Feb 15, 2012

October 1966: Acid Rock Party


Across the Golden Gate Bridge on a beastly hot day, the Grateful Dead were giving a Saturday afternoon party.
Their ranch ("This is the House of the Dead") stood on the site of the last battle between Spaniards and Californians.
Guarding the driveway was a cowboy on a black horse. Later, when the police arrived and were turned away by the cowboy, I learned he was the Dead's lawyer.
As I drove up the driveway I could see, on the hillside above the ranch, a naked, bearded man bucking and bouncing on a motorbike towards the skyline.
The ranch was furnished and decorated with a monkish, if less than celibate, simplicity. Girls, some with children, walked around wearing no clothes. In the garden perhaps half the men and women were dressed. It was stunningly hot.
But what was particularly remarkable about the scene was that many of the people with whom I spent some time that week had difficulty in recognizing me, or in talking coherently. They were not drunk, but looked stoned on boo, pot, bhang or acid.

The Grateful Dead are a popular music group in the drug world of LSD and its capital city, Psychedelphia - San Francisco.
In California this is real popularity, since the use of drugs for private analysis and pleasure among the young grows at a great pace - and half the population is under 25. New state prohibitions may help slow the gallop, but I have my doubts since the desire to take marijuana or LSD springs from the character of the community.
In the psychedelic halls of San Francisco or in its psychedelicatessens, the philosophy is clear, up to a point, and cool, when it can be heard.
Talking to the Dead and to their friends in the other "Acid Rock" pop groups - such as the Great Society and the Jefferson Airplane - all of which are managed by a larger, even more philosophical group called the Family Dog, the general view became clear. "We have a prayer," said a girl near the family dog. "Jesus, Baby Jesus, teach us to close our mouths and open our minds."
I asked if they were as religious as the remark suggested. "We believe in giving, not taking," she replied, but added, bitterly, "unfortunately some people around here do all the giving and others do all the taking."

The view is otherwise detached, more precise than in the rougher, forgotten beatnik era. Politics belong to a middle-aged, whiskey-drinking group. The new politics, which excludes civil rights marches and Viet Nam demonstrations, since these are within the framework, grows from a new psyche.
Create a new people and inevitably the Johnsons, Nixons, and Kennedys can be seen to belong to an age of unenlightenment. A new parity of insight as well as sensation is a consequence of a "trip," however mild, on LSD.
The Acid Rockers were careful to establish that their musical and imagic performances were not the product of LSD. In the Fillmore Auditorium and the Avalon they merely stimulated a "trip."

The Dead assaulted the senses with noise. A film played on a wall behind them. On the film, green and scarlet shapes, bounding, exploding, were refracted from lights high in the hall, the shapes created by oil and ketchup. A strobe light flickered over all violently. Girls' breasts were painted in patterns like those on the wall by a man whose face was painted half-white, half-black. A girl with an iron cross painted on her forehead explained that it was a red indian symbol.

(by John Morgan, from the Redding, CA Record-Searchlight, October 19 1966)


  1. The date of this party baffles me. The article seems to be describing Rancho Olompali, but the Dead had moved from there back in June 1966. By October they were living in Haight-Ashbury. Nothing in the article indicates a date except that it was a "Saturday afternoon."
    The editing here is a little odd - the actual "party" is barely described, instead it cuts at the end to a description of a ballroom show. (With a light show "in the hall," it's definitely not the afternoon ranch party.)
    Redding is a town in northern California, rather remote from San Francisco (as is indicated by the rather disdainful mention of San Francisco as the capital city of the drug world). Possibly this article was reprinted from another paper from a previous month. If so, I hope the earlier source turns up.
    Then again, it's possible an intrepid Redding reporter did wander down to "Psychedelphia" to investigate the LSD scene and these crazy Acid Rockers, and maybe the Dead were still holding parties at Olompali that fall.

  2. A version of this article was reprinted, as well, in the Idaho Statesmen. There, it's credited to "John Morgan, London Sunday Times." Maybe he was writing about a trip to the Bay Area earlier in the summer?

    1. Was that printed in October as well?
      London Times, hmm. It could be a reporter who went with the BBC crew that filmed the Dead in June '66. Maybe the original article will turn up someday.
      In the meantime, other reprints may also be of value if they include portions that were edited from the Redding paper.