This is a great time for old hippies, says Charles Spencer.
22 Nov 2010
These days, I don't indulge in anything stronger than double
espressos and Golden Virginia roll-ups, but as a child of the Sixties
I still have a nostalgic soft spot for the psychedelic dream.
And what a great time this is for old hippies. A terrific Syd Barrett
compilation album has just been released, combining his work with
Pink Floyd with the best of his haunting, spaced-out solo tracks.
Meanwhile, an actor playing Fela Kuti is smoking spliffs nightly at
the National Theatre in its musical about the musician, though to
judge by Sahr Ngaujah's performance I'm sure the contents must be
Retired space cadets will also enjoy High Society, at London's
Wellcome Collection, a fascinating show examining mind-altering drugs
in history and culture. Here you will find British cough pastilles
from the Forties that contained a mixture of heroin and cocaine, with
a testimonial saying they were "prescribed by physicians with
unexampled satisfaction". I bet.
Also on display is the original manuscript of Coleridge's Kubla Khan
(inspired by his prolific use of laudanum), LSD blotter art and a
recreation of a classic Sixties psychedelic light show used by
Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead. And there's a chance to see
an extract from Jonathan Miller's trippy TV version of Alice in
Wonderland, which bowled me over as a child. The exhibition also
shows the downside of getting high, most notably in some harrowing
video interviews with addicts.
But you can blow your mind without drugs, as James Turrell's
wonderful Bindu Shards exhibit at the Gagosian Gallery proves. You
are wheeled on a stretcher into something like a bathysphere and
bombarded with stunning lighting effects that leave you feeling that
you are on a journey into space.
Unfortunately, all viewing slots are booked until the end of the run
on December 10, but I gather the work is for sale. The Gagosian
wouldn't tell me the price, and I suspect only a multi-millionaire
could afford it. But why should the filthy rich have all the fun?
Bindu Shards should be snapped up by a major British public gallery
so everyone can experience the trip of a lifetime.