June 17th, 2005

Acid Roots

I'm listening to a Grateful Dead concert from 1966 right now, once broadcast on San Francisco's famous KSAN and recently burned for me by the more Bit Torrent-savvy masoo -- thank you, Steven -- and am once again confronting a question that has been troubling me off and on since high school. What does it mean when LSD-modulated music exhibits nostalgia for a blues, country, or folk tradition? It has always struck me as an odd fit, that hybrid of trippy sonic landscapes and rootsy sonic forms. Long before I'd had my first beer -- a "pony" can at the party following the Senior Prom I did not attend, if you're curious -- I spent many hours trying to reconcile the presence of tradition in 60s rock with the superficially forward-looking openness of psychedelia.

I also spent a long time wondering why the Victorian era in Britain and its equivalent in the United States inspired so much of the the graphic art that accompanied that era of musical history. But the nostalgia demonstrated in that latter case always seemed to be of a different order than the sort evidenced in the music itself. The gap between the 1880s and 1960s is so much larger than the one between the 1930s -- to pick one decade whose music clearly bears on 60s rock acts -- and the 1960s. I suppose I should restate my interest in these two related but different phenomena as an interest in the way that different and superficially incompatible nostalgias can be imbricated in a relation of productive tension. Returning to the influence of the blues, country, and folk traditions on psychedelic rock, I wonder whether there might be some way of thinking that influence in terms of a "hallucinogenic" relation to the past.
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