Older People's Music-Related Memories of Being Unbelievably High
Illustration by Joel Benjamin

Older People's Music-Related Memories of Being Unbelievably High

People nearing, or in, retirement used to get absolutely lit. We asked them about the times when LSD, weed, hash, and music collided.
illustrated by Joel Benjamin
April 25, 2018, 3:00pm

Sensible, oatmeal-coloured cardigans. Fully completed newspaper crosswords. A cupboard filled with Werther’s Original sweets. Grandparent cliches err on the side of wholesome in a way that totally obscures what your older relatives may have been like in their youth. I’m talking about the time before your own parents were even a twinkle in gran or granddad’s eye. Ever stopped to think about what your grandpa was like aged 19, out on the pull and potentially careening into the night? No? Well, that's where we come in.

One of the great things about older people is their wisdom. And so you’d do well to ask about their stories of going out when they were younger, for an insight into how they partied. It’s more interesting than reading endless newspaper stories now about how Gen Z don’t drink or take drugs or do anything but worry about the crushing weight of their future student loans. That being said, music and drugs are in the sort of long-term relationship that won’t be entirely destroyed by a generation choosing to destroy fewer brain cells with illegal and legal substances. So rather than hear about people our age’s 4/20 plans last week, we rang up a bunch of retirees to find about their most memorable moments that combined an extreme high and music.

"The acid hit and we took all our clothes off in the street, in the middle of the day"

It was the early 1970s and I was trying to start a band. I’d already found a drummer and he introduced me to this dude who could play bass guitar. It turned out our bass guitarist was a massive acidhead and shortly after we met he gave us some LSD blotters as a welcoming gift, which we all preceded to swallow. That day, a local parade ran through town, so the streets were packed with people in a happy mood—it was a hot summer’s day, too.

The acid didn’t really hit us until we made it to the fare and “Sex Machine” by Sly and the Family Stone started playing on the tannoy speakers. The guitar on that particular song is so funky it almost sounds like it’s singing words to you. Now, “Sex Machine” is a 13-minute instrumental track, but I became convinced Sly was singing "take your clothes off" throughout. And because the music sounded so transcendent it felt like it was our duty to submit to Sly’s commands.

The three of us were reportedly dancing together on the high street… butt naked. The next thing you know, our drummer started telling us he was dancing with Minnie Mouse. And, shit, I became convinced I could see her too! So, here we all were dancing with Minnie Mouse, when one of my friends spots us and throws us into the back of his car.

We were three young black men dancing naked at a public event during a time where the police were pretty racist. Honestly, if my friend hadn’t come and saved us, we would have all ended up in jail for indecent exposure. The experience was amazing. But it ended with me never doing acid ever again. — Norman, 64

"On LSD and weed, a woman thought weasels were climbing out of a Frank Zappa vinyl cover"

Me and my mates used to have these gatherings, where we’d get stoned and listen to music at one another’s houses. It was the summer of 1970 and Weasels Ripped My Flesh by Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention had just come out. We were all a bit stoned on weed and also had some LSD, so everybody was really chilled out at my flat.

One of our group got hungry and asked if I had a bowl of fruit. I told her the fruit bowl only had oranges and apples. She fancied an orange so I threw it in her direction. That orange took forever to reach her. Honestly, it felt like it took at least a year. It was just like the scene in 2001: A Space Odyssey , where the monkey throws the bone and it lingers for eternity in the air. Yep, we were tripping.

We were sat listening to “My Guitar Wants To Kill Your Mama,” which is completely off the scale. The song was like this great ascendency, with the drugs and music elevating one another perfectly. There’s a big group of us zoned out to the music, nodding our heads, with great smiles, when we suddenly hear a scream.

The same girl who I had passed the fruit to earlier had asked one of my friends what the music was. He handed her the record sleeve and she could see the smiling man on the front cover, who is holding a weasel, which is ripping into the flesh of his cheek. She started freaking out and screaming. The imagery and those four words—_Weasels Ripped My Flesh—_became stuck inside her head. Throughout the trip, she was convinced weasels were out to get her. Fortunately, the rest of us had a great time. — Phil, 62

"I started feeling like I was in a mental health facility while listening to Pink Floyd"

I know it’s a cliché to say, but when I was younger Pink Floyd were a band whose music could be stunningly enhanced under the influence of weed—especially Dark Side of the Moon. That record in particular created an enhanced sense of euphoria that I found very relaxing and inspirational.

It's hard to describe, but I could hear nuances in the music that seemed purposefully constructed so that only a listener in the same "frame of mind" would ever be able to hear them. The strongest one made me feel like I was in some sort of mental health facility. The part in “The Great Gig in the Sky” with a weird vocal sample, where the man says: “Why should I be frightened of dying? There's no reason for it, you've gotta go sometime” actually made me see one of this fictional facility’s patients.

It also helped that at the time, I worked as an orderly at the local hospital and spent many a shift in the psychiatric ward. Listening to that album always took me back there. It was fascinating, irresistible, and also caused me some very unsettling feelings. Overall though, I loved smoking a joint and sitting back with the headphones on. Retirement is just around the corner and I soon intend to put Willie Nelson to shame in the weed department! — Randy, 62

"A powercut made me feel like my mind had teleported inside a Jackson Browne song"

My wife and I used to smoke a joint to The Beatles like most couples our age did; it was a great way of increasing the depth of the musical experience. But I’d say one of the best things to do when getting high is to actually play some music yourself.

It was the 1970s, and my wife and I were renting this flat. I decided to smoke a pretty fat hash joint, and afterwards I played guitar and started singing at the dining room table while my wife was in the other room. The flat we were renting had this slot meter and the electricity ran out, so the living room suddenly went pitch black.

Instantly, the darkness made me feel like I no longer existed as a human being and as if my consciousness had teleported inside of the Jackson Browne song I was playing. The lights must have been off for about five minutes, but it felt like I was submerged in this 'dark place' for a lot longer. During this time, it was as if I had been completely absorbed by the music, which I was somehow still playing and singing absolutely perfectly. When the lights came back on, I was very confused. — Colin, 73

You can find Thomas on Twitter and Joel on Instagram.

This article originally appeared on Noisey UK.