Until he died this week, I never paid much attention to Steve Jobs. I was vaguely aware of the dramatic ups and down in his career, and that he was some intense guy with a vision. I was too busy working on and playing with the products he created to notice to the man behind them.
With Steve gone that’s changed. I realize that starting with my first Mac in the late 80s, Apple products changed how I made music, and how I made money from it. How I got my information, and in turn communicated with the world – as with this blog. When I gave up composing for writing a memoir I bypassed paper and pen, typing directly into a Mac (granted, on Apple rival Bill Gates’ Word.) But by then it was second nature to use the same machine as I was writing on to jump to Google, Wikipedia or Gmail to extend my research into my past out into the world wide web.
The man to thank for all this is Steve Jobs, including the world wide web, the first version of which was developed on his NeXT machine in 1990.
The Times’ fine obituary is titled “Apple’s Visionary Re-defined Digital Age.” Steve was a true visionary. He made no bones about the roots of his vision. As the Times said, “When he graduated from high school in Cupertino in 1972, he said, ”the very strong scent of the 1960s was still there. After dropping out of Reed College, a stronghold of liberal thought in Portland, Ore., in 1972, Mr. Jobs led a countercultural lifestyle himself. He told a reporter that taking LSD was one of the two or three most important things he had done in his life.”
A lot of people will brush past that last fact with a moment’s discomfort, then forget it. LSD to this day is a fraught subject. People fear it, and with good reason. It’s microgram for microgram the most potent drug known to man. It’s driven men and women temporarily mad, and sometimes permanently so. As I could attest myself, it could give you experiences 1000 times scarier than the creepiest horror movie.
LSD also inspired heavenly visions. Most of those had an annoying habit of evaporating once the drug wore off. But some of the acid pioneers – because that’s what we saw ourselves as –brought something back to this mundane world from their trips to fantastic realms.
Though most of my handful of trips were quite nightmarish, the first hours of the first one I experienced nothing less than a Peak Experience. When I came down I saw the world differently. Among other things I saw that the path of science my parents and grandparents had set for me was not my way, that I must instead follow my heart and become a musician.
I was far from alone. Many went away on acid and returned to change their lives – to give up on parents’ visions of them as lawyers, dentists or corporate executives, to work with their hands under the sun, to create music and art. To try to change this world in some way to reflect that ideal world we’d briefly glimpsed.
Which meant to invent. That was the real promise we saw in LSD – that we could return from our trips and invent new lives for ourselves and others.
Acid revealed that everything, and everyone in the world was connected – something the Buddha had figured out a long time ago. Once we saw that in a chemically induced state, we wanted to see it in this sober, mundane world.
As a young pioneer I naturally looked to my elders for guidance. In 1968 I devoured Tom Wolfe’s Electric Kool-Aid Acid Trip, in which Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters painted a bus and drove it around the country. They conducted Acid Tests, and the band that played them was the Grateful Dead, lead by Jerry Garcia, “Captain Trips.”
Soon I was on a painted bus of my own, traveling with the same festival as the Dead. I spent a memorable afternoon interviewing Garcia. The Dead invented a new kind of improvisational music, in which form dissolved into the whims of the moment. It was an experiment, one which often failed. But when it succeeded it was revelatory.
The Jefferson Airplane were five very different people who espoused anarchy as a philosophy, who rarely could agree on anything. Yet employing copious quantities of the solvent LSD over a four month period they did come together to create a psychedelic masterpiece – After Bathing At Baxters. It was marked by a dissolving of the lines that had previously existed between classical, jazz, folk and rock music.
Mike Bloomfield of the Butterfield Blues Band did the same thing – he took acid and listened to ragas all night, then made “East-West,” one of the abiding works of the time.
And of course there were the Beatles from Revolver to the White Album.
Acid had given me the courage to follow my bliss and become a musician. My psychedelic musical heroes gave me the notion of combining rock and classical music, from which I forged a successful style.
The inventers weren’t just musicians. Stewart Brand, the Prankster who ran the Trips Festivals, created the Whole Earth Catalogue, with that famous picture from outer space of our planet as one. He and other acidheads created the ecology movement, and the notion of sustainable technologies. Andrew Weil, a cohort of Tim Leary’s Harvard, was behind the movement towards holistic approaches to medicine. Ram Dass – who as Richard Alpert was thrown out of Harvard for acid antics –wrote Be Here Now, a spiritual book which for many broke down the old barriers between Religions, opening for them new spiritual paths.
But with his death it’s obvious that the greatest inventor of us trippers was Steve Jobs. What does his enormous legacy have to do with LSD? Maybe nothing. Acid has an insidious way of convincing its users of all kinds of profound truths, none of which can really be verified, because they come in the form of strong feelings, intuitions, instincts.
So maybe Steve was just a genius who would have done what he did regardless of LSD. Maybe, like so many, the drug grabbed credit for what was really his doing.
Except….the world we now live in, which Steve Jobs largely was responsible for creating, and which young people take for granted, is an old acidhead’s dream.
Political tyranny detoothed by the internet and smartphones. People exchanging information instantly around the world, for better and worse.. Artists drawing, composers composing, dreamers making their dreams real, all at the touch of a mouse.
Whether it was hallucination, or the grace of the Buddha’s vision, we saw everything as connected. So did Steve.
And he made those connections happen in the real world.