And Do Many Old Men Today Think Of Sex The Way Socrates Did?
When I was in my teens and early twenties I never thought I’d live past 30, so I participated in a lot of what anyone would call reckless behavior. Thank God I did! Reckless behavior made my life rich in so many ways, including rich enough to give me material for a memoire. Take drugs. When I was in elementary school they taught us that if you smoked pot you would soon be having sex, shooting heroin, going insane and then quickly dying. It kept people my age away from pot… until they realized it was all bullshit (except for the sex). Later they told us LSD caused sterility.
For me, if anything, those lies undermined my confidence in authority and encouraged me to push against all boundaries. In college I used so much acid that Sandy Pearlman nicknamed me “Tripmaster.” After I had been kicked out of the campus housing by Dean Tilley as a bad influence to other students, I was living in a house in Rocky Point (Suffolk County). It was 1967 and the day Between The Buttons was released I put it on the record player that evening in such a way that it would play infinitely. Then I dropped some acid.
I recall coming back to “normal” consciousness just as dawn was manifesting. I was in a tree outside my bedroom window and She Smiled Sweetly was playing as the sun was coming up. I went inside and took a shower, had some breakfast, got dressed and went to the campus barbershop and told him to cut off my long hair and shave my head. No one I knew had a shaved head then— except my girlfriend, who was a model and kept her head shaved so she could put on wigs for shoots. What a sight the two of us were walking around the campus!
Sorry, I drifted away for a minute. What I was getting at was not thinking about getting old (past 30). The idea of saving for— or in any way preparing for— the future was alien. What future?
Baba Ram Dass’ philosophic outlook, described in his book Be Here Now was the way we were living our lives in the late ‘60s even before he wrote it (1971). When my friends were going to grad school to become doctors and lawyers and teachers, I wandered off to Europe, bought a VW camper at the factory in Wiesbaden and drove to India 2 years before Richard Alpert (Ram Dass’ pre-enlightenment name) did. We lived for every minute, hour, day, not for tomorrow or next year. I threw away my watch and my camera as I was leaving America.
Now that I’m in my 70s, sometimes I think I’m still living a little too much for the moment and not being as careful about things as I probably should— and the cost is high. Roland, who’s much younger than I am, says I’m plenty cautious. Although he was with me when we were wandering around the Sahara with Tuareg rebels in Mali which, at the very least seems imprudent— but pretty typical of our pre-COVID vacations.
The first time I was diagnosed with cancer, the holistic doctor I was seeing, examined me and said, “Wow! You did a lot of drugs when you were younger... That’s why you have cancer.” Damn! Who would’ve ever imagined! They didn't warn us about that!
I had dinner with my friend Dan a few days ago. He’s a prominent neuroscientist and he quoted Socrates, who is supposed to have said that “the male libido is like being chained to a madman” in response to a question about losing sexual appetites in old age. But it wasn’t actually Socrates. The citation belongs to Plato. In Book 1 of The Republic, Plato wrote that Socrates asked Cephalus about his experiences in the latter part of life and Cephalus relayed some remarks from the renowned playwright Sophocles. So… the comment was actually made by Sophocles and was transmitted though Cephalus to Socrates and then was written down by Plato. Every translation is somewhat different but this was one of the first:
…I may mention Sophocles the poet, who was once asked in my presence, ‘How do you feel about love, Sophocles? Are you still capable of it?’ to which he replied, ‘Hush! if you please: to my great delight I have escaped from it, and feel as if I had escaped from a frantic and savage master.’ I thought then, as I do now, that he spoke wisely. For unquestionably old age brings us profound repose and freedom from this and other passions.