To lysergic acid diethylamide, better known as LSD, we owe much of what has endured from Western popular culture of the mid-20th century: consider, for instance, the latter half of the Beatles’ oeuvre. In Revolution in the Head: The Beatles’ Records and the Sixties, Ian MacDonald describes LSD as “a powerful hallucinogen whose function is temporarily to dismiss the brain’s neural concierge, leaving the mind to cope as it can with sensory information which meanwhile enters without prior arrangement — an uncensored experience of reality which profoundly alters one’s outlook on it.”
So profound is that alteration that some came to believe in a utopia achievable through universal ingestion of the drug: “If there be necessary revolution in America,” declared Allen Ginsberg, “it will come this way.” But most Americans didn’t see it quite the same way. It was for them that CBS made its broadcast “The Hippie Temptation.” Aired in August 1967, three months after the release of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band, it constitutes an exposé of LSD-fueled youth culture as it effervesced at the time in and around San Francisco’s countercultural mecca of Haight-Ashbury.
“The hippies present a strange problem,” says correspondent Harry Reasoner, later known as the host of 60 Minutes. “Our society has produced them. There they are, in rapidly increasing numbers. And yet there seem to be very few definite ideas behind the superficial glitter of their dress and behavior.” In search of the core of the hippie ideology, which seems outwardly to involve “standing apart from society by means of mutual help and love,” Reasoner and his collaborators delve into the nature of LSD, whose users “may see a wild complexity of images, hear a multiplicity of sounds. This is called ‘taking an acid trip.'”
Alas, “for many, the price of taking the shortcut to discovery the hippies put forward turns out to be very high.” A young doctor from UCLA’s neuropsychiatric institute named Duke Fisher argues that most LSD users “talk about loving humanity in general, an all-encompassing love of the world, but they have a great deal of difficulty loving one other person, or loving that specific thing.” Also included in “The Hippie Temptation” are interviews with young people (albeit ones cleaner-cut than the average denizen of late-60s Haight-Ashbury) placed into medical facilities due to hallucinogen-related mishaps, including suicide attempts.
“There is the real danger that more and more young people may follow the call to turn on, tune in, drop out,” Reasoner declares, in keeping with the broadcast’s portentous tone. Even then there were signs of what MacDonald calls “the hippie counterculture’s incipient commercialization and impending decline into hard drugs.” But to this day, “that there was indeed something unusual in the air can still be heard from many of the records of the period: a light, joyous optimism with a tangible spiritual aura and a thrillingly fresh informality” — a quality MacDonald finds concentrated in the work of not just The Beatles but the Grateful Dead, who sit for an interview in “The Hippie Temptation.” LSD may no longer be as tempting as it was half a century ago, but many of the creations it inspired then still have us hooked today.
via Laughing Squid
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.