Perhaps worthy of investigation is another collision of synchronicities on the 22nd of November 1963 — the simultaneous deaths of Brave New World author Aldous Huxley and Christian fantasy writer C.S. Lewis. Both died within hours of Kennedy. Into this perichoretic brew, two pop programmes were also launched within a day of the assassination — the Beatles’ second studio album and the first episode of Doctor Who.
Perhaps worthy of investigation is another collision of synchronicities on the 22nd of November 1963 — the simultaneous deaths of Brave New World author Aldous Huxley and Christian fantasy writer C.S. Lewis. Both died within hours of Kennedy. Into this perichoretic brew, two pop programmes were also launched within a day of the assassination — the Beatles’ second studio album and the first episode of Doctor Who. The cover of With the Beatles features the musicians, curiously dressed like men in black, shadow agents on the brink of a massive experiment in mindfucking. The first episode of Doctor Who, broadcast on the 23rd, ninety seconds late due to extended news coverage of the events in Dallas, was titled "An Unearthly Child", its central character a schoolgirl with an anachronistic knowledge system, an alien outlook on England. The child appears to think the country has already adopted the decimal system, it’s as if she has come from the future. Replace the wardrobe to Narnia with a Tardis to a more sci-fi set of coordinates, its moral compass spinning out of control, rendered directionless by the metal fragments now being scooped out of Kennedy’s brain in the autopsy room at Parkland's mortuary.
“They’ve shot his head off ”, exclaimed pink Chanel suited Jackie Kennedy to the secret service agent as she scrambled across the limousine in futile search for the disappearing life force of her husband. Did she wear pink ina prescient act of camouflage to hide the blancmange of his brain, spilled on to her dress like the most indiscreet lapse in etiquette at Camelot’s last banquet?
Cut to California, another dutiful wife administers to her celebrated spouse’s final moments. Aldous Huxley was diagnosed with laryngeal cancer in 1960, after which his health rapidly deteriorated. During the final two months of his life, Huxley and wife Laura meditated on his imminent death; they read Timothy Leary’s manual The Psychedelic Experience derived from the teachings of the Tibetan Bardo Thodol. The science of the last voyage, echoing D.H. Lawrence’s terminal poem: “Oh build your ship of death, you will need it…”
By the morning of the 22nd, Huxley could only communicate by means of a writing tablet. “Try LSD 100 micrograms intramuscular”, he scribbled in barely decipherable ink, the cancer-saturated last instruction for an ancient doctor from the future. Laura knew instinctively what to do, she went to the cupboard in the other room where Huxley’s physician Dr Bernstein was watching the television which had just announced the shooting of Kennedy. Oh, build your ship of death, you will need it. By mid-afternoon, in his final moments, swathed in a thanatological dose of acid, Aldous was offered to the ghost of his first wife, Maria, by Laura:
Forward and up. You are going towards Maria’s love with my love. You are going towards a greater love than you have ever known. You are going towards the best, the greatest love, and it is easy, it is so easy, and you are doing it so beautifully.
Contrast the beatific and communal trip of Laura and Aldous Huxley, with the revved-up blood bath of Jackie and John Kennedy. Rifle for syringe, mind expanded all over Elm Street. One all gore, libido, racy and forever seeking criminal closure, the other mystical, drunk with agape and spiritually resolved. If these deaths could be considered musically, Huxley’s would be Pierre Henry’s Le Voyage: a masterpiece of musique concrète, composed in 1962, an electronic interpretation of the Bardo Thodol. Kennedy’s would be George Crumb’s scratching mass Black Angels, the neurotic buzz of a violent Sixties; violins like Vietnam helicopters.
The choked vomit whir of the Tardis must have sounded like an electronic death rattle when it was first broadcast following extended news coverage of the Kennedy assassination. From the futo flyover of Dallas to the clunking misery of England. All fog and cheap Formica prefab, ineffectual police boxes. The winter in the UK preceding the Kennedy assassination was one of the coldest on record. In January 1963, the sea in Kent froze for a mile, stalactites hung from the guttering, a metre long. The ice over the Thames was so thick at Oxford that a car was able to drive across the river. The miracle of Christ in the automobile age.
C.S. Lewis, chronicler of Narnia, fell gravely ill during the summer of 1963: his kidneys failed, and he fell into a coma, unexpectedly waking the following day. Forced to retire his post at Cambridge, Lewis returned to his home in Oxford, The Kilns, where he had written the entire Chronicles of Narnia. The big freeze of ‘63 must have felt like an evocation of Lewis’ Narnia, a region held captive to an eternal winter, governed by a witch queen, Jadis. Lewis’ mythic landscape was derived from Norse lore; that of the fimbulwinter — a harsh winter that precedes the end of the world, during which time there will be innumerable wars and bloodspilling. Perhaps Lewis’ fantasy terrains became a geographic prophecy for the author’s final year; ice over the Thames at Oxford. His health continued to decline and in early November he was diagnosed with end-stage renal failure. On the 22nd of November, a week before his 65th birthday, at 5.30 p.m., Lewis collapsed in his bedroom and died a few minutes later.
Here’s a historical re-enactment you can try out for yourselves.
Sit down for tea in front of a vintage TV and watch the juddering first episode of Doctor Who. As the Tardis takes off inject yourself with 100 micrograms of LSD, intramuscular. Switch on George Crumb’s Black Angels. At the moment of breakthrough have your loving spouse, dressed in a Chanel pink suit, present you with a silver platter of blancmange, or better still have her throw it in your face. Have four willing guides, dressed in FBI, Fab Four suits, handcuff you and escort you to a wardrobe, painted police box blue. Have them lock you in there, with a stuffed lion your only companion. You will then I guarantee find yourself on the other side of Narnia, Mondo Paranoia, the ultimate bad trip tych.