Jerusalem

This is how I began seriously to stir awake.

Leif the Kind (there’s a separate fragment about him) had suggested that I interview for this job (I think he had called the personnel office and in fact proposed and recommended me) as a summer substitute nurse at this mental hospital just north of Helsingborg called Sankta Maria (Saint Maria).

To show my best side, I had dressed up (to the degree that I could with what few clothes I owned) for the interview. Clean shaven, hair either newly cut or well-combed, don’t remember which; presentable.

The interview was going well. And when the proverbial push came to the ditto shove, I did, as came natural to me, fall back on my always-ready-to-take-a-swing ample gift of the gab, which let me talk at length with (as in charm) just about anybody about anything, and this nice and somewhat fascinated (with me) personnel officer lady was no exception.

Yup, got the job.

Done deal. Come back Monday and report to the three-day crash course (which, again, has its own fragment).

Went away, happy, and yup, did that—returned Monday.

First day, must have been the afternoon break—in memory I sense the sun past zenith—the covey of summer substitute nurses to be (or most of us at any rate) stretched out on the large lawn in front of our ward slash class-room building. Beautiful day. Horrible class, though.

Now, part of the story is that at this time I owned and wore an Egyptian gold puzzle ring, one of those that consists of six (or eight—mine was eight) individual slender ring-strands that, when arranged just right would come together in a golden embrace as the most beautiful wider ring.

Yup, had one of those.

Next to me, on the lawn this lovely afternoon, hitched up on his elbow, half-lies half-sits this dark-curly-haired guy about my age with diamond-shaped (very hippie, though not rose-colored) glasses, who also, as it turns out, sports a puzzle ring.

He notices mine and asks me if he could look at it, so, sure, I slip it off and give it to him. I reciprocate. We both have very nice rings and apprise one another of this flattering fact.

Now, another part of the story is that in his mind (his name was Hakan, by the way) these puzzle rings constituted the secret sign: he (or she) who wears one is a hashish smoker. Since I didn’t speak Ring, I wasn’t really aware of this, but he sure was, because he then, in a very roundabout way, asked me if I ever, you know, had, well, you know, tried, this, you know this hashish stuff.

Well, says I (having spent the last two years doing not much else while listening to music), once or twice. You? Yes, once or twice there as well.

A little further into this conversation we now have established that we both are long-term, pretty serious hashish smokers and now we are true hashish-brothers.

Next, he springs this on me: he has just returned from Persia (by way of Elat, Israel) and he has managed to conceal two kilos of high-grade opium tinged hashish from Swedish customs. He said, if I heard correctly, the hashish-to-opium ratio was fifty-fifty, but in retrospect I find that hard to believe—yes, I’m sure there was some opium in it for, really, this stuff got you stoned all right, a little beyond the beyond, but fifty percent sounds a bit much. Be that as it may, for the next, nice, logical question, was:

Would I want to try some after class?

Yup, I would. Like. Very much.

Two hours later we’re on a bus on the way into town and a little later we’re in his very nice apartment and Hi to his very nice, tall, blond, though a little bossy wife.

“Wait here,” said Hakan and slipped out to ascend up into the building attic where he had stored the hashish stash. He was back soon with a small suitcase that featured a false bottom. He opened it, cleared the few items of clothing (socks, mittens, a knit cap and such) onto the bed then eased the false bottom out and there, a foot by two feet (and a couple of inches thick) cake of pitch-black hashish. I had never seen so much hashish at one time in my life and was (naturally) duly impressed and very much fascinated.

I smelled it. Pungently beautiful, that smell. Deep and dark with magical promise—for I knew what promises it held.

He then broke off a piece, asked me to hold on to it while he returned the little suitcase to its hiding place.

Back down, we lit up.

I got very, very stoned. Deliciously so (probably due to the opium tinge). Hummingly so. Earth-leavingly so.

Another part of this story is that Hakan had a fantastic stereo system. Bang Olufsen turntable and amp and Carlsson speakers (high-end, very good and very popular speakers in Sweden at the time—with those who, like Hakan, apparently, could afford them).

And he had some really nice albums—LPs, of course, what we refer to as “vinyl” these digital days. The Doors and Cream come to mind.

And here, he says, are the two most amazing acid-heads in England, and he hands me an album titled “The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter” by a band called The Incredible String Band. Not really a band by the looks of it, just the two guys, pictured on the front with an extended hippie family and on the back as just the two of them: Mike Heron and Robin Williamson (it took me months to actually figure out, correctly, who was who).

Now, another part of the story is that I had actually heard one of their earlier albums once before, though not all the way through, and had not cared too much for them at the time (by the cover—“The 5000 Spirits or The Layers of the Onion”—I had expected psychedelic rock, which they are not, not by any stretch), but I did not make that connection as I looked the album cover over. Hakan, meanwhile, holding it (correctly) by the edges, was loading the black, vinyl disk onto the turntable, then lowered the stylus, then returned onto his huge, low bed (which we both sat on, dead center between the two wonderful speakers) and leaned back to listen.

That this album was made specifically to be listened to very stoned on Hakan’s great hashish, is beyond dispute—not even up for discussion.

 Sheer magic.

“And this song,” interrupts a voice that I, after some quick and intense research, discover belongs to the very same Hakan, “This song is beyond…”

I nod and perk my ears up another stoned notch.

The song is “A Very Cellular Song” by Mike Heron (who, by the way, some years later, when I was fortunate enough to come to know him quite well, told me that he had been so high on acid when he wrote this song that his fingers had turned to sausages and quite useless with strings, that is, he could no longer use them with his guitar—instead, he said, he pressed a small toy keyboard into service and wrote the song one sausage note after another, but that’s another story).

A short minute into this thirteen-minute song (forty-eight seconds to be exact, says my current mp3 version) begins a fragment of it called “The Good Night Song” (also called “I Bid You Good Night”, made famous by The Grateful Dead among others) adapted by Mike Heron from a Pindar Family version, and here the magic elevates into full-scale wonder: It is the most beautiful song I have ever heard, and it just goes on and on and on and on in its incredible beauty. I look over at Hakan in dumb wonder and he only grins an “I-told-you-so” grin and I sail on and on and on with the song across god knows what waters.

And then, eventually, Heron arrives at the last two verses: “I remember quite well; I remember quite well. (Good Night, Good Night) When I was walking in Jerusalem just like John.”

At those words, something reached in and seized and gently shook my heart: a childhood’s hand, perhaps, or was it my grandmother Olga’s hand, or perhaps even Minta’s hand; and as either or all of them seized and shook this startled heart it also opened it up to let rush in the forgotten childhood wonder of that holy city, of Jerusalem, the city Olga would sing about, would glorify to me in words a child could understand and remember. God’s city. The city of holiness. The city of Light of Truth. The city of those now long-ago days when I lay nestled up against Olga in her high, straw-mattrassed bed listening to her reading to me from her dark, colossal Doré bible; and hearing again and again of the wonders of Jesus and the ancient people of Canaan and of that wondrous city: Jerusalem.

“When I was walking in Jerusalem just like John.”

And as my heart ruptured a gate opened and my world has never been quite the same since.

A forgotten holiness, a buried innocent longing for this light resurrected and pointed: toward the light. There is no other way, it said. There is no other venture or purpose on this Earth, it said. Toward the light, it pointed.

I have to go there, it said; I have to find it.

I didn’t cry then, though I easily could have—today I feel like I should have. But I hugged the memory of my grandmother Olga to me and hugged and hugged and thanked her for singing Jerusalem for me.

The city on my new horizon.

For the remainder of the summer, I would listen to all, then three, of The String Band’s albums, especially to those Mike Heron’s songs that, once my heart-gate had been swung wide open by Jerusalem, I now understood perfectly well, and words like, “You know what you could be, so tell me my friend why so worried all the time what you should be?” (which once and for all cured me of any civil engineering notions) and words like “I have nothing to do, I have nowhere to go and I’m not in the slightest way upset” and words like “The gentle hand of music lifts me smiling” and words like “Read your book and lose yourself in another’s thoughts, he might tell you about what is or even about what is not; and if he’s kind and gentle, too, and he loves the world a lot; his twilight words may melt the slush of what you have been taught.”

Yes, yes, yes, I understood, and was ready to shed all slush and set out for my resurrected, spiritual (and not necessarily Christian at all) Jerusalem.

And then he sang, “Listen to the song of life, its rainbow’s ends won’t hold you” and he sang, “My eyes are listening to some sounds that I think just might be springtime; with daffodils between my toes I’m laughing at the wind.”

And later, as I grew more used to Robin Williamson’s reedier, roving voice and more ethereal lyrics, he entered my heart as well with wonderful words like, “Setting your foot where the sand is untrodden; the ocean that only begins;” and “The golden leaves that jewel the ground, they know the art of dying;” and “Dark or silvery mother of life, water, water, holy mystery heavens daughter, wizard of changes water, water, water; God made a song when the world was new waters laughter sings it is true, Oh, wizard of changes, teach me the lesson of flowing.”

And these words, “Like an eagle in the sky tell me if air is strong.”

And these words, “The new moon is shining the harmonious hand is now holding lord Krishna’s ring the eagle's wing the voice of mother everything.”

And these words, “Earth, water, fire, and air met together in the garden fair, put in a basket bound with skin, if you answer this riddle you’ll never begin.”

And again, by Mike Heron, “Who would hear directions clear from the unnamable namer?”

And the Heron blessing slash good wishes that have followed me all my life, “May the long-time sun shine upon you, all love surround you, and the pure light within you, guide you all the way on.”

All was so perfectly clear to me now, and all so very true, so very true. The light did exist. And this gentle light was findable by young humans (Mike Heron had found it, Robin Williamson had found it) and again I confirmed to myself that there was nothing else I could possibly do with my life, but to look for and find that light, that truth.

And yes, to this day I maintain that this life-quest was sparked that late afternoon in August of 1968 by the word “Jerusalem.”

And yes, I am still, fifty years later, on that quest—the one thing I have remained true to all my life.

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