Now that was a drug. People at college were doing LSD, it was cheap (£3), popular, and there were stories of people getting chased down roads by hallucinations of giant carrots, talking to god, and all the other baloney the hipster liars could come up with. LSD sounded like the coolest drug in the world and if anyone needed to get that far from reality it was me.
Me and a friend decided to take our first acid one afternoon during the college free period “Rock Music Workshop” which took place in a series of portacabins on the outskirts of the campus.
I bought the acid from a girl I knew with bright green dreadlocks. She said her dad was a bishop and she spent most of her time living with New Age Travellers. She liked Ozric Tentacles. I didn’t. She sold me a tab of acid for £3 and said it was good. I unwrapped it from the cling film and saw it had a little picture of Saddam Hussein printed into the thick paper. Here I was holding Saddam’s face on some acid while many thousands of miles away the real Saddam was losing his grip on Kuwait and taking out his anger on anyone who couldn’t fight back. The irony of world events wasn’t lost on the acid manufacturers.
I showed my friend the acid and he backed out of our agreement to go halves so I cut about a third off and gave him that instead. I put the rest in my mouth, not knowing whether to chew it or neck it down with some water. I chose to chew it. There was nothing at first, just the sensation of chewing some blotting paper and after about twenty minutes I wondered if I’d been had, but then a metallic taste started in the back of my throat. After forty minutes I’d given up again, but then a guy in another portacabin accidently pulled a set of blinds off the window. It would normally have been fairly funny, but I kept looking at his bemused face and that was hilarious. My friend had seen it too. We laughed for about twenty minutes, sobbing tears and pounding the desks with our hands screaming and shouting with laughter unable to breathe. We were like squawking birds, screaming, laughing, crying, spouting incomprehensible collections of disparate words and sounds. The acid took hold strongly.
We made the bus home to my house later – though I can’t remember how – and spent the evening in my darkened bedroom playing with an effects unit, a guitar, and a microphone. Everything we did sent colours into the black as the hypnotic sounds of a slowly dying delay and echo tripped around the room. It was beautiful. I had vivid dreams that night and woke the next day feeling refreshed and alive. I hadn’t seen any full-on hallucinations – certainly not the cartoonish gibberish that some people had claimed to see – but I had kind of got acquainted with the format of tripping and felt comfortable with it. Completely comfortable.
Despite the unpredictable nature of an LSD trip, once it’s in full flow there is a predictable pattern to each time. First the wait – usually about half an hour to an hour, then the rushing blast upwards – anything up to six hours – up towards a peak, and then, if you’re lucky, a prolonged and settled comedown – up to 12 hours. The first part is pure madness, tumbling headlong into a world where your senses aren’t working the same any more, everything is heightened, people are familiar, or dangerous, or both, colours are vivid, swirling, music is divine, rational communication is nearly impossible. And you laugh like you’ve never laughed before, at anything. Everything is ridiculous. It’s also when you are at your most vulnerable, where paranoia can kick in and cause great distress if you haven’t got a handle on things. Every acid head will tell you “Choose your surroundings carefully” and they are right. If you aren’t strong enough to hang on to the vicious “coming up” period of a trip, things can turn nasty very quickly: the infamous Bad Trip. A misread glance, unwelcome auditory hallucination, or bad thought, can trigger hours of terror – a friend of mine had to be locked in the back of a transit van for 12 hours because he couldn’t cope with the horrors of a bad trip. He emerged from that van a broken man.
Part two – when the peak has been reached and the insanity calmed – is the introspective, beautiful bit of acid. It’s the time where the madness of the past few hours comes under control and you begin to understand just why LSD was so popular for so long with people wanting to get on an inward journey. A good comedown is reflective and if you’re in a safe place with safe people the experience is calming, intuitive, and deeply enjoyable. The universe is filled with more answers than when you’re sober, but it also leads to more questions.
I was tripping once and got talking to a homeless guy – a “proper” tramp, a real transient hobo with a full shaggy beard, dirty clothes, pack on his back. He used to sleep in barns, under bridges, hedgerows, appearing for the summer and then heading south in the autumn like a great, tatty swallow. All the village called him “Terry the Tramp” – and he asked me about god. I didn’t know what to say, I’d taken two “flying saucer” blotters of acid and had only just started off over the peak into a comedown. “Have you seen God?” he asked. What did I know about god other than I felt closer to him right at that point, but that was just crazy acid talk.
“I have. I’ve seen God.” He leaned forward and fixed his eyes on mine. “I’ve seen his throne, I’ve seen the lions before his throne, I’ve felt their breath on my face.” He leant back and laughed to himself and then shook his great dirty head “Man…..red, green and gold. His blood, the first Christmas tree, and the golden light of life.” He wasn’t kidding.
How do you prepare yourself for a character and a conversation like that? It was about 10pm, I was on a village street with a head full of acid talking to a man who said he had felt the breath from the lions before the throne of god. I gave him some money, even though he didn’t ask for it and tried to refuse, told him to keep safe, and went off after my friend who was also tripping but had left after the first few seconds of the conversation with his fingers in his ears.
The hippies may have been misguided – and history’s greatest underachievers – but they were on to a good thing with acid. They said it was a key to a door in the mind which could free you from the rigid drudgery of human existence, but they never took it past a loved-up recreation. Ken Kesey tried to organise them into some form of quasi-religious acid church, but he descended into self-congratulating bunkum. I had come to LSD as a 17 year old seeker with no ideas and no plan except to remain open about the world. I left, about 50 trips later, wiser, but without any of the answers I thought I’d find. I was older, the real world was becoming a scary place, full of orders, money, and death. What I wanted was to feel alive, to be part of something good and, ultimately, to ease some of the pain I felt in simply being alive and being me. It never materialised. Rave music had taken acid on as a foundation for crapness and all it had given back was dancing in a gas mask. This wasn’t how things were meant to have ended up, and trying to get on some beautiful trip into the meaning of life was never going to be the same when the tv had diluted my spiritual journey into a man in a bio-hazard suit dancing to shit music in a field. I left the badly explored naïve thrill of acid in the gutter, along with my youth, and took a job in a prison. Figure that.
Something good changed to bad and it wasn’t what I’d hoped for when I was staring at the stars on a summer’s night with Jim Morrison wailing in the background and my head full of Lysergic Acid Diethylamide.