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Full Review
Tripping: An Anthology of True-Life Psychedelic Adventures
by Charles Hayes (ed.)
Penguin Compass 
Reviewed by Mr. Bad Example, 5/9/2005

Psychonauts love to read trip reports. This is probably rooted in the same mental circuitry that fosters that connectedness and fraternity that is so evident when two or more experienced folks get in the same room together for more than, say, five minutes. The talk turns to tripping, and the stories start to flow. People who’ve walked the walk often have a heartfelt desire (a compulsion, some would argue) to share the experiences they’ve had. The reasons may be slightly different, from a want to know if others had similar experiences all the way up to the braggart who’ll yap your ear off about how St. Jerry personally lit him up with ten hits of liquid Owsley. But regardless of motivation, sharing of the psychedelic experience is, for many, part-and-parcel of the experience itself.

Reading these write-ups, however, can be an exercise in frustration for those seeking any kind of truly meaningful understanding of the psychedelic experience. Often, they’re over-blown hyperbole and touchy-feely New Age brain-sugar; at times soulless, dry-as-playa clinical analysis. That’s what makes Charles Hayes’ book, Tripping: An Anthology of True-Life Psychedelic Adventures, stand out. With over fifty or so stories of psychedelic experiences, there’s plenty here for each reader to find interesting and/or to connect with. Of course, this book fails in its own mission when on the back cover it asks, “...what is it really like to trip?” No book can truly convey the experience. But what this book does accomplish, with experiences by both the famous and the mere mortal, is to place the psychedelic state in a context that allows for a greater appreciation of its possible significance in people’s day-to-day lives.

Hayes’ compendium comes well-endorsed, with votes of confidence and back-jacket blurbs from the likes of Shulgin, Doblin and even (the now-late) Spalding Gray. But the stories are what really count, and they speak very well for themselves. The collection features a number of notable names who share what was/is an important facet of their personage: the use of psychedelics. Some openly state that they’ll never use them again, some are advocates, and some leave the question open. No one really proselytizes, and no one condemns. But almost all do one thing better than many books on the topic. The vast majority of these stories give the reader a sense of what these people did with these experiences after the psychedelic dust settled. We get to see how these trips set the course for many of their normal, waking, baseline lives. It is here that this book shines.

Many tales are, of course, laugh-out-loud funny. A number make the experienced tripper wince with a familiar “Yeah… been there!” like the tale of Rainbow Gathering attendee Jason, who was sure that the naked girl dancing in the people circle was truly his personal goddess. A fair number recount the hells that can be stumbled into, but few so horrifically as writer Stephen Kessler’s account of a weeks long acid OD that started auspiciously at the Stones’ Altamont horror show, and quickly degraded into a six-month psychosis and a year-long journey via intensive psychotherapy back towards a hopeful life. But, of course, there are also the stories of blissful experiences of pseudo-satori or of The Godhead, like the Reverend Marianne, a priest in an Orthodox church in central California who aided in an “entheogen-compatible service” in 1995 that had seventy-year-olds blissed out on E and dancing to a Hendrix-blasting boom-box. The stories run the gamut.

These are all great reads, but a few particularly stand out. Everybody’s favorite space cadet—and MDMA champion—Bruce Eisner’s recount of his mostly naked lost days at Burning Man is probably worth the admission price alone. Reading veteran war photographer Tim Page’s harrowing account of his life, and the place psychedelics not only had in it–-but in rebuilding it—should be mandatory reading for anyone who thinks acid is “just for fun”. Closing the compilation is a wonderfully candid interview with the late Terence McKenna that covers the whole of sex, drugs and rock-n-roll, plus the ending of time for good measure.

Each of these stories is well written, and the entire volume is put together by Hayes in such a way as to allow the “happy” stories to counter-balance the heavy stuff. The true grace of this book, though, becomes evident once the reader starts to see that the people sharing these stories have all been intrinsically changed by the psychedelic experience. We are allowed to see the moments in these lives where a decision was made, a direction chosen, a path started, that makes these people who they are today. For the vast majority, it was positive; for a few, hellish. But for a good number, it was not only life-changing, but life-saving. On the whole, this nicely balanced compendium of psychedelic experiences is a must-have for anyone truly interested in the power of psychedelic compounds and their ability to alter the course of a broad spectrum of lives in our society today.

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  1. Comment by Anonymous — 8/17/2005 @ 9:39 am

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