from the Critical List April 28, 1989
    So I'm talking to R., alluding ruefully as to how I'm going to be up all night doing exactly what I'm doing now. And he asks my intended topic, and I say, "I thought, ah, something about psychedelia," to which he responds, asking but not really asking, "Isn't that a dead issue?" ("It most certainly is a Dead issue," I might have riposted, but didn't.) And one would think so, think it dead; yet it somehow lingers on, like a cough after a cold, like a sore on the lip, now and again acting up. Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the gene pool: Acid House!
    But I didn't come here to discuss a degenerate foreign pill-popping subculture, now anyway frequently reported to be in -- ha! knew it! -- decline. Sooner I would discuss the aptly named and ominous New Beat, a borned-in Belgium, wherein DJs spin at 33 1/3 records pressed to be heard at 45; this seems terribly significant of something -- entropy, maybe. Offered apparently as a loping antidote to the nowhere-fast sound-and-frenzy of  House, it's "plus lent, plus sensual, plus bas" ("la musique des gens sales, tellement sales" -- really dirty people's music, says Actuel). ("The Revenge of the Fat Belgian Bastards," said NME.)
    And I certainly didn't come to talk drugs, having never ingested anything more mind-altering than beer at one extreme and coffee at the other, nor wanted to. I admit I sometimes patronized the Third Eye (West Valley heads dab tears of fond remembrance), though only for Rolling Stone, not yet available at the supermarket, and a quick peek in the blacklight room to see Jimi's hair throb. And, sure, I liked "Strawberry Fields Forever" and "See Emily Play" and probably a lot of other stuff by people who liked to play havoc with their synapses, but what did I really know about that, being a kid merely. I liked the Velvet Underground, too, but I wasn't about to "put a spike into my vein." One can accept the sounds without the subtext, or the text, even.
    To a considerable extent, given the limp and dispensable vision of many if not most first-gen psychedelyricists (pioneer art-rockers, nevertheless, for which "advance" you may be grateful, or not), the sounds -- feedback guitar, carnival keyboards, open-fifth drones, baroque fanfare, melodies ('n' modalities) with a tinge of the nursery or the Asian exotic, things running backwards, goofy stereo FX -- were the text. They bespoke contemporary fascination and aspirations, occult egotism and youth-cult dandyism and new takes on time as well or better than did newspaper taxis or Itchykoo Parks. And so to paraphrase Hoyt Axton, I've never taken acid, but I kind of like the music. This is acceptable: need one be an alcoholic, after all, to enjoy Fitzgerald, cut off an ear to ken Van Gogh? Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I rest my feet.
    Practically speaking, why this palaver? Because there at this moment stacked up over the column several items that represent current extensions into/employment of that certain style and "substance," sound and "sense" we've come to think of as psychedelic, though I would argue that in this they are not necessarily meant to evoke the, uh, drug experience so much as (a) a bygone era and/or (b) certain psychological states capable of being accessed without chemical assistance: dreams, or romantic love. We have heard this before, with L.A.'s own Paisley Underground and in the early works of the actively amorphous R.E.M.
    And we see it now in evocatively colorful, colorfully evocative yet firmly packed records by Robyn Hitchcock (Queen Elvis, on A&M), Christmas (Ultraprophets of Thee Psykick Revolution, from I.R.S.) and Viva Saturn (current project of David "Formerly of the Rain Parade" Roback, with a self-titled EP from Heyday); in a recent performance by Peter Blegvad; and the special-case, semi-parodic, handsomely packaged Double Bummer by BongWater (Shimmy Disc Europe), featuring performance artist Ann Magnuson, to which the rest of this paragraph doesn't really apply. As someone who takes his psychedelia, as it were, straight, I propose that to ascribe the form and content of any of this music to drugs, whatever bearing they may or may not have had on their production (and I don't know) makes them instantly less interesting and less resonant and prohibits the kind of universal application to which even as patently particular a world-view as Hitchcock's (long on exfoliation and decay, meat and bugs and body parts) can easily lay claim, for being so intelligently consistent. (And his wit bounds his obsessions, which saves it from deadliness, and his craft is thorough.) Peter Blegvad (Slapp Happy, Golden Palominos), who played a really electrifying solo set at McCabe's recently, makes songs that seem transcribed directly from dreams (or the Brothers Grimm) -- deliciously unsettling, oddly familiar, powered off a coherent and well-marshaled system of symbols: Jung-pop. Christmas, given a star and a half by the Rolling Stone umps (a bum call) also have a, y'know, special way of piecing the world together; they refract such matters of fact as Richard Nixon into sprightly songs that approach you from five directions at once. Viva Saturn, the name notwithstanding, are by comparison relatively earthy -- lotta love stuff here, to music appropriately vibratious and slippery.
    BongWater, fronted by aforenamed performance-person Ms. Magnuson, are even more slippery: beginning with the questions of whether this is a real band or just some art piece -- a kind of psychedelic Spinal Tap. That is suggested in the packaging but never really worked out, and what remains (and sounds a little more brilliant at each new spin) is a loose, half-jokey but mostly highly musical and sometimes actually powerful two hours (on two CDs) of '60s-based modern noisemaking, with a couple of dazzling Monkees covers and some true-to-form (invented?) dream talk -- funny ha-ha rather than funny strange, but pretty primal in the end, beautiful friend.

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