Could Have Tripped Out Easy by Chris Green
July 1966: Sunny Afternoon
We are in the midst of a heatwave, there are smiles on people’s faces and Sunny Afternoon is Number One. It seems that the gloom and austerity of the post-war years, which in my nineteen years is all I have known, have finally been stripped away. There is a new sense of optimism. According to Magic Max, the time is right for change. It’s the dawning of a new age, he says. A cultural shift is taking place. You only have to look around you to see that people are getting out a bit more and dressing more colourfully.
There isn’t often a lunchtime rush at Licensed to Fill sandwich bar, more of a steady trickle of customers throughout the day. Although Echo did some creative sign-writing to draw attention to our little establishment, we are not in what you might call a prime position. We are off the lower end of East Street. We are at the wrong end of Blind Alley to get the office workers from the banks and insurance companies and too near to the Eight Bells to be attractive to browsers from the gift shops in Coleridge Close.
But today we are inundated. Swarms of young people in their gladrags are tentatively looking the place over to see what is going on. The singer from the Small Faces came in yesterday. I don’t know what he was doing here in the provinces, but he seemed to know what he wanted. So, word has probably got around that there is more to be had at Licensed to Fill than cheese and tomato toasties and tuna mayonnaise baguettes. What we have is hashish. Nineteen kilos of Morocco’s finest that Arlo brought back last week in his converted camper van, along with his stories of how they smoke it freely everywhere in Marrakesh and Tangier. We can’t really put a sign up at Licensed to Fill advertising our new line as it is definitely illegal in the UK, but by the interest we are now getting perhaps we won’t need to advertise it. Word of mouth might be sufficient. Arlo says we just need to be cool. I think he means we need to keep an eye out for the law. Not that we see them too much in Sinton Green. It is not a crime hotspot.
Arlo runs Licensed to Fill with his partner, Orla. They bought the lease from Mr and Mrs Broccoli a few months ago. I am helping out through the summer to supplement my meagre student grant. It was either this or deckchair attendant at Broad Sands beach ten miles away. An easy decision, as I have no transport. Licensed to Fill is a relaxed pace to work. We have a background soundtrack of all the latest releases as they come out. Arlo and Orla are hip to what’s happening. We’ve got Stan Getz, Miles Davis and John Coltrane. We’ve got Blonde on Blonde, Pet Sounds, Love, The Byrds’ Fifth Dimension and something by a new band called Jefferson Airplane. All to be played loudly.
September 1966: Tomorrow Never Knows
Magic Max might be right. Things are moving on. We have the Mothers of Invention. We have Seven and Seven Is. We have Revolver, with the transcendent, Tomorrow Never Knows. There is a new word, psychedelic. It’s not in the dictionary yet, but it will be. The entire language that we speak is changing. Guys are now dudes or cats and girls are now chicks or babes. Good things are a gas or a blast and bad things are a drag or a bummer. We’re having a name change, too. Arlo and Orla have decided that the name Licensed to Fill is yesterday. James Bond is old hat. Local painter, Echo, is painting a new sign. I’m not sure about the durability of a name like New Hat. People might think it refers to a milliners, but it is Arlo and Orla’s decision. If they really were set on a hat theme, perhaps Mad Hatter might have been more apt, considering the clientele we are getting lately. The dude in the floral brocade trousers and the lime green cowboy boots and the tall one in the orange boiler suit with the corkscrew hair, for instance. And the cat in the space suit, the one we call Major Tom. Someone should write about these people. They would make a great story, or a play, or maybe a song.
Our trade links with Morocco have been streamlined. Now the hash is brought over, hidden in cases of clothing and textiles. Being shipped, it may be, but it is flying off the shelves. I think Arlo has an arrangement with the police, or pigs as we now call them, whereby he bungs them a few quid now and again, and they turn a blind eye to what is going on in Blind Alley.
We have a monkey called Harold, who performs magic tricks and a crimson-bellied parakeet called Oscar who mimics every sound he hears. Oscar can say hello, how are you today and would you like coleslaw on that. In addition, he warbles and whistles his way through the day like an accomplished flautist. His repertoire includes Autumn Leaves and Blue Rondo a la Turk along with passable imitations of Paint it Black and Norwegian Wood.
November 1966: Sunshine Superman
I missed enrolment. Somehow, it just slipped my mind, and it’s been six weeks now. I won’t be going back to university. I can’t see the point. Sociology seems such a waste of time. All that number crunching about people’s lives and examining the ins and outs of matters that should simply be allowed to run their course. Besides, the opportunities for gratification are so much greater in this brave new world I am exploring.
The cultural landscape, as Magic Max refers to it as, is becoming stranger by the week. I’m not sure who the Foucault and Bourdieu dudes he speaks of are, but we also have conversations about Superman and Green Lantern, Andy Warhol’s Exploding Plastic Inevitable, and Kurt Vonnegut, well, mostly Kurt Vonnegut, in my case as I have just read Cat’s Cradle. It’s a satirical novel about human stupidity. With Eight Miles High, Good Vibrations, and Sunshine Superman, musical boundaries are being expanded. Bands are emerging with quirky names like The Velvet Underground, The Electric Prunes and The Grateful Dead.
We have started selling International Times, a cool new underground newspaper. The editor, Miles, is a friend of Arlo’s. We are showing art-house films on Thursday evenings, Godard, Truffaut, Resnais. The plots might be difficult to follow, but perhaps that’s not the point. They are ambiguous, dreamlike, surrealistic. Perhaps this is enough. Weird is cool. Last Year in Marienbad was long and baffling but oddly enjoyable. Orla says not to look for meaning in everything. You should go with the flow. She punctuates her conversation with aphorisms, like, be here now, do not hate, meditate, and you’re either on the bus or off the bus.
Lately, I’m finding it hard to get in to work on time. Ten a.m. seems very early. It’s not that work at New Hat is strenuous. It’s the change in lifestyle. Late nights now seem obligatory. I’m often not in bed before six. It’s a good thing that most of the customers seem to be late risers and Arlo and Orla are not too concerned with attracting breakfast trade.
By midday, New Hat will be awash with colourful people. There’s Satan Ziegler and the earth magic crowd, waxing lyrical about ley lines and UFOs. There are the dandies of the underworld and the laid back musos. Then there are the jugglers and the clowns. Denny, Lenny and Bozo are usually buzzing around doing their business and Spike and Stoner will be doing drug deals with anyone who comes in looking to have a little scene. Although they should be at odds, macrobiotics and toking sit surprisingly well together. By mid-afternoon, the seating area will be awash with half-empty dishes of millet and buckwheat, being used as ashtrays and the place will be bathed in a thick fug of blue smoke.
January 1967: Light My Fire
Arlo brought in an album called The Doors by a new band from L.A. called The Doors. The title refers to Aldous Huxley’s The Doors of Perception, the celebrated author’s championing of psychoactive drugs. The music is spacey and subterranean, with lyrics about sex, death and getting stoned. It’s wild and free. New Hat has changed its name again. It is now called Soul Kitchen, after a track from the album. Soul Kitchen with the tagline, the doors are open.
Lots of cool things happening. It’s winter but it feels like summer. The underground is blossoming. A restless energy has taken hold. Nothing like this has ever happened before, Arlo says. What we are witnessing is a challenge to the old guard. International Times magazine is referring to it as the counter-culture, and its long-term aim is to overthrow straight society. This may take a few years, but even the eternal optimist Magic Max is surprised by the speed of change.
The emphasis is now firmly on youth. Young people are creating a vibrant, mass culture in plain sight. We are daring to dream. It’s a groovy time to be nineteen. Nineteen months ago, I was still at school and now here I am living the most extravagantly decadent of lifestyles. Life is an endless party. I have cool new clothes. I have Debra and Tiffany to look after my needs and entertain me, and, of course, there’s Mary Jane. I feel alive. I’m probably going to live for ever.
April 1967: Strawberry Fields Forever
Soul Kitchen has been so successful that Arlo and Orla have taken out the lease on the vacant premises next door. It is colossal. We are going to stage live entertainment and circus acts. You will be invited to bring flowers, incense, candles, banners, flags, families, animals, drums, cymbals and flutes to happenings here. Arlo feels that a few of these will really put Sinton Green on the map.
Artists and musicians from far and wide are already starting to drop in, despite the fact that we are miles from the capital. Peter Blake, the artist who is working on the cover for the new Beatles album, has become a regular at Soul Kitchen and that dress designer who does the geometric prints comes in quite a lot. Salvador Dali, at least I think it was him, called in with a Siamese cat on his shoulder and promised to paint a mural. Brian Jones and his entourage dropped by last week, resplendent in their Berber finery and, I’m not sure, but do believe I saw Stanley Kubrick secretly filming here a day or two ago. I can’t be sure of everything. Things can be a bit blurry round the edges at times.
Rock music is reaching dizzying new heights. We have Jimi Hendrix. We have Pink Floyd. We have Strawberry Fields, Purple Haze and Ruby Tuesday. We have paper suns. Paper suns are LSD or acid as it is becoming known. Acid heightens your awareness of yourself and your surroundings. You feel you are floating and have a great sense of well-being. You experience things that were probably always there but you could never reach before. Acid helps you to appreciate music with all of your senses. You not only hear it but taste, smell, feel and see the music, too.
Meanwhile, a moral panic is breaking out about acid. The Daily Mail’s Jerome Block says that it makes you strangle kittens and jump out of fourth-floor windows. That the God that people have claimed to see under its influence is not the Christian God but Beelzebub. Block says its advocates like Timothy Leary, Ram Dass and even Paul McCartney should be publicly flogged. My parents read the Mail. They aren’t exactly free thinkers, so this will be their view too. I haven’t spoken to them since the row about Mao Tse Tung. It may have only been twelve months ago but it seems a hundred years ago. I was only trying to wind them up. I didn’t really carry the Little Red Book around with me.
June 1967: A Whiter Shade of Pale
A Whiter Shade of Pale is Number One. People are skipping the light fandango and feeling kind of seasick. The crowd is calling out for more. Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is blaring out from living rooms across the country. The Fourteen Hour Technicolour Dream at Alexandra Palace in London, a tripped-out psychedelic gathering of the underground, has set the scene for the summer. Could have tripped out easy at the event but I had to be at work. Anyway, we are going to stage far out gatherings of the tribes at Soul Kitchen.
But, philosopher-poet Rico Paz, who pops in for his mint tea and Lebanese crêpe, says that this is it. The dream is already fading. It will soon be over. The underground is becoming visible at ground level. The quiet revolution is being appropriated by the mainstream. There, it will be neutralised, cleansed and absorbed into the everyday. There will perhaps be a summer of beads and bells, love and peace, and virtue signalling, and then it will be back to business. Same as it ever was. On to the next thing.
‘Why would turning on, tuning in and dropping out be any different to say, angry young men, teddy boys, mods and rockers?’ he says. ‘It’s just another fad. ……. In any case, it would not work.’
‘It lacks substance. It’s impractical.’
‘OK, you’ve all turned on. That’s fine. You’re all sitting cross-legged on the floor. You’re mellow yellow. The sun is shining. The birds are singing. ……. You’ve tuned in. You’re listening to some groovy music. You’re turning cartwheels across the floor. ……. You’ve created some cool art. You’ve painted your rooms in a colourful way and everything around you is dripping in psychedelic patterns.’
‘That’s what we want. Get loaded. Groovy music. Cool art. What’s wrong with that?’
‘Nothing. That’s fine. ……. But now, you’ve all dropped out. You’re calling out for another drink but there is no waiter to bring a tray. The waiter too has dropped out.’
‘There’s no plan. You have no plan.’
‘Perhaps we don’t need a plan. Life is organic, not mechanical.’
‘First of all, you need to identify how you want to shape your organic life. Decide what you want to create. Not what you want to stop, but what you want to make.’
‘We’ll make love, not war.’
‘Well, that’s a start, I suppose, but what will you do then? You’ll have lots of babies.’
‘We’ll use contraceptives.’
‘But remember, the pharmacist who sells the contraceptives has dropped out. He’s off somewhere kissing the sky. You’ll have a growing population and no means to feed them. There are no crops. The farmer has dropped out. Or perhaps he has grown a different crop, and he’s eight miles high. Should you not have factored all of this in? Everything will fall apart if you don’t have a plan. You will perish. You will …….. wait for it, turn a whiter shade of pale.’
‘That’s not going to happen.’
‘No. You’re probably right. Once they’ve woken up to what is going on, the powers that be will be on your case. And you’ll be busted, busted and busted again and your dealers will end up in jail. And then you’ll have no drugs. And no motivation. You’ll be off the bus. Emily will no longer be playing. …… At best, you’ll end up as small enclaves of weekend hippies, working at dead-end jobs to pay for damp basement flats, saving up to go to rock festivals on bank holidays to listen to long-haired bands of ageing rockers singing about their babies leaving them or banging on about police brutality and conflicts in far-off lands. Or you could have tripped out easy, but you’ve changed your ways and gone straight, exhibiting a suitable amount of contempt for others to succeed in the cut-throat world of escalating avarice and greed that is taking place in late capitalism. Either way, it’s a far cry from skipping the light fandango.’
Copyright © Chris Green, 2022: All rights reserved
An early version of this story was posted as Light Fandango in 2016