One of the highlights of last weekend's Breaking Convention was hearing and meeting Leaf Fielding. Apart from being a true gentleman, Leaf is known principally for being one of the 'Operation Julie gang', the underground lab that kept Britain supplied with high quality LSD during the 70s before they got rather spectacularly busted. He's written an excellent an account of how, in his words, he got 'into such a fix' and ended up being sent down for eight years. I thoroughly recommend it.
What's quite clear is that Leaf was never in it for the money. Having drunk from the magic cauldron he simply wanted to share it with anyone curious and adventurous enough to try for themselves. At its zenith, his lab was knocking out hundreds of thousands of microdots (their invention) at a time.
Back at Breaking Convention I also met a retired psyche-nurse I'll call Gary. You won't have heard of him. Raised on an estate in the NE he found Acid as a teenager in the 70s. It made 'a golden opening in his heart' and for a time he felt as though the whole world order was about to change. It never did. Operation Julie augured the end. He trained as a nurse, got a job, and somehow filtered back into the mainstream. 'Coming here to this conference' he said, 'it's like coming home'. We both welled up at that.
Dropping Acid at a time before the sneering rage of Punk cried 'Kill a Hippie!', before the New Atheists stamped their jackboots on the balls of popular and intellectual culture, and before listless consumerism leached meaning from the world (such that for many now, tripping is just an extra channel on the digibox, its revelations to be met with an OMG or a LOL or a meh, whatever), both Leaf and Gary were seekers. They yearned to find out who they were and what their place in the world might be. Acid gave them a glimpse.
And their respective stories got me wondering: what happened to that generation? What happened to all those trippers? Given the Julie gang's prodigious output there must be thousands of people with little golden openings in their hearts who somehow just melted away. You'd walk past them and you'd never know.
As the genuine casualties attest, Acid isn't for everyone. It needs careful handling not evangelism. But at a time when we need elders more than ever I can't help hoping that as they start to retire and find they have nothing to lose, the Lost Elders of Acid, the freaks of yore, will come forward, as Leaf and Gary have done, and tell their stories, good and bad. It's time we heard them.