Acid Outlaws: LSD, Counter-Culture and Counter-Revolution — Second Edition by David Black (BPC Publishing) — available as an ebook from Amazon – HERE
In this extract from the new edition, the author explains the reasons for the update.
Preface to the Second Edition
The great English historian John Bossy once wrote, ‘the duty of a historian is to tell true stories about the past’: in following your convictions, you put your research out there, and if it is shown by others that you’ve made mistakes, you take it in and carry on. That’s how you do history.
Or is it? In Postmodernist theory, historical ‘truth’ and ‘knowledge’ are seen as merely representing rival claims to power. Whenever history becomes a story – i.e. something contrived by a story-teller – it assumes the same non-status as a work of fiction that makes no claim to be the ‘truth’. The power of story-telling is determined by the audience’s desire to know that what is said is the truth. But, as history has shown all too often, the desires of a mass audience can be deflected and manipulated by powerful interests.
Take for example the conspiracy theory which holds that the psychedelic counter-culture of the 1960s was engineered by the CIA to as part of plot by a secret, global elite bent on mass mind-control. Despite the obvious undercurrent of anti-semitism in this theory, variations of it have appeared on the Left as well as Right side of the political spectrum. For the Right the psychedelic counter-culture undermined ‘traditional values’ such as patriarchy, nationalism and subservience to authority; for the Left, the 1960s hedonism of ‘Sex, Drugs and Rock’n’Roll’ served as a distraction from political struggle and party discipline. To flesh out the theory, extra villains are conjured up: satanists, MI6, shrinks of the Tavistock Institute, the Grateful Dead, and the Frankfurt School of Critical Theory (whose Marxist musicologist, Theodor Adorno is said to have secretly trained the Beatles during their ‘Hamburg period’), etc, etc.
My book of 2001, Acid: A New Secret History of LSD, has been referenced and quoted in a number of books and articles which promote these conspiracy theories. This is a dubious honour. In my latest work, Acid Outlaws: LSD, Counter-Culture and Counter-Revolution (first edition) I sought to further distance my position from the conspiracy theories. But I now know that I need to do more. Fortunately, I can.
Because the CIA destroyed the operational files of MK-Ultra ‘mind-control’ project in 1973, the extent of the agency’s involvement in the psychedelic counter-culture of the 1960s has been difficult to determine. Nonetheless, leading figures of the counter-culture, notably ‘LSD Guru’ Timothy Leary (1920-96), can hardly be discussed without reference to the CIA – not least because Leary himself had so much to say about it. In contrast to Leary, who courted publicity throughout his psychedelic career, Ronald Hadley Stark (1938-84) lived by secrecy and deception; he was, after all, running some of world’s most productive underground LSD factories in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Various books (including mine) which have covered Stark’s career present evidence, or at any rate express suspicions, that Stark was in — or with — the CIA. The CIA does, after all, have a record in using drug-dealers as assets.
I sent a copy of Acid Outlaws to Tim Scully, a most significant actor in the events unfolded in this story, and, as it turns out, a very reliable witness. Scully, born 1944, was in 1966 taken on as apprentice to the famous LSD chemist Owsley Stanley (AKA Bear Stanley) at a laboratory in Pt. Richmond, California. As well as making LSD, Scully and Bear Stanley worked with the Grateful Dead, providing the band with pioneering electronic gear, and participating in the ‘Acid tests’. After LSD production was banned in various US states in 1966 and 1967, Bear Stanley retired; but Scully, who was a true believer in the power of LSD to revolutionise the world, carried on. With fellow chemist Nick Sand (1941-2017) Scully produced 3.6 million of ‘Orange Sunshine’ trips in Windsor, California, for the Brotherhood of Eternal Love. Scully withdrew from LSD production in 1970, but in 1973 was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment – later reduced to 10. Scully was paroled in late-1979 and began a new successful career in computers, designing among other things biofeedback and interface systems for people with disabilities. Now retired, he is developing a project on the History of Underground LSD-Manufacturing, and working on his memoirs. He also plans to eventually publish a biography of Ronald Stark, who he worked with at one time.
Scully, in writing to me, pointed to a number of errors in my book regarding events in the USA and sent me a tranche of documents. Scully’s observations and the information he provided threw me into a new bout of research and fact-checking. Scully, in generously allowing me to quote some of his material, has given me enough of a glimpse of Stark to pose some questions anew, and draw some different conclusions.
In general, the facts I presented on Stark in the first edition of Acid Outlaws still stand, but now there are more of them and the new light they shed dissolves the previous ‘bigger picture’ of Stark as a CIA agent or asset, and brings to light a new one – no less fascinating or disturbing – of a trickster. As Scully says, ‘Ron Stark was a very charming, playful, very intelligent pathological liar and con artist. He fooled me for many years’. And, beyond the grave, Stark’s legend has continued to fool people, including me.
I have reworked and extended those sections which deal with Stark and with LSD production in the US from the mid-1960s to the early ’70s. Everything else stands. The whole text has been sub-edited for better readability.