Vernon Joynson Ruined My Life - Jeffrey Lewis
By the time I was about 19 years old I was well obsessed with 60s rock, and I thought I had totally mined the depths of it for cool psychedelic stuff just because I had Syd Barrett's solo albums, the first 13th Floor Elevators album, some Moby Grape and some Love. I even had a radio show at my college which I advertised as being "obscure psychedelic 60s music" although at the time "obscure" meant to me that I'd play Jefferson Airplane songs which were never on regular radio, etc. When I went to London for the first time, doing a study-abroad semester in Ealing in spring of 1996, I spent a lot of time hanging out in the TVU school library - just for fun I typed "psychedelic" into the library search computer and a book called "The Acid Trip: A Complete Guide to Psychedelic Music" written by one Vernon Joynston, came up. Excited at my luck, I located it on the shelves and took it home.
Have you ever had an experience that was so life changing and mind blowing you can't even remember it? I honestly have no recollection at all of what my first thoughts were when I started flipping through this book, a beautiful hardcover 136-page volume, packed with over 200 album cover reproductions, many in full color, and descriptions/comments on all the albums. All I know is that my paltry little world of music knowlege, that I thought was so extensive, was completely exploded - I had no idea WHATSOEVER that there existed a VAST realm of rare and insane albums that were long out of print, were known by nearly no one, and were seemingly beautiful and strange beyond anything I had hoped really existed. I took that book out of the library over and over again, and (after nervously researching the possible penalties for theft, thoughtful wus that I am) I eventually just never returned it and smuggled it back to the States with me when I returned home that May.
I've paid for this robbery a thousand times over! Paid for it with the countless hours of my life that were spent reading and re-reading every page of this book, running home to refer to it before deciding to spend 10 dollars on an old album I'd seen in a record store, the hours I've spent in haunted, obsessed record store searches, the money I've spent when I actually did find any of this stuff (though I'm proud to say I've never been enough of a junkie to spend the outrageous collector's prices that many of the records sometimes sell for - if I can't get it for less than 15 bucks I just stare at it longingly and wait for the day I see it again at a yard sale or in more battered condition for 5 dollars - I've made some great cheap finds!), the HOURS AND HOURS spent flipping through bins of records whenever I see them, etc etc etc - Seemingly I'm forever cursed, and I blame that book!
Actually, if I hadn't found that book in London, my fate might have shortly been the same:
That very summer (of 1996) I was staying with friends of my family in Northern California for 5 weeks, and there was a local little radio station that had different local people doing different little radio shows of their own making. I saw in the printed radio programming schedule that one night every week, from 11 PM till 6 AM, there was a guy named Verge who did a psychedelic music show. I got in touch with him via telephone, and told him about the 60s show I did at my own college back in New York, and we arranged for me to hang out at the station while he did his all-night show. This was actually just a day or so before I left California. I brought about 10 blank 90-minute cassettes to the station. Verge was a strange old hippie, a gnome-like bearded stoner fellow; his guest on the air that night was "Captain Clearlight" another white-haired old hippie who was apparently a cult figure for being a major acid dealer, and he was actually about to go back to jail for acid posession. The stack of records that Verge had brought to play for his show really blew my mind; all totally worn and battered, but absolutley beautiful, original copies of dozens of the albums I'd read about in Joynson's book: Silver Apples, Lothar and the Hand People, The Fool, The Insect Trust, The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band, Pearls Before Swine, etc. Seeing those amazing relics right before my eyes, in all their full-size, colorful glory, was an experience that would have landed me right in the condition I'm in regardless of if I'd found Joynson's book beforehand! I taped his entire show that night, and in the adjoining room taped as many other albums as I had time to. I wrote to Verge a few months after I'd returned to New York, to tell him of my new album findings and to send him some blank cassettes to tape copies of the rarer albums in his colection which I was least likely to be able to find/afford on vinyl on my own, but I never heard back from him.
That was all over five years ago. I actually now think that "The Acid Trip" is a rather poorly produced book, many of the lyrical quotes are blatanly incorrect, there are tons of spelling errors, and I often completely disagree with Joynson's critiques and half-assed assessments of most of the records. Also he includes some ridiculous choices, many standard funk and blues bands like Tower of Power, Pacific Gas & Electric, and Cold Blood, that have nothing to do with psychedelia at all, and devoting large sections to completely un-obscure artists like The Doors and Jimi Hendrix, while inexplicably leaving out many artists that are HIGHLY worthy of inclusion (like The Fugs, The Godz, Donovan, The Hook, The Fraternity of Man, Tyrannosaurus Rex and The Soft Machine, to name a few of the more galling exclusions). A year or two ago I noticed that his new, expanded book has been published in the states, it's a larger paperback with a new title (I forget, is it "Fuzz and Flowers"? Something like that ( Fuzz, Acid & Flowers - Titles Ed.) ), but it seems to be inferior in the sense that while it does include more records it doesn't have all those full color album-cover shots, and seems to have a lot less information about each album than the little 1984 hardcover version I have (Mine also has a great trippy cover painting by Robert Williams!).
Footnote: I had a slight re-occurance of this whole experience last year when Adam (Moldy Peaches) Green lent me Rick Unterberger's great "Unknown Legends of Rock & Roll" book! There's 60s stuff in that book that was even way under the radar of Joynson, and a lot more besides! Plus it comes with a CD so you can actually hear a few of the people he writes about, and his writings are way more extensive and informative than Joynson's, even though I still completely disagree with a lot of what he says (The Deviant's "Ptoof!" is NOT at all the mindblowing album Unterberger makes it out to be, and he fails to quote any of the lyrics which really make Scott Walker the great weird musical figure he his).
Jeff Lewis - NYC - Dec 2001
Jeff Lewis - "The Last Time I Did Acid I Went Insane" is out now on Rough Trade.