Heads: A Biography of Psychedelic America

Hardcover | March 29, 2016

byJesse Jarnow

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Heads: A Biography of Psychedelic America uncovers a hidden history of the biggest psychedelic distribution and belief system the world has ever known. Through a collection of fast-paced interlocking narratives, it animates the tale of an alternate America and its wide-eyed citizens: the LSD-slinging graffiti writers of Central Park, the Dead-loving AI scientists of Stanford, utopian Whole Earth homesteaders, black market chemists, government-wanted Anonymous hackers, rogue explorers, East Village bluegrass pickers, spiritual seekers, Internet pioneers, entrepreneurs, pranksters, pioneering DJs, and a nation of Deadheads.

WFMU DJ and veteran music writer Jesse Jarnow draws on extensive new firsthand accounts from many never-before-interviewed subjects and a wealth of deep archival research to create a comic-book-colored and panoramic American landscape, taking readers for a guided tour of the hippie highway filled with lit-up explorers, peak trips, big busts, and scenic vistas, from Vermont to the Pacific Northwest, from the old world head capitals of San Francisco and New York to the geodesic dome—dotted valleys of Colorado and New Mexico. And with the psychedelic research moving into the mainstream for the first time in decades, Heads also recounts the story of the quiet entheogenic revolution that for years has been brewing resiliently in the Dead's Technicolor shadow.

Featuring over four dozen images, many never before seen—including pop artist Keith Haring's first publicly sold work—Heads weaves on of the 20th and 21st centuries' most misunderstood subcultures into the fabric of the nation's history. Written for anyone who wondered what happened to the heads after the Acid Tests, through the '70s, during the Drug War, and on to the psychedelic present, Heads collects the essential history of how LSD, Deadheads, tie-dye, and the occasional bad trip have become familiar features of the American experience.

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Heads: A Biography of Psychedelic America uncovers a hidden history of the biggest psychedelic distribution and belief system the world has ever known. Through a collection of fast-paced interlocking narratives, it animates the tale of an alternate America and its wide-eyed citizens: the LSD-slinging graffiti writers of Central Park, t...

Jesse Jarnow is the author of Big Day Coming: Yo La Tengo and the Rise of Indie Rock. His writing on music, technology, and culture has appeared in the Times (London), the Village Voice, Rolling Stone, Pitchfork, Wired.com, Relix (contributing editor), Dupree's Diamond News, and elsewhere. He lives in Brooklyn, New York, and hosts The ...

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Hardcover|Aug 31 2003

$31.71 online$31.95list price
Format:HardcoverDimensions:512 pages, 9 × 6 × 0.98 inPublished:March 29, 2016Publisher:Da Capo PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0306822555

ISBN - 13:9780306822551

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Editorial Reviews

Praise for Heads: A Biography of Psychedelic AmericaWill Hermes, author of Love Goes to Buildings on Fire: Five Years in New York That Changed Music Forever“A lucid, illuminating, profound, and often hilarious history of how psychedelics have shaped this great nation—not just music (though the Dead loom large), but across the entire cultural-spiritual landscape. As all goes to hell in a bucket, there are lessons here about what gives our lives meaning, and the roads forward.”Lee Ranaldo, Sonic Youth/Lee Ranaldo & The Dust“Herein Jesse Jarnow charts previously unwrit histories of acid culture, outlining some of the various trade routes to our contemporary illumination. With Grateful Dead as vehicle for Trips Festival dissemination via ecstatic concert music and tour-nomadism, psychedelics opened the doors and minds that led to our time. This book offers a document of how Heads-culture spread across Humbead’s Revised Map of the World. It is not advisable to drive or operate heavy machinery while reading this book.”Geologist, Animal Collective“This book reads like an actual acid trip. The web of stories and characters grows almost too fast to fully understand and appreciate, yet whenever the breadth of the threads starts to feel overwhelming, Heads centers you with the Grateful Dead as the connective tissue and you willingly go along for the ride.”Michaelangelo Matos, author of The Underground Is Massive: How Electronic Dance Music Conquered America“‘Computers are good news, maybe the best since psychedelics,’ Stewart Brand wrote. Following the dealers and the Dead freaks united all the way to the frightening and thrilling future of the present, Jesse Jarnow puts on his Uncle Sam top hat and Fabulous Furry Freak Brother mustache and connects microdot after microdot, from the medical academy to Bronx graffiti taggers to Silicon Valley techies to all-night dancers. He writes like he’s seen the universe a few times himself. He certainly builds one.”Blair Jackson, co-author of This Is All a Dream We Dreamed: An Oral History of the Grateful Dead and Garcia: An American Life“What a trip! Heads is a fascinating, thought-provoking, and vastly entertaining psychedelic ramble that artfully traces the Day-glo lines zig-zagging through the acid culture that spawned the Grateful Dead, New York’s gritty graffiti/street art scene, the rise of Phish and other jam bands, the rave explosion, and even the evolution of Burning Man. Jarnow’s kaleidoscopic tale is populated by an amazing array of artists, musicians, pirates, schemers, drifters, dreamers, free-thinkers, libertines, rogues, and visionaries. It’s a great story, wonderfully told.”Kirkus Reviews, 3/1/16“A history of the interplay between hallucinogens and rock music in the innocent minds of young AmericaJarnow has a bloodhound's sense of the marrow of an argument and the meat of historic fact: no one else has so clearly pointed out the path that led from Garcia's old lady to the ‘delicious seedless pot’ that turned smoking a joint into a gasket-blowing trip[Jarnow’s] book is a lot of fun to readLatter-day heads—as well as ’relentless dabblers’ and the historically minded—will enjoy this well-researched, mind-altering excursion.”Amanda Petrusich, author of Do Not Sell at Any Price, on All Music Books 2/12/16“Brilliant.”Literary Hub, 2/25/16“Jesse Jarnow’s Heads explores the psychedelic culture that surfaced in the 1960s and was carried on by the Grateful DeadJarnow goes to great lengths to show just how important the band has been to culture beyond just a bunch of stoned hippies dancing in a circle. It’s a fascinating book.”Flavorwire (10 Must-Read Books for March 2016), 3/1/16“A nonfiction study worthy of the paranoiac masters of the American novelIt’s likewise an act of militant nostalgia that aims to rescue a subculture from the gloom of mainstream silliness.”Library Journal, 3/10/16"Thoughtful and compelling...The story of psychedelics and the Dead may never have been so interestingly told. A must for fans of the Dead and for anyone interested in the history of drugs or the counterculture."PopMatters, 3/7/16“An in-depth exploration of both the main players and fringe elements of the scene, giving equal share to the drugs and the music, art and culture they spawnedJarnow’s book helps bring into sharper focus the sprawling influence of Deadhead’s who, knowingly or not, helped usher in the modern age.”Mojo, May 2016“From the chemists who made it to the musicians who ate it, this history of American heads is a tripCentral to the story is the synergy between music and drugs. (Casualties are acknowledged.)Both educational and big funYes, dear reader, consuming Heads will get you high.”Uncut, May 2016“Heads is flat-out brilliantA giddy, amazing story, terrifically well told.”Alt Daily, 3/15/16“[A] well-researched and crisp volumeHeads is the endlessly fascinating story of how the distribution of one chemical changed American historyHeads fits comfortably on the same shelf as Mark Kurlansky’s Salt: A World History or Diane Ackerman’s A Natural History of the Senses. It is a book for anyone who has ever taken LSD or read a Philip K. Dick novel or felt a strange glow while listening to John Coltrane or gazed amazed at the glowing lights of a strange city.”Portland Book Review, 3/30/16“Written in an obviously well researched, but ultimately stream of consciousness styleThe end result is an accumulation of knowledge that fits together like a jigsaw without ever becoming overtly historicalHighly recommend for any reader who is interested in the history of America in the past fifty years. Although the subject seems narrow, readers will find that the movement, or at least the people, touched many places and many aspects of society that influence the lives of almost every American today, whether they know it or not.”Village Voice, 3/27/16“Jarnow painstakingly traces the ongoing emergence of psychedelic culture in his ceaselessly fascinating Heads.”Examiner.com, 4/1/16“A mind-bending look into '60s psychedelics.”Grateful Dead Bulletin, March 2016“Takes a closer look at the entwined histories of Dead Heads and psychedelic countercultures.”San Francisco Chronicle, 4/3/16"Heads traces the long arc of America’s conflicted love affair with chemically engineered epiphanies long past the point where most hip historians throw in the tie-dyed towel...[An] infectiously enthusiastic account."National Post, 4/2/16“Connect[s] the dots between the hippie community in 1960s San Francisco and the oligarchy in 21st-century Silicon Valley.”Aquarium Drunkard, 3/30/16“While there’s been no shortage of writing devoted to the Grateful Dead and its various subcultures, I don’t think there’s been one book that goes as deep as Jesse Jarnow’s new, completely marvelous Heads. I’d say it’s the best Dead tome ever written, but the Dead are only part of the overall picture[A] compelling, decade-spanning tapestryAn essential piece of underground cultural history, but more than anything it reads like an epic adventure storyMake no mistake: Heads is the definition of a must-read.”Lost Live Dead, 3/31/16“The first book that takes a close look at the underground economy surrounding the Grateful Dead, including bootleg albumsA remarkable new book.”NPR.org’s The Record, 4/5/16“[A] deep exploration of American psychedelic culture.”Rolling Stone, 4/21/16“Fascinating.”The Week, 4/29/16“[An] engaging history of hallucinogens in America[Jarnow] has built a proud history for psychedelia.”High Times, May 2016“Occasionally a scribe appears who nails in prose the experience of getting high. Tom Wolfe and Hunter Thompson were two; Jesse Jarnow is another. The half-century history of freak-flag-flying pops off the page through Jarnow’s fluid wordplay mastery.”The New Yorker, 5/17/16“Meticulously researchedJarnow himself was too young to experience the sixties firsthand, but this distance lends his investigation a kind of innocent verve. He is vigilant in his attempt to understand the idealism of the past on its own terms, and to regard the ‘head’—the archetypal, open-minded sixties explorer—as someone whose skepticism toward power structures and authority might still resonate with us today.”Bull Tongue Review, issue #5“A surprisingly engaging book about acid and what its flow hath wrought.”The Wire, May 2016“Gives what is surely the most detailed history to date of the formation of early LSD cultureIt also continues the story to the present day.”Gonzo Weekly, Issue #182“An esoteric, but heady, page-turnerA book that takes readers on terrific, eccentric, unraveling journeys through changing times.”Waterbury Sunday Republican, 5/22/16“Jarnow paints this era as a sort of magical timeHe doesn’t stop there, expertly bringing it through the next two decades into the drug war and the present day, where psychedelia is experiencing a sort of second life, for better or worse.”Diffuser.fm, 6/4/16“A meticulous history of the LSD-influenced American underground.”Psychedelic Baby Magazine, 7/3/16“Heads considers a time when the magic of music defined who we wereHeads is the ultimate biography, the biography of a generation, the biography of a time when the world seemed to hold a collective breath, wondering what change would come next, and how far boundaries could be stretched until they brokeAn important and fun read.”Pop Culture Shelf, 8/25/16“At times, [Jarnow’s] book reads like a noveland it is very hard to put it downThe fascinating story of the American drug counterculture and their many artistic explorations.”