The name Owsley Stanley is synonymous with one thing, LSD. If you know the name, you are probably familiar, at least in some part, with his impact on the Psychedelic Revolution of the ‘60s and early ‘70s. Maybe you partook in the culture or maybe you are just a student of it, but without a doubt Owsley changed the drugs and music of that era by making some of the best LSD and ensuring everyone got a piece. As good of a story as Owsley’s life might be, there is another that is just as interesting.
“Owsley and Me: My LSD Family” is told through the eyes of Rhoney Stanley, a Jewish New Yorker who met Owsley at Berkley in 1965. It was a year before LSD was illegalized and Owlsey was already a household name for LSD takers. To those close to him, he was called Bear and as Rhoney put it, “He was fast…We went to my place where we made love until the sun came up.” It was the first time they met, but Rhoney saw the, “soul connection,” she and Owsley had. She was not wrong. Their lives would play off of each other for the rest of their time on earth.
At the time Owsley was with another woman, Melissa, but it was the ’60s and free love was available in spades. The triangle was difficult on Rhoney. She had a tough time finding her place between the two. “He was making it clear: Melissa was number one, and If I wanted to be with him, I had to share him with Melissa.”
The relationship struggles between Melissa, Owsley and Rhoney continue throughout the memoir, even when Melissa begins shacking up with Jack Casady, bassist for Jefferson Airplane. But Rhoney stays convinced that Owsley needs her, “Bear needs me. He knows that.” Despite Bear showing Rhoney little of this affection, she still holds onto the fact that she and Bear are soul mates.
The memoir is called “a love story set against the background of the psychedelic revolution of the ‘60s,” on the book’s website and it covers this relationship handily, but it does include excerpts on the explicit making of the LSD. You are provided a first hand account from someone who helped make some of the best acid ever, (Owsley Acid was some of the purest ever and he was dubbed the “Acid King” in Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test,) while being shown diagrams and in-depth discussion of the chemistry. For those who have more than a cursory interest, these parts of the memoir are truly engaging and the book should be explored if only for those segments. Rhoney also covers how the LSD impacted her life and her relationship with Owsley.
Early on she discusses how she had doubts about the LSD and her retreat back to New York where she had a mini mid-life crisis. Owsley brought her back into the fold after a few months away from the scene. It is rare we are afforded such a personal look into one of the more interesting cultural revolutions. However, the love story that the memoir devolves into after the halfway point lost me.
Owsley was no doubt a genius when it came to LSD and I’m sure many other things, but his treatment of Rhoney becomes an exhausting venture. While we wish for more stories of drug use and chemistry, we are given more turbulence in the Owsley/Rhoney relationship. Owsley constantly ignores Rhoney’s desires or continually tells her she’s wrong. It beats the reader down. It’s incredible that Rhoney handled it as she did.
An example of Owsley’s careless treatment of Rhoney is given in the text in a simple response that says it all “I don’t know Rhoney. I have a lot to do.” This was the curt answer to a request not to be late to the Tuesday Night Jam that Rhoney helped orchestrate at the Carousel Ballroom, (a collective run by the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane and Quicksilver.) It was her moment to shine in a world she many times felt lost and Owsley didn’t have the time to support her.
I do recommend the memoir. It gives an unparalleled look into the psychedelic revolution and the man who supplied it with LSD. Rhoney is as honest a narrator as you can ask for and although her relationship with Owsley can become tiring, fight through it. Her account of herself, Owsley and those around her pulls no punches.
Owlsey and Me: My LSD Family is available from Monkfish Books