On this episode of Hippie Love Turbo, on KUCR 88.3 FM you heard a song by the band Mike Stuart Span named Children of Tomorrow. The band's history is very complicated and I won't try to make heads or tails of it here but there is a great write up by a Reddit user named mindlesspleasures that summarizes the band's history fairly well. While it takes a while to wrap your head around the band's convoluted history, one thing that stood out to me is how every biography about Mike Stuart Span sort of glosses over the death of their guitarist Nigel Langham. According to the band's official website:
"Tripping on LSD, guitarist Langham fell to his death after leaping through an upstairs window. The band were left in a profound state of shock; despite the blandishments of the encroaching psychedelic era, the Mike Stuart Span subsequently became a resolutely drug-free zone."
If you've ever been curious about LSD and its effects on the human psyche you've probably heard the ever-present story of the reckless hippie, blasted out of his mind, discovering that in his altered state he has gained the ability to fly. Due to his inebriated state the hippie gleefully leaps from a tall window only to discover that he has, in fact, not gained the ability to fly and that his poor decisions lead to his untimely demise. It's one of those stories that gets repeated time and time again and I've always assumed it's been planted in everyone's imaginations by well-meaning squares but after reading about Nigel Langham I began to wonder much truth is behind the urban legend.
|A typical drugged out hippie as portrayed by Johnny Welfare on The Simpsons.|
It seems that the most popular version of the story comes from the tragic death of radio personality Art Linkletter's daughter Diane Linkletter. Mr. Linkletter attributed his daughter's death to psychological damage caused by psychoactive drugs and said that the person who first sold Diane LSD was “the man who murdered my daughter.’’ Because Linkletter had killed herself by jumping from a building and because of her father placing the blame on LSD, the story took on a life of its own over the years and transformed into a cautionary tale of accidental death caused by being high in the wrong place at the wrong time. Snopes delves into the case and explains how evidence of Ms. Linkletter's drug use is actually fairly scant.
Nevertheless, as I began to do some more research, I discovered that Linkletter's death wasn't the first falling death associated with LSD. According to a United Press International article in 1966 Vernon P. Cox, who was only 20 years old, jumped out a third story bedroom window after saying: “as long as I’m on a trip, I think I’ll go to Europe." The article also claims that a police representative stated:
“You know how that stuff works. He probably thought he was a bird and tried to fly out the window."
Eventually the famous LSD proponent Timothy Leary was ordered to pay $100,000 to Cox's family after a judge ruled that Vernon was inspired to drop acid after attending one of Leary's lectures. The time frame makes it seem as though the lecture Cox may have attended took place at the first (and perhaps only?) LSD Conference in San Francisco. Regardless, this event helped cement the idea that LSD causes people to jump from great heights.
Years later the death of Ruth Moment Armistead followed a similar pattern to Diane Linkletter's when Armistead had leapt from The University of Texas' UT Tower after bouts of depression caused by mental breakdowns which her family associated with psychedelic drugs. Moment's death led her father to create a lobbying group known as the Legal Drug Control Society which pushed for stricter drug laws and at the time of LDCS' creation Mr. Armistead was quoted saying: “My daughter didn’t jump off that tower - LSD pushed her off.” For a more in-depth and heartbreaking analysis of the events which lead to Moment's demise check out this article by Christie Lypka.
Unfortunately, high-flying psychedelic deaths didn't end in the '60s and '70s and there have even been several documented cases within the last decade. While there are some kernels of truth to the acid induced leap of faith one should note that it's much more common to die from accidents related to legal drugs such as alcohol. Yes, drinking is more common than dropping acid, however, every person that drinks doesn't automatically become a drunk driver just as every person that takes a psychedelic trip doesn't leap out of a window.
If you gleam anything from this simple blog post it should be that acid is a serious drug that should be respected and some people are more vulnerable to its negative effects. Does that mean you shouldn't try it? I'll leave that up to you but if you're going to experiment with hallucinogenic drugs, you should understand the risks, have a trusted spotter, and stay away from dangerous settings including heights, train tracks, and volcanoes.
Although I don't agree 100% with his assessment, I'll leave you with a quote from Bill Hicks' 1992 comedy special Revelations where he discuses the matter.
"Always that same LSD story. You’ve all seen it. 'Young man on acid, thought he could fly, jumped out of a building. What a tragedy.' What a dick! Fuck him! He’s an idiot. If he thought he could fly, why didn’t he take off from the ground first?
Check it out. You don’t see ducks lining up to catch elevators to fly south. They fly from the ground, you moron. Quit ruining it for everybody."
You can check out this week's playlist below: