In Netflix documentary Have a Good Trip, celebs share their wild experiences, do's and don'ts of taking LSD
In Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, one of the most influential non-fiction books of all time, the author describes the unique experience of watching The Grateful Dead play at one of the titular ‘Acid Tests’ — gatherings that would be termed ‘safe spaces’ today, a place where people could trip on LSD in peace. Unfettered by the constraints of your everyday, vanilla, assembly line concert, the Dead would create the revolutionary new sound of ‘acid rock’ or ‘jazz rock’ during these psychedelic evenings. As Wolfe wrote, “‘Mixed media’” entertainment — this came straight out of the Acid Tests’ combination of light and movie projections, strobes, tapes, rock n’ roll, black light. ‘Acid rock’ — the sound of the Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper album and the high-vibrato electronic sounds of the Jefferson Airplane, the Mothers of Invention and many other groups — the mothers of it all were the Grateful Dead at the Acid Tests.”
In Have a Good Trip, Netflix’s new documentary on psychedelics, however, Bill Kreutzmann (drummer for The Grateful Dead) shows us a slightly less intense side of the Acid Tests — one marked by gyrating food. Describing the time when he took a little too much LSD before a show, Kreutzmann breaks down the hilarious breakfast he had at his parents’ house after the show. “She served me a plate of eggs that seemed like they were doing a new kind of modern dance on the stage, you know, the new gyration stuff. Everything was moving around. The sausages were dancing, making little buildings and things…”
Think about it: the substance that helped bring about some of the biggest artistic breakthroughs of the 60s and the 70s… also made Kreutzmann captive audience for the Breakfast Break-Dance Troupe.
At its best, Have a Good Trip does a good job of explaining how LSD stands for both of these states of mind — the sublime and the gently ridiculous. It interviews an impressive lineup of actors, musicians, comedians and so on — Sting, Carrie Fisher, the late Anthony Bourdain, Natasha Lyonne, Ben Stiller, Sarah Silverman, Will Forte, ASAP Rocky, and so on — talking about their memorable LSD trips, both good and bad. The idea is to paint a holistic picture of what consuming psychedelics (the conversation, though centred around LSD, also touches upon DMT, peyote and ayahuasca) actually entails; the dos and don’ts, what to look forward to and how to make sense of it all.
And so you have Sting tripping severely after consuming dried peyote for the first time in his life, ending up helping a cow give birth on his farm. Silverman learns why people on acid should not drive while Bourdain delivers a typically charismatic retelling of an LSD road trip gone pear-shaped. These narrations are punctuated by ‘expert testimony’, which is to say, clinical facts delivered by a doctor. There’s also some very smartly done animation and the cherry on top: Nick Offerman, Adam Scott and co. parodying anti-psychedelic propaganda films from the 60s and 70s. For the most part, these ‘cutout’ segments (easily cut/edited to make punchy YouTube clips) are entertaining and effective, without adding too much to the substance of the film’s argument.
Because while it’s undoubtedly fond of these hijinks, Have a Good Trip also points out some crucial, easily-forgotten truths about the psychedelic movement — like how LSD’s potential to help with mental illness was all but nipped in the bud by the powers-to-be.
We meet Zach Leary, son of Dr Timothy Leary, the Harvard psychologist who came to be known as perhaps the most prominent psychedelics advocate in the world. He tells us how a panic-stricken Harvard, anxious about its public image, sacked Dr Leary in 1963. As the actor and comedian Rob Corddry remarks, “Leary and Ram Dass and Terence McKenna, all these people who spent their lives exploring these realms, and they also had the knowledge and the genius to study them… they were just shut down. And so, we fucking blew it.”
This isn’t a particularly ambitious film, despite the superficial flamboyance and the Day-Glo animation sequences. It aims to be a good-looking, easygoing, snappily edited mainstream product (it achieves this aim fairly easily). It’s largely content with its talking heads format, perfectly happy to indulge its celebrity interviewees. And yet it’s an important film because it counters the massive amount of propaganda that flows in an equal and opposite direction (across the world, really, but especially in America), byproduct of the so-called “war on drugs”.
Young people, whether they are simply experimenting or trying to alleviate anxiety or other complex forms of mental illness, can experience an LSD high in a safe, controlled atmosphere, with friends and loved ones by their side (as more than one interviewee notes during the film, you should only consume LSD with people you are very comfortable around). The experience might lead to both short-term and long-term benefits, clinical or otherwise — or it might not. But as things stand right now, young people everywhere are clouded by a wall of shame and guilt and confusion around psychedelics, thanks to the malicious messaging conceptualised and disseminated by governments and pharma lobbies.
In this context, Have a Good Trip is a small but praiseworthy step in the right direction.
Updated Date: May 20, 2020 17:00:53 IST
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