July 12, 2007

"I wound up doing time for something I should have been rewarded for. What I did was a community service.... 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." LSD folkhero Owsley speaks. More:
"I never set out to change the world," he rasps in recalling his early manufacture of LSD. "I only set out to make sure I was taking something (that) I knew what it was. And it's hard to make a little. And my friends all wanted to know what they were taking, too. Of course, my friends expanded very rapidly."

By conservative estimates, Bear Research Group made more than 1.25 million doses of LSD between 1965 and 1967, essentially seeding the entire modern psychedelic movement....

He found the recipe for making LSD in the Journal of Organic Chemistry at the UC Berkeley library.
So some library nerd started it all!
Bear [AKA Augustus Owsley Stanley III] has always lived in a quite particular world. "He can be very anal retentive, on a certain level, on a genius level," says Paul Kantner of Jefferson Airplane. "I've seen him send his eggs back three times at Howard Johnson's."

His all-meat diet is a well-known example. When he was younger, Bear read about the Eskimos eating only fish and meat and became convinced that humans are meant to be exclusively carnivorous. The members of the Grateful Dead remember living with Bear for several months in 1966 in Los Angeles, where the refrigerator contained only bottles of milk and a slab of steak, meat they fried and ate straight out of the pan. His heart attack several years ago had nothing to do with his strict regimen, according to Bear, but more likely the result of some poisonous broccoli his mother made him eat as a youth.
He's meticulous about what he ingests. On a genius level.
As a sound mixer, Bear holds equally strict viewpoints, insisting that the most effective rock concert systems should have only a single source of sound, his argument quickly veering into the realm of psycho-acoustics.

"The PA can only be in one spot," he says. "All the sounds have to come from a single place because the human brain is carrying around the most sophisticated sound processing of any computer or living creature. It equals the bats that fly by echo. It equals the dolphins. It equals the owls that hunt at night without any daylight at all. It is a superb system for locating and separating one sound from everything else."
I love reason. Especially, on the genius level. I may not understand it, but I like the way it emanates from a single point. Helps me keep my bearings. It's just one guy saying things like that.
Bear left Northern California in the early '80s, convinced that a natural disaster was imminent.
He predicted at the time that global warming would lead to a six-week-long ultra-cyclone that could cover the Northern Hemisphere with a new ice age. Determining that the tropical northern side of Australia would be the most likely region to survive, Bear made a beeline for Queensland and says he felt at home the moment he set foot on the new continent.

"I might be right about the ice age thing," he allows. "I might be wrong."
He might be wrong.


chickenlittle said...

Re that library synthesis: The J. Org. Chem. article teaches how to put the "D" on the "LS" part. Where Owsley got his lysergic acid (or lysergic saeure) is not taught there.

Doug said...

I do give this guy credit for predicting something, and then taking an action consistent with his prediction. He moved because he believed it would happen.

Unlike say these Gulfstream liberals who say they believe in global warming, yet continue to spew greenhouse gases.

Also, I have been reading this blog since before the labels were used. I never noticed that "hippies" was a label. I clicked on it and there are a lot of hippie related postings.

TMink said...

It is important to have your acid made by someone that knows what they are doing. I have talked to people that used his product, and they said that it was quality stuff.

Obsessive-Compulsive traits are really a plus in some jobs: accountants, barbers/hairstylists, snipers, and we can add recreational chemist to the list as well.


Ann Althouse said...

I've been adding labels lately. Trying to get organized. There are actually 52 posts labeled "hippies," going all the way back to 2004. Unfortunately, Blogger limits how many you can display, so you're not getting even half of them. Hippies are a regular subject around here.

Lonesome Payne said...

Why does Walter Cronkite look like a monkey?

Ron said...

Blaming a pre-pubescent hunk of broccoli for all of life's subsequent problems is genius! What a way for so many to blame mom to incur maximum guilt!

and that whole Ice Age didn't happen? I'll be... Hell, how would he know in Queensland?

bill said...

"I might be right about the ice age thing," he allows. "I might be wrong."
He might be wrong.

No, he's timing is off. It's the recycling joke: everything's biodegradeable, you're just impatient.

Doug said...

I love the talk about hippies. One of my close liberal friends often mocks my fascination with them. He claims they don't really exist anymore so they are kind of pointless.

Peter Palladas said...

I have talked to people that used his product, and they said that it was quality stuff.

It was. It was.

Tim said...

The Democrats have found their vice-presidential nominee.

Libertarians will be thrilled.

Revenant said...

Libertarians will be thrilled.

Nah, he's too straight-laced to run as a Libertarian. :)

Seven Machos said...

The man gave the world high-quality acid, and for that he should be thanked. Otherwise, what a strange, old hippie.

Doesn't anyone else see how this article and the New Vic article tie precisely together?

Myself, I would rather have been in the middle of the 60s.

AJ Lynch said...

Doug said:

"He claims they(hippies) don't really exist anymore so they are kind of pointless."

Ann is a hippie albeit one with a lotta stuff, a job, car but still a hippie. There are plenty around who went over to the dark side and worked for a living. Generally, they also work hard to hold onto affectations that will convey their hippiedom to outsiders. Kinda like the high school football hero if he still walked around with a football under his arm.

Tibore said...

Yeah, he's a whacked out old hippie. But still... he did say something I'm finally glad to hear someone say, and said it with full honesty too (no, it has nothing to do with drugs):

Analog vs. Digital - His essay on CD's vs vinyl albums:

"The damage (from having a phonograph needle physically drag through the grooves on a vinyl record) is so severe... that you can only play the record once with any sort of fidelity..."

"... I agree that the sample rate chosen for encoding CD's is far too low for the best fidelity... but at least the CD will always play the same each and every time you put it on the turntable."

Finally. Someone who honestly acknowledges the strengths and weaknesses of both media without adopting tiresome postures of worship for either (you can tell I'm a bit tired of CD-Vinyl zealotry). Sure, he's a batty old coot, but I dig what he said there.

Seven Machos said...

The guy's essays on his website are pretty intriguing, in that I-bet-you-were-awesome-back-when-you-weren't-old
sort of way.

He blames Dupont for the illegalization of marijuana and the fraud of the hole in the ozone.

TMink said...

I agree with a lot of the lp vs cd comment, but I am not sure that a modern record player messes up the grooves on the first run through.

But then, I am a vinyl worshipping kind of a guy, so, I must claim my bias. I have lots of cds though, and really enjoy them now that I got a pretty good player.


Jeff said...

Just like the antiwar left who don't want to hear about what happened to the Vietnamese after Saigon fell, this guy could care less about the results of his actions in the 60's. Because he meant well!

Bruce Hayden said...

What a name out of the past. I am not sure if anyone I know actually got ahold of his acid, but everyone knew about it. It was considered the benchmark against which all other acid was measured, and came up wanting, esp. from a purity point of view.

lee david said...

As characters go you would have a hard time finding someone that was an odder duck. It was a long time ago while we were setting up for the free concert at Altamont. I remember him talking about being able to see the sound coming out of a stack of speakers when he was on acid. He never did give a satisfactory description of what it looked like though. He did have a few good ideas that moved the art of live performance sound systems forward, but he had some that never really worked out, like the wall of sound system that the Dead used for a couple of years. A novel but impractical idea for many reasons.

His liquid acid had no equal.

I never saw any sound though.

John Stodder said...

In one of my many Zelig-like experiences in Berkeley, I dated Owsley's cousin for a year and a half. Her (very conservative) family was deeply ashamed of him, with a tincture of admiration for his singular achievement. I don't believe I ever had the opportunity to sample his product, though.

The great Steely Dan song "Kid Charlemagne" is an imaginary portrait of Owsley. From reading this, it sounds like they didn't really capture him at all.

M. Simon said...

Speaking of the Jefferson Airplane.

Funny that no one ever mentions their Shell Oil chemist.

He was so inventive that he made his own LS (by growing ergot mold). Or so I've heard.

DirtCrashr said...

All I got was purple microdot and that flying-saucer blotter, missed the Owsley. Why do Deadheads dance like this? waving hands and fingers in front of face
So the notes don't hit them in the eyes.

TMink said...

I have read reports of synesthesia when tripping, but never experienced that myself.

The cool things he dead with the Dead, well, one of the cool things, is that he set up their sound system so that it was makde with great gear and sounded great! He used McCintosh amps, expensive, but wonderful sounding.


Dave said...

When I was at the University of Illinois in 66-69, there were at one time a couple of very large glass containers of lysergic acid in the tunnel storage under the Chem building on the east side of the quad. I understand they got moved pretty quickly (around 1968,I think). I have no idea why the Chem people would need to have, say several gallons of the stuff, but there you are.

There was a lot of LSD going around about then (and Timothy Leary gave a pretty much boring and mundane speech in the Assembly Hall, which was pretty new) -- windowpane, sunshine, et al made by who knew who, mostly. I got fairly good at 'talking down' those who got too weird. Don't think I want to re-visit those days, particularly.

And I was never a hippie, I just looked like one because I was dirt-poor. Worked 40 hours a week and went to school full-time. No Pell Grants or student loans then. Of course, tuition was $125/semester and you could live in off-campus housing with 19 meals/week for around $900/year.

I was always amazed by those with money who were paying $25 (a lot in 67) for jeans that I would have been ready to throw out after wearing for years.

lee david said...

Hey Trey,

You made me look up a new word. Now I have a whole new world.

How great would it be for an acoustics engineer to be able to see the sound and the interactions between the different waves and frequencies?

Those Mcintosh amps were top of the heap at that time. I think that Bear had a good understanding of the electronics and the mechanics but had a poor understanding of acoustics. In any event, that was an interesting time in terms of sound reinforcement. The pace of innovation was driven almost exclusivly by the requirements of live rock perfomance. The tube amps like the Macs were quickly supplanted by the more powerful transistor ones like the crown DC 300, and on it goes. I still like the warmer sound of a tube amp or a hybrid but not many can really hear the difference.

M. Simon said...


If you are interested in big vacuum tubes look at at this one:

Bussard Fusion Reactor

If it works it should produce power instead of consume it. Since they can be modulated in a kind of grounded grid circuit you should be able to deliver 100 MEGA watts to your speakers. If you could find enough speakers to absorb the power.

Owsley never had it so good.

Plus if you are really interested in tubes I have books (in pdf) on tube design. all out of copyright and thus legal.

lee david said...

M Simon,

Thanks for the link and the offer of info.

I don't have time or the inclination to get into the ABCs of tubes but I do like the way they sound when used in Hi Fi and guitar amps.

I will definitely check out the Brussard video. It's about time something broke in the area of power generation. Too bad that the output is DC. It's so inefficient to transmit and so hard to invert in large quantities. We need another mind like that of N. Tesla. It's fun to imagine what he might be doing today, given all of the advancement in physics and materials in the last hundred years. He too was a little whacky along with his genius, though anyone who has that kind of vision and mental ability is going to seem to be more off than they actually are due to our lacking of those same abilities.

Thanks again,

The subject fascinates me.

TMink said...

Cool Lee David!

I have worked with one patient who had a weird blend of synesthesia and eideticism (basically photographic memory.) He thought he was schizophrenic, but he just saw things when people spoke words. He could use the images to write fantastic papers, but the images got in the way, so he worked very slowly.

I was hoping to help him learn to use the images and work with them, but all he needed to know was that he was not crazy. Cool guy, I hope he is productive and well.

I love tube amps! I only have a little tube headphone amp and my guitar amp, but those little valves sure sound great.

Do you really think that very few people can hear the difference if they take the time to listen?


lee david said...


I don't think that many people can hear the differences. Most of the people that can are musicians or audiophiles that have learned the skill of hearing the nuance of sound. It is a thing that can be learned if you don't have an automatic sensitivity to it. Most people would be hard pressed to tell you weather the last note was sharp or flat in a progression of five notes in a scale. I'm not talking about just out of tune but which way. I have been fortunate to have had friends that have been able (musicians) to have helped me learn how to hear better that I ever might have without that help. I will never forget the joy of learning how to tune a guitar harmonically. So many concepts of frequency, phase cancelation and reinforcement, and harmony and its mathematical underpinning fell into place with hearing those beats of phase interferance. Sometimes you just don't know what to listen for if you haven't been made aware of whats there to listen for. A single note from an instrument is a complex thing with undertones, overtones and resonances that make up the richness of a whole tone. From what I understand, this is the information, in its presence or abscence, that makes up what is called the color and dimension of the sound. A lot of synthesizer tones sound unsatisfyingly thin to me because they lack the full information of a full tone from the instrument that is being replicated. I think that for most a reasonable facsimily will do.

Ha, writing this has made me think more about sound quality than I have for years. I think I might be able to hear a little better just for having thought about it. Funny how the brain works.

For me, there is almost as much information in the silences within a piece of music as there is in the notes. I like to listen to where they don't play too.