••• The International Writers Magazine - Our 20th Year: The 60's
Shades of Psychedelia.
It is often said that if you can remember the 1960’s you probably weren’t there. This I suppose means that for some, the whole or part of the decade was lost in a blur of drugs, promiscuity, pop music and peace demonstrations.
However, I do remember the 60’s and I was definitely there. So, for some the 60’s may have passed in a drugged stupor, but for the rest of us there was the usual humdrum everyday things to do and worry about, such as getting a job, not get killed riding pillion on a scooter or a motorbike, trying to get a good signal on our transistor radios to listen to pirate radio stations and generally railing against the ways of the generation that came immediately before us.
The recreational use of mind-altering drugs is a phenomenon that has occurred across most cultures throughout time and history and in that sense the use of recreational drugs in the 60’s was nothing new. What was new was the ease of access to and the affordability of man-made mind-altering drugs like LSD, coupled with the social legitimising of their use by Pop icons i.e. the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Carlos Santana or Jim Morrison. Then there was a resurgent interest in eastern meditative religions that had attracted the Beatles and other pop stars to the teaching of the Maharshi Yogi in India and with it the wide publicising of the practice of transcendental meditation in order to ‘open our minds’. Walking through Hyde park on a Sunday afternoon in the late 60’s you couldn’t swing a Kaftan for figures on the grass seated in the lotus position rhythmically chanting their personal mantras. The word mantra, by the way is a Sanskrit word, well actually two words, there is man meaning the mind, and tra meaning release. So, a mantra was the means for releasing the mind. If you have ever been provided with a mantra and have tried deep meditation you will know just how stubborn the mind can be when it comes to being freed.
However, there was another quicker way to achieve the purpose of the mantra and free your mind, and this was the use of drugs that contained lysergic acid - mescaline or LSD for example or mushrooms containing psilocybin -the ingredient of the so-called magic mushrooms. Certain types of mushrooms were long known to produce hallucinogenic effects and during the 60’s these were usually furtively collected and consumed with gusto by those looking to free their mind at no material cost. One of my good friends was introduced to magic mushrooms whilst on holiday in the west country and the experience really changed him. He eventually gave up his good job at the bank , grew out his short back and sides haircut and went off to join the Hippy trail that wove across south east Asia and into India. This was, he said, a journey he had to take in order to find himself. I wasn’t surprised when I heard a few years later that he died a relatively young man alone in a bed-sit in Shepherds Bush.
I do recall arranging to meet up with him and some other friends in a pub near Old Street where there was live music most evenings in the 60s. We were late getting there and when we went in, we saw that he was already there sitting on his own in a small side booth and seemed to be rather pleased with himself. He appeared quite rational too except that he wasn’t drinking the beer we bought him. When the band came on, he was enjoying the music and apart from looking at his hands in a close-up and interested way when we all clapped the band at the end of each song, he seemed to be quite normal. Later that year he told me that he had taken LSD for the first time in public on his own that night and when we had arrived, he was on an immense and magnificent trip. He said that the trip had begun suddenly when the natural grain on the wood panelling in the booth where he was sitting began to swirl and throb as though it was alive.
In the 1950’s Aldous Huxley, the writer and more recently the TV doctor David Mosely have taken hallucinogenic drugs under controlled conditions to satisfy their own curiosity about the effects of such mind-bending drugs. In both cases medical help was on hand in case the trip was a bad one. There were others in attendance to make sure that what they experienced would be accurately recorded. Huxley’s interest in mescaline was primarily to try and gain an insight into the minds of the great artists, thinkers, writers, poets and even sportsmen that stood them out against ordinary people. He was trying to experience the world that they perceive, recognising that it was very different than how normal less gifted persons viewed and made sense of the world around them, whilst Dr David Mosely was just trying to find out what made the taking of hallucinogenic mushrooms so appealing. Neither Huxley or Mosely experienced great visions or insights whilst under the influence of the drugs and both, I think, were a little disappointed at the effect that the drugs had had upon them although Huxley found the creases and folds in his trousers particularly revealing and fascinating.
I have often thought about the idea that we humans perceive the world around ourselves through their own personal lens and in doing so create a unique and distinct reality. Anyone who has attended an undergraduate lecture on the philosophy of Berkeley will probably remember the dissonance that accompanies Berkeley’s powerful yet fatally flawed argument that things only exist if they can be perceived by us. Hands up those who found closing their eyes strange for the rest of that day?! Then there was Immanuel Kant who came to a similar conclusion and asserted that we can never really know what is out there - beyond ourselves. That is, we can never know things as they really are but only as we experience them.
© Paul Klee
|This idea of the personal perception of reality led many artists especially those influenced by German idealist metaphysics in the 1930s such as Paul Klee to believe that the world around us has no final reality and that the reality was that reality itself was layered and multiple. That took me a few attempts to write so you might want re-read that line a couple of times to get the meaning clear. The art of Paul Klee can be seen as an expression of this belief. Not surprisingly the interest by artists and other ‘thinkers’ in transcendentalism resurfaces during the 1960s and was promoted and popularised by pop bands and musicians seeking these other realities.
It was not that the 60s themselves were so awful that we were all so very dissatisfied and unhappy and looked for an escape in drugs, it was just that we wanted more and different experiences than our parents had and we were not going to have the mentality of ‘leave things as they are’ imposed on us by our elders. Looking back, it was I think, a time of great social and economic change brought about by advancements in technology, science, education, coupled with a rejection of imperialistic wars and a nascent political awareness, especially by those benefitting from the expansion of further education.
Perhaps then we shouldn’t try to think or write about the 1960s as a homogenous reality for all those that lived through and experienced the social and political changes that occurred. My reality was formed and shaped from living in London. Someone experiencing the 60s in say Liverpool or Cardiff would have a different reality and different memories of that time. The one constant however, was the music that the 60s produced and it did not matter so much wherever you heard it as long as you did. Album sleeves during the psychedelic period are truly amazing works of art. In particular the albums sleeves for Disraeli Gears by Cream, the Soft Machine by the Soft Machine, The Quicksilver Messenger Service by the same and that most iconic of album sleeves - Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely-Hearts Club Band.
Is it possible to re-live the 60s, particularly if you actually were there and can’t remember what it was like or perhaps you just want to gain some transcendental enlightenment? Well, maybe it is. My advice is that you find a safe comfortable place, put on one of the albums I’ve mentioned and as you gaze into the colourful graphics on the album sleeve try to free your mind and let the reality of the social changes and beliefs of 60’s seep slowly into your head. Far out man. I mean, far, far out. Shrooms on toast anybody?
© Guy Edwards May 2019
Freud on the Fridge by Guy Edwards - Part One Living the 60's
Freud on the Fridge - Part Two