The Bad Trip

A bad trip—a sudden vision of horror or death which often grips LSD users when they take it without proper mental preparation.
---Life, 25 March, 1966.

Many people I know in Los Angeles believe that the Sixties ended abruptly on August 9, 1969, ended at the exact moment when word of the murders on Cielo Drive traveled like brushfire through the community...
---Joan Didion, ‘The White Album’ (1968-1978).

Altamont has become infamous as the apocalyptic moment known as the end of the sixties, the moment when the termite-riddled walls of the New Jerusalem finally came tumbling down.
---David Dalton, ‘Altamont: End of the Sixties’ (1999).

The 1960s came to and end at midnight on December 31st, 1969. For many writers, artists and cultural critics, this date also signaled the end of ‘The Sixties’: a seemingly halcyon period of liberation, freedom and creativity. Events such as The Rolling Stones at Altamont and the Tate-La Bianca murders appeared to hold a dark mirror upto the optimism and presumed ‘achievements’ of the preceding years. By 1969 the Blakean sunshine of Peter Whitehead’s Wholly Communion (1965) had faded into the dark skies of The Fall (1969) and the ‘Annus Mirabilis’ of 1963 and The Beatles’ Please Please Me (1963) had descended into the discord and horribilis of The White Album (1968). At the same time, psychedelia’s doors of perception fell to the exploitative control of acid fascism and the Aquarian age appeared to pull away its veil of harmony to reveal a face of black magic and tribulation.    

This is a narrative arc that belies the historical and material reality of the decade and which evidences a particular transition in the popular culture and representational economy of the late sixties. 1969 has acquired an apocalyptic resonance due to its mediation through a contemporaneous matrix of popular culture, eschatology and conspiratorial thinking.

The talismanic significance of 1969 is also present in the corresponding (counter) cultural productions of the pre-and-post millennial period. From the art of the Golden Sun Movement to the music of The Brian Jonestown Massacre, this particular extension of the sixties into a ‘long-decade’ amplifies the image of the period as one that plotted a catastrophic trajectory from youthful optimism to violence, death and “bad craziness”. The ‘End of the Sixties’ has thus come to signify not the conclusion of one period within a wider historical continuum, but a “high water mark”; the destructive eclipse of a seemingly unique and utopian epoch.

The Bad Trip seeks to chart and analyse the cultural production that underpins this apocalyptic micro-narrative. It has been designed to work as an on-going, multi-platform research project; one that takes the form of publications, film screenings, lectures, seminars and online content. The Bad Trip aims to consider the writing, music and visual culture of the period as well as corresponding material emergent at the millennial turn in order to highlight the symbolic strategies involved in  establishing the ‘End of the Sixties’ as a trope that has extended far beyond the end of the 1960s.

The present blog, Residual Noise, functions as the project’s de facto base. Here I’ll be posting texts covering relevant material plus news of upcoming publications and events.

Recent Outcomes:

I’ve presented talks relating to the project at London Metropolitan University and the University of Cambridge. I've also worked with Nottingham Contemporary to produce Bad Trip: Jodorowsky, Whitehead and the Descent of the Sixties on Film, a four-week film season featuring Whitehead’s Wholly Communion and Fire in the Water (1977) alongside Alejandro Jodorowsky’s El Topo (1970) and The Holy Mountain (1973).    

At the Faculty of English, University of Cambridge, I offer The End of the Sixties as a Core 2 seminar as part of the M.Phil in Modern and Contemporary Literature and have offered Countercultural Writing 1950-1999, a lecture course for Part 1 Paper 7b English Literature and its Contexts: 1870-Present.

Relevant publications have included two collections of archive material relating to Peter Whitehead and articles on Charles Manson, Steve Quenell and neo-psychedelic cinema. The project has received some online coverage and I have also started a Bad Trip channel on You Tube

The Bad Trip is intended a long-term project. Research is on-going. Further publications and events are planned for the future.


For more information, please drop me a line at I’d be interested to hear from anyone working on similar material.

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