Thursday, February 8, 2007

The Psychedelic Alice

It would be difficult to deny that Lewis Carroll's "Alice" children's books--Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass--had a tremendous impact upon psychedelic music and pop culture in the mid-to-late 60's. The touchstone, of course, is Jefferson Airplane's "White Rabbit," which drew out some of the trippiest moments of Carroll's books and described, explicitly, how they could be a "Just Say Yes" screed. Alice became an icon of the 60's generation, eating mushrooms which made her grow taller (or higher) and innocently swallowing the unknown contents of bottles labelled only "Drink Me." "The Annotated Alice," which picked apart the meaning of Carroll's sentences and characters, became a bestseller. The BBC, in 1966, aired an "Alice in Wonderland" featuring Peter Cook, Michael Redgrave, Peter Sellers, John Gielgud, Alan Bennett, and Leo McKern, directed by Jonathan Miller, with a lovely sitar score by Ravi Shankar; it played up the disorienting and disturbing aspects of the source material. The famous Walt Disney version was rereleased in theaters with a promotional poster that emulated the psychedelic designs of the Haight-Ashbury concert posters. John Lennon was a professed Carroll fan--his own prose writings emulated the wordplay of his idol--and his ultimate tribute was, perhaps, "I am the Walrus," named after Carroll's "Walrus and the Carpenter" passage. Obscure psychedelic and garage bands, eager to sneak in any kind of a wink-wink reference to the drug culture to add an aura of hip legitimacy to their songwriting, inevitably tackled "Alice in Wonderland" subject matter--often crassly, but sometimes to impressive effect, as with the songs of Frumious Bandersnatch and Boeing Duveen & the Beautiful Soup, both of whom even named themselves after Carrollian verse.

Today I'm providing a zipped compilation called "The Psychedelic Alice." At 25 tracks and almost 80 minutes, it's a general survey I've put together of psychedelic artists tackling the world of Alice, to varying degrees of success. Some of the bands and songs are very well known--"I am the Walrus" and "White Rabbit" are naturally included--but many are very obscure, from Central Nervous System's psych-rock to the soul stylings of the King George Discovery. The tracks are arranged roughly to follow the events of the books, or as much as can be expected. Some of the tracks may not, in fact, be inspired by Lewis Carroll--"Walking in the Queen's Garden," by the post-Van Morrison Them, may have nothing to do with the Queen of Hearts, for example--but they fit pretty well anyway, and fill in gaps in our narrative.

One thing to keep an ear open for is how the character of Alice is treated in the lyrics of each song; at times she's a psychedelic heroine, or a young innocent, or even a buzzkill, depending on what the musicians were trying to accomplish with their song. Many of the songs are pretty vapid attempts to hook into the trend, and don't mean much at all. A couple of other things to note: "A Sitting on a Gate" is taken from an Alice in Wonderland concept album from the late 60's, which blended spoken verse with music. "Beautiful Soop (excerpt)" is taken from a much longer recording by Pauline Oliveros, and isn't rock or pop at all, but an avant-garde, electronic composition. The final track is an excerpt from Ravi Shankar's score to the aforementioned BBC special, which ends the compilation on a pretty nice note, I think. I had leftovers, and could compile a volume 2 with some more contributions--go ahead and email me an MP3 if you have an Alice rarity in your collection. The only guideline is that it must be from the 60's or early 70's--the Alice heyday!

The Psychedelic Alice - zipped file

Track Listing:
1. Alice is a Long Time Gone (The Incredible String Band)
2. White Rabbit (Jefferson Airplane)
3. Sea of Tears (Dotti Holmberg)
4. Alice in Wonderland (Central Nervous System)
5. Cheshire (Frumious Bandersnatch)
6. The Mad Hatter's Song (The Incredible String Band)
7. Alice in Wonderland (The Dave Heenan Set)
8. Walking in the Queen's Garden (Them)
9. Beautiful Soop [excerpt] (Pauline Oliveros)
10. Fairytales (The Lemon Drops)
11. Alice from Wonderland (The King George Discovery)
12. Through the Looking Glass (The Monkees)
13. Through the Looking Glass (The Mike Stuart Span)
14. Jabberwock (Boeing Duveen and the Beautiful Soup)
15. Talking to the Flowers (The Everly Brothers)
16. Who Planted Thorns in Miss Alice's Garden? (Tom Northcott)
17. Alice Designs (The Sugarbeats)
18. Tweedle Dee (Peter Doyle)
19. I Am the Walrus (The Beatles)
20. The Lion and the Unicorn (Skip Bifferty)
21. A Sitting On a Gate (Peter Howell)
22. Alice in Wonderland (Berkeley Kites)
23. Looking Glass Alice (The Bunch)
24. Which Dreamed It (Boeing Duveen and the Beautiful Soup)
25. Alice in Wonderland [End Titles] (Ravi Shankar)

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