Gavin Kensinger | Boston University | ENG 2025
Kevin Parker, the creator, singer, and instrumentalist of the music project “Tame Impala”, has brought a new wave of popularity to the music genre Psychedelic Rock. After starting in 2007, the project didn’t gain major media attention until the late 2010s. The most notable characteristic of Kevin’s music is the heavy influence of psychedelic themes. However, these themes are not only limited to his music and spill over into different aspects that Kevin experiments with at his concerts, such as light shows.
Featuring a unique style in contrast to current music trends, he has drawn the attention of many in recent years. Consequently, many are beginning to reevaluate why we, as a collective, have labeled the psychedelic community as problematic. Beginning in the late 60s, psychedelic rock was quick to be labeled with “hippies” and a different way of thinking than the societal norm. Because of this “us versus them” scenario, society has labeled this culture as bad without even beginning to understand it.
Music is the universal language, something every human on earth can recognize despite their differences, and because of this, music is often a medium for conversation and change. For decades, artists have used music as an outlet to express their emotions regarding a multitude of issues. From war, government, gender norms, and even psychedelics, musicians have used their talents to induce conversation about widespread issues. Music serves as their voice, their consciousness, and broadcasts it to everyone on earth.
To understand why this stigma should be opposed, you first have to know what created it. Initially, there was a decade of precursor events in the 50s that founded the culture and ideas around psychedelics. Numerous authors, part of the Beat Generation, thought up new ideologies that opposed traditional thinking. Additionally, the CIA created and tested a new drug, LSD that eventually leaked out to the public. Combining these two factors is what led to the creation of the psychedelic community, but it was too spread out and too small to be fully recognizable.
“The Summer of Love” was the name given to the summer of 1967. It was a culmination of everything leading up to this point, with numerous festivals, lots of psychedelics, and new bands. With all the events that took place during this summer, the culture around psychedelics finally solidified and established itself. It was no longer the ideas of authors or the drugs given out by missionaries in the 50s; it was now a community. This community would gather for the first time with the Monterey Pop Festival at the beginning of the summer. The festival featured three days of music in Monterey, California, with artists including “The Grateful Dead,” Jimi Hendrix, and “The Who.”
One of the challenges of getting the festival the green light was public opinion. Since becoming more organized, the psychedelic community had also gained negative public attention. Many felt that they didn’t fit into society and viewed them as lazy, drug-addicted, and rebellious. While society saw them as “others,” so did the community. They didn’t want to follow society’s rules, and so, in a way, they only increased the distance between themselves and the majority. However, in order to gain access to public land for the festival, they needed to fit in. So the leaders of the festival promised they would spread the word that no drugs would be tolerated and that all proceeds would be donated to charity. Despite this, drugs were rampant at the festival and it became unhinged. After their sets, both “The Who” and Jimi Hendrix smashed their guitars on the stage, Jimi had even set his on fire.
To promote the festival, “The Mamas and Papas” wrote the song “If You’re Going To San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear Flowers In Your Hair)“. This song would become the anthem of the event and the rest of the summer, and was the origin of the stereotypical “flower child” in psychedelic culture.
More festivals and events would occur over the summer, leading to thousands of people flocking to the San Francisco Bay area. Neighborhoods quickly became overcrowded, and the quality of life deteriorated. The streets were riddled with homeless people, trash, and drug-addicted youth. Public opinion only grew worse after seeing this and, eventually evolved into the stigma that still exists to this day.
The stigma around the community is complicated. It was created by opposition to societal standards, yet reinforced by the actions of the community itself. Regardless of what the opinions of the community were, they were rebels. They went against what was normal and were proud to do it. Despite this, the actions of the psychedelic community changed the course of history and ushered in a new era in our society. Kevin Parker of “Tame Impala” hopes to remove the negative connotations around such important characters in our history. To do so, he is bringing about a “second wave” of the psychedelic community. Although he is making some changes along the way. By taking the core characteristics of the psychedelic era and adapting them to modern trends, Kevin ignores the self-imposed seclusion and rebellious nature the first wave had. Instead, he presents to the public an open and welcoming environment that is familiar with the culture we live in today rather than differing from it.
The genre of psychedelic rock is typically defined by music that enhances or simulates the effects of a psychedelic trip. In the 60s, this was attributed to complex and wild electric guitar solos and thought-provoking lyrics. In today’s music trends where repetitive pop dominates, Kevin has evolved what this genre might sound like. Similar to the majority of songs in today’s industry, Kevin’s songs have a catchy rhythmic beat featuring high levels of bass, unlike the integrated and upfront style of the drummer in 60s rock. This is especially prevalent in his songs “Breathe Deeper” and “Is it True”, where the beat of the song is almost identical to that of current pop trends. However, Kevin isn’t afraid to show where he got his inspiration from in songs like “Elephant,” where he plays a long, and wild guitar solo similar to that of Jimi Hendrix and “The Grateful Dead.” Regardless of the contrasts, Kevin’s defining characteristic is his embodiment of the psychedelic spirit. In songs like “One More Year”, heavy distortion is applied to synths to create almost a “wave” or gradient of noise that truly embodies the psychedelic style.
Much like other music today, Kevin makes use of repeated choruses. However, he follows the standard set by his predecessors with his thoughtful and self-reflective lyrics. In his song “Eventually,” Kevin reflects on the effects of a breakup on one’s psyche, more specifically about putting one’s self and happiness first. He sings, “If only there could be another way to do this…Cause it feels like murder to put your heart through this… I know I always said that I could never hurt you… Well, this is the very, very last time I’m ever going to… But I know that I’ll be happier…And I know you will too… Said, I know that I’ll be happier…And I know you will too…Eventually, ah-ah, ah, ah-ah…Eventually, ah-ah, ah, ah-ah”.
Additionally, in another song, “No Choice,” Kevin even expresses the ideologies of Beat Generation literature by examining his own mortality and questioning his life’s direction in the lines, “All the constants in your future bore you…Kinda makes your mind up for you…Knowing just what lies before you…Gives you no surprise…It doesn’t matter if I want to go somewhere new…At the end of the day, I have no choice…It wouldn’t matter that I had to break it with you…Going over and over brings no joy…Nice and short…There must be something more…Life’s a chore…What are we living for?” By bringing the lyrical style of the past and making it relatable to the people of the present, Kevin allows for all people to take part in the community, not just the youth.
The lyrics and sound of Tame Impala are not the only psychedelic traits expressed. One of the biggest defining features of the 60s and psychedelic drugs were the visuals. Kevin makes no shortcoming in bringing this characteristic to the present day. In his concerts, he makes heavy use of extravagant light shows and on-screen visuals. In fact, Kevin Parker even won the 2019 award for best stage lighting for his show at Coachella. This light show included a 40-foot-wide ring of lights that descended over Kevin and swirled around to flash over the crowd. Accompanying the ring, an army of lasers, strobe lights, swirling gradients, and psychedelic videos were synchronized to the songs playing, creating an atmosphere that people described as feeling “alive”. While Kevin’s use of visuals hopes to accomplish the same thing as the visuals of the 60s, his differs in the fact that they are more similar to those of clubs and parties of the present rather than the eastern and “flower child” aesthetic of the 60s. This characteristic of “Tame Impala” is evolving psychedelia into something new and modern. This allows for the community to be new and different from that of the 60s while still being built upon the same principles.
The 60s were a pivotal moment in our history. Our society was highly affected and defined by the actions of the people during that time. Unfortunately, they have been looked upon negatively for decades for their rebellious actions and recreational use of psychedelic drugs. The artist Kevin Parker of the music project “Tame Impala” works to destigmatize the nature of this community of people through his music. More specifically, Kevin incorporates the spirit of the 60s and these people into his work and presents it in a more modern manner that doesn’t ostracize it from the norms of society. This allows for people to reevaluate why they hold the opinions they do and hopefully look past the stigma around the psychedelic community. Kevin Parker’s work may one day be seen as activist work that changed our society forever.
About the Author | My name is Gavin Kensinger. I am a freshman Mechanical Engineer at Boston University. I have been listening to Tame Impala for many years now. Unfortunately, I wasn’t always as involved or interested in the music project as I am now, but I still feel I have a deep connection to the music. Because I have been listening for so long, the music has been there with me through so many changes in my life, and for some of these changes, there are songs directly intertwined. One song in particular, Eventually, is very personal to me. As forementioned this song is about putting yourself, your peace, and your happiness first and in my life, I have especially lived to these words. Additionally, because of the events, I found myself in the song titled has become synonymous with hope, as eventually, it will get better, whatever it is you are going through.