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Heads: A Biography of Psychedelic America

4.13  ·  Rating details ·  221 ratings  ·  40 reviews
Heads: A Biography of Psychedelic America uncovers a hidden history of the biggest psychedelic distribution and belief system the world has ever known. Through a collection of fast-paced interlocking narratives, it animates the tale of an alternate America and its wide-eyed citizens: the LSD-slinging graffiti writers of Central Park, the Dead-loving AI scientists of Stanford, uto ...more
Hardcover, 512 pages
Published March 29th 2016 by Da Capo Press (first published February 2nd 2016)
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Apr 14, 2016 rated it liked it
I'm really interested in this topic but the first 2/3 of this book was SO BORING. Like your friend who tells you a story and doesn't spare you ANY details. I think if I'm going to continue reading about psychedelics it's going to be from a historical, Terence McKenna perspective and not the biography perspective. I also sort of wish the subtitle of this book warned you that it's like 80% about the Grateful Dead, which I guess sort of has to be interwoven with the story of LSD but I'm not super w ...more
Michael Pearlman
May 10, 2016 rated it really liked it
Jarnow does an excellent job of pulling together a lot of information from disparate sources to compile a unique history of LSD and psychedelic use throughout American history. For readers familiar with the subject, there's much here that's has been covered more thoroughly in other classics on the subject. Where Jarnow's book excels is in uncovering the underground figures who helped ensure a supply of LSD was regularly available on Grateful Dead tour. Many of these sources have a unique perspec ...more
Steve Carter
Jan 20, 2017 rated it liked it

Maybe this book should be subtitled “A Biography of Music and Jam Band’s Association with Psychedelic America”.
There is a lot of material on The Grateful Dead in here. It’s almost shows that LSD and its distribution was completely tied into the Dead and their national tours.
This might be the case, I don’t know. During this read I spent a lot of time thinking about myself in association with the world around me. I never was much interested in THe Dead, never went to a show, but have a
May 25, 2016 rated it really liked it
Made me want to do some acid.
Aug 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Wow, so much information! Maybe not so much a history of psychedelic america as a history of the psychedelic and entheogenic culture surrounding the Grateful Dead. Worth knowing if you're going into this and not a Grateful Dead nut. This book is about the phenomenal reach of the Dead, how Deadheads practically invented the world as we know it, pioneering ideas that infiltrated the world of business, cybernetics, law, spirituality and the way we listen to and consume music. Oh and drugs. And how ...more
Bryan Winchell
Dec 31, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I’ve read many books on psychedelics and their intersection with society, but this one covered some new ground for me, notably about the connection between 1970s New York graffiti culture and LSD.

There’s so much to the tale of LSD in America and Jarnow is a wonderful narrator and investigator, following the connecting threads across the country and through time.

A great addition to one’s psychedelic library!
Jason Diamond
Feb 19, 2016 rated it really liked it
Whether or not you like the Dead or hate jam bands and hippies, Jarnow's book is so much more than a tale of drum circles and bad trips. Heads is a thoroughly investigated and super engaging book about psychedelic America and how it ended up influencing our culture.
Nick Carnac
Mar 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
WowMom ! The lid is off !
1959 til now,,,,,Psychedelics Rule OK .
As The Kool-Aid Acid Test informed so well in '69 , this is an update for 2019 , half a century on and Grokking still !
The L.S.D. annals .....ongoing !!
Jan 30, 2017 rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: non-English speakers
There is by all appearances in this book a great amount of information and history of the assimilation of the use of psychedelics in Western society. But I am shocked and appalled to find this whole history written in present tense.

Is writing books in present tense the latest literary fad? This is the fourth book I've picked up in the last year written in present tense instead of the conventional past tense. But the other three at least were fiction. Presenting a sequence of facts from decades past i
Jun 30, 2016 rated it really liked it
Good overview of the psychedelic drug scene from the 60's to present day - not quite as good as Robert Sabbag's SNOWBLIND, but then again, few are - Burning Man gets more than a mention as a nexus for present day activity. Worthwhile.
Nov 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
After Freaks & Geeks was released on DVD (2004), I went through a brief period of listening to the Grateful Dead – mainly American Beauty. Actually only American Beauty. Anyway, I enjoyed the final scenes of Freaks & Geeks and, having never realized what good songs “Box of Rain” and “Friend of the Devil” were, I then dipped my toe into the Dead. Around this time I was working on an indie feature with an established director. I would drive him around and listen to relatively innocuous mus ...more
Mar 31, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book is awesome. Jesse Jarnow did a great job.
Hollie Rose
Oct 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
From my review written for myself in December 2016:
It's about the LSD world. Where it started, how it grew and changed, and who were the key players throughout the decades. Because the Dead was such a conduit for mind expansion via LSD, Jarnow centers much of the historical timeline along a parallel with the band's timeline. There is, indeed, mention of people and scenes with which I am familiar from my days on tour but I expected more of that. (Though it's probably good news that my peopl
Jordan Wannemacher
Aug 22, 2017 rated it liked it
This book was a slog the past few weeks with everything I had going on, but I finally made it through HEADS: A PSYCHEDELIC BIOGRAPHY OF AMERICA by Jesse Jarnow. I had my eye on the one for a long time because the cover design by Alex Camlin (a book design friend who freelanced for us at Columbia) is SO. FREAKING. BRILLIANT. This cover gave me one of those moments of creative self loathing designers often have when they see something so perfect. "Why can't I come up with anything as brilliant as ...more
Sarah Paolantonio
Apr 04, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: favorites
HEADS is super technicolor fantastic. First of all, if you thought you knew about The Grateful Dead (I guess, unless you lived it) you really know nothing at all. In HEADS, Jarnow looks at The Dead from a whole new angle--the hip economy, the true countercultural underground, and the lifestyle that came with it...all because of LSD.

This book is so huge in scape. Jarnow told me that he spent five years researching it. It's a piece of history from psychedlia's beginnings in The East Village and C
Jon Lasser
Aug 12, 2016 rated it really liked it
The beginning of the book is a breezy and readable summary of psychedelic history through the early seventies. Readers interested in this might be better served by Storming Heaven: LSD and the American Dream.

The end of the book is a kinda-vague summary of the current state of the psychedelic culture and its influence at music events. Perhaps to protect the safety and freedom of current players, it's very high-level, and the through-line seems to fade away.

However, between those bo
Oct 05, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-in-2019
It is entirely possible to hate the Grateful Dead and still be interested in the history of psychedelic drugs, their culture, and the people who synthesized/sold them in the US. So they should warn you of that.

The first part of this book was largely revelatory and massively well researched. Do you want to know why LSD originally came in sugar cubes? Who invented window-pane acid? Where did microdots come from? When did the shift to blotter take place? When did cocaine really enter the rock and
Chris Wharton
The emergence of LSD and its convergence with the post-Beat generation morphing into the West Coast Grateful Dead scene of the 1960s and across a wider stage for three more decades are at the center of this detailed history of a long, strange, off-center-stage sociocultural trip. A good half or more of the book is centered on the Dead; their music; the developing Deadhead population and Shakedown Street culture around Dead tours; various technological music-related developments (taping, trading, ...more
Luke X.
Sep 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
Altogether a worthwhile read, although a tad tedious at times, primarily due to a fairly dry writing style of Mr. Jarnow. The "biography" traces the evolution of a psychedelic drug culture in the US, starting with the "invention" of LSD, onto psilocybin mushrooms and ecstasy, and assorted peripheral drugs. Attention is focused on LSD and most of the conversation takes place around the decades of the 60's and 70's, for obvious reasons. There is a lot of discussion about the Grateful Dead's commun ...more
Steve Siegel
Nov 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I will read (nearly) any Grateful Dead book you put in front of me, despite the fact that they generally tread the same well-worn pathways. But Heads is different – it doesn’t really even purport to be a Grateful Dead book, and yet it somehow is! Under the guise of a social history of psychedelic drugs in America, the Dead sits happily at the center of so many of its narratives. It dives deep into the cultural impact of the band and how intractable it is with the spread of LSD in its wake. The h ...more
Nov 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
This was an interesting book reached from a rather fragile premise which when finally digested seems likable. Someone took a poster out of the 60's literally, apparently, and wanted to prove the existence (qv, "Humbead's Map of the World") of this imaginary land in real time...hmmm.
People who will be interested in psychedelics and their evolution over the last 7 decades will note, lots of it is about the connections between LSD chemists and the parking lot cities that inevitably accompani
Feb 27, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: amazon-reviewed
Heads by Jesse Jarnow is a free NetGalley ebook that I read in mid-March while on a road-trip in Wisconsin.

Something immedialy apparent to me during Heads' non-specific, non-fiction timeline of psychedelia is the concept of the privilage of mass specialty: that everyone seems to have access to money, notoriety, manufacture, inspiration, and musical/artistic tools they need to bring awareness and create a concrete memory of something that happened while high. It all seems very freeing and there's
Sara Gray
Mar 17, 2017 rated it liked it
This history of LSD in America bypasses the famous landmarks (Leary, Millbrook, and other luminaries) to stop at people and places more off the beaten path: dealers, tapers, and many, many Deadheads. At times I was thrilled to learn more about female chemists and cults I'd never heard of, at others I was bored by the waterfall of details about the Grateful Dead. Though no one can talk about the cultural history of psychedelics in America without mentioning the Dead and the many jam bands they in ...more
Apr 12, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I was already a big fan of Jarnow for his work as a WFMU DJ and for his book about Yo La Tengo, but after making my way through this highly exciting, well researched history of psychedelics, I'm a fan for life. It's incredible to follow all of the connections and ripples that followed the wake of LSD and The Dead through the last five decades. This is such a well written history that I really can't wait to find out what he takes on next.
Apr 12, 2016 rated it it was amazing
An addictively readable history of the influence of psychedelics in contemporary culture. It goes beyond the usual suspects to talk tapers, art, graffiti, computer programming, and more. If you think you've already read the last work on the subject, well you haven't. Read this.
Apr 21, 2016 rated it really liked it
I really never read nonfiction, but this one was a highly entertaining weirder-than-fiction history of "psychedelic America." Doubling as a history of the Grateful Dead and beyond, zigging and zagging through multiple subcultures and a zany cast of characters, and reading like Pynchon at times this is just a whole bunch of fun.
Jan 16, 2016 rated it it was amazing
A fascinating, sprawling tour of the intersection of psychedelic drugs, music, culture, and the birth of the Internet with a capital "I." Jarnow did some heavy research, including many, many, many original interviews, many of people who had never gone on the record before, to really get the dope. Jarnow is a known baseball fan, but when I check the index, no entry for Doc Ellis. C'mon, Jesse!
Jan 19, 2019 rated it really liked it
I found Heads difficult to get into at first due to Jarnow’s frenetic writing style and the non-stop slangy references, but it is very worth hanging in there. Heads is a creative and fun take on an interesting chapter in American history.
May 31, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A fun and informative read!

Diligently researched and entertainingly delivered. Lots of moments where the reader really feels like they were there. A must for any student of the subculture.
Tom Buchanan
Jul 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
Jerry dies around pg 350. After that's it's mostly Phish and Bonnaroo and bleh.
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