It was the late sixties and I was in an altered state of consciousness, though not one I had sought or gave me a thrill. I was sick and running a fever, had just gone to the doctor. His office was on Kirkwood, I seem to recall, though closer to downtown Bloomington than the Indiana University campus, or maybe just where the street transitioned from a college shopping area -- at that time record stores blasting Cream and selling posters and everything redolent of patchouli -- to a Midwestern town center.
I walked back to my car in a haze of sinus congestion and high temperature, and when I turned on the radio this song I'd never heard came on. The Beatles, into whose psychedelic phase I'd tuned after ignoring what I thought was a passing pop phenomenon, were saying in almost a rhetorical question, You say you want a revolution. Feverishly -- quite literally -- I paid close attention.
Revolution. It was in the air. I remember the first time I heard the word used seriously, at a party of grad students, most of the guys still proper enough to be wearing sports jackets and ties, the ladies in dresses. Some of the students were black, and race, in the context of the cultural and social tumult the nation was living, came up as a subject. Oh, we were all so polite. One of the black men countered a point I'd made, I forget what, by saying, with a smile, That's because you're white. And I politely riposted, Not quite. A certain Latino -- a word we did not use yet, any more than African-American -- consciousness was beginning to brew.
Then a good friend beamed his Cheshire cat smile and said, The point is: are we having a revolution?
A loaded word, for the friend, like me, was Cuban, and our country had already had a revolution, the real thing, political assassinations, guerrilla warfare, repression, torture, government overthrow, the full Monty. But my friend was serious, so were the polite black students, so was I. Revolution, yes, but what kind?
And now a message was being delivered through my car radio. By the Beatles, whose Sgt. Pepper's I'd listened to as if sacred song during the sacrament of marijuana. We'd rather free your mind instead. Was that it? I didn't get all the words that first time because I was tripping on my own viral infection. A line was being drawn, between the political radicals who Say that it's the institutions and the cultural radicals who All want to change your head.
I pondered this as I took my antibiotics and got better. Four decades later, I was still pondering, as the song came on when I tuned my car radio to a classic rock station. I cranked up the volume and sang, or rather bleated (one pleasure of driving alone is singing off key really loud) along with those guys, half of whom are dead.
Don't you know it's going to be all right.