Owsley. If a Baby Boomer tells you they don’t who that is, they’re lying. The man who wanted to remain anonymous to some (for obvious reasons) was synonymous with LSD. Hell, he WAS LSD.
Without Bear, as he was later called, and his trippy doses, the 1960s, particularly in San Francisco and the Haight, might have been a whole ‘nother scene. The man and the drug he peddled left an indelible stamp on the counterculture, which marks its 50th anniversary this year.
Robert Greenfield captures the essence of that time and the crazy smart man who brought hallucinogenics to the masses in Bear: The Life and Times of Augustus Owsley Stanley III. Deadheads know him as the inventor of the Wall of Sound and the Lightning Bolt Skull logo. I know him as the subject of Steely Dan’s “Kid Charlemange,” though I only know that because I read this book!
Bear was a genius, a mad scientist, who, once interested in learning something new, obsessively studied the topic until he was not just proficient, but an expert at it. Check out his website www.thebear.org and you’ll see what I mean. A jack of all trades AND a master of them all.
Bear’s impact on the ‘60s music scene (this is a music book review, after all) cannot be underestimated. By sharing his chemical creation with the icons of that time – Hendrix, the Beatles, Jefferson Airplane, and of course, The Dead – he changed the sound of their creations. Think Magical Mystery Tour. Listen to Hendrix’ Day Tripper. You’ll get the idea.
And while you’re at it, grab a copy of the Oxford Dictionary and look up Owsley. That’s all the proof you need of his influence. Then read Bear for a well-written, well-documented look at the life of the Einstein of electric Kool-Aid.