Saturday, October 17, 2009


Purple Haze was in my brain, lately things don't seem the same...

Jimi Hendrix brought the thrills and spills of the LSD experience into shag-carpeted rec rooms across America, playing a brand new, wildly improvisational electric music some enterprising cub reporter labeled "acid rock." Like it or not, acid played a huge role in the counterculture, and eventually undermined the dominant mainstream culture. Or did it? Here's Jimi playing "Purple Haze" at Woodstock.

'Scuse me while I kiss the sky...

She's a witch of trouble in electric blue, in her own mad mind she's in love with you...Psychedelia from the Cream. The surrealist lyrics and lurid, luminous album cover clearly reflected the acid experience. Eric Clapton's guitar glimmered with a lysergic light, and many an innocent lad learned the glorious riff of "Sunshine of Your Love" without the slightest clue about Albert Hoffman's remarkable discovery in a Swiss lab back in 1938. The trickle down had begun, and illuminated artists and musicians of the counterculture were ambassadors of a strange new country that filtered through the tiny transistor radios of Rapid City and Buffalo, of Long Beach and Beaverton, a viral contagion of earth-shaking import. Were they heroes, Argonauts of the Shining Realm, or were they just Pied Pipers leading the country's youth astray? To a lot of us, the choice seemed simple at the time: the music and fun of the Beatles, or the drag-ass rules and regulations of crew-cut Chamber of Commerce jarheads offering fear and guilt and one-way tickets to Nam. Forget it. Many kids in shag-carpeted rec rooms or poster-festooned bedrooms across the USA opted for the hippie freak show, as advertised in pop and rock music, and said goodbye to all that. Chuck you, Farley. What role did this chemical play? What role did this tasteless, odorless compound play in shifting the zeitgeist or causing it to burst into a riot of flowers? Even those that didn't drop acid--or smoke dope, or eat magic mushrooms--were affected by the new lifestyles and attitudes that were somehow linked to the stuff.

The Pink Panther must have dropped acid in this cartoon. At the very least, the psychedelic artwork associated with the LSD experience influenced the animators. Acid had a widespread impact on the mainstream culture, and affected not only art but music, advertising, hairstyles, and social and sexual mores.

In the interest of keeping things weird, we've decided to explore the psychedelic phenomenon that unites this drug-addled panther with such luminaries as Ken Kesey, Jimi Hendrix, and The Beatles--not to mention Cary Grant and Groucho Marx. In this puritanical age, with the no-fun fundamentalists trying to control everyone's private lives, and with so many unfortunate druggies and failed seekers crashing and burning like vehicles on the road out of Baghdad, it might seem strange--or even irresponsible--to look into the strongest mind-altering drug known to man, Lysergic acid diethylamide, or LSD.

This next clip explores the "acid tests" put on by Ken Kesey and his merry band, The Merry Pranksters. Kesey, the celebrated author of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," the quintessential 1960s novel of man against heartless authority, was a student at Stanford when he signed up for psych experiments conducted by the US government. Among other hallucinogens, Kesey was administered LSD. Soon afterward, he secured some of the drug and turned on his friends. Before long, the party spilled out of the Stanford enclave of Perry Lane and into the streets, fueled by acid and an almost missionary zeal. The acid tests were conducted in the Bay Area, and participants were given "electric Kool Aid" dosed with LSD in a highly psychedelic environment with colored light shows and music provided by the house band, The Grateful Dead.

Without any more government acid to fuel their hi-jinks, the early explorers used acid synthesized by a number of hippie chemists, the most famous being a genius level scientist named Augustus Stanley Owsley, or simply Owsley. He was legendary for the purity and strength of his product, which included the holy grail of early LSD, Orange Sunshine. Owsley was honored in this song by the rock band Steely Dan, "Kid Charlemagne."

While the music played you worked by candlelight
Those San Francisco nights
You were the best in town
Just by chance you crossed the diamond with the pearl
You turned it on the world
Thats when you turned the world around
Did you feel like jesus?
Did you realize
That you were a champion in their eyes?
On the hill the stuff was laced with kerosene
But yours was kitchen clean
Everyone stopped to stare at your technicolor motor home...

A shot of the Kesey bus

Here is a segment of the BBC documentary, "Beyond Within." It's a good solid background on the subject, and well worth checking out. Resourceful readers will have no problem finding part two.

from "Power and Control: LSD in the Sixties," by Aron Ranen. A little more irreverent, but an interesting doc nonetheless. Reminds us that the drug was first explored not as an agent of consciousness expansion at all, but as a weapon by the CIA.

Disclaimer: As much as we adhere to the principals of a free society in which adults direct their own lives, LSD is a Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act, and as such is illegal. Personally, we don't recommend LSD anymore than we recommend Kentucky Sour Mash Whiskey or cigarettes.

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