Kaleidoscope Eyes:

Psychedelic Rock from the ’60s to the ’90s

(The First Edition of Turn On Your Mind)


During the punk explosion of the mid-’70s, Lester Bangs drew a new line through rock history that connected the three-chord drive and amped-up attitude of Ritchie Valens’ "La Bamba" to "Louie Louie" by the Kingsmen, "No Fun" by the Stooges, "Blitzkrieg Bop" by the Ramones, and—we could add now—"Smells Like Teen Spirit" by Nirvana. Critics have rarely attempted this sort of overview with psychedelia. The history books tell us that the high point of psychedelic rock was the Haight-Ashbury scene of 1968, but the genre didn’t start in San Francisco, and its evolution didn’t end there. A line can be drawn from the hypnotic drone of the Velvet Underground to the disorienting swirl of My Bloody Valentine; from the artful experiments of the Beatles’ Revolver to the flowing, otherworldly samples of rappers P.M. Dawn; from the dementia of the 13th Floor Elevators to the grungey lunacy of the Flaming Lips, and from the sounds and sights at Ken Kesey’s ’60s Acid Tests to those at ’90s raves. This book is an attempt to connect the dots.

In the beginning were the drugs. Chapter 1 starts with an account of the discovery of LSD, the drug that brought psychedelic consciousness into the mainstream of Western culture in the mid-’60s. But Kaleidoscope Eyes is a book about music, not drugs. As psychedelic rock evolved, it developed a code of sonic requirements—a distinctive sound produced according to certain conventions and including sonic, visual, and verbal clues that all mark a particular piece of music as part of the genre. Some artists used drugs in the process of making those sounds, and some did not. A discussion of the characteristics that are necessary to make rock ’n’ roll "mind-revealing" or "soul-manifesting" comprises the second half of Chapter 1, while the rest of the book traces the development of the genre in more or less chronological order, pausing from time to time to focus on artists whose work was particularly important, influential, or inspirational, or whose stories illustrate the experiences of a group of artists working in a similar style at the same time or place.

Like any history, this one is subjective. Another account of psychedelic rock could be written emphasizing an entirely different set of artists, and I would enjoy reading it. In addition to making the case that the genre didn’t end with the ’60s, my goal was to share my enthusiasm for music that I consider to be some of the finest that rock has produced. The book leads up to a discography that works as a sort of record collection waiting to happen. If any part of Kaleidoscope Eyes sends you rushing to the CD player or the record store, then I’ve succeeded at what I set out to do.