Death Is Not The End, Part 3:

 The Golden Road (To Unlimited Devotion)

Every spiritual text I've ever read always emphasizes that the path to enlightenment is through simple humility. It's grade school physics: Place yourself at the bottom and all things will come to you. This is what both Cobain and Garcia did through taking their music and their art seriously, but not themselves. The Grateful Dead were never accused of being The Greatest Rock and Roll Band In The World or The Only Band That Matters. They simply started out as Mother McRee’s Uptown Jug Champions in the Haight district of San Francisco smack dab in the middle of the only renaissance the United States has ever seen, and the first one the world had seen for hundreds of years. Make no mistake, the renaissance of the Sixties blossomed when it did, exactly one generation after the end of World War II, because the most economically and militarily secure nation in the world, which has never fought a foreign war on it's own soil, had soundly defeated fascism after a bloody struggle, then financially rebuilt both of it's key enemies, drew the cultural wagons in a circle and made the fiscal and emotional security of the country so stiflingly insular that the conformity of the Fifties had to be overcompensated by the explosion of freedom of consciousness of the Sixties. And the torchbearers lighting out for the territories such as Kerouac, Ginsberg, Burroughs, and Cassady had already realized the suffocation the post-war years would bring before the Fifties had even started. By the time that infamous jug band from the Haight had already changed their name to the Warlocks (which was, ironically enough, also the name of a band at the same time from the completely opposite end of the musical/philosophical spectrum that changed their name again to become the Velvet Underground) and then again changed their name to the Grateful Dead, Kerouac, Dylan and the Beatles had already come and gone, split the scene to concentrate on what they had to do after blazing trails that have still yet to be exhausted.

Kurt Cobain was born between the time the Grateful Dead recorded their very first album, in January of 1967, and the time it was released in March (and apparently a photograph of Courtney Love as a child adorns the 1969 Dead album "Aoxomoxoa.") By that time, months before the Summer of Love, John Lennon had already wanted out of the Beatles for over a year, Dylan was a happy, family man recuperating from a lifestyle-altering motorcycle accident in Woodstock, New York, and that small yet historically steeped artists community he called home would play host to the largest Music, Arts and Crafts festival the world had ever seen two years down the line. Before the 70s even got started, the Beatles would have broken up completely, Kerouac and Cassady would be dead, a murder would occur feet from the stage at the free Stones concert at Altamont while the band was playing (by the Hells Angels whom the Grateful Dead advised the Stones to hire as security), and the whole scene would have been pounced on by straight society, choked, strangled and sold back to them.

The rallying point for any sane person growing up in these times was the futility of the war in Vietnam, which has only recently been denounced as a charade by top dogs such as former U.S Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, a key architect of the Vietnam War. No, the United States should not have been in Vietnam, he finally admitted. It was a waste of life and money and resources "that could have been halted more than a decade before it ended, or avoided altogether." McNamara, who served as defense chief under the Kennedy and Johnson administrations before leaving office in 1968, oversaw the build-up of U.S. combat troops and personnel in Vietnam and Indochina in a war that eventually proved unwinnable. In memoirs published in 1995, he sparked controversy by saying that he and other U.S. policymakers had been ``terribly wrong'' to have allowed the conflict to escalate. McNamara, who last visited Hanoi in 1995 just months after the normalisation of diplomatic ties, said he now felt the risks of Vietnam succumbing to Chinese or Soviet control -- a tenet of the so-called domino theory -- had been overstated.

``Did we exaggerate the danger? I think so,'' he said. ``It is less and less likely to me that they (the Vietnamese) would have permitted a unified, independent Vietnam to be used as a Chinese base or Russian base for extension of Chinese or Soviet hegemony across Asia. And yet that's what we feared at the time.'' But McNamara added that U.S. concerns about the risks associated with an all-out invasion of North Vietnam -- including the possibility of a nuclear war with China -- had nonetheless been justified. He said he had only recently learned that Vietnam's late President Ho Chi Minh and its former Prime Minister Pham Van Dong had visited Beijing twice during the early 1960s and received assurances from Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai that Chinese combat forces would help counter any U.S. invasion. ``What I've heard makes it (an invasion of North Vietnam) sound even more dangerous. Thank God we didn't do it.'' The Vietnam War ended in 1975 with the fall of U.S.-backed Saigon to the forces of Communist North Vietnam. Agreement for the withdrawal of U.S. forces had been reached in January 1973 at talks in Paris. At the end of the war the cost in terms of human lives was 58,000 Americans, 3.6 million Vietnamese and thousands more combatants from third countries.

For the past three decades the streets of America have been filled with the dazed and confused spirits the military abandoned as soon as their tours of duty in Vietnam were over. Ronald Reagan did as much damage to American society by cutting off refuge to the psychologically disabled (be they veterans of the war or not) than all the casualties and fatalities from the Vietnam war that never came back. The trails blazed by American servicemen over in Vietnam were the same orders forwarded from Agamemnon to Achilles. Same hell, different millennium. And the recent suicide of the US Navy’s top admiral Jeremy Boorda is a psychological textbook example of retroactive guilt: not being able to conscionably wear his own medals for valor which he was awarded during that war, his conscience got the better of him and realized that his own measure of self worth was foundationed on heroic deeds in a war that becomes more of an embarrassment as time wears on. Bang.


Death Is Not The End, Part 4:

Help On The Way