, rejected by a society that no longer shares the same values?  Perhaps some of them have died off, following in the footsteps of Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix who died “before they got old.”  Or perhaps they’re hiding behind suits and ties, heels and briefcases, afraid to rebel against authority, conforming in appearance, but wishing, secretly, that the 60s would make the reruns.

In a video above, Wavy Gravy refers to Woodstock as a disaster area.  Why?  Did he feel sorry for the crowd of young people who lacked food and other resources on their nomadic journey toward fun and good music?  Yet we look back upon that “disaster” and wish we could live it today (or relive it for those of us who’d experienced Woodstock the first time around.)  If that disaster looks so attractive to us today, then what does that say about us?  Could it be that the money and material things we’ve accumulated aren’t making us happy after all?  That hundreds of thousands of people gathering on an undeveloped plot of land without food, water or a chance to take a bath attracts us because we’re just that lonely?  That all we really need, rather than money and material things, is just to be around each other?  And to be without material things would just be “heaven” if we could all just be together, love each other and hear some great music?

If we know the above is true then why do we continue to work so hard just to accumulate more material luxuries?  Why have we stopped working at being better people and at getting along with our friends and neighbors and chosen instead to emphasize the need for material possessions in our lives?

The irony is that we could, collectively, bring back the 60s in a heartbeat.  Yes, anytime we’d like.  Right now, for instance.  But not as individuals.  As a society.  If a large number of us chose collectively to believe in, to support, once again, the ideals of community, of giving, of peace and love, kindness, of non-material things… If we chose to enrich our spirits rather than our bank accounts, to value the soft-spoken over the loudmouthed, the musician over the icon, the peace and love over the paycheck…If we made this choice to be the peace we seek in the world, and we did this all at once…all at the same time…

Would we hear the high-pitched scream of Wall Street, dying in agony for the last time?

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Homeless Heroes…

Thought I’d give some credit to today’s inspiration.  On a Scroogle search today I came across Djelloul Marbrook’s article, “The Homeless as Prophets and Heroines.”  As a self-professed, mad, bag lady, I was,needless to say, intrigued.

Here’s a link:

http://newsblaze.com/story/20100612112133delm.nb/topstory.html

Madness is often defined as “abnormal” or unusual behavior.  That means, anyone who is different might be considered mad.  As many of us know, homosexuality was once listed in the DSM (Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) as a mental illness.  Today, that is no longer the case.

And so, with the swiftness of a pen across paper, or perhaps a finger tapping upon a computer keyboard, thousands of people were suddenly “cured” of their madness.  Someone decided they weren’t crazy after all, and so they were cured.  Just like that.  Madness, thou art a fickle disorder…

With this thought in mind, I came across another web site:  www(dot)PaulaJCaplan(dot)net.  Caplan wrote a book entitled, “They Say You’re Crazy: How the World’s Most Powerful Psychiatrists Decide Who’s Normal.”  She writes about how a tiny minority of our population decide what constitutes sanity or insanity.  Why are we allowing a small number of “experts” decide what is “normal”?

Mental illness does exist, and I’m not trying to suggest that those who really do suffer from it shouldn’t get help.  I’m simply stating that in our society we are moving toward accusing those who are different or who just don’t fit in of being mentally ill.  We are moving toward enforced conformity.  Part of the reason for this is our fast-paced society.  We just don’t want to take the time anymore to understand someone else or to learn how to interact better with people who are different from ourselves. We’d rather force them to conform than allow them to continue to challenge us and our status quo with their eccentric and unusual behavior and lifestyle.

Some homeless people are mad-crazy.  Others are just mad-angry or mad-nonconformist.  Some people live in poverty because their talents and skills are just not appreciated in a financial way by our society.  This is often true of artists.  It is heartbreaking, but I’ve seen some very talented musicians who were homeless.  They strum their guitars and sing their songs on the street still believing that someday, someone will discover their great talent…  And it just doesn’t happen.

Sorry, but it doesn’t happen that way anymore, not for most of us.  Perhaps it never really did work that way.

You could be the next Rembrandt or the next da Vinci, and no one will ever know.  Our society just doesn’t reward creativity.  We need artists.  We watch television, go to see movies, read books, gaze at pretty paintings, but we rarely consider the lives of the artists who wrote, painted or filmed that project.  We take artists for granted.  We take what they create but don’t feel the need to reciprocate.

Okay, I’m going off on another tangent here.

Suffice it to say, artists are only one type of homeless hero/oine.  Artists create whether or not we are paid for it.  We write, paint, sing, strum, even though no one is listening, watching or paying us for it.  Our society understands this and continues to just not pay us for it.

There are other homeless heroes–the “battered woman” who flees abuse and ends up in a shelter with her children, the runaway teen, also fleeing abuse and sleeping on the street, the Chris Gardners who refuse to work at minimum wage jobs and accept a life of poverty who’d rather be “free” living on the street than be controlled by the system.  They think their “ship” will one day come in.  It never does.  Their spirit breaks.  And they give up.  (And once they do give up, they become the “crazy” homeless people we often see on the street.)

And then there’s the artist who keeps creating–today’s Jean-Michel Basquiats who are never discovered.  Their art and the joy it could give us will never be known.

Because we’ve created a classist (as opposed to a classless) society.  One must have an agent, a manager, connections, a cool outfit, a cell phone, and the “right look.”  One must be “18- to-look-younger” and have a product that “sells.” Da Vinci and Rembrandt wouldn’t “make it” today.  Neither would Jimi Hendrix, Charlie Chaplin, or Charles Dickens.

We’re missing out on a lot by relegating the poorest among us to permanent destitution, by refusing to help those in need.  What we fail to see (as a society) are the richest that lie hidden within each and every human being, no matter how lost and forlorn one might appear on the surface–the hidden talents, wisdom, and intellect–contributions that each and every one of us is capable of making to society, once we are allowed to thrive, to pursue our own happiness and rise up to our fullest potential.

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