- A Conversation with Ed Rosenfeld
LSD, Psychedelics, 1960s, New York, Lower East Side, Counter-culture, Psychedelic Spirituality, Sacrament, Timothy Leary, Art Kleps
Ed Rosenfeld (born in 1943) lived through the 1960s and was a key witness in the history of New York’s psychedelic subculture. In the early part of the decade, he experimented with several psychedelics and founded the Natural Church to use these substances in a spiritual setting, hoping to set a legal precedent. He has established literary collaborations with such figures as Ken Kesey, Buckminster Fuller, Alex Trocchi, and Paul Krassner, and he has written on topics like computer science, Gestalt therapy, and altered states of consciousness. He met Timothy Leary and other important players in the psychedelic movement. More recently, he has cowritten, with the poet and multimedia artist Gerd Stern, a psychedelic opera called LSD: The Opera, which loosely chronicles the discovery of LSD and the Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA’s) subsequent involvement with LSD. The following interview, which was conducted on 4 April 2013, offers new and important material on the social history of LSD and psychedelics, through the eyes of an early psychedelic drug user who was involved in the psychedelic scene on the Lower East Side of New York City.
Ed, my first question to you is: when did you come across LSD and major psychedelics? Can you remember that? [End Page 149]
Probably by reading about it in Robert de Ropp and other sources. De Ropp’s Drugs and the Mind I remember being a seminal book and we were very excited. But I had heard about things like it before then. I’d heard about peyote, just anecdotally from people that I knew. So now we’re going into the late fifties in New York City. We all smoked grass. People talked about magic mushrooms because there was this Life magazine article. But nobody had any magic mushrooms at that point, at least around 1957–58.
My understanding is that peyote was very available in New York.
As a matter of fact, I ordered a box of 200 buttons from Lawson’s Cactus Gardens in San Antonio, Texas. And I kept them in my closet in my bedroom in my mother’s apartment.
This was in?
Probably 1959 or 1960. I don’t really remember the exact date. But it was available. It was simple. It was like ordering seeds for planting flowers.
And this was over here in New York, then?
I was living in New York City. I was born and raised here. Living on the Upper West Side, where I still have an apartment. I don’t remember the first time I really heard about LSD, but somebody had some. I was born in 1943, so it was when I was like 17 or 18. A girlfriend and I tried it. And I liked it. At that point, I think I had probably already done the peyote and the LSD seemed somewhat different.
So this would be early 1960s, right?
No, this is late fifties probably. I was born in 1943, so this is 1959, maybe 1960, 1961.
OK. It’s interesting because as I understand it, LSD use was a lot more widespread in the latter part of the decade. [End Page 150]
Absolutely. We were—I mean, there were very few people who were talking about this. There was a little coterie of people who were interested in exotic drugs. And I remember the de Ropp book in particular being one that my friends and I talked about and referenced and read, because that seemed to be the only basis for authentic information. None of us did a lot of scholarly research about psychedelics at that point.
Huxley? Did you read Huxley?
Yes. Eventually, I got my hands on—I guess it was one edition of the Doors of Perception and Heaven and Hell in paperback. Read that and I was very intrigued. The folds in the trousers and Vermeer and so forth.
Did you think it was influential for you?