November 17, 2011
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
In is memoir Too Much to Dream: A Psychedelic American Boyhood, Peter Bebergal shares his journey from high school dropout to adulthood with honesty and compassion, an eye-opening and often fascinating tale of addiction and sobriety.
Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:
"Told with compassion and understanding . . . [Bebergal's] analysis of addictive behavior provides material for thought and discussion. In the end, Bebergal offers hope that his addictive behavior can rest, and that he's discovered the bliss of the everyday."
When I was about forty or so I had my mid-life crisis. Clean and sober some twenty-plus years, married with a son and living the straight and narrow, I began to listen to and collect psychedelic rock with intensity, as though trying to recapture something I had lost or put aside. The music was a springboard to psychedelic culture, past and present. I dug out my old Alan Watts books, watched YouTube videos of Tim Leary and Ram Dass, considered buying some LSD blotter art on eBay. At some point I realized what was happening. Two decades after I'd last taken a Class-A mind-altering substance, I recognized that despite all my hard work in recovery, an old ache had broken through. It wasn't the desire to get high. It was another one, which had set me headlong at fifteen on a path toward extreme and sometimes nightmarish experiences and experimentation. It was the desire for transcendence, for the perfect psychedelic experience that would alter my mind and change my life.
Here I was, cleaned up and mostly sane, and I was still compelled. So I asked myself, what had gone wrong? Why did these substances not work for me but instead lead to addiction and madness. And why did I still love psychedelic rock and underground comix? These became the questions that drove me to write Too Much to Dream: A Psychedelic American Boyhood, my love letter to that teenage kid I had been and to the wild and wonderful psychedelic culture that shaped me. The book is filled with things I loved then, the things I still love today, and a little healthy fear and trembling.
"I Had Too Much to Dream (Last Night)" by The Electric Prunes
A proto-punk, garage rock, psychedelic pop masterpiece. This is the song that, apart from giving me the title of my book, inspired my 16-year-old longing for the what I believed was the true intention of rock -- a direct experience with the secrets of drugs, sex, and God. I interviewed the Electric Prunes bassist Mark Tulin in 2010, a year before he died when scuba diving. My first questions were the fumbling starry-eyed desires to know all about what great psychedelic experiences had led to the production of that song. There were none. He was just kid who loved rock 'n' roll, wanted to meet girls, and found himself, along with his band, swept up in a rising tide that would culminate in the complete commercialization of the psychedelic counterculture. Nevertheless, the song never fails to key directly into my musical third eye.
"Octopus" by Syd Barrett
There are lots of great Barrett songs, but this is Syd at his whimsical, maniacal, best. The lyrics are a stream of consciousness, delightful mess. It's the acid trip I never had. It's the promise that insanity and mental collapse can sometimes produce hope merely in the artful expression of itself.
"Beechwood Park" by The Zombies
A song about the end of adolescence on one of the best and most underrated albums of the '60s. Odyssey and Oracle was recorded the day after the Beatles finished Sgt. Pepper, and the Zombies would have landed in musical obscurity were it not for a radio DJ almost a year after its release rediscovering "Time of the Season." Sure, that's great song, but "Beechwood Park" is their loveliest, a melancholy remembrance of when you felt invincible and thought being in love could transform you.
"Hibou, Anemone, and Bear" by The Soft Machine
When I started collecting psychedelic music again in my 40s I thought I already knew everything about psychedelic rock. And then I discovered Soft Machine. This was the ur-band that no one ever talked about, the secret influence at the heart of the all the great psychedelic and prog records to come after. I am now convinced that Soft Machine 1 and 2 are the two most important albums to come out the '60s, a perfect synthesis of psychedelia, jazz, and experimentation. When I was writing Too Much to Dream and would come up against an internal block, I would play this song to remind me to just push on through, to take risks, to hear how the personal can sit inside the cultural.
"Another Set of Bees in the Museum" by Olivia Tremor Control
The Elephant 6 collective produced a number of remarkable collaborations and albums, but it was Olivia Tremor Control that captured the essence of psychedelic pop/experimentation. Playful, sinister, and at times verging on transcendent, OTC put out the best and most challenging recordings. "Another Set of Bees in the Museum" sounds like a lost '60s psych nugget, fuzzed out and weird, but strangely sober.
"The Hold" by Woods
One thing that sets contemporary psychedelic rock apart from its '60s incarnation is an emphasis on interiority and immanence. Sixties psych drew a lot of influence from Eastern religious thought and its musical counterpart. Much of contemporary psychedelic rock suggests a more Western and, dare I say, occult sensibility. Woods is one of the finest examples of a band whose music is steeped in the modern primitive, particularly in their earlier material like "The Hold." It's music that not so much reflects psychedelic states of mind as meditates on the loneliness and ache that often draws us toward extreme experiences. It's not the psychedelic experience itself but the moments before and after.
"Major Spillage" by White Rainbow
White Rainbow's album New Clouds is my quick-fix for states of altered consciousness. It's the perfect example of how music can function as a vehicle for psychedelic states of mind without chemicals. Adam Forkner is a maestro of musical references – prog, Kosmiche, psych, ambient – and he crafts them into something new and completely original. This was the constant soundtrack to Too Much to Dream, a reminder that psychedelic expressions can be deliberate and creativity can turn us inside out even when stone-cold sober.
Peter Bebergal and Too Much to Dream: A Psychedelic American Boyhood links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
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