LSD

V&A Keynote Speech

The V&A 'Revolution - Records and Rebels 1966-1970) exhibition closed earlier in 2017.  I was invited to give the keynote speech at the launch dinner at the museum.  It was well received.  Here's the text:

While staying in a Sikh temple in Delhi in April 1965 a couple of guys from San Francisco gifted me with a 1000 microgram capsule of Sandoz pharmaceutical grade LSD.  I took my first trip in September of 1965, 51 years ago almost to the day.  Then I went back to complete my final year at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania.   In October Timothy Leary came to Philadelphia with his message to explore higher consciousness.  This created a psychedelic community, as happened wherever Leary went.

Like many who became health conscious on acid, I adopted the macrobiotic diet and later visited the Paradox macrobiotic restaurant in New York’s Lower East Side. On the spot I decided to cancel my career path of Peace Corps - Navy pilot - State Department and decided instead to open a macrobiotic restaurant in London. I imported books about macrobiotics that were sold at the Indica bookshop.  I supplied brown rice snacks every week for the UFO Club from when it opened in December of 1966. My little band of macrobiotic missionaries would talk to people who were eating it, explaining, between Pink Floyd sets, how sugar was bad for you and whole grains were good for you. The American Medical Association described the diet as ‘leading to death.’  My restaurant opened in February 1967 and one of my first customers was Yoko Ono, who knew macrobiotics from Japan.

People got religion – not the old guy in the sky variety, but the personal spiritual discovery embodied in yoga and meditation and Zen Buddhism.

Our clothes helped us identify each other.  I imported coats I’d seen in Afghanistan a year earlier.  The Beatles bought some at Granny Takes a Trip boutique on the Kings Road and set off a global craze.  I also imported Tunisian kaftans, Tibetan shoulder bags and Chinese silks that Aedan Kelly would dye with blobby designs that were then tailored into shirts and dresses.

Clothes also helped the police to identify us and they started randomly searching and arresting people who looked colourful or had long hair.  We understood what it was like to be black and this fuelled empathy for civil rights as well as for drug law reform.

We believed in the power of peace and love.  The Vietnam war was at its peak – we tried to stop it and faced up to the full force of the law in Grosvenor Square, Chicago and Kent State.

We experienced nature and the environment on an intuitive and empathetic level, seeking out green places like Golden Gate Park or Kensington Gardens.  We read the romantic poetry of Keats and Blake, deploring dark satanic mills.

When the Move sang “I Can Hear The Grass Grow’ or The Small Faces sang ‘It’s All Too Beautiful’  we responded viscerally.   Then the Beatles summed it all up as “All you Need is Love.”

Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth both were born out of this awareness of our oneness with our beautiful planet.

We got sexy.  It was hard to repress sexuality when all your other senses were heightened, so if you were gay you let yourself go, if you were polyamorous you started to swing. Sexual experimentation led to sexual liberation.

We were a community – with a strong sense of communalism.  Not communism, quit the opposite: we didn’t trust the State but we did form communes. Our individualism, communalism and libertinism combined to forge a political libertarianism.

It wasn’t easy to get a job if you dressed like a hippie and had long hair, so many set up their own businesses. Fashion, publishing, natural foods and music were areas where entrepreneurial spirits could follow their heart and make a good living.

Our goal was to create an alternative society, an exemplar of how life could be and should be.

We underestimated the degree to which the legacy industries that profit from war, environmental degradation, ill health and financial manipulation would still control the agenda 50 years later.

This exhibition captures magnificently the deep spiritual, philosophical and political intent of those times and their impact on the world today.

It could help to accelerate the change of which we dreamed.

Perhaps it will help us to build Blake’s hippie vision of a new Jerusalem in this green and pleasant land.

Let’s hear it for the Jimi Hendrix (and brown rice rissoles) experience

It’s 1967. The Summer of Love. Jimi Hendrix is blaring from the speakers – and Craig Sams is serving up brown rice rissoles to his sensorily-enhanced patrons

The other day someone posted on my facebook page: You hippies have a lot to answer for. My response was: You’re absolutely right and the answer is ‘you’re welcome’.

The belated recognition of how, in 1967, society moved from dull, grey post-war monotony to the bright, enlightened world we now inhabit is becoming a bit overwhelming. When everyone from Atom Retro fashions to the V&A is pumping my memory for details about 1966/1967. I begin to wonder what’s going on … oh, yes, it’s 50 years since All You Need Is Love came out of the speakers of a record shop on the King’s Road and me and my hippie pals all dashed in to buy the single.

Victoria Broackes, curator at the V&A, is putting together a new show called You Say You Want a Revolution. With a series of ‘immersive experiences’ she aims to recreate the heady atmosphere of those times. With your Sennheiser headphones GPS-sensing where you are in the exhibition hall, you’ll get the sound to go with the sights and environment. Imagine being in the UFO Club with Pink Floyd jamming Interstellar Overdrive while patrons munch on my brown rice rissoles and the light show blobs illuminate a Larry Smart mandala painting, and you might get a sense of one of the seven spaces.

The message of the V&A show is that the fundamentals of our culture were irreversibly changed by the revolution in consciousness that happened in the 1967 Summer of Love, mostly in London, San Francisco and Amsterdam, but anywhere LSD was legally available. The way people thought about everything changed. Music reached parts of the brain it had never previously dared to. Exhibit A: Jimi Hendrix. Artists popularized Art Nouveau and Aubrey Beardsley and went all wishy washy – you had to study a gig poster to find out who was playing when and where. People realized that we were delicate human beings that should not be living in a deteriorating environment, and Friends of The Earth, Greenpeace and the Brundtland report all came from that awareness. Fashion broke out of the mould – I imported Afghan coats, kaftans, Tibetan bags and other ethnic fashion and, with Aedan Kelly, produced blobby dyed silks that were used for shirts and dresses. Everybody wanted one of my Afghan coats when The Beatles walked out of Granny Takes a Trip boutique on Kings Road wearing them.

“Everybody wanted one of my Afghan coats when The Beatles walked out of Granny Takes a Trip boutique on Kings Road wearing them”

We realized that war was an ineffective way of resolving differences. The Vietnam War was an entirely stupid and unjustifiable massacre of innocent people on all sides, but it sharpened awareness that peace, love and understanding were the key to a better world. ‘Normal’ sexual barriers dissolved. The pill helped, but repressed gays discovered their inner selves, inhibited women became sexual dynamos and polyamorous relationships were just one example of the resulting experimentation. People who grew up with alienation in soulless suburbs sought community and shared experience.

Religion was rediscovered as a seeking of a spiritual state of consciousness and energy flows that manifested in yoga, meditation and Buddhism, particularly the Zen variety. So we got Zen Macrobiotics, which married a libertarian oriental philosophy with a way of eating that supported the unity of mind, body and spirit.

People saw beyond the hamburger on their plate to the animal, its death, the hormones, antibiotics and whole horrible origin of something they once took for granted. ‘Ugh!’ They thought – ‘I’ll eat something else.’ But what was something else? That’s where we had the answers with Yin Yang Ltd and a macrobiotic restaurant that enabled people to eat in harmony with their consciousness.

Yin Yang became Harmony Foods, the first to offer organic brown rice and foods like miso, seaweed and tamari.
Renamed Whole Earth Foods it focused on healthy processed food, as brown rice and beans became commoditized. Private Eye quoted our price list direct in Pseuds Corner and its readership chuckled at our perceived pretentiousness. To paraphrase Nigel Farage and Ronnie Barker, we can now say “You laughed when we said that diet was the key to mental, spiritual and physical health, but you aren’t laughing now.”

Come and see us having the last laugh at the V&A from 11 September.