Albert Hofmann, R.I.P.

Talk about better living through chemistry!

Albert Hofmann, the chemist who invented/discovered LSD, has passed away at the dignified, enviable age of 102.

On April 16, 1943, he made history.

On April 19, 1943 he described it.

“In a dreamlike state, with eyes closed (I found the daylight to be unpleasantly glaring), I perceived an uninterrupted stream of fantastic pictures, extraordinary shapes with intense, kaleidoscopic play of colors. After some two hours this condition faded away.”

More on his life HERE and HERE.

Debate did, and does, rage about the benefits and risks (intelligent and honest debate considers both) of psychedelics in general and LSD in particular. Being a chemical, and being demonstrably more intense, LSD is a bit easier to defame (and criminalize), whereas psilocybin (magic mushrooms) grow in the earth and, like marijuana, resist easy condemnation. Unlike alcohol or cigarettes, the mushrooms and green plants that grow in the ground are, quite literally, natural.

Here’s Bill Hicks, perhaps the most articulate (and convincing) proponent of the possibilities of hallucinogens:

And more:

How many well-meaning, but unwatchable scenes have attempted to capture some aspect of a psychedelic experience? Here’s one of the more powerful ones, from one of the better movies:

Easy to romanticize, easy to ridicule, in reality very complicated, the potential triumph and terror of use/abuse of LSD can be summed up in two words: Syd Barrett (much more on him HERE). A snippet:

So what happened? Theories and stories abound, but all you need to do is look at the pictures. Before, during, and just after the release of their debut, Syd is, quite simply, a specimen. Even if you never heard him play or sing, he had charisma and beauty to burn, and it is easy to understand why so many people attached themselves to him. By the time David Gilmour—whom the frantic bandmates recruited to at first fill in for, and later replace, their increasingly erratic leader—begins turning up in group photos, Barrett has dark trenches under his eyes and is already perfecting the thousand-yard stare Roger Waters would later immortalize (“Now there’s a look in your eyes / Like black holes in the sky”). Was it drugs? Schizophrenia? Probably both, possibly neither, but everyone who was there attests that Barrett went from experimenting to ingesting, and that his intake of LSD went from awe-inspiring to alarming in a matter of months. Certainly the rapid (too rapid?) ascent from paisley underground to Top of the Pops would potentially prove dodgy for any sensitive soul who may have happened to be a genius. Add those drugs and the likelihood of a preexisting condition, and the resulting damage was best, if most starkly, described by Syd himself: “I tattooed my brain all the way…”

The next part is where it gets intriguing, if still unresolved. That Barrett saw his shot at superstardom dissipate into the darkening circles of his bruised brain is more than a little tragic. That we have a soundtrack to some of that dissolution, as both an artistic and human document, is more than a little miraculous. Whatever one thinks of the work he recorded post-Pink Floyd (and opinions, predictably, are all over the place), arguably not since Vincent Van Gogh and Edgar Allan Poe have we seen, for posterity, such poignant creative evidence of an aggravated, altered psyche pushed well past endurable limits.

Put another way, here is Barrett, pre-and-post disintegration, a stunning example of the ways he expanded his mind and art, and a horrifying illumination of the damage he did:

His bandmates carried on without him and went on to make history. Along the way they made one of the best sonic explorations of all-things psychedlic, the soundrack to the film More (more on that, and them, HERE and HERE). The single best song concerning what one may see/hear/feel during a trip is, in my opinion, the surreal, shimmering “Quicksilver”.

I’ve always been intrigued (and more than a little haunted) by the sounds and images (the band and especially the crowd) of Country Joe and the Fish playing “Section 43” at Monterey. Definitely some happy hippies caught on film:

For me, the entire story could –and perhaps should– be synthesized (see what I did there?) in a single one-minute scene:

To be cont’d…

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