Popular music has been under the influence of LSD for over four decades, but you might not have realized just how pervasive the psychedelic sound has become. Employing his considerable and eclectic knowledge of multiple music genres, Jim DeRogatis’ entertaining overview follows the tendrils of “head music” through hip-hop, metal, prog, funk and numerous other styles. With a loose set of criteria for what qualifies as “psychedelic,” DeRogatis casts a wide net in his lively consideration. Unfortunately, by tossing in artists like the Velvet Underground and ambient pioneer Brian Eno, DeRogatis apparently suggests that anything veering from the norm is LSD-inspired.
That’s not to say the book isn’t a fun read, punctuated with amusing stories about the likes of acid casualty Roky Erickson and funk godfather George Clinton. However, the book disappoints by contextualizing reasons why the psychedelic aesthetic was embraced by genres like hip-hop and punk. There are moments of insight, such as the suggestion that Clinton and dub master Lee “Scratch” Perry derived their fascination for space travel as a liberating answer to the slave ships that carried away their fathers. (But DeRogatis borrows that observation from a piece by critic Robert Christgau.)
Instead, DeRogatis spends far more effort compiling lists, presumably from his own extensive record collection. Each chapter features at least one, while the whole book is a sort of über-list of “The Ultimate Psychedelic Rock Library.” To round everything off, he offers a thoroughly random list of cultural touchstones he considers symptomatic of the ongoing influence of psychedelic thought in pop culture (including the silent film Haxan, which was made more than 15 years before the discovery of LSD). This is poor scholarship and a shortcut to framing the overall work. While DeRogatis’ effort to expand the definition of psychedelic music is admirable, one is left wanting a more enlightening discussion from a book about enlightenment.