Chapter 7: Into Columbia SDS, 1966 (v)
December 1966 flowed into the Christmas break, which I spent back in Queens in my parents’ apartment doing assigned term papers, watching news shows, political interviews and football games on TV and practicing guitar in my room. By January 1967, I had read John Gerassi’s The Great Fear in Latin America, was getting more interested in Latin America and could argue against the immorality of U.S. foreign policy in Latin America as well as I could argue against U.S. war policy in Viet Nam. I also spent much time listening over and over again to Dylan’s Bringing It All Back Home album, Dylan’s first album and his The Times They Are A-Changin’ album, as well as the Phil Ochs In Concert album.
I wrote two more love songs for Beth, “The Princess of the Park” and “My Name Is Ishmael” to go along with a love letter I wrote her. Having re-read Herman Melville’s Moby Dick for an American literature course, I identified with Ishmael-Melville quite strongly and, increasingly, was beginning to see myself as an “isolato” like Ishmael. I eventually met Beth in Barnard’s Brooks Hall one evening and dated her and wondered whether we’d be happy together as lovers.
Beth was an easygoing and undemanding beauty, but she wasn’t interested in New Left politics. Although I was wild about her, she refused to take my love for her seriously.
“You still hardly know me in more than a casual way. We can’t sustain a relationship with each other if your love for me is just based on a fantasized image of me. And not on how I really am,” she said to me one cold winter night, before we kissed each other goodnight.
As I walked back to my Furnald Hall dorm room, I wondered whether Beth was right. Insofar as I was an apparently upwardly-mobile Columbia student with artistic inclinations who found her beautiful, I could hold Beth’s interest. But insofar as I was a New Left activist who felt spiritually alienated from white upper-middle-class life, I was not on the same wavelength as her. So I didn’t continue to pursue Beth. But my heart still jumped whenever we bumped into each other during the next few years around the Upper West Side.
My songwriting around this time also reflected my involvement in opposing both the CIA and Columbia’s complicity with the U.S. military. I wrote a song entitled “The CIA,” which contained the following lyrics:
It’s coming to bring you joy
It wants little girls and boys
Come work with me
The trench-coated spook he cries….
I also wrote a folk song entitled “Columbia,” which included the following lyrics:
You’d best not snitch
At Hudson Labs
Maybe some bombs?
For electronic war
And “humanize” and “civilize”
With “reason as your tool.”
James and the Twenty-Seven Bicycles
6 years ago