The Mamas and the Papas On New Year's Eve in Australia


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By the time I graduated from university in 1966 at the age of 21 I owned two LP albums. One was given to me by my mother after my father’s death in May 1965. The LP was Handel ’s Messiah. That LP was symbolic of the classical music influences from my parents in the years of my life from 1944 to 1966. The other LP I bought in the late summer of 1965 or early autumn, the first weeks of my final year at university in an honours sociology course. The album was Barrie McGuire’s The Eve of Destruction. On 25 September 1965 the song went to #1 on the charts while the LP topped at #37.

Tonight, in the last hour of the year 2007, I heard some of this song as part of an ABC TV special California Dreamin’: The Songs of the Mamas and the Papas. I got a hit of nostalgia or perhaps more accurately an excitation of the nerves, a movement, an awakening, an increase of feelings in my heart1 and so wrote this prose-poem. -Ron Price with thanks to ABC TV: 10:50-11:45 p.m. 31/12/’07, California Dreamin’: The Songs of the Mamas and the Papas; and 1Shoghi Effendi, Letter to an Individual Believer," 4 November 1937 in Baha’i Writings on Music: A Compilation, Baha’i Publishing Trust, Oakham, England.

All these songs lingered
on the edges of my life
and even penetrated into
the core from time to time
from those halcyon days
of the fifties to the seventies.
Clive James and Peter Porter, in their discussion of 'books of the forties and fifties,’ talked about music, classical and other, taking over from literature in the last half of the twentieth century in providing that sense of certitude, although irrational and essentially appealing to the emotions, that people felt a need for in their lives. Among the many topics they talked about relevant to music and poetry--my own interests--was the decline of ideology after WW2 and into the 1950s as well as the role that Alexander Solzenitsyn's books played in the fifties, sixties and seventies in providing an important ingredient in the residue of ideology insofar as the Left was concerned, as fascism had done insofar as the Right was concerned in the two previous decades.

A reservoir of skepticism in the west, and especially in England, returned the centre of poetry to the individual and away from its expression and interest in the general society in those same years. I have often thought with some other analysts of poetry that advertising and sociology became in the post-WW2 period new forms of poetry. -Ron Price with thanks to "Clive James and Peter Porter," Sunday Special, ABC Radio, 5:30-6:00 p.m., 2 December, 2001.

As ideology wound down in the fifties,
the sixties and seventies, we began to
grow and grow all over, unobtrusively.
So it is that I've spent my adult life
with people who have no ideology,
plenty of convictions and passionate
intensity all too much of it, but no
ideological centre—the centre did
not hold and that mere anarchy was
loosed upon the land as well as that
blood-dimmed tide drowning that1
ceremony of innocence, if innocence
it was, if innocence it be, back then.

People made homes for their minds—
reading novels, listening to music,
watching TV, working in the garden,
absolutely no interest in going to meetings--
except to learn macrame, lead lighting and--
inevitable work-associated special planning
sessions at 8 p.m. or 8 am or noon instead of
lunch--or a new course, or something at uni,
or a movie, or a volunteer job where ideology
was not desired, contemplated or required.

For ideology did not grab anyone anymore
and religious ideology became the no-no
among no-no's--amidst endless subjectivity.
Superficial and not-so-superficial pragmatism
had made everyone into practical realists,
enjoying as far as they were able the complex
juxtapositions of pleasures and disenchantments
thrown up on the shore of their life-worlds.

And slowly, yes slowly, a new ideology,
a new dogma, grew until it came to manifest
an attractive form, a gentle beauty all around
the world with holy dust at the centre--and
a slow greening of people from that desolate
garden of arid and unholy disenchantment.2

1 From a poem by W. B. Yeats quoted in thousands of places.
2 The Baha'i Faith spread slowly, unobtrusively around the world as Barry McGuire and The Mamas and the Papas grew to young adulthood and finally into old age. Music helped, as Peter Porter and Clive James pointed out above in their discussion. I immensely enjoyed these musical artists; they enriched my centre—but they, nor music as an art form, were never the centre. Music, it seems to me, is essentially non-ideological. Of course, it can be used by ideology for its purposes and has been for millennia.

Ron Price
2 December 2001
Updated 1/1/08.