Monday, 14 March 2011

Owsley Stanley takes his final trip

I don't know if you've heard of Owsley Stanley - probably not - but he died in a car crash today. He's a seminal figure from the 60s: after a standard messed up and various attempt to find something to do, he fetched up in San Francisco in the 60s and turned himself into the best 'freelance chemist' in town. What you might call a drug dealer. It was Owsley who looked up the recipe for LSD in a chemistry journal and began to circulate the stuff far and wide.

Before you say anything else, I'd point out that to Stanley and co, the use of psychedelic drugs was part of the doomed hippy attempt to produce a new, more empathetic and enlightened society, rather than just getting baked and talking shit. Mind-altering substances were meant to connect us to each other and the planet. Despite being an authoritarian Trotskyist, I can dig the motivation. It's just sad that being a hippy turned into selfish narcissism. With the Vietnam War ended under pressure from the new values to some extent, it seemed possible just for a while that a genuinely radical counterculture would exert influence on straight society. But: they chose the wrong drugs, and the wrong reasons to take them. They got into navel-gazing selfishness rather than doing their bit for society, some of them became grasping capitalist businessmen, and before you knew it, we had the 80s and the moment was gone.

"I wound up doing time for something I should have been rewarded for," he told the Chronicle's Joel Selvin.
"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."

Owsley was no saint. There is a dark, down side to drugs. For him, it led to working for The Grateful Dead and then 'dealing' their bootleg recordings. Anyone who helped those self-indulgent wastrels is a walking advert for Just Say No.

Here's their execrable Alice D. Millionaire (hilarious), written about Owsley. I warn you though, it's a gateway song to harder hippy rubbish.


Anonymous said...

He was the main supplier to Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters, who counted Neal Cassidy among their number; Neal was of course a good friend of Jack Kerouac, and was immortalised in On The Road as Dean Moriarty!

The Plashing Vole said...

I should have known he'd be connected to that lot.

Zoot Horn said...

“Our ordinary waking consciousness... is but one special type of consciousness, whilst all about it, parted from it by the filmiest of screens, there lie potential forms of consciousness entirely different. We may go through life without suspecting their existence; but apply the requisite stimulus, and at a touch they are all there in all their completeness, definite types of mentality which probably somewhere have their field of application and adaptation. No account of the universe in its totality can be final which leaves these other forms of consciousness quite disregarded. How to regard them is the question—for they are so discontinuous with ordinary consciousness.”
William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience, 1902.

"But the man who comes back through the Door in the Wall will never be the same as the man who went out. He will be wiser but less cock-sure, happier but less self-satisfied, humbler in acknowledging his ignorance yet better equipped to understand the relationship of words to things, of systematic reasoning to the unfathomable Mystery which it tries, forever vainly, to comprehend."
Aldous Huxley, The Doors of Perception, 1954

You may scoff... but wouldn't you?

Anonymous said...

Of course, this cultural sea change did not just happen by itself. An array of right-wing think tanks and media organisations, born in the 1970s to lead this kind of a cultural revolution, synergistically grabbed this societal zeitgeist and hopped, skipped and jumped with it, declaring the 1960s and 1970s an illegitimate, naïve, or even dangerous social experiment.
Cliff Schecter, The cultural Kryptonite of the American Right

1) Why would an authoritarian Trotskyist want to regurgitate the propaganda of the Reagan/Thatcher right?

2) If the 'hippies' chose "the wrong drugs, and the wrong reasons to take them" - what were the right drugs/reasons?

3) "They got into navel-gazing selfishness rather than doing their bit for society, some of them became grasping capitalist businessmen..." There's just no bloody pleasing some people. What were they supposed to do, invade Czechoslovakia?

4) I tried to skip over the utter absurdity of "and before you knew it, we had the 80s" but failed.

4) The band in the You Tube clip is The Warlocks. It says so on the drum.

5) If only you'd been there / If only you'd seen / If only you'd been there / You'd know what I mean.

But you weren't. Tough luck Thatcher Kid.

The Plashing Vole said...

Hi anonymous,
thanks for the comments.
Minor ones - not a Thatcher kid: Irish.
I don't think the 60s was illegitimate, but I do think it was naive: I'm with the hard left who saw much of it as positive but ultimately as a failure. My point is that in the absence of any ideology other than 'stop the war' (fantastic in itself), the movements devolved into narcissism. Environmentalism could have been the great legacy of the 60s, but that hasn't worked out in the US, and not very well elsewhere.
On the drugs: I've taken my share, and enjoyed some of them. But I don't see that a social movement can be made from the experience, though I can see why people made the claim.
Invade Czechoslovakia? Well, some groups were fighting: the Weather Underground. The IRA. ETA, lots and lots of South Americans, the French students and workers, Lumumba (murdered by the CIA and the French): there were serious liberation movements out there. Violence is rarely the answer, but it's striking that in the UK and US, the major parties carried on regardless and are still in control.

I mention the 80s because it is the legacy of the 60s and 70s: the hippie turn towards individual enlightenment (meditation, self-help etc) gave the individualists who took control in the 80s a way of claiming to be more than selfish bastards - hence the rise of Body Shop and yoga classes and mind/body/spirituality sections in bookshops and yuppies claiming to be liberating themselves.