Drop What You’re Doing and Learn About The 13th Floor Elevators

How an obscure band from Austin has had a monumental influence on music past and present.
Drop What You’re Doing and Learn About The 13th Floor Elevators
Image via Amazon

Recently, we chatted with Mark Iosifescu, an editor for Anthology Editions, the publisher behind the newly released “13th Floor Elevators: A Visual History,” by Paul Drummond, who discusses the 13th Floor Elevators’ influence on psychedelics, counterculture and the music of today.

How did you get involved with the book and what initially attracted you to it?

Mark Iosifescu: The idea of doing a visual history of the 13th Floor Elevators stretches back years. In fact, it predates the founding of Anthology Editions in 2016. Paul Drummond has been researching the band for more than two decades, and in the process, he’s accumulated what is undoubtedly the most comprehensive archive of the band’s materials in the world. Anthology’s creative directors had been in touch in regards to using the archive to tell the Elevators’ story, since soon after, Paul published “Eye Mind,” his text biography of the band.

The Elevators were and are an extraordinary, once-in-human-history band whose story deserved greater documentation. Their music is totally unique—although in some ways, their sound is reflective of their time. They couldn’t be truly conventional if (and when) they tried. Beyond the music, the Elevators’ saga touches on so many key themes for anyone with even a passing interest in American history, counterculture, psychedelia, etc. And yet the details of their story remained under-documented. This project was an opportunity to change that. 

Why is it that the 13th Floor Elevators aren’t as well known as they should be?

Mark Iosifescu: Basically, a myriad of factors outlined in depth in the book. They had rotten luck, were mismanaged by a totally unprofessional record label, and kind of bungled every opportunity they had to hit it big. They were also just too early to be doing what they were doing. They preached taking acid in mid-60s Texas, which was just a bad, dangerous idea. They came to San Francisco the summer before the Summer of Love, so that when the bands they inspired there were taking off, the Elevators were already falling apart. There’s an element of tragedy to the self-sabotage and missed opportunities. But at the same time, the band seems to have inspired most everyone who saw them and they opened the floodgates on psychedelia as a musical genre. After their breakup, the Elevators lived on as a cult thing, and that cult just built and built over decades. By now it’s safe to say that most music-minded folks acknowledge the Elevators as pioneers, but it’s still shocking how many people aren’t really aware of them or their impact.

Drop What You’re Doing and Learn About The 13th Floor Elevators
from 13TH FLOOR ELEVATORS: A VISUAL HISTORY, Published by ANTHOLOGY EDITIONS

What’s different about “A Visual History” versus “Eye Mind,” Paul Drummond’s text biography of the band?

Mark Iosifescu: “A Visual History” makes extensive use of Paul’s incomparable archive of Elevators material—photos, ephemera, artifacts, etc. The band’s visual impact was as huge as its musical one; consider the famous SF psychedelic posters for the shows they played there. Hundreds of these materials are presented in this book, many for the first time ever. “A Visual History” also includes a tremendous amount of new written material from interviews Paul conducted and materials he accessed since “Eye Mind” was released.

How can the 13th Floor Elevators’ influence be heard/seen in music today?

Mark Iosifescu: It’s honestly incalculable. Any music—I’m including all genres—that makes any claim to weirdo culture, to psychedelia, to outlaw/punk culture, to so-called “outsider music” or to the counterculture in general can trace a part of itself straight back to the 13th Floor Elevators. It sounds like hyperbole, but they really were that fundamental. I’m pretty sure we can include “High Times” on this list, by the way.

What role did psychedelics play in the creation of the band’s music?

Mark Iosifescu: A complicated one. The Elevators were major early advocates for psychedelics and surely opened a lot of minds to them. Tommy Hall’s lyrics were pretty much solely devoted to proselytizing on the virtues of psychedelics. But it wasn’t just a cause for them or a political platform: it was a lifestyle, and a problematic one. These guys really did do acid every day, for long stretches, in tremendous amounts, with tons of other harder and softer drugs mixed in. So while on the one hand it was this free, radical thing, on the other hand, it brought on disaster after disaster.

Stacy Sutherland, the band’s guitarist, struggled with the law and addiction for the duration of his life until he died in 1978. Roky Erickson was locked up in a state hospital for the criminally insane and subjected to barbaric “treatments.” His condition was definitely worsened by his high use of psychedelics. So it goes way beyond some idle pose or gimmick. Also, I mean, the whole band was busted for weed like a month after they started the band! That arrest hung over them for their entire existence and was a major factor in why they never toured properly or became the huge band they could have been. The list goes on and on.

What’s the larger hope with the release of “A Visual History?”

Mark Iosifescu: The real goal is to tell the story of the band in words and images at a previously-unknown level of detail and historical context, and with the help of some unbelievably great visuals. If it can go any way toward situating the band more firmly in the canon of all-time important American music, then that’s a small addition we’ll be glad to have made.

13th Floor Elevators: A Visual History by Paul Drummond, is now available in paperback everywhere.

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