Loud Reading

Jim DeRogatis
(Hal Leonard)
Back in 1996, rock scribe Jim DeRogatis put out a book called Kaleidoscope Eyes: Psychedelic Rock From the '60s to the '90s, which was a great overview of an often-misunderstood genre. This tome immediately won my heart by pointedly not acknowledging the Grateful Dead as the ne plus ultra of psychedelia—indeed, DeRogatis makes a convincing argument that the Dead barely qualify as psych at all. More importantly, though, the book has had a huge influence on my listening habits over the past eight years, ultimately becoming as big a factor in my record collection as the various volumes of The Trouser Press Record Guide. (And isn't that the point of a book about music? To encourage readers to listen to that music?) DeRogatis' lively, opinionated writing and omnivorous taste made Kaleidoscope Eyes one of my very favorite rock books.

It's been supplanted, however, by Turn On Your Mind: Four Decades of Great Psychedelic Rock, DeRogatis' revised edition of Kaleidoscope Eyes. With a couple of hundred pages of new material, plus expanded looks at many of the artists covered in the original volume, Turn On Your Mind is an even more definitive look at the strange and tuneful universe of psychedelic rock. DeRogatis is precise in his opinion of what psych rock is. "Psychedelic rock doesn't mean 'drug rock,'" he writes, "but rock that is inspired by a philosophical approach implied by the literal meanings of 'psychedelic' as 'mind-revealing' and 'soul-manifesting.'" As he puts it in the following paragraph, "Psychedelic rock offers something for the intellect as well as the body." He states it even more baldly a page later: "Living a psychedelic lifestyle or creating psychedelic art means accepting no rules, breaking down boundaries, and opening doors whenever possible." In other words, psychedelic rock is music that refuses to limit itself, in sound, subject or spiritual reach. Drugs aren't necessary, but an open mind most definitely is.

Features on everyone from the 13th Floor Elevators to Can, the Velvet Underground to the Flaming Lips, Pink Floyd to Aphex Twin explain how the artists fit into DeRogatis' definition of psych rock. He also spotlights significant albums by musicians who aren't necessarily tied to a strict genre (even one as elastic as this one), such as the Beatles' Revolver, the Rolling Stones' Their Satanic Majesties Request and the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds that would have a huge influence on psychedelia to come. He arranges his chapters by loose stylistic boundaries, highlighting what he considers to be the essential artists of that style. Thus "Yoo Doo Right" covers the krautrock mainstays Can, Kraftwerk and Neu!, "Passionate Friends" hits the "English psychedelic eccentrics," i.e. Julian Cope, Robyn Hitchcock and XTC's Andy Partridge, and "Reality Used to Be a Friend of Mine" explores the microverses of psychedelic hip-hop (PM Dawn, De La Soul) and trip hop (Tricky, Portishead). This is just the tip of the iceberg, of course—he also covers the psych punk of the 60s, the progressive rock of the 70s, the psychedelic revival of the 80s, the "miasma" bands (such as My Bloody Valentine) of the 90s, psychedelic dance music (the Orb and its ilk), stoner rock, so-called ork pop, the Elephant 6 movement and much more. Significant artists get at least a couple of paragraphs, and many more worthies are at least name-checked. It's even up to date enough to mention the Polyphonic Spree. Through it all he stays true to his thesis of what psychedelic rock is, and he makes convincing arguments about why most of these artists fit under the banner.

Of course, DeRogatis has his prejudices, which he's upfront about early on in the book, and not every reader will agree with his assessments. He doesn't think the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band is the major statement it's been touted to be, for example, and he explains why. As noted above, he doesn't believe the Grateful Dead deserves its lofty status, either (an opinion I wholeheartedly agree with—in fact, DeRogatis is kinder to the Dead than I've ever been), something which he admits generated controversy after the first edition came out. He hasn't changed his opinion, but he has the good grace to invite the Dead's longtime publicist Dennis McNally to debate him on the subject and print the results. Personally, I could take issue with DeRogatis on a couple of points. I don't think the Strokes have anything at all to do with psychedelic rock, and have to wonder if the author's high opinion of the band (which I don't share) colored his perceptions on this point. I'm surprised that the Brian Jonestown Massacre, the Church and the Green Pajamas didn't rate at least a quick mention. And he and I could come to blows on our differing opinions of my beloved Bevis Frond. But I'll forgive him for having the excellent taste to cite Porcupine Tree's In Absentia and The Negro Problem's Post Minstrel Syndrome as two of the "Fifteen Albums to Turn On Your Mind in the New Millennium" in the book's final chapter, "Psychedelic Rock Lives On."

It's DeRogatis' well-reasoned arguments that make Turn On Your Mind such interesting reading. This is music he dearly loves, and he wants to share that love with the reader. His opinion drives the work, but doesn't skew it. His book makes me want to run out and buy many of the albums he writes about, give a fresh listen to older albums I've never really given fair shakes (thanks to him, I've been listening to and finally appreciating records by Wire, Can, Brian Eno and Julian Cope) and write him nasty notes taking him to task about his dismissal of the Frond. DeRogatis makes me think about and appreciate the music and want to hear more of it. Isn't that why a book like this gets published in the first place? Turn On Your Mind is essential reading for anyone who cares about rock & roll. — Michael Toland