Brain Waving / by John Perry Barlow, AlterNet, May 20, 2010
One can make a non-ludicrous case that the most important event in the cultural history of America since the 1860s was the introduction of LSD.
The following is adapted from the Foreword to Birth of a Psychedelic Culture: Conversations about Leary, the Harvard Experiments, Millbrook and the Sixties, by Ram Dass and Ralph Metzner with Gary Bravo, from Synergetic Press.
LSD is a drug that produces fear in people who don’t take it. -Timothy Leary
It’s now almost half a century since that day in September 1961 when a mysterious fellow named Michael Hollingshead made an appointment to meet Professor Timothy Leary over lunch at the Harvard Faculty Club. When they met in the foyer, Hollingshead was carrying with him a quart jar of sugar paste into which he had infused a gram of Sandoz LSD. He had smeared this goo all over his own increasingly abstract consciousness and it still contained, by his own reckoning, 4,975 strong (200 mcg) doses of LSD. The mouth of that jar became perhaps the most significant of the fumaroles from which the ’60s blew forth.
Everybody who continues to obsess on the hilariously terrifying cultural epoch known as the ’60s – which is to say, most everybody from “my gege-generation,” the post-War demographic bulge that achieved permanent adolescence during that era – has his or her own sense of when the ’60s really began. There are a lot of candidates: the blossoming pink cloud in the Zapruder film, Mario Savio’s first speech in Sproul Plaza, the passage of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, the Beatles’ first appearance on the the Ed Sullivan Show, the first Acid Test, the Human Be-In in Golden Gate Park, the release of the song “Good Vibrations,” the day Jerry Garcia got kicked out of the army. But as often as not, if you are a Boomer, the ’60s began for surreal on the day you dropped acid. And if that is when the shit hit your personal fan, you may owe a debt of ambiguous gratitude to the appealingly demonic young sociopath who conveyed the Stark Bolt of Chemical Revelation to the nice young gentlemen of the Harvard Psilocybin Project.
The essential tameness of the group that was to become so notorious is only one fascinating feature of discourse to follow between the Project’s second and third most celebrated veterans: Ram Dass ( who as Richard Alpert, PhD, was Tom Sawyer to Tim Leary’s Huckleberry Finn) and Dr. Ralph Metzner (who began as an acolyte and wound up presiding over the remains).
Thanks in very large part to the subsequent exertions of Drs. Leary, Alpert and Metzner, the experience was one shared over the following decade by tens of millions of Americans, the larger part of whom found it difficult ever after to take seriously the verities that few in Eisenhower’s America would have questioned. Our paradigm got fucking well shifted. At least mine certainly did. And so, I would venture, did that of the United States of America, during the trip we took between 1961 and 1972.