Part of the fabric of the 1960's was the existence of coffee houses. If you are not familiar with these, forget Starbucks as a point of reference. As a matter of fact, I can think of nothing in this day and age that serves as an effective comparison to the coffee houses of the '60's. Imagine a small room, filled with smoke with old, tattered furniture crammed together. A small stage was at the back of the venue. Sometimes the stage was not a stage at all and just a few boards elevated slightly higher than the rest of the place. Coffee was the drink du jour in addition to hot spiced cider and a little ditty that the women liked called a "granitina". It was pomegranate juice mixed with 7-Up. (Pardon me, but isn't that the same thing as a Shirley Temple?)
The music was highly varied from offerings by Bob Dylan and Joan Baez as well as local, lesser-known artists. The tone was one of general dissatisfaction with society, politics, war, cops, education, parking tickets and virtually anything else that people could bitch about. While coffee houses were generally venues of readily forgettable peaceful protest, occasionally an artist would come along with a message that truly rattled our collective consciousness.
I will always remember one such singer.
He had just returned from a "love-in" in San Francisco. (Imagine 10,000 people smoking dope in Golden Gate Park, wearing dashikis and staring at the clouds. Groovy, baby.) He related a story to the audience that shook us to our very core, changing the way that we would think and live the rest of our lives. He told of a young woman sitting next to him at the love-in who was holding a balloon. The balloon slipped away from her and drifted off, high into the sky. As it disappeared into the heavens, she asked "is there a heaven for balloons?"
The singer then told the audience that this experience prompted him to write a song and, of course, he played and sang the song for us. I still remember the chorus lyrics:
Is there a heaven for balloons, my friend?
Is there a place to where they go?
Or do they just fly away?
I think that I shall never know.
In all of my days I have never seen such a reaction to a song from any audience. There was a 5-minute standing ovation and a collective pleading from the crowd to play it again. In all, I think the guy played it 4 times, or maybe it was 5. No matter. We all went away that evening with the memory of something special, beautiful and unforgettable.
This experience broadened my perspective in life, spurring me to think more about the great beyond, to learn more about the creation of the earth and its people, to become more involved in music, to study the sciences in college, to learn and appreciate the performing arts, to read Shakespeare, to love the simple things in life, to read The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran, and to better understand my fellow humans.
Still though, despite these changes, my life remains empty, as understanding one of life's great mysteries continues to elude me. To this day I have not answered the question:
Is there a heaven for balloons?
Although I will never stop searching for an answer, alas, I think that I shall never know.
Readers, enjoy your day.