A Guardian, Mojo and Rough Trade Book of the Year Fifty years on from the psychedelic summer of love, acclaimed music writer Rob Chapman explores what was really going on…
September 6, 2017 | by Hannah Marshall
Take a plunge into the depths of the LSD-infused sixties counterculture with a reading list from Rob Chapman, author of Psychedelia and Other Colours.
Days In The Life: Voices From The English Underground 1961-1971 by Jonathon Green (Heinemann, 1988)
The ‘here comes everybody’ of sixties sub-culture and still the first point of call for any diligent researcher. Green compiles a canny vox pop from a multitude of first-hand accounts (many of the contributors have since passed on) and allows the narrative to flow in all its counter arguments and contradictions. Compendious in its scope, meticulous in its attention to detail, it’s an eighties hard times take on the sixties, compiled at a time when the decade was still relatively unencumbered by myth and retrospective bullshit. The conclusion is as astute and as nuanced as any you will ever read.
Bomb Culture by Jeff Nuttall (Paladin, 1968)
If like me you believe that most of what came to fruition in the psychedelic sixties first manifested itself in the post war period then you need to read Bomb Culture. Poet, painter, provocateur and pisshead Nuttall places fear of nuclear obliteration at the center of his account and shrewdly maps out the development of pre-sixties radicalism, CND, the jazz faction wars, psycho analysis, proto-Happenings, and the art school dance, in order to understand what came next. In a book that is as gloriously wildly erratic as most of the Underground’s leading luminaries, Nuttall accurately summarises the spirit of the times as “that odd mixture of middle-class liberalism and flat out mad.”
On the Bus: The Complete Guide to the Legendary Trip of Ken Kesey by Paul Perry (Thundersmouth Press, 1991)
KenKesey memorably described the psychedelic sixties as ‘the neon renaissance’. He was an enabler, a catalyst, and torchbearer for all those disparate tendencies that as he put it ‘dined electric’ on LSD. His Merry Pranksters were the necessary jokers in the pack and the Acid tests they put on were the prime galvanising force in the west coast scene. ‘No acid tests, no Grateful Dead’ as Jerry Garcia freely admitted. “Be your own movie” Kesey shouted from the rafters as the cops came to bust one of the Pranksters impromptu parties. And for a short while, everybody was.
Storming Heaven: LSD and The American Dream by Jay Stevens (Paladin, 1989)
There have been several attempts to explore the legacy of Dr. Albert Hoffman’s Pharmy Army but none of them have been as compelling as Jay Stevens kaleidoscopic journey into the heart of Psychotropia. His prose style is nimble and waffle free, his editorial voice is sharp and focussed and the examination of Timothy Leary’s rise and fall as good as any you will ever read. He has the interrogative skills of a supersleuth and a bullshit detector second to none. The lack of an index is deeply annoying but this is a minor quibble. Stevens gets it man. He just gets it.
Summer of Love: Psychedelic Art, Social Crisis and Counterculture in the 1960s edited by Christopher Grunenberg & Jonathan Harris (Tate Liverpool Critical Forum, 2005)
The Summer of Love exhibition at Tate Liverpool in 2005 remains the best retrospective gathering of psychedelic visuals in recent years. The accompanying book vastly expanded the exhibitions brief and included specially commissioned essays on the San Francisco and UK countercultures, Light Shows, Happenings, the spontaneous underground, Warhol & The Velvet Underground, Psychedelic Liverpool, and Happenings and films in France, among others. So much more than an accompaniment to the exhibition catalogue, Summer of Love is a stand alone volume that enriches our understanding of all the multi media elements that went into the shaping (and shape shifting) of 1967.
Psychedelia and Other Colours by Rob Chapman is available to buy now.
Header photograph: The 1970 ‘Visona 2’ exhibition show room by Verner Panton, Design.