April 19th sees the celebration of Bicycle Day. A day that commemorates Albert Hoffman’s famous bicycle trip. To mark the occasion, below, I’ve posted a short excerpt from my writings which touch on the subject as well as my early influences in music. I’ve entitled it A Problem Child? after Hofmann’s book: LSD My Problem Child.
A Problem Child?
LSD was made illegal in Britain in 1966. Extremely illegal – in fact, one of the most illegal substances on the statute book.
Despite this, it’s powerful effects have defied prohibition, escaped the secret drug laboratories and entered the bloodstream of our culture. A strange synergy has occurred: molecular messages have travelled via mind into matter, bringing about dramatic shifts in consciousness and, perhaps, even shifted the trajectory of our civilisation. But LSD wasn’t the only secret ingredient seeping into the cultural mix in the 1960s. Psychedelic music – much of it electronic and experimental – was also opening up unexplored territories.
I was only six in 1967 – the first Summer of Love. I don’t remember much about the politics except that my prize possession was a large black and white CND badge, that had around the central CND logo the rather mysterious incantation: Make Love Not War.
I remember more about 1968, though I still didn’t fully grasp the implications of the pictures being beamed into our telly. Martin Luther King, murdered; the ninety nuclear test detonations; the million strong street protests in Paris; Tommie Smith and John Carlos giving the Black Power salute on the Olympic winner’s podium – and the ongoing atrocities of the Vietnam War.
The Vietnam war is often regarded as the first (and last) war to be televised. The images of executions, children with napalm burns and thousands of tons of bombs raining down on reed-thatched villages may not have beaten the Vietcong but it certainly had full impact on western public opinion.
The recent Summer of Love suddenly seemed distant and an incongruous title for such a blood soaked era. But with each drop of innocent blood spilt, the people of the world began to wake up to the horrors being committed in their name. Resistance to the warmongers grew. It grew and it blossomed. It seemed that Flower Power and peace and love were the answer. Positive energy would heal the wounds and stop the war – perhaps all wars – forever.
There was a great swell of optimistic resistance, an optimism that also drove the Civil Rights movement, anti-nuclear protests and ecological campaigns. And all this positive energy had a sound track – a sound track that wiped the floor with any of the tunes played by the recruiting military bands. The automaton march of the war machine faltered. Fear could not sway a fearless generation.
Though I was too young to get the politics, I understood – perfectly. Massacring babes, women and children was wrong. Massacring anyone was wrong. Being nice was right. Nursery school stuff – in fact it seemed clear to me that grown-up politics’s sole purpose was obfuscation – though I probably didn’t use that word, or any others. Words weren’t necessary. Something I found out one night while camping on my own in the garden.
I’d smuggled my mum’s radio into my tent for company. By turning its large illuminated dial I could explore the strange electronic signals that were adrift around the outer edges of the stratosphere. High speed Morse blips, foreign languages fading one into another. Then I stumbled upon an offshore radio station. What I heard was a first for me. A pure signal that rose, wavered, and then fell in cascades of information. Not words – the message was in the music – the music that burst the bubble of control – the music that opened up my horizons. It was the mountain-moving electronic distortions of Jimi Hendrix’s Voodoo Child.
The excitement I felt in those brief few minutes was amazing. My heart beat faster – my mind reached out around the world – and beyond. I felt a great empathy for everyone and everything; the whole planet and the stars. I was electrically connected.
The next morning I enthusiastically asked my mum and dad for an electric guitar. Of course, the answer was no. But I knew then, the electrical impulse was not going to fade away – if anything, as I grew up, it became more amplified.