Psychedelia, Hippies and Me

I was in junior high when psychedelia hit the modern world — or my modern world, anyway. My aunt was heading to San Francisco for a business trip and my mom teased her by singing, “If you’re going to San-Fran-Cisco, better wear some flowers in your hair.” Psychedelia had an enormous impact on music but it was also really pretty exciting for fashion and pop culture. It affected decorating all through the early 70s (if you don’t believe it Google “70’s wallpaper”). At bottom, though, it wasn’t about flowers or decorating or music or even peace and love.

It was about drugs. Psychedelics were seen as a conduit to a spiritual experience. I can’t answer to that.

In high school (’68-’70), psychedelia lurked around the edges of our “time.” I vaguely remember discussions about Huxley’s Doors of Perception. Many of the people I knew “tried acid.” It was a pretty common question for a while, “Have you tried acid yet?” like it was inevitable. I never did even though, as most high school kids, I was concerned about being “cool”. I’d promised my dad WAY back in 1966 (psychedelia had reached our world, just not my little world of softball and summer days) I’d never do anything to my mind because, as he explained, “Even if your body doesn’t work anymore, MAK, if you have your mind, you can still work.” He had MS. My dad loved Aldous Huxley and I suspect that — besides the usual research done by this man with his questioning mind — he’d read Doors of Perception.

By the time I finished high school and entered college, psychedelia was entering its decayed phase, but it was definitely still there. It had been around long enough to have begun garnering consequences. The saddest of these were the involuntary or accidental suicides and the runaway kids who ended up on humanity’s rubbish heap sometimes right then, sometimes decades later.

Obviously, music was a huge part of psychedelia. Bands I didn’t like, couldn’t like, still can’t like — but some I liked such as Cream and Jefferson Airplane.

For a while anyone who wanted to sell albums in the rock genre had to have, at least, a psychedelic album cover. My two favorite bands — The Who and Steppenwolf — were not psychedelic bands but did have a couple of album covers that nodded to psychedelia.

And then there were all the rock-stars who “choked on vomit.” Booze — sometimes mixed with downers — still seemed to have been the “drug of choice.”

Once I was in college and away from home I did give being a hippy a decent shot, but it wasn’t for me. I found it very boring, got tired of being stoned and knew that in my deepest core, I’m not a peaceful person. I’m a fighter. I have felt alienated several times in my life, but those three months were some of the most alienating. I wondered if being a hippy weren’t just an affectation. It’s OK. Experimentation and self-discovery define the post-adolescent period of life.

Because I was not a drug user, my dorm room was sometimes the destination for friends who’d dropped acid. I seem to have had the ability to “talk people down” from a bad trip. I can still see in my mind’s eye the sleeping forms of tortured souls on the empty bed in my double dorm room.

It wasn’t until I was in my 40s that I knew anything about what was behind psychedelia. It was very interesting and it was science. My roommate — a post-adolescent — was very curious about drugs and resolved to try them. Stanislav Grof’s book, LSD Psychotherapy hung around in our bathroom for a while. I found it fascinating, scientific and persuasive, but I still didn’t “try acid.”

Or any other psychedelia. I think a person needs to know his or her own brain and I always suspected that there was something different — glitchy? — about mine.

There were — are — also many, many, many hippies in my life most of whom would have answered “yes” to the question, “Have you tried acid yet?” they’re great people. BUT…along with telling me to protect my brain, my dad encouraged me to retain my individuality no matter what. My experiments with “belonging” never worked out, so here I am, still believing that individual diversity makes the world work. Those who “belong” and those who stand outside have equal value in human social evolution. And while love really isn’t ALL you need, what are we without it?

Sometimes I look at the cultural schism in this country, and I see hippies on one side (liberal Democrats) and I forgot what we called the other side — Fascists? — on the other side. This is same divide that existed in my youth. The young progressives who despise the oldsters are still basically shouting, “Youth is truth!” and they’re just as ignorant as the hippies were and as likely to change the world in the direction they wanted to. The late 60’s and early 70’s were violent. The rosy lens of nostalgia sometimes obscures that, the pipe-bombs, the broken glass, the beaten bodies, the shootings on college campuses. The big issue was the Vietnam War and the draft.

The upshot of that, for me, is the all volunteer military which we cannot protest because anyone in the armed forces today signed up; they weren’t drafted.

So I dunno’ about this psychedelia thing. Far more honest to me in terms of music related social movements are those which came later, punk — even disco. Disco was about random sex and punk was about senseless noise and social protest. I can definitely get behind either of those.

9 thoughts on “Psychedelia, Hippies and Me

  1. I really like the artwork of the flyer/image in this post. The Who, on the other hand, were not handsome; they shoulda gone for an illustration. 🙂

    For a long time I’ve felt everyone ought to drop acid once. Not until they’re at least 20 though. Based on my limited knowledge, it provides a way to experience your own self and world which cannot be gained any other way. Same goes for mushrooms.

    I haven’t been interested in substances since my early twenties, however, I could listen to DMT stories all day. No plans to do it myself though.

    • I have mixed feelings about whether acid provides a way to experience one’s own self. The stories I’ve heard describing acid trips are so similar that I really wonder about that. I suppose like everything we go into, taking an acid trip would involve what we expect to experience. Everyone who’s dropped acid tells me that you can’t experience that any other way, but that’s pretty true of a lot of other things in life — I’m not sure we ever experience anything in the way another person does. I just don’t know — and that’s OK with me.

      I did the 70’s drugs, notably cocaine. Those were terrible experience(s). Some of the disco drugs were fun partly because they were temporary and intense. The only time I hallucinated on a substance was vodka and that was very dark and sad — and then my own brain went haywire when I was 42. That was scary but also in some moments beautiful.

      Life is weird enough as far as I can tell . 😀

  2. The saying is that if one can remember the 60s, you weren’t there.

    The first time I smoked pot, I was just a young boy sharing with a buddy. Thru 3 years of college and for the next few years I tried every psychedelic out there. Eventually got a job in a secret Lockheed facility as a rare non-degreed engineer (!!!) married, settled down, raised kids.

    What I didn’t do was to drive or do anything complicated or risky while I was high. That little corner of my brain never got turned off. Funny, but the same thing applies to booze. I never understood people who got drunk and thought they could still drive. I may have been high as a kite and dancing naked in the back yard to Abba while the stars looked like they were behaving strangely but I knew I didn’t belong in a car or doing anything else where I could kill someone or myself.

    I’ve never had a bad experience with drugs. Not LSD, MDMA, pot, mushrooms. Other people have freaked out and landed in a shrink’s office or the county jail. Not sure why. It combined self-discovery and euphoria and sensuality all in one package. I didn’t have many inhibitions to start with and the few ones I had evaporated along with the self loathing and depression.

    You don’t want to know what I got up to with that other boy.

    • Watching other people confirmed my suspicion that innate brain chemistry and ambient life experience definitely affects the effect. I knew it wasn’t a good idea for me. I’ve driven drunk and stoned, not smart but that also taught me that I held my life pretty cheaply and everyone else’s too. Investigating THAT led me to consider I’d just experienced too much death too young to care all that much. I’m actually happiest — most free — when I find something I don’t mind dying while doing. Pretty weird. But seriously, ABBA????

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