Interview with Patrick Lundborg of Lysergia.com, author of the Acid Archives (2010) and Psychedelia (2012)
Interview with writer and researcher on psychedelic pop culture.
You are releasing a brand new book entitled “Psychedelia-An Ancient Culture, A Modern Way Of Life” and as far as I understand, this is something entirely different than “Acid Archive”?
Yes, the “Psychedelia” book is a new and different work. It deals with a much wider field than the Acid Archives book, which was basically a guide-book for fans of old underground music. There are several chapters about music in the new book as well, but it’s in the context of a bigger frame of reference, which is what I call psychedelic culture, or Psychedelia. The Acid Archives dealt with American rock music from the 1960s-70s, but the Psychedelia book deals with music that ranges from Berlioz in the 19th century to the latest ‘psybient’ electronica from England and France. All of it psychedelic,in one way or other!
Your book is a research on so called “psychedelic culture”. What is the current state of this culture?
In the 20th century we began what I call ‘the short cycle’ of Psychedelia which began with peyote and mescaline experiments in the 1890s-1920s, then really took off with Hofmann’s discovery of LSD. The short cycle reached a peak in terms ofpopular attention in the late 1960s, then went into a quiet mode during the 1970s and 80s, and then it was revitalized in the early 1990s, with Terence McKenna replacing Tim Leary, and drugs like DMT, ayahuasca and psilocybin replacing LSD. Although ‘60s Psychedelia has been given much more attention, I believe the 1990s scene is just as important. The situation today is that the hedonistic spirit of the 1990s is very much alive, especially here in Europe, but it’s underground and deliberately low-profile. My book opens with the observation that more people are taking psychedelic drugs today than any other time – and that includes the psychedelic ‘60s. In short, Psychedelia is alive and well, and people involved have understood to keep outsiders at a distance. Today, you can go and see a movie like Avatar, parts of which are completely drenched in psychedelic ideas – there was even an ayahuasca drug ritual in that movie, though it was left out of the final cut. The commercially biggest movie of all time looks like it was made by someone who has been smoking DMT for several years – that’s good proof that psychedelic culture not only lives,but may in fact be expanding. I certainly believe so.
You are discussing the whole history of “psychedelic culture” that spans over 3500 years. What are essential milestones that happened before 1966, when psychedelic rock exploded?
The LSD-influenced rock music of the ‘60s that everyone loves is only a minor turn in the road of Psychedelia. Psychedelic culture has been a permanent undercurrent in Western society since ancient times. This is what I call ‘the long cycle’ of Psychedelia. Psychedelic culture is built upon two fundamental pillars: the direct, personal experience of a higher world, and a celebration of our everyday existence in light of this experience. Both these elements go directly against the dogmas and hierarchies of Christianity, Judaism and Islam. During certain times this alternative culture rises to the surface and becomes influential on society at large, which is what happened in ancient Greece at the time of the Great Mystery rites in Eleusis, where thousands of people gathered each year to drink a psychedelic brew (an organic variant of LSD) and spend an extraordinary night of visions and emotional bonding – kind of like an early Acid Test!
All the famous philosophers and even Roman emperors took part in this ritual, which had a profound influence on the Greek-Roman culture that our Western world is built on. Another high-point for this alternative culture was the Italian Renaissance, where the heritages of Athens and Rome were rediscovered, and for a century or so this heritage raised more interest than the familiar Christian dogmas. Later in history one can identify singular individuals with an obvious relevance to Psychedelia, such as William Blake and his mentor-opponent Emanuel Swedenborg. In the early 20th century, psychedelic drugs entered Western society again, and this began ‘the short cycle’ that I describe above. The long cycle of Psychedelia will continue as long as mankind exists, while the future and duration of the short cycle currently going on is something for each modern psychedelicist to consider.
If “Acid Archives” is about underground, overlooked, forgotten and undiscovered rock music, than your new book is more about details regarding the consumption of hallucinogens and its culture; such as what kind of impact had it on people from the bands? What do you think is the main difference?
Psychedelic rock music is important as it is a highly visible and much-loved window for psychedelic culture. At the same time, the 1960s were an extremely eventful and complex period even without the psychedelic drugs,and it is important to separate what was ‘60s zeitgeist,and what was a direct expression of psychedelic influences. In the book there are several chapters that look into how psychedelic rock music arose in the mid-‘60s and expanded and lingered well into the late 1970s, and how this related to society at large, particularly in places like San Francisco and London. From the viewpoint of Psychedelia, the main topic is not the bands themselves as much as what they tell us about the effects of psychedelic drugs on creativity and ideas. In this context, the most vital bands are those that were genuinely inspired by LSD from the beginning, rather than as some trendy fad. In the early days of psychedelic rock music, the two bands that were most profoundly and wholeheartedly devoted to the psychedelic experience were the 13th Floor Elevators and the Grateful Dead. Both these bands were born out of psychedelic trips,and continued to use the psychedelic experience as a beacon for their work. Other bands,like the Beatles and the Jefferson Airplane, did not originate from LSD experiences, but they managed to take this influence and combine it with their natural style in a great, meaningful way. Yet other groups didn’t really understand LSD or the serious psychedelic lifestyle, but gave it a shot with the music anyway,and as the book points out, some of these ‘60s “fakedelia” groups created highly enjoyable music too, simply because the atmosphere was loaded with psychedelic vibes. Later on, with the 1970s ‘private press’ and krautrock scenes, the psychedelic bands tended to be serious and genuine, because there was no ‘trend’ to capitalize on. Anyone who made LSD-inspired music in 1975 did it because he believed in it. And of course, the psychedelic ambient and trippy chillout music that has become popular in the 2000s via groups like Shpongle and Entheogenic comes from true psychedelic inspiration, just like the Elevators and the Dead.
It took you about 20 years of work to finish “Psychedelia”.
I mention this in the foreword to the book. Basically the book took 20 years to prepare, and 2 years to write. I began assembling information about psychedelic culture in the late 1980s – reading books, saving newspaper clippings, talking to people I met. For a long while I just did this without being sure why. It seemed important somehow, but I couldn’t say why. Then back in 2010, after the 2nd edition of the Acid Archives had been printed and finished, I got an idea for the “Psychedelia” book, which is described in the foreword. I began writing, and once I had begun, I couldn’t stop! A major key to the whole thing is the idea to turn everything upside down, and instead of seeing psychedelic music as a sub-genre in rock music, I decided to treat psychedelic music as part of a long-running psychedelic culture, and then see what came out with this new approach. Then I did the same thing with movies, visual art, religious cults, etc. I believe no one has written about Psychedelia in this way before. In addition to my research and private archives, I interviewed some psychedelic veterans, like Michael Bowen who arranged the Human Be-In, and other guys who were experts on the history of LSD, or the hippie communes of the 1970s, and so on. I spent a couple of days designing a structural outline for the whole book, and after that the text grew chapter by chapter as everything seemed to fall into place.
These days we have a nice revival of psychedelic rock. Plenty of labels are interested in the psychedelic rock bands from the late 60’s, early 70’s and there is a new wave of bands that are taking this sounds from the past and starting their own psychedelic rock bands. We have so called “hipster” subculture, we have “psytrance” heads and we have some other subcultures. What is your opinion on this “new” subcultures that are emerging these days?
I’m perhaps getting too old to truly understand all the new youth sub-cultures, although I find it interesting and try to stay with the times. Professionally though, I’m only really interested in those sub-cultures that are involved with psychedelic drugs, because they are carrying the torch of Psychedelia into the 2010s and 2020s. Here I see two different trends; one are the hardcore drug experimenters, people whose main interest are the chemicals and their effects. These are the people who try all the new ‘research chemicals’ or what used to be called ‘designer drugs’ back in the 1980s-90s. The psychedelic underground keeps producing new molecular variants on the classic psychedelic drugs, like new types of LSD or psilocybin, and there is this subculture in Europe and the US of young people who try these drugs in the search for new and weird experiences. The other subculture is the one related to the electronic dance music, and it’s basically the old rave explosion of the 1990s that is still happening, in a more specialized form. There are these massive gatherings around Europe where 1000s of young “psy” fans gather, take mushrooms , LSD and ecstasy, and dance to the various forms of psychedelic electronica, ranging from the uptempo Goa trance to the slower, chillout psybient style like Shpongle and such. The old rave/Goa trip is alive, but it’s less talked about today. And of course, this drug-inspired, hedonistic culture is a perfect example of the long-running celebration of life that is a vital backbone to the Psychedelia book. You can draw a line from the Greek hallucinogen rituals at the great templein Eleusis around 500 BC up to the Acid Tests and Be-Ins of the ‘60s, and onwards to the all-night dances of the 1990s-2000s. Over and over, it is the same phenomena of a shared celebration of each individual’s psychedelic freedom, in different times and places.
While reading about Goa trance, I had a feeling that you don’t associate this particular scene to the psychedelic music. Psych rock is interesting from a totally different aspects (artistic, background etc.), but trance is not as interesting as far as artistic approach goes. Do you agree, that Goa trance is directly made to be listened with hallucinogens or do you think it is also interesting as music itself?
If you mean that the Goa/PsyTrance music is made by anonymous producers mainly for people to dance to while on psychedelic drugs, I think you’re absolutely right. That is how it came to be created in the first place, as a development from the less hedonistic and more dystopian Euro-techno. I have a chapter in the Psychedelia book where I trace the new electronic dance music from Detroit 1985 up to 2012, and how it relates to psychedelic drugs. I’m too old to go dancing all-night on some beach in the Greek islands, but I can still enjoy some of the Goa/PsyTrance stuff at home. There’s a vast difference in quality, and some of it is pretty awful, but the best vintage stuff like Hallucinogen, The Infinity Project, Man Without Name etc I think is very good and trippy music. However, I must admit that I’m not as much into the Goa style as I was when it first appeared around 1994. It hasn’t aged perfectly well, and these days I rather listen to the Psybient music, which to me is the ultimate example of psychedelic music for the 2000s. When they realized they could lower the tempo to “rock” beats, these talented electronica guys like Simon Posford began making music that is as perfectly psychedelic as the best late ‘60s stuff. The only difference is that it’s mostly electronic, with some acoustic/analog overlays, but that’s fine with me—I’ve always been a great Kraftwerk fan. I recommend any psych fan to check out the most recent Shpongle album and see what they make of it.
How will the future of music look like?
Psychedelic culture will always survive, as it has for 1000s of years. Wherever there are people who use powerful psycho-active drugs which give visionary experiences, there will be Psychedelia. As for psychedelic music, I don’t think there will be any major wave of psychedelic rock more than what we’re seeing today. The 1965-72 psychedelia is one of the classic sub-genres of rock, it’s like a golden age that people return to and don’t really hope to surpass, somewhat like the Viennese period in classical music, or the 1950s/early 60s in jazz. So I believe that rock music will keep on feeding from that incredibly exciting period, but it’s hard to see it being taken further. Within electronic music however, I see possibilities that there may be much to discover and create still –the idea of the “soundtrack for the movie in your mind” is almost limitless, and what may be needed is the arrival of a few truly brilliantly creative people who can take psybient electronica as far as the best classical music, like Stravinsky or Bartok. So the brightest future I believe lies in the intersection of psychedelic drugs, musical creativity, and chill-out electronica.
What’s on your turntable and what are you reading?
My 5 most recently played albums are: Leonard Cohen “Greatest Hits” – the old ‘70s sampler with the beige cover –really the only Cohen album anyone needs. He was very influential and in small portions he is quite impressive. Byrds “Younger Than Yesterday” – UK stereo original. I’m writing an article that compares mono vs stereo for a bunch of classic psych LPs, and so I bought this and got the UK pressing to put a second angle on it. The old ‘60s vinyl sound is outstanding, much better than the crap CD reissues that CBS used to make. Crème Soda “Tricky Zingers” – I have a ‘ghetto blaster’ in the kitchen with a timer setting,so that it begins to play music every morning about 10 minutes before the alarm rings. This way I am basically awakened by music, and it needs to be a record that doesn’t annoy, but sounds fine in the morning. Crème Soda works pretty well, but nothing has challenged These Trails in the ‘good morning’ genre so far! Further on, Trad Gras & Stenar “Live at Gardet”, a beautiful 2-LP set released by my good friends at Subliminal Sounds with previously unreleased 1970 live tapes from this highly rated drone/krautrock band from here in Stockholm. Finally, Solar Fields “Leaving Home”, a modern psybient/downbeat masterpiece from a guy in Gothenburg who is a major name on the electronica scene—it’s like an whole album’s worth of Kraftwerk’s old headtrip “Spacelab”. As for reading, I’m currently going through Gordon Wasson’s classic work “Soma”, in which he seeks to prove that the old Indian-Vedic religion was built on ritual drug consumtion of the fly agaric mushroom. A friend of mine challenged the whole idea,so I felt I had to check up on Wasson again, as I give him support in my Psychedelia book!
Did you experiment with hallucinogens? It’s almost impossible to get for instance the real LSD in “modern society” with the emerge of so many cheap ecstasies, trips etc. What’s your opinion about it?
As described in a recent issue of Shindig magazine, there was a lively psychedelic scene here in Stockholm in the late 1980s-early 90s,which I was part of. The whole thing revolved around the psychedelic artist collective known as the Lumber Island Acid Crew (“Lumber Island” is a code name for Stockholm), which consisted of 15-20 young, creative people who were dropping LSD and working in music, literature, art. It was a bit like Ken Kesey & the Merry Pranksters, except 25 years later. So being part of this group,which still sort of exists, was very important for me,both as a creative liberation, and also to break away from the unexciting suburban climate I had grown up in. In the mid-1990s I got a serious “white collar” job as a project manager, got married and had two children, and so the psychedelic adventures were put on hold for a while, although I continued with the record collecting and writing. Now in recent years I’ve been able to get back into Psychedelia again, but these days it’s more about psilocybian mushrooms and ayahuasca (yagé) than Hofmann’s old potion. I hear some people say it’s hard to find lysergics right now, probably because there isn’t any active undeground lab going, but this comes and goes. However, people could simply switch to shrooms or ayahuasca, which are just as powerful or even more powerful,and actually more or less legal in many European countries.
Where can we purchase the book?
Distribution is handled by Subliminal Sounds, who have a good global network due to their success with artists like Dungen. We’re also trying to break into the traditional book market with “Psychedelia”, not just the underground and music-related stores, but ordinary bookshops. Those familiar with the Acid Archives will be able to buy “Psychedelia” from the same places, and it should also be findable via ebay.com and amazon.com. Those who can’t find a copy after Googling can drop a line to Subliminal Sounds, but basically the book is printed in a fairly large run and should be easy to find.
Which current bands do you recommend?
My knowledge of modern rock music is very sporadic and random – I often wait 5-10 years before checking a band or genre out, because I want all the hype to disappear before listening to them. So recently I’ve been checking out things like Tool, Kyuss, Queens Of The Stoneage etc that were really hot 10 years ago. As for what is going on right now, I know the electronica scene well, but in rock music I can’t tell you what 2012 bands are good until it’s 2022! As for psychedelic electronica I recommend checking out Shpongle, Tripswitch, Slack Baba, Solar Fields, Entheogenic, the Ultimae label, and several more like that.
What besides music occupies your life, Patrick?
The last two years have been all about the “Psychedelia” book, which has eaten up all my time except for when hanging out with my two young sons. Now that the book is finished I can get back to things that have been neglected a long time, like watching movies – I am a major fan of American 1970s movies and try to see everything that exists, even the most obscure ones. My sons and I are fans of international football, so we watch a lot of that, and also play FIFA 12 on the Wii console—we also play a lot of Mario Kart! One thing that I will pick up shortly is my record dealing business,which has been put on hold for more than a year. I have a web-shop/auction-site called “Renaissance Fair” where I offer rare psychedelic records and literature. It’s a lot of fun, but also requires a lot of work,even for a small-scale dealer like me. Finally, a major interest that I was happy to work into the Psychedelia book is classic modernist poetry like T S Eliot and Ezra Pound—I discovered this dazzling literature when I was 15-16 and it’s been a steady companion ever since.
Any future plans after the book gets released?
We’re going to put a lot of work and weight behind the “Psychedelia” book. I try to do something new with each book I publish,and the goal here is to reach outside the usual psych fan/collector circle, and get people from other backgrounds interested. So I expect to continue with this for several months. After that, I’m eager to get the “Renaissance Fair” website going again, and I also have a few magazine articles and reissue liner notes ready to work on. The major question is what my next book will be, and at this point I have no idea.
I’d like to do something that is very visual and graphic-oriented, and maybe recycle lots of rare stuff from my psychedelic archives, but I haven’t found the precise idea yet.
You should share something psychedelic with readers of It’s Psychedelic Baby Magazine.
A funny psychedelic story which never made it into the “Psychedelia” book concerns the time when Timothy Leary and his colleague Richard Alpert were flying down to Mexico where they were going to set up a psychedelic “summer camp” at a resort hotel in 1963. Alpert had a pilot license and the two fearless acidheads rented a small plane and flew it all the way from Boston down across the Mexican border, although Alpert had only just gotten his license. So it was a bumpy flight, and at one point a glass bottle of liquid Sandoz LSD that they had in their baggage broke, and the lysergic fluid ran out all over a white suit that Alpert had hit the bottle inside. It was lot of acid, and they had no other source, so for several months, Leary, Alpert and the other Harvard guys would get high by cutting small pieces of cloth from this white suit, which they chewed and swallowed. Too bad there are no photos or footage of that…
– Klemen Breznikar