Sitting In The Woods On Acid Listening To Gong
I am now approaching the middle of my life and I often find myself reminiscing about my drug experiences. Not that I’ve given up wanting to alter my state, I still have alcohol (often) and a smoke (sometimes), it’s just that I had to knock it on the head before it knocked me on the head. I am happy to look back though, like a contented old man sitting in the gravy and piss stench stillness of the nursing home day room, thinking about all the “hot babes” he has had the pleasure of. Unless the old man is riddled with Alzheimers. My love of weird, heavy and downright experimental music is irrevocably intertwined with a past potholed with blinding pharmaceutical incidents. These memories are particularly acute whenever I think of the Butthole Surfers and Gong.
When I was still at school, fourteen years old, whippet thin in my sleeveless Metallica tee, me and my best mate at the time got well into the Dead Kennedys, and as a result we also were exposed to other bands on their label, Alternative Tentacles. Amongst punk acts like the Crucifucks, 7 Seconds and the Dicks, the Butthole Surfers stood out as a curious oddity, mainly because of their moniker (which naturally appeals to greasy teenage goof-offs) and their perverse and seemingly cryptic album titles. Colin (my co-pilot into musical exploration) ordered a couple of albums (‘Brown Reason to Live’ and ‘Psychic…Powerless…Another Man’s Sac’) and we were off, launched into a new orbit around a volatile planet where the aesthetics of acid surrealism mutated with Texan vulgarity and post-punk wit into a great crippled cacophony of psychedelic chaos. Later episodes strung out on mushrooms, LSD and cannabis nearly always resulted in someone sticking the Buttholes on the stereo, and everybody contorting their flushed and bug eyed faces with the kind of uncontrollable high pitched laughter that belongs in a psychiatric hospital.
A particular favourite was ‘Locust Abortion Technician’, surely one of the most insane albums ever committed to vinyl. The whole album stands as a soundtrack to many weekends spent with our veins pumping with forbidden chemicals: from the completely disorientating (particularly in the grip of mind altering drugs) and wildly crazed Sabbath pastiche that is ‘Sweatloaf’ to the completely sinister ’22 going on 23′ with its real life sampled confessions of neurosis and instability, all out the mouth of some whacked out woman on a radio phone in, backed by heavy fuzzed up bass, slide guitar and mooing cows. There was nothing else like the Buttholes at the time, and for anyone who was freshly delving into hallucinogenics in the eighties, they were the shit. Music made by people who take acid for people who take acid.
In those days (the bleak and Thatcher blighted eighties), being in your mid-teens and growing up in a small semi rural town on the edge of Derbyshire’s Peak District meant that even plain old cannabis was almost impossible for un-streetwise dopey saps like us to come by. We had read somewhere that smoking dried out banana skins could get you high so we tried it. Shit. You had to smoke about six joints on your own to get anything off it, so you ended up with a throat rougher than badger’s arse, and even then you weren’t sure if you were just kidding yourself that you could ‘feel something’. We also indulged in powdered nutmeg once or twice (yet again we had read in a library book it had psychoactive properties – this is a bone fide fact), which just made us hideously sick and wobbly, and left us with nagging headaches and the aftertaste of a hundred egg custards. It was only later in our teens, as our world broadened out of our bedrooms and onto the dark streets and alleyways of local cities like Derby and Nottingham, that cannabis and its various forms (plus other substances) became easy to obtain.
Sixteen years old, I tried mushrooms for the first time, at a mates house were we used to try and play AD&D and Call of Cthulhu (without laughing). After pissing about in his house, trying to get whole eggs in our mouths without breaking them, I got a lift home off one of the group who drove her mini about three miles per hour. It was only back in my parent’s house that the mushies hit me hard. I was absolutely convinced there was a kind of malevolent presence in the downstairs toilet bowl. I left the lid down, but I had to keep checking on it. My folks were soundly snoring, but I was tripping so hard that I nearly woke them up to ask for help. Fucking hell, I’m glad I didn’t. I wrote loads of stuff down on paper and I couldn’t get the stupid mantra ‘trendy goggles the postman’ out of my warped head (maybe this was prophetic: I later worked as a postman for five hellish years, and I wear spectacles). I was alternately giggling and fearing for my life. Like the majority of trips, I rode the mother fucker out and was left the next day feeling hollow and scooped out inside, but ultimately enlightened.
My first experience of the hippy delights of Gong was in a wood, at night, riding high on a tab of double dip Strawberry Fields. I was in my late teens by now, and open to any sounds that represented ‘otherness’ and danger to ‘straights’. There were about five or six of us, and we had literally just piled out of the pub on a warm Friday night at closing time, got chips etc., dropped the acid and made our raucous and weaving way up the road and into the woods, taking a few of those portable amber flashing lights with us, borrowed from road works on the way. An older associate called Walt (drug addled slacker, permanently unemployed, cognitive capabilities damaged by glue, booze and fungi) had a ‘ghetto blaster’ (or should that be ‘forest blaster’?) with him and proceeded to play Gong’s ‘Camembert Electrique’ in its twisted entirety. Me and my mates, who were younger, had never heard these pixie garmented weird beard loons before and I was entranced by the fact Daevid Allen was singing bizarre rapid lyrics over equally rapid and jerking music, each word corresponding to a note. This was like hearing the Buttholes again, but this time I was taken further back in time to the early seventies, when the drugs were far stronger and the hair much longer. ‘Camembert Electrique’ twisted and turned like a stranded eel and completely blew out my brain channels with its warped spazz jazz.
Lastly, its not just leftfield music made for space cadets that leaves an impression. The most intense musical experience whilst frying on LSD was Slayer’s head rupturing demoniacal masterpiece ‘Raining Blood’ from the ultimate thrash opus ever ‘Reign In Blood’. The sheer intensity of the evil opening riff as it crackled out over the sound of torrential rain was…utterly indescribable. I felt as if the whole room was going to tear apart and blast upwards into the sky, like standing under a rocket as it takes off, being ripped asunder and then blissfully atomised. There you go, I tried to describe it. This was at a house party where I distinctly remember trying to tame a fridge in a garage with a broom, as if it were a lion and I was the circus master. I knew it was a fridge of course, I was just into the idea of subjugating a domestic appliance.
Drugs eh? Maybe they are evil. You just have to dip your toes in though, don’t you? Life is for living, and then it’s for dying. Years down the line, everything went sour, Some of my ‘social circle’ ended up being prescribed methadone or ended up in prison. Usually both. Some people who hung around in those days are now dead, either through overdose or liver failure. Some, like me, are relatively healthy and balanced, and can look back and laugh, and take strength through the incredible experiences we went through. I’m still listening to the Buttholes and Gong, although it is occasionally, seeing as I have about one hundred thousand albums at my disposal. I’m all settled and middle class now anyway. I get high on brisk country rambles with the kids, ordering obscure CDs off Amazon and tasting fresh locally sourced produce. Bollocks. What the fuck happened?
Scribed by: Adam Stone