The material is presented “as is” from the first draft of the manuscript that became the book Ambitious Brew. In a few places I added one or two words in brackets — [like this] — for clarification. The excerpt is long, so I’m breaking it into manageable bits and posting those bits over the next few days.
That Lewis and his lawbreaking students hailed from California was no surprise. The state was epicenter of culinary experimentation, as well as resistance, rebellion, and general weirdness. In 1962, Look magazine described California as a “window into the future,” a “laboratory of social and cultural change” where “almost incomprehensible new forces” were “reshaping the lives of men” — and women. (*17)
Hyperbole matched reality. At Palo Alto and Stanford University, engineers, mathematicians, and scientists explored human intelligence, electronic engineering, and communications, and the relationship among them. Hewitt Crane and Douglas Engelbart, seminal figures in the creation of the computer as we now know it, worked at Stanford Research Institute. John McCarthy, who coined the phrase “artificial intelligence” in the mid-1950s, founded the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (SAIL) in 1963.
To the south at Big Sur, Michael Murphy founded the Esalen Institute, a “think tank” that drew such names as Paul Tillich and B. F. Skinner. At the Western Behavioral Sciences Institute, psychologist Carl Rogers pondered the nature and potential of “human relations.”
The University of California-Los Angeles housed a laboratory where W. Ross Adey and his colleagues used electronic probes to explore the physical brain and the mechanisms of thought.
Other Californians employed less conventional methods to explore life’s meaning. The “freak” scene in Los Angeles, named after the bizarrely clothed dancers who followed The Byrds from performance to performance, congregated around the dance clubs and coffeehouses that lined Sunset Strip: the Whisky A Go Go and Fifth Estate, London Fog, and the Trip.
From there the scene rippled out to Laurel Canyon, where barefoot girls “wrapped in songs and gypsy shawls” and long-haired boys decorated in motley outfits pulled from secondhand stores wandered in and out of the neighborhood’s winding lanes and ramshackle cottages. (*18)
Drugs flowed freely and so did the creative imaginations of Frank Zappa, Joni Mitchell, Stephen Stills, Judy Collins, and other singers and musicians who, “pouring music down the canyon,” packaged their stoned sensibility for mainstream America. (*19)
*17: Special issue on California, Look, 30, no. 13 (June 28, 1966): 30.
*18: Joni Mitchell, “Ladies of the Canyon,” Ladies of the Canyon, Reprise Records, 1970. *19: Mitchell, “Ladies of the Canyon.”