"Have A Good Trip, Mike"
I keep going back to the spring of 1968, because it was such a momentous period in my life that it turned my head in a different direction, putting me on a new road that I’d never suspected was on the map. Sometimes I think I have never gotten off that highway, though I’ve taken a lot of routes and done many different things. It’s hard to say exactly where it began, and impossible to predict where it ends, but it has been a hell of a trip, and, at times, a heavenly journey as well. But Heaven was only a glimpse, not a permanent address.
My friend had done lsd and like everyone else I had read about it in Life magazine’s front-cover exploitation of the new phenomenon. Millions of readers got their first wrong impression from that long piece about the hippies doing acid and tripping off to other worlds. Years later we learned that
So a week or so after the Whitehall Anti-Draft Demonstrations in
He had a great stereo system for that time, and his large living room with a plate glass window overlooked the Hudson River, uptown
Matty and my friend, who I won’t name because he’s a well-known guy, stayed with me awhile, and my buddy said that he would “guide” me on the trip. That was Leary’s way. You needed a guide to keep you on earth when things got too cosmic. It was okay with me because I liked and trusted him. It was obvious to me that he was more intellectual and experienced in such matters. Later on my endless nightmare trip I wished he hadn’t guided me in the direction I’d taken.
After a little while, the lights on the stereo seemed bluer and redder than before. My body felt sensitive and sounds from the street seemed louder. The carpet was dark red or blue and it seemed I could see the threads. I spent some time at the window watching a light show of a flashing red police light, and the reflections of Harlem on the
I dozed off in the chair and don’t remember if I dreamed. An hour later I awoke to hear a strange old man’s voice singing in a fashion I’d never heard. I asked Matty who it was.
“You’ve never heard of
He was singing the title song of the
Was a friend to the poor,
He traveled with a gun in ev’ry hand.
All along this countryside,
He opened many a door,
But he was never known
To hurt an honest man.
‘Twas down in
A time they talk about
With his lady by his side
He took a stand.
And soon the situation there
Was all but straightened out,
For he was always known
To lend a helping hand.
All across the telegraph
His name it did resound.
But no charge held against him
Could they prove.
And there was no man around
Who could track or chain him down,
He was never known
To make a foolish move.”
The whole album contained songs of a type I’d never before heard. Each one seemed more complex and mysterious than the one before. I’ve written in another piece the effect that The Wicked Messenger had on my newspaper career. Another that came to have meaning for me years later:
”I am a lonesome hobo
Without family or friends,
Where another man’s life might begin,
That’s exactly where mine ends.
I have tried my hand at bribery,
Blackmail and deceit,
And I’ve served time for ev’rything
‘Cept beggin’ on the street.
Well, once I was rather prosperous,
There was nothing I did lack.
I had fourteen-caret gold in my mouth
And silk upon my back.
But I did not trust my brother,
I carried him to blame,
Which led me to my fate of doom,
To wander off in shame.
Kind ladies and kind gentlemen,
Soon I will be gone,
But let me just warn you all,
Before I do pass on;
Stay free from petty jealousies,
Live by no man’s code,
And hold your judgment for yourself
Lest you wind up on this road.”
Maybe it was the mescaline that made it so vivid as to be embedded in my brain. But after first hearing
About 30 minutes before dawn Matty suggested we take a ride to the shore and watch the rising dawn. He had a VW bug. He and my friend took the front seats and I rode in the back. It seemed he was going too fast and a few times I asked him to slow down. Normally I wouldn’t do that, but for some reason I felt fear. He obliged, each time saying he was going the speed limit.
We walked onto a deserted beach and slowly at first then appearing like an act of God—which it is—the sun came up over the ocean and bathed us in red. I had never seen such a sunrise, though as a drinker and a manic all-nighter I had seen a hundred of them. We stayed quiet during the event, then drove quietly back to his place, where we drank a glass of red wine and parted company.
I saw God on that trip but didn’t recognize Him. Next time I tripped was in
If they had lied to us about the war, perhaps they had lied about communism too.
Then a pretty blonde gal named
But I got over it pretty quickly. I was more studious than the cats I hung with, and since I had been a newspaper reporter, I was up on current events, but my outlook was skewed as a servant of the Establishment, and, it seemed to me, less simplistic than the younger hippies. I was trying to be a hippie, trying to get into a community of feeling and song, poetry and dance, and demonstrations and conscience, but I still stood outside the circle rather aloof and probably superior-looking and “uptight,” which was a favorite appellation back then. And I felt uptight.
One day I got a letter from a younger sister inviting me to her high school graduation in
Then my older sister