This song reminds me of a kaleidoscope. The beginning of the song is upbeat and had a mixture of guitar and what sounds to me like a xylophone it gives it an almost surreal, fantasy like feel. If you want to get trippy about it (haha get it?) the opening reminds me of a flower opening up and like a little town of flower people dancing in the buds… I’m not high I swear. Evidence of a trip like experience can be found throughout the song. The opening line is “must be getting early, clocks are running late” which contrasts between the sense of time and the actual time, which to me reads a metaphor for losing touch with reality. The touch of grey to me represents kind of a sarcastic approach of the negative side of things. They lyrics read “every silver lining has a touch of grey” and then goes on to talk about how the dog hasn’t been fed and the kid who is 17 can’t read. This kinda describes the stereotypical stoner house where nothing is happening and things are going to shit. But the outlook is “I will get by I will survive.” Part of me wonders whether or not it is sarcastic.
You can’t not think of psychedelic rock and not think of the Greatful Dead. The band is archetypical of the psychedelic theme, with tie-dye paraphernalia, the skulls and dancing bears, which can be seen decorating the bumpers of Dead Head’s with nostalgia for the Summer of Love everywhere. Their story began around 1960 in Palo Alto California, where head guitarist Jerry Garcia met the band’s future lyricist Robert Hunter. By 1964 he was a member of the future Greatful Dead with the rest of the members: Bob Weir, Ron “Pigpen” McKernan, and longtime associates Bob Matthews (who engineered Dead albums and formed the Alembic Electronics equipment company) and John Dawson (later of New Riders of the Purple Sage). The band was called Mother McCree’s Uptown Jug Champions and in 1965 it became The Warlocks. They eventually got the name Greatful Dead from Owsley’s LSD creation. It’s name was coined by an ancient Egyptian prayer. They were first signed by MGM in 1966 and then by Warner Bros. in 1967. Three of their albums got Warner Bros. out of debt: Alive/Dead, Workman’s dead, and American Beauty (my favorite song by them “Box of Rain” is on this one). They were often seen at LSD parties and performed in several concerts which people of the psychedelic culture flocked to. The Band took a Hiatus in the 70s and many of the band members went on to fulfill solo careers.
If you look up “Owsley” in the Oxford English dictionary, what comes up is a form of LSD. That’s because Owsley Stanley was the leading man in LSD with is underground factory in the San Francisco Bay Area. A student at Berkley, Owsley, known as “Bear” for his chest hair, began smoking weed and eventually got ahold of LSD from its birthplace in Switzerland. He went on to produce and sell it out of his bathroom lab at school. After a close call with the authorities and a brief stint in LA with his partner in crime Cargill, he was back in San Francisco with reputedly the most pure form of LSD around.In his career he also was the sound mixer for the Greatful Dead, which means he not only had a hand in the drug, but the play out of its use. He spent the last 20 years of his life living in Australia, wishing to stay out of the limelight. He died due to health conditions in 2011. He was considered a key player in the Summer of Love.
Bob Dylan recorded “Subterranean Homesick Blues” in 1965 on the B side of his album “Bringing it all Back Home”. It was his first top 40 hit and one of the first songs after he went beyond working with solely acoustic music. His music video made history as one of the first audio visual productions in which he’s shown using cards with the song lyrics. The rapid fire of lyrics to the background of guitar to me does not come across as psychedelic; however, we are starting to see references in music which will develop into full scale songs. This song has several references to drugs such as “Johnny’s in the basement mixin up some medicine” and “Maggie comes fleet foot face full of black soot” to reference the drug making process. To me this song introduces the topic of drugs in music and is a step towards the development of psychedelic rock.
One of the most prominent roots of psychedelic rock is poetry. Pyshcadelic rock is mainly influenced by the poets of the Beat Generation. The term Beat Generation was coined by author of “On the Road” Jack Kerouac after meeting with other famous poets of the time: Allen Ginsberg, Herbert Huncke, and William S. Burroughs. The Beats’ goal: to “live life as they defined it.” Beat poetry was defined by free verse that was rooted in an awareness of society as it was, notions and influences stemming from the children of strict parents who saw WWII and the Depression. Ginsberg’s “Howl” and Kerouac’s “On the Road” made the Beat generation prominent, creating a public subculture, especially in the San Francisco area. Another huge member of the moment was former New York poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who owned and operated City Lights bookstore in the 1950s which sold books banned by the U.S. Justice Department. Member’s of the Baby boomer generation worshipped the work of these poets along with others that joined their ranks and the poetry’s free flowing sound and trippy subject matter became the basis for the psychedelic music that was ubiquitous in the 1960’s. It’s kind of interesting how the same “stick it to the man” and read between the lines type of counterculture existed decades before the 1960’s. Most of the time we hear about the fifties being the “Americana” era and not much about this. I really would have liked to have lived in San Francisco during this time it just seems so interesting. However I wonder how out there and present this group of people actually was. When I think of the psychedelic rock era, I think of people protesting and smoking pot on ever corner to Hendrix’s “Little Wing” and I’m sure that wasn’t the case.
I figured that a good place to start on this expedition into the abyss would be a look at the details of what the drug actually is that drove these crazy guitar riffs and a cult following. LSD-Lysergic acid diethyl amide is a colorless odorless drug that permeated the lives of the singers and listeners of the psychedelic rock movement and, further, the Hippie Movement in the 1960s. On the streets it’s called acid, blotter, California sunshine, dots, Electric Kool-Aid to name a few, and while it only takes a small amount to feel the effects, LSD is known to be a powerful hallucinogen. LSD was first created by a Swiss chemist named Albert Hoffman who was experimenting with ergot, a substance found on the rye grain that had been known to poison people who ate it during the middle ages. This compound was also used to help speed up birth and to calm women in labor. To be honest, I don’t think tripping during labor would be the worst thing… I’ve heard that is not pleasant. In the 30s lysergic acid was isolated from the ergot compound by a group of researchers in New York City. Hoffman isolated the 25th series of this substance and called it LSD 25; subsequently, he took a dose himself and realized that it had hallucinogenic effects.. and VOILA!
The post goes on to talk about all of the organic chemistry flak that goes in to making LSD and its ridiculous. Most surprisingly, it was legal to make until 1965 which coincides with the birth of psychedelic rock. I wonder if there was any sort of a prohibition type scenario that made the spread of LSD even worse. Thus, something to research more. Anyways, its kind of interesting, and brilliant of how artists took what they felt on this drug, and made something really really cool. I’m not an advocate for tripping or anything, but I think that’s pretty damn cool. I wonder if LSD hadn’t been around would psychedelic music have even happened? Because there are a lot of other influences that go into this genre… to be explored.
Let me begin this by saying I’m not a druggie. I’m not some stoner with no ambition that picks flowers and sits on the couch and blazes to “China Cat Sun Flower”. However, I cannot deny the fact that trippy music is fuel for my soul. Nothing better than laying on my bed after a long day, turning on Jimi Hendrix’s “Voodoo Child” and just letting my mind wander and relax. Psychedelic music serves its purpose and that is why I chose this topic. I think its one of the greatest examples of how music can efficaciously take you to another place.
According to this about.com article, Psychedelic Rock became popular in the mid 1960s and derived from the “the shock of Beatlemania in the US, the ready availability of LSD, and a growing interest in mysticism and Eastern culture.” I hope to explore these origins individually and do a survey of famous songs by the greats to learn for myself, and show to you what makes this musical drug tick and why is was so big in its time.
Famous to this genre of music was the use of different pre recorded and live elements as well as a mixture of instruments to create the effects of an LSD acid trip through sound. Youngsters of the beat generation went took this trip with the touch of a button, or a ticket to a concert throughout the turbulent sixties culminating with the Summer of Love in 1969.
So friends, come with me down the rabbit hole as we learn where these mystifying sounds came from and where they’re going.