HEADS by Jesse Jarnow


A Biography of Psychedelic America
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A history of the interplay between hallucinogens and rock music in the innocent minds of young America.

Albert Hoffman, the inventor of LSD, felt guilty about that achievement because, among other things, he worried that getting a clear view of the universe would keep youngsters away from church, where they belonged. But when acid hit the streets of California, the kids turned to the church of rock ’n’ roll—and, more to the point, the church of the Grateful Dead, the heroes of rock journalist Jarnow’s (Big Day Coming: Yo La Tengo and the Rise of Indie Rock, 2012) book. In a time when Charlie Manson was lurking right around the corner, they were there to spread lysergic sunshine across the land. “The happy apolitical psychedelic world unfolds like a patch of greenery wherever they go,” writes the author, reveling in the historic present to describe events of a half-century ago. Manson, yes, and capitalism: hucksters always surrounded the Dead, trying to cash in on their craze and “franchise [the] very concept” of being…well, heads. Jarnow has a bloodhound’s sense of the marrow of an argument and the meat of historic fact: no one else has so clearly pointed out the path that led from Garcia’s old lady to the “delicious seedless pot” that turned smoking a joint into a gasket-blowing trip. The author is also dogged in tracing the psychedelic activism of Ken Kesey, Owsley Stanley, and company over the decades into the present, with weird and shadowy groups preaching the acid gospel. Though Jarnow is sometimes unduly celebratory and sometimes begs credulity—is the fact that we use emoji on our mobile phones really evidence that the psychedelic revolution carried the day?—his book is a lot of fun to read, and it absorbs its own weight in excess reality. And reality, he reminds us, is always a lot weirder than anything drugs can cook up.

Latter-day heads—as well as “relentless dabblers” and the historically minded—will enjoy this well-researched, mind-altering excursion.

Pub Date: April 1st, 2016
ISBN: 978-0-306-82255-1
Page count: 512pp
Publisher: Da Capo
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 2016


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