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Does Collecting Make You Feel Dirty?
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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Mode: triangular
Muse: The Grateful Dead, believe it or not

8 comments or Leave a comment
masoo From: masoo Date: June 17th, 2005 09:28 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
My guess is kinda dull, but I suspect it's just the roots of the musicians. The Dead came out of bluegrass and folk, Pigpen sang the blues. Marty and Jorma of the Airplane were folkies. Quicksilver's first album was already psychedelic, but Dino Valente, who started the band, was a folkie. Country Joe was jazz and folk, Steve Miller was blues, and while Big Brother was pretty zonky thanks to James Gurley's guitar, Janis was blues and folk.

I think these people were all musicians before they were acidheads, and the music they played was mostly folk music, because it was the early 60s and that's what "progressive" white kids played (Miller was from Chicago, so he played blues). As the acid culture increased its influence, the bands moved away from their musical roots, so early on Big Brother's singing "Coo Coo" but by Cheap Thrills Gurley's gone crazy, the first Airplane album is the folkiest, Surrealistic Pillow a little less folky, Baxter's is pure psychedelic, Miller goes from being the Steve Miller Blues Band to recording a side-long psychedelic epic on his first album, and while the first Dead album isn't very odd, the second is Anthem of the Sun.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: June 19th, 2005 01:07 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I know that history. I even knew it in high school. But I still have a hard time figuring out why the artists who moved from the folk or blues scene into psychedelia thought that their previous training would translate well to the new idiom. Were they simply falling back on what they knew how to do? Maybe my real question should be about the Rolling Stones. Why did they break from their blues roots so dramatically in the time between Aftermath and Beggars Banquet?
amnesiascope From: amnesiascope Date: June 17th, 2005 09:31 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I think it at least has something to do with the way that Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk music hit the late 50s / early 60s music scene: it articulated a bunch of progressive musical and political currents and created an expressive vehicle and set of venues. I suppose it makes sense that psychadelia, as a progressive music current, would align itself with folk, also perceived as a progressive music current. This is is poorly stated, but I think you see where I'm going.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: June 19th, 2005 01:09 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
That's a good point. Dylan factors in too, of course. It's a weird question I'm asking in that it has obvious answers that still don't satisfy me exactly. Maybe I'm not sure what I really want to ask. I've always been confused by the fusion of blues and acid, to give one example. Janis always seems to explode out from the scene instead of fitting in. Hendrix too, for that matter.
hollsterhambone From: hollsterhambone Date: June 17th, 2005 10:41 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I have a response, but it got out of control, so I posted it here instead of replying. Your post was fun to respond to--thanks!
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: June 19th, 2005 01:10 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
That's a great response. I'm honored.
From: ex_synecdoch550 Date: June 18th, 2005 12:06 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I don't have much of a response, but your questions sure are intriguing. I wonder if there is a relationship between an absinthe culture and the psychadelic culture.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: June 19th, 2005 01:11 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Yeah, that's a good question. I was sort of obsessed with absinthe as a freshman and sophomore. And I was also "experimenting" with other things at the same time. Hmmmmm. Maybe the ornate decadence of fin-de-siecle culture, whether French or English or even American, seemed like a tradition worth drawing upon.
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