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It didn’t become a hit, but this version does contain one of the band’s better guitar solos, and what matters more for our purposes, anti-oligarchic lyrics. (Read my long post below to see what I mean by oligarchic.) Here’s how it starts:

You keep sayin’ no to her,
Ever since she was a baby.
You keep sayin’ no to her,
Not even maybe.

And then the one word chorus asks/laments: Why?   The generational conflict theme is up-front, and centered around the conflict between a teenaged wanna-be-hippie girl and her parents, as in the Beatles’ maudlin She’s Leaving Home. More such verses follow, one in which we learn that the parents say there’s a limit there, and you can’t go past that. The girl isn’t having any of it though, and so unless the parents get a clue, it looks like she’ll wind up “leaving home” also, or otherwise breaking relations with them. It’s sad, and from the song’s viewpoint, totally pointless. On this note comes our key verse, where the narrator lashes out against the parents:

You say it’s a Devil world,
down and unforgiving,
I don’t know where you live,
But you’re not living.

That’s a perfect summation of the Oligarchic attitude, and of the naïve Democratic dismissal of it. And note that one can hold “it’s a Devil world” without a belief in the Devil; i.e., you can get there via Hobbes, if you are too skeptical to get there via Calvin.

Young miss just wants to go hang with the Byrds-type-folk for a little, just wants to go to the party, go to the protest, who knows, but mom and dad keep sayin’ no. By doing this they’re asking for a big-time rebellion, a sad Jessica-betrays-her-father-Shylock story. So things might look in 1966. But in retrospect, we know all the more that her parents are largely right about where their little miss wants to go. That is, there were many Woodstock-become-Altamont moments before Altamont itself. Joan Didion made her name telling the horribly true stories about runaways in Haight-Asbury, how they were often used, raped, and made addicts. Sure, the narrator in “Why?” sounds enlightened and nice enough, but how about we introduce this young miss to another hippie singer, Mr. Sky Saxon with his “say yes” song, Just Let Go . He says he wants to “set her free.” Oh your daughter will be just fine hangin’ out with him, right? And if she hangs out with the Byrds-hippies, she surely won’t also be hanging out with any of these Seeds-y hippies, right?

But hey, she’s a grown-up! Or, she soon enough will be. She’s got to decide herself. Still, the Oligarchic Advice, even if it cannot be parental command, is don’t go to San Francisco. A rumor is in the air about a fresh new goodness there, but it remains part of our Devil World. Don’t be idealistic. Maybe you won’t get used or impoverished or drugged out, but you will get your hopes crushed, and waste valuable time. The case is that even if she is a wise young woman who deserves to be trusted, who like Audrey Rouget in Metropolitan will preserve her virtue amid a seedy scene, the proper advice remains: stay away from these dreamers and pleasure-lovers who are only going to hurt themselves and disappoint you.

The Oligarchic Souls of intermediate modernity had special reasons besides the perennial ones to feel this way. They had seen what had happened with Russia; they had experienced bleak Depression, modern War, and worse still. On the first page of Art Spiegelman’s Maus , the young son of a Holocaust survivor comes to him crying about being mistreated by his friends—the setting is some late 40s suburb, and they’ve bicycled off without him. The father says,

“Friends? Your Friends? If you lock them together in a room with no food for a week, then you could see what it is, Friends!”

Don’t trust in the community, the “city.” Don’t get taken in by any political idealism. Don’t trust in friends. Don’t get used to enjoying pleasures you will have to deny yourself of. Don’t waste time with “Art,” “Philosophy,” or “Music.” Trust your family. And only so far. Skimp. Save. Keep your head down, but “keep up appearances.” Don’t spare the rod, nor the word “no.” Know a good lawyer, and avoid the military if possible. “Use venery sparingly,” as B. Franklin charmingly put it, and young women, don’t get caught pregnant before marriage. And while there may be some variability in where the line is drawn, whether about sex or what-have-you, there is no doubt that There is a limit there.

There is a Bible-infused version of this as well, that is less indulgent towards money-hoarding, probably stricter regarding sex, and if truly Biblical, open to eschatological “idealism.” If Christian, it is also deadly serious about the Devil.

So, 1966 Byrds, that’s why.

Still, I have to admit I’d rather hang out with them, especially if her parents are not serious about the Bible; I have at least one cheer to give, you see, for the hippie rebellion against the oligarchic and hypocrisy-ridden culture of 1920s-1950s modernity.

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