Tag Archives: The Sixties

Psychedelia

Hippies-60s

Let me tell you about the first and only time I dropped acid.

I had always been somewhat curious about it, because my parents would sometimes reference acid trips they took in their hippie primes. What held me back was a very conservative attitude when it comes to drugs: I prefer to keep my mind clear so I can understand what I am experiencing. I had smoked marijuana a couple of times and didn’t like the way it made me feel: stupid and lazy. I tried cocaine once at a party and found the process of snorting uncivilized and disgusting, to say nothing of the outrageous expense for what turned out to be a fifteen minute buzz. I avoided ecstasy entirely on the principle that “if everyone one is doing it, it must be a pretty lousy experience.” What intrigued me about acid was its power to alter perception, and I like experiences that challenge my perceptions.

I asked my dad if he knew where I could get some, but he’d been out of the scene for too long and didn’t have a clue. I asked around at high school and eventually wound up talking to a guy named Freddy who lived in a flat near St. Luke’s. I bought two little blue pills for twenty bucks, because in the course of my detective work, a guy I’d fucked a couple of times said he’d like to try some, too. We set the date for 6 p. m. on a Saturday night, and I insisted that we do it at my house for two reasons: my dad would be there (Maman was visiting her parents in Nice) and he would know what to do if we freaked out; and two, my dad didn’t care what I did in the privacy of my room and my parents were used to me having my fuck partners over from time to time. I did not tell my dad what I was planning because I wanted him to have deniability in case something (or someone) went wacko.

My friend arrived on time and we immediately went into my room, turned on some music and swallowed the pills. Here’s what I remember:

  • For the first hour I felt all tingly and couldn’t stop laughing. Everything was funny: my window, my hands, my friend’s face, the walls, the sounds of human speech. I laughed so hard my sides hurt.
  • The next hour began with my friend suggesting I play my guitar and sing. First, I couldn’t figure out how to turn off the stereo, and I spent a long time staring at the silver buttons and knobs in complete bafflement (it didn’t help that they seemed to be vibrating and changing shape). My friend couldn’t figure it out either so he crawled under the desk and unplugged the stereo (and whatever else was down there). It seemed to take a very long time to take the guitar out my case, because my fingers worked like they were made of jello. When I finally got it out and sat down to play, I’d start a song, look at the fretboard and notice that the strings vibrated in colors: lime green, neon pink and a weird purple. I’d stop playing to watch them vibrate and my friend would shout out, “Why the fuck are you stopping?” I’d try again and the sound would go WAH-WAH-WAH and the colors would come back and finally I threw the guitar down on the bed and said “I need a cigarette.”
  • The next hour was spent trying to light one cigarette. At first I became fascinated by the colors in the fire from the lighter. Then I realized my mouth was too tingly and I couldn’t hold the cigarette with my lips or teeth. So I had my friend try to light it and finally managed it by holding the cigarette steady with fingers from both hands. When we finally got it going, I just sat and experienced the act of smoking while studying the patterns in the smoke. Doing something resembling “normal” felt really good, but it took all of my concentration and some impressive lip acrobatics to pull it off. Meanwhile, my friend figured out how to plug the stereo back in while the nicotine helped me remember how to use it, and I put on Sgt. Pepper. It was beautiful and calming, but the orchestral crescendo in “A Day in the Life” made us both feel like we were on a roller coaster ride and we held onto each other for dear life.
  • I’d lost track of time by now, but I think it was then that he suggested that we get naked and fuck. I thought about that for a minute—actually, my mind was going to a million different places, wondering why his face was purple and squishy, why my hands looked old and wrinkly, and trying to figure out why I felt so heavy in my pelvic area. Was I horny? No, that wasn’t it. “I think I have to pee,” I said, and sort of tiptoed spastically down the hall to the bathroom. I remembered hearing my parents say that the worst thing you could do on an acid trip is look in the mirror, so I kept my head down when I entered. I couldn’t find the light switch but the night light was on, so I just sat there for oh, about an hour, tripping out on the flower print on the shower curtain and admiring the texture of a terry cloth towel until I started to see mean faces and skulls in the terry cloth. Finally I remembered I had to pee but something didn’t feel right. “Oh, I have to take my pants off,” I said to the dimly-lit bathroom. That took forever, then I sat down on the toilet and started to wonder if I was going to explode if I didn’t pee soon. I started to freak out a little, imagining my body in pieces all over the walls, but then I heard the sound of me peeing and the relief was indescribable.
  • Instead of going back into my bedroom, I went out and sat with my dad, who was watching a baseball game on TV. I didn’t say a word, just stared at the screen tried to make sense of it. I turned and looked at my dad and was admiring his beard and I really wanted to touch it to see if it felt silky but he turned to me and said, “Extra innings.” Then he turned to me again and said, “Extra innings.” He seemed to do this about five times, so I turned away in private horror and tried to calm myself by watching the beautiful colors on the television. The grass was a beautiful shimmery blue but trying to process the crowd noise, the announcers and those tiny little figures on the screen put my brain on overload. My friend came in looking lost and I said, “We’re watching the ball game,” so he flopped on the floor near the TV, almost hitting his head on it.
  • Somehow the game ended and my dad was happy. “Hey, let’s go to Orphan Andy’s and get some grub,” he said. I thought about the word “grub.” What a funny word! “Grub, hub, sub, chub, flub, stub,” I rhymed. Saying the words made my mouth feel good. I made it out to the car, and the next hour was a blur of high-speed motion: I remember barreling down the hill on Castro Street like I was on a Disneyland ride; I remember the sidewalks jammed with people when we got near Harvey’s, their faces looking sad and lonely; I remember going into Orphan Andy’s and how it glowed and throbbed in reds and yellows; I remember trying to drink a cup of coffee and being unable to hold the liquid very well and slobbering all over myself; I remember how strange people looked when they ate, like they were desperately trying to survive by doing this disgusting animal-like thing. I ordered pancakes even though I hate pancakes, and I can’t begin to describe how beautiful it was to watch the whipped butter melt. What should have blown my mind was that my dad found a parking space in the Castro on a Saturday night, but that kind of mental effort was way beyond my capabilities.
  • My dad took us home and as soon my friend and I got into my room he said, “I thought we were going to get naked.” I didn’t remember any of that, but I said, “Sure” and I got naked and lay on the bed. He started to strip, but when he pulled off his underwear I broke into giggles. I then got on my knees on the bed so I could look more closely at his pubic area and told him, “The little turtle’s all scared.” His dick had shrunk so drastically that it had almost disappeared into his pubes. For the first time that night I felt imbued with a sense of purpose: I wanted to see the little turtle come out. So I pulled him down on the bed and started working on his prick. He started moaning very loudly and I told him to “Shh!” I licked his balls, enjoying the feeling on my tongue, though my tongue seemed disconnected from the rest of my body. I don’t know how long I spent trying to get him hard, but he finally managed enough of a boner to work, then lost it trying to find my hole. By now I was reconnecting with my plumbing and getting impatient, so I whacked him on the ass a few times to try to get him focused. It worked, then I guided him into my hangar. We didn’t move much, just lay there enjoying the amazing oneness, and shit if he didn’t start crying. “I love your tits,” he said, “They’re the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen,” he said, weeping over my nipples. This was starting to kill my mood, so I whacked him again to get him focused and in a few minutes he came, which made me come, and it wasn’t a very pleasurable sensation . . . more like the relief I felt when peeing combined with a strange discomfort. We then lay there talking, giggling and listening to music until we fell asleep.

I woke up alone some time the following afternoon, feeling a strange sense of accomplishment and total exhaustion. I went to the kitchen and made some coffee, sat at the kitchen table and had about five cigarettes in a row, thinking about the experience. I guess my dad had been out and about, and when he came home the first thing he said was, “So how was the trip?” My first question was, “Did you say ‘extra innings’ five times last night when I came in?” “No, only once.” “Shee-it,” I said, “That stuff was powerful.” We then spent the rest of the evening talking about my experience while watching a real baseball game played on beautiful green grass.

*****

In the 196o’s, the word psychedelic took on far greater meaning than its original application in the world of psychology. It was the aggressive rejection of everything The Establishment stood for and the aggressive pursuit of the new and/or different. The folkies and civil rights marchers of the early 60’s were sincere but rather drab-looking people who focused on specific issues and tried to work within the system; the hippies took on the entire socio-cultural structure from family to fashion to fascism. The psychedelic period was about the elimination of limitations and assumptions of all kinds. It was a time when anything was possible and everything was up for grabs. Only a few years before the era was recognized by the national media, Joe Pepitone was playing first base for the Yankees in the World Series and lost a throw in a solid background of fans wearing white shirts. Contrast that visual with the radical neon pinks, oranges and greens, or the strange effects of black lights and strobes, or the patterns of tie-dye and paisley that psychedelia brought into fashion. Although people poke fun at the hippies today—and I’d rather hang myself than wear a tie-dye t-shirt—the cultural earthquake they created simply had to happen. America was way too uptight before the hippies: any culture that had to train people when to laugh through the insertion of laugh tracks on TV sitcoms needed all the free love and marijuana it could get.

I am fortunate to have impeccable sources of background information on this era: my parents. My father grew up a few blocks from the Haight and could stumble into the epicenter of the earthquake any time he wanted; one day he stumbled a couple of blocks north to the Panhandle and met the beautiful French exchange student who became my mother. For my dad, adopting the emerging norms of hippie culture happened organically; for my mother, it was total culture shock of a most welcome kind. I asked her to write me a paragraph about what psychedelia and the hippie movement meant to her:

You have to remember that from the time I was seven years old my life was study, practice and recitals. My parents had big dreams for their child prodigy, and those dreams required a very structured life of school, music lessons, practice, performance, sleep. I had no life outside of that cycle, and very few friends. And as you know, the French have very definite ideas of how one should behave in public, so I lived a very structured life inside a culture of many expectations. When I received offers to study in America, my parents were very resistant but I stood my ground and they finally allowed it. They wanted me to go to Julliard but I did not want to live in the snow and San Francisco had always seemed a magical place to me. And that was the first step, wasn’t it—to defy your parents? I came to a place where people my age had decided enough was enough and they wanted to be free from all the rules and explore new things. Although I admit I was appalled at the lack of hygiene, I embraced the spirit of the times and let myself revel in the celebration of new ideas, of new ways of relating to each other and to the world. The music was very important because it was the antithesis of all I had learned: it had no specific destination, no preconceived notions. Yes, I did drugs with all the rest but never to excess; I still had a sense of self-discipline and judgment that many of my new friends lacked—they wanted to gorge themselves on the experience, for they had been starved for so long. But you must remember it was about much more than drugs—it was an attempt to replace the old, dead world with a new one that embraced life; to replace tired ideas with fresh ideas; to replace social exploitation with social justice; to replace war with peace; to explore any path you chose. It was a very wonderful, very exciting time to be alive.

 *****

In the tradition of breaking free from parental paradigms, I developed into a Summer of Love skeptic, and except for Surrealistic Pillow, I have tried to avoid reviewing albums classified as psychedelic. Although I’ve always found 60’s history exciting and endlessly interesting, and I have yearned to live in an era characterized as groundbreaking and defiant, I’ve never been impressed with hard-core psychedelic music. Given the abundance of 60’s reviews I’ve done, I obviously adore several albums from the 1966-69 period, many of which are timeless masterpieces that reflect psychedelic influences. But the permissiveness of the times often threw aesthetic judgment to the winds, allowing dozens of lame bands to make several very bad records during that period. It wasn’t just a time of unlimited experimentation, it was a time of unlimited and often stupid experimentation by people who had no business calling themselves musicians. There are more “you had to be there” records (or “you had to be stoned” records) from that period than any other, and much of the music, the literature and even the humor is lost on people like me who grew up in the 90’s. I could never get into Richard Brautigan or Ken Kesey, and try as he might, my father has never been able to get me to crack a smile when he plays The Firesign Theater for me. I’ve also noticed that current reviews of psychedelic albums—both professional and fan reviews—are seriously over-the-top in their praise: all the artists are either “legendary” or “immortal” and all the albums were the greatest fucking advance in human evolution since group sex. That kind of blind love always brings out the skeptic in me, which is never far from the surface anyway.

Still, I love a challenge, so I’ve decided to temper my skepticism and take a virtual acid trip this summer to challenge my perceptions about psychedelic music, now that it seems to be enjoying a sort of resurgence. I screened something like forty albums and narrowed the list to seventeen that I suspect have some kind of value. I will admit up front that there are several albums on this list that I thought were positively dreadful during my screening, but I chose them because of historical significance or because they demonstrated something about the period that I felt I had to capture. I’m even including artists from my no-fly list like Janis Joplin and The Grateful Dead. We’ll see if my standard three-full-spins changes any of my unfavorable opinions.

Here is the full series:  the albums I’m going to review, in chronological order, at a rate two or three per week. If any new releases of interest appear on my radar, I’ll squeeze them in on the weekends. I’m not holding my breath.

Wow! I’m creating my own Summer of Love here! Hope you join me on the trip!

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GO TO THE NEXT POST IN THE SERIES: PART ONE BY THE WEST COAST POP ART EXPERIMENTAL BAND

The Yardbirds – Roger the Engineer/Over, Under, Sideways, Down – Classic Music Review

In other posts, I have likely given the impression that I’d have preferred to have been born earlier so I could have hit my puberty in the 1960’s. I want to apologize for any confusion or angst I might have created in my followers on that subject.

So, allow me to make it crystal clear: hell, yes, I wish I’d been there!

The creative explosion in popular music that lasted from 1963 until it died a disco death sometime in the 1970’s was absolutely phenomenal and it would have been so damned exciting to be there when all these new sounds were brought into the world. You add to that free love, the various civil rights and antiwar movements and the right to smoke anywhere and everywhere—baby, take me back! Invent that time machine and deliver me from this health nazi drone culture where the primary preoccupation is the fear of death instead of the love of life! I want to shop on Carnaby Street, drop in and see the Stones at The Crawdaddy Club and end every evening in a bisexual orgy as I engage in a paroxysm of everlasting rebellion!

Thank you for allowing me to indulge my fantasies. Now, back to our story.

For me, the quintessential band of the 1960’s was not The Beatles, not The Stones, not The Kinks, but The Yardbirds, because unlike the others, they’re trapped in the amber of the time of mods, rockers and Antonioni and were never able to leave. They were a band often in flux, running through three of the acknowledged guitar greats in about four years’ time. Their music ranged from nasty blues rock numbers to avant-garde modernism, creating a sound that truly classifies as unique. They also looked the part, with Keith Relf’s striking blonde mop contrasting nicely with Jeff Beck’s darker and shaggier looks.

Chronicling The Yardbirds’ history and discography is a full-time job. In addition to the usual confusion between British and American versions, the album I’m reviewing is neither, but a compilation of the two versions with some additional tracks where Keith Relf (the lead singer) is listed as the artist. Since the rumor is that Keith Relf’s backing band was The Yardbirds, you have to wonder if the rest of the band wasn’t particularly sold on the direction Keith wanted to go; his songs are very un-Yardbirds. Because of the addition of the single “Happenings Ten Years Time Ago/Psycho Daisies,” Jimmy Page appears on this re-created version of the album. This altered version is available on iTunes for a mere $9.99, a bargain if there ever was one (click the album cover).

In this case, the structure and content of the album hardly matter. The Yardbirds were never an album band; they were a singles band. Roger the Engineer really doesn’t stand up as a great album per se; there’s no thematic continuity of any kind. What is fascinating about the album is it is a chronicle of a band at the end of their run trying to find a new path and failing to do so. They couldn’t make the transition from Swinging London to Haight-Ashbury, and they couldn’t make the two-great-lead-guitar-heroes model work. Jeff Beck would leave the band to Jimmy Page shortly thereafter, and Paul Samwell-Smith would depart to launch a successful career as a producer.

So let me get to the best part first. “Happenings Ten Years Time Ago” absolutely decimates me every time I hear it. This is one instance where the performance of dueling guitar heroes lives up to its hype, as both Beck and Page deliver one of the stellar examples of the sheer excitement that only well-played electric guitars can generate. Keith Relf produces a magnificently detached vocal that perfectly complements the sci-fi mood of the song and the psychological isolation of the narrator. The instrumental passage in the middle is unforgettably intense, driven by the exquisitely played guitar solo and Jeff Beck’s introduction of spoken word and a chilling piece of nervous laughter.

Since it would be unfair to evaluate an ersatz album the artists did not compile, I’ll limit my comments to some of the more remarkable pieces. “Lost Woman” opens the album with what appears to be a standard Yardbirds blues-rock number but the jam in the middle takes several unexpected directions, introducing fresh chords and a fab bass solo that segues into the final verse. The title track comes next, a glorious anthem for hedonists like me:

Cars and girls are easy come by in this day and age,
Laughing, joking, drinking, smoking,
Till I’ve spent my wage.
When I was young people spoke of immorality,
All the things they said were wrong,
Are what I want to be.

This is followed by what is best described as a pub song, “I Can’t Make Your Way,” something I’d love to sing with a small crowd bombed on Watney’s. Then it’s back to harmonica-driven blues with “Rack My Mind” before the almost child-like “Farewell,” with its tale of lonely man in an empty house describing the days leading up to his suicide—a much more sensitive and artistic treatment of the subject than the angst-driven parallels of the 90’s. “Hot House of Omagararshid” continues the pattern of departure from the norm, a wordless singalong with intriguing interplay between vocals and guitar.

Beck finally gets to rock on “Jeff’s Boogie.” As mentioned in a previous post, I’m a Jeff Beck girl, so this is heaven. He’s so much more imaginative than most guitar players, more willing to mix virtuosity with dissonance and always doing what you least expect him to do. My next favorite is “Turn into Earth,” which extends the band’s exploration into the Gregorian soundscape that characterized the earlier “Still I’m Sad.” I also love the quirky “What Do You Want,” but I’m only so-so on “Ever Since the World,” the last cut on the album proper.

This compilation also features the flip side of “Happenings,” the fast and fun “Psycho Daisies,” a blues rock USA travelogue sung by Jeff Beck that fades when you least expect it to fade. The five Keith Relf songs are all harbingers of the band’s final direction, best exemplified in their last minor hit, “Little Games” (a song I adore but apparently was not particularly popular with the listening public of the time). The most interesting is “Shapes in My Mind,” an almost theatrical piece with a clear scent of patchouli.

I could have done a review on one of their greatest hits compilations (there are several), for their hits alone constitute a masterpiece. My favorite Yardbirds album is actually the American Having a Rave-Up with The Yardbirds, so I’ll probably review that one someday. However, the sheer strangeness of this album, with its odd combination of styles and moods, has an anthropological value in capturing the transition from basic blues-based rock to the experimental that characterized the mid-1960’s.

And I wish I’d been there. Damn!

This is followed by what is best described as a pub song, “I Can’t Make Your Way,” something I’d love to sing with a small crowd bombed on Watney’s. Then it’s back to harmonica-driven blues with “Rack My Mind” before the almost child-like “Farewell,” with its tale of lonely man in an empty house describing the days leading up to his suicide—a much more sensitive and artistic treatment of the subject than the angst-driven parallels of the 90’s. “Hot House of Omagararshid” continues the pattern of departure from the norm, a wordless singalong with intriguing interplay between vocals and guitar.

Beck finally gets to rock on “Jeff’s Boogie.” As mentioned in a previous post, I’m a Jeff Beck girl, so this is heaven. He’s so much more imaginative than most guitar players, more willing to mix virtuosity with dissonance and always doing what you least expect him to do. My next favorite is “Turn into Earth,” which extends the band’s exploration into the Gregorian soundscape that characterized the earlier “Still I’m Sad.” I also love the quirky “What Do You Want,” but I’m only so-so on “Ever Since the World,” the last cut on the album proper.

This compilation also features the flip side of “Happenings,” the fast and fun “Psycho Daisies,” a blues rock USA travelogue sung by Jeff Beck that fades when you least expect it to fade. The five Keith Relf songs are all harbingers of the band’s final direction, best exemplified in their last minor hit, “Little Games” (a song I adore but apparently was not particularly popular with the listening public of the time). The most interesting is “Shapes in My Mind,” an almost theatrical piece with a clear scent of patchouli.

I could have done a review on one of their greatest hits compilations (there are several), for their hits alone constitute a masterpiece. My favorite Yardbirds album is actually the American Having a Rave-Up with The Yardbirds, so I’ll probably review that one someday. However, the sheer strangeness of this album, with its odd combination of styles and moods, has an anthropological value in capturing the transition from basic blues-based rock to the experimental that characterized the mid-1960’s.

And I wish I’d been there. Damn!

My review of Having a Rave Up.

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