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PIRANESI'S ENGRAVINGS: Exploring the dark discomforts of Roman ruins

PIRANESI'S ENGRAVINGS: Exploring the dark discomforts of Roman ruins

When the English author Thomas DeQuincey was describing nightmarish drug-induced visions in his early-19th-century autobiography Confessions of an English Opium Eater, he reflected on curious and compelling images he had never seen. They were a set of engravings by Italian artist Giovanni Battista Piranesi, and DeQuincey referred to...

HOOKED: ANTI-DRUG FILMS FROM THE 30'S TO THE 70'S (Rocket/Triton DVD): Marijuana to murder in 15 minutes

HOOKED: ANTI-DRUG FILMS FROM THE 30'S TO THE 70'S (Rocket/Triton DVD): Marijuana to murder in 15 minutes

Every generation thinks it invents the same two things: swearing and sex. Equally, in the Western world at least, for the past century or so every generation gets the soundtrack it needs. And the drugs. Drug education is a fraught area (more so than movies about junkies or drugs) and the tendency has been to go for scare scenarios. No one in...

MARIJUANA: My life in a happy place; no apologies

MARIJUANA: My life in a happy place; no apologies

As the 21st century dawned there was considerable argument in New Zealand about whether marijuana should be decriminalist, a debate prompted by a Green MP Nandor Tanczos attempting to bring a bill before Parliamant along those lines. People took positions on the far ends of the spectrum. As this happened I went to the editor of the New...

Victoria Spivey and Lonnie Johnson: Dope Head Blues (1927)

Victoria Spivey and Lonnie Johnson: Dope Head Blues (1927)

When Lou Reed took a bit of flak for writing about street life (drugs, hookers, transvestites) he just picked the wrong idiom. These topics were common enough in literature and pulp fiction, but new to rock music. Dope songs were certainly common in jazz and the blues -- in fact there has been a long tradition of singing about marijuana, cocaine...

LOVE IS THE SONG WE SING; SAN FRANCISCO NUGGETS 1965-1970 (Rhino): Flowers and freak outs

LOVE IS THE SONG WE SING; SAN FRANCISCO NUGGETS 1965-1970 (Rhino): Flowers and freak outs

Any box set or collection which tries to mop up an era, genre or decade is probably doomed to failure, not from lack of genuine effort but because some artists (the big ones) don't want to be included. So you can get a multiple disc, very inclusive set of the Eighties for example and it doesn't have anything by Madonna, Prince, Springsteen and...

Dirty Red: Mother Fuyer (1947)

Dirty Red: Mother Fuyer (1947)

Blues and jazz artists often used coded language to get their lyrics past record companies and radio programmers, so you would get a song like When I'm In My Tea (by Jo-Jo Adams, 1946) about marijuana or Dope Head Blues by Victoria Spivey about cocaine. Coded sex was everywhere . . . although there is no mistaking the meaning of songs like...

Northside: Shall We Take a Trip (1990)

Northside: Shall We Take a Trip (1990)

The difference between the American psychedelic experience of the Sixties and that of the British can be captured in two phrases: in the States Timothy Leary was telling people to "tune in, turn on and drop out" which clearly demanded some committment. In Britain however George Harrison -- on It's All Too Much -- was offering the more...

Various Artists: Do You Dream? (Angel Air/Southbound)

Various Artists: Do You Dream? (Angel Air/Southbound)

A few years ago I was invited to write the liner essays in a series of collections of New Zealand psychedelic Music (A Day in My Mind's Mind). What became clear was that from our end of the world where the relevant drugs arrived a bit later, musicians and producers invented their own idea of what psychedelic music was. Mostly it was bent,...

Sir Douglas Quintet: Lawd I'm Just a Country Boy in This Great Big Freaky City (1968)

Sir Douglas Quintet: Lawd I'm Just a Country Boy in This Great Big Freaky City (1968)

When this song was written, Doug Sahm -- singer, writer and frontman for the Sir Douglas Quintet -- was feeling somewhat jaded about the hippie paradise that had been San Francisco. He and the band were from Texas and in the mid-Sixties had, like so many, moved to the Bay Area to enjoy whatever was happening there. But increasingly the...

JEFFERSON AIRPLANE; THE SIDE PROJECTS 1970-74: The Baron and the Nun go it alone, together

JEFFERSON AIRPLANE; THE SIDE PROJECTS 1970-74: The Baron and the Nun go it alone, together

The New York garageband Blues Magoos' Psychedelic Lollipop of 1966 was one of the first albums to have the word “psychedelic” in the title, but it wasn't quite the spaced-out sweet thing the name suggested. 13th Floor Elevators out of Texas the same year with their debut The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators...

Barry McGuire: California Dreamin' (1965)

Barry McGuire: California Dreamin' (1965)

After his growling and apocalyptic version of PF Sloan's Eve of Destruction in '65 the former folkie Barry McGuire -- who had been in the New Christy Minstrels and had co-written their big hit Green Green -- was looking for new material to include on his second album. Producer Lou Adler lined up a number of covers -- the Beatles' Yesterday...

The Mamas and the Papas: Free Advice (1967)

The Mamas and the Papas: Free Advice (1967)

Although they looked kind of clean-cut by the hairy standards of the day and sang such pretty songs, what we would learn later was how fraught and seedy some of the internal workings of The Mamas and the Papas were. The song Go Where You You Wanna Go for example was less about living your life in the hippie spirit than John Phillips' address...

Peter Sarstedt: Mary Jane (1969)

Peter Sarstedt: Mary Jane (1969)

If people remember UK singer-songwriter Peter Sarstedt for anything at all it is his European-sounding ballad Where Do You Go to My Lovely? . . . and perhaps his summery follow-up One More Frozen Orange Juice. Both were hits in '69, the former winning him an Ivor Novello songwriting award. Sarstedt was the younger brother of Eden Kane --...

The Hombres: Let It Out (Let It All Hang Out) (1967)

The Hombres: Let It Out (Let It All Hang Out) (1967)

The great thing about disposable pop is that the minute it gets stuck to the bottom of your shoe you just can't shake it. Like this from the one-hit-wonders the Hombres out of Memphis whose members had knocked about on the road as the Daytonas then the Bandits. Written by two of the band's members, Let it Out (Let It All Hang Out)...

THE MOODY BLUES INTERVIEWED (2011): Voices in the sky

THE MOODY BLUES INTERVIEWED (2011): Voices in the sky

In the late Sixties, when the boundaries of pop and rock were being extended into jazz and quasi-classical areas, the Moody Blues were one of the most musically innovative and productive groups of the period. Their albums between Days of Future Passed in 67 and Seventh Sojourn in 72 – an extraordinary seven albums in five years...

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