Take a pinch of psychedelic

Tim Thumb psychedelic posterDuring the kids’ Snow Break last week, we chanced to visit the Denver Art Museum’s Psychedelic Experience exhibit. Dozens of groovy rock posters from the late sixties, mostly advertising shows at San Francisco’s Fillmore Auditorium, were on display, occasionally retro-enhanced by black light. More interesting to the kids, however, was an adjoining exhibit where ancient artifacts were displayed in a seemingly authentic sixties pad. There were LPs (how they laughed!) and record players, a giant console television, magazines from the era (first man on the moon was a big hit), shabby furniture covered in tie-dyed material, and a couple old-fashioned telephone booths with rotary phones. One by one, the kids went into the graffiti-covered booth and closed the door, sat on the bench and tried to figure out how to dial the phone. Seriously, it wasn’t obvious to them.

The terms LSD and psychedelic were ubiquitous throughout the exhibit and the kids asked me their meanings. I think I was able to explain LSD satisfactorily but had a hard time defining psychedelic, although I know psychedelic when I see it. It turns out that today is a birthday of sorts for both LSD and psychedelic, a perfect time to answer my own question!

From Today in Literature:
LSD was first synthesized on this day in 1943 by Albert Hoffman, and the psychiatrist Humphrey Osmond coined the term “psychedelic” on this day in 1956, by way of a poetic exchange with Aldous Huxley. Huxley had enthusiastically volunteered himself as a guinea pig for Osmond’s drug experiments and, after some initial reluctance, Osmond had agreed — he said he didn’t “relish the possibility, however remote, of finding a small but discreditable niche in literary history as the man who drove Aldous Huxley mad.” The two felt that a new word was needed to capture the nature of the new experience; Huxley offered his coinage in rhyme:

To make this trivial world sublime,
Take half a gramme of phanerothyme.

Osmond replied with his improvement, and entered Far Out history:

To fathom hell or soar angelic,
Just take a pinch of psychedelic.

1 thought on “Take a pinch of psychedelic

  1. Avatarandrew

    THAT was the dawning of the Age of Aquarius. Someday that will be looked back on as Amerika’s Camelot, its Shangri La, its peak, its Atlantis, its Bali Hai. Too bad for you if you missed it

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