Rockette Morton

The 13th Floor Elevators

Philip K. Dick

Mati Klarwein artwork

Kenneth Anger

Patrick Lundborg is a dapper Swedish record collector and culture writer with a penchant for the American underground scene. He's done a few quite good books, including Acid Archives, and has now set his sights on unpacking several thousand years of psychedelic history and laying the whole thing out for us. This is a goddamn noble effort, and one so vast it's almost guaranteed to fail, but Patrick takes a good shot at it.

The bulk of the book deals with the specific history of psychedelic drug use over the centuries (although, as you'd expect, the main focus is on the latter half of the 20th century). Lundborg has clearly done his studying in this area, and he manages to boil down a lot of raw info into fairly readable nuggets. And while LSD may be my drug of choice, Patrick prefers DMT and its analogous Amazonian plant-buddies. So the focus is heavily canted in that direction whenever possible. Still, his presentation of facts regarding topics such as the Brotherhood of Light (an acid cult that once included Zoot Horn Rollo among its members) and the international web of psychedelic chemists is consistently cool and informative.

“While LSD may be my drug of choice, Patrick prefers DMT and its analogous Amazonian plant-buddies.”

There's also a passel of music stuff mentioned. Some of it's in depth (the 13th Floor Elevators' DMT connection is explored interestingly), and Lundborg makes some sharp critical points. Most notable among these is the fact that San Francisco bands (with a few exceptions) didn't really become functionally psychedelic until the scene was overrun by teenaged wastrels. This is a damn interesting observation, and something I'd not previously considered. But I sorta feel as though his description of what makes music functionally psychedelic is mumbo-jumbo. This feeling is amplified by some of the examples of records he notes, a bunch of which are dull, expensive listens that only seem to really appeal to high-end vinyl dealers. Lundborg dismisses music like early Pink Floyd (their space songs are not invitingly human enough? whuh?) while extolling the virtues of the Aggregation's Mind Odyssey and Creation Of Sunlight. Buh! He does pick some winners, but he also pledges allegiance to mid-'70s bands I don't think deserve another drop of ink (Relatively Clean Rivers, Wilcox-Sullivan-Wilcox, Kristyl, Top Drawer and other rare dogshit I would never personally tag as psych). I was also less than chuffed by the lengthy dissertation on the history and various offshoots of acid-house, psybient and various other rave-dance chugging. Lundborg seems to know a lot about this shit, but never enough to make it sound even mildly interesting. His take on proto-psych material like exotica and eden ahbez is more intriguing, although again, it seems a bit weird to name-check Martin Denny, but not Group 1850 (whose Agemo's Trip to Mother Earth should be in anyone's acid top ten).

Psychedelia is an important addition to any decent '60s library. The material on drug history is first rate, and makes a lot of clumsier efforts irrelevant.”

The weakest parts of the book are those where Patrick discusses psych films, lit, art and whatnot. He's pretty good on the topics he chooses to focus on — P.K. Dick, 2001, Mati Klarwein, etc. But it would seem there are some large holes in his expertise. Almost no mention is made of underground filmmakers like Kenneth Anger, Ira Cohen, Jud Yalkut and the many others who created ecstatically mind-blown moving pictures. Nor is there much acknowledgement of the vast numbers of acid-head poets out there, who were publishing regularly throughout the '60s — from John Sinclair to Ed Sanders to Richard Krech and whoever. He also seems unaware of much acid-oriented prose, be it Billy Craddock's Be Not Content or Tom Vietch's fragmentary novels, and he claims that Kesey gave up prose after Cuckoo's Nest. This negates the very existence of '73's Kesey's Garage Sale, which includes "Over the Border," a screenplay containing some of Ken's most overtly psych writing. There's no mention of underground comix either, which is crazy. Not sure what's more psych-specific than something like John Thompson's The Kingdom of Heaven Is Within You. The stuff about underground poster artists is rather thin as well, although the surfer/acid connection is so explicit in the work of Rick Griffin, you could poop. And there's not a single mention of Trips '66, the amazing collection of amateur acid art put out by the Psychedelic Shop back in '66! What the fuck? Don't mean to sound like I'm ranting, but maybe I am.

For all that, Psychedelia is an important addition to any decent '60s library. The material on drug history is first rate, and makes a lot of clumsier efforts irrelevant. Patrick is also very good on covering the stuff that has specifically caught his attention. But I can't help but think the cultural parts of this book would have been a lot richer had Mr. Lundborg spent a few months in the stacks at the New Grass Center for Underground Culture, or some similar archive. What he knows about is generally pretty good, but there are many other nooks of psychedelic theory to explore. Perhaps, like Acid Archives, there will be expanded, updated editions forthcoming. Wouldn't hurt.

Rob Thomas' Selection of In Stock Psych: