White Lightning. Orange Sunshine. Monterey Purple. To say the Sixties might not have happened as they did without the influence of these mind-melting molecules could be the understatement of the 20th century. The psychedelic triumvirate of Nick Sand, Tim Scully, and Augustus Owsley “Bear” Stanley III altered the mindset of 1960s America in a most remarkable manner.
2017 is being lauded as the 50th anniversary of countless things hippie-related and otherwise. As well it should be. 1967 heralded the First Human Be-In in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. In 1967, The Doors dropped their debut album and Ronald Reagan was sworn in as governor of California. Cream released Disraeli Gears, Jefferson Airplane took off with Surrealistic Pillow, and Electric Music for the Mind and Body was released by Country Joe and the Fish. Civil war broke out in Cambodia, a military coup occurred in Greece, and the body of slain President John F. Kennedy was moved to its present location at Arlington National Cemetery. Charles Manson made a move in ’67, too, from a cell at Terminal Island to the San Francisco Haight Ashbury district where he spent the so-called Summer of Love. 1967 was also the first full year that Lysergic acid diethylamide was completely illegal in the United States.
LSD: Melts in your mind, not in your hands
Neither Nick Sand, Tim Scully nor Bear Owsley invented LSD-25. That rare distinction goes to a Swiss chemist by the name of Albert Hoffman who synthesized the first batch of LSD in 1938. What Nick, Tim, and Bear did was take Hoffman’s recipe and make it better. Then, they manufactured millions and millions (did we mention millions) of doses, or “hits” of the ultra potent hallucinogenic compound.
Rock historian, Robert Greenfield, explained in Vice magazine how Augustus Owsley Stanley III managed to morph from a serious Cal Berkeley student to the merrily pranking, acid-making Grateful Dead insider who devised the band’s monumental ‘wall of sound’ and skull-and-lightning bolt “Steal Your Face” logo all while dosing Bay Area denizens and sparking the creation of the Internet.
“The insane genius of this human being was that he [Bear] was like a rebel without a cause. He never fit and was a complete outsider. He was brilliant at everything. He’d been in the Air Force. He worked as a rocket engineer. At the same time, he was really kind of a lost soul, and didn’t have a place to find himself. Then somebody gave him a half a dose of pure Sandoz acid, and it was beyond anything he’d ever taken before. At the time, he was taking classes at the University of California, Berkeley, and after his LSD experience, he went to the Bancroft Library and spent a couple weeks reading all the existing literature on LSD. Then he began to manufacture acid, synthesizing the purest LSD to ever hit the street.”
Happy Birthday toast to Owsley Bear Stanley, in honor of LSD, free thinking, and walls of sound pic.twitter.com/FYNqg2iDMM
— Q-Pi (@leetnik) January 19, 2017
To be clear, Owsley “Bear” Stanley was not the sole producer of superlative LSD, or “acid” back in the oh-so-heady mid- to late-’60s. New York born psychedelic prophet, Nick Sand, and a hyperactive luminary chemist by the name of Tim Scully served their acid-making apprenticeships under the man Albert Hoffman declared to be “the only who ever got the crystallization process right.” While never as well known as Owsley or defrocked Harvard professor and lysergic guru, Timothy Leary, Sand and Scully nonetheless made their technicolor mark on the world of Sixties San Francisco.
Thanks in part to funding by William Mellon “Billy” Hitchcock, Nick Sand and Tim Scully set up chemistry labs in Denver, Colorado as well as in Port Richmond and Windsor, California where the pair reportedly produced 4 million tablets of LSD during their first month in operation. Rolling Stone magazine described Sand and Scully as an alternative Odd Couple, “if Oscar and Felix did a lot of mind-altering substances.” In 1973, Hitchcock turned on his former beneficiaries and testified against them when all three were indicted in April 1973.
Of the West Coast psychoactive triumvirate of Sand, Scully, and Bear, only Tim Scully remains. The would-be alchemist who constructed a working linear accelerator whilst attempting to turn mercury into gold in high school still resides in the San Francisco Bay Area. Clandestine chemist Bear Owsley perished in an automobile accident in Queensland, Australia in 2011. 75-year-old Nick Sand passed away in his sleep at his Lagunitas, California home on April 24, 2017.
How Sand, Scully, and Bear facilitated the Internet with (more than a) little help from John Perry Barlow
In John Markoff’s 2005 tome, What the Dormouse Said: How the 60’s Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer Industry, Apple co-founder, Steve Jobs, freely admitted that tripping on LSD was one of the “most important” things he’d done in his life. The inventor of the computer mouse, Douglas Engelbart, participated in numerous legally sanctioned research studies involving the use of LSD between 1961 and 1965. The world’s premiere freeware outfit, Cygnus Solutions, was co-founded by acid aficionado, John Gilmore. Gilmore was employee number five at Sun Microsystems and devised the alt.* hierarchy in Usenet. Whole Earth Catalog publisher and WELL co-founder, Stewart Brand, was and is one of Ken Kesey’s original Merry Pranksters. Trust him anyway. According to The Guardian, Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page are frequent attendees at Burning Man, and one can imagine what happens there.
One of many trippers who achieved various levels of enlightenment courtesy of the concoctions of Timothy Leary and Owsley Stanley III was a Wyoming cattle rancher by the name of John Perry Barlow. At age 15, the then-devout Mormon enrolled in classes at a small college in Colorado where he met a fellow student named Robert “Bobby” Weir.
“I took acid, and I immediately became very focused on physics. I’d been raised a good Mormon, and had a very literal relationship with the Almighty. At a certain point I just lost my ability to believe that the lost tribe of Israel crossed the ocean in a submarine. This is more or less corresponding with the time when I got a motorcycle and dropped acid. I wanted to figure out how to relate to it, so I started studying physics and then frankly ran aground on arithmetic. It was so goddamn laborious, I gave up on that and began studying comparative religion.”
In the decades following their first meeting, Bob Weir went on to form the Grateful Dead and John Perry Barlow founded the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The two share songwriting credits on several songs, including “Black-Throated Wind” and “Estimated Prophet” remain best friends to this day. In the tripster’s compendium, Psychedelic Adventures, Barlow expressed his well contemplated opinion that the world would be a better place if more humans admitted to having positive experiences with LSD and other mind-expanding chemicals.
“I think it’s time to be brave and honest. I know that if everybody who’d ever taken a major psychedelic stood up and said, ‘Yeah, I did that and this is how it changed my life,’ the world would be a better place the next day.”
[Feature image by Zerbor/ThinkStock]