The CIA's experiments with psychedelic drugs led to the Grateful Dead

"Earlier this year, the surviving members of the Grateful Dead played sold-out 'Fare Thee Well' concerts in Santa Clara and Chicago to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the founding of their band," says Ben Mark of Collectors Weekly. "But Jerry Garcia and company did not start using the name Grateful Dead until December of 1965. The exact date is surprisingly hard to pin down, as my story for Collectors Weekly reveals, but we do know that the Grateful Dead's sound grew out of its experiences as the house band at the Acid Tests of 1965 and 1966, which were organized (if that's even the right word...) by Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters. And where did Kesey get the idea to conduct experiments on human beings with LSD? In 1959, he was an LSD guinea pig himself in tests conducted by the CIA.

For Garcia, the ability of the Acid Tests to stop the world for a while and then remind you that it was still spinning was one of its key lessons. The Acid Tests, he says in Signpost, were “our first exposure to formlessness. Formlessness and chaos lead to new forms. And new order. Closer to, probably, what the real order is. When you break down the old orders and the old forms and leave them broken and shattered, you suddenly find yourself a new space with new form and new order which are more like the way it is. More like the flow.”

To put Garcia’s formulation in terms a contemporary Silicon Valley venture capitalist might understand, LSD was a disruptive technology, except that instead of upending mere transactions such as hailing a cab or renting a hotel room, the things being disrupted were the basic conventions of society, which is why mainstream America was, and remains, so terrified of the drug.