This happened a long, long time ago: 1968. It happened far, far away: Chicago. About half of us, ten or fifteen strong, started up north, in an all-night Swedish bakery in Andersonville, working our way down Clark St. a block at a time, chanting out a beat as we deftly cut through the silent, black night: "do di da do do do do do, do di da do do do doooooo, do di da do do do do do, do di da do do do do do. Do di da do do do do do, do di da do do do dununununun, do di da do do do do do, do di da do do do do do."
What did this mean? At the time, we had no idea. We just knew we were mad as Hell, we weren't gonna take it anymore, and that this seemed like a good soundtrack to accompany our stealthy walking.
We turned West at Fullerton, then South onto Halsted. Things were hairy as we waded into, and subsequently out of, Lincoln Park, but we somehow avoided the trouble entirely -- looking back after a period of thirty-five years or so, I'd say it was those noises we were making, those guitar-like noises, that kept us safe.
The rest of us, also numbering between ten and fifteen, worked their way north, starting somewhere around the University of Chicago: some anarchist bookstore, some dingy basement apartment, some long-abandoned classroom, some decrepit housing project, some lonely park, some desolate intersection without even so much as a Yield sign, some bar, some church, some funeral parlor, some corner store, some sleeping fire station, some bus terminal, some bohemian hotel, some four-star restaurant, some dark alley, nobody knows for sure.
I can't say how they did it, but they got to Grant Park long before we did; in fact, by the time we'd met at the rendezvous point, they were already weaker by three -- another was limping, and two more couldn't see through the mace, blood, and tear gas in their eyes. I could tell their morale was low, and if their morale was low, our morale was low. We were all in this together, and we couldn't succeed at all if we didn't succeed as a cohesive unit. To cheer them up, I started making some funky guitar-like noises with my mouth, first slowly, then gaining speed with my momentum, fervor, and passion: Bow wah ah whitcha whaa, waah wa-ah whitcha waa.
There were a Hell of a lot of people in that park: five, ten, twelve thousand people, surging against this violent wall of totalitarianism, fighting to make themselves heard, struggling to maintain an identity, struggling to silence the silent majority, putting LSD in Buckingham Fountain (ultimately, a pointless move, since nobody drinks from Buckingham Fountain; a noble idea, nonetheless), fornicating in the grass, getting drunk on cheap wine and revolution, spitting in cops' eyes, leaping forward, getting shoved backward.
As the battle, and the blood, spilled onto Michigan Avenue, I lost track of four more Southside Boys; I later saw one of 'em on trial, but the other three, for all I know, disappeared up into the air, or maybe down into the depths of Lake Michigan.
See, they just weren't as vocal as we were, they couldn't muster the same kinds of guitar noises that we could, and that's why every single one of us from Andersonville made it to Chicago's Convention Hall, while only two made it from U of C.
With Mayor Daley within earshot, with a bunch of cops and National Guardsmen breathing down our necks, with dozens of TV cameras pointed on us (us!) while nearly everyone else was either being carted away in handcuffs; being beaten mercilessly with billy clubs, shields, helmets, shoes, wrenches, and anything else the keepers of the peace could get their hands on; or running (justifiably) for their lives, we marched right through those doors like a beacon of light, like some Heavenly flock. And like all those who had descended from Heaven before us, we brought with us a message -- a message of hope, a message of vengeance, a message of deliverance, a message of horrible justice:
Our guitar-like noises rained down on those who would hear it like a beatific fire, scalding the world with its purity.... And if only we hadn't done this twenty+ years before the advent of rap-rock music outfit Rage Against The Machine, verily, our message would have infiltrated the masses, irrevocably changing them and, ultimately, tipping the scales in favor of the Democratic canditate for president in 1968. As with so many prophets, seers, and messiahs, the world -- both the political world and the music world -- was not ready for our message, for we were too far ahead of our time.
As a result, we lost. Not only did we lose the election that year, but many of us lost our freedom, and even our lives. We tried to do what we can, but it was too much too soon.
Had Jesus had "Bulls On Parade"; had Gandhi had "Killing In The Name"; had Sacco and Vanzetti had "Fistful Of Steel"; had we had "Bombtrack"; had Woody Guthrie had "Sleep Now In The Fire"; had Cesar Chavez had "People Of The Sun"; had Susan B. Anthony had "Ashes In The Fall"; had Vladimir Lenin had "Guerilla Radio" ... and on and on. Had they, and we, had these guitar noises, had we known what they were and what they meant, had we been able to harness their full power, rather than simply ignorantly spitting them from our mouths, like so many Pentecosts talking in tongues, well, who knows where this world might be today.
As it turns out, making Rage Against The Machine guitar noises with your mouth is only the best form of political protest if Rage Against The Machine exists.
I learned that lesson the hard way, so that you won't have to.