Transcendental Meditation Meets Acid Rock

Posted by Daniel on Mar 22, 2011 - 4 comments

I've been reading Lawrence Aronsen's nostalgia-inducing history of counter-cultural Vancouver, City of Love and Revolution: Vancouver in the Sixties (New Star) and I am surprised to find a couple of important events missing from the narrative.

They say that if you can remember the '60s then you weren't really there. Well, I was there and I can remember (sort of) the day the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi came to town. It was probably 1966. The Maharishi was appearing at UBC's Brock Hall (this was before the Student Union Building was built) to promote his brand of meditation. Draped in flowers and wearing his usual white robes, he sat on the stage on a bed of cushions and spoke in his distinctive high-pitched voice, often interrupting himself with a peculiar giggle that never seemed to be in response to anything funny. We assumed you needed a cosmic sense of humour.

After the talk a few friends and I convened in the hallway. It would cost $15 to become initiated into the mysteries of eastern spiritualism. This was a sizeable sum of money at the time and we didn't all want to spend it. Instead we pooled our resources and sent one of our number off to be trained in Transcendental Meditation. David would report back to us with his assessment.

It must have been positive because a few days later I was at a downtown hotel paying my money and receiving my mantra. (This was before the Maharishi became the spiritual guide for the Beatles and many other '60s celebrities.) TM turned out not to be my thing -- I kept falling asleep instead of transcending -- but David went on to work with the Maharishi in India so it wasn't a complete waste. For me, the Maharishi's appearance in Brock Hall is emblematic of the spiritual yearning, naive though it might have been, at the heart of the so-called "hippie lifestyle".

The other event which changed the world in '60s Vancouver, mentioned tangentially by Aronsen, was the arrival of acid rock. Again, it was 1966. We arrived on campus one morning to discover a bunch of long hairs handing out buttons that said: The Airplane is Coming. Nobody I knew had any idea what this meant but we found out that noon, again at Brock Hall, when the psychedelic rock band Jefferson Airplane from San Francisco took the stage.

I'd never heard such music. In fact, I date the beginning of my '60s from that concert. I heard the Airplane a couple of more times, once out in Richmond with their new singer, Grace Slick. My mind was officially blown.

If you lived through the '60s and for one reason or another (wink, wink) can't remember everything, or anything, that took place, Aronsen's book is a good place to refresh your memory.