Welcome to First Draft Follies, an ongoing series here at the blog. This edition is a true folly and a prime example of why my first drafts are so damn long: I research what is intended to be a minor point, become fascinated by this minor point, and next thing I know, I’ve written an embarrassing amount of completely extraneous text.
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.
A different music-and-drugs scene unfolded in and around San Francisco. Since the 1940s, physicians, psychiatrists, and others had been experimenting with the therapeutic possibilities of LSD, but in the 1960s, some northern Californians began investigating the drug as a source of creative work.
In 1961, Myron Stolaroff founded the International Foundation for Advanced Study, where he and others studied on the effects of LSD on volunteer participants. Stolaroff, an engineer and the first employee hired by Alexander Poniatoff (who founded Ampex Electric, a pioneer in the development of electronic recording devices), tested the drug on Douglas Engelbart; Stewart Brand, who later created the Whole Earth Catalog; Bob Sackman, who co-founded Sun Microsystems; and more than three hundred others, including faculty from Stanford and San Francisco State College, physicians, and other middle-class professionals.
The experience filtered through the minds, offices, and designs of the men and women laying the groundwork for the nation’s computerized future. Ken Kesey forged another kind of drug scene. In the early sixties, Kesey participated in university-sponsored experiments with psychoactive and psychedelic drugs. He smuggled LSD out of the lab so he could share it with friends.
His gatherings, first in Palo Alto and then nearby La Honda, attracted other young men and women interested in “alternative” thinking: Jerry Garcia and Allen Ginsberg showed up. So did Neal Cassady, Larry McMurtry, and Hunter S. Thompson (who brought along his buddies, the Hell’s Angels). Hugh Romney, later known as Wavy Gravy, [dropped in] for acid-laced venison stew, but in 1965 he headed south to a mountaintop overlooking the San Fernando Valley where he founded Hog Farm, one of the most important and long-lived of the sixties’ communes.
California’s allure destroyed San Francisco’s North Beach neighborhood, a longtime hangout for beats, poets, artists, serious young men, celebrities, and drop-outs. In the mid-sixties, an influx of tourists, “topless bars” and kids drove up the area’s rents and “destroyed” its “Bohemian” character. (*20)
One resident complained that North Beach had deteriorated into a bastion of “‘commercialism.’” (*21) He and others shifted their base of operations to Haight-Ashbury, prized for its cheap housing and enlightened mix of lesbians, “marijuana users,” people of “artistic bent”; “‘hippies,’” “‘heads,’” and “beatniks”; “crusaders for all kinds of causes,” and homosexuals, “artistic gentlemen” who took “tremendous pride” in refurbishing the area’s dilapidated real estate. (*22)
[But] one North Beach devotee headed to a different San Francisco neighborhood.
*20: Lew Bryson, “Fritz Maytag.” (Lew originally provided me with a paper copy of the interview, but it’s now available online.)
*21: “A New Paradise for Beatniks,” San Francisco Examiner, September 5, 1965, p. 5.
*22: “Haight Street Hippies–Are ‘Beats’ Good Business?,” San Francisco Examiner, September 8, 1965, p. 11.