Excerpts from "Can You Pass the Acid Test?: A History of the Drug and Sex Counterculture and Its Censorship in the 20th Century":
By 1968, against the back drop of the Vietnam War, the civil rights
movement and the New Left, a new drug culture developed. Young people
called "seekers" experimented with drugs, while those who used them habitually
were called "heads." Many of these people were part of a new cultural
movement, involving new attitudes on religion and morality. This movement
included groups of artist, musicians, poets and writers. As the 20th century come
to an end, the late 1960s stand out as a time of major upheaval.
The peak of the counter culture was between 1967 and 1970. This new
culture challenged the Protestant values, such as the "Protestant work ethic" and
the new consumer culture born of the 1950s. Protestant moral values, dealing
with sex, nudity and the use of chemical indulgence were also being challenged.
While many people of the counter culture considered themselves as being
"opposed to capitalism," a new version of capitalism emerged. Small artisan
shops and businesses marketed various products and pleasures that the establish
businesses would later absorb into their own. Theodore Roszak wrote the
Making of a Counter Culture, to make sense of these new developments. To
escape the wasteland, said Roszak, we must cease to censor out dreams,
annihilate the stopwatch and open the doors of perception.8
Roszak called for a communitarian approach to work, a participatory
democracy that could not be blueprinted but would certainly involve de-urbanization,
a return to Mother Earth. With the help of dissenting technicians
and dropped out professionals, a new kind of society would combine modern
knowledge with ancient animism.9
Drug use was the most visable part of the counter-culture to the average
American. A poll in 1969, by Roper, reported that 76 % of American college
seniors said they had never tried marijuana and 96 % said they had never tried
LSD. Other polls had similar findings. A Gilbert national survey of American
youth, in 1970, found that only about 10 % of the young people had tried any
drug.10 Still, politicians were determined to stamp out what they perceived as a
threat to the status quo. The mainstream media also railed against the new
Haight-Ashbury, a street corner in San Francisco, CA, became a Mecca
for this new movement. Members of this new counter-culture, often referred to
as Hippies, walked the streets and hung out at the various "head shops" and
This new cultural movement had many influential writers and artist
involved, including Ken Kesey, who wrote One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.
He rambled about the West Coast in a Day-Glo bus packed with microphones,
amplifying equipment and devotees known as the Merry Pranksters. One
commentator had estimated that Kesey may have turned on as many as 10,000
young people to LSD during his 24 month presentation of "the acid test."11 Poet
Allen Ginsberg made a pilgrimage to Liverpool, home of the Beatles, and found
a roaring- seedy- half-Irish working class port, filled with poetry readings,
happenings and of course drugs. He declared it to be "the center of the
consciousness of the human universe."12 Ginsberg later wrote Howl, a cutting
poem which describes the street scene of San Francisco and the world of heroin
addiction and pot smoking.13
Dr. Timothy Leary was of the best known of what was referred to as the
"acid gurus" of the 1960s. Leary was dismissed from position at Harvard in
1963. After that, he used LSD as both therapy for paying patients and later
found his own LSD based religion, the League of Spiritual Discovery (LSD).
Like members of the Hippies, he scoffed at using political action and believed
young people would do better to spend time "on expanded consciousness."14 He
told Playboy magazine that one of the spiritual goals in his use of LSD was "to
make love with God."15 Much of Leary's rituals were borrowed from Eastern
religions. Leary said "the temple of God is your own body - The Orientals teach
us that."16 One of his books borrowed heavily and openly from The Tibetan
Book of the Dead. Leary was arrested at Laguna Beach California, in 1968. He
escaped from prison and fled to Algeria. He was recaptured from Afghanistan
and returned to a US prison in 1972. His former colleagues accused him of
turning evidence against them.17
Music is one of our oldest art forms. Almost as old, is the use of drugs by
musicians. The influence of drugs on rock music is a common concern of the
anti-drug warriors. Yet at times, jazz, classical, country and folk musicians have
been influenced by the use of drugs. Not just in modern times, but in the 1940s
and 1800s as well.
8 David Caute, The Year Of The Barricades, p 65.
9 David Caute, The Year Of The Barricades, p 65.
10 David Caute, The Year Of The Barricades, (Harper and Row, New York, 1988), p. 55.
11 David Caute, The Year Of The Barricades, p. 57.
12 David Caute, The Year Of The Barricades, p. 52.
13 Steve Otto, War on Drugs/ War on People, pp. 150, 151.
14 David Caute, The Year Of The Barricades, p. 57.
15 David Caute, The Year Of The Barricades, p. 58.
16 David Caute, The Year Of The Barricades, p. 58.
17 David Caute, The Year Of The Barricades, p. 39.