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Elizabeth Kinder
Photo: Sophie Ziegler

The Elusive Ethnomusicologist

Elizabeth Kinder’s monthly column

Chef: “I just want to tell you that drugs are bad.” Stan: “We know, we know, that’s what everybody says.” Chef: “Right, but do you know why they’re bad?” Kyle (like a robot): “Because they’re an addictive solution to a greater problem causing disease of both body and mind with consequences far outweighing their supposed benefits.” Chef: “And do you have any idea what that means?” Kyle: “No.” Cartman: “I know. Drugs are bad because if you do drugs you’re a hippy, and hippies suck.

I hadn’t imagined that a trip to Priddy Folk Festival would make me think of South Park. But even without taking the psychotropic mushrooms that on good authority (Andy Letcher) were apparently popping up all around us in the Mendips, it was difficult not to be reminded of at least one of the consequences of drug use, namely that it seeps into the zeitgeist through music, mainly.

My mate Nick wrote his thesis on drugs and creativity when we were both studying music, undertaking impressively thorough investigation which went basically from jazz (heroin) through late ’60s pop (pot), ’70s prog rock (LSD), punk rock (speed), ’80s power pop (cocaine), ’90s rave (ecstasy) and indie pop (heroin) to 21st Century manufactured pop (designer drugs). Obviously this is just a rough outline and there are pockets of the population busy taking all the drugs all the time regardless of their musical taste and/or output. And obviously there are musicians who come up with stuff completely successfully without the assistance of narcotics.

And there are those who, like one of the members of a band I saw in New York, are inspired to brilliance which is always short-lived due to entirely misjudging the intake/performance/composition ratio. In his case it was a combination of coke/ alcohol/MDMA and tight leather trousers that did for him. Having bent over backwards and onto the floor during a particularly wild improvised guitar solo he was unable to get up again until a roadie came to his assistance. Which rather spoilt the effect. But thinking about it, coke and leather trousers seem to go together, like LSD and floaty Merlin coats, peasant blouses and bell-bottoms. And very skinny ripped jeans and heroin.

And now with Spotify and there being all kinds of music through all time immediately accessible we find all kinds of fashions in favour whether for drugs or clothes – even peasant blouses, Merlin coats and bell bottoms. We’ve lost the irony. Irony is so post-modern. We’ve arrived in a post post-modern melting pot. In this age of global monolithic corporations and instant accessibility, anything goes.

Priddy was a reminder of a time when life was dictated by crops and the seasons, a time when people were connected to the land. But the ancient folk songs chimed with the current zeitgeist, informed by growing environmental concern and increased ecological understanding and the need to stand up to The Man. Priddy’s talk of mushrooms and a wafting scent of marijuana seemed fitting, the clothes (which generally weren’t) seemed freeing.

Cartman was wrong. Hippies don’t suck. They’ve always banged on about the interconnectedness of everything, whether on drugs or not. And they will inherit the Earth. What’s left of it.

Elizabeth Kinder


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