16 April 2013

Bicycle Day and the NOT 70th Birthday Of LSD

Some people will tell you that the 19th of this cruellest month is the 70th anniversary of Albert Hoffman's infamous bike ride and thus that LSD is 70 years old. They'd be wrong. It's nowhere near that old. LSD never really got a good innings, got curtailed and bludgeoned before it really got going - 70 years old implies a hell of a run up but that didn't happen and we should all take the blame for not having the confidence or the conviction to change our world to accommodate it. Aristotle was right in suggesting that beauty was a visitor from another world but he'd have been more convinced by acid. This is the visitor we sort of let in but then never really addressed. It's been 70 fucking years and... nothing. The world seems worse now. Not even a war film.

It's perhaps spectacularly idealistic and naive to think that this little molecule (or all those little molecules: the mushrooms, the spores, the rot) might actually have changed things, that we might actually have ceded to its influence but... Fuck it; I still kind of believe that we genuinely might have, that we only just missed the moment, that things might still be different.

This book, for instance, seems like one of quite a few that are... piping up. There is something in the air.


Yeah, Leary was an messianic arse perhaps, Kesey lost in mostly bad music and a desire to lose, Cassady a hammer spinning emotional aggregate and misogynist... Yeah, maybe the McKenna brothers got a little too close to the Sun eventually, perhaps RAW just wasn't sure after all... Yeah perhaps there really hasn't been the advocates of late that could have visioned a future for acid and we ended with the subtly mystic Breaking Open The Head which sort of accidentally got commodified and coffee-tabled into something else...

In fact, we lost the eloquence of acid quite early, with the death of Aldous Huxley... we lost it to Americana or the Military or to silly hats and Ozric Tentacles...

In fact, you can see the slippage right on that page, on the noxious introduction to the Huxley video: "Did you know that Aldous Huxley died whilst frying balls on multiple massive injections of uncut ACID? Trippy..." that delicate turn of phrase, that implied machismo is where everything went wrong...


I'm not about to rant about how LSD could have changed the world. I know how that'll sound in print, on screen, at a time when I should know better but there's smaller little bitches to make instead.

The music itself let LSD down... The fact that there still isn't anything that only makes sense on LSD (no variation on Chris Morris's Cake music) is a massive missed opportunity (yeah, perhaps I will... Just wait and see... Maybe that's a way for IX Tab to go, it needs somewhere to go) - Acid House doesn't count because it's really suitable for ecstasy rather than acid, even psy-trance and all that hippie trance ethnic-techno isn't perfectly aligned with the chemicals, it all makes perfect sense on speed and alcohol and E and Coke... It's not music that engages with the sensibility of LSD, just music that engages with the engagement of LSD, that is it complements acid but only in the way that all music sort of complements acid (people use Bach, Beach Boys, Burzum - ok, not many use Burzum). LSD needed a music that was its own but instead it got what was simply called psychedelia. The map is not the territory etc etc etc etc

When we were kids we made stuff that only made sense on LSD. I had a stereo that could play both tapes simultaneously and we'd experiment with different mixes: two different Shamen albums, bits of Jack The Tab and Coil, bits of Monty Python and Shamanarchy albums, Bach and Autechre, Front 242 on half speed and Philip Glass... Outside of those few hrs at the peak of the flash these primitive little mixes sounded terrible (of course they did) but inside new things were born and music stopped dominating and became dominated; we chose the mood and the music followed us. In the age old battle between drugged-out humans and music we won...


If you don't know about this battle then you haven't been on drugs. Everyone I know knows about the battle. You take enough drugs and the music nearly always wins... You see the people lurching from microspace to miniplace at Festivals, unable to take, to stand what they're hearing, needing to find a place where the music wins but in a good way... The music nearly always defeats people, bends them to it's will, takes them on and off... the battle between the drugs and the music, with people as the battleground, are what Festivals are


But... In 70 years, we haven't really got much further (back and faster) than The Grateful Dead / Pink Floyd axis... And they're not even particularly good at being LSD music... They work (again, everything works) and they are functional (even The Grateful Dead who I've tried and tried to understand but just can't) but that is all... They are just music... They are for something else, like Techno and Trance are for dancing, like Autechre et al are for curing headaches (unaccompanied, Autechre et al makes no sense on acid because it makes sense on acid, becomes plodding and empty, becomes about the lost beats that are suddenly found - no, Autechre's mysticism is about thinking things through while perfectly straight, they are a crossword puzzle and you should keep them the hell away from LSD).

Even the trippiest, trickiest music of the spheres (Parmegiani, I'm looking at you) is just...not...quite.

At the time, we often talked about this as if it were a synaesthetic problem; with bendy, circular, rhizomatic music (those Mille Plateux Deleuze and Guattari albums were NOT remotely rhizomatic, even if they thought they were) being the music of choice (we all got Coil, got stuff with phasing, got some of the Psychic TV stuff, understood where the pre Mr C Shamen were coming from) but I'm not sure even that way of looking at things was truly appropriate; I suspect there was better stuff around the corner and always suspected it.

There wasn't. It never happened. Acid House really let us down, at a time when it didn't need to. It punked / Punked out. I still remember the MAARS single coming out and seeming like a throw in the right direction (us geeky guys had been trying variations of those cut ups with old Derek and Clive and New Beat records for ages). It wasn't quite right but with AR Kane involved it was almost right - and the idea of dream-pop sounded like it might be the right idea (ie music that could only make sense in a dream) but...

No. That didn't happen. Another missed opportunity. Instead dream-pop became the ultimately disappointing (mostly execrable) shoegaze, whose very genre name (laughable that some bands are deliberately adopting that as a signifier, as stupid as the Tories adopting that "I'm in love with Margaret Thatcher" song) gave up the ghost, the dream and conceded without ever throwing a single limp-wristed punch (that punch might have been You Made Me Realise, played live but it really wasn't Loveless, whatever you think)

There was Spacemen 3 back then but we knew that was just our Grateful Dead and even at their most abstracted and dissolute, the music was just so damned listenable in any circumstances. My kids love Suicide. Everybody loved Spacemen 3, whether they were LSD'd or not. And, to be fair, the boys were perhaps thinking of other, more appropriate, fuzzes.

There's been plenty of other false dawns and lots and lots of music that worked well with whatever. Christ, this blog used to be full of it back in the earlier days. Here, for instance, where I rhapsodied about Kahimi Karie (Still love this version):

Yeah, this. Whatever. I haven't linked to it in a while. I still worry about this kind of thing.

So, what I meant to say is that its sad that we've already had LSD for 70 years and haven't really done anything about it. In fact, its a spectacularly unpopular and uncool drug; one that barely registers as anything other than some faintly ironic plod towards nostalgia, towards the dreaded hippies... The arch capitalist wow of Cocaine has taken over, people still suck on Es, try variations of Plantfood & animal tranquillisers - anything to avoid the sheer hard work and effort required for a decent acid binge. No one seems to know what to do with that amount of time anymore. To concentrate on all those utterly prosaic things for 12 hrs or whatever seems almost unthinkable and maybe even slightly ridiculous and deceitful (what might anyone be looking for, when all the world is here?) and indulgent...

LSD was always indulgent, is indulgence, always brings to mind the fin-de-siècle guys and girls, who would have loved the arse off of it and maybe actually changed the world because of it. Moorcock (Did he just mention fucking Moorcock? What next? Hawkwind?) knew it - Dancers At The End Of Time, for fuck's sake - and you can sense in that book how he misses that future. Are The Focus Group gonna spin off into that missed opportunity?

****Update: in the comments this great little mix has appeared, so i thought I'd stick it in... Cheers for that!

Lord, can you hear me?


I'm off to make something that I can't listen to.

Here's to the next 70 years!


Anonymous said...

very nice post, i like it. lots of music to explore -- stuff that is new to me. unfortunately, i missed the 60th birthday conference about LSD, held for 3 or 4 days at International House in Berkeley, California. Do you have any info about a possible 70th Birthday gathering & where it might be? other than the private ceremonies we are all planning & that some of us have already started... thank you...


DJHDD said...

I have a mix on the history of LSD you may like.


Wendell G said...

You may well have read them but 'Storming Heaven' & 'Albion Dreaming' (for the British perspective] are excellent reads...as was your blog.


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