Riding the Waves to Eternity

Hangin' with the Cosmic Surfer

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All the Broken Dreams and Vanished Years

23 December, 2018 (17:29) | Dead Water, Heads, Music, Steal Your Face | By: Ian Burdon

It’s December 2018 and the Cosmic Surfer, pseudo-eponymous writer of this blog, is reading Jesse Jarnow’s Heads, A Biography of Psychedelic America. He found the book by way of a random tweet by Steve Silberman and downloaded it, legally, there and then–a sentence that would have been meaningless while the Surfer was growing up but is central to Jarnow’s tale.

As he reads he recognises elements of the unfolding story from other places, notably John Markoff’s What the Doormouse Said: How the Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer Industry. Elements are also known to him by osmosis, strands absorbed through finger-contact with time, the obscure lore and hidden knowledge secreted by gatefold album sleeves. Most of it is new.

Deep into the book Jarnow tells the story of Jacaeber Kastor, out in the wilds of Mexico, at the source of the sacred peyote, tripping under the heavens when

suddenly the peyote is not only easy to find, it’s everywhere, veritably glowing like some strange seabed creature.

The Surfer remembers reading something like this not so long ago, of someone out on a Scottish hillside munching on Liberty Cap mushrooms, once hidden in the grass but suddenly ubiquitous, calling out to be picked and eaten. And the Surfer perceives a path through his memories, recollections of bands and music and connections flowing even to his screen name and the tag line of his blog, joined together in a kind of asynchronous mesh, temporally-challenged coincidences, or possibly nodes on hidden tendrils of mycelium-like interconnectivity.

And he finds himself thinking and blogging in the present historic tense deployed by Jarnow, and resolves to kick the habit before it takes a firmer grip.

***

I was born in late 1959, a child of the fifties by the skin of my teeth, missing out on sixties psychedelia by virtue of being too young. But when I started listening to music in the early seventies, I followed a well-worn path away from the singles charts to albums, catching the wave of mainly Brit bands coming out of the psychedelic underground and into the grey morning light of the seventies. I listened to as much as I could, and still have some of the records I bought then, but was conscious of being one of a small number who went looking for the (relatively) obscure. I didn’t always understand it, or even like it, but I knew I was listening to something qualitatively different. As symbolic a moment as any was when I first heard Roxy and Elsewhere by Zappa and the Mothers, though it could just as easily have been Court of the Crimson King or a Saucerful of Secrets or Camembert Electrique or Pawn Hearts or Tales From Topographic Oceans.

There was a drugs scene of a sort in East Kilbride as I got to my late teens and the seventies wheezed their way to their emergent Thatcherite conclusion. I wasn’t an enthusiast, though I did join in (Apocalypse Now on the big screen of the Sauchiehall Street Odeon while stoned? Sure thing). Most commonly available was what were called Moroccan, Lebanese or Pakistani cannabis resins, though their true provenance was always uncertain and they as likely came from an allotment in Sheffield. Several people I knew were enthusiastic tokers, and unlike Bill Clinton I did inhale, sometimes heroically, but I moved quickly onto cask-conditioned ale and whisky. I had reasons for this, one of which was observing my stoner acquaintances progressively flattening their personalities and intellects and consciously deciding I didn’t want to go there. The only time I was offered something more exotic, by someone in the music business, I declined.

But music was a constant, and from an early stage I was drawn to bands that appealed to me for reasons I couldn’t quite put a finger on. In the early days this was Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd and Gong, but over the years has included the likes of Quintessence, Hawkwind, Ozric Tentacles, Banco de Gaia and Shpongle. What links them is, one way or another, psychedelics.

Meanwhile, out in the Mexican desert:

Jacaester leans back and watches the sky as the stars communicate with each other, shooting zaps from one light point to another, until all of a sudden one zaps earthward and hits Jacaester Kaster in the head. He feels it move down his spine and there it throbs.

Whoa, spooky! I wrote something similar in a story two or three years ago, Coyote in the Corner, using images that came into my head while writing; more asynchronous coincidence, more non-quantum entanglement. Moreover it reminds me a lot of Paramahansa Yogananda’s description of Kriya Yoga in Autobiography of a Yogi, the book that both inspired Tales From Topographic Oceans and led to me to quietly chant Om and attempt circular, continuous breathing in the gym, not that I’ve ever told anyone about that until now.

Jarnow builds his book around the story of the Grateful Dead and those who moved in their circle and afterwash. I only saw the Dead once and they were on average form, comparing badly to, say, Weather Report who I saw on sparkling, spellbinding form around the same time, giving every indication of actually having, you know, rehearsed. It took me a long time to appreciate the Dead, though I now listen to them more than any other band and this blog post was written to the accompaniment cd3 of Dick’s Picks Volume 4 and Fire On The Mountain Vol. 1.

Looking back, I don’t regret preferring good beer to toking and making choices that separated me from my acquaintances from those days (being careful with language there, I still have contact with friends). But of late I do regret that I didn’t find the time and safe space then to try psychedelics when I had opportunities. These days I don’t have the wherewithal and there is an ever present worry about what exactly one might be given. Also, as I approach 60 and manage blood pressure issues it might not be the most sensible thing to do.

And yet the thought lingers.

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