I went to Amoeba Records in San Francisco today and have since had two major thoughts running through my head.
While shopping through the K section I ran across a copy of Kiss’s late eighties album Crazy Nights, which I never owned, but my cousin Jack did. I remember talking to an adult about that record when I was a child (I don’t recall exactly who), but when I told him I liked Kiss he was shocked and asked me what my favorite song was. When I said “Crazy Nights” he scoffed, then laughed. He told me: “That’s not real Kiss. You gotta go back to the seventies to hear real Kiss.” I had no idea what he was talking about because, as far as I knew in 1987, this was Kiss in their prime. I’d been watching MTV for years at that point and this was the first time I had ever seen much about Kiss (they had been between albums). Dwelling on that memory while in the record store, I thought about a conversation I had overheard in the spirits aisle the other day between two guys who apparently didn’t know each other. They were talking rye whiskey and the older gentleman asked: “What’s your favorite rye?”
The younger guy answered: “I really like High West.”
The older one responded: “Have you ever had Sazerac?”
“No, I’ve never heard of it,” the other answered. The older guy had a similar reaction to the adult I mentioned in the above story. He found it unfathomable that this kid really liked rye whiskey and didn’t know about Sazerac. However, it reminded me of something very important (besides my Kiss memory): we all get into things at different times and not everyone looks backward from where they begin. Sazerac was unavailable for a number of years on the general market during the great rye shortage, so for a number of people who got into rye during that period, Sazerac is something new, not necessarily an established classic. To me, Sazerac is the great example of Kentucky rye whiskey (like an original Kiss fan might also think about Hotter Than Hell), but to others Templeton, Bulleit, and High West are the whiskies they cut their teeth on (like me with Crazy Nights).
When I got home this afternoon, I got a tad inebriated and sat down to listen to one of my new purchases: a like-new used copy of Pink Floyd’s Piper at the Gates of Dawn. I have a long and tortured personal history with this album and listening to it today made me realize how unprepared I was as a teenager to recognize its genius. I think it must have been like drinking old Bowmore during my first year as the spirits buyer for K&L. I didn’t really get it. I mean…it was good…but today it’s another level of appreciation. Try as you might to force the issue, we’re not always ready as humans to understand life’s truly complex beauties. It might not only require experience with the subject at hand, but also in life itself.
I’ll share a very personal story with you that also changes the way I feel completely when I listen to this album now today. As a kid, one of my very best friends was a musician like myself and during our sophomore year in high school we both found ourselves completely fascinated by the psychedelic bands of the late sixties. We bonded heavily over our love of Pink Floyd, to the extent that numerous drugs started getting involved while we listened. Like a creepy urban legend, we repeated and believed the rumors about the psychological demise of the group’s original lead singer Syd Barrett. Legend had it that he had taken too much acid and gone completely mad. After taking LSD one night and pretty much freaking out alone in my room (a night that would scar me with anxiety for the following eight years), I thought I had pretty much pulled a Syd Barrett. I thought I had overdone it and destroyed my brain. My friend thought I was being silly and continued to delve deeper and deeper into LSD and ecstasy, but I never touched the stuff again. We grew apart as the years went by, but reconnected again later in life during our mid-twenties, only for me to watch him fade away once again.
Having read numerous interviews about the Syd-LSD connection later, his bandmates David Gilmour and Roger Waters said that while the acid probably didn’t help, Syd’s eventual breakdown would have happened with or without the drugs. The hole was always there and the acid had ripped that hole open faster. The sad connection here is that my friend, not me, was the one who would eventually suffer the same fate as Syd: a complete schizophrenic breakdown; one that would have happened regardless I think, but one that—like Syd—was not aided by heavy drug use. Today he lives in a mental hospital and, while mostly stable when supervised, is a shell of his old self. Listening to Piper on vinyl as I type this is like a trip back to a psychedelic fantasy world, one that still overwhelms me a bit, but ultimately one I’m now wise enough to navigate without fear and with more experience.