On this day in 1943 while most of the rest of the world was up to its neck in war and shit like that, a Swiss chemist called Albert Hoffman was getting off his tits on lysergic acid diethylamide. To be fair to Bertie, his first trip was wholly accidental; his second one, three days later was not.
Hoffman had first synthesised LSD on November 16th 1938. At the time he was trying to obtain a substance to use as a stimulant for respiration and circulation. He did not do anything with the synthesis at the time and other experiments took up more time. The LSD synthesis was put to one side for nearly five years. On the morning of 16th April 1943, Hoffman decided to make another synthesis, but this time accidentally contaminated himself (he got some on his fingertips) and ingested an unknown amount of the drug. He later wrote about his experiences on that day. About an hour after the accidental ingestion he began to feel a little odd and had to go home for a bit of a lie down even though he was restless, he was also dizzy and all out of sorts in the normal way of things. Once there he lay with his eyes closed because the daylight was too harsh for him. The next two hours brought him pleasant and strange images, feelings and a whole kaleidoscope of colours. Luckily for old off his tits Hoffman, he was having a good trip.
The same could not be said for the trip he had the following Monday. He had figured that the odd experiences he’d had were linked to the LSD, so he decided to take it again, in controlled conditions to see if he was right and what would occur. First off, he totally overestimated the threshold dose. He took 0.25 miligrams (250 micrograms) figuring, from his knowledge of other ergot, that this would be about right. The threshold dose is in fact 20 micrograms. Less than an hour later he was utterly fucked and had to ask his assistant to take him home. They had no car available, it being wartime and petrol being at a bit of a premium, so they had to use bicycles. Hoffman, was by now in a heightened state of paranoia. His mood wavered between anxiety and, well, sheer terror. He believed that his next door neighbour was a malevolent witch, that he was going insane, that the LSD had poisoned him. A GP was called out, but the only physical change he noted was Hoffman’s incredibly dilated pupils. The doctor’s visit reassured Hoffman, whose trip now took a different turn, back to the images, colours, shapes etc of the previous Friday, but more intense, due to the larger dose he had taken.
Hoffman was immediately convinced that LSD would be a breakthrough psychiatric drug, because of its introspective qualities and LSD was used extensively in psychiatric research and on some patients throughout the fifties and into the sixties. However, Hoffman
did not think that LSD would ever be used recreationally and there he was quite wrong. Everyone knows about Timothy Leary, the explosion of LSD use in the 1960s, the hippies and all that. But before the whole counter-culture thing, it was also being experimented with by people as unlikely and diverse as Francis Crick (the DNA man), Cary Grant (who lectured to students at UCLA on its efficacy), Aldous Huxley, JFK and Groucho Marx. The CIA also used it in hugely unethical experiments. They would, effectively, spike someone with acid and then see what the effect was. Not surprisingly this led to a lot of psychiatric problems for many of the subjects of their experiments and may have led to more than one suicide.
From my own personal experience, I would not advocate the use of LSD, especially not if you’re going to watch Groundhog Day, you will cry because you have been watching the film for centuries and at the same time be fascinated by Bill Murray’s pulsating nose. You may also find that acid makes you bossy, form a belief that you are a godlike creature and it will almost certainly make you a strange inhabitant of a small Welsh village at 6am in the morning. Probably. Bad trips are bad, but my stepfather has told me that vitamin b is very helpful for alleviating these and for bringing the subject down from a trip. Oh also note that if you happen across a Shabba Ranks video while tripping you may feel as though the whole world is turning in on itself. In this likelihood I recommend The Breeders and the foetal position.
Today was the birthday of Mary Catherine Isobel Bernadette O’Brien, better known to the world as Dusty Springfield.
Instead of waxing lyrical about Dusty’s fine and beautiful voice, I’m going to put a video of her singing at the end of this and let her voice do the talking. It’s so hard though. What on earth does one choose when everything she sings is so damned wonderful!
Dusty came to the public’s attention in the early sixties with “I only want to be with you” and came to define a certain cool of the period for the rest of the decade. She was instrumental in bringing Motown to the attention of the British, both by her singing various Motown covers and getting artists spots on tv shows. For a period she was the biggest selling female singer in the world and
songwriters, especially Burt Bacharach, vied to write for her and have her sing their songs. Her voice is instantly recognisable and has the most luscious soft, breathy sensuality that the listener is always in danger of melting away into a puddle while listening to her.
Dusty’s life away from the stage was not so easy. She suffered from depression, battled alcoholism and addiction and because she was not ever linked to any man, her personal life was under constant scrutiny. She refused to identify as “bent” as she put it, but said that she loved men and women and why not. Her only known loving relationships are with other women and she admitted to being scared of men, but wanting to be straight. She was also a self-harmer at times and it seems that there was a darkness at the centre of her life that is so horribly sad. This woman could break and mend hearts with her singing, she could bring joy to others, but …
I don’t want to dwell on the darkness, I just want to say a heartfelt happy birthday to a woman who brought happiness to generations with her voice. She was in the wilderness for years after the sixties and then came back with the Pet Shop Boys and we all hoped she’d never go away again. Her death came too early, her beauty lives on. Happy birthday, Dusty, I hope that you have found love that is always close at hand.