The Day The Music Died

Anyone who is prepared to admit that he lived long enough to remember the sixties will recall a unique period in modern history. It seemed for a few years that on the eve of destruction, a great era of idealism was dawning. There was something in the air...

A whole generation was finding its cultural feet through a revolution in music. Black folk music, the music of slavery, was adopted and adapted by a young white audience. The simple inexpensive acoustic guitar was transformed into an electric juggernaut that could out-blast the largest symphony orchestra. At the same time, there was an equally sweeping revolution in the recording studio: instead of merely pointing a microphone at a band, sound recording achieved the sophistication and flexibility of a motion picture.

Wasn't it Daniel O'Connel who said, "Let me write the songs of a nation, and you can write its laws"? If ever there was a generation that expressed itself through music, it was the generation of the sixties. There was a feeling that all you needed was love and that with a little help from our friends, the times would be a-changing.

However, there came the day the music died. An entire generation woke up to find that its California dreaming had degenerated into a lysergic acid nightmare that had corrupted and ruined many thousands of lives.

And yet, like all great lies, there must have been a single pure note of truth in all the excess and immorality. Nothing can exist which is entirely false. It cannot have a foothold in this world. In every lie, there must be a grain of truth. What was a single note of truth that became distorted into the great lie of the sixties?

When the Holy Temple was standing, there was an event of great joy that took place during the festival of Sukkot. Water would be brought up from the Gihon Spring south of the Temple Mount with great ceremony and procession. It would be poured on the Altar, and from there the water would descend to the depths of the earth. The Mishna tells us that if you never experienced the joy of the Simchat Beit HaSho'eiva, you had no idea what real joy was.

At night, the water-drawing ceremony was accompanied by music and dancing of incomparable joy. Massive candelabra, taller than a house, shone out into the night. There was not a courtyard in Jerusalem that was not bathed in their light.

And they danced. They danced and they danced. And who was it that danced? The ordinary people? The young? No. The greatest Torah sages, the talmidei chachamim, were the ones who danced, for it was only they who were certain to harness this tremendous excitement and direct it to the service of God.

The chapter of the Talmud that describes this celebration is called "HaChalil" - The Flute. The word chalil is related to chalal, meaning "an empty space." The sound of the flute comes from the empty space inside it, from the vibrating column of air.

But the word chalil is also connected to another word in Hebrew, chillul - desecration. That empty space, that chalal, is a sound canvas on which the sounds of holiness, of the greatest simcha, can be painted. However, that chalal can also generate a music of spiritual vacuum, a drainpipe into which thousands of lives can vanish. Music can be a stairway to Heaven, but it can also be an elevator ride to the other place.

The Talmud teaches us that the Second Holy Temple was destroyed because of sinat chinam, which is usually translated as "baseless hatred." The cure for baseless hatred is ahavat chinam - unconditional love. The literal translation of sinat chinam is "free hate" and the literal translation of ahavat chinam is "free love." If your memory serves you well, you'll remember that this was the slogan of the sixties - "Free Love." Of course, "free love" in the mouth of the pop philosophers turned out not to mean unconditional love at all, but rather unconditional taking and unbridled indulgence.

There was one note of truth in the distorted strange brew of sixties' philosophy: All you need is love, but without a Love of God, those echoes of messianism were doomed to vanish into a purple haze of selfishness and immorality.

More articles available at Ohr Somayach's website.