Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Oh Owsley, can you hear me now?

Posted By on Tue, Mar 15, 2011 at 2:49 PM

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The L.A. Times has a good post up about Stanley "Bear" Owsley, the man whose chemistry helped freak out a generation. (I wonder if any of our readers got the chance to enjoy Owsley's handiwork.)

He died in a car crash yesterday in Australia, where he'd lived for the past two decades.

They don't write résumés like Stanley's anymore. He had a weird and wild career arc matched only by those of Gore Vidal and Aaron Burr. The scion of a prominent Kentucky family, Stanley racked up stints in the U.S. Air Force and the professional ballet, as well as Berkeley. But the academic world rarely holds rewards for those with such occult sensibilities, so Stanley started cooking.

Soon linking up with Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters, Bear became the go-to guy for the acid tests, ultimately receiving an indelible portrayal in Tom Wolfe's portrait of the scene, "The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test," and a sterling reputation for the "Owsley Acid" flooding the West Coast. But his most memorable contribution was to the music world, as sound engineer/guru for the Grateful Dead. He became their chief sound engineer and pioneered the practice of taping their shows — thus, preserving practically the entirety of their catalogue for posterity. He also persuaded the band to adopt his all-meat diet for a brief time.

There is a great SFGate interview with Owsley from July 2007 that is making the rounds. In that interview he was clear that, even though he spent time in the hoosegow for making acid (a lot of acid), he never accepted that it was actually a crime. He saw it as a public service.

"I wound up doing time for something I should have been rewarded for," he says. "What I did was a community service, the way I look at it. I was punished for political reasons. Absolutely meaningless. Was I a criminal? No. I was a good member of society. Only my society and the one making the laws are different."

If he helped to give us Jimi Hendrix, then he was a very good member of society.

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