This is a translated version of a podcast interview we did with Patrick Lundborg in May 2013, which was recorded in Swedish. The topic for the interview is the roots to psychedelic music and how it developed during the ´60s. As we believe this is of interest for all of us into psychedelic music we have now summarized what Patrick said and translated it for all to enjoy. We’ve also included the music that was played during the original interview.
The introduction of psychedelics in popular culture
Psychedelic drugs become known to the general public in the middle of the ‘60s. Before that it was more of an elitist thing and used in bohemian circuits.
The early stages of LSD and other psychedelics, which stretches from 1945 to the early 1960s, was set around specialist, such as psychologist and even the US military showed interest in these substances. There was also a small group of jet sets with intellectuals, for example Aldous Huxley as well as bohemians and beatniks, such as Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs, meaning that this was an elitist thing with little knowledge of psychedelics among the general public. Then a transition started to take place around 1963-64 when psychedelics was becoming more known, which was much thanks to Allen Ginsberg and Alan Watts as they had the ability to bridge over from the intellectual and academic scene to popular music and culture. Folk musicians also played an important role in introducing psychedelics to the general popular culture and were in the forefront of this development.
-I see it as it originated from the beatnik scene and then spread to more bohemian folk musicians in for example New York in the early ‘60s.
The reason why folk musicians started to experiment with psychedelics was probably the strive for increasing the creativity and psychedelics was one thing that they elaborated with to achieve this. What happened in the middle of the ´60s was that a lot of folk musicians started to play rock music, which was the birth of the folk-rock scene, and they took the psychedelic tradition with them in this transition into folk-rock. A lot of the big psychedelic bands that were of major importance for the development of psychedelic rock, such as The Byrds and Jefferson Airplane, were folk musicians from the beginning and were therefore familiar with psychedelics from an early stage.
-I think this is a very important transition, which happened around 1965.
Timothy Leary, who later become one of the biggest advocates for the use psychedelics, had in the early ‘60s no interest in spreading the psychedelic culture to the general public as he was devoted to his own research projects at Harvard. Once he started to spread the psychedelic gospel, however, it quickly started to go out of control. The really big mistake they made was to include graduates and as undergraduates in their psychology experiments, which of course became unacceptable and he got fired from the university. What happened at Harvard is usually inevitable when a group of people uses psychedelic drugs, which is that it becomes sort of a cult where you start to formulate utopian ideas about the society. This is seen over and over again in psychedelic history.
The origins to psychedelic music
The roots of rock music are generally traced to three sources of music, blues, country and gospel. For psychedelic music, however, it’s slightly different as it contains elements of music not found in other types of rock music. The main sources to psychedelic music (except rock music in itself) as it developed in the ‘60s are exotica and avant-garde music. In terms of avant-garde it was especially the scene in New York in the early ‘60s that were influential.
One of the key figures in the exotica scene for the development of psychedelic music was eden ahbez. He did an exotica LP in 1960, called Eden’s Island, which works almost as a blueprint for psychedelic culture and music, but is formally not part of the psychedelic scene of the later part of the ‘60s. eden ahbez had since 20-30 years prior to the recording of the LP lived like a hippie as he lived a vagabond life, slept outside and ate only vegetarian food. He was quite well-known in the US already before recording this album as he had written some songs that became hits, most renowned is the song Nature Boy, which was made famous by Nat King Cole.
-In general eden ahbez was well-liked in the US, sort of their own Californian bohemian.
When the Exotica scene started to take form around 1955 he saw how good exotica as a music style fitted with his own ideals and spiritual beliefs so he recorded an album where he combined these two. The album is psychedelic in every way except for the drugs. eden ahbez was naturally a spiritual person who didn’t need drugs to create this kind of music, although he probably smoked some marijuana.
Another important person in the development of psychedelic music is the British philosopher Alan Watts. There was a lot of brits in the early psychedelic scene, for instance Aldous Huxley and Gerald Heard. They came from an academic environment and had studied at Oxford and Cambridge before many of them moved to California.
-They were like aristocratic bohemians.
Alan Watts was known already in the ´50s in the US as his interest in Eastern religions and philosophies including meditation, coincided with the general interest in the US for these things. He had several highly popular radio shows in the 50’s where he talked about Buddhism and Daoism, etc. Rather early he got in contact with Timothy Leary at Harvard University and got the chance to try LSD, psilocybin and even mescaline, which he found very interesting, and this led to him writing “The Joyous Cosmology” in 1961, which deals with his psychedelic experiences. At the same time as he wrote the book he also recorded an album, This Is IT, with some friends in a house boat in San Francisco. There they had a jam session, where he invited some friends and they all dropped acid (presumably), and let the music just spontaneously be created.
-What is interesting is that Alan Watts was influenced by the avant-garde scene in New York, for instance John Cage and the early Fluxus movement. Alan Watts used the term “purposeless play”, a game without any clear goal, to describe the psychedelic attitude towards life, and this phrase was coined by John Cage. What Alan Watts did was to use it as a psychedelic concept, which was not Cage’s intention from the beginning.
This is IT was release in 1961 and in relation to his other records, this LP was only pressed in a small amount and it was not until the ´90s that it was discovered. I see this as the first psychedelic record as they were taking psychedelics during the recording and the whole purpose was to create something psychedelic. The context in which this LP was made also fits with Watts overall interest in psychedelic experiments around this time. However, it took many years before others started to follow this path, so you might say he was a visionary.
-If comparing The Joyous Cosmology with Huxley’s The Doors of Perception, which has a similar topic, I prefer Alan Watts’ book. I think Aldous Huxley wrote The Doors of Perception a little bit too early in his life. He had not yet formulized all of his ideas about psychedelic at that point. The lectures and essays he wrote later in life is much better. In terms of impact on the psychedelic culture, however, The Doors of perception had a far bigger importance than Joyous Cosmology ever had.
There is also a recording of a lecture in Los Alamos from 1961, in which he specifically speaks about psychedelic drugs, which is of interest in psychedelic history. When Huxley was lying on his death bed he was given 100 microgram of LSD by his wife Laura Huxley. There is even a note saying “100 microgram, try it” and this was basically the last thing he did in life. She is also found cited in the LSD documentary LP “LSD”, released on Capitol in 1966, where she says that psychedelic drugs could be used on people during riots and such, which would then have the effect of calming them.
-This is an absurd and stupid idea. The LP, however, is very interesting as it is propaganda against psychedelic drugs but done in a very smart and subtle way. You get the impression that it’s a neutral documentary but they have chosen the most ridiculous citations by for instance Ginsberg, Leary and Laura Huxley in order to ridicule them and the psychedelic culture in general.
The groundbreaking 13th Floor Elevators
1966 was also the year when one of the most important psychedelic bands, The 13th Floor Elevators, released their first album. Their significance as a psychedelic band has grown over the last 15 years but prior to that they were seen more as a cult band, which featured the famous Roky Erikson, who’s successful solo career overshadowed the legacy of The Elevators at that point.
-The first Elevators album “The Psychedelic Sounds of…” should be heard in mono. I try to tell that to as many people as possible. The stereo mix was done by the producer without involvement of the band so the mono mix is much better, especially on the song “Roller Coaster”.
The mono version of the album was also released three months prior to the stereo and at that time the Elevators didn’t care so much about when International Artists released the stereo version.
The background story to the band is that all of the members hang out at Austin University campus and formed the group in late 1965. At the campus there was already an established psychedelic scene and due to Texas being close to Mexico Peyote was widely available. They also took Morning Glory seeds, a milder psychedelic but with the same active substances and components as LSD and when consuming enough seeds giving the same effect as well. Both of these psychedelic drugs were legal and still are. Tommy Hall, the leader of the group, dropped out of college to focus on the band. He was already a “psychedelic guru” for many at campus and was very influenced by Bob Dylan, which had proven that it is possible to communicate intellectual messages through rock music.
-The message with the music of The 13th Floor Elevators, however, was all about psychedelic drugs and a society built upon the psychedelic experience. What makes the band so special is that it was formed only to spread the psychedelic message. This was the only purpose as a group from the very beginning, which makes them almost unique during the ‘60s, and the fact that they started the band so early. The only other band, in my opinion, being as genuinely psychedelic as the Elevators was Grateful Dead. The Dead hang out with Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters and was therefore introduced to psychedelics early on, about the same time as the Elevators, and they were true to the psychedelic lifestyle until Jerry Garcia passed away.
Fully developed psychedelia
In the spring of 1966 fully developed psychedelic music was already at place. During that period The Byrds released “Eight Miles High”, a highly important single in the history of psychedelic music and The Beatles started to make psychedelic music too. The Dovers with their single “The Third Eye” is a good representative of this evolutionary step in the history of psychedelia. They came from Santa Barbara, north of Los Angeles and did four singles in total where the last one, “The Third Eye” is the only psychedelic while the others are more folk-rock oriented.
-What is interesting with the “The Third Eye” is that it is very similar to The Byrds´ single but it was actually released earlier than theirs. This shows that there was an underground movement already established with teenage bands taking psychedelic drugs and who did fully developed psychedelic music that were really in the fore front of the development of the style, much more than the mainstream artists were. The Dovers were an extremely talented band that did truly psychedelic music before The Byrds had released their groundbreaking single and The Beatles had released Revolver, which I think is very interesting. The Dovers’ singles are very sought-after today and if I would have to guess, I think that only 500 copies were made. All of their songs are, however, included on a 10” compilation (Ed. note, released on Misty Lane Records in 1990 with the title “We’re Not Just Anybody”).
Psychedelia becomes mainstream
When the Beatles started to experiment with psychedelic music it became the next big thing. Once they had approved of something it became an established fact. The Beatles was always checking out new groups and interested in new styles. They listened to The Byrds, among others, which was a big competitor. The Beatles started to make psychedelic music in early 1966. About half a year earlier Lennon and Harrison had tried LSD for the first time and McCartney soon followed. They were very enthusiastic about psychedelia and the interest stayed for many years. The first psychedelic song they started to work with was “She Said, She Said”. Some thinks that “Norwegian Wood” is their first psychedelic song but I see it more as a coincident that it sounds like psychedelic music. I see “She Said, She Said”, “Tomorrow Never Knows” and a few others on Revolver as fully developed psychedelic music, where “Tomorrow Never Knows” is the most extreme. With that song they stretch the boundaries of rock music very far and it is a true classic.
Lennon truly believed in psychedelics for a while, before he became to cynical. He used a lot of psychedelics during this period but also complained about becoming paranoid and quit after a while. He didn’t have as much fun as McCartney, I think. The Beatle with the best mentality for psychedelics was Harrison and continued to use them the longest while Lennon was already through it around the time of “Sgt. Pepper”. The Beatles, however, continued to do psychedelic music until 1969.
-In terms of contribution to the psychedelic scene, “Revolver” was their most important album. Earlier “Sgt. Pepper” was always seen as their most important psychedelic album but it is something different and could almost be seen as a “cultural manifest”. It is hard fully grasp how important “Sgt. Pepper” was in the ‘60s but “Revolver” and the single that came after, “Strawberry Fields Forever”, is much more important for the development of psychedelia.
Harrison was one of those artists that quit using psychedelic drugs to give a way for Eastern spiritualism and meditation techniques to find similar highs. During the ‘70s there was a belief that you could reach the same mental states without psychedelic drugs.
-This is unfortunately a myth and everybody that have taken psychedelic drugs knows that and also the ones into meditation knows this. You can reach important higher mental states with meditation but that is something completely different states than the ones during a psychedelic trip.
My take on this is that some people felt “burned out” by using too much psychedelic drugs and needed something that was not as demanding but still gave a spiritual experience. Buddhism and Hinduism was also very popular around that time. It was an exotic thing and a lot of people took the “hippie trail” to India and Nepal to learn more about Eastern spirituality and mediation techniques.
The Beatles continued with psychedelia for a longer period than most of the ´60s bands. Stones, for instance, only did one psychedelic album, while The Beatles continued to record psychedelic music until 1969-70. One of their most psychedelic songs “It’s All Too Much” was not released in 1967 but in 1969. Around the time when The Beatles broke up and Lennon did the first “Plastic Ono Band” LP is when all of them stopped making psychedelic music.
-According to mainstream media the psychedelic scene did not last long but we have to remember that there are two types of truths at display here, the one that media tells and the one on the street. The use of psychedelics continued way into the ´70s and I read somewhere that the peak consumption of psychedelic drugs in the US was not in 1967 or 1968 but in 1972, which is quite interesting fact compared to what has been written in the history books.
Psychedelia continued to thrive as an underground scene where music was being released as private presses instead on mainstream labels. These people continued to live a psychedelic lifestyle and recorded psychedelic music during the whole of the 1970s, for instance Marcus, who did a fully psychedelic album as late as 1978. There are loads of records that has now being discovered and that we write about in the Acid Archives. The book covers records released up to 1982, which was when Bobb Trimble released “Harvest of Dreams”. I see this year as the end of the original psychedelic period, after that it became retro.
This also ends the written and translated version of our interview with Patrick Lundborg. The topic of this interview is also covered to a greater extent in his book Psychedelia: an ancient culture, a modern way of life as well as an article written in the first number of Flashback Magazine. We also recommend his article in The Fenris Wolf, issue 7 about defining a psychedelic philosophy, which can be found here. If you find yourself in need of a copy of Acid Archives or Psychedelia: an ancient culture, a modern way of life you can find it here (Acid Archives) and here (Psychedelia).