During early spring in the Pacific Northwest, residents ride a whirlpool between hope and confusion. We have more daylight and the temperature rises, but the rain persists. We’re perched on the edge of the next phase, hovering between the soul’s potential and winter’s shadow. That’s exactly how it feels within the music of Arthur Lee’s 1960’s band, Love. These songs are the perfect companion to early spring.
Last spring I rolled down the freeway, car windows down, fresh air blasting in, rain streaking the windshield as the acoustic strains of “The Castle” danced from my speakers. It was a satisfying moment – the music matched both mood and weather.
The rhythm of “The Castle” recalls a moving train, while the harpsichord and guitar chatter with traveler excitement; the thrill that makes a passenger secretly want to jump out of the window and run among green hills.
Love were The Smashing Pumpkins of the 1960’s – their music is idiosyncratic and at times bizarre, but always melodic and captivating. The shifting musical movements arrest a listener’s attention, pulling the mind into an ever-evolving tapestry of sound.
Love’s best two albums, Da Capo and Forever Changes, are often described as Baroque Pop, tinged with a Classical Spanish flavor. Arthur Lee’s background was in R&B, but he decided to tread new waters into his unique brand of folk-rock after seeing a live performance of The Byrds.
I discovered Love a few years after my first wave of 1960’s music discovery. I thought I had already unearthed all the best 60’s music at that point. One day, someone brought me a coffee table book about the 60’s. I was inspired to investigate Love’s music after I saw this picture:
That picture of Arthur Lee and Bryan MacLean playing guitar hooked me. Their faces reflect the essence of musical concentration. Arthur Lee’s face is at once poetic and beautiful. The band are in action, and it’s clear that whatever they happen to be playing, they are playing the hell out of it. I had no idea what they sounded like, but I wanted to hear this band.
I was surprised the first time I popped Da Capo into the player. I was expecting the typical Big Brother and The Holding Company blues arrangement. I heard something else instead.
I heard “Stephanie Knows Who” with its skipping carnival clowns and choppiness. I was delighted. A jazz breakdown drops in out of nowhere halfway through the song, and it sounds just like midnight dropping into the bright sun of high noon.
After this madness, the album slides into the summery “Orange Skies”. This song is a lovely portrayal of how infatuation paints the world into shades of desire. She’s a delicate nightingale to his eyes, and the flute makes butterflies flit around her head. You can see her long eyelashes, and you can picture Lee smiling on a grassy hill, dizzy and silly, drunk on her.
After I heard Da Capo, I started listening to the album constantly. I remember picking up a friend to give him a ride while “Que Vida!” was playing. He hesitated and listened. A moment passed, and finally he said, “Dude, this is some weirdshit you’re listening to.” I smiled broadly and let out a cackle. His reaction validated my belief that I’d stumbled onto a work of genius.
“Que Vida!” is an odd song. I still have no idea what this song is about. It’s too weird to pay attention to the lyrics, which are illogical and scattered in the first place. The listener is drawn into Lee’s bizarre vocal phrasing to the point where it’s impossible to focus on anything else. In the meantime, the music swirls around his voice. Lee sounds exactly like the cartoon version of Alice in Wonderland’s Cheshire cat. I cannot hear this song without picturing the pink Cheshire cat singing it. Listen to “Que Vida!” right now and tell me you don’t hear the Cheshire cat singing.
Around the same time, another friend was riding in my car while I listened to “The Castle”. Amused, she remarked wryly that it sounded like Tori Amos. I was floored because she was right. “The Castle” does sound a hell of a lot like a Tori Amos song.
There’s a similarity between the two artists – much like Tori Amos, Lee occasionally sings lyrics that are non-sensical to the audience. You get a flash of ice cream cones, hypnotized dogs and eyeless boys.
“But you can throw me if you wanna because I’m a bone and I go oop-ip-ip, oop-ip-ip Yeah!”
Forever Changes is Love’s magnum opus. Throughout the album, Lee’s Spanish guitar quietly accompanies lush string arrangements; complex orchestration lends a dramatic edge to the songs.
“A House is Not a Motel” and “The Red Telephone” are widely recognized as classics. The two songs strike a balance between Love’s arcane weirdness and their talent for straightforward electric folk-rock.
The album themes reflect the concerns of the era mingled with Lee’s personal reflections. Lee’s intimate delivery is the secret sauce here.
Throughout the album, Lee’s voice sounds like a movie voiceover that only you can hear. He’s minding his own business, having private thoughts, and you’re a secret party to those thoughts. It’s a mirror of your own private concerns and fears. It’s the clouds battling sunshine in the spring, and the sound of struggle quietly straining toward rebirth.
“The Daily Planet” is another personal favorite. The intro starts over again several times to support the idea of routine. The intro comes on strong like morning freshness, energized motivation, the will to try again, but it quickly slides out into the street and confronts an onslaught of daily stress.
Forever Changes has the feel of a concept album. It portrays a character going through a journey, if only a journey of different moods and reflections. Isolation is present throughout. Our protagonist looks around at society and makes observations about struggle, war, society, and impermanence. There’s an atmosphere of calm melancholy punctuated at times by a distinct will to action. The rhythm guitar and percussion rush around underneath, the constant heartbeat, a spirit trying to break through and rise above it all. This is the floral soundtrack to depression, as experienced by a creative aesthete who requires nature and beauty to get by.
My other favorite is “Maybe the People Would Be the Times or Between Clark And Hilldale.” Lee’s singing bursts in with a windswept symbol crash; the song is set outdoors with festive horns. This song conjures up summer music festivals in Alaska in my memory. People mill around in crowds having a good time. It’s the one overtly joyous song on the album.
“You Set The Scene” is a fitting last song for the album. The character comes to terms with his many observations. We find him deciding to persevere despite everything. This is the best song in Love’s catalog, poignant and full of grace.
Love’s various members struggled with the typical drug problems that plague rock bands. Lee’s refusal to tour compounded matters further. He apparently didn’t like going on the road and had no interest in performing outside of LA.
In some ways, that vision of Lee is endearing and fitting to the atmosphere of Forever Changes – the aloof folk icon, grassroots to the core, hanging out in his own world. There’s no indication that Lee was upset that his albums didn’t chart and sell widely at the time. He wasn’t greedy enough to put up with life on the road for the sake of chasing the diamond. It didn’t make a difference to him. All he needed was a room and an acoustic guitar.
Forever Changes was also buried under a tidal wave of heavier albums released in 1967 by popular artists; Jefferson Airplane, The Beatles, Cream, The Doors, the list goes on.
Due to the super-charged psychedelic atmosphere in music that year, the album was quaint and quiet by comparison. Years later, Forever Changes has been recognized by Rolling Stone as one of the greatest albums of all time.
Arthur Lee and Love ultimately joined a small club of underground cult heroes who have a passionate following, along with Tim Buckley and The 13th Floor Elevators. Love endured through the years by word-of-mouth, purely on the strength of the music.
And Arthur Lee was all right with that.
“Everything I’ve seen needs rearranging And for anyone who thinks it’s strange Then you should be the first to want to make this change And for anyone who thinks that life is just a game – do you like the part you’re playing?”
“I want to reach down and pick the crowd up Carry them in my hand to the promised land… To the promised land” –Reach Down
Republished; 2018: The death of legendary singer and grunge pioneer Chris Cornell stunned the music world last week.
Chris was a rare talent. He was the greatest voice in rock music; a versatile singer who could wail on high notes and slide effortlessly into a bluesy moan charged with soul and emotion.
It’s been a few days since his untimely death, and many fans remain in a state of disbelief. The best we can do is honor the man by celebrating his music and appreciating what a profound gift he gave us during his life.
It’s impossible to discuss Chris Cornell and Soundgarden without acknowledging the tremendous influence grunge had for me during my youth. Grunge music was my entry into rock. Before I was a fan of classic rock, I was a hardcore fan of grunge. The big four – Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, and Soundgarden – formed the nucleus of my obsession.
Grunge was a visceral introduction to the rock universe. It was unbelievable. Together, all the albums released by each band created a unified alternate world. This world mirrored the dark emotions we lived inside, but the music made it beautiful. It was empowered alienation. As Rolling Stone once said, it was the music of “violence and retreat”.
Grunge delivered raw emotion behind soaring voices, screams, otherworldly guitar phrases and lyrics that touched our souls. A handful of bands defined our experience, and those bands were larger than life. Chris Cornell was larger than life.
The first song I heard by Soundgarden was the iconic “Black Hole Sun”. The dark psychedelia was strange, but I loved it. From that moment, I was hooked.
I listened to early-era Soundgarden every morning on the drive to school. The sound was perfect for Alaska mornings. I remember gliding down the icy road listening to “Nothing to Say”, “Flower”, and “Hands All Over”.
The red sun peeked over the horizon, blazing a thin line over mountains beneath a dark sky. The guitars echoed to the mountains; mean, cold, and brittle. The drums vacillated between a steady battle march and unhinged madness. The whole thing sounded like a glacier splitting in slow motion.
Soundgarden’s early music is hypnotic and full of stark imagery; dark pines, eerie lakes, power lines, and grey skies marbled in clouds. I listened and flew across the sky. I gazed down on a vast portrait of nature in still life. Cornell’s soaring voice pulled you into a vision. You didn’t jump or head bang along with this music – you brooded to Soundgarden. It was menacing and the intensity pulled you in. Your soul moved into the songs.
“Room A Thousand Years Wide” is a great example, it churns through desert surrealism, blinding sun, and strobe lights. Soundgarden’s music was a vehicle into imagery or a feeling you couldn’t place. You broke through the mirror and emerged into a realm halfway between artist and audience. Waves of saturated guitar washed over and you were reborn in an instant.
Locked into a serious grunge obsession, you went hours without eating because you were too busy experiencing a surge of emotion. It was like a drug.
I never left this music completely behind, but I remember when it was all new.
I had a sad moment today during one of my favorite songs, “Loud Love”. The song is so high octane and immediate that I forgot Chris passed away. I was rocking out, then suddenly I remembered that the source behind this powerful vocal delivery is gone.
I have another special memory connected to Soundgarden. The band accompanied me into the stupidest decision of my life.
Many years ago, I decided to visit my favorite park in Anchorage armed with two sugar cubes of LSD. This seemed like a great idea until the bathroom walls started breathing. An orange hue creeped over everything and at that point I decided it was probably foolish to hang out in the woods at a public park on acid.
So, I decided to drive home.
During the drive home, I played “Searching with My Good Eye Closed”. I turned the volume up to full blast. When that first wall of guitar hit, it vibrated through my body with an intensity I’d never experienced. I felt like I was entering heaven. Chris sang about the sky and I was ready. I was ready to go up into that sky. I had this total spiritual experience, like a monk on top of a mountain. It was amazing.
I could talk about Soundgarden songs and my memories connected to them all day. Nothing I say can touch the experience of listening to the music.
I was never impressed by Audioslave’s radio singles. However, I picked up the album Songbook a couple of years ago and was blown away by the acoustic version of “Like a Stone”. I decided I should explore Audioslave’s albums. I never ended up doing that, but I will soon.
The one Chris Cornell project that I’ve always loved is Temple of The Dog.
Temple has been a tear-inducing experience over the last couple of days. Every other song makes me cry. Beyond just mourning Chris Cornell, I might also be mourning the grunge era and human experience in general.
Temple of The Dog inspires that level of grief. Since the album’s songwriter is now gone, the music has adopted an additional level of meaning. Many of the songs are about grieving. “Say Hello to Heaven” is especially poignant. This is the album where Chris began to show the world his genius beyond the limits of Soundgarden.
Chris Cornell’s passing has taken me back into memories of the first days when I fell in love with music – days at home staring into the fireplace, occasionally glancing out the window at the autumn moon while listening to Kurt, Layne, Eddie, and Chris.
The music has been there all along, but somehow the shock of Chris Cornell’s passing has taken me deeper into old songs. I realize I’ve been sleeping through life lately.
Chris is gone, but we have his legacy and a huge amount of recorded music to remember him by. All the moments of sweltering power and glory are still there, and nothing can take that away.
“Please, mother mercy Take me from this place And the long-winded curses I keep hearing in my head
Words never listen And teachers never learn Now I’m warm from the candle Though I feel too cold to burn
He came from an island And then he died from the street And he hurt so bad like a soul breaking But he never said nothing to me
Say Hello to Heaven
New like a baby And lost like a prayer The sky was your playground And the cold earth was your bed
Poor stargazer She’s got no tears in her eyes Smooth like a whisper She knows love heals all wounds with time
Now it seems like too much love is never enough You better seek out another road Cause this one has ended abrupt
I never wanted To write these words down for you With the pages of phrases of things we’ll never do
So I blow out the candle And I put you to bed Since you can’t say to me now How the dogs broke your bone There’s just one thing left to be said:
Say Hello to Heaven”
-Chris Cornell, Temple of The Dog; Say Hello To Heaven.
Yesterday, I spent an hour going through the entire Underworld catalog trying to find other songs as good as the two below.
These two are the major standouts. Now, there were a couple others that I like (one called “Dark Train” and another with “curry” in the title), but Amazon did that thing on both where you have to buy the full album to get the track, usually a very long track. Silly bullshit. I would rather pay more for a long track then be forced to buy whole albums of songs I don’t want.
The thing is, because I dislike the harsh sound of many other Underworld songs (the beats in many are abrasive where the two below are gentle), I will admit I was not giving most of these albums a proper chance. We all know that some tracks must be listened to a few times to properly “get it”.
On the other hand, I once owned “Oblivion with Bells” and I only liked two songs on it, once of which is below. So, maybe my initial impression of “wow most of these songs suck” based on snippets and fast forwarding was correct.
this is largely a matter of economy. If I found this collection in CD format at a garage sale for $5 or $10 to get all the albums, I would happily grab them up and give the albums a proper listen over time.
well, I am not going to sit around streaming music that I don’t own, tolerating ads, skipping over ads, whatever. Nope.
Are there people content to stream all the time without owning? Not me. When I hit up Pandora, I am actively looking for new music to buy. I don’t do this often because I am so picky. Anyway. My next mission is to go to pandora, look at all those 200+ songs I have given a “thumbs up” over the last several year, preview them on YouTube (the one venue where you can listen to anything on demand for free) and then decide which ones are worth owning. And then buy them.
Last night I bought “Dirty Epic” and “8Ball” by Underworld. That was it. Nothing more from all this exploration.
“Dirty Epic” is also a good song. This guy is a good lyricist. I read a bunch of lyrics from songs I don’t like the sound of. He’s almost a poet. “Dirty Epic” has both good lyrics and an enjoyable, soft-beat sound. LOVE their soft beats.
But let’s talk about the two masterpieces.
“Beautiful Burnout” is brilliant, because (like all good songs that I love), the imagery and potency of the moment is strong here.
It’s about riding a city train while the sun sets. When I say “imagery and potency” I mean that you can see the cold winter sun setting in the glass windows of the skyscrapers. You can feel the train turning. There are even beats here that emulate going over bumps, or perhaps the rattling of the cab as it speeds up and slows down to stop. Powerful stuff.
The lyrics support the music so well. “Sun goes down. Temperature drops”. This is as potent as any song by The Smashing Pumpkins that I love. And for the same reasons. Underworld are electronica, but unlike a lot of boring electronic fare, when they are at their best they tell a story and absolutely put you there just as well as any good classic rock band.
There are sound elements here supporting the imagery that I can feel but can’t explain. I like that. For me art is only potent when something inside of it is slightly unreachable. When it can’t be fully described, even as some writers and journalists may get close. That’s the key. I’m certain that every sound crafted here supports the train imagery in every way, but I can’t explain why.
I already talked about 8Ball a couple weeks ago. I thought it was called “8Ball on the Beach” for some reason. It might as well be called that!
I was in a deep depression, due to feeling trapped and the unending summer heatwaves of August. The point where I began to get some relief was when I remembered this song and started vaporizing weed during the day while listening to this. I would listen to it like 3 times in a row.
That magical guitar beginning at the 4:40(ish) timestamp does something for me. The frequency is one of hope. As much as I love the beach on a warm day, I actually like this song more somehow. Probably because it’s the sound of human emotion reacting to the beach.
There are some darker and playful elements. The sound is one thing, but listen to the lyrics. This song is about doing cocaine on the beach. Three druggies are hanging out. One is our coked up protaganist, absolutely having the time of his life. The second is some guy on who knows what “using an empty whisky flask as a walkie-talkie”, then a third character on some type of drug (I would like to think psychedelic) who runs up to the protagonist and throws his arms around him in a warm embrace.
These people might be fucked up, but it’s absolutely heartwarming. Seriously. I love this song so much.
I talked before about the guy in the comments who obviously knows nothing about drug slang. He is like “this is about buddism, yay!”. I guess at the end when he says “that white stuff makes me feel happy” this guy thinks he’s talking about beach sand.
The guitar recalls Smashing Pumpkins Gish-era guitar. Chiming, sunny, happy. It’s a frequency that does something spiritual for me. Which is probably why it began to pull me out of that very bad place such that I could function enough to actually go to the beach with B. Where I had a good time until I decided to get stupid toward the end.
Anyway. I really wish they had more songs this good. “Dark and Long/Dark Train” is also very good. Although very different from 8Ball. But I’m not linking it over because linking over YouTube is a pain in the ass. Two is enough.
I like to do Song of The Month features. It’s fun too… because I call them song of the month but sometimes it’s only twice a year. I just do them when I feel like it. 😁
Today features House of The Rising Sun by Eric Burdon and The Animals. I fuckin’ love Eric Burdon. Listen to that goddamn voice.
hot damn. I discovered one of his greatest hits albums in the early 2000’s around the same time that I discovered The Who and a bunch of other classic rock stuff that was new to me at the time. Burdon was yet another fantastic treasure I found during a period of ripe discovery.
I tended to discover a good classic rock song and either I would order a best hits comp, or the entire early catalog of each band. It was a joy to receive these discs in the mail and put them on right away…usually while taking a huge bong rip.. start listening and say to my girlfriend, “hot damn! EVERY song on this CD is amazing.”
Burdon’s compilation was like that. It featured “See See Rider”, “Montery”, “Sky Pilot” and all his 1967-1969 stuff, including an excellent version of “River Deep, Mountain High”. I never did check out the earlier era of The Animals because it seemed like it was just a bunch of covers. I may do that soon. Because honestly, rising sun is a cover and it’s possibly the most famous and skillfully executed cover song of all time.
I am learning this one and it’s trickier to play than it sounds due to the pick scrape action and the fact that it’s in 3/6 combined with the pick technique. But I am obsessive so I will get it.
Listen to that voice. Makes my nipples hard. Burdon is such a weird guy too. In the best way. Listen to him in the song “Winds of Change” and this weirdness becomes evident. He does this weird deadpan thing and I love it. Just a very unique and special voice in the Canon of rock legends.
he also looks a lot like me. Burdon could be my dad. I am adopted so it warms my heart to think maybe there’s some chance that I am actually the product of Burdon and some groupie. Heh.
heh heh. “Have you seen Tina Turner?” This one makes me want to dance or walk circles in my living room.
I’ve been wanting to write about my past psychedelic experiences for a long time. Last night I discovered a great resource for researching psychedelics & experiences that I will plug at the bottom of this post, along with a few other links.
Before we get into my experiences, I gotta plug a few hilarious quotes I found.
My original intention was to do two separate posts.
One of them was going to be chock-full of funny quotes like those below, plus some quotes that were simply interesting or beautiful. The other post was going to be my personal experiences.
Well, as I continued to read about people’s experiences, I found that most of them just were not as funny as the ones below.
And I don’t have patience to make a big research project out of this whole thing.
But let’s get into the good stuff.
“Moments later I progressed ever deeper into the ego death and lost my sense of self momentarily. I then started to feel that I was the universe searching for itself within itself but had entirely forgotten that it was itself. At this point a brief moment of realization hit me, I realized that I had found myself and that it had been right in front of me all along.”
“I was asking questions aloud to my friends/guardian spirits, like “When did you get here?” (by which I meant, ‘When did you beings come into existence?’), and my friend replied, “We’ve been here the whole time, dude” (this proved to me that they were divine).”
And later, in the same entry:
“One friend stayed behind to keep me company through all this while the other two went exploring, and I asked stuff from time to time (still thinking he was divine); “Where did you come from?” I asked, and he replied by touching my heart and whispering, “We came from inside.” Looking back on it he was simply trolling me, but my mind was blown, again.”
Haha, lmao! =) That entry above is my absolute favorite.
(The quote below is for Rob in particular)
“I decided it was finally time for me to try to play Mario cart, and as I tried to navigate through the menu with my friend I realized that I could actually still play really well. I chose a map called “rainbow road” for obvious reasons, and the neon rainbow of colors engulfed the entire room as we played. I had never felt this before, but a great peace of everything being connected to me overcame me and I started bawling my eyes out! I kept telling my friends that I was experiencing “pure love” and that the universe loved me!”
(He then goes on to explain that his friends were shitty trip sitters, and it seems like they were just ignoring him while he was having this majestic insight about the universe – how sad).
Before we get into my experiences, I should tack a disclaimer on here.
I have never had a bad trip on any psychedelic drug. However. This was during a very social time of my life. I was young and I was surrounded by friends I trusted who I spent time hanging out with nearly every day.
The “set and setting” was continually good because this friend group had such a profoundly positive effect on my life. Thus, even when I tripped alone I never had a bad trip.
I had not yet developed anxiety or a stressful career. I had zero self-awareness. In other words, I was not yet an adult. I was an adult in age (early 20’s) but not mentally. If I took any of these substances now (besides MDMA), there’s a good chance I’d have a nightmare trip unless something in my life changed to where I could establish general emotional safety, plus a very good set and setting.
I remember the beginning of my first LSD trip like it was yesterday. It makes me smile.
Being incredibly dumb as a young person, I took that first dose alone. My girlfriend must have been at work. I have no memory of her being there. I was alone in my first apartment.
I took a low dose and waited for the effects to kick in.
It must have been one sugar cube, because I can’t remember any geometric wave patterns from this first trip. But then, I only remember the first part of the trip. I do remember a pufferfish on the ceiling. But we’ll get to that later.
The first thing I remember is a gentle and heady shift in my consciousness. I remember having a little feeling of excitement. “Wow, it’s happening!”
Some time passed, and I looked down at the carpet. The carpet was one of those low carpets like you’d find in a doctor’s waiting room office. It was normally dark blue with green specks in it.
As the effects of the acid kicked in, the floor started turning green. A neon-colored green. I was ecstatic.
I grabbed the cordless phone and dialed my friend Nick. He answered.
“Nick!” I shouted, “Nick, the floor is turning GREEN!”
“It sounds like you took that acid.”
I don’t remember what he said after that. I’m sure that I continued talking about how amazing everything was and he continued chuckling for some time.
I was a big marijuana stoner during this time, and I had recently discovered The 13th Floor Elevators. I grabbed a 13th Floor Elevators album, placed it in the CD deck of my stereo and cranked the music up.
The song “(I’ve Got) Levitation” came on and I was overtaken with musical ecstasy.
The lyrics talked about the ocean rolling below you. I jumped up on my couch and looked down at the floor. I wasn’t hallucinating at this point, but I had a general feeling like the room was more expansive and I imagined my floor as the ocean. A blue-green ocean of neon.
I jumped from the couch cushions up to the very top of the couch, and then back down to the couch cushions again. I just remember being ecstatic over the music.
At one point, I looked up at the ceiling. I couldn’t believe my eyes!
I saw a flashing pufferfish on my ceiling. There wasn’t any color or anything, it was just the outline of the pufferfish. It was in the ceiling texture – those paint bumps you see in apartments.
But it was clearly a pufferfish. Spikes and everything. And it was flashing and moving around.
I sat for a while looking up and admiring the pufferfish.
This is an amazing thing about LSD. Where did this come from? I didn’t have any particular interest in pufferfish. But one just appeared randomly. Created by my fucking brain. Just… out of nowhere.
Apparently, Nick decided that I shouldn’t be alone. Because at some point there was a knock on the door. I wasn’t scared because I somehow knew that it was my friends.
I opened the door, and they all piled in. About 7 or 8 of them.
I didn’t have much furniture so most of them sat cross legged on the floor.
They suddenly looked like cabbage patch kids to me. You know, the doll from the 80’s. They didn’t literally look like the dolls, but I had a general feeling that they were cabbage patch kids because of the particular way they sat cross legged on the floor. Their crossed legs were like cabbages and they were cabbage patch kids.
Most of them were a few years younger than me. I was totally the immature 21-year-old befriending and buying beer for the 17- and 18-year-olds. And yet… I was the most childlike among the whole crowd. It was a thing they liked about me and they were special.
There’s a whole Jack Kerouac-style backstory about how I met these kids that I should tell some other time. We all remained friends for several years until a primary member of the group committed suicide and shattered each of our lives.
But, at this very moment on LSD they looked like cabbage patch kids to me, and I remember telling them so. They were always amused by “crazy Melissa” and my weird-ass antics while drunk or stoned. And they all came over to my apartment because they couldn’t miss the chance to see me on LSD. Heh.
One of the girls sat next to me on the couch and I handed her my journal with sketches and writings. She sat there reading it and looked amazed by what she was reading. I continued tripping but I don’t remember anything else.
I did quite a bit of LSD tripping after that. There was a great deal of listening to music and staring at the geometric swirls in the fireplace.
During the most intense experience, I remember I ate a little too much acid. Probably like 3 or 4 sugar cubes. Too much for me. I tried listening to some wild song by Jimi Hendrix.
The whole room smiled at me in mockery. The edges of everything in the room, and indeed the room itself – it was all bent sharply upward in a mocking smile. The stereo smiled at me. It wasn’t a bad trip; it was just a little too intense. I shut the radio off and waited it out. This intense moment passed pretty quickly.
One time me and the boys went to Kincaid Park and it was the most amazing trip of my life. People should trip outdoors under the moonlight. We climbed this huge hill and looked out over Anchorage’s Cook Inlet. I can’t remember much of that one, beyond the sheer beauty of Kincaid Park under the moon in early spring. Which, honestly – I’m sure is amazing while perfectly sober.
Generally speaking – low to moderate doses of LSD bring a vast amount of geometric form pattern hallucinations.
You don’t actually have the kind of hallucinations where you see things that are not really there – you just hallucinate moving geometric patterns – at times often quite intricate – in the forms of reality. Walls, carpets, desktops. And maybe – as in my case – the occasional form of some kind of animal in the wall or ceiling.
Most of the experience is spiritual in nature. It changes how you feel. There’s a spiritual transcendence.
I cannot speak for high doses. I was never brave enough to take a high dose, except the aforementioned “mocking smile” experience. That was a bit uncomfortable for a while. My male friends would take much higher doses than I did.
One time Nick told me that he had a trip after 9 sugar cubes where he thought he swallowed his tongue. I laughed my ass off and told him that’s why I stuck to lower doses.
One time I drove to Kincaid Park and ate a couple of sugar cubes in the bathroom. Alone. I hung out for a while and went and sat in the grass. Then I went to the bathroom to pee.
At some point, the walls began turning orange and the geometric hallucinations began. The walls started breathing. I had a moment of clarity where I decided it was probably not smart to hang out in the woods alone on LSD.
I drove home. High on acid. So – it was not safe enough to be alone in the woods, but driving was apparently fine. I wrote in more detail about this experience in my post about Soundgarden.
Because I listened to Soundgarden on the drive home, see. On full blast. It was the greatest driving experience of my life.
But… it was incredibly, incredibly dumb. I cannot believe I was ever that stupid. I don’t understand how I made it out of my early 20’s alive.
I paid close attention to red and green lights. I drove as carefully as I could and stayed between the highway lines while everything swirled around me. This was my Hunter S. Thompson moment.
I could have called my girlfriend to come get me. I realized this half-way through the drive. But it was too late.
But when I got home, my girlfriend was zoned out on LSD herself. She was laying on the couch watching Pink Panther cartoons.
Heh. So much for that idea.
Then came magic mushrooms. Ooooh, I was arrogant about mushrooms at first. I thought I could handle a whole bag of mushrooms because I had done so much LSD.
Newsflash: They’re two different drugs. You don’t eat a whole fucking bag of mushrooms the first time you try them. It doesn’t matter how often you’ve been taking LSD.
I was laying on the couch while tripping. At some point, I completely lost my sense of self. I had no form. I had no body.
I could not perceive where the couch ended, and I began. All of this happened with my eyes closed.
I closed my eyes and the most incredible visuals with great huge beams of blue light in a shape I can only describe as hourglass-like – they moved in constant patterns like a modern screensaver.
I was too fucked up to be scared. I do not remember any fear. Whatsoever. I remember being fascinated. To the extent possible, given that I was no longer a human and I had no human form.
After a while, I came down some and opened my eyes. I took a drink of my water and it tasted like strawberries. I was astonished. I kept drinking more. How can this be? I took more sips, it kept tasting like strawberries.
The best mushroom trip happened with my friend Nick.
We ate the mushrooms (a reasonable dose this time!) and walked the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail. As we entered the trail, some type of machine that cleans paved paths was driving toward us. I was starting to come up. I was absolutely fascinated.
“Nick, look at this crazy shit!”
There were a few of these machines and they were like crazy giant bugs – some kind of ant that sprayed water. He laughed because he saw the same thing. “Yeah, that’s some weird shit, I know…”
We walked the trail all night long. Gorgeous. I had to stop several times to puke. Mushrooms always had this effect on me.
Until my friend Crystal informed me that you can cut the nausea by squeezing the good shit out of the mushrooms with a strainer into a cup of double-bagged chamomile tea and steep it for 15 minutes.
It works. That’s how powerful chamomile tea is. I never puked or had nausea after making “mushroom tea”.
Here comes the best part:
We entered a park area with picnic tables. I saw a statue sitting at a picnic table. I was absolutely fascinated. I began walking quickly toward the statue. I heard Nick yell behind me, “Melissa, what you are you doing!?” He sounded alarmed, but I thought he was just being dramatic.
“I’m going to look at this statue!”
I slowed my pace as I neared the statue. The statue had its chin resting on its hand – like that whole “To be, or not to be” statue of classical whatever.
Suddenly, the statue moved! I gasped and started running away as fast as I could.
At some point, I stopped and looked back, still alarmed. I’m not sure why I did this, but I kicked dirt up into the air with my foot. Like a dog. And then continued running back toward Nick.
Nick was laughing his ass off. He was laughing so hard he was in tears.
“I thought it was a statue!” I explained.
So, let’s consider the perspective of this poor dude. He’s sitting around thinking about something. Suddenly, a young woman runs up to him at full speed, slows down, and peers closely at him with wildly dilated eyes. Ha. It’s too great.
Welcome to Anchorage, Alaska. Stranger things happen in this town.
As we walked, seagulls dived at Nick and it scared the shit out of him. We had walked beneath a nest. He was trying to punch them in the air. I laughed at him and he was annoyed at my laughing. And I laughed even more at his annoyance.
I wish I had a better description of walking on the Knowles Trail in summertime on mushrooms. Especially with a trusted friend. Let me just say this: This trail in Anchorage is amazing enough on its own. The lush plants, the summer light.
Nick was planning on leaving for California for winter, and toward the end of the trip we sat in a field with flowers. Suddenly Nick became Mr. Planning. Which I thought was hilarious.
He talked a great deal about things he needed to do for his cats. Nick always had cats around. He was very serious about taking care of his pet cats. Which was sweet because he was a young stoner boy. He named one of his cats “Spliff”.
He talked about his plane leaving at “Nine o’clock in the afternoon”.
We were still fairly high. I lost it. I started laughing my ass off.
“Nine o’clock is nighttime, Nick, not afternoon!” He was like, “Oh yeah, I guess you’re right.”
Heh. Shit like that. You had to be there.
Ah, then there was MDMA. Colloquially known as “Ecstasy”. This was a few years after the LSD and mushrooms.
Far and away – the CRAZIEST hallucinations I have ever seen happened on MDMA. This is due to one of two things – either the massive doses I took, or there was something else in those pills. We’ll get into the hallucinations later.
This was during a very irresponsible time of my life. I was out of my mind, and I was reckless.
My good friend had killed himself.
Only a few months after that incident, I walked in on my best friend and my girlfriend having sex.
I remember my MDMA trips, but I do not remember much else from this period. It was the darkest period of my life.
Looking back, I used the MDMA as self-therapy. I had no one. My friend group had splintered apart after our mutual friend’s suicide. The whole group isolated and stopped seeing each other for a while.
I lived with this best friend of mine. The Betrayer. So, I had to continue living with this wench for a while until I decided to move back in with my parents. You can imagine how that went.
Well, unless I was high on MDMA, which I often was. Then I was okay with the two of them. But when I came down? Not so much. I should have moved out sooner, but you see – I couldn’t sit around doing MDMA all night long at my parent’s house.
I did ecstasy alone and it was my therapy. I forgave them both. I saw their perspective. I had intense empathy for myself, for both of them, and for everyone in the whole world. My friend would walk by and I was like, “Okay, I understand, and I forgive you” and she would be confused because hours earlier I was screaming at her and throwing shit.
I took massive doses. 5 pills at once, and then I took more once the high wore off. Nick told me I was out of my mind. He was concerned, but there was nothing he could do about it.
The craziest hallucination was The Parrot. I worked for a guitar store at the time. We were allowed to take home awesome promotional posters sent to the store for gear.
I had this poster of Jimi Hendrix with a huge Marshall stack behind him. It was a Marshall advertisement. I was high and staring at this poster intensely.
Suddenly, something started GROWING on this poster. On Jimi’s shoulder. It was a bright green color, almost a neon green. The green thing started as just a little round ball, but the ball kept growing.
The ball continued to slowly grow into a branch! From the branch, talons formed, and from the talons, legs grew up, and from the legs a torso, wings, and a head!
I sat up and squinted. I couldn’t believe this was happening. I knew that I was experiencing a hallucination, I didn’t believe it was real. But – I had never seen ANYTHING like this on LSD or mushrooms. The detail was amazing.
Best yet, this was all 3D. The branch grew out halfway into my living room and the parrot WALKED out onto the branch and stared at me. It turned its head this way and that, checking me out.
I got up and grabbed the air. People are funny like that when high – you know full and well that it’s a hallucination from your mind, but you’re going to try and grab it anyway. You know. It just seems so real that you have to make sure.
I also remember seeing a lot of spiders coming down from the ceiling on webs during this time. That was unsettling because spiders are a thing that actually exist. I was always swatting at them just to make sure. But these hallucinations were so frequent that soon enough I learned to ignore them and listen to my music.
I was constantly listening to The Meat Puppets. That music is made for MDMA. There’s no way I can explain this. The only way you could understand how The Meat Puppets are the perfect MDMA band is to take the drug and listen to the band.
It was so good that I rarely listened to anything else.
One morning I had a hallucination that a rat was giving birth in my bathroom heater vent. I thought it might be a hallucination, but it seemed so real that I couldn’t stop watching and trying to figure it out. It was disgusting. These little hairless rodents swirmed around like maggots and the mom rat just kept popping them out. She had like 10 babies and finally it disappeared.
Then I went to work while still high. I told one of my co-workers about how a rat may have given birth in my heater vent. I relayed this information while still obviously very high, I’m sure.
I was fired that day, of course.
Heh. And then four years later I became an HR worker. I never judged people with drug charges on those background checks, let me tell you.
And so ends the history of my psychedelic drug use. I had many fun times. I did many stupid things.
I have no interest in MDMA but would happily do LSD and mushrooms again under the right circumstances. But first I would need either a group of close and trusted friends, or a licensed therapist who enjoys supervising these adventures. I can’t see ever doing any of that shit again on a willy-nilly basis like I did back in the day. And I would certainly never trip alone. In general, I’m more of an actual adult now and would be very cautious about the whole affair.
On a dark stage in 1967, the jazz-rock ensemble Jefferson Airplane perform the song “Crown of Creation” to an enthralled crowd. A large screen flashes a red sun behind the singers as they harmonize. Their voices shimmer and converge into one alchemy of sound as the rhythm guitar pulsates with the light show. The lead guitar cuts through the stage and twists out into the audience like a wild river.
From the first note of their debut album through the last note of 1969’s Volunteers, Jefferson Airplane were a musically diverse force that took the world by storm. They began as a local San Francisco folk-rock band in 1965, and within two years they skyrocketed to fame with the band’s two seminal hits, “Somebody to Love” and “White Rabbit.” For fans, however, the magic extends far beyond the band’s two hit singles.
The Airplane sound will guide listeners through an echo tunnel and into a world the band’s rhythm guitarist Paul Kantner once called, “The unbridled passion of the 60’s”. Jefferson Airplane soared to the top of the charts during a time when rock music was exploding with talent, new ideas, and technology.
The band’s professionalism and thunderous live performances attracted local San Francisco musician Grace Slick, the member who ultimately launched the band to superstardom.
Like all legendary bands, a mysterious element drove the Airplane’s sound. The songs drew from a dynamic color palette loaded with reverb and surrounded by layers of gauzy dreamscape. They were unique among other popular bands of the time for their ability to seamlessly combine folk-based music with jazz, blues, and psychedelia.
The music and the overall persona of the band were an ideology. Among all the other legendary rock bands from the 1960’s, it was Jefferson Airplane who cut directly into the heart of the scene. Their music represented the boundless optimism, joy, and romance of the era
My introduction to the Airplane began with Grace Slick’s face on the cover of her 1998 autobiography, Grace Slick:Somebody to Love?
One day, I wandered around a bookstore browsing for anything that looked interesting. I walked up to the front and turned toward the new release shelf. A shiny cover with a woman’s face captured my eye. I did a double take and froze. The most beautiful woman I’d ever seen in my life was staring me down with unnerving intensity. Grace Slick’s infamous “laser stare” stopped me in my tracks.
I immediately walked over to the book and opened it up. The first page contained several author quotes about drug experiences, trouble with the law, and various other comic tidbits. They were hilarious and I was sold.
After reading the book a couple of times, I finally picked up a copy of the Airplane compilation album, White Rabbit and Other Hits. I listened, and I was hooked.
As it turned out, this beautiful and funny Grace Slick was also a fantastic singer. The interplay between the various instruments and the two voices — Grace and Marty Balin — was unlike anything I had experienced. Complex layers of minor key madness danced around soft rhythm brushstrokes. The music flashed with colors while the lyrics evoked rich imagery.
Year by year, each album by the Airplane portrays a changing era. Their debut album, Jefferson Airplane Takes Off, reveals a more innocent, folksy vibe than later albums.
The album was released in 1966, right at the turning point before full-blown psychedelia and heavier rock hit the airwaves. The song “Run Around” is awash in late night carnival lights. Two lovers romance around the town walking along the waterfront, reading poetry and gazing at the stars.
Many songs on the album are folk-based, but it’s more than folk. The sound stretches beyond traditional folk into a sonic dimension specific to this band that defies both genre and description.
1967’s Surrealistic Pillow represents the big shift in the Airplane’s sound. Grace’s searing vocal on “Somebody to Love” drives the song forward while Jorma Kaukonen’s lead guitar slides out from underneath the ground and hangs on the ceiling. The album intertwines the Airplane’s earlier folk influences with a new power — bluesy and raging.
Surrealistic Pillow has plenty of quieter moments as well. The acoustic guitar in “Today” sounds like water dropping into a dark pond surrounded by neon flowers. The drums reverberate with pink hues.
“Coming Back to Me” features a flute backed by acoustic guitar, but again, this is no ordinary folk song. The imagery is so rich that you can see the protagonist. You are him. It’s autumn, you’re deep in the woods. You’re alone in a cabin. You look out the window — there’s the ghost of your lover. The purity of Balin’s voice lends itself perfectly to the song’s theme.
On their 1968 album, After Bathing at Baxter’s, the Airplane dived headfirst into insanity. At this point, everyone in the rock world was competing with Jimi Hendrix. Hendrix dropped into the scene and blazed fiery trails of new sonic territory. Everyone was floored by Hendrix’s sound, and all the popular rock acts of the day began playing differently.
As a result of Hendrix’s influence (and as a result of the emerging drug culture), some incredibly weird albums emerged in 1968. After Bathing at Baxter’s is one such album.
Baxter’s is a big yellow jazz room with wooden floorboards and xylophones. Men wearing top hats and red suspenders pound on drums. The guitar becomes a spaceship, Grace’s singing sounds tribal at moments, and the lyrics are surreal.
The song “Wild Tyme” has a marching band feel, the sound of excitement and determination. Flower children march through the streets and over fields. Now they’re pouring out of buildings and the crowd is growing. A couple observes all the changes happening everywhere. They’re wild with joy. They have each other, their friends — everything stretches out in endless possibilities.
“Saturday Afternoon” is another gem; hillsides full of people dance in the sun, and that persistent chiming guitar is a call to a greater power within.
The production and general sound of Baxter’s is bizarre. It’s like they’re playing underground. The band are down in the underworld playing through a bullhorn, and it’s connected to a wire that snakes up through miles of dirt and plugs into your stereo.
Crown of Creation is Jefferson Airplane at their best. The album combines all their earthy folksiness with striking moments of lead guitar and rhythm prowess.
The song “Crown of Creation” is one of my favorites; filled with ancient caves, meadows, and gold. Crown is darker than previous albums, owing partly to the increasing song contributions of Grace Slick. Always the darkest musical force in the band, Grace wrote scathing lyrics directed at society. The backing music was ominous and unsettling, but darkly alluring. Just like her beauty.
1969’s Volunteers has a few gems, most notably “Wooden Ships”, but this is the album where the band starts to lose me. The sound is almost country in places. This phase of the Airplane, however, was also a reflection of the changing music scene. The psychedelic 60’s gave way to a brief country-rock fad, shortly before heavier bands like Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin stormed the charts.
“Wooden Ships” is the finest song from Volunteers. You can see and feel the boat crashing over the waves. You can taste the salt. The song is a fitting goodbye — Jefferson Airplane set a course away from popular music with one final and passionate song.
They would never return. But in their wake, they left an unsurpassed legend for generations to enjoy.
“We played at the Monterey jazz festival, and someone wrote a review. They said we sounded like a mule kicking down a barn door. We all liked that, you know! We thought, wow, that’s great. Among all these jazz guys we sound like a mule kicking a barn door.”
“Every time I hear “White Rabbit,” I am back on the greasy midnight streets of San Francisco, looking for music, riding a fast red motorcycle downhill into the Presidio, leaning desperately into the curves through the eucalyptus trees, trying to get to the Matrix in time to hear Grace Slick play the flute” – Hunter S. Thompson
Republish from April 2019. Long ago, I sat in my living room listening to Amnesiac by Radiohead with a head full of LSD.
I stared at the fireplace, slack-jawed and wide-eyed, watching the giant stones swirl in geometric patterns. Listening intently, I tried to understand the pops, clicks, and clanks of “Packt Like Sardines in a Crushd Tin Box”. I was awestruck; everything made complete sense, yet it made no sense at all.
“Pyramid Song” started playing and I sat up. The flood gates of my mind opened; a river of emotion flowed into my ears and out of my eyes, a gleaming mirror formed in my field of vision as music notes danced on the surface.
Fog rolled into my living room. As the orchestra kicked up and Thom Yorke moaned wistfully, a lighthouse beacon appeared. I was on a ship in the ocean. I looked over the edge and saw those black-eyed angels Thom was singing about. I looked up to a dark blue sky laced with pink clouds above the twilight. The songs became stranger and infinitely more beautiful as the album unfurled.
Amnesiac isn’t an album on LSD — it’s an odyssey.
I can never fully describe the experiences I had listening to Amnesiac on acid. The description above is a rough, crude sketch that doesn’t begin to convey the level of beauty and strangeness I witnessed in that living room.
Amnesiac had a calming quality, but it was also brittle, vast and perplexing. I could drink in the cold passion while I wrapped my brain around the puzzles within the sound. I could never solve those puzzles, but I never tired of the effort.
Radiohead’s music has been the soundtrack to moments of intense connection and grief in my life. Looking back, it was the calming and therapeutic quality of Amnesiac that hooked me above everything else.
Now I’m returning to Radiohead for the same reason, exploring late period music I overlooked in the last decade and discovering songs that serve my journey now the way Amnesiac served my acid trips in 2003.
I’ve recently experienced severe anxiety. It’s subsiding now, but this Nightmare Land lasted nearly a month. When anxiety strikes, it’s like a series of waves crashing. When the tide goes out, you’re left with an ethereal, ghost-like feeling. That’s disassociation. This is your brain’s way of dealing with adrenaline overload. It’s almost like being high. It’s a welcome relief from the feeling that you will collapse from fear.
For that reason — the “high” thing — I’ve been purposely feeding it with Radiohead. Because nobody does disassociation like Radiohead. They’ve been doing it well for a while.
The album A Moon Shaped Pool is arguably Radiohead’s crowning achievement in otherworldly disconnection. Today I walked 4 miles in the sun listening to A Moon Shaped Pool, just floating along on my ghost trip. Normally while the sun is out, I won’t touch Radiohead. On a sunny day I usually prefer bombastic guitar-based music.
But not today… because it doesn’t matter what the weather is. I’m up here in my head. People pass by and they’re in another realm. I can almost pretend I’m invisible. They ruin it sometimes by looking directly at me, but not often because I don’t look at them.
But I have Radiohead.
I have the gothic choral strains of “Decks Dark” in my ear, and I could float up to the damn sky on the refrain if I wanted to. I could climb the arpeggios of “Present Tense” up to a rainbow. I don’t need to eat lunch or dinner to walk 4 miles, and I don’t need much sleep. I’m never tired and I’m never fully awake.
But I have Radiohead.
And I have Radiohead backward…. Backward, way back through the smoke rings of my mind…way back through the haze of all that weed I used to smoke. I see Wyatt when he was still alive, playing a Radiohead song on his acoustic guitar.
I see Wyatt before he killed himself and shattered the lives of everyone who loved him. Before the memory of 20-year old boys howling in pain at his wake, some of them quiet with tear-stained faces, before the memory of his stoic mom barely holding it together, greeting kids so bravely, hugging me and asking where I’ve been lately.
Before all this, I see Wyatt in his room.
I see Wyatt who idolized Thom Yorke before he became obsessed with Tom Waits, who he probably learned about from Thom Yorke. We’re in his room, just me and him. We’re smoking weed and he’s playing the riff to “Street Spirit” over and over again, getting it down.
Fast forward to a different night under the full moon shining down on Cook Inlet in Kincaid Park. There’s me, Wyatt, and two other boys trekking through the woods at night, climbing up an endless hill to gaze at the jeweled moon. Three of us took acid that night, and I wasn’t the sober one. Neither was Wyatt.
There’s Wyatt pulling out a spoon to show me the reflection of the moon on its silver rounded surface, as if he’d brought a spoon just for this occasion. We’re on top of a grassy hill overlooking the vast inlet below. We all have headphones on. I’m listening to OK Computer by Radiohead. I take my headphones off and I hear the faint, tinny scratches from Wyatt’s headphones. I ask him what he’s listening to. He tells me he’s listening to Ok Computer.
I smile wide and tell him that’s what I’m listening to. We didn’t discuss what we’d listen to beforehand. It’s not an album I listen to much anymore since I discovered Radiohead’s Kid A, but it seems right for the moment. Apparently, Wyatt thinks so too. I marvel at the synchronicity for a moment before getting lost in something else within that long magic night under the Alaskan moon.
Fast forward a couple of years later and there I am in my bedroom, still stunned in disbelief that Wyatt is gone. Listening to “How to Disappear Completely”. Listening to other Radiohead songs. Listening to other music I like that Wyatt also liked, laying there like a stone unable to move for days. Going over every memory I have of him in my mind from the past 4 years.
Last week I thought I was losing my mind; staying drunk to get food down on account of anxiety, hiking the woods during the day, and finding relief near the ocean. Then I returned, and I had Radiohead.
For a few days I couldn’t listen to anything but “Codex”. This song is a perfect example of Thom Yorke’s brilliance as a singer. You’ll first listen the song focusing on the sound, not paying attention to the lyrics. You’ll hear a word here and there. “Dragonflies… the water is clear…”, that’s all you can make out.
But it doesn’t matter because his voice is like a bell from heaven combined with a raw nerve. The whole meaning of the song is stretched out in every yearning moan elicited between his quieter moments of despondency. He soars up and bellows out that great beautiful bell-tone ache, then slides down quietly as if to say, “this is so sad, I can’t even”.
One day I looked up the lyrics. When you read the lyrics without listening to the music, they sit flat on the page. The words are so devoid by themselves that it’s almost comical. However, once you know the lyrics and then listen to the song again, the beatific emerges. Now this song is about getting lost in the serenity of the woods. You’ve done nothing wrong and you don’t deserve this. Here’s the clear water now. Take a break.
I love songmeanings.com. Looking up songs on this website is sometimes an exercise in comedy, but it always provides revealing insight into people’s lives. I looked up “Codex” on this site (found here), and as usual I’m entertained.
Many people think it’s about suicide. Someone thinks it’s about political conspiracy. Another guy thinks it’s about flying a military plane and carpet-bombing civilians. Someone else thinks it’s about Radiohead breaking up. Another person thinks it’s about Christianity and the clear lake is holy water.
The interpretations people come up with are a reflection of their own lives and beliefs, and that’s the genius of songmeanings.com.
The highest rated comment is my favorite, and I have co-opted it for my own purposes. The commenter posits that it’s about “the Buddhist spiritual cycle of life, death, and rebirth” — that it’s about “exploring the unfamiliar within ourselves and abandoning our previous shells”. He then provides evidence that one of the songs is titled “Lotus Flower” and other songs on the album follow a similar pattern thematically.
This is a beautiful interpretation, and I can no longer hear the song any other way. After reading this, “Codex” changed from being just a sad song about being isolated and needing a break to a song about experiencing sadness, but finding hope through a spiritual path.
The 13th Floor Elevators are the best kept secret in the history of 1960’s rock music.
My first encounter with The Elevators happened on a primitive version of streaming radio. This station also introduced me to The Who, Eric Burdon, The Stooges, Black Sabbath, King Crimson, and many other acts that I soon became obsessed with. It wasn’t “classic rock” to me back then. It was just this new, incredible music.
As with many other bands that I fell in love with around this time, I heard one good song and proceeded to immediately order a couple ofalbums from their catalog. When I heard the Elevators, I ordered their two legendary albums, The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators, and Easter Everywhere.
I sat in my living room completely enthralled by both albums. The first album mixed 50’s style rock n’ roll with blues. Roky Erickson’s voice arrested my attention right away; he moaned and screamed like a zombie possessed by electric current.
The lead guitar cut through the mix with alarming precision, and the overall effect was masterful. A kind of magnetic force or energy drove the entire sound which can’t be explained in standard music terms – there was a conviction, an absolute now or never attitude. It sounded like a group of fire and brimstone preachers decided to form a rock band.
The first time I listened, I sat cross-legged on the floor directly in front of my stereo. I put on Psychedelic Sounds and started reading the liner notes. The liner notes had this weird philosophical content. I was immediately puzzled. The writing was academic, but strangely esoteric. The text seemed a little heavy for the album opener; a country-fried punk stomper called “You’re Gonna Miss Me”.
As “Roller Coaster” began playing, I listened to the lyrics closely. At this point, I began to slowly piece everything together.
Here we arrive at the mystique of innocence – that moment of discovery when you absorb information for the first time, but you have no idea who the author is. You have no precedent for the information you are receiving – no historical context for whatever theory, song, or piece of knowledge imparted to you. It was just new, strange, and exciting.
I was blown away. Roky Erickson’s haunting, reverb-saturated voice blasted through the speakers and created a resounding echo in my living room. A very strange whooping sound flew back and forth across the speakers. I turned the dial up. The music shifted suddenly and dropped into a swirling whirlpool of menacing blues guitar and raga.
Easter Everywhere was different, but equally good. “Slip Inside This House” combined lyrics inspired by classical poetry with music that somehow matched the lyrical content. It’s still amazing to me that they pulled this off. It was a feat of genius. The Elevators completely outshined other underground bands from that era.
Their story is a sad one. The general narrative contains two key circumstances that contributed to their plight – an incompetent Texas record label, and their insistence on consuming LSD on a regular basis. Excessive drug use ultimately lead to mental health issues among several band members, most notably Roky Erickson.
Their live shows are the stuff of legend. People who saw them live in their heyday have said that the albums are nothing compared to their early live shows. They played live on LSD, and it apparently didn’t slow them down at all.
In interviews, people who went to their live shows in 1966 say they were the kings of the San Francisco scene. All of the Bay Area bands from this period went to see The Elevators, and they were all floored.
The consensus among people who knew them and saw their performances is that if they would have backed off the drug use and aligned themselves with a good record label, they could have been as big as the Rolling Stones.
The reality is that their situation was a catch-22. The Elevators whole philosophy (and all the strange power behind their music) was driven by consciousness expansion. They wouldn’t have remained the same band if they had cleaned up and started behaving. Instead, they became the very definition of a cult band.
Years later, I can still feel the chills rush over me when I play these albums. My heartbeat kicks up, the speakers magnetize my blood and I want to be inside of that strange musical canvas. I want to just walk right into that room.
These albums are best listened to by candlelight and without any distraction. This is music you cannot listen to passively. As with Jefferson Airplane, Jeff Buckley, Tori Amos, and The Smashing Pumpkins, you live inside of this music.
It is an alternate universe; a sonic island that redefines the concept of what music is. It’s a philosophy, an experience, and a dream – alive and pulsating in time. It shapes your mood and your perception of the environment around you. When you connect to music this good, you transcend your life. You transcend into a power connected to everything.
“Every day is another dawning Give the morning winds a chance Always catch your thunder yawning Lift your mind into the dance Sweep the shadows from your awning Shrink the four fold circumstance That lies outside this house Don’t pass it by”
“I think society is moving a little bit, but I think it isn’t moving near that fast. There’s always gonna be a large, huge bulk of straight people that aren’t going for it.”
“Billie Holiday, Aretha Franklin, they are so subtle. They can milk you with two notes. They could go no further than from an A to a B, and they could make you feel like they told you the whole universe… but I don’t know that yet. All I have now is strength. Maybe if I keep singing I’ll get it.”
“I always felt that way about the blues, even when I didn’t know anything about it. When I listened to it, I always felt there was something there – an honesty that Peggy Lee was lacking. And now the kids are open enough to say, ‘Now, wait a minute, let me listen for myself’, and those kids are getting into Indian music, getting into black music, getting into any kind of music they think is telling the truth to them.”
“This success thing hasn’t yet compromised the position I took a long time ago in Texas; to be true to myself and not play games. To be the person inside me, not bullshit anybody, be righteous, be real. So far, I’m not wearing cardboard eyelashes and girdles and playing in Las Vegas. I’m still being Janis. It just happens to be on a slightly different level.”
“It’s slightly inhibiting, but it doesn’t force a game on me. Because I don’t let it force a game on me.” (The interviewer asks if the camera is inhibiting, and this is her response).
Hunter S. Thompson
“There was madness in any direction, at any hour… you could strike sparks anywhere. There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, we were winning. That sense of inevitable victory over the forces of old and evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn’t need that. Our energy would simply prevail. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave.”
“’You found the American Dream, in this town?’ [he asked]. I nodded. ‘We’re sitting on the main nerve right now’, I said. ‘You remember that story the manager told us about the owner of this place? How he always wanted to run away and join the circus?’ Bruce ordered 2 more beers. He looked over the casino for a moment and shrugged. ‘Yeah, I see what you mean,’ He said. ‘Now the bastard has his own circus, and a license to steal, too’. He nodded. ‘You’re right, he’s the model.’”
“The room looked like the site of some disastrous zoological experiment involving whisky and gorillas.”
“The rear windows leapt up with a touch, like frogs in a dynamite pond.”
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Great Gatsby
“She was not only singing; she was weeping too. Whenever there was a pause in the song, she filled it with gasping, broken sobs, and then took up the lyric again in a quavering soprano. The tears coursed down her cheeks – not freely, however, for when they came into contact with her heavily beaded eyelashes they assumed an inky color and pursued the rest of their way in slow black rivulets. A humorous suggestion was made that she sings the notes on her face.”
“The bar is in full swing, and floating rounds of cocktails permeate the garden outside until the air is alive with chatter and laughter, and casual innuendo and introductions forgotten on the spot. The lights grow brighter as the earth lurches away from the sun, and now the orchestra is playing yellow cocktail music, and the opera of voices pitches a key higher… the groups change more swiftly, swell with new arrivals, dissolve and form in the same breath; already there are wandering confident girls who weave here and there and become for a sharp, joyous moment the center of a group, and then excited with triumph, glide on through the sea-change of faces and voices under the constantly changing light. Suddenly, one of the gypsies, in trembling opal, seizes a cocktail out of the air, dumps it down for courage, and moving her hands like Frisco, dances out alone on the canvas platform.”
“The wind has blown off, leaving a loud bright night with wings beating in the trees and a persistent organ sound as the full bellows of the earth blew the frogs full of life.”
“Out of the corner of his eye Gatsby saw that the blocks of the sidewalks really formed a ladder and mounted to a secret place above the trees – he could climb to it if he climbed alone, and once there he could gulp down the incomparable milk of wonder. He waited, listening a moment longer to the tuning fork that had been struck upon a star.”
“A startling presence, both visually and vocally. An Oscar Wilde in drag who combined insight and sarcasm that was sometimes light, sometimes dark. A provocateur.” – Paul Kantner of Jefferson Airplane
Somebody to Love? 1998 Grace Slick Biography
“There’ll always be people who are afraid of living and afraid of dying. And there will always be more of them than there are risk-takers, the people who bring innovation into every area, with our without drugs.”
“Since all changes, no matter how small, are absorbed into and add impetus to the ongoing paradigm shift, nothing ever really slips away. The old themes and styles persisted as stitches in the unfurling tapestry, but they were hard to see. What caught the eye was all the newness.”
“As we lay on our backs in the tall grass on the mountain, each person made a brief awestruck remark about the diversity and synchronicity of the clouds, the air, the trees, and the animals. It was on that mountaintop where I first understood that you and I are only separated by one channel of a limited thought process. If I looked long enough, colors on the same object would slowly change in accordance with my ability to take in the transformation. My usual focused perspective was expanded. Instead of viewing certain things or people as passing scenery, as something inconsequential, the peyote made everything, and everyone seem equally important. Suddenly I could see no isolation, no overabundance. It was just energy exhibiting itself in infinite dimensions.”
“Four gigantic Altec speakers were set up so we could literally feel the playback, the technology could squeeze or explode a sound… there were countless knobs and dials and wires to mold a song into an aural vision, and I was fascinated by all of it.”
“When a band is in sync and everybody is playing well and feeling good, there’s nothing like it. You, both the audience and performers, become the power of the music. It’s a biological as well as spiritual phenomenon and it still happens to me when I’m riding around in a car or sitting at home listening to 130 decibels of speaker-cracking music. An almost tangible shift in feeling happens as I go from thick to weightless.”
“Imagine it’s a Saturday night, and there’s a line of what looks like a bunch of young multi-colored circus freaks waiting to go into the Fillmore Auditorium. The crowd is animated, everybody is talking to each other even though they may have just met for the first time. The only visible sign of color on the outside of the building is a poster drawn in Day-Glo swirls. It reads ‘Jefferson Airplane, The Charlatans, Moby Grape and The Great Society.’ When the door to the building opens, the last of the grey vanishes. At the top of the steps that lead to Fillmore’s main hall there is a wall of bright, intensely colored posters. They’re so numerous that the wall itself is invisible. As you walk onto the dance floor, you have the feeling you’ve just entered seven different centuries all thrown together in one room. The interior of the building is turn-of-the century rococo, and a man in red briefs and silver body paint is handing out east Indian incense. A girl in full renaissance drag is spinning around by herself listening to some baroque music in her head while several people in jeans and American Indian headbands are sitting in a circle on the floor smoking weed. Close by, a good-looking man in a three-musketeer costume is placing ashtrays on the cheap fifties Formica tables that circle the edge of the room. In the corner, people are stripping off their clothes while the acid is taking effect. This is The American Dream (for a few hours) with no color barriers, dress code, moral imperatives, and only one keeper – the show’s intense but smiling dark haired promoter – Bill Graham.”
“But there was a wisdom in it all, as you’ll see if you take a walk some night on a suburban street and pass house after house on both sides of the street, each with the lamplight of the living room shining golden, and inside the little blue square television, each family riveting it’s attention on probably one show; nobody talking; silence in the yards, dogs barking at you because you pass on human feet instead of on wheels… I seem him in future years stalking along with full rucksack in suburban streets, passing the blue tv windows of homes, alone, his thoughts the only thoughts not electrified to the master switch… the millions of the One Eye.” -The Dharma Bums
“It was a mad crowd. They were all urging that tenor man to hold it and keep it with cries and wild eyes, and he was raising himself from a crouch and going down again with his horn, looping it up in a clear cry above the furor. Everybody was rocking and roaring… boom, kick, that drummer was kicking his drums down the cellar and rolling the beat upstairs with his murderous sticks, rattley-boom! The pianist was only pounding the keys with spread eagled fingers, chords at intervals when the great tenor man was drawing breath for another blast… The tenor man jumped down from the platform and stood in the crowd, blowing around, his hat was over his eyes… he just hauled back and stamped his foot and blew down a hoarse, laughing blast, and drew breath, and raised the horn and blew high, wide and screaming in the air.” -On the Road
“See, the whole thing is a world full of rucksack wanderers, dharma bums refusing to subscribe to the general demand that they consume production and therefore have to work for the privilege of consuming all that crap they didn’t need anyway. All of them imprisoned in a system of work, produce, consume, work. I see a vision of a great rucksack revolution, thousands or even millions of young Americans wandering around with rucksacks going up to the mountains to pray, making children laugh and old men glad.” -The Dharma Bums
Some interview. Original Source not recorded in the notebook these are typed from.
“’The good times, it’s hard to make them last.’ – I think what people are hearing somewhere along the way is that the good times don’t just come at you. You almost have to create them. You have to make sure that you’re searching out some sort of meaning and some sort of happiness throughout.”
“It just makes you stop in your tracks and go, ‘What’s it all worth?’ We’re all just hurtling through space. At any moment the whole thing could just run into some asteroid out there and we’re all gonna blow up and how insignificant and meaningless and what a speck of existence our life is, and I think I sing about that a lot. When I sing utterly with fear about how insignificant I am, that’s the only time we sound significant. Isn’t that funny?”
March 23rd 2016 was a special night. A friend and I went to the famous Paramount Theatre in Seattle to experience my favorite band of all time.
Buzzed out of my mind on sheer anticipation, I spent the entire night of March 22nd walking around while listening to the entire Smashing Pumpkins catalog on shuffle. Afterward, I proceeded to watch several hours of DVD concert footage.
If I could only convince myself on a regular basis that I was going to see one of my favorite bands the next day, I would always be in a splendid mood. Maybe that’s the key to life – just willfully enter a state of perpetual delusion and stay there forever. Sounds good to me.
Luckily for me, I wasn’t merely pretending that there was a show the following night. There was a show, and it was my favorite band. I had not attended a Pumpkins show for sixteen years. Rumors were flying around that Billy Corgan had taken to playing classic songs again.
I couldn’t have been more excited. Somehow, I managed to sleep.
The next day, I drove into Seattle at a furious rate of speed. I met up with my friend and concert companion for a pre-show dinner and beer. We raced around the grey city together; the world whizzed by speckled with a hazy, dreamy sheen. The air was feather-light and pleasant against my skin, the pavement swirled in lollipop patterns beneath my skipping feet. It was the kind of moment people yearn for – the natural high of exuberant joy.
After dinner, we rushed off to The Paramount Theatre. The Paramount is gorgeous – it was the perfect setting for this show; ornate furnishings, chandeliers, and dim lighting. My friend and I took turns smiling at each other with idiotic pleasure.
Finally, we entered the auditorium and took our seats. Murky red lights glowed on the carpeted walls. Hushed voices whispered all around us, rising and falling in crescendos of excited anticipation. The lights dimmed, and Billy Corgan’s profile stalked across the shadowy stage. He picked up his acoustic guitar and stood in the dark.
I stiffened to attention immediately. I sat up straight on the edge of my seat, erect as a steel rod.
“Is that him!?” she whispered in my ear.
“F— yes, that’s him!” I whispered back impatiently, reeling with barely contained joy.
It was unmistakably Billy; his figure loomed over 6 feet tall, wearing his trademark black suit, sporting his notorious bald head. That was him. His long arm reached for his guitar. The house lights came up. He stood before us in a single spotlight.
The auditorium hushed.
He began playing “Tonight, Tonight” on acoustic guitar. I could feel my eyes welling up with tears. A pleasant shock overcame my senses; the moment was completely surreal. His voice carried through the air in front of me, emerging in real time and happening in front of my face.
They played songs that I never thought I would hear live. The whole middle section of the show was dedicated to the Siamese Dream era. They played a suite of four or five songs from Siamese Dream, including one of my favorites, “Soma”, reworked for piano instead of guitar.
I had to resist a very strong urge to run up to the front of the auditorium and stand under Billy, right in front of the stage. I wanted to run up and stand directly below him.
I had to resist this urge several times.
I have never experienced such a visceral pull before. I was being physically pulled by a force beyond my control. I maintained extreme willpower to resist that urge. Respect for both the band and the audience allowed me to hold onto my sense and keep my wits about me.
That experience recalls a memory from when I worked in a guitar store 11 years ago. I was the only female working at the store among several young men, all talented musicians. My co-workers and I would occasionally watch music performances on video when business was slow. One day, we watched footage of The Beatles performing in 1964. Young women threw themselves down and rolled on the floor. They screamed at the top of their lungs, flailed their arms, cried, and fainted.
The guys couldn’t believe it. They stared, awestruck and envious. “God!” one of the guys declared, “Those girls! Damn, girls were crazy back then!” I smiled slyly – the reaction of the boys was as amusing to me as the footage of girls in the throes of Beatlemania.
Years later, I now understand the tidal force that possessed those poor girls.
My fellow concert-goers were an experience as well; they were clearly hardcore fans. Everyone stood up after all the popular songs. They yelled, whistled, and begged for more. The men shouted, “BILLLLLLLY!” in long, drawn out howls. I surveyed the crowd in ecstasy. It was thrilling to be immersed in a symphony of devotion that mirrors my own. I looked around frantically, trying to drink everyone into my eyes and senses. Many were around my age, not surprisingly. Some were a little younger. My friend who attended is 10 years younger than I, but she claims she listened to The Pumpkins in high school. They are the new Pink Floyd. They span decades.
Billy’s star was shining as bright as ever that night. It was all there – flawless guitar solos, high clear singing, fascinating interplay with the other instrumentalists. My favorite part of the show was the look in his eyes during moments where he scanned the audience as we screamed and went crazy after songs. He looked like a little boy on Christmas morning.
As he scanned the crowd, his eyes lit up with love and appreciation. He smiled. The look in his eyes was genuine and unmistakable. His eyes shone with affection. Corgan has never been a guy to hide genuine emotions. So much of what he is (and what fans are) is The Child. That brief flash of his eyes was everything. He has a reputation for being the most arrogant and incorrigible asshat in the music world. Fans know a whole other side of the man – we laugh at the interviews, push them aside in amusement, and listen to the music.
As a bonus, Jimmy Chamberlin came out and drummed for a few songs. The crowd went apeshit when Jimmy emerged on the stage. A few nights later, original member James Iha also joined the band for a few songs in another town. I am horribly envious of the people who attended those shows. Those fans were damn lucky.
After the show, my friend declared this was the best show she’s ever seen at The Paramount. In 2015 she saw her favorite band, Modest Mouse, at the Paramount. She said that something was off with Mouse, that the sound wasn’t quite right.
I smiled broadly. “Well, of course, my dear,” I said in a tone of obvious superiority, “This is The Pumpkins, you see”.
I feel lucky that my hero is still alive. Above everything else, this is proof that the greatest talents of a generation do not have to die young. Great talents may release less exciting albums as they age, but you can still see them live.
I wanted it to last forever. Even now I wish I could jump back into the moment. But, like any good trip, you must come back sometime. Then you’re just left with the memory.