Sometimes the light’s all shinin’ on me;
Other times I can barely see.
Lately it occurs to me what a long, strange trip its been.
– Grateful Dead, Truckin’
Just down the tree-lined street from where I write, over by the Veterans Administration (V.A.) Hospital of Menlo Park, California, is a dangerous blind curve marking the spot of numerous fatal car accidents. That killer S curve near the on-ramp intersection of and Highway 101 has a history of spinouts, head-on rollover crashes, near death and true death experiences, and including one that served as a germ for the consciousness-raising phenomenon of the 1960’s. I’m referring to the tragic experience that served as the awakening of the Grateful Dead’s founder, lead guitarist, and soul inspiration, Jerry Garcia.
On February 20, 1961, Garcia entered a car with Lee Adams, the house manager of the Chateau, the Palo Alto/Stanford hang-out where Garcia had been playing. Adams was the driver, and probably high on alcohol or other chemicals. The Chateau was known as a hard-partying reefer joint, this at the beginning of what would become a decade of hard partying; and Lee Adams had a reputation as a minor local impresario. Besides Garcia, there were three other young men in the car that fateful night, including Peter Speegle, a 16-year-old artist friend of Jerry’s.
Speeding past the Menlo Park Veterans Hospital, traveling around ninety miles per hour, the car encountered that famous S curve and collided with the guard rail, sending the car rolling. Garcia was hurled through the windshield into a nearby field with such force he was literally thrown out of his shoes. He would later be unable to recall the flying through the air, or landing on the ground. Lee Adams, the driver, was thrown out of the car as well.
Garcia escaped with a broken collarbone, while one passenger suffered a broken spine, and another shattered his arm. Teenager Peter Speegle, still in the car, was fatally injured.
That accident was the awakening of Jerry Garcia, the shock of encountering death in real life changed his path. He later commented:
“That’s where my life began. Before then I was always living at less than capacity. I was idling. That was the slingshot for the rest of my life. It was like a second chance. Then I got serious”.
At that moment of seeing the death of his friend at close hand, Garcia realized that he needed to begin playing the guitar in earnest—a move which meant giving up his love of drawing and painting – and he devoted the rest of his life to his music.
A “grateful dead” is a type of traditional British folk ballad in which a human helps a ghost of someone who has died recently find peace.
The music he invented — his various bands including the Grateful Dead, New Riders of the Purple Sage, and other pick-up bands, jams, and collaborations with fellow musicians — formed the nexus of a musical style easily identifiable for its freewheeling, make-it-up-in-the-moment, improvised magnetism. Garcia, through his music and his pot, poetry, and LSD-fueled awareness, inspired a large and consistent following over three decades. He influenced an expanded outlook and radical lifestyle change for the whole world. His “long strange trip” extends from that heartrending night, starting with the S-curve spot surrounding the crash-site where “my life began”. This tragic event, we might say, was the lightning-in the-bottle germinating seed of the “hippie culture”.
This very place, today, is the epicenter of the information age.
That V.A. Hospital where Jerry was thrown from the deathmobile was built over the site of an ancient Ohlone Indian village, with dead buried nearby. It is also the historic site of Ken Kesey’s famous encounter with LSD, an experience immortalized by his book,”One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”. It is the mystic spot that put the seed in the belly of the 1960’s counterculture phenomenon, giving embryonic life to the drugs-are-fun worldwide loving family known as “hippies”; but let’s talk about them later.
This area – we will call it Menlo Park/Palo Alto, for it encompasses both cities – is the intelligence, wealth, and energy center for the most potent, life-changing innovations of our age. I’m referring to the twenty mile radius around that killer S curve in Menlo Park/Palo Alto, once a sleepy university village with ties to the defense electronics industry, now called “Silicon Valley”. Come current, and see where we are in this time.
Searching on Google Maps (more on that later), for V.A. Hospital, Menlo Park, California illustrates the area approaching the Dumbarton Bridge to cross the San Francisco Bay. Within that twenty mile radius lies the beating brains and heart of Silicon Valley, the modern miracle of semiconductor wonder, information technology, venture capital, and unprecedented, life-changing innovation that has gripped and shaped our age in the years since Jerry’s 1961 accident as no other place on earth.
Turning left from the killer S curve at the V.A. Hospital, Willow Road takes us to the Facebook Headquarters, not one quarter-mile away at One Hacker Way. Facebook, the modern manifestation of the technology revolution that started in Menlo Park/Palo Alto, is the recent great innovator of social networking currently transforming our social world into something unimaginable, using ideas and tools that came directly out of the counterculture 1960’s, pioneered by such seminal artists as Jerry Garcia and Ken Kesey. The contemporary history of Facebook has it that Harvard student Mark Zukerberg, Facebook’s founder, was convinced that Palo Alto was the only place in the world to be, to be seen, and to attract the world’s attention for the moment of breathtaking impact when he moved here to launch his mega-business.
Just a few miles from Facebook across Palo Alto, skirting the San Francisco Bay marshlands down Highway 101 to Shoreline Road, is the Headquarters for Google Inc. Google is without peer the most influential technology innovator of our time, as tens of millions of daily users around the world can testify. Google has reshaped our fundamental human understanding of information, its uses, and the world we are creating with it. With instant access to databases, satellite images, music, photos, documents, libraries, cross-referenced indices of everything imaginable – Google’s users are creating the new world of the information-driven society. Google aggregates, integrates and delivers all the most revolutionary technologies of our time: internet telephony, social networking, photo and document sharing, GPS and real-time satellite images of Mars …and the list of current and future amazing technologies goes on, seemingly, endlessly.
The Google founders, Larry Page and Sergei Bryn, used their friend’s garage in Menlo Park, in the immediate vicinity of that Menlo Park V.A. Hospital, to incorporate the first Google Inc. in 1998. The original Google investor, Andy Bechtolsheim of Menlo Park, is also the founder of Sun Microsystems, the builder and former owner of the Menlo Park campus now housing Facebook’s Headquarters on Willow Road.
Stanford University, the generating engine of innumerable technology breakthroughs, borders Menlo Park and Palo Alto just there at the junction of Willow Road and Highway 101, very near the crash site and the V.A. Hospital. Nearby the V.A. complex is the Stanford Research Institute (SRI) which pioneered the Internet and other innovations in technology. Next door to SRI are the Western Region offices of the U.S. Geologic survey, where satellite mapping and GPS technology originated.
In the early 1960’s, SRI employed Al Hubbard, a gun-toting former OSS/CIA officer and licensed distributor of Sandoz laboratory’s LSD-25 in North America. In his youth, an angel purportedly appeared to Hubbard in a clearing. “(The angel)… told Al that something tremendously important to the future of mankind would be coming soon, and that he could play a role in it if he wanted to”. He is reputed to have been the “Johnny Appleseed of LSD” and the first person to emphasize LSD’s potential as a visionary or transcendental drug.
SRI employed Hubbard as a security guard, although his boss, Willis Harman, then-Director of the Educational Policy Research Center within the Stanford Research Institute (SRI admits, “Al never did anything resembling security work.” Hubbard was specifically assigned to the Alternative Futures Project, which performed future-oriented strategic planning for corporations and government agencies. Harman and Hubbard shared a goal “to provide the [LSD] experience to political and intellectual leaders around the world.” Harman acknowledges that “Al’s job was to run the special [LSD] sessions for us.”
Al had a grandiose idea that if he could give the psychedelic experience to the major executives of the Fortune 500 companies, he would change the whole of society. He is reputed to have given LSD to many celebrities, leaders of business and government, churchmen, and other influential people of that period.
The first computer mouse, a clumsy affair of circuits housed in a wooden case with a wire tail, was developed by Douglas Engelbart while he worked at SRI. Engelbart was later instrumental in the development of the Arpanet, the precursor of the Internet. SRI hosted the first platform for Arpanet, one of two nodes for what would become a multi-trillion node network. Engelbart -widely believed to be the inspiration for man/machine interface – began work that would eventually result in the invention of the mouse, the word processor, the hyperlink (http://), and concepts of new media for which the groundbreaking inventions at SRI were merely enabling technologies. The first operational computer mouse was demonstrated to a gathering of electronics hobbyists in the auditorium of Peninsula School, just behind the Menlo Park V.A. Hospital and down the street from SRI.
The Homebrew Computing Club is now world famous for several of its members, including Apple founders Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, who introduced the first Apple personal computer at one of the Homebrew meetings. The club was started in the garage of Gordon French in the neighborhood of – you guessed it – Menlo Park V.A. Hospital. Homebrew used the auditorium at Peninsula School,a neighbor of the V.A. Hospital.
Peninsula School, one of the country’s first and oldest Progressive schools, is a child’s oasis in the Oak Grove neighborhood that surrounds the V.A. Hospital. This beautiful oak forest is one of the last remaining large tracts of white oaks and valley oaks that used to cover the vast open spaces of California’s flatlands. In the 1960’s, Peninsula defined the idea of a “hippie school”.
Its students, often barefoot and perhaps partly naked at their play in the woods, embody the ideals of the Progressive Education Movement, introduced by the school’s founders in the 1920’s. Josephine and Frank Duveneck, she an heiress and he an artist, founded the school to match their passion for educating youth to the most precious values: collaboration, exploration, innovation, and creativity – precisely the qualities embodied in the dynamic miracle of the “Silicon Valley” surrounding their school in the oak woods. Many of Silicon Valley’s (a term coined in 1974) iconic families, inspired by the school’s vision of creative exploration, and convinced of the value of collaborative innovation, supported the private school and sent their kids there. Two members of the future Grateful Dead also climbed in Peninsula School’s trees. Jerry Garcia’s first band used the auditorium at Peninsula School for their venue.
Which brings us back to the hippies! We could go on to talk about the somewhat sterile and definitely off-limits Apple Headquarters at One Infinite Loop in Cupertino; or the rise and fall of Netscape, or of Intel, Oracle, eBay, Advanced Micro Devices, YouTube, Electronic Arts, or etc., all the amazing gazing innovations accompanying Moore’s Law and Josepheson’s Junction. We could gaze into the future of iTunes and Twitter and Google Maps, discuss the social impact of video games and online education; or we could speculate about the wealth. Oh, golly gee the money made here – wealth to put any kings to shame!
Important books, notably John Markoff’s, What the Dormouse Said: How the Sixties Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer Industry, have documented this story very well. The book details the history of the personal computer, closely tying the ideologies of the collaboration-driven, World War II-era defense research community to the embryonic cooperatives and psychedelics use of the American counterculture of the 1960s. Markoff argues for a direct connection between the counterculture of the late 1950s and 1960s using examples such as Kepler’s Books in Menlo Park – a hotbed mixture of hippie music, intellectual salon, and counterculture pacifism – and the development of the computer industry.
But wouldn’t we rather talk about the hippies? Steve Jobs – icon that he is now that he’s broken through to the other side – was definitely a hippy. No doubt about that; a psychedelic-tripping, calligraphy-drawing, health food Hare Krishna, Zen-meditating, love-beaded, long-haired Hippy. His house in Palo Alto is “Storybook style” modeled after Tolkein’s Hobbit House – imitation thatched roof and fantasy flourishes with the look of a “wee country cottage ” – the yard never mowed.
Jobs told the FBI he considered LSD to be a transformational experience for him, one of the two or three most important things he had done in his life. Jobs’ FBI dossier said:
There are no earth-shattering revelations, but I was impressed by Jobs’ robust advocacy for LSD, marijuana, and hashish in a context in which he might be expected to be more apologetic. “
Steve Wozniak was not far behind. He blew a wad of Apple cash on sponsoring rock-and-roll “Be-In” type concerts for thousands of “friends”, no regrets, and he’s still known as a smiling hippy genius today. He lives not far from the epicenter in Menlo Park, and shows up to launch Rubber Duck Races and similar gonzo events.
There are a multitude of Silicon Valley millionaires, engineers and executives, former and current, living and dead, who once sported long-hair and love beads. What is now Silicon Valley is the birthplace home of the 60’s tripping hippies, and the fountainhead of the creative explosion that gave us the information age revolution. Lots of high-rolling hacker stock- jockeys know from experience what “drinking the Kool-Aid” really means.
Which brings us back to that V.A. Hospital and the S curve where Jerry Garcia was thrown from a speeding car headed for death, saving his life for later glory as the psychedelic- inspired world changer for a generation. It was at that very V.A. Hospital that Ken Kesey, author and Merry Prankster, Magic Bus savant, worked as a night aid in the psychiatric ward, and became part of a CIA-financed (no joke) study named Project MKULTRA. The project studied the effects of psychoactive drugs, particularly LSD, on people. Al Hubbard, the previously mentioned OSS/CIA agent working at SRI to turn on the world, was rumored to be the supplier of the pure Sandoz acid.
The CIA had the best acid. Hands down, there was nothing like it after that. They gave me the best trips, those first ones. “
Kesey wrote many detailed accounts of his experiences with these drugs, both during the study and in the years of private experimentation that followed. Kesey’s role as a medical guinea pig, as well as his stint working at the Menlo Park V.A. Hospital (where he had access to the LSD cabinet ), inspired him to write One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest in 1962. He is often cited as the writer/artist/maniac who lit the fuse for the consciousness explosion of the 1960’s. He stated publicly, on many occasions, that he wrote the novel at the V.A. Hospital while “channeling” the voice of its Native American narrator.
What LSD taught me is that the basis of everything in the universe is Love. God is Love, and if you really believe in Love and you embrace Love and give Love then you are Love and You Are God. Then there is nothing to be afraid of. You can change the world with that.”
– Ken Kesey
Doesn’t that sound like the anthem of the psychedelic tripping hippies? This ancient message is something we’ve heard in different forms ever since the Grateful Dead played inspired riffs for Ken Kesey’s Acid Trips, teaming up Jerry’s fateful dance with death and Kesey’s altered writer’s perceptions, broadcast in high decibel around the world. But what a difference their ideas made.
Their ideas formed an irresistible underground current of change and high expectations. When the “Alice in Wonderland” world of “consciousness raising” became a kind of fad among youth seeking “experience”, the world reflected from their minds also changed. The old ways of perceiving things, the limitations of traditional human awareness, no longer held sway. When men first walked on the moon in 1969, the exciting prospects of space travel, along with a strong notion of interconnectedness of all humans and all of nature, put a decidedly different spin on our collective consciousness.
History will probably regard the hippies as some sort of strange religious fever that kidnapped the youth of the world in the 1960’s and sent them hitch-hiking, searching for psychedelic Nirvana. Grateful Dead riffs are already more forgettable than memorable. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is a movie, the book seldom read.
Lots of things from those days seem silly to us today, even as we remember fatal tragedies and creative geniuses long forgotten. But think of the things we take for granted which originated with the hippies in those seminal 60’s: global citizenry; energy efficiency and environmental awareness; women’s rights and gender equality; yoga and Eastern philosophy; technology as art, creative freedom in music and all the arts; and, of course, the social networking, information disseminating miracle of the Internet – these all came from hippies and they were RIGHT!. Now that we acknowledge that, let’s get on with Ending War and Spreading Love.