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Psychedelic Musicians In Rock And Roll

3450 words - 14 pages

Psychedelic Musicians in Rock and Roll

In 1967 the Beatles were in Abbey Road Studios putting the finishing touches on their album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. At one point Paul McCartney wandered down the corridor and heard what was then a new young band called Pink Floyd working on their hypnotic debut, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. He listened for a moment, then came rushing back. "Hey guys," he reputedly said, "There's a new band in there and they're gonna steal our thunder." With their mix of blues, music hall influences, Lewis Carroll references, and dissonant experimentation, Pink Floyd was one of the key bands of the 1960s psychedelic revolution, a pop culture movement that emerged with American and British rock, before sweeping through film, literature, and the visual arts. The music was largely inspired by hallucinogens, or so-called "mind-expanding" drugs such as marijuana and LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide; "acid"), and attempted to recreate drug-induced states through the use of overdriven guitar, amplified feedback, and droning guitar motifs influenced by Eastern music. This psychedelic consciousness was seeded, in the United States, by countercultural gurus such as Dr. Timothy Leary, a Harvard University professor who began researching LSD as a tool of self-discovery from 1960, and writer Ken Kesey who with his Merry Pranksters staged Acid Tests--multimedia "happenings" set to the music of the Warlocks (later the Grateful Dead) and documented by novelist Tom Wolfe in the literary classic The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (1968)--and traversed the country during the mid-1960s on a kaleidoscope-colored school bus. "Everybody felt the '60s were a breakthrough. There was exploration of sexual freedom and [a lot of] drugs around that were essential to the development of consciousness," recalls British avant-garde filmmaker Peter Whitehead, whose movies include Tonite Let's All Make Love in London (1967) and the Rolling Stones documentary Charlie Is My Darling (1966). "The zeitgeist of the time was the final collapse of a certain kind of thinking. The seeds were sown for feminism, for the whole notion of cyberspace, ecology, and the whole philosophy of Gaia." Suzy Hopkins, formerly Suzy Creamcheese, a dancer and inspirational figure on the underground scene in Los Angeles and London, remembers the visceral way psychedelic culture affected the senses. "There's a difference between a drug and a psychedelic. Drugs make you drugged and psychedelics enhance your ability to see the truth or reality," she says. For her, LSD and music created a kind of alchemy. "When I start to dance, at a certain point, the dance takes over and the music is dancing me. Dancing is this electric enhancement of your spine by sound." Many psychedelic bands explored this sense of abandonment in their music, moving away from standard rock rhythms and instrumentation. The Grateful Dead of San Francisco, for instance, created an improvisatory mix of...

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