Psychedelia and me

It occurs to me I might be becoming a bit of a grumpy old bastard. I spent Friday talking about books I don’t like and have tonight just thrown a book across the room in frustration. It could be a classic case of displacement: the weather’s a bit shit, work is pissing me off, I’ve only had one day off in a year and we’re having some trouble with neighbours at the moment. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I know how hard it is to write. God knows how hard it is to write something that is regarded as great – I obviously don’t know anything about that. And by expressing a dislike for something I’m not in a million years trying to suggest I’m better than these other writers were. Not at all. Jesus, I’d probably slap myself around the head if I ever got that egoistical. I just think it’s right to be honest and to try to show why you feel the way you do about things.

Anyway, the book I threw across the room tonight was Revolution for the Hell of It by Abbie Hoffman. A book about countercultural ‘revolution’. I read it to help bolster my account of Brautigan’s association with the counter culture. He had nothing to do with Hoffman – he was just fleetingly associated to The Diggers – but in order to explain his placement I have to contextualise it in relation to other ‘revolutionary’ factions. The Hoffman book irritated me. It irritated me for precisely the same reason all psychedelic literature/theory/criticism/music/theatre/art does. Because in there are moments of staggering insight and genius. And wrapped around these moments are absurd and toe-curlingly embarrassing epsiodes of twee nonsense. You know what I mean – sure you do. It’s While My Guitar Gently Weeps immediately preceded by The Continuing Story Of Bungalow Bill on The Beatles’ White Album…

One of the novels I hold in really high esteem is One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey. I think it’s an incredible parable of American society, of any society. I read The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test and was interested, and bemused, by turns when reading about Kesey’s life with the Tricksters. Well, the man came to Liverpool in 2000, a year before his death. He turned up with the remaining Tricksters in Matthew Street and I went down to see the bus and to get a couple of books signed. The following night he was reading at The Royal Court and I went along to that too. The first half was fantastic. He stood on the stage and read from Demon Box and I loved it. Then we had a brief intermission and he emerged on stage dressed as a jester and performed, with his ensemble, some bizarre (and pretty incomprehensible) hippy pantomime that culminated in a live jam where he played the theramin for about half an hour. On one level it was kind of funny, on another it was kind of dull. I would probably have rather watched Amy Winehouse pissed off her face trying to remember the lines to her hits.

Anyway, that’s me and psychedelia. A true love/hate relationship. Imagine if I’d have been around forty years ago and went to a Tim Buckley concert? I’d have been shaking his hand for Sing a Song for You and resisting the urge to punch him for Phantasmagoria in Two… Golden rule – if there’s a jester in it somewhere, or even worse a fucking harlequin, then you’d better warn me so I can get out in time…


6 thoughts on “Psychedelia and me

  1. Vera June 20, 2011 / 10:49 pm

    Hey Neil, I too have thrown a book across a room. Years ago. Sometimes it’s just something you have to do.

  2. jogblog June 21, 2011 / 8:49 am

    You don’t come across as egotistical. It’s all down to taste. I read American Psycho three times, but you hate it. Each to their own.

  3. Neil Schiller June 22, 2011 / 8:37 am

    Vera, hahah, maybe we all need a good book throwing episode from time to time…

    Jogblog, thanks. Saying I don’t like American Psycho and Moby Dick gets me into all kinds of trouble. But honestly, I just don’t. Something either grabs you or it doesn’t I guess. I’m probably a bit oversensitive after Amazon Forum participation where everything you say seems to be construed in every single way possible. “I didn’t really care for this book” = “so you think you’re better than MELVILLE?”, “you obviously didn’t understand it”, “you’re just someone who doesn’t like anything pre-1990”, “you’re a moron with no attention span” etc. etc. 😀

  4. James Everington June 22, 2011 / 3:59 pm

    I think a lot of the 60s/Psychedelia stuff was a case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. You can’t revolutionise everything; you can reject everything that has gone before and just expect to be able to start again.

    I know you’re a Dylan fan – have you read his ‘novel’ Tarantula? A few inspired lines and images as you’d expect, but most of it reads like a piss-take of 60s writing than anything real.

    • Neil Schiller June 22, 2011 / 4:22 pm

      James, I have yes. I found it really hard work. From the liner notes he used to write on his albums I expected it to be great. But it was a bit rambling and nonsensical from what I remember.

      I got slammed once for saying, as an offhand remark, that the countercultural revolution of the sixties ultimately failed. I meant it specifically in terms of alternative social modes that weren’t governed by money, but it was taken as meaning it was all a waste of time. Which I don’t think it was. A lot came out of it. A healthy questioning of authority for one.

      Psychedlia is a tricky one because I get the message – it’s one that Brautigan picks up in his work. Language is a construct in which you can get bound up in value judgements and the same sort of controlling mechanisms they were rebelling against. But then there’s an art in highlighting that I think. The Zen axiom about looking at the moon and not the finger pointing to it to me is kind of what Brautigan does and does well in some cases. But then you get people pushing that point by deciding not to speak but dance instead to the tune of the night (and a harlequin playing a flute). The point is the same but the way in which it’s conveyed becomes a bit embarrassing and not necessarily helpful.

      And yeah, you’re right about throwing everything out for the sake of it. Burning a bra because it symbolises male dominance and a culture of repression. Yeah, ok, but I’ve heard they can make you quite comfortable as well. Throw off your clothes as they are an imperialistic device. But then it gets bloody cold up here in winter…

  5. James Everington June 22, 2011 / 6:33 pm

    At the end of the day, I think some people just want to think in slogans – Capitalist society good! – no Capitalist society BAD! – rather than think through the nuances and contradictions.

    And that kind of slogan-thinking is fatal to art.

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