Sunday, May 16, 2010

When the Sunshine Rose and Set On the Brotherhood of Eternal Love

The popular history of the 1960s includes a number of stories that are rife with rumor and unsubstantiated tales. From the possibility of conspiracies that killed two Kennedy brothers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King, Jr. to the rumors begun by a college student in 1969 that Beatle Paul McCartney was dead, the period was an amalgamation of truths and exaggerations. Its history is the same even today. One of the groups whose history has been always shrouded in mystery is the Laguna Beach, California-based spiritual and drug operation known as the Brotherhood of Eternal Love. Intimately connected to acid guru Timothy Leary and--through circumstance, LSD and money--the Weather Underground and Grateful Dead, this band of Southern California street toughs took LSD and became proselytizers for a new world based on love and spirituality. Their story was the subject of many a stoned conversation, DEA report, and partially informed newspaper article. Given the fact that the folks involved in the Brotherhood were smuggling, manufacturing and distributing illegal substances, it's easy to understand why no members wanted to talk about the group.
Investigative reporter Nicholas Schou has changed all that. In his recently published book Orange Sunshine: The Brotherhood of Eternal Love and Its Quest to Spread Peace, Love, and Acid to the World, Mr. Schou provides the most complete history of this 1960s phenomenon to date. Based on numerous interviews, research, and driven by an apparently intense interest in the subject matter, the story told in Orange Sunshine captures the idealistic beginnings of the Brotherhood and its disintegration into just another drug operation with guns, egos and greed. While reading Schou's book, one can feel the genuine desire of the group's founders to change the world through marijuana, LSD, and an alternative way of living outside of the technological suburban nightmare they perceived all around them. The transformation of these founders from pot dealers, addicts, street toughs and surfers who obtained their first acid by robbing a Hollywood personality at gunpoint to a group led by John Griggs-- a man Timothy Leary called the holiest man in the world-- reads like a novel under Schou's pen. So are the story's next chapters as the Brotherhood develops a scheme to smuggle hashish from Afghanistan into the United States and use the profits to set up a utopia in the canyons of southern California, manufacture Orange Sunshine LSD and turn on the world.

About That Orange Sunshine
During its heyday, rumors about Orange Sunshine were as rampant as rumors about Bob Dylan playing at Woodstock. Some were true and some you just hoped were true. The second time I ever ate acid was in 1971 and the source was a friend of mine who had gone to boarding school in New England and then come to Germany to stay with his parents (who worked for some US corporation). It was a summer afternoon in Gruneburg Park in Frankfurt am Main. My friend took out a little leather bag and produced two orange wafer thin tablets and a piece of green blotter paper that had a drawing of the R. Crumb character Mr. Natural on it. The orange tabs, this guy began, are Orange Sunshine made by a guy in California who used to be Owsley's apprentice. You only need half a tab. In what was probably one of the saner decisions I ever made when it came to LSD, I took his advice and only ate half a tab. Then the melting began. My buddy R saw the Grateful Dead in 1971 at the shows that would later be culled into the Skullfuck album and insisted until his death that people on the stage at the Fillmore East were shooting balls of paper with orange sunshine tablets into the audience.
Even the Village Voice got into the Orange Sunshine story circle when it ran a story in the spring of 1971 about a guy who went by the name of Sunshine John. It seems John was somehow connected to the Brotherhood and, as part of its mission to spread Orange Sunshine around the world, was one of its primary distributors on the US east coast. According to the story (and Schou, as well), there was an acid drought in late 1968 because of the arrests of the primary US manufacturers of the drug. Then, along came Orange Sunshine. Tens of thousands of hits began to appear on the streets, at rock concerts and in rural communes. Most of them were given away for free as part of the Brotherhood's mission to spread peace, love, and acid. As the experiences related above make clear, the acid continued to be manufactured and distributed well into 1971 at least.

The Beginning of the End
Naturally, all this LSD drew the attention of the authorities. Until the early 1970s, most of the anti-narcotics work concerning the brotherhood had been carried out by local police in Laguna Beach. One officer in particular, Nicholas Purcell, was behind most of the arrests and harassment of the Brotherhood and those who distributed its acid and hashish. With the intensification of the war on drugs under Richard Nixon's White House, Purcell and his cohorts were able to involve California and federal agencies in their mission to destroy the Brotherhood. Meanwhile, the Brotherhood continued to smuggle marijuana products and distribute LSD. Simultaneously many of them were moving to Maui after the ranch in the canyons was raided and Timothy Leary was arrested and their leader John Griggs overdosed on synthetic psylocibin. In addition, the mission to spread peace and love via LSD was foundering. Like so many other spiritually inclined endeavors, when the Brotherhood lost their spiritual leader, the mission became confused by the more earthly desires of some of those next in line.
Egos and easy money transformed enough of those involved into just another bunch of drug dealers with guns and cocaine. Drugs, too, had ceased to serve a liberatory function. After those first few years of revelation and communion, they were now often just crutches or, even worse, tools of the oppressor. I knew this when acid and pot dealers I knew began considering guns a necessary tool of the profession. When old-time hippies who had always considered themselves providers of a sacrament began thinking only in terms of dollars, the signs were there. Greed became the watchword for some of its biggest dealers and cynicism replaced the hopes of just a few years earlier. To borrow a phrase popular at the time, like so much of the counterculture, the Brotherhood had become part of the over-the-counterculture. It had succumbed to the all powerful capitalist god of cash.

The story of the Brotherhood of Eternal Love is simultaneously the story of the southern California 1960s counterculture and a metaphor for the phenomenon in its entirety. The story of Orange Sunshine LSD could easily be the story of the later years of the 1960s US counterculture. Perhaps the lesson to be learned here is that money, ego, and law enforcement trumped everything else in that period known as the Sixties in America, despite the most positive intentions.

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