Laguna’s Long, Strange Trip
It’s Laguna’s semi centennial as a beacon of higher consciousness. Just look at what was birthed in 1967 that defines many of our values today: the Sawdust Festival, Laguna Beach Community Clinic, Mystic Arts World store, Krishna Temple, and even Jim Otto’s marvelous Sound Spectrum record store. Plus of course the Brotherhood of Eternal Love, that band of outlaw idealists who conspired to turn on the world with 100 million hits of Orange Sunshine LSD. This was also the year Muhammed Ali refused enlistment in the Vietnam War.
The story of Laguna in 1967 goes beyond the Brotherhood, and luckily we still have oral historians around with enough brain cells left to remember it. The wonderful artist and sculptor Dion Wright, creator of the infamous “Taxonomic Mandala” that served as a booster rocket for many acid trips at Mystic Arts, is still showing at the Sawdust Festival.
In “Tempus Fugitive,” a book he wrote about the era, we learn that the real catalysts for mind expansion in Laguna pre-dated the Brotherhood. Lysergic acid was still legal in the mid-60s. It was being sampled by the scientific, academic, and medical community as a catalyst for mind expansion (over 1,000 papers were published). And Laguna had no shortage of artists and intelligentsia who were open to such an interior adventure, according to the book.
To service that interest came the flamboyant therapist Dr. Frank Dunn, cruising town in his red convertible Cadillac, prescribing pharmaceutical acid to anyone with $100, and even inviting the City Council to come down and “get enlightened.” He begat another acid entrepreneur, Bill Baldwin, “a breezy, slender, button-down Ivy-League style young man,” according to Dion, who happened to produce vials of liquid blue LSD out of his home on Glenneyre. Laguna’s creative class ingested en masse and experienced what many psychologists describe as god (“sacredness”), connectedness to all living things (“oneness”), ego death (“nonduality”) and wondrous new “doors of perception” that led many to find happiness seeking spiritual pursuits instead of material ones. And to reject the establishment and their unjust war.
This brought waves of eastern consciousness, from Timothy Leary’s schilling of the “Tibetan Book of the Dead” as a trip-taking handbook, to explorations of Buddhism, Taoism, Hinduism, yoga, mindfulness, devotional chanting, and even juicing and vegetarianism – now mainstream trends as we search for meaning and wellness. Along with a renewed interest in the medicinal powers of psychedelics.
MDMA, commonly known as ecstasy, is set to begin Phase 3 clinical trials for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder; psilocybin is at a similar stage, with research suggesting it can relieve anxiety and depression in the terminally ill, and help smokers quit. (Perhaps Laguna should offer this treatment to smokers rather than marginalizing them with an unenforceable ban.) Ketamine is already widely used to treat intractable depression. A YouGov poll this month found that nearly two thirds of American adults would be willing to try these drugs if proven safe to treat a condition they have.
Of course all drugs and plant medicines should only be taken by adults and with restraint. Albert Hoffman, the Swiss scientist who synthesized the psychedelic compounds of psilocybin into LSD, discouraged its use as a party drug, believing it was “medicine for the soul.”
in ‘67, young people flocked to Laguna to turn on, tune in, and drop out. Timothy Leary touched down, Mystic Arts World became hallowed ground for personal transformation, Marta Mitrovich brought Beat poets like Allan Ginsberg and Gregory Corso to town, and the Laguna Community Clinic opened their compassionate doors to treat anyone who was having too much of everything.
John Gardiner came too, to study poetry at UC Irvine under Pulitzer Prize-winner Galway Kinnell. John was a protégé of Marta, and keeps her flame burning to this day with community readings. Mark Chamberlain came directly from the armed services to the Christmas Happening in 1970, and never left. Decades later, his Tell mural provided the focal point for a canyon protest march, cementing his legacy of protecting our open spaces. Mark continues to make and show art today at BC Space Gallery.
It is often in the darkest of days that we reach deep into our innate reservoirs of compassion and unite as a force for good. We have our own Vietnam today in a depraved and reckless president. Let’s use our semi centennial to once again awaken humanity to a higher vibration. We have a blueprint in Laguna that goes beyond a blue vial.
Billy Fried hosts “Laguna Talks” on Thursday nights at 8 p.m. on KX 93.5, and can be reached at [email protected]