Sunday, November 4, 2018

SLOUCHING, part 7

PSYCHEDELIC GENERATIONS: ADELLE DAVIS AND GEORGE LEISEY (continued)


It was fateful that Americans generally did not distinguish between the opposing factions of the mental health movement in the fifties. Shrinks were shrinks, and they mainly worked for the rich or the government; normal people avoided them and told jokes about them. Even when hundreds of articles were being published about LSD every year in technical journals, the San Francisco Chronicle reviewed the Jane Dunlap book as though no one had ever heard of the psychedelic substance that would soon change the international image of the city, as singer Scott McKensie told anyone going to San Francisco to “be sure to wear some flowers in your hair.”(73) The Chronicle reviewer noted, “LSD-25, a newly discovered hallucinogenic drug… this frantic form of pot…” was experienced by Dunlap as one of the lucky few people allowed to try it. He then pointedly asked, “Why can’t the rest of us poor slobs have some?”(74) When Dr. Davidson wrote in the Introduction of Exploring Inner Space, “The wonder of LSD is that it can bring within the capabilities of ordinary people the experience of universal love and the reality of our divine nature,”(75) he did not express sentiments associated with a Nathan Kline or a Harold Wolff; he was closer to the Chronicle. But Davidson and other psychoanalysts were still trying frantically to compete with non-Freudians, for grant dollars and prestige in LSD research, and increasingly for real market share in the business of mental health.

Four years after the APA round table, a three-day international conference was sponsored by the Josiah Macy, Jr. Foundation and supported by Sandoz Pharmaceuticals in Princeton, NJ. The same divergent views were expressed even more emphatically than in 1955. The CIA’s own Harold Abramson received general agreement when he said, “I have always felt that the importance of LSD was not LSD, but that LSD will bring to medicine what it really needs: to have psychiatry a branch of experimental medicine.”(76) However the Dutch psychiatrist C. H. Van Rhijn suggested a broader goal, one which in an ironic sense, actually was fulfilled seven or eight years later in Haight-Ashbury: “I had a vision, and I still have this vision, of mass therapy: institutions in which every patient with a neurosis could get LSD treatment and work out his problems largely by himself.”(77)

Adelle Davis’ motives for publishing the Jane Dunlap book are a fascinating subject for speculation. They seem to have expressed all the confusion brewing just beneath the surface of American society at the time. She wrote:

As a result of this spiritual fulfillment, an amazingly deep optimism has come to me. Formerly when I felt the hot breath of Communism on my neck I was thrown into a miserable depression, agreeing with Spengler that the West was indeed declining… But to one who accepts the God pull of reversed gravity and maintains a geological time sense, the future seems gloriously bright.(78)

Her words show that within months after the Macy Foundation’s conference, the science problem — or brain problem, or the problem of psychiatry’s place in the world, whatever it was in which LSD played such a pivotal role for mental health professionals — was already becoming something embarrassingly different: a populist spiritual quest which would not be confined to the proper synaptic spaces. Davis and Davidson certainly wrote Exploring Inner Space and its introduction and Postscript to evangelize LSD, perhaps not as freely as Ken Kesey would evangelize it beginning a couple of years later, but nevertheless to bring to the book reading-public the good news about a new chemical salvation. Inner Space still paid lip service to the conservative position that LSD should be available only to the “proper scientific researchers,” but it is obvious that the author and her psychologist friend considered at least some of the public worthy of being let in.

Adelle Davis was a fascinatingly mixed personality, one part respectable scientific professional and another part rebel. She was extensively trained as a nutritionist, having moved relentlessly from her parents’ hard scrabble Indiana farm through Purdue University, UC-Berkeley, University of Southern California, Columbia University, and UCLA to get her several degrees and do postgraduate work. She lectured and wrote prolifically on her subject, and stood up to what she considered the ignorant criticisms of her work from a medical establishment which saw no need to educate its clinicians in nutrition. George Leisey contends that at one time or another, practically every federal agency he had ever heard of was after his mother.(79) She was at the center of FDA and FCC issues regarding the advertising of natural foods. In her own way she was a prototype in the late fifties of the younger California generation that would create a “New Age” culture that would spread across the country.

A Los Angeles Times article on May 18, 1972 headlined, “Nutrition Crusader Adelle Davis Challenged on Theories: FCC Commissioner Sparks Food-Related Gathering”(80) offered an interesting view of the author’s public renown at the time.(81) The headline and the first few paragraphs, which media-wise professional spinners know is all most people will ever read, gave a clear impression that Adelle Davis was chastened and repentant in a public confrontation with “real” scientists from the government who had the public interest at heart. The balance of the piece contained much more information on Ms. Davis’ views, and readers who bothered to turn to the inside pages would have realized that the debate was not one-sided against Davis at all, the bureaucrats probably got the worst of it. One very curious quote from Davis, however, directly concerns our story. In the final few lines of the article she stated: “Young people are far more interested in nutrition than their parents — a lot of them lost their health because of drugs, during the hippie time a few years ago.” Considering Davis’ own role in promoting what she thought were phenomenal human benefits of LSD in 1961, there is something funny about this 1972 characterization. She was the one who had written:

Many hundreds of people given LSD have entered worlds of fantastic beauty where compassion and love have become compulsory. People who have had such experiences usually agree that deep within each of us lie goodness unimaginable, wisdom, music, talents of every variety, joy, peace, humility, love, and spirituality, to mention only a few.(82)

Perhaps by the seventies the popular author was, like most people, prone to occasional hypocrisy. If that is the explanation, she remained in 1972 a harbinger of social trends in the baby boom generation: young people were beginning to abandon the ideological movements to become the “yuppies” of the eighties. But maybe Davis meant that young people had lost their health by using drugs other than LSD, or because of the way they experimented with drugs on their own, outside of the clinical environment and psychiatric supervision.

Adelle Davis’ son remembers the fifties well. He lived within an easy drive of Hollywood, in the suburb where her mother had moved so her children didn’t have to grow up in the city. As teenagers George and his friends got tickets every year to the Academy Award ceremonies. Leisey remembers his mother and stepfather taking acid and eating hallucinogenic mushrooms (which had also been a subject of earlier fascination for American Intelligence, and which soon became Timothy Leary’s first avenue to psychedelic experience), beginning perhaps in 1957.(83) He remembers David Snow and Bob Davidson very well, as longtime family friends. His mother’s comment in her book about “the hot breath of communism” clashes slightly with George’s memories of her private rage when the House Un-American Activities Committee chose to harass her friends with subpoenas. But perhaps if Harcourt, Brace & World edited the truth of Adelle Davis’ psychedelic experimentation down to what they felt would seem scientific and respectable, political etiquette was also maintained in Inner Space at a time when reputations could still be endangered by suspicions of sympathy for communism. Or maybe Adelle Davis only objected to the devices of anti-communist paranoia when they were aimed against her own friends; maybe she thought the HUAC investigations in general were a necessary and just process.

Leisey remembers the sixties, too. He served in Vietnam and says he was stationed near Hue during the 1968 Tet offensive. He recalls the assassination of Martin Luther King only a month before he was scheduled to return home. During that last month he knew he could no longer trust the black men in his unit even though many of them had been his friends; the camp was suddenly armed one race against another, with the yellow a mere background consideration. “It was the weirdest experience I ever had,” says Leisey.(84) Another weird thing slightly earlier in the same decade had been one of Ken Kesey’s “acid test” parties.(85) Leisey distinguishes “pharmaceutical” LSD like what Dr. Janiger had obtained from Sandoz in the fifties from the drug which was grabbed out of shopping bags passed around to the long-haired devotees of high-volume Jefferson Airplane music in dark San Francisco concert halls punctuated by strobes and light shows. When asked about the promotional claims by Augustus Owsley Stanley that his LSD was even purer than the Sandoz product,(86) Leisey replies, “Yeah, well, you could have told those people (at the Kesey acid tests) anything. How would anyone ever have known? You just reached into the bag when it came around and got this little piece of blotter paper and ate it.”(87) Leisey claims that during his Sixties psychedelic times he once drove out into the desert, dropped acid and left his car to wander along while tripping. “It was fantastic. I was real lucky though, to ever find my clothes and my way back.”(88) He and a friend once completely disassembled a motorcycle while tripping. “We learned a lot of things about motorcycle engines that no one else knows, like the fact that you can actually fall into a carburetor, and your hand can meld to the metal of a gas tank.”(89) He recalls being unable to “unstick” his feet from the beach one day, and the impossibility of finding his way out of the marketplace labyrinth on another.(90) But Leisey says LSD was less interesting to him in the sixties than, for example, some of the things certain Indian tribes in Mexico were doing with mushrooms.


Footnotes:

73. McKensie, Scott. “If You’re Going To San Francisco” song lyrics, 1967. (From memory only.)
74. San Francisco Chronicle, June 4, 1961.
75. Dunlap, page 9.
76. Abramson, Harold A., M.D., ed. The Use of LSD in Psychotherapy: Transactions of a Conference on d-Lysergic Diethylamide, April 22, 23 and 24, 1959, Princeton, NJ. New York : Josiah Macy Jr. Foundation, 1960. Page 239.
77. Ibid. Page 14. Professor Fenrich commented to me that this quote reads like a joke; to the contrary, it was a completely serious point of discussion among experts in psychiatry and psychoanalysis at an international conference sponsored by a foundation which enjoyed government support.
78. Dunlap, 1961. Page 206-7.
79. Part of this  was due to Davis’ later use of illegal laetrile to treat the bone cancer which killed her. However, Davis testified twice before Congress and her comments about the nutritional ignorance of entrenched “education” authorities were no doubt quite threatening to people who considered themselves targeted. George Leisey interview, April 30, 1998.
80. Gettinger, Louise. (Exclusive to the Times from the Washington Post.) Los Angeles Times, May 18, 1972; section VI, page 1.
81. In my opinion, it also revealed tactics which would have been easily recognized by any intelligence operator who ever planned a campaign to reduce the popular reputation and influence of a celebrity. See for example, as an excellent case study, Burroughs, Bryan; Vendetta: American Express and the Smearing of Edmund Safra; New York: Harper Collins, 1992.
82. Dunlap, 1961. Page 207-208
83. Since Davis claims in the Dunlap book that she first took LSD in October of 1959, Leisey’s recollection seems at first glance to indicate that his mother altered this history. However, I cannot be certain from what Leisey has told me. His memory might be slightly vague, or he might have been covering things up a little bit, especially in our earlier conversations. He also said once that if there was experimentation going on outside of the five experiences written about in Inner Space, the it was of minor significance.
84. April 2, 1998 phone interview with George Leisey.
85. Beginning in the fall of 1965, Kesey and the Merry Pranksters held a series of publicly-advertised parties at which LSD (usually the Owsley brand) was made freely available to anyone who would take it. The most famous of these was the “Trips Festival” held in Longshoreman’s Hall in San Francisco in early 1966, attended by 6000 people. According to Jay Stevens in Storming Heaven, Ken Kesey introduced more people to LSD in a few months than the psychiatric researchers, the CIA, Sandoz and Timothy Leary combined had in the previous 23 years, and was the single most important catalyst in the explosion of the hippie population of the Haight in 1966.
86. “Owsley was obsessed with making his product as pure as possible — even purer than Sandoz, which described LSD in its scientific reports as a yellowish crystalline substance. As he mastered his illicit craft, Owsley found a way to refine the crystal so that it appeared blue-which under a fluorescent lamp; moreover, if the crystals were shaken, they emitted flashed of light, which meant that LSD in its pure form was piezoluminexcent — a property shared by a very small number of compounds.” Lee and Shlain, page 146-7.
87. April 16, 1998 phone interview with George Leisey.
88. Ibid.
89. April 30, 1998 phone interview.
90. Ibid.

(To be Continued further)

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