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Psychedelic Bears and the Band Facts:
In his new book ‘Bear,’ Robert Greenfield goes deep into life of counterculture figure credited with inventing band’s ‘Wall of Sound’
In 2007, writer Robert Greenfield interviewed Berkeley-dropout-turned-acid-cooker Owsley Stanley III – whose pure, potent LSD was favored by Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters and the Grateful Dead – for Rolling Stone. “I had so much material,” says Greenfield. “And I knew that Owsley was a unique individual with a world view that no one else shared.” His original assignment was a life-spanning feature, but his reporting – including interviews with the Dead’s Bob Weir, Phil Lesh and more – eventually provided enough material for an entire book.
The result, Bear: The Life and Times of Augustus Owsley Stanley III, goes deep inside the chaotic and bizarre life of Owsley, who provided a generation of West-Coast hippies with mind-altering acid, using the profits of his illegitimate business to finance the Grateful Dead into the spotlight. Also a shameless audiophile, Owsley was the band’s original sound man, credited with inventing the famous Wall Of Sound PA system (“It was Owsley’s brain, in material form,” drummer Bill Kreutzmann told Greenfield. “Impossible to tame.”) He also had the bright idea to plug a recorder directly into the soundboard during concerts and rehearsals, thus providing the world with tapes of the Dead during their heyday, which would otherwise never have existed. But beyond his interaction with the band, exploring Stanley’s life also brought Greenfield deep within the counter-culture of the 1960s and 1970s, from the Monterey Pop Festival to Altamont to the streets of the Haight.