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Tag: hippies

More than Ecstacy, MDMA is Medicine


RW Klarin partaking of local wares at toking space, MAPS conference 2017

Walking around hotel ballroom,  swirling images of hallucinogen inspired paintings, dozens of clinical study bulletin boards, and bean-bag chairs, I had a natural flash-back.   The colorful denizens of this reminded me of  my psychedelic infused college days in the 70s, except this time they came from all over the world and you couldn’t tell the straights from the freaks.  But times have changed, most overtly in the toking space outside of the Marriott Hotel in downtown Oakland, where bongs and vapes were freely passed around in the open.

Coinciding with this year’s 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love and prohibition of LSD, the worldwide  community of psychedelic therapists, researchers, and enthusiasts emerged from the shadows.  I joined over three thousand  at the quadrennial MAPS (Multi-disciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies) conference in Oakland, CA this April. From the large conference halls to the smaller workshop rooms to the marketplace of psychedelic art, I sensed a new confident exuberance. No longer confined to secretive latter-day hippies or the laboratories,  psychedelics came out this year. For this old Sixties psychonaut, it felt like reconnecting with my long-lost tribe. We spoke freely about inner journeys without couching personal stories in the third person or providing a lot of explanation.

Psychedelic inspired painting

But more than a party, data dominated the conference.  I attended several lectures that elucidated the therapeutic benefits of MDMA, ayahuasca, ibogaine, LSD, and cannabis. MDMA has shown promise in treating PTSD and addiction in numerous studies both here and abroad. First synthesized by Merck chemist Anton Kollisch in 1912, former Dow chemist Sasha Shulgin discovered its’ relaxing properties accidentally and used it as his evening cocktail.  Soon it occurred to Shulgin that MDMA may be helpful with psychotherapy and shared it with therapist friends. Quickly spreading within that community, it proved too much fun to keep in the doctor’s office. Perfect for the 80s party culture, it became a staple of  rave culture worldwide from Ibiza to Dallas.  The genie had again escaped from the bottle.  The liberated and joyful mood generally experienced attracted the attention of the DEA,  placed MDMA in Schedule 1. Schedule 1 drugs are deemed to be of no medical use and pose serious health risks. Included in Schedule 1 are cocaine, heroin, cannabis, and MDMA. That effectively ended its use in therapy until MAPS associates began to use it with Iraq War vets suffering from PTSD.

The recent approval of MDMA (also known as Ecstacy, Molly, Adam, and dozens of other names) for study by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for phase three clinical trials culminates a long struggle for scientific support of its efficacy. If these are successful, then the possibility is for doctor prescriptions with very narrow guidelines. If approved,  it would have limited availability.  But that is how medical marijuana opened, first approved twenty years ago in California the door for legal cannabis . Regardless, not only a new found respectability, but I noted a new honesty  with researchers reporting the results of studies of psychedelics from Brazil to Israel some of  which have not been met expectations.  Seeking to not repeat the mistakes of the Sixties of overpromising the virtues of the drugs and incurring a the backlash from conservatives, MAPS and its executive director, Rick Doblin, proceed methodically .

Attending the MAPS conference was like visiting a long ago friend who had been on a long odyssey: She had changed, wiser and more nuanced, but still offered a familiar essence—freedom, expansion, and bliss. One thing has changed now, fellow-travelers include science and business types, along with the counter-culturalists, the artists, and the curious.   Perhaps Doblin is on the right track and going through channels will lead to respectability.   And that we can learn from the past, and treat these entheogens (god chemicals) with the respect and love they deserve.

Venice West No Longer Beat (down)


 

Next time you sip espresso with an organic, gluten-free sesame muffin, and listen to an open-mic poet at your favorite local café, you’re in debt to a culture and a time long obscured by the flood of history.   It’s way back when a typical evening at the café included a round or two of poets, bongo drums, and fellow beats sipping that espresso. You might have heard Stu Perkoff, one of the original Venice Beat poets, reciting his piece of a physically and spiritually complete life:

 

Feasts of Love, Feasts of Death by Stu Perkoff

sitting on the benches, bodies warm & throats filled with joy & love

we offered worship

sitting warm, eyes & skin touching, love flowing 

we offered worship

we sang & spoke languages & poems

offered worship & love

mixing the birds of passion & the swords of God in our beautiful young eyes

The Osteria Venice West faces the boardwalk in Venice.  Look across Dudley St. (formerly Los Angeles’ beach slum and now the high-tech Silicon Beach) and you’ll see the restored, now chic Cadillac Hotel.  In that beachfront block, where tourists, inner city visitors, homeless drunks, street vendors, and occasional locals like myself mix in a bouillabaisse of humanity, it’s not hard to imagine LA’s fifties counter-culture congregating here 55 years ago.   Like today’s eclectic crowd, the beatniks, refugees from “squaresville,” hunkered down in this space then known as Venice West Café.  Some lived in the Cadillac, at that time a low-rent boarding house.

This is the only Beatnik scene of the Fifties recognized by a City of Los Angeles historic marker. Other Venice Beat locations such as the Gas House (now a vacant lot filled with weekend vendors of tourist paraphernalia) and Lawrence Lipton’s house on Park Ave don’t get even that modest respect.  But Osteria Venice West houses the spirit and vibe of the beatniks that begat the hippie culture, which in turn, continues to impact our world through the counter-cultural ideas of yoga, organic food, classic rock, environmental concern, and global community.

Though this was so and, too, that some of the heroes of the hippies (Allen Ginsberg, Ken Kesey, and others), had their beginnings in the Beatnik world, I knew next to nothing about the Beatniks when I moved to Venice after graduating from UC Berkeley in the seventies.  At the time, vestiges of what had been a slum and refuge for artists, hippies, and other low-income individuals still lingered.  Funky (a word coined by the Beats) and casual, I felt right at home.

Alienated and not just a bit lazy, most of the Beats were young men who landed in Venice initially because it had fallen on hard times.  Once a bold and glorious real estate development, Abbott Kinney’s Venice of America, established in 1905, offered the burgeoning city of Los Angeles a beach fantasy land complete with canals, luxury hotels, amusements, and casinos.

Actually, Kinney and his partner, Francis Ryan, had planned an even larger project that went from Ballona Lagoon on the south to Santa Monica Pier to the north.  But, due to a business conflict, they split and the northern piece, Ocean Park, went to Ryan and was, eventually, annexed by the city of Santa Monica.  Nevertheless, the final development by Kinney was, immediately, a big hit.

However, over the years, as most flashy scenes do, Venice faded.  Its decline began in the twenties and, with the advent of Prohibition, a gang element took over. The Depression followed, then World War II and, by the forties, Venice’s former glory was just a memory with the old hotels turned into rooming houses for the elderly and poor.

Perfect for artists and bohemians with its cheap rents away from meddling by the power brokers of LA, it soon became a magnet for alienated young men and women who wanted to drop out from the mainstream.  To distinguish themselves from the squares, a slang developed that would assist a beatnik in determining a wannabee square from a fellow beat.  Many of their terms, ranging from “cool” to “cop-out” to “funky” to “turn on” to “shack-up” and others are still in use today.

I’d read Kerouac, Ferlinghetti, Snyder, and Ginsberg, knew little of their beliefs, values, and culture but, as an ardent participant in the hippie movement, I realized our antecedents were in the Beats.  And so, after reading a historical summary of Venice West Café Expresso, a visit to the seminal Beat location seemed appropriate.  It would be a kind of pilgrimage to my cultural ancestors, akin to visiting Gethsemane in Jerusalem or Trieste Cafe or City Lights Books in San Francisco or CG Jung’s tower near Zurich.  Everyday places now, but sites of cultural significance.

In mid-1958, Stuart Perkoff and a partner bought 7 Dudley Place, former shul (a Jewish meeting house) and later bleach factory to capitalize on the growing trend in coffeehouses.  They ripped off the plaster and exposed the brick walls.  On the Café’s opening day, a hand printed sign announced Art is Love is God.  

But soon thereafter, Perkoff, running short on funds and feuding with his partner, Lawrence Lipton, sold the Café.  Lipton’s book, a firsthand account of the burgeoning Beat scene, The Holy Barbarians, was published the very next month, February 1959. It sparked widespread interest in the Beats and throngs of wannabees, weekend Beatniks, and tourists descended on the area.   With this influx, and under its new ownership, the Café flourished. At times, a painter would use a blank wall for his colorful expressions, while a poet spouted his (they were almost always men) verse, often backed by a bongo player and/or jazz musicians.

But, as the late 50s turned into the early 60s there were years of complaints by uncool, non-Beat neighbors, and the equally obstinate protest of those complaints by its new owner. In 1964 the city of Los Angeles, through its Police Department, silenced the Cafe’s poets, and Venice West closed in 1965.  (More can be read about when that battle began and how it was, finally, won, in the original LA Free Press!)

RW Klarin checks the site of Venice West, 2016

On my visit to the site of Venice West, I noticed how much and how little has changed in Venice.  Within 50 feet of the now luxury Osteria Venice West, the homeless population congregates and hits up city day-trippers with crafts and sullen stares. Recently, next door at the Candle Café, I attempted to have a calm conversation with a friend while a rag-tag crew of ‘musicians’ played amplified instruments and passed the bucket.  Is it fair to say they are the descendants of the Beatniks?  They still play music, create “art,” and take a lot of drugs and alcohol.  Or is it the proprietor of the organic, gourmet restaurant who is today’s Beatnik?

Although of short duration and small in numbers, the Beat‘s influence has been surprisingly long lasting.  In addition to its gifts to the vernacular and to coffeehouse menus, it has also left us the drum circle, one that can still be heard each and every Sunday on Venice Beach.   And like many counter-cultures, it encouraged sexual liberation, eschewed ethnic bigotry, and advocated an anti-war creed.  Its embrace of cool jazz and cannabis predicted the wide dissemination of such tastes.  And, most importantly, the Beats recognized that mindless consumerism was a hamster-wheel, which research psychologists have confirmed does NOT lead to greater happiness or life satisfaction.

A key feature of Beat was the recognition that everyone has a creative soul.  One didn’t have to get an MFA to spout poetry or write a novel or throw paint on a canvas.  What mattered was your authenticity and soul.  The Beat movement was the first counter-culture to practice and encourage the freedom to create for everyone.  Their vision seeded today’s creativity explosion as seen in the availability of on-line video, print-on-demand books, blogs such as this, and sound clouds, where anyone with the courage and the urge can be an ‘artist’ and publish their creations.  More than a trend or a style, the Beats demonstrated that ‘living in society and not of it’ is possible.  So, when you down an espresso or attend an open-mic, you’re sampling a bit of Beatnik.

Plaque on the wall of Venice West

Old Songs, Young Souls, & a Final Flight for the Airplane


Santa Monica Pier Twilight Concerts

“Take another whiff of fresh air,” the gray-bearded bear of a man whispered from the stage. An authentic, original San Francisco hippie, David Freiberg (first of Quicksilver Messenger Service) again fronted the 21st century version of a rock institution on a late summer evening in 2015. The usual motley crowd of several hundred free entertainment seekers milled around the Santa Monica Pier, while the classic guitar riffs of an old Jefferson Airplane tune cut through the cacophony of chatter.  Almost 50 years since the Summer of Love in San Francisco, their original incarnation proclaimed, ‘When the truth is found to be lies.’ Well the truth of 2015 is that they are a mere shadow of the Airplane. But those riffs were just enough to provoke grins of recognition between me and an old friend from college days at Berkeley. He made a special pilgrimage to LA to see the last surviving member of the iconic group that epitomized the San Francisco hippie sound in the sixties. Known back in the day under the pseudonym of Jack, he is one of those rare Boomers who, now in our later days,  listens to current music as well as the classics.

Unfortunately, on that balmy Santa Monica night, after two songs the small guy, with wispy blonde hair who played those distinctive licks disappeared from the stage. The music continued, but Paul Kantner couldn’t, he’d made an appearance, but that was about it—a recent heart attack had taken its toll. Sadly, Kantner died in early 2016 at the age of 74 after another heart attack.
After Kantner left, the band consisting of four young musicians and Freiberg, carried on with the classic tunes. Although they were essentially a tribute band, competently covering the old songs, when I closed my eyes I heard Grace Slick singing White Rabbit and Miracles. Those old songs evoked the vibe, like a time-tunnel to the mood, spirit, excitement, and freedom, of the original hippie times. Like an invisible virus, music from our formative years rummages around in the memory banks and finds the young soul that lurks deep within the ever-aging mind and body. A remembrance, more than nostalgia, it’s like a secret, authentic self that is hiding in a closet coming out for a cameo.

Paul Kantner and the Jefferson Starship

Oldies music is not new, but the attitude about it is. In 1969, I attended a concert at the Fillmore in San Francisco, Sha Na Na came on and drove us young hippies wild with their fifties cover songs. In those days, a heavy dose of camp and sarcasm fueled our enthusiasm. We thought we had evolved so much that oldies music from ten years before was corny and hilarious.  That doesn’t happen now with oldies music. Now, even millennials like and respect music from the sixties and seventies. The generation gap that was so glaring back in the day has closed. That night on the Santa Monica Pier all ages swayed to the classic rock of Starship/ Airplane. Cruising through the time-tunnel, I recalled a free concert I saw by Jefferson Airplane at the Los Angeles’ Griffith Park/ Elysian  Park area in 1969. The impromptu show happened because somehow a planned concert at a real venue was cancelled by ‘The Man.’ The word spread through the hippie underground, mostly via the Los Angeles Free Press. A crowd of thousands appeared, peace and love permeated the scene, without a sign of ‘The Man’ seen. Radical politics of the time inspired their new album, Volunteers, and the kids shouted out in unison with lyrics that confronted the ‘System’ like ‘Up against the wall motherfuckers’ and ‘We can be together.’

Grace Slick and Paul Kantner ‘Volunteers’ era

For us Boomers the music was often more than entertainment, our lives organized around it. It was our social media where we shared political views, clothing and artistic styles, in addition to entertainment. Even today, fifty years later, those same performers and songs resuscitate the old spirit of community, justice, and freedom. Well-proven neuro-science states that our minds are still forming into the mid-to late twenties, so it makes sense that the imprints we experience at that age stay with and continue to excite us.

My friends and associates, except for the few hard-core music aficionados like Jack, listen to the old music from our formative twenties. Especially, the original bands like the Who, Stones, or Starship, who replicate the originals with new players. At the 2015 New Orleans Jazz Fest, the Who’s two remaining original members, Pete Townsend and Roger Daltrey performed the classics like ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again,’ with gusto, but what blew me away was how the replacement drummer (Zake Starkey, son of Ringo Starr) didn’t miss one of Keith Moon’s original licks.

The author catches the Who at New Orleans Jazz Fest, 2015

Experiencing tribute or classic bands (even with one original member like the Starship) opens that deep mine of soul, freedom, and adventure hidden by the passage of the decades. It still resides inside us somewhere and the old music can bust out of the miasma of sameness and into freshness and spontaneity. After getting drunk on this strange elixir from the past, something wakes up in me and I want to ‘bang a gong, get it on.’ Who hasn’t felt that from a cherished oldie? Novelty through discovery and adventure feed the soul, but the old music satisfies in a way that new can’t. Like a fine pair of old jeans and tennis shoes and scratchy 45s, they’re well loved, like an old friend, it awakens the spirit of youth regardless of who is playing it.

Sadly, Paul Kantner didn’t return to the stage that night at the Pier, but his daughter by Grace Slick, China Kantner sang harmony on Somebody to Love. The lineage received due honor. Paul Kantner reportedly never renounced his Summer of Love principles of peace, love, and a positive future. A stalwart icon of the hippie movement, his vision lives on in the music of the Airplane/ Starship and in the souls of the older ‘kids’ who took a breath of that fresh air of a utopian generation.

[Ed.’s Note:  In his first book of essays, Living the Dream Deferred, RW Klarin explored the uncharted domain for Baby Boomers– -retirement. Combining a journalist’s eye for detail with a teacher’s need to learn, he invited readers into the inner and outer journey of his reinvention.
His new project is an exploration of the Sixties counterculture influence on our world. As he visits significant, though not always famous places and persons of that tumultuous period, in this column, each Wednesday, we will join him as he recalls their past in the ‘era of the hippie’, assesses their present state, and talks with us about what it might mean for our future.]