written by Ryan Cartwright
Nothing is as contagious as enthusiasm. – Carlos Santana
There is no cure for birth and death save to enjoy the interval. –Santayana
Don’t tell me this town ain’t got no heart. – The Grateful Dead
Part One: Sheets to the Wind
I arrived late, as usual. A tall man in a suit, with no hair hung a plastic device over me and gave me a cigarette for my time. Though business oriented and unfamiliar to our psychedelic shenanigans he was friendly and I warned him to be very nice to everyone, as it was sure to be a special evening. I’d never been to Space 120 before, and immediately upon beginning the experience I felt a peculiar sense of comfort, rare in both venues and new situations.
Up the stairs I went, shaking hands and slapping shoulders, cigarette pro bono hanging between my chapped lips, and my crew assembled itself before me. Smiles reflected from one end of the room to the other, and everybody was sticking out their tongues for me to acknowledge the contents, and I was truly delighted to do so. The view from space is incredible. “Where’s your facepaint?” they all asked, so, obligingly I applied some blues and whites and reds all at once, and purple is what seemed to stretch under my eyes.
Amps break, bands bail, lovers leave, cops bust, tires blow and friends die. The overall consensus is that life is pretty frustrating, but last night none of it stood in the way of a good time. To truly enjoy existence you must embrace the dark side, and put it into perspective. You have to imagine all your fears in their underwear. Being a colorful journeyer isn’t all about sunshine and dandelions, but it’s that spirit that makes it real and permanent as a way of life. The formulas had all been correctly applied, and everybody’s pupils were getting bigger, and for those whose weren’t, a communal sense of rapture began spilling out off our tongues and through our movements. The Space began to buzz.
More people were showing up. Steve looked a bit more relaxed and it pleased me. Preliminary bowls were smoked, and drinks found their way in our hands. Slipping into Darkness started to play, and they sounded pretty good. Sharp as cracks on a bullwhip, loud as gunshots, Durazzo and company got people shaking and feeling cool, and their repertoire sounded a bit more punk rock that usual. They do well as a three piece.
I’ve got to grab the keyboard and all so I recruit some help and walk back up with a bit of LSD on my tongue. I debated whether or not to tell my band-mates, and concluded it would be best for everyone if I kept it to myself for the time being. We set up in a whirlwind and I’m totally loving the scene. More and more people are wandering in, the mics are hot, a cup of water is trust generously into my hand. We set up in a circle. I rally the troops and run ahead of them to take the stage.
We soar through our set with relative ease, comfortable in the knowledge of our own tunes. I play a dissonant solo, and turn up the funk with some bass. Jos’s notes swim cleanly through KC’s chords and vice versa. Heather didn’t miss a beat, literally, and, as is to be expected, we all started getting really into it. It’s hard to judge the crowd sometimes, but I was havin’ too good a time to try, and simply assumed they were feeling the energy as much as I was. Are these the lights doing that or is it my mind? I’ve got to keep it together; I’ve got rock and roll to provide. I’m having the time of my life. I don’t know what’s more fun: going to shows or playing them. I’m sweating profusely. Fascinatingly enough it seems all I have to do is press my finger down on this white (or often black) plastic rectangle and sounds will come blasting from every corner of the room. Then all I have to do is press the right ones at the right time, and I become one with something KC invented and imagined. Oh boy, I think this acid is beginning to take hold.
The desert is unforgiving. It is cosmic. It is like the bed of an ancient Martian sea, mysterious and strange. It is spiritually synonymous with the void, and with death. It is the crumbling remains of mountain tops. Only a certain breed of strange-cat-people can fruitfully inhabit it, and the rest can only see a way out.
David Byrne in the big suit. Ziggy Stardust adrift in a tapestry of galaxies. Jerry Garcia reincarnated as a Buddha. Kandinskys in the Sistine Chapel. Kerouac Thumbs his way up the Pacific to visit Neal Cassidy, ’56. 15 years later my father does the same thing.
I turn up the knobs, and press more keys. The boy’s guitars are getting louder, the bass thundering. The scene climaxes and the simultaneous weeping of our instruments drip right off the bone of a retreating beast. The song fades away. I’m getting hugs and compliments and more water. I’m loving every minute of it, but I’ve got to take down. Sleepy Sun is waiting to set up, and I want to hasten that process.
Part Two: Embrace
As a team we all saw San Francisco’s Sleepy Sun years ago, at a now legendary festival that sort of changed our intentions and perspective collectively. Their sound is thick, but never too much. Very drum laden/driven. It has permeated our regular rotation, and has established itself as a staple of the California psychedelic underground. They’re good, very good, and gathering momentum.
I find myself in what looks like a wedding chapel, with a few of my best friends. We howl like peyote coyotes and lose track of ‘time’. By the time we returned the band was already playing and the walls were already shaking. The two singers gyrated with subdued intensity, while the left-handed drummer catapulted their sound into bursts and bits. The guitarists waited, and the bass continued. The crowd too was spinning, and a small group of friends sat at the foot of the stage, eyes closed, heads bobbing slowly, grins curling from time to time. The liquid light show, reminiscent of that utilized by the Merry Pranksters, converges with all those tiny amoebas and makes me feel at home. I wander from friend to friend and find a gentle nook at the front. I’m peaking now, and it seems as if others agree.
Ethereal and peaceful, then tense and heavy, Sleepy Sun’s sound is thick and layered, but never with too many elements (Meriwether Post Pavilion?) at once. African claves and nutshell beads, delay and distortion and it’s loud, then soft again. The guitars are no longer at bay. Before I know it they’re playing one of my favorite tunes, New Age, and we’re all practically jogging in place. The band itself has no beginning or end, and is actually spreading off the stage and onto the steps, where roadies slam toms. The girl is slipping from spot to spot, head down, tie-dyed shirt beaming. She’s beautiful. The second singer turns knobs, and flips switches, abruptly he throws out an arm or a leg. He’s beautiful too. They’re all feeling it too, the energy. Their sound is full, loud, intense, new, exciting. The song ends. The front man asks if there’s anything in the water in Palm Springs he should know about. Cackling like hyenas, us trippers scream “look out! Look Out! You better look out!” and fall over on each other making jokes only trippers understand.
They play for a very long time, ensuring certainly that everybody gets their 5 bucks worth. Oh we sure did. They played softly, they played heavy, they felt good, we felt good. They even did an encore, something sort of rare around these parts. We felt like it was 1966, and it was all revolutionary again. And honestly, at that moment, it was. Sleepy Sun has the sound, and the uniqueness. They have been solidified in my mind as forerunners of the current psychedelic revolution, alongside groups like Entrance, Eternal Tapestry, and Magic Lantern.
They played as long as they could, and converted us all into believers. When their set was over we all converged on the balcony for a reluctant look back. We were sad they had to stop playing. It was around this time we realized it was daylight savings time, as was the last time we’d all met like this, at Phish Phest, Halloween, daylight savings, one am forever.
Nights aren’t over till you’re asleep, and none of us were tired. I had two midterms to take the next day, the first at 8 am, and decided I’d have to call it a night. Right before I split Steve stuck something in my hand. As if to fix in my mind the epic, yet highly personal, achievements of the night; the gift was a setlist. Perfect.
Garcia’s dead. So is Ginsberg. Most people’d rather take ecstasy and turn off than eat acid and turn on. There isn’t a whole lot of totally new art or music coming out, nor can you just walk down the street and pleasantly shock people with your way. It’s not ’66, and the bus isn’t stopping here in the desert. I think it’s up at Kesey’s ranch, wheel-less. But that’s all the more reason to get a move on and join in. Obviously the last psychedelic revolution ended with the end of the 1960s and let itself water down. Fuck that. We’re talking about the here and now. This isn’t my manifesto, I’m not ready yet. But if it was you’d hear in much greater detail the absolute need for all of us to open up and get real about how we want to change the world.
Damn right, I’m rambling! Revolution, awakening, embrace! That’s what we need: radical new ways of thinking, doing, and being. Reverting, minimizing, while progressing, enhancing. This may not be my manifesto, but keep your eyes peeled for it, because Sunday I realized it’s time for us to take the reigns. It’s time for us to etch ourselves into the sands of time as proponents of love and rebellion, and to be the enforcers of what we all hold to be the most fundamental stepping stones to liberation, to freedom. We’re taking it back. We’re going to readjust public perception, we’re going to take the corporations out of music and art, and whatever else we feel passion for. Take up your pens, your acoustics, your scissors and brushes. Nobody’s going to do it unless we do it. It’s our turn. It’s our time. Don’t miss out, there’s only more on the horizon.
all words by Ryan Cartwright
Perry Scanlon, light installation artist
Jocelyn Guareca, liquid light show installation
Steven Preston, mastermind
Space 120, venue