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Heads: A Biography of Psychedelic America Hardcover – March 29, 2016
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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 researched Jarnow 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 exploreras 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 culture It also continues the story to the present day.”
Gonzo Weekly, Issue #182
An esoteric, but heady, page-turner A book that takes readers on terrific, eccentric, unraveling journeys through changing times.”
Mojo, May 2016
From the chemists who made it to the musicians who ate it, this history of American heads is a trip Central to the story is the synergy between music and drugs. (Casualties are acknowledged.) Both educational and big fun Yes, dear reader, consuming Heads will get you high.”
Uncut, May 2016
Heads is flat-out brilliant A giddy, amazing story, terrifically well told.”
Alt Daily, 3/15/16
[A] well-researched and crisp volume Heads is the endlessly fascinating story of how the distribution of one chemical changed American history Heads 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.”
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 tapestry An essential piece of underground cultural history, but more than anything it reads like an epic adventure story Make 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 albums A remarkable new book.”
NPR.org's The Record, 4/5/16
[A] deep exploration of American psychedelic culture.”
Rolling Stone, 4/21/16
The Week, 4/29/16
[An] engaging history of hallucinogens in America [Jarnow] has built a proud history for psychedelia.”
Will 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 nationnot 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.”
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 America Jarnow 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 read Latter-day headsas well as 'relentless dabblers' and the historically mindedwill enjoy this well-researched, mind-altering excursion.”
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.”
Portland Book Review, 3/30/16
Written in an obviously well researched, but ultimately stream of consciousness style The end result is an accumulation of knowledge that fits together like a jigsaw without ever becoming overtly historical Highly 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.”
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."
Amanda Petrusich, author of Do Not Sell at Any Price, on All Music Books 2/12/16
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 Dead Jarnow 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 novel It'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."
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 spawned Jarnow's book helps bring into sharper focus the sprawling influence of Deadhead's who, knowingly or not, helped usher in the modern age.”
"If you are a fan of books dealing with the history of salt, timber or something more exotic like sex, you will delight in Heads, a book about psychedelics...[A] well-documented spiraling history of how these drugs transformed our present culture."―Bookcase TV, 10/26/16
"A brilliant study of the transformative impact of LSD on a half-century of U.S. art, music, movies, spirituality and technology."―Uncut, "Book of the Year," December 2016
undefined―Addicted to Noise, "Best of 2016: Top 5 Books"
"[Jarnow] is our generation's foremost Grateful Dead chronicler, and something of a cultural ambassador to the punks and indie kids who might not otherwise pay the band any mind."
"Music, history and psychopharmacology blend together in Heads...Jarnow describes in colorful and scrupulously researched detail how psychedelic music fused with actual psychedelics to create a ceaselessly regenerating 'hip economy' that persists to this day...It's a head trip and then some."
―Rolling Stone, "10 Best Music Books of 2016"
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Top Customer Reviews
"The Dead and their hordes require vast tracts of space to fully unfurl their carpet across the landscape and take their substances and dance and congregate."
"The question is, can we do it and stay high?" Jerry Garcia.
For those interested in the psychedelic subculture in America this book pretty much lays it all out in an easy to read and understand style. If you grew up in that era (roughly beginning in the late '60s) no doubt you're familiar with that scene. And the author has put together a number of narratives that put much of that whole scene (from East Coast to West Coast) in perspective if you weren't "tuned in". Some narratives are related, others not. But everything is tied together with the band the Grateful Dead who pop up throughout much of this book. Saying that, is this a book about The Dead? Not really but kind of.
"The ins and outs of stonerdom act as a subtle and ongoing counterpoint that sometimes intersects directly with the psychedelic narrative."
If you're a fan of the band (like me beginning in 1967) the book is even more interesting and informative. The Dead is there from just about the beginning up through the end of the book, so important are they to the story--not only the band itself but the people who came together around them and made up a large part of that entire scene--artists, musicians, writers, poets, academics, heads, and anyone else loosely tied to that whole scene that was growing and spreading across America. Jarnow weaves a tale that begins, and goes through here, and then there, then through that, and pops out the other side of this subculture. And along the way we meet all sorts of people--some big, some smaller in the story, but all a part of that greater electric-mind-melting sheet of blotter acid that was (and is) psychedelic America.
"I believed, like a bunch of other people, that if Kennedy and Krushchev took some LSD together, we'd have world peace forever." Peter Stampfel.
"Reggae and the many genres it spawns become entries to a borderless global drug culture with it's own vast roots."
Basically beginning with the Acid Tests/Trips Festival (but I was also happy to see touching on the "The Last Acid Test" labeled by Neil Meriwether, in 1972, at Veneta, Oregon benefiting the Springfield Creamery, the "Sunshine Daydream" 3 CD/1 DVD box set, one of the Grateful Dead's best shows and a personal favorite of the period) and those early years of the '70s/'80s/,90s, then moving into the era of Burning Man and Bonnaroo, author Jesse Jarnow weaves together a picture that takes in not only The Dead, but other musicians including Peter Stampfel (Holy Modal Rounders, a true early psyche-folk duo) and his connection with LSD back in the days when only a few people knew what "acid" was, and Phish who, for a new generation, were treated similar to The Dead in their day. Plus poets/writers like Ginsberg, Kesey, Kupferberg, Sanders, and others, academics including (of course) Leary, the ARPANET and SAIL, where as Stewart Brand wrote at the time, "These are heads. Half or more of computer science is heads.", plus the Merry Pranksters, Owsley ("the person soon most responsible for psychedelicizing the United States"), LSD discoverer Albert Hoffmann (for which "Bicycle Day" is celebrated), keeper of the Grateful Dead tape vault Dick Latvala ("Swallowed peyote tar balls and listened to Dead concert tapes."), and various artists like Keith Haring ("I saw the Grateful Dead and got high."), and others including Hippies, Yippies, Zippies (psychedelicized pranksters), and others of that period that are all part of the psychedelic picture of America at that time. And all have a seemingly interwoven connection to each other and the growing counter culture at large and the LSD subculture in particular.
"Computers are good news, maybe the best since psychedelics." Stewart Brand.
"We have a kind of continuity, from off the street to outer space, so to speak." Jerry Garcia.
The b&w photos help put faces and other images to the text. Included is an early photo of The Fugs in their East Village glory, the Grateful Dead, artist/LSD dealer Johnny Crunch, and others. Also here (but I wish the photos were in color) are pictures of sheets of blotter acid with their unique artwork, a photo of Albert Hoffman (discoverer of LSD), underground chemists, and others who were connected to this subculture.
Taken together, the text and photos give an in-depth look into that whole scene from it's beginnings, through the seventies/eighties/nineties, and up through the recent past. This isn't a dry treatise on the deleterious use of LSD or a book full of statistics. Instead Jarnow has written an interesting and informative story of psychedelics in America, and how, from areas like New York and San Francisco, this new subculture began branching throughout America as--"... the heads connect and reconnect across a bohemian circuit of folk clubs, coffee houses, music shops, bookstores, shared apartments, and crash pads...". And being a deep fan of The Dead I found (of course) the many parts of the book dealing with the band and everything that revolves around them especially interesting. This is a very readable book that sheds some interesting and informative light on a part of, and a time in, America I thought I knew fairly well. But even as a first-hand observer of all that was happening around me while I was a college student in Palo Alto in the late '60s/early '70s (the music was fantastic), this book showed me there was a lot more going on than I could see in front of me.
"Grateful Dead shows continue to remain sites of active counterculture. Besides being a place to take LSD and dance, one of the very few left, they are a place where old friends meet and where narratives spontaneously collide or brush up against one another, putting unexpected ideas into close proximity. As the '70s get going and the '60s really get to ending, a ticket to a Dead show remains a ticket to the unbroken psychedelic America."
There's an Introduction, 393 pages of text, 32 pages of photos, a list of the many dozens of interviews Jarnow did for the book, 18 pages of sources, 27 pages of notes, and an (much needed) index.
This book is MUCH better after reading ALL the other social histories first.
A nice reading order that allows the characters to develop fully in this convoluted true history might go
Bear > Owsley and Me > Orange Sunshine > Acid Dreams > Storming Heaven before reading Heads.
The author seems to rely on the ample notes at the end, where footnotes would have been more contextual, to drop names of important people from the earlier books with no explanation of who they are to the unfamiliar.
The other books tend to end in the late 1970s, Heads is only just beginning and the coverage of the "Brent years" is well researched and fills in some of those suspected gaps in the normal documentation, like the internet was discovered and designed by dead heads. Tape Trading was the gateway to personal computers and cell phones. NYC subway graffiti was Dead Heads. Anonymous is Deadheads...
Some of the stories just seem a little too cherry picked to fit the narrative and Part 2 feels more like fan fiction than the usual non fiction of a social history type of book.
A good book for those of us that were there and try to explain to others what it was really like to be on tour in the 1970s and 80s dancing across America.
In the book Jesse welcomes friendly correspondence, but leaves no email address. Can a Dead Head get some help?
If you've ever thought of yourself as any sort of "Head", this is your history and well worth a read.
Update: I finished the book after a break - the narrative continues on into the 80s, 90s, and somewhat into the 21st century. Was good to see some background on Phish, Wetlands and the evolving networks of psychedelic drug distribution. Still a little too fawning over the Dead and favorite personalities from the scene. Jarnow isn't a Wolfe or a Thompson, but if you can get through the hyperbole, its an outline of psychedelic America through the end of the 20th century.