When I was writing my memoir, Grandma’s Gangsta Chicken Curry and Stories of my Hippie Sixties (published by Penguin Random House in May 2021,) I had three places in mind for me to use as locations of my “place-based history”. My village in Majidee, Johor Bahru in Malaysia, Haight Ashbury in San Francisco where “Summer of Love” was erected, and Woodstock, in Upstate New York. These places would be in my mind as interplays and interconnected conceptual locations, and heteroglossia of my narrative of growing up. In them, I saw the complexity of American democracy at work. And finally understood why Americanism could be a strange brew and an addictive substance of the mind, body, and soul. A Ying and Yang of political consciousness.
“Summer of Love”
I was in Haight Ashbury about three years ago. Memories of my village were rocking and rolling in my head as I went on a tour of that historic town. Jimi Hendrix stayed there for a few weeks “rehearsing” for that grand show Woodstock. That was the “Summer of Love” of 1967. Two years before the great rock festival of the Sixties.
The next stop, as I gather materials for my next memoir, will be Woodstock, the historic site of the iconic years of the Hippie Sixties. –
The day came on a Sunday. Below are my notes on the much-awaited visit. A final stopover of my “road trip of the soul,” as a recent feature article on my book interview by Malaysia’s foremost newspaper The Star, put it.
A GANGSTA-HIPPIE SUNDAY
Today was a good day. A pilgrimage to Upstate New York, to the site of the historic concert of the Sixties. WOODSTOCK! Where Jimi Hendrix, The Who, The Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, Santana, and many others played.
My memoir narrated what happened in the Hippie Sixties, right there in my village. I lived through it as a “little ethnographer”. Glad to be able to tell gangsta stories of my Hippie Sixties.
Three years ago, I was in Haight Ashbury, San Francisco, California when I was in the middle of writing the memoir, GRANDMA’S GANGSTA CHICKEN CURRY AND STORIES OF MY HIPPIE SIXTIES.
Today, I brought my book to the site where history was made, and how globalization of ideas worked, and how I too was part of it.
A “Blue Note” rockpoem
I read this poem at a gathering of students and professors of Creative Writing, when I was writing the memoir. The reading was much appreciated especially by those who grew up in the Sixties and Seventies. One professor and a radical poet from Boston, Massachusetts said that he’d love to co-write rock poems with me! A nice word of appreciation there.
But the words below came out of the songs playing in my “Classic Rock head” for days. When I am not working on my memoir chapters, I’d write rhyming verses – of anything that was coming out of my head at that moment. And anything I am still angry about.
But the poem below is not about anger. About lyrical nostalgia. About what will forever be part of me. Rock logic. Rock consciousness. Rock as a spiritual force of liberalism in me. Yes, that contentious word “liberalism”, hated by many who read my political writings.
i fell asleep one evening when the band was playing
in a New York city jazz club and in my slumber i think i was meditating of the shape of the universe as it plays the sound of the Newtonian spheres in the wasteland of the uncharted frontiers of my surrealist Dadaist consciousness that is still grappling with the question if it wishes to be reality or an appearance as
it sits looking at the wall in the cave where Socrates and his pupils congregate …
there was a stairway to heaven
where the dust in the wind could be seen
smoke on the water rises up
excuse me while i kiss the sky i heard Socrates say
i am but a soldier of fortune
searching for that black magic woman
in a city we build on rock and roll
where time is measured in rock of ages
i have become a highway star
a child in time
a storm bringer
a machine head
all these as i clench my soul
and look into the eyes of the poet Neruda
and grab Rimbaud by the neck
to force words of the divine out of him
rolling stones, we have become
who. who the hell … is the Quadrophenia of my generation
that brown-eyed girl
they called “Maria Maria” of a sonnet of the sage Santana
ahhh … while my guitar gently weeps
as I let everything be
and imagine the long and winding road that leads to the yellow submarine
of a yesterday in memory of Michelle ma belle
i bathe myself in the poetry of Rumi
and in the pentatonic oceans of that profound harmony
of a Django Reinhardt
in the shelters of many a gypsy
i shall continue to close my eyes
while the music plays on
and while everything around me
smells like teen spirit
and each soul searches for nirvana
in bohemian rhapsody
where death on two legs aplenty
roam this fragile world eternally
i bid goodbye
to my rockpoem …
My Sixties Recorded
And thus, through my memoir, I recorded my stories. Though too young I was to be a subject or object of the Hippie Sixties in my village in Johor Bahru, in post-British-colonial Malaya, I remembered details I saw. Vivid, many of them. I could still hear conversations of the folks high on ganja playing in my head. I could not resist telling stories of joy, laughter, sorrow, melancholy, and poignancy of those years. Perhaps I was a “child anthropologist” at that time. Little did I know that I was going to work closely with a French anthropologist at Columbia University in New York city, on the anthropology of cybernetics. Forty years later.
I will continue to meditate upon the microbial phenomena of the symbolic interactions in the society I left behind and in the one I now fondly call home!