Smoke bombs tumbled from the bus with a crump, sending green clouds billowing across Millbrook's lawns. A couple, wandering on the grass and lost in contemplation, looked up in astonishment and scuttled away hurriedly. Streaked and splashed with a confusion of red, blue, green and yellow paint, the bus was a moving sound-system blaring out rock and roll from speakers on the top. The "Stars and Stripes" streamed in the wind as the vehicle came up the drive.
The passengers stared out, laughing, chattering, shouting. They were as weird as the bus, with painted faces and bizarre clothes, with names like Zonker, Speed Limit, Intrepid Traveller, Gretchin Fetchin. The leader was a muscular balding figure with a wide grin who looked a bit like everyone's favourite mad professor. On the bus he sometimes went by the name of Swashbuckler, but he had been christened by his Baptist parents in rural Oregon as Ken Kesey. Athlete and successful author, Kesey was also known in some parts of the West Coast as the initiator of a robust, extrovert use of LSD which made Leary look Victorian by comparison. Beat was back on the road, in psychedelic livery.
Kesey had laid out $1,500 for a 1939 school bus converted for long-distance travel, and set out with a group of young Californians, dubbed the Acid Pranksters, to tweak America's nose and invade its mind. A hole had been cut in the roof of the bus so that the passengers could take the air or startle unsuspecting passers-by. A complex microphone and tape system picked up sound outside and then played it back to the Pranksters' victims.
Heading East via the Deep South, the LSD in chilled orange juice, they conceived the idea of The Movie somewhere out in the desert; and from then on, every policeman who stopped them and every garage attendant who gawped at them got footage for free. The Pranksters painted themselves, thrusting Day-Glo hands at passers-by. Who's mad? You or us?
The lurching, creaking bus crossed America at the height of summer and barrelled into New York. Here Kesey briefly met Jack Kerouac, darling of the Beats, before moving on to Millbrook.
It was going to be the great meeting of East and West, but it fell flat. Leary was unavailable. Alpert and a few others showed the Pranksters around Millbrook, but to the newcomers it seemed like a tour round the family mausoleum. They dubbed the moment "the crypt trip."
It was back on the bus, back to California. Alpert could not even spare them any LSD. The abortive meeting illustrated a major division which was developing in the psychedelic movement. Leary and Kesey had discovered LSD at almost the same time; but the drug had led them in very different directions.
There was always something slightly rarefied about the East Coast psychedelic movement. Initiates met in Greenwich Village bars, swish Manhattan apartments or the intellectual hides round Harvard and at Millbrook. By and large, the movement was restrained.
Not so on the West Coast. It was insane in the way the word is often used in America; not to denote genuine madness but something unreal, difficult to believe because there is no apparent logic, defying understanding.
In 1959, while Leary was chewing the Magic Mushroom by a Mexican pool, Kesey was the 25-year-old holder of a fellowship in creative writing at Stanford University, supplementing his grant by earning $75 a day on one of the government's drug research programmes at Menlo Park Veterans' Hospital. Part of an intellectual colony in Perry Lane, Stanford's answer to Greenwich Village, Kesey was enchanted by the psychedelics. Somehow supplies followed him back from the hospital to the Lane where he became the centre of a group of cognoscenti.
Influenced, like many young writers, by the Beats of the 1950s, Kesey had planned to write a novel on them, set in their San Francisco home of North Beach, not far from Stanford. He began writing while working as an aide on the night shift in Menlo Park's psychiatric wards. Locked in with the sleeping patients, Kesey's creative juices bubbled with LSD and peyote and the theme of the novel changed.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is set in a psychiatric ward where a new patient arrives who is feigning madness to avoid prison. His attempts to provoke the other inmates out of their supine existences challenge the preconceptions of insanity and its treatment, asking who was really mad. Kesey once said: "The real thing behind it is that it's about America ... and it's about what's crazy in America." In retrospect, the book was also a prophecy and Kesey's working philosophy with the psychedelics. Kesey would challenge vested authority, just as Randle McMurphy, the new patient, fought the malignant ministrations of Nurse Ratched. Kesey's "madness" was the euphoria and vision of LSD with which he would summon America to save itself, in the same way as in the book McMurphy finally reaches the catatonic Chief.
One Flew drew critical acclaim, but Perry Lane was no more, destroyed by developers, and Kesey moved to a log house in sedate La Honda. He was now the central figure of a group which included not only the inner circle from Perry Lane but Beat figures from San Francisco.
Kesey had also met a group of the Hell's Angels through Dr. Hunter Thompson, then a young journalist with a taste for the oddball, who was writing a book for them. They were invited to La Honda. They agreed to come: no one had ever invited them anywhere before.
A billboard proclaimed: "The Merry Pranksters Welcome the Hell's Angels."
A motorbike gang based in Oakland, across the bay from San Francisco, the Angels were legendary for their violence, their machismo and their outlaw attitudes. The media added to the aura, creating an image of rape, pillage and unadulterated evil. The sound of those massed Harley-Davidson 74 motorcycles was calculated to turn the heart of every suburban Californian into an uncontrollable pulse of rage or fear.
It was that distant rising roar which broke the Saturday afternoon peace in August 1965 as drivers on Route 84 watched the beards, the long hair and the sleeveless denim jackets with the death's head insignia fly past.
Waiting for them at La Honda were the Pranksters, some of the old Perry Lane crowd and dignitaries from San Francisco's bohemia. The two sides met over beer and LSD. The party went on for two days with the police waiting outside in their cars, powerless until someone stepped over the fence and broke the law where they could reach them. The Angels usually found that their presence anywhere provoked a fight—someone always objected to them or tried to test their meanness. At La Honda, relative peace reigned. The party was a meeting of kindred spirits, brother outlaws. Allen Ginsberg, author of Howl and now rising bard of the psychedelic movement, with his wispy beard and bald pate, rubbed shoulders with the toughest Angels. They liked LSD.
In the wake of the party Kesey discovered an interesting fact. The doctrine according to Leary was that you needed peace, the right setting and the right mood to initiate people. But there was really no need for Leary's intellectual map-reading course. LSD should come out of the smoke-filled back rooms and on to the hustings. If you wanted to turn people on, then you had to go out there and find them. The new thing would be the "Acid Test." The Pranksters would-challenge: "Can you pass the Acid Test?" Kesey was to begin the populist approach to LSD, a blend of the aesthetic and the entertaining, loud and rollicking, hitting the senses from every direction with rock and roll and strobe lighting. The audience was young. The optimism fired by John F. Kennedy was mingling with a growing campus radicalism. In 1962, Kennedy's little bush war in Vietnam had involved 11,000 American troops. In 1965 there were 170,000, many of them teenage conscripts. The "Students for a Democratic Society" organization was growing across the country, expressing a feeling that students could be instruments of change. Kesey was among the speakers in an anti-Vietnam protest at Berkeley and the bus took the road painted blood red, its passengers shouting anti-war slogans.
Leary wrote and spoke of the psychedelics as the way towards the new millennium that the young seemed set on finding. Kesey offered further directions, using language and imagery they understood. In the autumn of 1965 the Acid Tests began.
The first one fell flat because very few people came, but the second was scheduled for San José when the Rolling Stones were giving one of a series of concerts across America.
Failing to find a suitable hall, the Pranksters settled for an old rambling house. Music was provided by the Grateful Dead, a group led by Jerry Garcia, part of the Perry Lane scene. The group was closely identified with LSD but was never involved in the trafficking or manufacture of hallucinogenics. They lugged their equipment into the house while the Pranksters waited outside San José's civic auditorium with handbills and waylaid the crowds. The house was jam-packed.
The posters for the first Trips Festival were odd, letters and drawings which bent like images in a fairground distorting mirror. Youngsters came in their thousands for the three-day event. It was a revelation. Everyone knew someone else who was taking LSD or smoking marijuana like themselves, but no one knew there were that many. Kesey, dressed in a space suit, heard his "Psychedelic Symphony" played by the Grateful Dead with a sound-light console on a tower. Under a mass of flags hung from the roof of the octagonal building of the Longshoremen's Hall, the young danced in Indian dress, old uniforms, flowing robes, bare-breasted. The strobe lights caught the dancers freeze-framed like stills from a film.
The festival was the outcome of the Pranksters' tests up and down the West Coast. "Trip" was the word for an LSD session, borrowed from the term used by the US Army for LSD experiments. Bill Graham was persuaded to act as impresario, after his success with a number of rock benefits. The festival, in late January 1966, cost very little but made a lot— $16,000—and Graham went to the Fillmore Hall and hired it every week, every Saturday, for one never-ending festival.
Many of the celebrants were inhabitants of a town within a city. The sharing of experience meant newspapers, shops, a community. People were moving into a district called Haight-Ashbury, where Haight Street ran for twenty blocks through the Ashbury district. It was a quiet place with cheap Victorian houses bordered by parks.
The kids could play music in their rooms and no one would come in shouting about the TV, or go round the dormitory shouting about exams. In Haight, no one complained about clothes or long hair. Life here meant being free, communes, sharing. Everything was beautiful. Someone described it as a latter-day Children's Crusade.
It was also wonderfully esoteric: the tree hut that became a canton. No one out there knew what it was about, not parents, not teachers, not the police.
The kids arrived in Haight Street with packs on their backs, punched-in cowboy hats tilted back or bright headbands tied over long hair and with Indian beads over their T-shirts.
The kids were "hip," as the Beats used to say. They were hippies. Long hair and exaggerated clothes became part of the uniform—anything that was different, as different as possible from the conventional.
Haight-Ashbury was the manifestation of a feeling among the young that they had something special, a collective sense of righteousness. The posters and handbills talked about the tribe: linking the urbanized young to the old natural ways of the Indian before the white man came and corrupted their pure freedom.
Peace and love ... Flower Power... Make Love Not War. Leary's talent for slogans had been quickly acquired by a generation brought up to slick commercials in a country where the best political manifesto has often been the shortest, pithiest message. The message of Haight Ashbury spread very quickly. In the first six months of 1966, San Francisco police dealt with over 8,000 juveniles who had run away from home. There were more on the way. Others were moving to enclaves in other cities—East Village, New York; a section of Boston; Cleveland; Los Angeles; and Philadelphia.
For those who stayed at home, in school or college, the message was passed on by music. In the mid-1960s record sales in the United States topped the $1,000 million mark for the first time as the new tribal chants beat out. Part of it was protest, a lot of it was about drugs. In 1965, Eric Burden and the Animals crooned: "A Girl Named Sandoz"; the Byrds went "Eight Miles High"; and Dylan was rapidly becoming the electronic Byron. He turned on the Beatles in a brief meeting at Kennedy Airport by giving Ringo marijuana. George and John took LSD in 1964 in their after-dinner coffee. Some members of the Rolling Stones tried it in 1965 after starting with marijuana. On the West Coast, there were the Grateful Dead, accompanists to the Pranksters, Jefferson Airplane, the Fugs, the Family Dog, Big Brother and the Holding Company.
In 1962, Leary estimated that some 25,000 Americans had tried the main psychedelics. Three years later, a study of the drugs by Alpert and others suggested that four million had now tasted LSD; and in 1966 Life magazine put the number who had tried mescaline, let alone the other psychedelics, at one million. Seventy per cent of the LSD users in the Alpert study were described as high-school or college age—teens to early twenties. The drugs had clearly moved from the clinical couch on to the street in an upsurge of drug use which the United States had never seen before. Many of the young inhabitants of Haight Ashbury made pin money from selling and dealing in drugs, and local police were no longer fazed by discovering caches. Drugs were so common they were, as one narcotics officer put it, "like pennies in your pocket." The problem for such officers was that the law covered some psychedelics but not others.
Apart from the restrictions brought in by the FDA, there were still no other controls on LSD; no laws on dealing or possession. Sandoz's patents had run out in 1963 and drugs could reach the United States from new legal producers springing up in Europe. At the same time, there was evidence that amateur producers were starting domestic production as well. It was clear that interest in the psychedelics had brought about an expansion in the use of marijuana—Leary and Kesey both used it, as did many of the old Beats.
The rise of LSD and the new interest in marijuana presented a contradiction: marijuana had been controlled by criminal law since the 1930s and was regarded internationally as being in the same class of drug as heroin and cocaine—narcotics. Over the decades, marijuana had been presented as the refuge and the stimulant of base criminal elements, and propaganda campaigns presented it in the worst light imaginable. After years of being told that drugs like marijuana turned innocent young people into raving debauched savages, the conventional, adult public was growing uneasy and so were the media.
The friendly, curious treatment given to LSD had changed. Since 1963, press interest had concentrated on the detrimental effects. Horror stories were avidly circulated on both sides of the Atlantic.
Sandoz, who had tightened its distribution over the years, halted the sale of LSD and psilocybin in the United States and Britain. The decision provoked a lengthy editorial in the British Medical Journal, the official voice of the British medical profession, which cited the case of a man who had driven his car at 100 mph into a house, and of a woman who had stabbed the man who made her pregnant. LSD, said the editorial, had its uses and was not addictive, but the experiences of the United States were a warning signal. Controls should be instituted. Sandoz's decision brought protests from doctors, but the company itself issued a statement explaining that the drug had never produced profits and its manufacture was a service to the medical profession. Aware of the dangers of the drug, Sandoz had always taken precautions, but they were now faced with the great lay interest, lack of any controls and changes in production which made it possible to manufacture the drug in bulk.
When Sandoz talked about "lay" use, they meant Kesey and Leary. Neither man had done anything to abate public unease since both had been arrested for marijuana offences with all that that entailed to a public fed the anti-marijuana propaganda.
Such brushes with the law did not embarrass Leary or deflect him; indeed they were grist to his mill, and there were those who began to wonder if Leary was being deliberately provocative. The doubters included Alpert, who had left Millbrook after fighting futilely against the chaos Leary seemed to enjoy creating. In retrospect, Alpert admitted Leary's brilliance and gave him due credit for initiating the psychedelic movement; but his achievement was tinged with a destructive element. Like Huxley, Alpert was also worried by Leary's desire to twist the lion's tail.
Leary got his chance to take on a whole pride of the beasts when, in May 1966, he was called to give evidence to the Senate sub-committee on juvenile delinquency, chaired by Senator Thomas Dodd from Connecticut, who was calling for urgent legislation on the psychedelics. Leary was as persuasively articulate as ever, but Senator Robert Kennedy, sitting in on the hearing, chose to interrupt and attack Leary constantly throughout his twenty-five-minute testimony. Leary left the hearing badly mauled by Kennedy's attacks.
Since Alpert was no longer available to play a supporting role, the task of seconding Leary passed to Art Kleps, Chief Boo-Hoo of the Neo-American Church and Millbrook habitué. Kleps told the senators that if new legislation was brought in they would face mayhem. Leary was a great religious teacher and the day he finally went to prison would be the day religious civil war broke out.
Washington was unmoved by the threat. Pressure to take action was not only national but international, with the United Nations calling on all member-countries to legislate speedily. Early in 1966, the United States took the first step when the Drug Abuse Control Amendments became effective, making the unlawful sale or manufacture of the psychedelics into a misdemeanour. Enforcement was entrusted to the Department of Health, Education and Welfare rather than to the Bureau of Narcotics. Nationally, possession remained untouched, but in California and New York, state legislators in the two centres of psychedelic use took their own action. Possession became a crime in both states by the middle of October 1966, and other states would follow. Leary's answer was to declare the formation of the League of Spiritual Discovery, to fight for LSD as a legal sacrament. The precedent already existed, since the Indian members of the Native American Church had already been granted legal immunity for peyote. In San Francisco, the people of Haight-Ashbury gathered in force in Golden Gate Park to declare their opposition to the new law.
From 7 October 1966, possession of LSD became a misdemeanour punishable by a fine of $1,000 or one year in prison; manufacture or sale could, as a felony, bring one to five years for the first offence and two to ten years for further offences.
But the supporters of the psychedelics were prepared to stand their ground. "They're like the Romans," said one LSD promoter, referring to the legislators. "They don't realize this is a religious movement. Until they make it [the use of psychedelics] legal, we'll find our sacrament where we can. And no sooner is one made illegal, we'll come up with another."
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