In this bio about the man responsible for the highest-quality LSD, the subject keeps his distance from both the reader and the author.
As the acid king and the sonic mastermind behind the Grateful Dead’s live sound, Owsley “Bear” Stanley (1935–2011) was a major figure in San Francisco hippiedom, worthy of his own biography, though often relegated to supporting-player status in accounts of the era. This memoir can’t quite serve as a corrective, since the author wasn’t the partner to the man known to all as Bear as she would have liked to be. She took his last name after the two had split, when she left the psychedelic life for dental school and wanted to have the same name as her son that he had fathered. And they were never really together when they were together, because he had another girlfriend who had been around longer and took priority. When the author asked that other woman for help with the book, she replied, “Oh, God, no. I don’t want to recall the little that I think I can remember.” Memory is a key issue in this book, written with the late Tom Davis, for the author leaves little doubt that she was usually tripping, while often simultaneously having sex or dancing the night away, leaving readers to wonder how she could possibly take the notes for direct quotations that can run for a paragraph. Bear, we learn, looked “like a hippie Dracula” and “saw his role as a psychedelic Prometheus.” He abhorred alcohol but ate red meat and enjoyed indiscriminate sex (though he could be jealous when his partners behaved similarly). The author, who worked for both Bear and the Dead, learned that “free sex was fraught with danger.”
A memoir that reveals more about the author than her subject, while challenging the truism that if you can remember the ’60s, you weren’t there.