The Psychedelic Quest: “This Is IT” by Alan Watts

5 Sep

Let us embark on a psychedelic journey. Oko’s first “Journey to the Center of the Mind” post introduced his immense catalogue of psychedelic sounds that aurally stimulate him. The broad genre of pyschedelia is well-known, but esoteric, followed by a coterie of heightened music listeners who are unwilling to withstand normal pop/rock constructions. It is a type of abstruse music that is marked by true experimentation, tactile but teetering on the wavy line of incomprehensible. Psychedelic music frees listeners and enters them in a limitless, expanding universe of pulsating sound with no stable grounding. There is no gravity. Listeners float in a astral body where one can see, feel and hear the stars, but still not quite grasp their unknown wonder. Lost and found.

And, it is this concept of lost and found that I would like to explore this morning. Oko inspired me to search for the origins of psychedelic music. There was a moment in its foundation during the early 1960’s when psychedelia moved past its beat generation foundations of spoken word albums and the drug experimentation inception. It was during this brief point of time that listeners got their first taste of a true psychedelic album. And, no it was not the Beatles. It was even before the 13th Floor Elevators of Texas started advertising themselves as “psychedelic rock” in 1965. It was even before the LSD-inspired folk scene prompted the New York-based Holy Modal Rounders to use the word psychedelic in their version of “Hesitation Blues.”

This moment of time was 1962 and it emerged from the amalgamation of European/American researchers, artists and poets. In a quiet revolution, Western and Eastern thought merged with the controlled use of LSD to form a powerful energy that certainly could be looked at as a true predecessor of the musical revlotion that practically took over the United States and scared most of the country only five years later. And, at the forefront of this psychedelic movement was Alan Watts, an eloquent British lecturer who basked in his innate curiosity and weirdness and helped bridge the gap between London, New York and San Francisco (emerging psychedelic hotbeds) .

In 1962, Watts released his spiritual LP This Is IT, a rare, practically unknown release, that can truly be cited as the first psychedelic record.

Released in Sausalito, California this album of “Alan Watts and friends in a spontaneous musical happening”  is real psychedelia. It is more of a spacey, aural experience and it is impossible to grasp any structure. There is no need for structure. It is the psychedelic experience of zany instrumentation, conversation, and incantation. It is drums and chanting and evocations. It is pure psychedelic exaltation.

The album explores Eastern thought and sound and combines it with “controlled accidents” of sound explosions, random pockets of jazz, eerie piano, and lots of acid. It is the premier psychedelic soundscape. Go on and get this album and take a listen. This is 1962 we are talking about. The Beatles haven’t even released “She Loves You” yet. Jimi Hendrix was 20.

Watts’ exploration is a timeless example of psychedelia at its very best. It is the first example of the burgeoning genre of music and is still as complex and real today, as it was back when it was released in a very different American society. This Is IT wasn’t only it, but, IT was a start.

Here is Watts on the concept of Nothingness:

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