It was twenty years ago today. John Lennon and George Harrison first sampled the hallucinogenic joys of LSD. A young Jimi Hendrix was turning electric blues inside out in New York while San Francisco’s Grateful Dead ushered in the Aquarian Age at the Dionysian rock & drug revels called the Acid Tests. The sum total of the subsequent frenzy–the liberation of rock & roll from Top 40 dictums, fashion’s brief love affair with paisley and day-glo and the use of drugs as hippie sacraments–was called psychedelia.
In its brief lifetime, 1965 through ’68, it drastically altered the face as well as the future of rock culture. And now it’s back for a second try. Pop sex machine Prince makes veiled bows to Sgt. Pepper’s on his latest album, Around the World in a Day. Tom Petty’s video for “Don’t Come around Here No More” features Eurythmics’ Dave Stewart seated guru style on a giant mushroom, with a sitar and a hookah, like something out of Grace Slick’s “White Rabbit” drug fantasy.
This Sixties revival is actually being led by a generation too young to remember the real thing. Authentic garage punks like the Chesterfield Kings and the Unclaimed and such trippy ensembles as Plasticland and the Rain Parade have studied the groovy old days from rare records and camp movie classics like The Trip and Riot on Sunset Strip. Baby-faced singer and bassist Michael Quercio, 20, of the Los Angeles band the Three O’Clock says he learned about the Beatles from his older sister. “What we’re trying to resurrect,” he insists, “is not an age gone by, but an aspect of music some people think is too uncool to play.”
Disc jockey Rodney Bingenheimer, the patron saint of Los Angeles’ Paisley Underground (a phrase coined by Quercio), claims his audience is “sick of this synthesizer stuff they’re hearing on the radio.” Fans meet at local clubs like the Rave-Up and the Cavern to dig the neo-Sixties bands and original psych-punk platters.
The new breed is also well dressed for excess. Bingenheimer says young girls in Los Angeles “are getting clothes from the parents, teenage hand-me-downs from their moms.” Hip-hugger pants and miniskirts are flying out of the Greenwich Village store run by Patricia Field. “It is a reaction to all this yuppiedom,” Field claims. “I hear kids in the store saying, ‘Oh, wow, the Sixties must have been the best time.'”
Top designers like Danny Noble and Jean-Paul Gaultier agree. Their latest creations are heavy on the brocade, paisley and floral prints that the young Cher once wore with such enigmatic cool. Even Madonna, the role model for the Eighties material girl, is mixing neopsychedelic threads with her peekaboo lace onstage.
The psychedelic renaissance is no bicoastal hype. A recent cassette compilation of raw neo-Sixties rock, Garage Sale!, boasts bands from Stockholm and Columbus, Ohio. Observers insist the scene is here to stay. “The psychedelic phase is the intro for the thing to come,” suggests Carmel Johnson, co-owner of Batislavia, a New York boutique. “It is not the thing itself.”
For veteran hippies, the revival proves that the magic they remembered was real. “It’s great to do my Sixties work again in a new way, to feel the cycle is valid to repeat,” says designer Betsey Johnson, a prominent figure in that decade’s fashion explosion. “It just points out how much sense it really made.”