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The Ecstatic Adventure

  Reports of Chemical Explorations of the Inner World

    Chapter 25 — In Tune with Positives


THERE IS PROBABLY not one major rock group that has not been influenced directly or indirectly by LSD and paid homage to the ecstatic experience in one or more of their songs. "TURN! TURN! TURN!" Several of the songs have been banned by radio stations because of an implied encouragement of illicit drug use. "IT WON'T BE WRONG." Songs such as Bob Dylan's "Hey, Mr. Tambourine Man" or The Byrds' "Eight Miles High" can be read with a "straight" or a "trip" interpretation for those who know how to read it:

Eight Miles high, and when you touch down
You'll find that it's stranger than known
Signs in the street, that say where you're going
Are somewhere, just being their own.

The Beatles' hit album Revolver contains songs whose lyrics are manifestly derived from the psychedelic version of the Tibetan Book of the Dead, although few parents probably realize it. Their music has a kind of kinetic trance quality to it, so that dancing and listening to it (especially at high volume), one definitely goes on a trip.* One of The Byrds' songs, entitled "5 D" (Fifth Dimension), is a beautiful lyrical evocation of a psychedelic voyage:

Oh, how is it that I could come out to here
And be still floating
And never hit bottom and keep falling through
Just relaxed and paying attention....
I saw that world crumble and thought I was dead
But I found my senses still working....
I will keep falling as long as I live
All without ending
And I will remember the place that is now
That has ended before the beginning.

Another Byrds' song, "Mind Garden," written by David Crosby, describes the splattered colors and fragrances of the child's mind, the protective wall built up to shelter it from the outside world, "the winds driven and howling," the deadening aspect of that wall, "it would have died safely, securely died," and the final opening up—

As I learned
I tore the walls all down
The garden still is.

    If the songs are often written and sung in such a way that the words are barely perceivable—thus providing a cover against the deprecations of censors and elders—there is nothing veiled or ambiguous about the "acid rock" dance-concerts in San Francisco's by now famous Avalon Ballroom or Fillmore Auditorium. WAIT AND SEE. Every Friday and Saturday a couple of thousand hippies gather here in Dionysian spirit to celebrate the new joy and vitality. SET YOU FREE THIS TIME. The atmosphere is more akin to far-out religious ceremonies, perhaps Southern Baptist revival meetings, than it is to entertainment discotheques. WHAT'S HAPPENING. One portion of the audience is too high to dance; they sit on the floor near the musicians, lost in the dense sound fields of the electronic instruments. Others turn and float in free-swinging movements. Gone is the frantic, nervous twisting and twitching of the early rock-'n'-roll era; everything is flow, people are dancing alone or in groups, there are some wandering around entranced in deep LSD states—it is safe for them, no one will "come on" to them or bring them down. THE WORLD TURNS ALL AROUND HER.
    The whole room is swimming in light and color. Liquid projections swoosh gigantic seas of reds and oranges over the walls, mingled with slides and films of images and archetypal symbols. The light people are like musicians, the movements of their projections are exquisitely tuned to and timed with the sounds of the band. THOUGHTS AND WORDS. Powerful strobe lights are breaking up the movements of the dancers into shimmering fragments of arms, legs, jewels, eyes, smiles. Ultra-violet lights bring out strange organic designs painted on face or dress. I SEE YOU. And the sounds continue without intermission. Three or four groups take turns—The Jefferson Airplane, The Grateful Dead, The Byrds, The Mystery Trend, The Quicksilver Messenger Service, The Moby Grape, Big Brother and the Holding Company—exultantly and joyously weaving a magnetic-electric-psychic flow of energy between sound, light, and dance. "2-4-2 FOXTROT." After attending one of these revels one feels emotionally and vitally recharged—they function as communal energy generators, heightening the level of shared awareness. WHY? Were not the early churches based on singing and dancing, as recounted in "The Hymn of Jesus"? We have come a long way since that time, with our Protestant pews, and rows of straight-backed, locked, separated benches. The most mystically oriented of the major Christian churches, the Greek and Russian Orthodox Church, does not have seats; people pray kneeling on the floor, or standing, musicians chant during the whole service, the whole holy day. TIME BETWEEN.
    Rock musicians such as The Byrds are consciously and deliberately attempting by music to raise the spiritual level of their listeners. In some of their songs, double and multiple track recording methods are used, which are reminiscent of the multilevel awareness of the psychedelic state. A good example is their "2-4-2 FOXTROT," in which a sound-mix of chaotic impressions—radio, machines, voices in conversation—is heard interwoven with the continuous, repetitive chorus of the musicians.
    Another is "CTA 102," a song dedicated to the star emitting the highest intensity of radio signals in the sky:

We just want to let you know
That we're ready for to go
Out into the Universe
We don't care who's been there first.

The words are first sung straight, then they are heard again as if from a long distance away, and a conversation between two friendly, appreciative spacemen is heard in the foreground. The music will take you on a trip, if you let it, and just keep falling free—"relaxed and paying attention."

    R.M.: David, can You say something about what effect your experiences with LSD have had on your music and on your thinking about music?
    DAVID: The primary effect has been, rather than one of expanding or changing my concepts about music, the effect has been to increase the amount of telepathic rapport between myself and the other members of my band. We took trips together, and as you're well aware, if you go on the same chemical trip it attunes you to the other person a great deal, and particularly in the area of mental telepathy and the very fragile emotional communication that goes on in making music with another person. I think in that area acid probably was one of the major forces in shaping our band and our music.
    R.M.: How many years ago did you start taking LSD?
    DAVID: The first time that I took acid was, I think, roughly four years ago. I took mescaline first in New York, about five years ago. Then I took acid about four years ago, and I've been taking it regularly since then, roughly averaging out to about once every three months. I don't take it very frequently, because I feel it's a drastic thing for your nervous system to go through. You know it's not lightly done, in my case, and I give myself time to get it together again, you know, afterwards and time to let my nervous system recuperate from it because it is a drastic shock to your system to go through that. It's not a light thing, that is, if you're doing heavy doses.
    R.M.: When you said you've taken trips with the group together, would this be while you were playing at performances or not?
    DAVID: On various occasions one or another of us have played in performances while we were on a trip, but most of the playing we have done when all of us or most of us were up was done in somebody's house or in a rehearsal or when we were putting the band together. That was one of the ways we found our music, was to get high together and play.
    R.M.: But through the experiences you said this kind of telepathic communication is something that goes on while you're playing. Do you think you can—I know it is very hard to put into words—but do you think you can describe more what you do? In other words, are you picking up on each other's thoughts or images or attitudes?
    DAVID: Let me explain something about telepathy first. If you have current flowing through a wire, electrical current, it creates a field around the wire, an electro-magnetic field, the nature of which is different from the electric current flowing through the wire. I postulate that neural current flowing through a nerve creates a similar field that is equally as different from neural current as the magnetic field is from electrical current. I also postulate that we do not have the equipment to detect or measure this field yet, but that we will have soon. You must understand that it takes an entire room full of equipment at our present stage of technology to even detect the electrical current, the neural current, you see, and it will have to be ten stages more sensitive to detect the field, but I do believe that the field exists and I do believe that that is the mechanism of telepathy and I believe that that is what is going on a great deal. I think everyone does it and I believe that music is about a 70 per cent technique trip and to get it up to the magic levels, the 95 or 100 per cent levels of togetherness, which I am Dot trying to claim that we do all the time—we do attain it sometimes—to get it up into that level requires a rapport between the musicians, and whatever you want to call it you can call it, but I call it a telepathic rapport because that's the level that I think it is happening on.
    R.M.: Are you saying then that at such moments you are all in one field, that kind of field that you describe?
    DAVID: We're attuned on an empathic level, not necessarily symbol transference, but there is a definite empathy transference—you know, if one person is turned on, he turns on the others; if they are all turned on, there is a feedback between them that accentuates and pushes it much higher, and the audience turns on, you turn on the audience, the audience turns you on. That communication is what I am talking about.
    R.M.: Would you like to try to describe one of your trips? Say, describe the context in which you took it and try to say what happened?
    DAVID: It's very hard to do, to pick one particular one. They've all been, and this is an unfortunate thing, they've all been city trips. I've yet to be able to go down and spend a day on the beach or up in the mountains or in the desert, which I keep promising myself I am going to do the next time, and then always somehow I wind up taking it in the city because of the people. The last time, we might as well take just the last one, was in London, and it was an exceptionally beautiful one, because it was with two people or with three people that I really, really enjoyed, and really like a great deal, and it was the basis for the start of a communication with one of those people who is now getting to be probably one of my best friends, because of it, and it was a lovely trip. It was beautiful. We wound up driving out to see Windsor Castle in the dawn, which is an incredible experience. We got lost, which was beautiful, and I went walking down beside the Thames along where they have all these beautiful houseboats and barges and boats, and I really love boats, and so it was a beautiful thing. I wouldn't say that it did me a great deal of—that I did any great work on my head behind it or that it was a tremendous educational thing, which sometimes it is. Other times it's just pure pleasure, you know, it's really just for the beauty of it. Sometimes I sit for a long time and just try and see where my head is, with it. Ask me another question.
    R.M.: Do you go out of your mind completely?
    DAVID: I have, but not always. I have gotten to a place where there was a point of light and it was emanating light and I hallucinated that it was the life force, and that it was inside of me, and that I was looking inside of me, and that everyone has it, and that it's inside of everyone and that getting in tune with it is what's happening. I'd like to go to that place again; particularly, as a matter of fact, that would be, I hope, what happens the next time I do it, because it was a—there are some things about it that are too fragile to verbalize. Verbalization is a very clumsy tool in dealing with this. It's awkward trying to talk about taking a trip; it's like trying to talk about writing a song. There are things in all of those areas that there are no words for yet, you see, and it's very difficult to describe.
    R.M.: In the concerts, in the performances that you give, do you have any idea how many of the listeners are taking LSD or what they are doing with it?
    DAVID: It depends on where we're playing, largely. If we're playing in San Francisco in the Fillmore, 95 per cent of the people in the room, perhaps all of the people in the room, that's several thousand people. You could probably find eight or ten people in the room who hadn't, but they would be the policemen, and you could probably find a couple of them that bad, particularly in San Francisco. In other places, it's a very high percentage in clubs and concerts in Los Angeles, New York and Chicago, major urban centers; it's a very high percentage. in western Massachusetts where we played the other night, it was a small percentage, and yet there were people there that were very definitely into that, and made it plain to us in conversation afterwards that that was where they were at.
    R.M.: Does it make a great deal of difference to you whether you're playing for people dancing or just listening?
    DAVID: I think the thing we enjoy doing most is dance concerts, where everybody can sit or stand or dance or fly or hang from the rafters or do anything they want. That's usually the best way, because then all the audience can do as they please, you know, and it seems to work extremely well. That's the best way.
    R.M.: I also want to ask you whether you had any thoughts about how music on electronic instruments seems to be somehow particularly the thing that is happening now. Is it just because it's convenient, because there is good amplification, or is there something else involved?
    DAVID: It's because it's an expanded form. It's because instead of it just being sound, it becomes a palpable force. A rock-and-roll electric bass is a physical experience. It shakes your stomach, gets a hold of you down where you live. The scream of a lead guitar has all the emotional overtones of an air-raid siren or a baby crying or the howl of some animal fighting. It's got that kind of intensity to it. It cuts, it hurts your ear physically, you dig? The really good ones can peel paint right off a wall and make your teeth itch, you know, make the dog stand up and yell. The pulsing of a rhythm section, the steadiness of pulse of a rhythm section is a physical experience. You become attuned with it, you get to a point where you're depending on the next beat being there. It's not just dancing. When you're sitting still even this is all going on. That's what the people who are still playing acoustic music don't know about what we are doing. They aren't aware that that's it. When then encounter it they say, "Ah, it's so loud, it's terrible, it's painful. You can't play that about dosages.
    R.M.: Tell me about dosages. But I want to come back to that other thing too.
    DAVID: Ask me what you want.
    R.M.: You say the electronic music gets to the physical more than acoustic music. The physical organism. Now, when you're playing a particular song or a particular piece, are you aware of what particular physical effect the thing is having?
    DAVID: Intellectually, we're not aware for the most part of what we're doing at all when we do it, because we know it's an emotional-level thing, and we work it on that level. It's not an intellectual process. You have to disconnect that, just the way that to achieve some levels of thought you have to be able to disconnect your verbalization process. There are some symbolic connections that you cannot make when you're still using words to think with.
    R.M.: Certain times at the Fillmore or the Avalon Ballroom—I didn't hear you there, but one of the other bands, either The Grateful Dead or The Quicksilver Messenger Service—you had the feeling that they were playing from their spine to the audience's spine or to the dancers' spines. There was a direct vibratory link beam there. Does that make sense to you?
    DAVID: That's what's going on.
    R.M. Do you ever play like on small dosages of acid or with other psychedelics such as marihuana?
    DAVID: I can only speak for myself, but I play most of the time high and I always write high. McGuinn, however, doesn't get high because he's into a religious tuning of his head. You see, I believe that it is possible to tune your bead to achieve a state of mind that is a far superior high than any drug can give you. If I could attain that now, if I was together enough to take care of that, I probably wouldn't get high. However, I find it still more expedient to use chemicals because they do the job. To get back to "Do I smoke?"—yes, I do. Sometimes I take licks of acid but not very often. That's kind of copping out on what acid really is.
    R.M.: What do you think of the quality of the black market LSD that most of the youngsters are using?
    DAVID: Well, I thought for a long time that it was just fine until I took some really strong acid, some pure acid, that was made by a cat in California named O., and what I found out then was that most of the dosages I had been taking and that most of the people I know had been taking were somewhere between 50 and 100 mcg. They were told that they were 250, 300, 225, but actually most of them for a long time were 50 to 100 mcgs., and it's only now that some really high-quality work is being done by people who are very conscientious about it apparently, because they certainly are producing good stuff. And not only is it available but there are a great many people who are making it available for free. I don't think I've paid for any acid in a year.
    R.M.: Where do you think the psychedelic scene is going?
    DAVID: That's a pretty broad question. I don't know. It seems to me that one of two things is going to happen. Either—well, we'll take the bummer first—if the United States becomes involved in a land war with China it will become a matter of survival, to stay in that war and to fight it and win it. Dissenters will be put in camps. That means you. And me. That's the bummer. In another direction, the country is developing a higher level or plane of existence, it is developing a spiritual aspect, there are people who are trying to stop all kinds of war and conflict, and they're trying very seriously and they're very dynamite people. And they're trying very hard. Because they're desperate. Every kid I know has grown up since the time they were babies with a brand new symbol in their mental computer that's never been in anybody's mental computer before this generation, and that's a full stop. We've all been aware that the life of the whole planet can be wiped out. Because of that they're determined to stop it. It could work out. They could succeed. I do believe that love is the strongest force in the world, and I think that they might succeed. But there's no way to tell. And I have a lot of fear too. I have a lot of fear. I could see this flower patch being trampled easily. In one surge of soldiers.
    R.M.: Some people have said that the main theme of what is coming out of San Francisco today is a spirit of celebration. Is that something that makes sense to you?
    DAVID: Yes. Celebration. That's only one word. I think if you had to pick just one word, you'd have to pick a bigger word than "celebration." You'd have to just say love. They are trying to be in tune with the beauty and the love that is happening in the world. It is happening. It happens every day. It's here all the time. And they want to be in tune with that. They want to get in tune with flowers and children laughing and trees and growth and change and beauty instead of getting into death and destruction and down and pain and degradation and unrest. They're only just trying to get in tune with the positives. That's all. They're just rejecting negatives as a way of life. It's a very basic thing. I see that as the main unification factor amongst all the different kinds of hippies, and there are as many different kinds of hippies as there are anything else. The basic unifying factor seems to be that they desire the positives, that they are looking for positives. Most of them. That's not to say that I haven't met some pretty negative speed [amphetamine] freaks, but mostly speed freaks. That's not to put down speed either, because speed is how I learned to play the guitar. But I know some speed burglars who are very negative people. They believe the world is going to be blown up and why not cop everything and try and survive as groovy as you can right now. Most of the other people don't believe that it is going to go down that way. They think there is a chance for love to conquer all. And they're crazy enough to try it.
    R.M.: Do you want to say something more about learning to play the guitar with speed?
    DAVID: I think most of us did. I don't know any good guitar players who haven't taken speed. I am sure there are some, but I don't know them. You could sit and play the same riff for two hours in a row, or go over to someone's house and jam until your fingers bleed—you know, eight or ten hours even. It's a good way to do that. Unfortunately it's also very damaging to your body in the same way that junk is, which makes it a drag. It destroyed my stomach completely, to the point where I got out of the army because of it, which is not a bad thing, but it proves it was a serious impairment of my physical health. And it was due to that.
    R.M.: Do you have anything like a goal or something that you would like to see happen as a result of your activities, what you do?
    DAVID: Since we've started, we've tried not to be a political group. We don't come out and express political or social views very much. We've always tried to communicate that by our attitude. By the attitude of our music. And the things we've been trying to communicate in favor of have been love, freedom; all kinds of freedom—personal freedom, freedom of emotion. In general we've simply been going, as I said before, for the positives. Trying to reject negatives for a way that is happening—birth and growth.
    R.M.: Have you talked with other musicians that you know about LSD—do you know what they think of it?
    DAVID: Yeah, I've talked with a lot of people. Most of the other musicians that I know believe pretty much the same thing that I do. That it's a tool and that you can use a tool however you want. You can use a wrench to build iron lungs and bridges or you can use it to break a baby's head open with. It is the same tool. They also think it's a good way to get high.
    The last time that I asked Dylan about it, mentioned it to him, he said: "Man, haven't you done that enough?" That's quite an attitude.
    R.M.: What about the Beatles?
    DAVID: What can I say? I believe that everyone should blow their own cool. But, the medium is the message, as McLuhan says.
    R.M.: David, what do you think of what Timothy Leary is doing?
    DAVID: Last time I saw him I went to a celebration in L.A. and I went expecting to see someone slightly nuts who had taken a little too much acid. I was therefore very surprised. Because what I saw was a very together, very sane, very capable human being, proceeding about his aims in a very collected fashion. I think probably the greatest thing Tim Leary has done is limiting the size of his own church. Because that is how we'll get around it, that is how we'll get it legal, as a religious freedom, grass and acid both. That's the only way we'll get it done. I think that the most intelligent and far-seeing thing that he has done is limiting the size of his own personal one and refusing to allow that to grow and become a monster. Because that will force the others to do it for themselves. And do it properly, do it in small tribes, the way it should be.
    I think acid is part of the way that the race is mutating. The biggest factor is that we are changing the way we accept data, information into our minds. The older generation is into linear acceptance, concepts one after another like a string of sausages in cause-and-effect relationships, which is a traditional mode of Western thought that is not necessarily related to reality. The younger generation is into grasping an overall flash of data at once and having the oneness be part of the information. Every kid you know can watch TV, talk on the phone, eat, do homework and listen to the radio at the same time and cover it.
    We are in the primitive stages of learning how to tune our minds to wherever we want them chemically, and soon electrically. Our kids will be able to tune for total recall, or sexual ecstasy, or telepathic amplification, or instant calculator, or any other state or function they wish. They are going to be very strange.

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