on 6 March 2011
For those of us who (allegedly) `grew up' in `flower power's' early 70s wake, Trippers will amaze you with its period accuracy. We, freaks, as we called ourselves at the time, thought we were individual, yet take a look down the time tunnel and there, sat in a Leicester pub, is Bill Booker with his chums dressed just how my friends and I dressed, listening to the same music, doing the same drugs and having the same conversations. Damn- we were conformists after all! But what a conformity it was!
Trippers, is Booker's psychedelic memoir of one summer in 1971, a summer that revolved around houses and bars of ill repute and topped off with a fateful road trip to the coast. Imagine psychedelic summer hanging round with Jack Kerouac, Tim Leary, and Alan Bennett and you'll start to get a flavour of what's going on
Booker's world - as was mine- was one of small cliques of hairy friends, dubious fashions and record shops in which the soundtrack to our lives were quaintly listed under the heading `progressive' or `underground'. Weirdness, the occult and eastern philosophies hung in the air along with the omnipresent lysergic glitter, and the world, the universe even, seemed limitless. Dope came as standard with the lifestyle, LSD the secret ingredient. It's almost impossible to convey an LSD experience in print but Booker tries and excels, right down to the little rituals all groups of trippers had and the weird little games they played to freak themselves out. Booker and his chums stared at paintings to get the `whoopability', we used to do it with mirrors. His clique had The Trippers, the- not-necessarily-real elemental forces made your trip what it was. Our version of trip-lore had The Intergalactic Drug Squad, who did pretty much the same thing, but were perhaps a tad more sinister.
Tiring of Leicester and its grimy sameness, Booker and his motley crew head off to Weymouth where they pitch tent and go about the business of a Withnail-on-drugs style holiday. Acid is duly procured and taken and the trip starting on p. 189 is on a par with trip experiences described in any other acid memoir. Coming down from this trip, with Pink Floyd playing in the background Booker almost suffers `Death by English epiphany' as Granchester Meadows splashes about his synapses.
Most acidheads were on a quest in those days. Many of them, with or without the drug, still are. And Booker closes with some acid-fuelled philosophising. Let's face it we've all been there. Acid philosophy often sounds trite, but that doesn't make it any less true. `Your senses are your friends- invite them to your party'- why not? `Know "I matter, I have the right to exist. Possibilities are infinite. Love is life". As good a message to live by as any message you'll get from a formal religion. Do you think this might be why acid was outlawed?
Booker and his friends considered themselves part of the The Semi-Secret Society of Freaks. I was and you probably were too, even if you didn't know it. If you were `there', you'll read Trippers with a warm glow of recognition and possibly longing for a time when things were simpler and weirder, all at the same time, usually on the same day. If you weren't there but just like a ripping yarn and an insight into an alien culture, then you'll laugh and shake your head throughout this opus. Trippers is never going to be ranked along with Leary, Watts. Huxley and other lofty psychedelic brethren, but it's a solid, raw and honest account of how it was, and one that doesn't take itself too seriously. And it's probably the only memoir you'll ever read that mentions Principal Edwards Magic Theatre!
on 10 April 2011
`Trippers' by William J Booker is, at its most basic level, the story of three weeks in the life of an 18 year old on the cusp of adulthood. Told in the first person, the reader watches the narrator (`Bill') realise his dissatisfaction with life in Leicester, take a week's holiday in Weymouth, and then go to a friend's party in Leamington Spa. Hardly the stuff to send pulses racing you might think. However, this is an extraordinary account of someone growing up, changing and questioning the very meaning of life in that short period.
Booker packs in a huge amount into his 472 pages. On a narrative level, there is much to admire. He creates believable characters: particularly the narrator and his domineering, older, madder friend Ray. Ray is at turns irritating, funny and tragic - there is a splendid passage, just as the reader would like Ray to pack his bag and go home, where we learn of his pain and motivations, and which excuses all his tactlessness and buffoonery. The author also has many moments of humour - often as dialogue ("When a gentleman walks his lady home, it's not considered polite or romantic to empty the contents of his stomach down the front of her coat") -, insight ("a man for whom life had been hard and unkind because he expected it to be hard and unkind"), and pain. The last is most chillingly evoked in the relationship between the narrator and the doomed Eric. And the ending had me whooping with delight.
No review of this book could go without mentioning the many passages dealing with LSD trips. I came at these as one who has never experienced any hallucinations, except as a child when ill, and was expecting to find someone writing about his experiences of an LSD trip as dull and self-involved. In fact, these passages were well written, exciting and surreal. They did not make me want to go and drop a tab - quite the opposite. But Booker makes a good argument that his narrator's experiences of LSD were valuable and life-enhancing. He does this without glorifying the experience, which is a difficult line to walk.
Ultimately this is a strange, moving, philosophical book, and one that I thoroughly recommend.
on 9 February 2012
It's the summer of 1971 and an eighteen-year-old Bill Booker has reached an important developmental point. With a childhood lacking in self-confidence behind him, he's branching out, finding new friends, thinking about purposeful journeys and being lured by the exciting scent of changing times. There's a host of new music to dig, from serious cred stuff such as the Floyd and Syd Barrett, King Crimson, Cream and Beefheart, to the more middling cred ELP and Hawkwind, to the downright lightweight, such as the Osmonds. When it comes to reading material there's Hesse, Heinlein and Jung, International Times and Oz, the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers and Mr Natural...all of it imbibed through `a scented blue haze of joss and marijuana smoke.'
Bill and his gang see themselves as `Freaks' with a capital F--a new incarnation of youth culture at the start of a new decade--and one Saturday the group identity gets expanded to `The Semi-Secret Fellowship of Freaks'. With suitably raised consciousness, Bill attempts to define his goals. `I wanted to be creative. I wanted spiritual enlightenment, although I only had a vague idea of what that meant. I wanted a girlfriend. I wanted true love. I wanted to be wise, joyful and fulfilled. I wanted to always know that life was meaningful. I wanted to know that there were mysteries to contemplate.'
One might well ask what is the difference between Freaks and good old hippies? As they both tick so many of the same boxes--long hair, alternative dress and lifestyles, anti-establishment, mystically orientated, into dope and acid, listen to Pink Floyd--it's hard to get so much as a tissue paper between them. Yet early in the 1970s there's already a sense that being a hippy is a bit old hat, you know man, so '60s, and now we're in a bright new decade with bright new decimal currency replacing that old £.s.d. (not LSD!) and we need to carve out a fresh identity. Being a Freak then is a reaction against the perceived countercultural conformity of hippiedom--Freaks are a bit rawer, edgier and less pretentious.
There is also the parallel to the aforementioned comic book characters, the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers, created by Gilbert Shelton. In one scene the quartet of friends assign the identities of the Brothers to one another, with Jake becoming Freewheelin' Franklin; Bill, as the clever one, becoming Phineas; Syd, as the least skinny, becoming Fat Freddy; and resident misanthrope Ray settling for Fat Freddy's Cat.
But of course it hardly matters what they call themselves; be it angry young men, beats, mods, rockers, hippies, freaks, bikers, greasers, punks, new romantics or whatever; the point is that each successive manifestation owns the stage for a limited, ephemeral period--that magic time after the final sandbags of childhood have been thrown overboard and before the claims of adult responsibility start to bring the balloon back down and the next generation take over the spotlight.
As for LSD (not £.s.d.!) that plays a pivotal role in the proceedings, and our Freaks, naturally, are also Trippers, as the book's admirably straightforward title suggests. And Bill's trip descriptions are right up there with the best. In one session he's sprawled out on the sofa, going up and reaching the end of the first transformative hour, and The Piper at the Gates of Dawn is on the turntable. `I'm grinning the Grin of Madness; my face stretched wider and wider, the corners of my mouth pulling away in opposite directions until my grin encompasses the universe. Habitual thoughts fall away like dry scabs. My mind is borne into clear, cool space. It is a clean page upon which each experience is imprinted with icy crispness. With the eyes of my soul I stare into the maelstrom of possibilities that is Existence--and grin.'
The familiar twists and turns of the ride that is the acid trip are put across marvellously in several accounts throughout the book. Walls perform deep breathing exercises; a carpet becomes a seething mattress of giant frogspawn; strange `entities' and apparitions are mutually sighted, such as pair of figures in a churchyard who disappear on closer inspection. Then there's the problem of tripping in pubs--thinking people are watching you, so you look to see if they are and they return the looks, locking in the dreadful self-fulfilling loop of paranoia. Yes, we've all been there. But as a counterbalance there's the magic of outdoor night tripping, a Lord of the Rings-style adventure with a conjectured soundtrack of early Floyd and Hawkwind. `Under the ribcage arches of laneside trees we walk, zigzagging, amid green-purple meshes spiralling from clumps of foliage to the earth, like animated three-dimensional wallpaper patterns, or what wallpaper patterns seem to aspire to but never attain.'
The bulk of the summer's adventures involve a low-budget trip from hometown Leicester to Weymouth, hitchhiking, sleeping rough and camping in true Kerouac `bumming around' style. Long distance hitchhiking is now a rarity, an anachronism, but in those days everyone indulged; and its precariousness and unreliability as a mode of transport are well captured. Fruitless overheated hours on the roadside are punctuated by `stupidly grinning prats in suits who shouted some unintelligible insults at us, swerving towards us and away at the last instant before gunning their motor off down the road.' After a night on a footpath, yielding an insect-bitten face, Bill and his mates are rejected from a campsite for their freaky appearance, and they eventually find an out-of-town site, involving long commutes. But none of it dampens their spirits, and they revel in the simple things, such as the coastal atmosphere, pints of bitter and their relentlessly unvarying diet of egg and chips, which makes one fear for the lack of roughage in their diet and their cholesterol levels. Such is the solipsism of Trippers, egg and chips becomes the best possible meal in the entire world...and why not?
A fortuitous encounter with another Freak in Weymouth leads to a party invite in Leamington Spa, and here Bill gets involved with a new set, some more acid and has a brief affair, all simultaneously, with pyrotechnic results. `Each thrust into Nell ignites a blast of brilliant light through my body, releasing a flood of spectral images in my head. I'm rushing through a tunnel of trees towards a castle gateway with delicate tracery cut into its stonework and lit from within by a thousand glimmering oil lamps. I'm flying through the castle gateway into a corridor where light from dozens of chandeliers sparkles from prisms of crystal, on into cloisters lined with gothic arches rich in erotic scenes...onward through aisles, passages, gangways and tunnels without end.'
But there's a downside too, and one of Bill's mates, having had too much possibly adulterated acid, ends up in the local nuthouse. This scene and several others make you aware of how much the world has changed in forty years. Back then the mere fact of long hair marked you out as a renegade, a waster, and was sufficient in itself to induce gangs of skinheads to throw bricks at you. And in the world of Cuckoo's Nest psychiatry, acid was considered on par with heroin as addictive, and part of the `cure' for acid psychosis involved an enforced haircut that left the hapless victim looking, according to one mate, like Joan of Arc. What a telling comparison!
Trippers ends with some philosophical ruminations--`The Grail is the meeting place where the light of understanding and the light at the heart of manifestation are one'--and as the narrative fades to black, we're left to wonder about the rest of Bill's life. That's the beauty of selection by book-ending, presenting a chosen vivid slice of life to synecdochically represent the whole. Ultimately Trippers is about the small writ large, the accumulation of much diverse detail to make the past live again in thrumming eidetic vibrancy. Like the best of those '70s album covers whose designs leap out at you, at once specific to a milieu yet archetypal, the adventures of Bill and his mates celebrate both idiosyncrasy and commonality. Four decades on those happenings have matured like good port, and the taste is sweet to those who've trod similar paths and no doubt to those who maybe wished they had.
on 30 June 2011
Trippers is a profound and important book about the life-changing experience taking place in the life of Bill Booker and his friends over a period of two weeks in the summer of 1971. The writing is beautiful and of its time. Beginning in Leicester, Bill reaches a turning point in his life as he questions his existence and the pure futility of living until he alights on the idea of a journey as a passport out of the gloom and depression of Leicester. The book is peppered with nostalgic references, infusing deeper significance to those of us of a certain generation: Ted Heath, power cuts, Double Barrel, Spirit In The Sky, Reefer jackets. Bill gravitates towards a new crowd of like-minded, mind-expanding, enlightenment-seekers who listen to the soundtracks of the time - Cream, Captain Beefheart and Pink Floyd - while imbibing certain mind-altering substances. Bill's travelling companions and fellow trippers, Ray, Jake and Syd are vividly described, the `tripping' of course not only referring to their planned trip to Weymouth, perhaps an unlikely destination for enlightenment, but also to the psychedelic substances they ingest before they hit the road and during their time away. The reality of living cheek-by-jowl with fellow travellers is beautifully observed and with plenty of wry humour as we get a more in-depth portrayal of the characters, their complexities, their vulnerabilities, even their personal hygiene problems (Ray's foot odour problem for one!) as their shared experience of tripping bonds them. Egg and chips provide fuel for the boys wherever they travel, but even the fried eggs, sunny side up, become a metaphor for something deeper (if only I liked fried eggs). There are great discussions aplenty and some very eerie experiences when they are tripping, like the walk in the dark back to the campsite, but the whole `trip' to Weymouth provides the catalyst for the meaning of life, and a new self-confidence and fearlessness in Bill as he embraces the philosophy of Tim Leary: Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out. But more than this, Bill's quest and understanding about light, love, and oneness, is like reading one of those books about Buddhist experiences and the connectedness of all existence, leaving one with a sense of awe and positivity.
on 9 June 2011
It's a 1970s Grail quest. Bunch of Midlands teenagers, sustained by egg and chips and beer, in search of romantic locations in which to drop acid, discover the secrets of the universe and escape the Ordinary.
Or maybe just a collection of anecdotes - funny, sad, weird, profound, never less than entertaining - strung together by some very stylish writing.
But, hang on... this is actually an important social document.
The Seventies weren't the optimistic Sixties. They were the melancholy end of something which had barely begun. The last period when kids in their teens sat in pubs and cafes discussing states of Being. When an urgent need for transcendence was actually considered to be deeply cool rather than just sad and a bit mental.
Trippers doesn't work as a novel. Too rambling and unstructured, although the writing itself is tight and controlled, occasionally exploding into psychedelic splendour, and Booker's narrative skills are evident throughout. But then it isn't a novel. If it had been a novel, somebody would have died in a meaningful way, and all that dies here is youth.
An elegy, then? Not exactly. Nobody achieves cosmic consciousness, yet Booker himself emerges with the knowledge that all this is possible. And that, in the end, is the great legacy of the late sixties and early seventies which was never quite trampled into the dust of the 1980s.
on 9 April 2011
Have you ever wondered exactly how many angels can dance on the surface of one microdot of acid? Have you ever looked up at the sky and found yourself falling into a swirling maelstrom of imploded rainbows? Have you ever stared into a cracked mirror and seen Ken Dodd staring back at you? Then this is the book for you my friend.
A wonderful LSD propelled road trip that makes Frodo and Sam's journey to Mordor seem like a quick visit to Asda. Bill Booker juggles dreamscapes and word sculptures like a seasoned circus performer creating a mosaic of prose that makes you want to dance to 'See Emily Play' wearing nothing but Paisley Pattern nylon underwear (like my mum used to buy for me). Brilliant stuff indeed.
Serving Suggestion - Best read with a plate of egg and chips.
on 17 May 2013
It's about time someone wrote a book like this. William Booker evokes the feeling of this era so well, through the eyes of a young man who feels his life is in suspension. Constantly waiting for something but not quite sure what, he sets off to try and find it. Observing society at the beginning of the 1970s, this subject has been largely ignored in English fiction and William Booker does it proud. His accurate recall enables him to tell it like it was in an original and perceptive way. The minute I began reading this book I knew it was something special. I love the wordplay, the dialogue between friends and the touches of humour:
"Eric Rice knew he was a rock star. He'd strutted across the stages of Monterey, Woodstock and the Isle of Wight, his amp cranked so high he'd even managed to annoy his next-door neighbours in Leicester." With introductions to characters like that, you know you're in for a treat. This has the makings of a cult novel and if you want to know what it felt like to be young and desperately trying to find some kind of meaning to your life in the early 70s, then you'd be struggling to find a more accurate account than Trippers.
on 2 December 2011
This little novel is a window into the life and times of several young men in the early 70s who decide to take a male bonding and mind altering road trip to the English seaside town of Weymouth. Their experiences and observations ring true especially for those of us who came of age in those groovy years. The playlist of music alone is worth the ride and I suspect the book is more than a little bit autobiographical. I thought back to journeys and friends of my own along the way backpacking through the UK in the later 1970's. But somehow I think these guys had a lot more fun....
on 28 February 2012
This wonderful book traces the 1971 journey of Bill Booker and his three new friends from Leicester to Weymouth on Sea and back. These lads' rites of passage may sound less than earth-shattering, but in Bill's capable hands you'll be whisked to the end of the universe, have the meaning of life thrown in as a free gift and be back in time for a nice plate of egg and chips, maybe washed down with a couple of pints. What's more you'll find you've been laughing and learning most of the way. This book is a treasure.
on 9 June 2011
You needn't have belonged to the era to tune in to the universal quality of this book. Bill Booker delivers a universe in a Dorset grain of sand, not to mention a plate of eggs and chips. The trip descriptions are so vivid that you'll swear you caught a page number crawling. Lyrically and lucidly written, abundant in cosmic and good old slapstick wit, with an underlying wisdom that will raise the spirits and leave you defragmented and refreshed! Highly recommended!