In a recently posted interview with Huffpost‘s Ricky Camilleri, the great Brian Wilson was asked what the boiled-down message of Love & Mercy might be. The 72 year-old genius could have said this or that, but he settled upon “don’t take drugs…drugs aren’t good for you.” Which is generally true, but not, I would argue, in the context of the convulsive social changes of the ’60s. In 1976 a 34 year-old Wilson (who, it has to be said, was a little more mentally spry back then) was asked about psychedelic drugs during an interview with Mike Douglas, and he said that “a lot of hippies said the great messiah was supposed to return in the ’60s, but it came in the form of drugs…I agree there’s a certain amount to be said for that.”
Today’s Wilson seems to be a more or less happy man, seemingly settled and clear of mind, and I’m not saying that his answer to the “message” question was wrong. I myself wouldn’t touch any drug with a ten-foot pole these days. But his Mike Douglas Show viewpoint was a little closer to the truth.
Hallucinogens — Wilson wasn’t talking about anything but LSD, mescaline, peyote, mushrooms — changed everything in this country, specifically during a six- or seven-year period from the mid ’60s to early ’70s. Hallucinogens suddenly made traditional Christian beliefs seem primitive and old-hat, ignited interest in Eastern mysticism and transcendental meditation, and brought about “The Me Decade and the Third Great Awakening,” as Tom Wolfe famously called it.
LSD really did bring about a profound social rapture — the doors of perception, a parting of the clouds, spiritual satori. It opened things way, way up for Aldous Huxley, Cary Grant and other Los Angeles devotees in the ’50s, the Harvard University faculty in the early ’60s, the most adventurous rock artists of the mid to late ’60s (including Wilson and the Beatles), and God knows how many thousands who followed in their wake. It gave everyone who dropped with any kind of devotional attitude a little taste of the mystical and sublime, the kind of Eastern enlightenment God-head that had previously been known only to a select few over the centuries.
It’s all laid out in Jay Stevens‘ “Storming Heaven,” a book I’ve written about three or four times before. “Elevator in the brain hotel” is great, but there’s SO MUCH MORE to be had from that drug…words fail. One thing you have to conclude at the end of the day is that in the broader context of 20th Century ch-ch-ch-ch-changes, the words “don’t take drugs…drugs are bad for you” fail to address the profound.