Zeitgeists and the King of Soul

People talk about “the zeitgeist” of an historical period as if it were one spirit.  But in reality, the events of any particular epoch reflect several spiritual compulsions or visions that hover amongst the human hearts and minds of that age.

With that in mind, I have begun writing a new novel, my fourth, which is named King of Soul. The story will examine the teen years and coming-of-age of a young man,Donnie, who is growing up in the South  during the 1960s. The novel is only mildly autobiographical.

Donnie’s personal development is of course shaped by the familial, political, philosophical, economic and spiritual condition of that era. Within these influences, I Identify four zeitgeists that are especially potent during the turbulent 1960s. They are what might be called “spirits of the age”, or what Gordon Lightfoot called the “visions of their days.” But I like to think of these historical forces, each one, as collective “Souls. ”  For the decade in which I was a teenager, they are:

~Soul of Bounty

~Soul of Discontent

~Soul of Escape

~Soul of Anarchy

So that you can better understand my “Souls” concept, here are some earlier “Souls” that were dominant in former ages of the American Experience:

Soul of Exploration, Soul of Liberty, Soul of Slavery, Soul of Industry, Soul of Reform, Soul of Progress, Soul of Labor, Soul of Consumption, Soul of Entertainment.

As the story develops in my novel, King of Soul, the reader will detect in Donnie’s experience:

~The Soul of Bounty, which thrives on security and wellness. It favors the individual, rather than a collective, although its community aspect is based on abundance: plenty for everybody. The Soul of Bounty values Family, Faith, and Work for Gain. Religion is beneficial. Heaven is a good ending. Hierarchy and authority contribute to Law & Order, sometimes at the expense of equality. Self-discipline and smart work are admirable.

It is a conservative attitude. Leave well-enough alone. Soul of Bounty manifestations for the 1960s may be: Republicans, the “Establishment”, the “Powers that Be, Young Americans for Freedom. On its fringe are the John Birchers and the Ayn Rand group. Prominent movers in the Soul of Bounty during that time were: Nixon, Buckley, Reagan, Mayor Daley, Gov.Rhodes of Ohio, most suburbanites.

~The Soul of Discontent, which struggles toward justice and rightness. The collective will is higher than the individual; society is based on ideology, not religion. Activists within the Soul of Discontent are forever striving toward progress. Utopia is a real possibility.The Marxian version includes a dictatorship of the proletariat. Equality of all will be achieved  at the expense of Order. These people are purposeful,  existential in their motivation. Disruption of the established order is necessary for societal correction to be imposed. Organizations of the period include: Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), Southern Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Students for Democratic Society (SDS), Free Speech Movement and the generally widespread Antiwar movement. Leaders of the 1960s manifestation include, among many others: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Stokely Carmichael, Malcom X,  Mario Savio, Tom Hayden, Joan Baez, the Berrigans, Daniel Ellsberg, Betty Friedan. The Soul of Discontent was most clearly expressed in: Civil Rights movement, Feminism, Berkeley, Chicago protests at 1968 Democratic convention, lethal uprisings at Kent State and Jackson State, student movements at San Francisco State U, Yale, Columbia, and eventually the Democratic party and 4th estate of 1970s-200. . .s

~Soul of Escape, which craves pleasure, ecstasy and distraction.  Expressions of this Soul are both collective and individual. Community is hoped for to afford leisure, pleasure, celebration, art and expression.  Minimal work is tolerated for the sake of these fulfillments. Utopia is cool, and Love-in is even better Serendipity is prized, at the expense of structure. Enjoy. In the ’60s, these people were known as hippies, who followed in footsteps of their 1950s predecessors, the Beats. You know who they are, even if you were not one of them for awhile, because you read about them in Time and Life: Timothy Leary, Ken Kesey, Allen Ginsberg, most rock musicians, but most notably Jefferson Airplane, Grateful Dead. They sought a trippy kind of stoned-out degenerative sensuality that occasionally masqueraded as spirituality. Summer of Love in ’67 and Woodstock in ’69 were their high points.

~Soul of Anarchy, which struggles to tear down the old order so that a new something can arise. Destruction is not only necessary, but cool and glorified. These people were the epitome of  Shiva Rage: Panthers. Weathermen, Yippies on a bad day. The catch-all was “Revolutionary.” John Lennon sang about them but only skirted along their fringes. “. . .but if you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao, you ain’t gonna make it with anyone anyhow.” (They didn’t make it.) Their flash in the pan came late, in ’69 and the ’70s. Heroes were Eldridge Cleaver, Huey Newton, Stokely Carmichael after he got tired of moderation, Rudd/Dohrn/Ayers. They were violent revolutionaries who might have done much more damage if the Establishment, personified by Richard Nixon, had not decided to wind the Vietnam War down and follow through with some serious programs to fulfill Johnson’s Great Society before going down in a blaze of humiliating presidential glory.

In a turbid decade called “the ’60s”, my young protagonist Donnie attends middle school and high school, enters college in 1969, avoids the draft, checks out a few antiwar happenings and tries to make sense of it all, in a nation being torn apart by the interference patterns generated when these four (Bounty, Discontent, Escape, Anarchy) encountered each other. That’s the scenario of King of Soul.

I should have it ready for you to read in a year or three.

King of Soul

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