Back in the 1960s, when LSD was still legal, Owsley “Bear” Stanley was known as the “Acid King.” Manufacturing, distributing and popularizing the psychedelic drug, he also financed the Grateful Dead at the band’s very beginning 50 years ago, and was their first sound man. Rhoney Gissen Stanley’s memoir Owsley and Me: My LSD Family (Monkfish Publishing) chronicles her life working in Bear’s acid lab, and as the third angle in a love triangle, and later under the care of the Grateful Dead.
Rhoney wrote Owsley and Me with Tom Davis, an Emmy Award-winning writer for the early seasons of Saturday Night Live and half of the comedy duo “Franken and Davis.”
The book throws warm psychedelic light on a turbulent period in American history, when the Bear and the Dead were both touchstones of new approaches to life, love, music, and even politics. Rhoney Gissen met Stanley in 1965, when the Dead “were living off Owsley’s good graces,” as Jerry Garcia once explained. Working with the new band, Owsley was revolutionizing live concert recording, which became the Grateful Dead’s life’s blood, and engineering the famous Wall of Sound system. As The New York Times put it, “it was Owsley who originally financed, inspired, amplified and dosed the great American rock band, the Grateful Dead.”
The first documented show by the Grateful Dead, then known as the Warlocks, was 50 years ago this spring, in Menlo Park, California on May 5, 1965. They became the Grateful Dead later that year and famously debuted under that name in December at one of Ken Kesey’s Acid Tests.
When Owsley was jailed for a time beginning in late 1967 leaving Rhoney alone with their infant son to raise, the Dead employed and supported her.
“I didn’t have far to look for ‘alternative lifestyles’ in Berkeley, California,” Rhoney writes in the opening chapter. “Left-wing politics was very sexy.” The second chapter is titled “The Lure of Chemistry,” and the rest is history.
As our reviewer, Wesley Britton, wrote: “Gissen Stanley isn’t preaching about redemption, salvation, or crawling out of the pits of drug abuse. She’s taking us on a tour of her youth and, fortunately for us, the sights and sounds are colorful and vividly described. If you weren’t there yourself, after reading this memoir, odds are you’ll wish you had been.”
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