The years I am citing are 1962 – 1965. Prior to that, Austin had a Beat Movement that dabbled in peyote and weed but it was hardly more than a few people. The catalyst for the beginning of the Austin Psychedelic Scene was the CIA’s MK-ULTRA Project. See... the CIA was very, very, very interested in psychedelics in the early Sixties. They thought of them as some sort of possible “truth serum” or “brainwashing” substance or even as a possible chemical warfare catalytic to stop troop movement. Like… they would fly over the enemy troops and spray them with LSD mist. You get the picture.
They had experimented on their own troops throughout the Forties and Fifties and, at the start of the Sixties; they were fascinated with experimenting with psychedelics on the general public. Some bright individual came up with the idea to pose as a drug company researching compounds and to set up shop on college campuses and pay the kids minimum wage to be dosed with psilocybin, LSD, DMT and other compounds.
I’m going to kind of stop here because a LOT can be written about this project. I want to stick with Austin. But anyway, the University of Texas at Austin was a place chosen to set up shop; another place was the Berkeley Campus in California. Another place was (I believe) Columbia University in NYC.
Anyway, around 1961, the CIA placed ads in the the University of Texas at Austin School paper for recruits to participate in a drug testing experiment. People like Tommy Hall, Gilbert Shelton, Powell St. John and others who went onto do psychedelic things afterwards signed up for minimum wage. I know that Tommy thought the whole thing was bullshit and that using these drugs would be MUCH BETTER out in the general public than in some sterile lab with some asshole in a white coat seeing how fast you can add up a column of numbers while the sheet of paper drips away into infinity. Then the guys in the white lab coats would leave and Tommy would take a napkin and dump some of the liquid out onto it to take home and turn his friends on with.
So anyway, the drugs escaped from the lab. From 1962 – 1965 a very vibrant Psychedelic Scene developed in Austin with people dropping acid, doing mushrooms and taking peyote. All this stuff was 100% DEAD LEGAL at this time. Tommy was part of this, Powell St. John was, Gilbert Shelton was, Janis Joplin was and a lot more. They even had a place where they all lived called The Ghetto. Everybody would go to Threadgill’s to play and hear music.
These early psychedelic folk developed a theory about the nature of reality from reading books by Philosopher’s like Gurdjieff and Ouspensky, trying Eastern religions and processes and taking lots of psychedelic drugs. This theory about the nature of reality went like so: There are perhaps thousands of “realities” in the Universe. Man has assembled this reality due to his sensory limitations. Man can only perceive what his five senses allow him to. The reality of an ant, or a trout, is much different than man’s reality. The idea was that these drugs were a tool to unhinge the barriers from man being FREE to see the world in an entirely new light.
What really kicked this scene into high gear were the Beatles and Dylan. And when Dylan went electric Tommy Hall had a vision that “serious” Dylan lyrics, coupled with a driving Beatles-type music, was the way of the future. What he envisioned was Modern Rock Music and he was exactly correct. Only he had been taking LSD for three years and his idea of “serious” lyrics had to do with the revolution going on in his thought processes. All of this begat the world’s first psychedelic rock group – the 13th Floor Elevators.
Now, about psychedelics, what does one of the originators of this scene think? George Kinney, of the Golden Dawn, once told me his view of psychedelics. The Golden Dawn were, perhaps, the world’s second psychedelic rock group and their LP would have been IA-LP #2 after the ‘Elevators. Instead, IA fucked them and held back the album so the Red Crayola could release their album and the ‘Elevators could release their second album.
Annnnnyway, George once told me that people’s perception of reality was like a hard, rubber, ball. And, for the vast majority of us, this “perception” of reality is all that’s holding us together. Anyway, our perception of reality (or our collective rubber ball) can really take a licking. You can bounce it against a concrete wall 10,000 times and it just gets a little scuffed up. It’s lost some shine but is still round and shapely. This is people’s moving through life. We can even hit it with a sledge hammer or drop an anvil on it and it, pretty much, bounces right back with scar or scuff. This is some life-changing event like a bad accident or a wartime experience.
Taking psychedelic drugs really challenges our perception of reality. This perception of reality remains pretty much unchanged after some light doses or medium doses. But what if you take that rubber ball and squish it into a two-ton press? It might bounce back OK after a few times. But what if we squish that same ball in that two-tone press fifty times? What if we squish it in a TWENTY-TON press twice? The ball might come out looking kind of messed up and out of shape. Keep it up and it becomes a shapeless piece of rubber.
Even though psychedelics don’t cause organic brain damage this was George’s theory of what an “acid causality” was.