Dr. Albert Hofmann, best known for his discovery of d-lysergic acid diethylamide or LSD, personally encouraged Bronsdon to deal with the stigma and “prevailing misunderstanding in the general public regarding these kinds of ‘drugs.'” Bronsdon honors the chemist’s life and work and explores the dark history of the drug war.*
Recorded July-Dec 2005, The Shed, Van Nuys, CA**
Tateng Katindig – Piano
Adam “The Jelly” Levy – Bass
Jeff Miller – Guitars
Billy Kerr – Woodwinds & arrangements
Joe Adamik – Additional percussion
Cover art by Tom Baumgartner
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- 1. Erwachen heiterer Gefühle bei der Ankunft auf dem Lande
- Albert Hofmann loves classical music. That, and the fact that Beethoven uses the Swiss Ranz des Vaches (alphorn cow-calling melody) motif throughout the 6th Symphony, makes this the perfect piece to establish the setting of Albert’s birthplace in Baden, Switzerland. The title of the movement (I primarily arranged the 1st movement here, but also incorporate the Ranz motif from the last movement) translates to “Joyous Feelings on Arriving in the Country.”Joe Adamik and I recorded the percussion tracks on the morning after my batchelor party. So, if the tamborine part seems a little sluggish, that’s me in a hungover, zombie-like stupor. I arranged the piece using Propellerhead’s Reason and, as a result, couldn’t have known how complicated it was to perform. I started to realize the difficulty when I was writing the lead sheet for the piano and bass. By the 4th or 5th take with Tateng Katindig and Adam Levy, I was painfully aware. There are at least two dozen edits between the rhythm section, melody and solos. The three percussion tracks are all first takes.
- 2. Boy
- Early 20th century, a forest path above Baden, Switzerland.The melody of this song is in Lydian mode, a scale used in Swiss folk music prior to the 19th century, which has a mysterious, magical quality to it. The Floydian section insisted on itself — so, if you don’t like it, don’t blame me. Blame it on the muse. I allowed myself to borrow from many of my early influences for this album, including Pink Floyd and Pat Metheny, which I would normally never do. Particularly the use of guitar.I used a plug-in vocoder to try and make it sound like the forest was speaking. The Kaweah River and surrounding Sequoia National Forest dictated the exact words of that section to me. It was very intimidating.
- 3. A Vision
- Late ’20s, early ’30s. Albert falls in love with Anita.Since this is a concept album about another person’s life, there isn’t a lot of room for the kind of personal stories that I usually like to tell. This tune serves the purpose of including Albert’s wife, a critical character who might otherwise not be mentioned, as well as allowing me to celebrate my own fabulous wife.Hofmann is a very private person, so there is little to no information available about Anita, but we do know that they’re still together today. I figure that puts their next anniversary at 70-something years. Anita rushed home from her parents’ home in Lucerne to be at Albert’s side after his first self-experiment (Bicycle Day) and, 19 years later, they experienced Maria Sabina’s Velada together. So, while Anita may not be mentioned in many of the tracks on this album, she’s very often there in spirit.
- 4. The Tradition
- 1929-1938. Hofmann goes to work for Sandoz pharmaceutical-chemical research laboratory in Basel, begins his work with the ergot alkaloids, and first produces LSD-25 with the intention of obtaining a circulatory and respiratory stimulant.The melody and chord changes for the chorus of this song pre-date my conception of the album. I found the lead sheet in a box of song-fragments I have. While the track doesn’t capture the Steely Dan meets Pat Metheny sound I had originally conceived, it does (despite my best efforts) express the musical theater roots of the current project.I could have written another five verses for this piece. The title refers to the traditions of scientific research and medicine, the mystery “cults” of preclassical antiquity, and even (just for me) music. The interlude melody is the oldest known complete composition in the western world, called the Seikilos Epitaph, found on a Greek tombstone in Turkey.
- 5. Dachau
- Early ’40s, just over the border in Nazi Germany.You know that scene in Apocalypse Now where Dennis Hopper’s character says of Kurtz, “The man is clear in his mind, but his soul is mad”? That’s the voice of this piece. The character speaking could be Sigmund Rascher, who was eventually imprisoned with his wife (for illegally adopting a child) in the very camp where he performed his experiments. Himmler had them both executed three days before the camp was liberated. The character could be Kurt Ploettner, who succeeded Rascher. Or it could be Hubertus Strughold, their direct superior, who is considered the father of space medicine today and had the research library at Randolph Air Force Base named after him. He lived to be 89 years old, but died before his name was removed from the library in 1995 after pressure from the Anti-Defamation League.I left the man’s identity open because, you know what? Germany has to live with his legacy. You’ll hear plenty more about our own government borrowing his methods in track 8. I guess my point is this: You won’t find the name of any of the aforementioned men among those executed at Nuremberg.
It’s chilling, to imagine being a prisoner at Dachau. Now imagine being dosed with mescaline.
- 6. Bicycle Day
- April 19th, 1943. Albert and his lab assistant, Hans Tscherter, travel to Hofmann’s home by bicycle after his historic first self-experiment.I imagine them winding through the roads of Basel, crossing one of Switzerland’s beautiful bridges, passing by a church…I only wish I had allowed myself enough time to do more with this piece. The loop was created by playing all the other songs on the CD at the same time and clipping out a chunk.
- 7. The Animals
- 1943, downstairs.I felt, since the album has been pretty dark and wierd for a few tracks now, we needed a little fun. It’s also hard to get much darker after all that darkness, so I thought the irony of a bossa nova was the only way to sing about animal experiments.In any case, by now you might find yourself becoming aware that the story of LSD is not all hippies and flower power. Some of those experiments were pretty colorful, though.
- 8. A Snake Under Every Stone
- Early ’50s (with repercussions well into the future)I think this is the best-sounding track on the album. I don’t know what I did differently, but this became my reference track for mastering the CD. Performing the tune was a joy. Writing it was alternately depressing, nauseating, and infuriating.After September 11th, I never heard anyone mention America’s gift/bribe to the Taliban just months prior to the attacks. I just couldn’t believe, in the spring of 2001, that we were even talking to the fundamentalist thugs that took weeks to deface cliff carvings that had stood for 1500 years. But let’s let that go for now.
It’s certainly no conspiracy theory, but history, that Frank Olson’s death is shrouded in lies and disinformation. Eric Olson has spent the better part of his life pulling at that shroud, and I think his father deserves no less, although Eric and his family certainly deserved a hell of a lot more. Cheney’s memo to Rumsfeld, his boss at the time, exists. Gerald Ford’s attempted payoff to the Olson family, 22 years after the fact, is a matter of public record. And America’s “Black Sites” are old news. Rather, they’re hardly news at all, but just another unforgivably shameful part of our country’s status quo.
Sorry, you don’t have any idea what I’m talking about, do you? See the links for Dachau, to get an idea of the depth of the story I try to tell in the eight verses of this song. It’s hard to say this, because I love America, but you can’t tell our story without telling the story of the Nazi medical experiments and the doctors who were spared from hanging and given a new life in the land of opportunity. All it took was a Paperclip.
Please do be careful, though, when looking into this. If you keep flipping rocks, you’ll find a poisonous serpent hiding beneath each one. They have a nasty bite.
- 9. Velada
- October, 1962. Back with our hero, now in “Mazatec Country” with Anita, Gordon Wasson and Marina Sabina.I can’t take credit for much of this song. I adapted the lyric from a few different translations, the melody is straight from the Smithsonian field recordings. So, I harmonized it. This is the only track I play piano on, with the exception of the overdubbed interlude melody on The Tradition. It’s also the very first piece that I started working on for the album, and Jeff Miller’s guitar work was the first track recorded.R. Gordon Wasson’s story could be a whole record by itself. He was the vice-president of J.P. Morgan, and became an extremely accomplished amateur mycologist — thanks to his wife, Valentina. Once again, behind every great man is a great woman. In any case, Gordon is a much more important character in this story than I had time or space to relate. As for Albert, note the Ranz des Vaches motif from the opening track. The spirit of Maria Sabina and “the little people”, I believe, speaks for itself. In volumes.
I hope you can feel something of what it might have been like to be there when you listen to this song, and I apologize for stepping on what might have otherwise been a pretty song by adding some “musical” elements to accomplish this.
- 10. Kid Charlemagne
- 1970-ish, the United States of America…and then, the world.I unintentionally messed with the lyric a bit on this one — it was an in-the-moment thing, and the first track I overdubbed the vocals on. In full disclosure, I’d had several beers in celebration of completing the rhythm tracks. But boy, it’s a pretty song, isn’t it? I shared an early mix of this with a music critic for the Los Angeles CityBeat and other subversive publications, and one of his first comments was that he also thought Kid Charlemagne was a sad song, rightly done as a ballad.Donald Fagen and Walter Becker (Steely Dan) have gone on record saying that this song is only loosely based on Owsley Stanley and, for me, it perfectly expresses the melancholy end of an era that changed global culture forever — art, music, film, fashion, civil rights, sexual equality, and on and on. In fact, I told my wife just the other day that this is the one song on the album I really wish I wrote.
I can only imagine what Albert Hofmann went through, 20-something years after he discovered the psychic effects of what became his “problem child”, when he saw its promise dissolve into politics and propaganda. “It was obvious that a substance with such fantastic effects on mental perception and on the experience of the outer and inner world would also arouse interest outside medical science, but I had not expected that LSD, with its unfathomably uncanny, profound effects, so unlike the character of a recreational drug, would ever find worldwide use as an inebriant,” he writes in LSD: My Problem Child.
It’s interesting to note the next sentence in the book: “I had expected curiosity and interest on the part of artists outside of medicine – performers, painters, and writers – but not among people in general.”
IT’S A FACT: Donald Fagen considers the “is there gas in the car” line to be the single most corny lyric he’s ever written.
- 11. Love Will Last
- Again, how great is Albert and Anita’s love? I can only imagine, with this song. That’s love, to risk your own sanity to identify with another person’s inner world. They aren’t crazy, and their children are healthy, well-adjusted and successful.Happy anniversary, you two.As a side note, this is also a personal song for me, sidled in for my wife — I love you, Diane. Hey, I’m a newlywed, cut me some slack.
- 12. Le Vigneron
One of my early inspirations for the album version of this project was the Edmonton Swiss Men’s Choir. Buy their CDs, the ones with Kamerade and Te Voici, Vigneron. Play those songs before and after A Model Psychosis, respectively. I wanted to use those recordings on the record as “bookends”, but licensing a master recording is sticky and expensive. The choir was very kind to my inquiries, though, and I want to thank them for their inspiration.
Albert is something of a vintner, if you think about it, although he only bottles his own Schnappes these days.
“You are here, Vine-grower!”
Recorded and mixed entirely with Cubase SX 3 and Presonus Firepod, live rhythm section tracking.
– microphones –
voice – Beyerdynamic M260 ribbon
piano – Shure SM81 condensers, coincident pair (XY)
bass – Studio Projects C1 condenser
drums & percussion – overheads: Octava MK-012-01 condensers, coincident pair (XY); snare/hats: MXL990 condenser; bass: AKG D112
woodwinds – Beyerdynamic M260 ribbons, coincident pair (XY)
guitars – acoustic: Shure SM81 condensers, coincident pair (XY); electric: Beyerdynamic M260 ribbons, coincident pair (XY)