"The true subject of English psychedelia was neither love nor drugs but nostalgia for the innocent vision of the child. ...Pop's late-60's preoccupation with the lost domain of childhood [was]... initiated by Lennon and McCartney with the single, 'Strawberry Fields Forever/Penny Lane'.
"The revolutionary spirit then abroad in America and Europe was never reciprocated in Albion, where tradition, nature and the childlike view were the things that sprang most readily to the LSD-heightened Anglo-Saxon mind." Ian MacDonald Revolution in the Head: The Beatles' Records and the Sixties
From Pink Floyd's references to Wind in the Willows, to John Lennon's unending fascination with Lewis Carroll, to the Small faces stoned-out fairy tale, Ogden's Nut Gone Flake, British rockers were obsessed for a time with the vision of childhood. "Show me that I'm everywhere/Then get me home for tea," George Harrison sang. Most evocative of all were the Incredible String Band, for whom the eyes of a child were a lens for viewing the hidden beauty and strangeness of the world.
Many of the great creators of English children's literature were people who felt themselves seriously, sometimes desperately out of place in their world. It's why they could create golden alternate worlds, tinged with palpable magic. The best of their work--like Wind in the Willows or the Mary Poppins books-- aren't just works of the imagination--they're works of vision. When psychedelia hit Britain, it was as natural a source for artists to look to as the Anthology of American Folk Music was for American musicians.
Cotchford farm in Sussex is where Christopher Robin Milne grew up-- the Christopher Robin, the inspiration and model for the central character in the Winnie the Pooh stories, which his father, A. A. Milne, wrote. The woods that stretch backward from the house are the 40 Acre Woods. The Enchanted Place on Top of the Forest is there. The bridge where Pooh and Eeyore invent Pooh Sticks is there. The garden of the house is maintained as a shrine to childhood, with rights of access granted in perpetuity to the Winnie-the-Pooh Society, and so to all Pooh- lovers.
It was here that Brian Jones, the most debauched and dangerous of the Rolling Stones and the band's founder, came in 1969 to try to pull his life back together, away from the mad Saturnalia that was pop star life in "Swinging London."
It was here that Mick Jagger and Keith Richards came to tell Brian he was no longer a Rolling Stone. The Stones wanted and needed to tour the United States, where they had not made a live appearance for several years. Brian, in his drug and booze raddled shape, could not possibly undertake the rigors of extended touring. He could barely play in the recording studio. Plus his two drug busts would effectively bar his entry to the States.
This was the Stones tour that ended in the debacle at Altamont. Things were turning dark all over as the 60s began switching off the lights.
Friends began to remark to each other that the benevolent atmosphere of Cotchford Farm was doing Brian good. Brian would allow no drugs in the house, (though he apparently still drank heavily from time to time). He talked about starting a roots rock band, what we would now call Americana--and was listening endlessly to Creedence. His housekeeper, Mary Hallett, who had worked at Cotchford Farm for decades, grew increasingly fond of him. She though he was a lost boy who needed a stable home. Sometimes, something in the way his hair fell over his forehead made her think of another golden-haired boy who had lived there long ago. Brian had wonderful, instinctive good manners that he could call on when needed and his relation with those younger and older than he were often very tender. It was with his peers, and himself, that the problems lay.
On the night of Wednesday, July 2, 1969, Brian had a few friends around--a girl friend, the contractor who had been doing repairs at Cotchford, his girlfriend. Maybe one or two others. They were sitting around the pool at the back of the house. Late in the evening, Brian announed he was going for a swim. He went inside to change, came back out, and dove in. As it was getting dark, and cooling off, the rest of the group went inside. A moment later, one of the women went back outside to get Brian. She found him lying face down on the bottom of the pool.
Brian was asthmatic. He was in terrible shape. He was probably drunk, and may have taken some sedative medication. There's nothing terribly mysterious about his death. Yet dark speculation--some of it verifiable--has swirled around the events ever since. There was some kind of bad blood between Brian and the contractors. Frank Thorogood, the head contractor, had apparently been trying to collect a debt from Brian for some time. He was the last person to see Brian alive. And someone was burning something in several small fires, in the small hours of that night, at Cotchford.
Something called to Brian Jones from Cotchford Farm, as the world of childhood, remembered or imagined, called to British rock and rollers toward the end of the 60s. Many of them would visit that country. Few of them paid so high a price.