“Don't take the brown acid” was the famous warning issued about a bad batch of LSD from the stage at the Woodstock Festival in 1969. But meanwhile, some shadowy but influential West Coasters were counseling everyone to try a pill of another color.
Orange Sunshine was a “brand” of LSD made and marketed by a band of initially idealistic young men operating out of Laguna Beach, the bucolic village ironically nestled in Orange County. Calling themselves the Brotherhood of Eternal Love, they were acid evangelists who soon became known as a “hippie mafia.”
The Brotherhood's story is “the most surreal saga of the 1960s that has never been told,” writes journalist Nicholas Schou, whose new book, “Orange Sunshine,” is as close to an “authorized” story as there's likely to be. Much of it reads more like fiction than history.
If there was a key founder of the Brotherhood, it was John Griggs, whom Timothy Leary would call “the holiest man ever to live in this country.” Griggs and a few friends began as working-class petty criminals who heard about a new drug called LSD, stole some at gunpoint from a Hollywood producer, and soon were apostles of psychedelic-induced “ego death,” wherein one “realizes the insignificance of his or her petty, worldly concerns and feels for the first time a powerful and humbling connection to a greater life force in the universe.”
Thus Griggs felt that if enough people took enough acid, “they could create a utopian society that would serve as a demonstration to the entire world of the healing powers of LSD.” Their goal: use market forces to make LSD cheap by flooding the nation with it. In 1966 the Brotherhood drew up a legal charter, moved to Laguna Beach in search of nice beaches and pretty girls, and “helped usher in a flowering hippie scene that established the city as a Southern California version of Haight-Ashbury.”
In their heyday, “Brothers” smuggled surfboards inlaid with LSD and hash worldwide. Mexican officials were paid off to allow tons of pot to cross the border. A hash-packed yacht was sailed to Hawaii by stoned non-sailors. Jimi Hendrix was enticed to make an incoherent film, and even the famously stoned guitar god found the Brothers too weird. Leary was busted in Laguna Beach, but broken out of jail using Brotherhood of Eternal Love money funneled to the Weather Underground and Black Panthers.
At one point they were so big and bizarre they had an outpost in… Cloverdale.
But soon things went sour. “Cocaine, and the greed and paranoia that came with it destroyed whatever was genuine in the Brotherhood's idealistic, spiritual origins,” writes Schou. Griggs had already died of a psilocybin overdose, and rougher Brothers prevailed. Rip-offs and violence ensued. It all culminated in a 1972 bust that “yielded 53 people and two and half tons of hash, thirty gallons of hashish oil, and 1.5 million tablets of Orange Sunshine.”
“The Brotherhood's dream of turning on the world had been deferred,” concludes Schou. But dreams die hard, and Schou's interviews with surviving Brothers, some doing well, some penniless, illustrate the thin line between dream and delusion. “We ushered in the age we are in now, which reflects a much more open-minded, open-hearted and spiritually inspired world,” reflects one Brother, who must not get out much.
At this point in history, the Brotherhood's story reads like some mystical adventure tale from a long-gone era. But for a peek at those heady times, “Orange Sunshine” is one worthy flashback.
(Orange Sunshine: The Brotherhood of Eternal Love and Its Quest to Spread Peace, Love, and Acid to the World, by Nicholas Schou Thomas Dunne/St. Martin's; 306 pages; $24.99.)
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