“To fathom Hell or soar angelic, just take a pinch of psychedelic” — Humphry Fortescue Osmond
The memory of the Los Angeles riots and the unrest in Yugoslavia was fresh in my mind. It was a leap year and an election year — an annus horribilis as declared by Queen Elizabeth II after eight months of unremitting royal tribulations. In the states, Grunge was enjoying the peak of its popularity; the Seattle sound was everywhere.
I had just completed my third year at San Francisco State University, where I was ramping up my musical activities. I performed with the orchestra, wind ensemble, and in countless chamber music ensembles as a flutist, having the benefit of Paul Renzi as my instructor. I was writing and arranging music, having studied conductor’s scores for at least a decade. I had started to compose film music, and now, had just started the group which would be known as the Pacific Wind Ensemble.
A growing dichotomy was apparent this year. While I enjoyed great success as an in-demand flutist, arranger, and composer, I was unsure of my ability to lead a new group. I was also aware that something was changing in me that I couldn’t quite explain and I needed the key to unlock the mystery. In June of that year, just two weeks before the first rehearsal of the Pacific Wind Ensemble, I found it.
I had just moved into a two-bedroom, one bath apartment on campus with three other guys, one of which had been my roommate all year. The other two consisted of a tall, Celtic blond in his 20’s, and shorter, slightly fey, Sri Lankan — also in his 20’s. One afternoon, the Celtic blonde brought home several sandwich bags of psychedelic mushrooms. I purchased one of the bags, and after everyone had left, ingested about two of the foul-tasting fungi. On the small couch, lying down, I waited. I am waiting. I wait.
Thirty minutes later, I can feel something strange radiating from my belly. An hour later, the walls begin to wave in undulating shades of pink and aquamarine. There is a growing sense of excitement and anticipation; I surrender to the trip and enter a new dimension where thought has substance. Silent conversations. Wide-eyed stares. Exhilaration.
The Sri Lankan comes home with two friends. I look at him, focusing on those round dark eyes that appear to grow, and start laughing hysterically. Does he know that I’m tripping? He laughs back, even more hysterically. His eyes take on cartoon proportions. I’m on the floor, gasping for breath as this perfect moment of humor has totally overwhelmed me. His friends do not understand, but they are momentarily amused. Eventually, they decide to leave, taking him in tow, as this is just too much for them.
I am alone again. I go to the mirror in the dressing room and stare. The face that looks back is growing long. The dimensions are all wrong. And then, a “moment of reality” barges in. What am I doing here? Where the HELL am I going with my life? Am I REALLY going to lead a new, untested musical ensemble? The doubts start an avalanche of fear — I can feel it growing. This is the beginning of a bummer, and I’m going to stop it right here. No, I’m NOT going down with the ship. Just do the best you can — that’s all anyone can expect.
Back to the couch and happier thoughts. I close my eyes and can see the entrance into a new reality, framed by glowing, polychromatic gates that reveal the secret ever-so-slowly. It’s beautiful. It defies language or speech. I feel totally at peace. But I am not ready to enter yet. Like a leaf, I fall gently back to earth. My eyes are open. The walls are still undulating in glorious Technicolor. Life is going on all around me, but there are worlds inside my head that need to be explored. I feel more “complete” than I’ve ever been.
Eight hours later, reality had resumed its regular shape. I knew it was coming to a close, and yet, I still wanted more. I hadn’t counted on the therapeutic aspect of this experience. But this shouldn’t have come as any surprise, as there had long been an underground movement of psychologists who used psychedelics — and with great success. As I got up from the couch, now slightly weary, I think to myself: this was a good trip, but it won’t be my last…