It’s one of those six degrees of separation things.
Reading the obit of Augustus Owsley Stanley III, I immediately flashed back (bad pun) to the sixties, life in Berkeley, Owsley as the world’s leading manufacturer of LSD and some connection to him I couldn’t quite put my finger on.
Trying to come up the connection, I recalled that without Owsley there would not have been Tom Wolfe’s Electric Cool-Aid Acid Test, Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze,” The Grateful Dead’s “Alice D Millionaire” or the aptly named rock group-Blue Cheer. Owsley was, and remained to his death, a legend in hipster circles. He was also, during my Bay Area years, a wanted man.
Thinking about him as a fugitive, I remembered my connection. I knew a major “chemist” of the era not because of his acid production, but as the inventor of a machine that could blow down into jackets and sleeping bags.
Before this chemist/inventor came along, sleeping bags and down jackets were filled by hand. With the machine, a set amount of down was easily blown into a jacket or bag’s baffles.
The chemist/inventor was one strange cat going by several aliases and disappearing from the Berkeley outdoor gear-making scene from time to time when word got around that the Feds were looking for him.
To make sure I had the right guy, I contacted an old friend from my down-filling days and asking him if our chemist/inventor was indeed an Owsley sidekick.
He e-mailed back: “He was indeed a confidant and had cooked with Owsley. When Owsley had to go underground, he kept in touch with him. He ended up being shot in the early ‘90s by the estranged husband of a woman he was involved with.”
There’s a book in there somewhere.