Grateful Dead, Brokedown Palace
The late author and Merry Prankster Ken Kesey told a story about a West Coast Grateful Dead gig when, after the tragic 1984 death of Kesey’s son, the whole band turned to him and sang “Brokedown Palace.”
Kesey recounted with tears in his eyes that it wasn’t until that moment that he really understood what art was. He said that “All my life I thought art was this [he stuck a fist in the air]. But at that moment I realized that art was really this [he made a hugging motion].”
Now, arguments about art and political engagement have been with us awhile. But isn’t it the case that Kesey’s gesture of revolution (the raised fist) and his gesture of love (the hug) are not contradictory at all? Aren’t love and friendship among a people what tyrants fear most? Love is raised like a defiant fist in the gloomy faces of history’s despots.
Recently, Glenn Beck attacked Simon Greer of the Jewish Fund for Justice for writing in the Washington Post that “to put God first is to put humankind first, and to put humankind first is to put the common good first.” Talk of the common good, Beck said, leads to death camps.
Once you get into the common good, it’s over. And this is the perversion that every minister, pastor, priest, bishop — every single person in America, every rabbi should be at the pulpit saying the same thing — get away from anyone who talks about the common good. Because the common good — if you put that first, and you reject individual — you are headed for the death camps.
Beck, of course, is criminally insane (death camps?!!), but here he’s speaking about something authoritarians of the ages have long believed: love and solidarity among the oppressed is a dangerous thing indeed. It is part of the dark genius of the American Right (and its darling, Ayn Rand) to disguise its authoritarianism in the deification of the individual and the demonizing of the community. Only the master can be loved.