LSD and the acid rock of the sixties

Secretly we're longing for the '60s, the time when psychedelic music was the driving force behind the peace and love culture, the 'Flower Power' era: the time when lysergic acid diethylamide – better known as LSD, or acid – made its way into counter-culture.

Various other types of psychedelics gained popularity during this period. Not only did this spawn a psychedelic-influenced youth culture, it also gave birth to a specific music genre: psychedelic rock or acid rock. This goal of this music was to enhance the experience of psychedelic drugs, both in sound and lyrics.

The Beat Generation

Embracing drugs and free love was quite different a decade earlier. In the '50s television was dominated by images of perfect families, and the sweet sounds of Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis Presley were ever present on radio shows. The principles of the '50s left little room for creativity and originality. A counter response came from a group of intellectuals that questioned 'the American Way of Living'. This group consisted mainly of poets, writers and musicians; also known as Beatniks (The Beat Generation).

They turned against the American culture and its materialism, established their own community and were engaged in creative expression and expansion of consciousness (mainly through cannabis). While this community did not have the impact to spark a real revolution, their ideas did have a major influence on the creative scene for years to come.

The king of acid

What didn't work in the '50s did take place in the next decade. In 1964, the Haight-Ashbury district in the San Francisco Bay Area was the meeting place for young people who opposed the prevailing American culture and mainstream ideals. These "hippies" wanted to be more than just a cog in the big machine. The cornerstone of this culture was psychedelic rock music. The growth of the hippy culture was associated with an increase in the use of cannabis and psychedelics.

Drug use was essentially a form of rebellion and a way to oppose to the prevailing social norms, with music as a carrier of this message. As the '60s progressed, LSD became more readily available available according to a survey held in 1962. At that time a mere 25.000 Americans had tried LSD at least once. Four years later this number had risen to almost four million.

Mid 1960, Owsley 'Bear' Stanley emerged as leading manufacturer of high-quality LSD. He maintained close ties with the music scene at that time – with friends and customers such as Jim Morrison and Janis Joplin – and he was very generous at the infamous psychedelic parties (Acid Tests) by Ken Kesey in San Francisco. At these 'tests', LSD was distributed to party-goers mixed with lemonade while the Warlocks (who later changed their name to The Grateful Dead) played as a background band.

Turn on, tune in, drop out

On January 14, 1967, the Human Be-In music festival took place, in fact a protest against a new law in California that outlawed LSD. Several pioneers from the psychedelic scene joined forces: Allen Ginsberg and Timothy Leary (who spoke the legendary words 'turn on, tune in, drop out') and there were many performances by The Grateful Dead, Steve Miller Band, Jimi Hendrix and Jefferson Airplane. Owsley Stanley donated 100.000 tabs of his 'White Lightning' LSD to the party-goers. The festival played an important role in the importance and presence of LSD at psychedelic rock events.

The music and hippy culture also arose in other parts of The United States. The 13th Floor Elevators were the pioneers of the psychedelic rock scene in Texas. Their album Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators (1966) was the first psychedelic album ever released. This album was almost an advertisement for LSD.

The end of the sixties did not mean the end of psychedelic rock. Almost all later rock bands are influenced by the music of that time. Even in today's music you can still hear influences of the Flower Power era, although no longer so much centered on LSD. Many bands and musicians (Flaming Lips, Wilco and Modest Mouse) have been inspired by the music, but also by the specific atmosphere that once framed the '60s.

Jefferson Airplane - White Rabbit

One pill makes you larger
And one pill makes you small
And the ones that mother gives you
Do not do anything at all
Go ask Alice when she's 10 feet tall.

Jimi Hendrix - Purple Haze

Purple haze all in my brain
Lately things just do not seem the same
Actin' funny, but I do not know why
'Scuse me while I kiss the sky

The Beatles - Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds

Picture yourself in a boat on a river
With tangerine trees and marmalade skies
Somebody calls you, you answer quite slowly
A girl with kaleidoscope eyes.

Azarius magazine

This article first appeared in the second edition of the Azarius Magazine.