TIMOTHY LEARY’S LAST TRIP
IF YOU ARE GOING TO SAN FRANCISCO
Counterculture of the 1960′
“If You’re Going to San Fransisco…Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair.”
The Hippie Lifestyle
The period of the 1960’s was a time of rapid social change and immergence in the United States. A leftist and liberal philosophy within the society, coupled with the powerful anti-Vietnam War movement, made the 1960’s an extremely memorable era. Fueled by the urge to break away from the conservative mindsets of the ideal 1950’s family, the counterculture generation took a stand against such restricting factors. In doing so, the “hippie” culture took root and spread throughout the United States, mainly amongst the young, college students who were attracted to such a free lifestyle. Philosophies such as free love, communal living, and experimentation with various mind-altering drugs were trademark of the hippie lifestyle. Partaking in activities such as these separated the people from the previous churchgoing, family oriented decade and a powerful counterculture developed.
“If it feels good, do it,” sums the entire attitude of the hippie generation. Each lived a carefree life in which they could express themselves to the fullest and carry on unrestricting customs that were never before seen in society. Constraint of the body as well as the mind was ruled non-cohesive in the beliefs of this new generation. The people wanted to be as free as possible and did so by expressing themselves in unlimited ways. The common characteristics of the hippie were long hair, second-hand, colorful clothing, flowers and beads as well as sandals or bare feet. Sexual experimentation thrived through the culture as free love and casual relations took the place of family values and strict Christian beliefs in a lifetime partnership.
“The counterculture questioned sexual morality and proposed many different models: extended sexual families, sex orgies, sex-therapy groups, acceptance of homosexuality and, most of all, a positive, joyful celebration of sexuality, as opposed to the uptight morality of the previous generation,” (Miles 13).
The open and free sexuality brought about a huge shift in the culture of the United States. People of the counterculture no longer felt the harsh constrictions of society and they each experienced a strong feeling of liberation because of this. When birth control became readily available to the public, women were given more freedom in their sexuality and this fueled the philosophy of free love. Such freedom among the hippie community sparked questioning of sexual roles and demonstrated how the hippie culture was contributing largely to the change of customs in society.
As contemporary personal values and beliefs flourished, people of these similar views tended to join together through communal living. Many hippies of the nation migrated to the West coast of the United States after they dropped out of college to express their freedom and beliefs in a nonrestrictive society.
“Searching for a place in which they could feel free to express their political views and creative spirit, many found themselves in California or New York. Most gravitated to a desolate part of San Francisco known as the Haight-Ashbury District. This neighborhood, close to San Francisco, State College, provided homes for many students,” (Hoy 2).
People of the counterculture found communal living beneficial to their personal needs as well as to their essential beliefs. When living with other people who possess the same views and methods of survival, the group generally tends to conflict with one another much less. When people find benefit in easier living, namely in communes, they are able to agree with the people around them, in turn creating a generally peaceful environment. One of the most popular hippie gatherings was in the Haight-Ashbury District in San Francisco, California. Sparked by the opening of a Psychedelic shop that sold books on drugs and oriental philosophy, flutes, beads, and other hippie paraphernalia. The youth of the counterculture were attracted to this and were quickly drawn to the area. The district provided places to live for the growing population of college dropouts and fed the culture that was driving the counterculture of the United States. There are numerous cases, however, in which when not controlled or peaceful, communes can be a negative thing. If not cautious, the commune could turn into a cult. One of the most famous “communes” of the era was under Charles Manson, a crazed murderer and essential madman. He is highly notorious for acts of sodomy, violent murder, rape, and robbery, among numerous other serious felonies (Miles 272). Manson’s cult is prime example of how communal living could be an evil institution. Although there are unfortunate cases such as this, for the most part, communal living was beneficial to the people within the institution and was a peaceful way of sharing the wealth of life.
Along with free love and revolutionary philosophies, the drug culture was a main and important attribute to the new counterculture of the United States. It was not uncommon for hippies to have marijuana or LSD in their possession. Mind altering drugs were extremely popular amongst the youth culture because they were able to free their minds more effectively.
“While listening to this (psychedelic rock) some hippies smoked marijuana or took LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide), a powerful drug that includes hallucinations,” (Hoy 2).
Getting high was the ultimate method for a hippie to release their minds and relieve any sort of impurity or stress in their life. Drugs were a lifestyle, providing income for the majority, usually just enough money for personal marijuana purchase and basic living costs. Rising celebrities, mainly on the rock scene front, such as Jimi Hendrix and The Beatles experimented in the drug culture. Hendrix dabbled heavily in LSD while the Beatles experimented with LSD as well and marijuana on occasion. Paul McCartney of the Beatles answers questions,
“’Do you think you have encouraged your fans to take drugs?’
‘I don’t think it will make any difference. You know, I don’t think it will make any difference. You know, I don’t think my fans are going to take drugs just because I did,’” (Miles 237).
The celebrities claim to not want to directly influence the fans into taking on the drug culture, but were rather experimenting with it for their personal curiosity or interest. Even though marijuana was technically illegal, it was only the rich and famous who were caught and penalized with scandal. This was mostly because the conservative remnants of society rejected the hippie lifestyle and its influence on society as a whole. Conservatives took action and turned events into scandals in order to downplay and discredit the hippie movement. Although drugs such as marijuana and LSD have been illegal, except for medicinal uses, before and during the 1960s, they were not uncommon in the slightest. Drugs were readily available to the common hippie of the 1960s and allowed them to free their mind and experience an alternate way of life.
The hippie lifestyle matched that of any other new and different way of life, revolutionary and for the most part, popular. The 1960’s was a period in which college students “tune in, turn on, and drop out”, like psychedelic drug research advocate, Timothy Leary states. The revolutionists of the era expressed their New Leftist beliefs by expanding their sexual freedoms, living together in communes, and involving themselves in the powerful drug culture which would allow them to ideally live by their free beliefs. The hippie lifestyle was truly a side of society which effectively expressed and practiced their ways of life alongside the disapproving conservative America of the previous decade.
Counterculture of the 1960’s
Express Your Inner Hippie;
the Art, Fashion and Music of the 1960’s
The counterculture of the United States brought on a new sense and philosophy of life and along with this, different and new ways of expression. The counterculture youth of the nation utilized their first Amendment rights to their full advantage in terms of protest, music, literature and art. The freedom of expression was the main attribute to the carefree, hippie lifestyle. The youth expressed their beliefs through freedom of expression by dawning eccentric clothing, creating new artwork and literature, and expressing themselves through song.
With new ideas about life came new designs for clothing and trends in the 1960’s. Designers fashioned new clothing for the expanding hippie culture whom were attracted to the bright, psychedelic colors and patterns. The drug culture and massive quantities of LSD being consumed fed the appeal of such bizarre fashion. “‘With acid, there was an emergence of young people dressed to die for’ –Christopher Gibbs,” (Miles 255). Designers purposefully created patterns and colors that imitated an “acid trip”.
“The patterns, suitably enough, were created by the burning of acetate colored slides with acid…Colors and materials floated, crossed over into one another and seemed to expand and blur as the wearer danced,” (Miles 255).
People made statements with their outlandish attire and attitudes. The clothing was a way in which the youth could express themselves to the public as free individuals who had no regard for what people had to say about them or how they dressed. Some hippies did not feel the need for such expensive, outrageous clothing. Some were content with less expensive or home-made clothing.
“The 1960’s describes hippies wearing flowers in their hair, dressing in second-hand clothes from thrift and army surplus stores. They wore ponchos, bell-bottoms decorated with patches and embroidered tie-dye shirts, leather sandals, bright colors, and intricate patterns…Women wore men’s clothes and ‘granny dresses’ without bras because they found them too restricting,” (Hoy 1).
Some hippies did not feel the need to spend so much money on the highest and fashionable trends of the era. Instead, they kept their attire simple and used what money they made for essential living and most times drugs.
The fundamental origin of the 1960’s hippie culture was derived from the “Beat Generation” of the late 1950’s. Generally known as “Beatniks”, these people started to really experiment in the field of art, namely poetry.
“Beatniks frequently rejected middle-class American values, customs, and tastes in favor of radical politics and exotic jazz, art and literature,” (‘Beatnick’ 1).
The “New Beats” developed into the Hippie Generation in the 1960’s as the culture in popularity and exposure increased dramatically. Beatniks were struggling artists, trying to find new ways to express themselves and quickly found an outlet in poetry. Aside from new literature which fed the public alternate ways of life and philosophies, the psychedelic poster business took form and exploded onto the scene. Bold, fluorescent colors and intricate patterns were also reflected in the art of poster making. The fascination with such bizarre patterns and colors was apparent through both the clothing and the posters.
“1966 was the year that psychedelic posters really took off…The letters were often so distorted that they were very difficult to decipher-unless you were stoned. This made the posters and the events they were advertising more appealing,” (Miles 100).
People would design these posters such as fashion designers created clothes and outfits for the hippie generation to wear. People of the generation were highly attracted to them, just as much as they were attracted to the drug culture that was thriving in the nation. Andy Warhol, a famous artist of the era, designed album covers for bands as well as works of art. He is known for many works, among them the psychedelic four-frame portrait of Marylyn Monroe and the can of Campbell’s Tomato Soup. Busses that transported hippies to the West Coast, such as San Francisco, were painted with similar designs and plenty of bright colors. Bright colors and intricate patterns, as well as deep thought were methods of effective expression during the counterculture era.
Throughout the decades of the 20th century, each has had their own label in terms of musical revolution. For example, swing was popular in the 1920’s, jazz and blues through the next two and a half decades, and rock ‘n’ roll in the conservative 1950’s. The 1960’s era is known for the emergence of psychedelic rock, a genre which hippies listened to when high on drugs, believing they could reach a higher place. The “British Invasion” of bands from England contributed to the explosion of this new rock genre in the United States. “Then came the Beatles, followed rapidly by the Stones and a whole explosion of beat groups that transformed rock ‘n’ roll, if not overnight, then in a year or so,” (Miles 76). The Beatles were a crazed sensation in the United States; they gained a solid fan base in the country amongst the youth. Amongst the most popular groups were the individuals who spoke out against issues with their music. People such as Bob Dylan expressed his protest point of view through acoustic singing and song-writing. He soon became “an electrified spokesperson for a generation in 1965.” (Miles 50). Artists such as Dylan were able to express their views on current issues of the country because they had a right to do so, and because they wanted to be heard. Janis Joplin, a female artistic activist, both for anti-war protest and feminisms in this era because she was able to express herself through music, much like the rest of the counterculture in the United States. The new-wave genre of psychedelic rock took firm hold on the nation and grew more defined as its popularity expanded and the hippie generation found another effective way to freely express themselves.
With a completely worry and carefree lifestyle, the people of the Hippie generation and counterculture used their rights as citizens of the United States to their advantage. They could outright ridicule America’s involvement in the Vietnam War and make statements against the restrictive society that possessed the previous decade. Counterculture youth made statements with their fashion sense, their creative and appealing artwork and through their own voice, either through poetry and literature or song. It was never uncommon to see people of this generation dressing bizarrely, or even simply, painting the flowers and peace signs on the side of an old bus in neon colors, and never without a guitar or flute. Through each of these means, the hippie generation effectively defines their views and purpose, and in turn, positively share it with the rest of society.
“Beatnik.” RetroGalaxy.Com. 2007. Online. Internet. 06.06.07. Available:
Hoy, Rosemary. “Flower Children Chose Alternative Lifestyle.” Borderlands.
Miles, Barry. Hippy. New York. Sterling Publishing Co., Inc, 2003.
Make love, not war. Don’t trust anyone over 30. Turn on, tune in, and drop out. I am a human being — please do not fold, bend spindle, or mutilate.
These and many more became slogans for emerging youth culture — a counterculture — in the 1960s. The baby boom was entering its teen years, and in sheer numbers they represented a larger force than any prior generation in the history of the United States. As more and more children of middle-class Americans entered college, many rejected the suburban conformity designed by their parents.
Never more than a minority movement, the so-called “hippie” lifestyle became synonymous with American youth of the 1960s. Displaying frank new attitudes about drugs and sex, communal lifestyles, and innovations in food, fashion, and music, the counterculture youth of America broke profoundly with almost all values their parents held dear.
The sexual revolution was in full swing on American college campuses. Birth control and a rejection of traditional views of sexuality led to a more casual attitude toward sex. Displays of public nudity became commonplace. Living together outside marriage shattered old norms.
In addition to changes in sexual attitudes, many youths experimented with drugs. Marijuana and LSD were used most commonly, but experimentation with mushrooms and pills was common as well. A Harvard professor named Timothy Leary made headlines by openly promoting the use of LSD. There was a price to be paid for these new attitudes. With the new freedom came an upsurge of venereal diseases, bad trips, and drug addictions.
Like the utopian societies of the 1840s, over 2000 rural communes formed during these turbulent times. Completely rejecting the capitalist system, many communes rotated duties, made their own laws, and elected their own leaders. Some were philosophically based, but others were influenced by new religions. Earth-centered religions, astrological beliefs, and Eastern faiths proliferated across American campuses. Some scholars labeled this trend as the Third Great Awakening.
Most communes, however, faced fates similar to their 19th century forebears. A charismatic leader would leave or the funds would become exhausted, and the commune would gradually dissolve.
One lasting change from the countercultural movement was in American diet. Health food stores sold wheat germ, yogurt, and granola, products completely foreign to the 1950s America. Vegetarianism became popular among many youths. Changes in fashion proved more fleeting. Long hair on young men was standard, as were Afros. Women often wore flowers in their hair. Ethnic or peasant clothing was celebrated.. Beads, bellbottom jeans, and tie-dyed shirts became the rage, as each person tried to celebrate his or her own sense of individuality.
The common bond among many youths of the time was music. Centered in the Haight-Ashbury section of San Francisco, a new wave of psychedelic rock and roll became the music of choice. Bands like the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, and the Doors created new sounds with electrically enhanced guitars, subversive lyrics, and association with drugs.
Folk music was fused with rock, embodied by the best-known solo artist of the decade, Bob Dylan. When the popular Beatles went psychedelic with their landmark album Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, counterculture music became mainstream.
It is important to note that the counterculture was probably no more than ten percent of the American youth population. Contrary to common belief, most young Americans sought careers and lifestyles similar to their parents. Young educated people actually supported the war in Vietnam in greater numbers than older, uneducated Americans. The counterculture was simply so outrageous that the media made their numbers seem larger than in reality. Nevertheless, this lifestyle made an indelible cultural impact on America for decades to come.
What happened to the ideals of the counterculture? Why weren’t they able to sustain their utopian views? In part there views were subsumed by the greater culture. Moreover, it’s one thing to say you want a revolution, quite another to try to affect one.
THE MAN WHO TURNED ON AMERICA -TIMOTHY LEARY
Date of Birth 22 October 1920 , Springfield, Massachusetts, USA
Date of Death 31 May 1996 , Beverly Hills, Los Angeles, California, USA (prostate cancer)
Mini Bio (1)
His mother was a teacher and his father a dentist. He attended West Point, joined the Army, and earned an undergraduate psychology degree at the University of Alabama while in service. Next he earned a master’s degree from Washington State University and a doctorate in psychology from the University of California at Berkeley. In 1959, Leary joined the faculty of Harvard University. There, he met professor Richard Alpert and began a series of controlled experiments with psychedelic drugs. Four years later they were fired for using undergraduate students in the tests. They retired to Millbrook Estate, a 63-room mansion in upstate New York. People like William Burroughs, Abbie Hoffman, Jack Kerouac, Aldous Huxley and Allen Ginsberg came and went, all united by a desire to experience better living through chemistry. In 1970, he escaped from the California Men’s Colony at San Luis Obispo, where he was serving a 10-year sentence for possession of two marijuana joints. His bust-out was aided by the Weather Underground and his third wife, Rosemary. He and she roamed from country to country. In Algeria, they took stayed with Eldridge Cleaver, who ultimately kidnapped his guests after a political disagreement. They escaped and fled to Switzerland. In 1973, at the Kabul airport in Afghanistan, Leary was arrested by agents from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Extradited to the United States, he was sent to Folsom prison near Sacramento. He was paroled in 1976. Leary’s life turned to lecture tours, stand-up comedy, writing books, cyberspace and the Hollywood party scene. He launched a much-ridiculed lecture tour in 1982 with Watergate villain G. Gordon Liddy. He learned of his prostate cancer in January 1995 and celebrated his remaining lifetime through his own website.
THANKS TO TOP DOCUMENTARY FILMS
Hunter S. Thompson and Johnny Depp: Partners in Film and Life
March 05, 2012 | by: Christopher Burns
Thompson and Depp
Thompson and Depp
Johnny Depp and Hunter S. Thompson first met in 1994 at the Woody Creek Tavern, instantly connecting as sons of the great state of Kentucky. Little did they know that this meeting would lead one of the most dynamic author/actor relationships Hollywood has seen since Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe. The checkered youths of both Depp and Thompson brought them close together during that first meeting in 1994, and they became best friends nearly instantly.
“You could strike sparks anywhere. There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning. . . .
Hunter S. Thompson and Johnny Depp
And that, I think, was the handle—that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn’t need that. Our energy would simply prevail. There was no point in fighting—on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave. . . .
So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark—that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.”
-Hunter S. Thompson in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
Thompson was born in Louisville, Kentucky in 1937, the son of a World War One veteran who died when he was 15. His mother sunk into a deep alcoholic state following his father’s death, and was described as a heavy drinker for some time. After being arrested and forced into the Air Force for a short time to avoid jail, Thompson began a career in journalism.
Like Thompson, Depp had a interesting high school experience, and never ended up graduating. He dropped out of high school to pursue a career as a Rock musician only to return two weeks later requesting re-admittance. Instead, the principal encouraged him to follow his dreams and Depp took off for Los Angeles, where he would eventually become a teen idol on the show 21 Jump Street.
Thompson, Depp, John Cusack, Inflatable Sex Doll
Professionally, both men were never afraid to push the boundaries of art and information. Thompson’s most amazing skill was capturing the air of excitement surrounding any great event, often using less that literal prose to do so. He was more than content taking cues from great journalists like Ernie Pyle, as well as from the literary icons he and Depp so adored, such as Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald. In fact, he was fired as a copy boy at Time magazine for wasting time rewriting the Great Gatsby over and over again in order to understand how it felt to write a great novel.
This style became known as Gonzo journalism, and was credited as one of the most pioneering styles of reporting in the 20th century. Much more suited to a feature book or magazine, Gonzo is an often rambling form of writing which explores both the apparent and implicit side of the reported events.
While his lifelong reporting on President Nixon was less than factually precise: “Ford, who believes strongly in Heaven and Hell, has told more than one of his celebrity golf partners that ‘I know I will go to hell, because I pardoned Richard Nixon.’” His reporting spoke for a generation of Americans with a great disdain for the authority which continually betrayed them.
In Thompson’s semi-fictional accounts, the American public found a voice which transcended the black and white truth of the daily newspaper. His honest, brutal approach to life and writing rocked the journalism world like The Rolling Stones changed music, and Ken Kesey changed American literature. Like any good rock star, Thompson was considered a black mouth promoter of drugs and alcohol by many conservative journalists who denounced his demeanor as unprofessional and immoral. He was not afraid to hide his frequent use of LSD, Mushrooms, Peyote, Weed, and Booze, and once told a reporter that any writer who claimed alcohol diminished their ability to write was a liar.
In the Summer of 1997, Johnny Depp lived in the basement ‘war room’ of Thompson’s house, bearing the title Colonel Depp. During those months, Depp and Thompson grew close as friends, brother’s and family. Of the great Doctor, the actor said “He knew I worshiped him, and I know that he loved me, so he may have been part father figure, part mentor, but I’d say the closest thing is brothers. We were like brothers.”
Depp in Fear and Loathing
Both Thompson and Depp held a contempt for authority close to their hearts. The way Thompson saw it, he was an outlaw intent on exposing the American dream for what he though it really was: dead. Though Hell’s Angels was Hunter’s first big hit, His novel Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas affirmed his place as an American pop icon. While living with Thompson, Depp studied his character, hoping to one day have the honor of portraying him in some sort of theatrical adaptation of the novel. When Fear and Loathing received a film, Depp was one of only a few people considered for the role.
The novel is less about the rampant drug use found in the movie, and more about the semi-autobiographical journey Thompson took to Las Vegas to figure out exactly what happened to the American Dream our culture had come to call upon during the counterculture revolution. Depp’s performance in this film is perhaps the highest proof of the strong relationship and understanding between the two men. The Thompson character Depp pulls through with is leagues better than Bill Murray’s attempt in Where the Buffalo Roam, and he captures the hard drinking, hard smoking character perfectly… “We can’t stop now, this is bat country!”
HUNTER S. THOMPSON,JOHNNY DEPP AND JOHN CUCSAK WITH BLOW UP DOLL
Recently, Depp was involved in another adaptation of Thompson’s work called The Rum Diaries. The legitimate novel focuses on a man named Paul Kemp as he explores Puerto Rico as a journalist in the 1950s. It portrays the art of a much younger and conservative H.S.T. who was just beginning to dip into the beauty of Gonzo prose. The DVD version of this film was just release in middle February.
Both films are a testament to the relationship of Johnny Depp and Hunter S. Thomspon. In both roles, as Raul Duke and Paul Kemp, Depp calls upon a great understanding of his author friend to craft characters as believable as they are unbelievable, a special gift Thompson possessed as well. Perhaps this is their greatest compliment, the ability to use the absurd, the uncalled for, and the unaccepted in order to expose a world which normal words and images could not. They challenged the norm and forged their own paths towards greatness.
And less we forget, when Thompson passed away in 2005, Depp financed the entire affair. An affair which happened to include the ashes of Dr. Gonzo being launched out of a gigantic cannon atop a 150 ft tower with Bob Dylan’s Mr. Tambourine Man playing alongside red green and white fireworks. If that’s not a funeral I don’t know what is.
“I feel him every single day. Literally, from the time I wake up and have coffee to when I plop my head down on the pillow, I’m haunted by him. And I’m ecstatic for it. I was very fortunate back then to know that whatever was going on, whatever was happening with us, whatever we were doing, I knew it was really special, and I knew that was never going to happen again. I’m very lucky.”
There has been a trip taken by many people over a number of years, starting in the Sixties, says Owsley Stanley in a wordy essay on the website where he sold hand-crafted metal jewellery from his adopted home in northern Australia. “It is a trip to renew our connection with the planet we live on and its lifeforms… We thought of ourselves as exploring new ways of looking at the universe but as it turns out the adventure is almost as old as man himself.”
Stanley, once described by US agents as “the man who did for LSD what Henry Ford did for the motorcar”, has now set out on a different kind of trip, following his death in a car crash on Sunday night at the age of 76. A dogmatic eccentric, who had moved to tropical Queensland in order to be safe from the ice age he believed would be unleashed by global warming and who refused to eat anything other than meat and dairy foods because he thought vegetables were toxic, he was not by all accounts the easiest character.
But for a few years in the last century he was synonymous with the drug he manufactured in vast quantities and dispensed free because he and his hundreds of thousands of hippie followers were convinced it would save the world. In the Oxford Dictionary of ModernSlang, “Owsley acid” is defined as “high-quality LSD”. That’s the hallucinogenic drug lysergic acid diethylamide (the abbreviation comes from its German name) first created from a grain fungus bya Swiss chemist in the Thirties.
With its mind-bending psychological effects it was used for a while as a therapeutic mental health drug. Patients included the actor Cary Grant, who announced excitedly: “I have been born again.” It was also studied with great interest by the CIA, which tested it widely and even tried to slip some to Fidel Castro before a TV address. In the early Sixties it was discovered by the fledgling counter-culture springing up in San Francisco’s run- down but picturesque Haight- Ashbury district. Already interested in Native American spiritualism and back-to-nature simplicity these early hippies were entranced by the “psychedelic” view of the world that even the tiniest dose of acid – as LSD was nicknamed – could provide.
Among them was Augustus Owsley Stanley III, who was born in Kentucky in 1935 and whose grandfather of the same name had been governor of that state. Studying at the University of Berkeley, just across the bay from San
Francisco, he dropped out after less than a year having discovered the recipe for LSD in a chemistry journal. He reputedly made 1.25million doses between 1965 and 1967.
His makeshift laboratory was raided by police soon after he started but since LSD was not yet illegal officers were forced to give his equipment back. With a reputation for making the purest product Stanley became the official supplier to novelist Ken Kesey, who had been introduced to the drug as a CIA volunteer and now organised “acid test” parties where guests sipped from LSD-spiked punch.
Meanwhile Jimi Hendrix’s song Purple Haze was said to be inspired by a potent batch of Owsley acid.
When the drug was made illegal in California in 1966 Stanley carried on running a secret lab. This was raided in 1967. He escaped jail but finally went to prison for two years when he was arrested for possessing marijuana and a judge revoked his bail. “I wound up doing time for something I should have been rewarded for,” he said in a rare interview with the San Francisco Chronicle in 2007. “What I did was a community service, the way I look at it. I was punished for political reasons. Absolutely meaningless. Was I a criminal? No. I was a good member of society – only my society and the one making the laws are different.”
That may not convince everyone but he certainly did not conform to the standard image of a drug baron. Because the doses involved in taking LSD were tiny it was difficult to manufacture the drug in modest quantities and Stanley gave a great deal of it away in order to keep the street price down. He said he wanted to get out after it became illegal but he felt an obligation to the hundreds of thousands of hippies who were switching on to the new psychedelic consciousness.
“I got to San Francisco in 1967 and we were definitely happy customers of Owsley Stanley,” says Ben Collins, now an HIV consultant in his 60s but then a student at Stanford University. He recalls travelling to a desert gig by the band Jefferson Airplane, where lead singer Grace Slick kept whispering the refrain “Drop acid, drop acid” into the microphone.
Collins and his friends didn’t know what this meant – but by the end of the summer they did. Colins says: “It had a transformative influence on the college campuses and the major hip cities. A lot of people dropped out and Stanford virtually shut down for a while. It felt creative and incredibly positive and you really did have the impression that if everybody just lived together dropping acid it would solve the problems of the world.
“We were watching terrible images from Vietnam on the news every night and all the young men taking LSD were facing the draft so there was an incredible need to escape from the world to some other place and ‘get out of it’. It’s no coincidence that the anti-war movement became so powerful at that time.” Young people flocked to Haight- Ashbury to take part in what became known as the Summer of Love. By the autumn of 1967 the leaders of the hippie community pleaded with them to stop coming and to take the counter-culture to their home communities instead.
By that time LSD was becoming embedded in the culture – and not just in songs by bands such as the Grateful Dead, for whom Stanley worked as manager and sound engineer. The Beatles’ album Magical Mystery Tour was clearly inspired by psychedelic imagery and the BBC banned their song Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds because of the cheeky abbreviation its title seemed to spell. Meanwhile the drop-out communities with their new ways of living spawned new movements for women’s liberation and gay rights, and lent valuable support to the growing civil rights movement.
Not everyone was impressed. The writer Joan Didion went to stay in Haight-Ashbury and wrote of the squalor she found there, with lost teenagers sought by frantic parents and rape dressed up as free love. “We are seeing the desperate attempt of pathetically unequipped children to create a community in a social vacuum,” she wrote. “We had somehow neglected to tell these children the rules of the game we happened to be playing. They are less in rebellion against the society than ignorant of it.”
For his part, Stanley moved to Australia, became a great-grandfather and was said to have become less crabby with age. “I never set out to change the world,” he said. “I only set out to make sure I was taking something [where] I knew what it was. And it’s hard to make a little. My friends all wanted to know what they were taking too. Of course, my friends expanded very rapidly.” Unlike later kinds of recreational drugs, LSD is not addictive. Some heavy users
reported “flashbacks” but these are no longer officially recognised as a psychiatric symptom.
The main danger was an impaired ability to make sensible judgments and understand common dangers. According to one popular urban myth, people tended to jump off buildings because they thought they could fly. Today the drug has largely disappeared, partly because the new way of looking at the world lost its attraction. “After lots of acid trips I got jaded,” recalls Collins. “‘Same ol’ eternal verities,’ I would mutter at the end of another 24-hour trip.”
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Music helps to heal the soul.