This is just excellent – John Higgs writing about Youth’s early Killing Joke-era “acid flipout”
Writing The KLF was in part an attempt to scratch an itch created by an aborted attempt to write a book about Killing Joke. There’s a lot of cross-over between those two stories, and many of the threads I explored in The KLF would have worked equally well in a Killing Joke book – not least of which being the money burning (see below).
Here’s a transcript of an interview I did with Youth for that book, regarding his “acid flipout”.
I was doing acid regularly. I’d done a German tour and I’d hooked up with this 21 year old hairdresser-come-acid queen called Heidi. She gave me a little quarter trip before each gig. She was wealthy so she put me up in nice hotels and drove me to the gigs in a sports car which pissed the rest of the band off.
So I was doing quite a lot but nothing cosmic had happened. I was still treating it very much as a laugh. I was cocky, I always thought that I’d never lose it on acid. I thought that you had to be born a shaman to be cosmic or be like Jim Morrison or whatever, and I was too middle class, ordinary and normal.
The rest of the band weren’t really into acid. Jaz had had a major freakout when he was 16. He used to take acid at school but one time he was spiked and he thought that his arm had disappeared. He was having The Horrors. His mum was an award winning teacher, very progressive. She just sat him down, gave him some rocks to hold, did a bit of research. She was very cool. So, yeah, the other guys weren’t into it, although we did take mushrooms together. But we’d rarely take acid. I was the acid head.
But then there was this one event that pushed me over the edge. I’d let Ralph, this friend of mine, use my squat one weekend while I was away. When I came back my TV had disappeared. I couldn’t get hold of him for ages, but then I bumped into him at a club one night. He was there with this other guy looking pretty rough. I said, ‘Oh Ralph, how are you?’ And he goes, ‘I hear you think I nicked your TV.’ And I said, ‘No, no, I mean you stayed there and it disappeared and I wondered if you knew anything or had seen what happened?’ But he didn’t quite get that, he was fixating on whether I was accusing him and if I was still his friend.
Then he said, ‘If you are my friend, take this,’ and he gave me a tab of acid. It was this Sorcerer’s Apprentice trip with a picture of a little Mickey Mouse with stars going between his hands. I said, ‘Acid? Oh yeah I take acid all the time.’ I took it. I mean he didn’t force me but at the same time I was taking it because that’s what he wanted.
Half an hour later I’m in the attic of the club thinking that he’s going to murder me. I went down to the bar and met this Polish ballet dancer. I said, ‘You’re going to have to rescue me, I think these guys are going to kill me. I’ve been spiked with this acid and it’s freaking me out.’ She took me back to Westbourne Grove and shagged me solid for three days. But I never quite came down. I slowly started to come down a bit but it was very strong acid.
I was really upset about the whole thing. I thought my friend had set me up. He lived in Croydon with his Nan, so I wrote to him there. In this letter I said, ‘Look that really freaked me out, you should never do that, and lets meet and sort it out’. And then literally a few days later I found out that he’d committed suicide and thrown himself off a railway bridge.
He was obviously in a very dark place. But that just totally spun me out. By that point I was tripping all the time. I couldn’t quite understand how that could be, because I hadn’t taken acid for over a month.
As it progressed I got more and more out of it. I started to get all the classic delusions of messianic complex. I thought this white van was following me around. I thought the Masons were out to get me because of Killing Joke stirring things up. I started to get intrigued by Masonry and saw it as this dark conspiracy thing. I was reading Robert Anton Wilson and stuff like that. And this just progressed and progressed. The band started to get a bit concerned because I’d always been very cynical about things and now I was starting to see Masonic conspiracies in the drain covers.
I remember breaking into the Masonic headquarters in Covent Garden, that huge square building. I’m not sure how I got in, it had this scaffolding over it and doors going in and I managed to get in a side door somehow. This was around 8 or 9 o’clock at night. I went through all these different temples and put the crosses down because I thought that they were abusing the cross. I ran up to the top of the building to these French doors which were locked, and I was banging on these doors. This African guy came out in red polka dot shorts. I thought they were going to use him for some sacrifice. I said, ‘Come on! Open the door, I’ll get you out, I’ll rescue you.’ And this guy was talking to me in an African accent, saying ‘Go away’ or something
Then this Welsh security guard turns up. And I showed him this signet ring with this crest on that my Dad had said was something to do with my family from Llangathen. It had a dolphin on it. I said, ‘Look, I’m Welsh. This is magic. Help me.’ He said, ‘I’m going to arrest you’. I just did a runner.
I ran into this bar opposite which was where Blitz had been, or one of those New Romantic clubs. I remember all these Masons were in there, all these guys who had come out from some ceremony all in suits. And these guys started talking to me, I thought ‘They’re on to me, I’m being followed’. I was very paranoid.
We’d got a live grand advance for something and my dad set me up with this bank manager at the Clydesdale Bank. He also tuned out to be a mason. I deposited this money in and said, ‘I want to borrow another five grand on top of this.’ He asked why and I said ‘Well I want to do my shamanic training, study kung fu and do all this stuff.’ He said, ‘Listen son, I’m not going to lend to you five thousand pounds. You’ve got to learn the value of money,’ And I said ‘I know what the value of money is’, and I took a five pound note out and set fire to it, there in his office. I said, ‘Look that’s the value, it’s just paper.’ The guy freaked out, cleared his desk and threw me out of the bank.
I just kept doing more and more crazy things like that. I was starting to tap into stuff, some powerful energy. I remember getting the band to sit round and put their hands out and we’d focus on something, and we’d make something happen. I could say to Geordie, ‘look, if we focus our minds on that streetlamp, it will go out. Or at least flicker on and off.’ He’d say, ‘Really? Okay, come on let’s do it.’ And we did, and it worked. And other psychic phenomena stuff was occurring.
And, yeah, it just got progressively more and more crazy. Then one day I woke up at my step-mum’s. She’d just had a baby with my dad but my dad was in prison at the time so he wasn’t there, just her and this Spanish nanny. And I remember looking out of the window and thinking, ‘Oh the sky’s going green. This is it. It’s the end of the world. I’m going to the river.’
I just had this pair of swimming trunks on and a kimono. I started walking from Brompton Road to Chelsea. And I started going into these fruit and veg shops and going to people, ‘Look, you want some money? Have some money!’ They would say ‘No thanks’ but I kept on at them. I was saying ‘Look it’s just money, I’ll start burning it’. Which I did. And I immediately got arrested. And shipped off to a mental hospital.
It was very strange. I remember in the ambulance on the way, if you looked out the front window it was like normal, if I looked out the back window I thought it was the future, and everything was underwater. I remember going past Tooting Bec tube and there was gondolas parked up outside it.
I was taken to Springfields Hospital, near Tooting Bec. I’d been put into a sort of flashers’ ward, which was odd in itself, with all these guys who were flashers because I was in a kimono. And I was going, ‘I’m not mad, you’re all mad’, which of course makes them think ‘Oh he’s definitely mad’.
They gave me Largactil, which I think is supposed to make you compliant but it just spun me out even more. And they gave me ECT [Electroconvulsive Therapy, also known as Electroshock Therapy], like in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. They still use it. I must have had two or three sessions of that. They put a wooden thing or something in your mouth, it’s all very Victorian. I don’t remember it being difficult or anything, I just remember this white light.
And I just felt we were totally underwater. I remember my Dad coming to the hospital and sitting with him and seeing utter shock on his face. This was when Dad was doing time and he got let out to see me in the hospital, which probably didn’t do him any good. I said, ‘Isn’t it weird Dad, we can sit here and have this conversation and we are underwater.’
But there was one point where I thought the hospital was on fire. And I remember running away in the middle of the night and leaping over this fence, and stabbing my hand on the spike of the fence, running a few miles to where my Dad had been living, which was the Coach House on the other side of Wandsworth Common. He was in prison but his friend and his girlfriend were there. I was completely spaced out. I said, ‘Look’, showing them the wound on my hand, ‘I’m the one! I’ve got stigmata!’ I thought I was Jesus, that the whole world was all on my shoulders.
They let me stay the night and my step mum came by the next day and said, ‘Look you’ve broken out, the hospital didn’t burn down, there was no fire, you’re hallucinating. If you don’t go back they’ll slap a section on you and you won’t be able to leave’. So she persuaded me to go back.
While I was in there this guy called The Wizard used to come up every day to visit me. The Wizard lived in the church near Lyndhurst Road with twenty feral cats. He had a seven pointed star tattooed on his face. He’d never wore shoes, he was very much a nature magic person. This is the guy who used to come to the early Killing Joke gigs and blow fire and do circles and make ceremonies, he was our shaman basically. The whole ‘ceremony’ aspect to Killing Joke was there from very early on, it came out of the community we were living in really.
The Wizard came to visit me and gave me this crystal. I remember meditating with this crystal in the hospital and seeing these stars, like lights. These were my spirit guides. They talked to me and told me what to say and do. They said, ‘Look you’re going to come up to a panel of doctors, you’ve got to say ‘I’ve just had some LSD and I feel really tired and I want to go home and see my Mum’, and they’ll let you go. Don’t say, ‘I’m not mad you’re mad’.
And so I came up before this panel and that’s what happened. I was released from the mental hospital because I did what the spirit guides in the crystal told me do. They let me go and I went up to Wales with the band. I was in there for about two weeks overall.
It took me a good eight years or so, until I was about 29, before I would go near psychedelics again. I still smoked pot a bit but I kind of almost stopped that for a bit. It took me that time to rebuild my ego and get my confidence back, and find a good anchor again.
But what’s amazing is, I came back. I was watching that Syd Barrett documentary recently, and the Peter Green one, and I did achieve going to the place that they went to. But I managed to come back, which is very rare. And that is an amazing thing, I think.