This is from one of those outrageously bad drug scare films from 1969. It’s called Case Study: LSD and it’s so bad it’s funny. Apparently, if you drop some acid and decide to eat a hot dog, the acid could potentially turn your meal into a troll doll.
Honestly, if I saw this nonsensical propaganda back in 1969, I probably couldn’t wait to get my hands on stuff! I mean, talking troll doll hot dogs?! I’m so there!
The talking hot dog had seven kids and a wife to support. He deserved better.
Before it became a Schedule I controlled substance in October of 1968, there was a not-all-that-brief period in which lysergic acid diethylamide, otherwise known as LSD, enjoyed some respectability among the chattering classes, even benefited from the same type of breathless hype that the technology associated with the moon landing enjoyed.
According to a 2010 Vanity Fair article by Judy Balaban and Cari Beauchamp, at some point in the 1950s, the publisher of Time, Henry Luce, tried LSD and developed a favorable attitude towards it, and that was all LSD needed to receive several years of positive coverage in all the major magazines:
Another early experimenter was Clare Boothe Luce, the playwright and former American ambassador to Italy, who in turn encouraged her husband, Time publisher Henry Luce, to try LSD. He was impressed and several very positive articles about the drug’s potential ran in his magazine in the late 50s and early 60s, praising Sandoz’s “spotless” laboratories, “meticulous” scientists, and LSD itself as “an invaluable weapon to psychiatrists.”
In addition, it was well known that Hollywood luminaries like Cary Grant and Esther Williams were using LSD as a therapeutic tool:
“The Curious Story Behind the New Cary Grant” headlined the September 1, 1959, issue of Look magazine, and inside was a glowing account of how, because of LSD therapy, “at last, I am close to happiness.” He later explained that “I wanted to rid myself of all my hypocrisies. I wanted to work through the events of my childhood, my relationship with my parents and my former wives. I did not want to spend years in analysis.” More articles followed, and LSD even received a variation of the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval when that magazine declared in its September 1960 issue that it was one of the secrets of Grant’s “second youth.” The magazine went on to praise him for “courageously permitting himself to be one of the subjects of a psychiatric experiment with a drug that eventually may become an important tool in psychotherapy.”
Over the weekend a Retronaut page by Alex Q. Arbuckle has been making the rounds with the title “April 16, 1963: Housewife on LSD.” The page, which is light on text, features several photographs taken in 1963 by LIFE photographer John Loengard of a session in which some test subjects—i.e., regular people—were given LSD. The centerpiece of the series is a woman named Barbara Dunlap, identified as a housewife from Cambridge, Massachusetts, as she contemplates a statue of Buddha and a sliced lemon in tripping wonderment. The photos, all black and white, can’t begin to suggest the blazing psychedelic visions Dunlap was experiencing, but anyone who has ever taken LSD can fill in the blanks perfectly well.
One weird note: The Retronaut title contains the date April 16, 1963, but it’s not clear to me that that date refers to anything, actually. Arbuckle’s text mentions April 16, 1943—twenty years earlier—as the date on which Albert Hofmann first synthesized lysergic acid diethylamide. Loengard’s photographs were not taken on April 16, 1963, which is abundantly clear primarily because some of the photographs appeared in the March 15, 1963 issue of LIFE, to ameliorate a lengthy article by Robert Coughlan called “The Chemical Mind-Changers.” That article was actually the second of a two-part article—the first part, which appeared a week earlier, was more technical in nature and didn’t focus at all on the test subjects.
After working for a biotech lab in Vancouver, BC, science “nerd” Tania Hennessy, originally from New Zealand, decided to start making jewelry based on the molecular structure of various vices, such as cocaine, heroin, and LSD.
“Overdose” molecular necklace
Hennessy laser-cuts her 3D designer drugs from lightweight stainless steel in various finishes, and the results are quite stunning. In some cases, Hennessy combines the addictive molecules, such as LSD and MDMA (a practice known as “candy flipping” if you’re into that kind of thing), to create a wearable drug cocktail without all the nasty side effects. Hennessy even created a piece called “Overdose” (pictured above) that combines the molecular images of the following drugs: LSD, psilocybin (psychedelic mushrooms), cocaine, DMT (the powerful psychedelic dimethyltryptamine), THC (marijuana), and MDMA (Ecstasy/Molly). Trippy.
“LSD” molecular necklace
There are also a few less life-threatening vices in Hennessy’s collection such as chocolate and caffeine, as well good-vibe neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin, among others. The pieces in Hennessy’s collection will run you anywhere from $25 to $95 and can be purchased on her website, Aroha Silhouettes. More images of Hennessy’s druggy designs follow.
Supplying more fun than can reasonably be expected at the optician’s, these intriguing lenses created by Hungarian designer Bence Agoston for a 3D printer enable psychedelic visual experiences while requiring the insertion of round optical lenses into the waiting slots—the effects include “a landscape modified by combinations of colors and patterns.” Anyone who remembers Dr. Timothy Leary might hear in those words connection to good ol’ lysergic acid diethylamide, which, even in this age of rampant drug legalization, is still a Schedule I controlled substance.
The glasses came about through a class project in which each student was assigned another student for whom they were tasked with designing some personal object. Agoston and his classmate quickly found a connection in music, so he looked to design an item that would enhance the experience of listening to music. Said Agoston,
The person for whom I was designing, whose name I pulled from a hat, first had to get to know each other to see if we could find a common point. I interviewed my “client” and luckily he really likes music and he always listens to music while he is traveling. That became the point for our connection because I also love music, but I just listen to it, really a first stage kind of activity. When embarking on this project my goal was to take it to a second stage and give the user a way to experience music by both listening to it and altering their visual experience of it.
The frames are 3D-printed in ABS plastic and can accept up to three of the set of six patterned lenses. The lenses can be rotated in relationship to each other to provide a virtually endless array of psychedelic viewing experiences, which work especially well when looking out of the window of a moving vehicle. The glasses also partially obscure vision, so it’s quite clear that the glasses should in all instances be worn by passengers, not drivers.
Amusingly, Agoston based his selection of colors to use in his lenses on colors most often found on album covers featuring indie psychedelic music, but he may come up with different series of colors for other kinds of music.
This is one of those situations where the limitations of the Internet present themselves. I really want to hold one of these incredible marbles by Mike Gong in my hand!! But I’m stuck with these paltry 2-D images…. even if they are pretty rad, they don’t do the marbles justice, I’m guessing.
Mike Gong hails from Venice Beach—big shock—and has dabbled in “flametossing” in addition to his impressive work with glass.
Gong’s remarkable marbles run several hundred dollars apiece; here’s an extensive gallery of some for sale, although most of them have already been sold.
Leonard Cohen had a small meltdown onstage at the end of his 1972 world tour. Facing the audience at Yad Eliahu Sports Palace in Jerusalem, he only managed to sing the first three words of “Bird on a Wire,” falling silent when the crowd began to applaud.
I really, I really enjoy your recognizing the song, but… I’m scared enough as it is up here, and I think something’s wrong every time you begin to applaud. So if you do recognize the song, would you just wave your hand? I would really like to see you all waving your hands if you recognize the song.
I hope you’ll bear with me. These songs are kind of, uh—they become meditations for me, and sometimes, you know, I just don’t get high on it, and I feel that I’m cheating you, so I’ll try it again, okay? And if it doesn’t work, I’ll stop in the middle. There’s no reason why we should mutilate a song just to save face, but here it goes.
But the audience greeted the opening bars of “One of Us Cannot Be Wrong” with applause, too, and Cohen got ready to walk.
Now look, if it doesn’t get any better, we’ll just end the concert and I’ll refund your money, because I really feel that we’re cheating you tonight. You know, some nights, one is raised off the ground, and some nights, you just can’t get off the ground. And there’s no point in lying about it. And tonight, we just haven’t been getting off the ground. It says in the Kabbalah… that if you can’t get off the ground, you should stay on the ground. No, it says in the Kabbalah that unless Adam and Eve face each other, God does not sit on his throne. And somehow, the male and female part of me refuse to encounter one another tonight, and God does not sit on his throne. And this is a terrible thing to happen in Jerusalem. So listen: we’re going to leave the stage now and try to profoundly meditate in the dressing room to get ourselves back into shape, and if we can manage, we will be back.
Backstage, Cohen told his band and crew that the show was over and he was leaving. As Ira Nadel’s Various Positions: A Life of Leonard Cohen relates, though, all the singer really needed to clear his head was a shave, a cigarette, and a dose:
In Jerusalem, at the Yad Eliahu Sports Palace, there was pandemonium when Cohen stopped mid-performance and left the stage, agitated and in tears, saying that he could not go on and that the money should be refunded to the audience. Drugs and the pressure of performing the final concert of the tour in the holy city of Jerusalem had contributed to his state. In the dressing room, a distraught Cohen rejected the pleas of his musicians and manager to return to the stage. Several Israeli promoters, overhearing the conversation, walked out to the crowd and conveyed the news: Cohen would not be performing and they would receive their money back. The young audience responded by singing the Hebrew song, “Zim Shalom” (“We Bring You Peace”). Backstage, Cohen suddenly decided he needed a shave; rummaging in his guitar case for his razor, he spied an envelope with some acid from years ago. He turned to his band and inquired: “Should we not try some?” “Why not?” they answered. And “like the Eucharist,” Cohen has said, “I ripped open the envelope and handed out small portions to each band member.” A quick shave, a cigarette, and then out to the stage to receive a tumultuous welcome. The LSD took effect as he started to play and he saw the crowd unite into the grand image of “the Ancient of Days” from Daniel’s dream in the Old Testament. This image, “the Ancient of Days” who had witnessed all history, asked him, “Is this All, this performing on the stage?” Deliver or go home was the admonition. At that moment, Cohen had been singing “So Long, Marianne” intensely and a vision of Marianne appeared to him. He began to cry and, to hide his tears, turned to the band—only to discover that they, too, were in tears.
The concert comes at the end of Tony Palmer’s documentary of the 1972 tour, Bird on a Wire. While the full movie (which includes the shave, but not the acid-eating, as far as I can tell) is up on YouTube, German subtitles swim nauseously all over the frame. Instead, here are clips of that evening’s performance of “So Long, Marianne” and the tearful sequel.
This weekend, the Grateful Dead is playing their last shows ever in Chicago, so they won’t be needing these notably square-minded security guidelines as to how to deal with LSD, instructions that were recently “leaked” according to WAXQ-FM 104.3 radio station in New York City, also known as “the Q.”
According to the sheet, “Guests may ‘see’ images, ‘hear’ sounds, and/or ‘feel’ sensations that do not actually exist.” The flyer breaks down good versus bad experiences, with the latter, a.k.a. an “upsetting experience,” consisting of the following:
May be combative.
Pose a danger to themselves or other guests,”
Disregards the presence and personal space of other people.
Poor judgement, may misjudge distances, height, and strength.
May act on their increased sensuality (removing clothes, PDA, etc.)
Confused or disoriented to their surrounding.
Most importantly, “DO NOT TOUCH ANY GUESTS SUSPECTED OF BEING UNDER THE INFLUENCE OF LSD.”
This flyer was clearly intended for security personnel and not regular concert attendees, but even so, it strikes me as a little bit judgy for a Dead show.
Interestingly, the flyer also states that you should not refer to people under the influence of LSD as “tripping”—they are experiencing “IPR” (intense psychedelic response).
I always figured that at Grateful Dead shows, they just showed everyone there President Carter’s solution for dealing with a bad trip, as embodied by Dan Aykroyd on Saturday Night Live in March 1977. Jimmy’s idea was, take some Vitamin B-complex and some Vitamin C-complex and have a beer. Then mellow out to some Allman Brothers or perhaps even….. the Grateful Dead.
Ginsberg was known as a poet, a key figure in the Beat movement—alongside Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs—and for his collections Howl and other poems and KaddishThough then hitting middle age, Ginsberg had revolutionized poetry and was a countercultural icon to the generation that blossomed during the 1960s, as he spoke out against war, and in favor of drugs and free love.
During the Q&A with the Paris Review, Ginsberg was asked about his use of drugs, in particular hallucinogens. As a man who saw no bar on discussing any subject no matter how personal or intimate, Ginsberg said that on hallucinogens he had visions “of great scaly dragons in outer space they’re winding slowly and eating their own tails.”
Sometimes my skin and all the room seem sparkling with scales, and it’s all made out of serpent stuff. And as if the whole illusion of life were made of reptile dream.
Hallucinogenic experiences had been “states of consciousness that subjectively seem to be cosmic-ecstatic, or cosmic-demonic.” However, his tolerance to hallucinogens (“Lysergic acid, peyote, mescaline, psilocybin, ayahuasca.”) was badly reduced and he no longer enjoyed them.
I can’t stand them anymore, because something happened to me with them very similar to the Blake visions. After about thirty times, thirty-five times, I began getting monster vibrations again.
So I couldn’t go any further. I may later on again, if I feel more reassurance.
When the interview was published in the Spring 1966 issue of Paris Review, Ginsberg wrote a letter to journal giving as footnote to the interview his regret over the “unedited ambivalence” to LSD and his endorsement for the drug.
June 2, 1966
To readers of Paris Review:
Re LSD, Psylocibin [sic], etc., Paris Review #37 p. 46: “So I couldn’t go any further. I may later on occasion, if I feel more reassurance.”
Between occasion of interview with Thomas Clark June ’65 and publication May ’66 more reassurance came. I tried small doses of LSD twice in secluded tree and ocean cliff haven at Big Sur. No monster vibration, no snake universe hallucinations. Many tiny jeweled violet flowers along the path of a living brook that looked like Blake’s illustration for a canal in grassy Eden: huge Pacific watery shore, Orlovsky dancing naked like Shiva long-haired before giant green waves, titanic cliffs that Wordsworth mentioned in his own Sublime, great yellow sun veiled with mist hanging over the planet’s oceanic horizon. No harm. President Johnson that day went into the Valley of Shadow operating room because of his gall bladder & Berkley’s Vietnam Day Committee was preparing anxious manifestoes for our march toward Oakland police and Hell’s Angels. Realizing that more vile words from me would send out physical vibrations into the atmosphere that might curse poor Johnson’s flesh and further unbalance his soul, I knelt on the sand surrounded by masses of green bulb-headed Kelp vegetable-snake undersea beings washed up by last night’s tempest, and prayed for the President’s tranquil health. Since there has been so much legislative mis-comprehension of the LSD boon I regret that my unedited ambivalence in Thomas Clark’s tape transcript interview was published wanting this footnote.
Your obedient servant
Allen Ginsberg, aetat 40
The letter was thought long lost somewhere deep in the Paris Review archives, but when it was recently re-discovered, the journal published it along with the following erratum:
The Paris Review regrets the error. May the record hereafter reflect Allen Ginsberg’s unequivocal endorsement of lysergic acid diethylamide.
Below Ginsberg reads William Buckley a poem written under the influence of LSD.
As he wrote in the February 1981 issue of High Times, “We ingested those little white tabs one afternoon at the home of an actress in Beverly Hills.” At the end of the anecdote, Groucho says that he is looking forward to playing “God” in Skidoo, the legendary cult movie from 1968 directed by Otto Preminger in which Groucho smokes pot, so the timing of this acid story must have been late 1967 or early 1968. Wikipedia asserts that Groucho took acid to “prepare” for Skidoo, but Krassner’s article definitely does not say that. In fact, Krassner’s article is something of a mishmash, covering 3-4 different stories, and he doesn’t really explain anything about what led to his acid trip with Groucho. Here’s a little bit of what they did do, though:
We had long periods of silence and of listening to music. I was accustomed to playing rock ‘n’ roll while tripping, but the record collection here was all classical and Broadway show albums. After we heard the Bach “Cantata No. 7” Groucho said, “I may be Jewish, but I was seeing the most beautiful visions of Gothic cathedrals. Do you think Bach knew he was doing that?”
Later, we were listening to the score of a musical comedy Fanny. There was one song called “Welcome Home,” where the lyrics go something like, “Welcome home, says the clock,” and the chair says, “Welcome home,” and so do various other pieces of furniture. Groucho started acting out each line as if he were actually being greeted by the duck, the chair and so forth. He was like a child, charmed by his own ability to respond to the music that way.
He also says, remarkably, that “the acid with which Ram Dass, in his final moments as Dick Alpert, failed to get his guru higher was the same acid that I had the honor of taking with Groucho Marx.”
A graduation is something to be proud of, a milestone, and the sometimes very expensive piece of paper you get in return for graduating, while clearly not the one-way ticket to paid employment that everyone told you it would be, is at least a tangible reminder of all that effort you put in and the money you spent. Rarely, however, does the signifying document itself hold any actual monetary value, unless of course your diploma stands as testament to your Acid Test graduation. Something to be proud of, indeed!
In 2012, a rare diploma granted to “Mountain Girl” went up for auction in San Francisco and ultimately took in $24,255. The diploma was of interest to collectors for two reasons. For one thing Mountain Girl, born Carolyn Adams, was a one-time Merry Prankster and significant other to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest author Ken Kesey. She had a daughter with Kesey and later married Jerry Garcia with whom she had two more girls. The diplomas, illustrated by fellow Merry Prankster and cartoonist Paul Foster were also a rarity, having been given out to only a handful of people by beat hero Neal Cassady himself at what turned out to be an unintentionally small gathering of heads. According to the auction house that sold the artifact, they have almost never shown up for sale for obvious reasons.
Mountain Girl and Jerry Garcia
Anybody familiar with Tom Wolfe’s book The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (or basically anybody who knows anything at all about the history of United States counterculture) knows that the Acid Tests were wild LSD-fueled parties thrown at Ken Kesey’s LaHonda ranch in the mid 60’s and I’m not going to get into any more description here. If you don’t already know about the whole trippy phenomena, use whatever device you’re currently on and look it up.
The graduation ceremony was originally scheduled to be held on Halloween night, 1966 at Bill Graham’s Winterland in San Francisco with the Grateful Dead headlining, but the event was canceled when Graham caught wind of Kesey’s supposed plan to covertly dose every single person who showed up, either through the water supply or by coating all the surfaces in the building with LSD. The Dead took another gig at California Hall, which trumped the actual Acid Test Graduation that ended up taking place in a San Francisco warehouse with no running water. Mountain Girl was at the California Hall gig with the Dead and crew when the diplomas were handed out and she unceremoniously received hers after the fact.
Here it is in all its glory. Click on the image to see it close up.
Mountain Girl’s Acid Test Diploma
Below, you’ll find footage of the Acid Test Graduation Ceremony from 1966. You can see the diplomas being handed out by Neal Cassady towards the beginning.
It’s all about timing: if Vince Collins had made his trippy animation Malice in Wonderland in the sixties or seventies then it would have probably been a success, especially with freaks and acidheads. That it was made in the 1980s, when your friendly neighborhood independent cinemas were closing and a new puritanism had sneaked into political discourse perhaps explain why Collins’ short animation was booed off the screen by audiences for offensively “exploiting women.”
Malice in Wonderland (1982) is an imaginative and richly Freudian retelling of Lewis Carroll’s famous tale in which Alice repeatedly disappears up (or down) various orifices.
At the time Collins was a struggling animator who had relocated from Fort Lauderdale to California to make short animations. He was best known for his award-winning animation Euphoria, which many had thought was about (or had been inspired by) LSD but was mainly the animator experimenting with visuals. Though Collins has admitted he made his psychedelic drug films in the 1970s and his blue movies in the 1980s. Malice in Wonderland is Collins’ blue movie.
More people have watched this startling animation on the Internet than all the people who saw it on its first release. Where it was once booed, now people are more likely to ask, “Dude, what the fuck is that shit?”
Malice in Wonderland may still be controversial and disturbing to some, but I think it’s a spellbinding tour de force from an unfettered imagination—though maybe not best watched when you’re actually taking LSD.
“The Company of Us,” or USCO, was an ambitious, groundbreaking collective of artists and engineers heavily associated with LSD, although they formed in 1962, a few years prior to the explosion in public awareness of the drug. They counted among their ranks now notable artists like Gerd Stern, Stan VanDerBeek and Jud Yalkut, but at the time their ethos was rooted in collaboration and anonymity, so they only took credit for their productions as a group. Ironically, their work was actually helped by their druggy reputation, as they were featured in a 1966 LIFE magazine cover story—LIFE had published an editorial against the prohibition of LSD six months prior to USCO’s article.
The photos you see here are from their 1966 show at New York’s Riverside Museum which featured USCO’s psychedelic work in six enormous, completely tripped-out rooms. The collective created surreal environments—like “light gardens” and painted shelters—complete with electronic sounds, projections, flashing and pulsating lights, even an area with sensory goggles that blocked out any external vision. Everything moved and nothing was silent. The work was half druggy multi-media show, half interactive architecture, and it was quite the endeavor for a small bunch of outsider artists.
Part of the real problem that we had at USCO was that everything we did was very heavy. We would travel with a Volkswagen bus and trailers and thousands of pounds of equipment. Schlepping. In fact, I once wrote a piece for one of the art magazines called “The Artist as Schlepper.”
As I’m sure you would guess from an art show comprised of psychedelic rooms, many viewers of USCO’s “Down By the Riverside” exhibit were probably chemically altered, transforming the experience into a sort of amusement park of the senses where you could sit and fiddle with AV equipment or just lay there and watch the walls move. Of course, lingering and prolonged “observation” was encouraged—the show was actually where the term “be-in” was coined.
Painting of Hindu deity, which was flashed with color lights.
Artists Rudi Stern and Jackie Cassen work on an abstract slide show
The study of the psychological effects of LSD was fairly widespread in the United States and the UK during the 50’s and 60’s producing thousands of pages of research. Cary Grant, Federico Fellini and even Bill Wilson, cofounder of Alcoholics Anonymous, all took LSD under very legal psychiatric supervision in the 1950’s.
The U.S. Central intelligence agency also conducted thousands of experiments with LSD and other drugs on subjects both willing and otherwise during the 50’s and 60’s through a clandestine operation code named MKUltra. The CIA was testing the effects of LSD in part to find out if the mind-bending hallucinogen could be used as a thought-control substance. MKUltra came the attention of the general public in the mid-1970s. Hearings and a collection of declassified documents have revealed all sorts of insane mental experiments like subjects being observed while tripping for up to 77 straight days and dosing random people without telling them that they were about to have their minds blown and then subjecting them to hours of interrogation.
Is the clip below a “CIA sponsored trip” as the YouTube poster’s title indicates or just one of many psychological experiments conducted openly by U.S. medical practitioners before LSD’s official ban? I’m not sure, but it certainly gives an indication of the bizarre clinical nature of what these government sponsored “psychological evaluations” might have been like. The subject in the video, entitled Schizophrenic Model Psychosis Induced by LSD 25, at least seems to be perfectly willing to go along with the test in this case. He reveals himself to be Bill Millarc, a 34-year-old painter from Los Angeles. As the video begins, the doctor, Nicholas A. Bercel, M.D. of the University of Southern California Medical School’s Department of Physiology (himself the very first American to drop acid, in 1951), gives Bill a dose of 100 liquid micrograms of LSD and begins to narrate Bill’s trip while conducting an interview throughout the entire experience. (Interestingly, the opening credits state “Material furnished through the courtesy of Sandoz Pharmaceutical Co.” Sandoz is the same Swiss company for which Albert Hoffman was working when he both famously and accidentally discovered LSD’s hallucinogenic effects back in 1943.)
Before long, Bill starts to report a few changes in perception. The rug’s pulsating. He has a very pleasant feeling of nausea. He feels like he’s hearing the singing of angels. It’s a very odd thing to watch as the guy tries to stay focused enough to answer the doctor’s questions as he starts to go further and further into “the zone.”
Many of us have seen the drawing circulating around the Internet where people make art under the influence of various controlled substances. Here, the doctor does something similar by having Bill draw a charcoal rendering of a person summoned to the room early in the trip. Later, as Millarc seems to be just about flipping his lid, the doctor asks him to draw the same person. As you can probably imagine, the second picture’s a little different from the first one.
Truth be told, I haven’t done acid in years and, thankfully, all of my experiences were eye-opening ones, but I can’t imagine tripping balls and having the doctor in this clip breathing down my neck the whole time. At one point the doctor claps his hands to snap Millarc out of what seems to be a particularly revelatory moment and Millarc becomes obviously annoyed:
“I was getting somewhere and you interrupted it. I was sort of getting somewhere I suppose.”
Christopher Cross goes sailing in the cosmos, 1980
If you’ve spent much time waiting in a room with piped-in music—in a Walgreens or Duane Reade, let’s say—you may have had occasion to wonder: just how does a person get “caught between the moon and New York City,” anyway? Wouldn’t such a person be suspended roughly 100,000 miles above the Earth’s surface, suffocating in the vacuum of deep space? Wouldn’t falling in love be the last thing on his or her mind? Yet the singer insists on telling you about the transformative experience he had among the stars and, above all, the mystical vision vouchsafed him there of the power of love: “I know it’s crazy, but it’s true,” he pleads, sounding more and more like Coleridge’s ancient mariner with every refrain.
It turns out that Christopher Cross is a true cosmonaut of inner space, the kind of performer who had to live the psychedelic nightmare of “Arthur’s Theme” before he could sing it. Last year, in an interview with songfacts.com, the singer revealed that he was frying super hard on tons of high-quality acid when he wrote his first hit, “Ride Like the Wind.” (Okay, I am probably exaggerating the quantity and quality of the dose.)
And all this time, you thought it was the least mind-expanding song in your parents’ record collection! Here’s Cross’s story of the lysergic inspiration for “Ride Like the Wind”:
Well, the interesting thing about that tune is that we had a band and we’d play every night. We were doing this Paul McCartney tune called “Nineteen Hundred And Eighty Five,” and we’d get into this big jam in the middle of it. It’s funny, I just saw McCartney and I didn’t tell him this, but in this big jam on “Nineteen Hundred And Eighty Five,” in the middle of it I did that “ba da da da, da da, da da.” I did that part.
So I thought that felt really cool. I thought it felt like it had something, some magic, so I built the song around that. That was the first part of the song, and then I built the rest around it.
It didn’t have any words. We were living in Houston at the time, and on the way down to Austin to record the songs, it was just a beautiful Texas day. I took acid. So I wrote the words on the way down from Houston to Austin on acid.
And I grew up with a lot of cowboy movies. Serials and stuff, like The Lone Ranger and these cowboy serials where they were always chasing the bad guy. And I lived in San Antonio near Mexico, so there was always this anarchistic allure about if you could get to Mexico, you could escape the authority. Also, Mexico was a place where you could go down there and drink and do all this debauchery that as a kid, you think sounds really cool. So getting to the border in Mexico was a fascinating thing to me.
And here’s the full, unexpurgated text of the cosmic cowboy epic Cross brought back from his psychedelic odyssey, which I trust the heads among you will scrutinize for hidden meanings:
It is the night
My body’s weak
I’m on the run
No time to sleep
I’ve got to ride
Ride like the wind
To be free again
And I’ve got such a long way to go
To make it to the border of Mexico
So I’ll ride like the wind
Ride like the wind
I was born the son of a lawless man
Always spoke my mind with a gun in my hand
Lived nine lives
Gunned down ten
Gonna ride like the wind
And I’ve got such a long way to go
To make it to the border of Mexico
So I’ll ride like the wind
Ride like the wind
Accused and tried and told to hang
I was nowhere in sight when the church bells rang
Never was the kind to do as I was told
Gonna ride like the wind before I get old
It is the night
My body’s weak
I’m on the run
No time to sleep
I’ve got to ride
Ride like the wind
To be free again
And I’ve got such a long way to go
To make it to the border of Mexico
So I’ll ride like the wind
Ride like the wind
Sounds like a real bummer, man. . .
To refresh your memory of “Ride Like the Wind,” take a look at this classic SCTV sketch, in which Rick Moranis shows how Michael McDonald might have recorded his backing vocals:
Everything about The Weird World of LSD reeks of bad faith. Everyone calls this the Reefer Madness of the hippie era, and that’s certainly true, but the deadpan hysteria of the cautionary voiceover doesn’t, in the end, have the ring of sincere belief to it. For whom was this movie really intended?
What The Weird World of LSD really is is a series of brief vignettes, sans dialogue, of people ostensibly freaking out after having taken acid. A young woman from out of town turns to LSD out of loneliness and before you know it, she is playing with three kittens—as if that were perfectly legal!! Another woman loses herself in an unattended mannequin warehouse. An overweight “art dealer” helps himself to entire table heaping with food. And so on. A good many of the women in the movie are “voluptuous,” and many of the vignettes involve them taking off their clothes or generally acting out. The whole thing feels a lot like The Twilight Zone overseen by Russ Meyer.
The score is free jazz all the way, daddy-O—there’s tons of flaring flute work here, and in general it helps make the proceedings feel even more staid than the flat black-and-white camerawork would merit on its own. The premise of the movie is that LSD unleashes one’s innermost desires and fears, and also that there’s no going back—once those desires and fears are expressed, you will have no choice but to become their slave. This concept inevitably leads to a certain surrealism in the approach, and if you squint your eyes just so you can pretend that Salvador Dalí himself shot this otherwise undistinguished footage.
LSD may induce you to frolic with kittens—WHY WERE WE NOT TOLD??
Around six minutes in, a whole sequence is shot behind what looks to be a Googie McDonald’s—I suspect it’s not the famous Googie McDonald’s in Downey, California; it looks too small to be that one. I’d love to be set right on this—was this shot in Downey?
I don’t really think that The Weird World of LSD is a lost Beat masterpiece, no, but that is a pretty cogent way of getting at a movie that’s otherwise difficult to describe. If you’re throwing a party and want to throw something kooky on the wide screen TV, you could do a lot worse than this—but I wouldn’t recommend sitting through it as you would a regular movie. It might make you lose your mind…