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Showcase » Psychedelic Lighting Workshop 1997 » Responses

Archive of 1997 rocklights USEM discussion group:


          What things were going on in the period around 1969 that contributed to the development of
          psychedelic music and imagery (of which lighting became an important part)? Use first hand
          accounts if you can. Ask your parents what they think, or ask faculty members. If you are really
          daring, you might post a question on a USENET discussion group with a relevant subject
          (maybe rec.music.gdead, or rec.drugs.psychedelic, soc.history.war.vietnam). Of particular
          interest would be examples of what was going on here at U.V.A. in those years, especially after
          Kent State.


The Sixties was a time of change.  It was the time of
hippies, Woodstock, and a beginning to new music.
Bands including:  The Beatles, The Doors, The Grateful
Dead, Bob Dylan, The Byrds, Janis Joplin, Jimi
Hendrix, The Monkeys, and Crosby, Stills, Nash, and
Young became popular in the Sixties.  Many important
events also shaped this era such as the Vietnam War,
the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and the first
man on the moon.  Civil rights became a large public
issue under the leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King,

History of what led to psychadelic lighting....drug
use:  The idea of mystical experiences resulting
from drug use is not readily accepted in Western
societies. Western culture has, historically, a
particular fascination with the value and virtue of
man as an individual, self-determining, responsible
ego, controlling himself and his world by the power of
conscious effort and will. Nothing, then, could be
more repugnant to this cultural tradition than the
notion of spiritual or psychological growth through
the use of drugs. A "drugged" person is by definition
dimmed in consciousness, fogged in judgment, and
deprived of will. But not all psychotropic
(consciousness- changing) chemicals are narcotic and
soporific, as are alcohol, opiates, and barbiturates.
The effects of what are now called psychedelic
(mind-manifesting) chemicals differ from those of
alcohol as laughter differs from rage, or delight from
depression. There is really no analogy between being
"high" on LSD and "drunk" on bourbon. True, no one in
either state should drive a car, but neither should
one drive while reading a book, playing a violin, or
making love. Certain creative activities and states of
mind demand a concentration and devotion that are
simply incompatible with piloting a death-dealing
engine along a highway.


The Haight-Asbury experience also led to exessive drug
use during the 1960's when everyone was concerned
about peace love and happiness, not to mention drug
use and brotherly love.  People became closer and
music became a more intricite part of daily life that
was important to everyone.  This was the beginning of
psychadelic lighting, when everyone began to
experience music with a new attitude and it became a
large part of their lives.  Concert lighting has grown
from this into the giant industry it is today

I asked my dad for Part 1:  here's what he wrote.

> I guess the biggest thing that contributed to psychedelic lighting and
> music was that people were experimenting with LSD and mushrooms, and
> "alternative realities".  It reached the mainstream with Timothy Leary,
> a professor at Harvard I think, who was writing about his experiments
> with LSD, and then later in 1968 or 69, the Beatles came out with their
> Yellow Submarine album, which was based on their experimenting with
> psychedelic drugs, as well as a trip they made to India and their
> fooling around with meditation and Indian religions.  If you look at the
> jacket covers for that album compared to their earlier ones, you'll see
> the difference.  The alternative reality thing got popular, even for
> those not involved with drugs, as part of the "movement" in the 1960's
> against "the establishment."  With the Viet Nam War going on, the end of
> legalized segregation with the civil rights movement, etc., there was
> kind of a cultural "revolution", and many people, especially students,
> musicians, etc., were questioning established culture, and were looking
> for ways to be different.  The lighting was a way to simulate what
> people saw when they were tripping, or at least what they thought other
> people who were tripping saw when they were tripping.
> That's my history of the 1960's.  Hope it helps.  I was only 15 in 1969.

Then he wrote:

I said yesterday that the Beatles' "Yellow Submarine" album was
the one that came out after they got into LSD.  Actually, I think
instead it was the "Sargeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" album.
Sorry for the misinformation - I wasn't a big Beatles fan at the time,
preferred the Rolling Stones and Jimi Hendrix.


The major issue concerning the U.S. in the
late sixties was the confrontation in Vietnam.  People
in America were faced with the grim reality of war and
its harsh repercussions.  In order to escape the
constantly surfacing images of death and destruction
society turned towards the ideals of liberation and
freedom.  Psychedelia epitomized this lack of
restraint and rules.  At this time, young Americans
expressed their new emotions through what was considered
wild music and dancing, women were becoming equal to men,
and drugs began to play an increasing role in the lives of
America's youth.
 The easiest way for a person to reach total
escape from reality was to take a mental trip.  This
trip could be realized through the use of LSD,
marijuana, or simply a trip along the music of Jimi
Hendrix or the Grateful Dead.  All of these methods
allowed the mind to wander away to a place of peace
and solitude.  Along with the audio effects the visual
effects of bright swirling lighting and peace signs and
dancing bears and the other images we associate with this
time period came into play.  These were symbols that people
associated with their kind that separated them from the
next generation.  It seems that the intention of the
psychedilic movement was to ensure that their generation
was not remembered for the war and death, but instead for
peace and a state of total mental freedom.  Sure, they may
have used drugs and played what was considered outrageous
music, neither of which were appreciated by many, but it
was for a cause they considered far more important than
being accepted.  All they wanted was freedom: freedom from
the older generations, the hell of war, and the confines of


The late '60's was a time shaped by many factors,
most notably the Vietnam war and the civil rights movement.
These factors and others were the cause of division and protest
among the people of our country. In order to get away from this
harsh reality, the people most affected by these times, the younger
generation, looked for some sort of escape. Spawned by the use of
mind altering drugs like LSD, hallucinogenic mushrooms and pot,
psychedelia became the escape for which the younger generation was
looking. While psychedelic music became more of a complement
to drugs, psychedelic lighting was an attempt at recreating the images
people saw while tripping on these drugs. Psychedelic lighting
was also used as a way of intensifying one's experience with drugs.
Through listening to music like The Greatful Dead and Jimi Hendrix,
experiementing with drugs like LSD and experiencing the overall
psychedelic realm of the late 60's, a false reality opposite to that
of the real world at the time could be attained.


The late sixties were a time in which every one was looking for
solutions.  These were solutions to unwanted war, racial tension, and all the
negative energy consuming America.  It seems like the youth were trying to
just unwind and get a new perspecive on things.  The fifties had been so
uptight and uncompromising that some form of revolution was due to come.
This revolution came in the form of experimental music, psychedelic drugs,
and a fascination with eastern religions.  Some used these outlets to try and
change the world, but to most it was to escape all the madness of every day
life.  The music and drugs provided a peaceful enviroment in which people
could look deeply at society without any particular standard.  They were
probing anything new and unusual to find answers.  People bombarded their
senses (using LSD,marijuana,mushrooms,colorful clothing,insense,and heavily
altered sounds) in an attempt to make discoveries about themselves and
others.  The musicians of this time provided this sensory overload in two
ways: First, by experimenting with different sound effects and song
structures; and second by using extraordinary light shows to visually
represent the music.  The combination of these two elements created another
world for the audience to escape to.  Even if their problems were not solved
during these moments, the audience could feel accepted and enlightened for a
few hours. Psychedelia served as a forum for personal introspection and an
attempt at finding harmony with a very crazy world.


Many people consider the 50's to the early 60's to be "the good old
days" when we had "stable" nuclear families, suburbia McMansions, and
strip malls were considered cool inventions.  This is quite odd,
especially when you realize that all those little Beavers and Annette's
grew up to become the hippie generation, one of the wildest America
experienced.  Spoiled rotten in childhood, it would only follow that the
"me generation" of the baby boomers would party just as hard when they
hit college age.  Conveniently coinciding with their "blossoming" came
serious political turmoil, such as the JFK's assasination and the
Vietnam War, providing a timely excuse to "experiment" and "find
oneself."  Who wouldn't want to party when faced with the draft and
nuclear holocaust?  The music of the time period followed suit, bringing
underground psychedelic music to the merchandising forefront.  The
unique new developments in lighting, unlike anything the boomer's
parents had seen or partied to, fit the rebellious nature of the music
and the social scene at the time.

Peace, uh, dude....


I talked to my dad who graduated from high school in 1969
and was in a band, but he did not do drugs.  He said that
the lighting effects probably stemmed from the visual
hallucinations people got from using drugs like LSD.  He
also said people claimed that the drugs made them hear
things differently, so the music sounded different to them
and a lot of the music was composed while the artists were
tripping on the drugs.  He said that in a period with so
much change, the drugs were a common bond to hold people
together.  I also looked on the internet and found the site
which offered a lot of information about the development of
psychadelic music.  It said that drugs were a main cause,
but also the babyboomers were better educated and
financially secure; they were speaking out against Vietnam
and rallying for civil rights.  "The pill had altered
sexual mores, and rock and roll...was now being taken
seriously as the voice of this generation."


During the late '60s a number of political and social factors helped
contribute to the rise of psychedelic music and imagery; the most
important being the civil rights movement and the ongoing Vietnam War.
Protest was rampant across the nation, and young people were looking for
any kind of escape, even if it was only for a short while, from all of
the negativity and turmoil around them.  For a large group this came in
the form of drugs; pot, mushrooms, and LSD.  New forms of music also
played a major role in this rebellion/escape; The Grateful Dead, Jimi
Hendrix and a handfull of others began what was to be described as
"psychedelic" music.  Using a combination of strange sound effects and a
large amounts of disorienting light, the music complemented the drug use
well in that it even further intensified the momentary escape from
reality.  As for what was happening at UVa during those years...


From reading accounts of early Dead shows at the
Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters Electric Kool-Aid Acid
tests, it becomes obvious why psychedelic lighting was
designed; to heighten the trip. Swirling colors, flashing
strobes, liquid light displays, all give a sober viewer the
feeling that he or she isn't walking hand in hand with
reality, so you can imagine the surreal extent to which
these effects take someone who's dosed a few tabs of
LSD,(or maybe you know from experience). The lights, the
clothes, the music, for better or for worse, developed
tandem with the psych drugs.. If you ever read an artcicle
where John Lennon denies Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds' LSD
influence, don't believe it. Marmalade skies and
kaleidescope eyes aren't seen after taking vitamin C.
Whereas in history war has provided the means for fierce
invention and development in industry, the drug culture of
the sixties to present have promoted new techniques in
lighting and the concert experience. Do the ends justify
the means?


My parents were really big into the radical sixties
movements. They always talk about how strong the role of
drugs was in people's lives. The stress induced by the
Vietnam War and the changing political climate. The
teenagers and people in their twenties fled these issues
through the use of drugs. The drugs of choice included
marijuana and acid. The acid trips are the strongest
influence on concert lighting. The bright, changing colors
and moving images found in rock concert lighting of the
late sixties and early seventies recreateand heighten the
experiences of tripping.
 Not only did the Vietnam War and political issues
caused the increasing trend in drug use, many bands openly
used these drugs (Grateful Dead, The Beatles). The
advocation of drug use by the role models of this time also
aided the increase in drug use (i.e. peer pressure). Due to
these three main factors: Vietnam War, political issues,
and peer pressure, drug use increased. The use of drugs is
the major influence on rock concert lighting concepts
during the psychedelic era.


After talking to some of my friends parents and some of my
co workers.  We decided that those were the days!  Of
all the many factors that contributed to the phycadelic
lighting imagery used at concerts, LSD and shrooms were
definately the most common answer I recieved.  The effects
these drugs have on there users is so intense and tripped
out that concert lighting designers try to duplicate those
cool effects on the the sober by using such phycadelic
lighting.  It perhaps helps brings the audiance to the same
relm of "enlightenment or state of being" that the band
members are at, when they are performing!  It just adds to
the whole experiance.  Notable bands that used these types
of lighting include such band as the Greatful Dead, Jimi
Hendrix, The Doors and many more that I'm not too fimiliar

[I asked] Proffeseur Deaveax about the question, and
wanted to share his response to the question.

 I'm a bit too young (!) to be of much use as an eyewitness, as I
was only 14 during most of 1969.  But I think it's obvious that the
explosion in drug culture during the 1960s instilled in us the idea that
the "doors of perception," to use Aldous Huxley's phrase, were being flung
wide open, and that the whole point of experiences like rock was to open
us up to unprecedented sensations.  That the means we used to simulate
these sensations--e.g., rock lighting, black light--now seem rather tawdry
does not take away from my generation's sincere attempt to find a pathway
to a new reality.

Peace out,

(_) \(_)


"Tune in, turn on, and drop out":  the infamous
words of Timothy Leary, preaching to let go of the main-
stream, and to expand one's mind.  This whole plan, of mind
expansion, was devised to help stimulate the senses,
creating what we know now today as "psychedelia."
 "Although," my mother confessed to me, "I did
not experiment with drugs personally, I did live with
people who did."  My mother was living in an apartment
with about five other people in Atlanta around the
time of the outbreak of psychedelic images.  She said
that since the draft lottery had begun, many people
were in a state of "doom."  The only way to eliminate
some of the pain and shock that sprung from this fear
was to experiment with drugs; such as, LSD and
 Colors were really big then.  Everyone was
clothed in bright pinks and flourescent greens.  She
described it as a "very intense, yet relaxing time."
Fond memories of a free Allman Brothers' concert in
Piedmont Park leaped into her head after recalling the
music of the time.  It was a period of
experimentation, not just with drugs, but with music,
too.  People were getting bored with the same old
crap.  The beautiful pictures and images associated
with psychedelia were created to increase stimulation
of the feelings.  Since this was a most interactive
time, many needed the new drugs, music, and lighting
innovations to help create not just visions but
 Something that my mother couldn't decide was
which came first.  Were the psychedelic effects
derived from "good trips" and envisions people had
while getting high, or were the effects created first
to enhance the experience while being high.  My mother
leaned more towards the latter, saying that she
believed the whole creation of the phenomenon
"psychedelia" was, in fact, just an instrument used to
create better "highs."


During the 60's, the harsh reality of the war in Vietnam and the
potential for young men to fight and die in that war was unavoidavble
for most.  Drugs became a way of escape for that reality if only for a
brief time.  Psychedelics, even more so than marijuana, were the way for
the individual to completely cut off reality.  Psychedelic images and
lighting, according to my mother, were the creations resulting from
actual trips and experiences on diferent psychedelic drugs.  The images
and lighting, usually characterized by swirling, bright, vivid colors,
furthered the effects of the drugs on the individual and enhanced the
entire experience.


I talked with my dad aboout the end of the sixties.  He didn't really have
much to say about it.   He had been in the US for not even 10 years and
then he was drafted and shipped off to Vietnam.  He told me some stuff
that he remembered.  He said his friends were crazy and told me they
experimented with drugs, especially lots of Marijuana he said.
Supposedly my Dad never tried any drugs but I find that hard to believe.
I get the feeling my dad doesn't like to talk about the past
My mom was not in the country during this time but she told me she
remembered being in Poland and hearing about all the craziness going on in
the states, especially the different unorthodox music.
My uncle however immigrated over here in 1971.  He said he there were lots
of bright colors.  Bright, almost flourescent clothing was in style.  His
first car was a VW bug, it broke down though just three months after
he bought it.
Oh, my dad did tell me though that in Vietnam alot of the soldiers were
into smoking pot.  And he told me about the morphine that was administered
to soldiers for pain relief".


The late 1960's brought about an influx of new ideas and ways of thinking to American society as Vietnam and the civil rights movement took center stage.  Americans became more liberal and pacifist in their views and with this rock 'n roll and drugs became an intricate part of the "rebel" lifestyle.  From marijuana and opium to LSD and heroine, drugs were the thing to do and rock n' roll was the music of choice.  These events progressed through the 1960's culminating in Woodstock.  At Woodstock the true psychedelic atmosphere of the 60's was most visible.  Tie-dyed shirts and peace signs flooded the grassy fields and several participants flaunted their naked bodies as a symbol of freedom.  These peculiar signs of imagery led to the creation of psychedelic music and lighting.  The music consisted of fast-paced screaming with virtually indecipherable lyrics describing the never-ending problems of the world.  The lighting was comprised of a colorful blend of yellow, red, orange, !
and blue washes that produced an electrifying display.  Such images were enhanced with the use of drugs where a hippie in an altered state of mind could look at an orange and red mix and imagine it to be a fireball hurling at him from the heavens.  To the people of the time, though, this was the beauty of psychedelia.  The late 60's were a time in which anything unusual became the norm and where one's individuality shone through.  It was a time of cultural revolution.


 The late sixties were turbulent times, calling for
new alternatives for a new generation faced with a terrible
war, a civil rights conflict full of numbing hatred, and
the slaying of all their most promosing young leaders.  One
of those new alternatives was freespirited rock and roll.
 Psychadelic drugs became part of the rock and roll
experience for many bands and many fans, to complete the
escapism experience.
 From what I have read in everyone else's postings
and from all the discussions I have had about it with other
people, I am still unclear whether the concert lighting
was created first as something inherently intriguing.  And
then when people were doing drugs they digged on the
lights, which increased the demand for concert lighting
innovation after drug use became more prevalent.  Or did
drug use become widespread and the effects of them became
familiar to many people, which concert techies then tried
to simulate with their lighting.  Or was the connection
between drugs and concert lighting a combination of those
two different hypotheses.