Tox Tunes #44: Kid Charlemagne (Steely Dan)

March 20, 2011, 10:11 pm

Augustus Owsley Stanley III was one of the most influential and mysterious figures in the San Francisco music and psychedelic scenes in the mad-to-late 1960s.  Steely Dan’s “Kid Charlemagne” is one of several songs written about him.  Owsley was said to produce the purest LSD available at that time, which he distributed at concerts, be-ins, and Ken Kesey’s Acid Tests:

While the music played you worked by candlelight
Those San Francisco nights
You were the best in town . . .

On the hill the stuff was laced with kerosene
But yours was kitchen clean

His career output was estimated at between one and five million doses.

He was also an original financial backer and sound man for The Grateful Dead, plugging a tape machine directly into the soundboard and recording many of the band’s early live concerts.

According to a 1997 Robert Greenfield article about him in Rolling Stone, Owsley taught himself how to make LSD over a three week period of research in the UC-Berkeley Library.  In the 1970s, he served a two year federal sentence for manufacturing and distributing LSD.

Owsley Stanley died last week in a car crash in Australia at the age of 76.  Although much of the press coverage has been neutral — sometimes bordering on admiration — it is I think important to remember that Owsley’s underground career was epically irresponsible, no doubt wreaking psychological devastation on thousands and thousands of young lives.

Related posts:

Experimental LSD Session (video)

Tox Tunes #34: A Girl Named Sandoz (Smashing Pumpkins)

Time, Life, and the Psychedelic Sixties

Tox Tunes #18: Day Tripper (The Beatles)



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