The high life and low times of the original Acid King.
Augustus Owsley Stanley III (1935-2011), aka “Bear,” may not be a widely known counterculture figure, but the 1960s wouldn’t have been the same without him. He was Walter White without all the moral conflict or drama, a trailblazing alchemist who mass-produced LSD and made millions before anyone thought to make it illegal. As presented by prolific rock scribe Greenfield (Ain't It Time We Said Goodbye: The Rolling Stones on the Road to Exile, 2014, etc.) in this amiable life story, Stanley was the kind of peripatetic loser who flunked out at everything but drugs. Once he discovered the hallucinogen, he drew on his jack-of-all-trades skills and the expertise of his chemist girlfriend to produce it in large quantities. The result was a product known for both its intensity and purity; as Steely Dan would later sing of Stanley, “on the hill, the stuff was laced with kerosene / But yours was kitchen clean.” Stanley thought of himself as a gourmet chef, a “master of fine mental cuisine.” He would also become the key backstage figure for the Grateful Dead, whom he helped bankroll in their early days, as well as becoming their legendary recording engineer. Greenfield recounts Stanley’s life with an ample amount of interviews from his subject as well as family members and the surviving members of the Dead; all remember a generally likable, if frustrating and paranoid, control freak. As a subject, Bear remains interesting long after his era has passed, although the book loses some energy toward the end, as Greenfield describes the quotidian details of the day leading up to Bear’s fatal 2011 car wreck.
Essential for Deadheads but also an engaging cultural portrait for anyone interested in the era.