Editor’s Note: Where do philosophy, LSD, and AA-style recovery meet? Journalist Don Lattin explores the nexus in his latest book, Distilled Spirits: Getting High, Then Sober, with a Famous Writer, a Forgotten Philosopher, and a Hopeless Drunk (University of California Press, 2012). His bestseller, The Harvard Psychedelic Club: How Timothy Leary, Ram Dass, Huston Smith, and Andrew Weil Killed the Fifties and Ushered in a New Age for America (HarperOne, 2010), garnered high critical praise. The “redemptive power of storytelling and the strength of fellowship,” Lattin observes below, were two of the lessons learned from writing this new book. Bill W.’s experimentation with LSD offers a suggestive historical interface between Wilson’s personal struggle with alcoholism and the drug culture of the Sixties. Points warmly welcomes Lattin to its growing cache of book author interviewees. BTW, “distilled spirits” — get it?
Describe your book in terms your bartender could understand.
The first thing my bartender would say to me is, “Dude! Where have you been?” You see, I’ve been clean and sober for 6+ years now and the two people I’ve seen the least are my bartender and my coke dealer. But I’d tell Joe, the bartender at the Tempest, the newspaper bar in San Francisco, that I’ve been busy writing a memoir about my misadventures as a religion reporter who spent too much of his life worshipping at the altar of drugs and alcohol. No, I’d tell Joe Distilled Spirits is not just another recovery memoir. I tried to do something different. I weave my own story into a group biography of three visionaries whose life work and long friendship helped transformed the landscape of Western spirituality. The subtitle of my book is a mouthful — Getting High, Then Sober with a Famous Writer, a Forgotten Philosopher and a Hopeless Drunk. The famous writer is Aldous Huxley, who wrote a book called The Doors of Perception, which inspired me and countless others in my generation to search for the face of God in a tab of acid. The forgotten philosopher is Gerald Heard, who you never heard of but who is the secret Godfather of the New Age movement. The hopeless drunk is Bill Wilson, the cofounder of Alcoholics Anonymous, who did lots of LSD in the 1950s, twenty years after he got sober. That’s right, Joe, the guy who started AA was an acid head.