Bonus Episode: Joel Selvin
Rock critic Joel Selvin on the origins of psychedelic rock in San Francisco–including Ken Kesey and his Acid Tests, the Trips Festival, and birth of bands such as the Grateful Dead and Big Brother and the Holding Company. Joel Selvin: In San Francisco in 1965, '66, '67, there was such an explosion of music, great rock bands – it was just impossible not to be swept up in it. As a copyboy at the [San Francisco] Chronicle, I could get my name on the guest list at The Fillmore. I think I was out like six nights a week watching bands. I'm Joel Selvin, born and raised in Berkeley, CA. At the age of 17, after having dropped out of high school, I went to work as a copyboy at the San Francisco Chronicle and I subsequently took a job there as the pop music critic, which I kept for 36 years. San Francisco was the center of the rock music universe – a truly amazing parade of musical talent. Not only local people, but from all around the world. Well, the first thing was LSD. In 1964, Augustus Stanley Owsley, III became the first private party to synthesize the formula for LSD, which had been produced since the late 40s by a Swiss pharmaceutical company. Owsley set up business in Berkeley down on Virginia Street, Bear Research Laboratories, and produced – we don't know? Could be the first two million units of LSD. Obviously from that epicenter in Berkeley this whole psychedelic movement just sort of spread out. At The Fillmore in December of '65, The Fillmore was in a black neighborhood, they had run R&B shows there for years. The Acid Tests came in, Ken Kesey and all those guys, had the same staff, right. So the old door guard is this old black guy named John Walker. And John Walker is sitting there and he is watching all this craziness go on. Can't imagine what he is thinking. But the police come in – San Francisco police – they come in and want to see what is going on here. And they think it's pretty weird too. And they go to Walker and they go – What the hell is going on here? He says – Don't worry, they's in love. Nobody was pushy, nobody was obnoxious. Everybody felt like being in this together was so special that we were automatically bonded and we were all friends immediately just because we were cool enough to be there. Everybody else that wasn't there, they were missing it. By 1966 when it was appearing on the cover of Life Magazine and this mind altering chemical, publicity had reached a point where everybody knew about it and those people who were inclined were gravitating toward using it. And this was the center of that. LSD had a tremendous effect on people who took it. And San Francisco bay area, they began to form a kind of community around people who took LSD and one of the first things they did was throw dances with bands. And these bands, who also took LSD, were not really playing old time rock n roll in the way that had been. It just didn't make any sense. Instead of like, 2-3 little songs, verse chorus, verse chorus, bridge, verse chorus...they started playing instruments and jamming. The audience danced and everybody was on LSD. The Avalon and The Fillmore in 1966 were pretty much LSD speakeasies. This was like the ground zero for the explosion. And it wasn't just music, I mean, you can see its effect on organic farming, interest in yoga, the personal computer movement – all those guys were acidheads. Music is just one of the things that came out of that. It was a real prominent, it became the forefront of all of that countercultural movement. First thing that happens to the LSD community, they wanted to have these public gatherings where they could engage in activity while having the LSD experience. The first of those were kind of informal affairs that were hosted by Ken Kesey, the author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, which had been a best seller. He's been a volunteer at the Stanford Veterans Hospital where the CIA ran LSD experiments.
Duration: 13 min