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Event Series Event Series: GSAPS Psychedelic Book Club

GSAPS Psychedelic Book Club (July 31) – Heads: A Biography of Psychedelic America

July 31, 2023 @ 5:00 pm 6:30 pm PDT

Welcome to the GSAPS Psychedelic Book Club!

Please join us on Monday, July 31st, from 5pm-6:30pm Pacific Daylight Time (PDT) | 8pm-9:30pm Eastern Standard Time (EST).

Featured reading for July 31, 2023

Heads: A Biography of Psychedelic America

  • Jarnow, Jesse. Heads: A biography of psychedelic America. Hachette UK, 2016. (Amazon) (Audible)


Jarnow is a rock journalist whose writing has been published by Rolling StonePitchforkWired, and the Village Voice. He began his career writing about the Grateful Dead for Dupree’s Diamond News. Jarnow spent nearly a decade researching Heads: A Biography of Psychedelic America. Some of the book’s material was published in earlier articles for magazines like Wired and Relix.

Heads” relies heavily on firsthand interviews. Interview subjects include sociologist Rebecca Adams, photographer Jay Blakesberg, musician and journalist David Gans, Karen Horning, journalist Blair Jackson, musician Ned Lagin, Carol Latvala (wife of Dick Latvala), LSD chemist Sarah Matzar, LSD historian Mark McCloud, Grateful Dead publicist Dennis McNally, artist Jim Pollock, taper Doug Oade, Earth and Fire of Erowid, musician Lee Ranaldo, LSD chemist Tim Scully, concert promoter Peter Shapiro, Rhoney Stanley (wife of Owsley Stanley), and many more.


Heads” analyzes American psychedelic counterculture and its effects on mainstream American society. Jarnow describes the Grateful Dead and their concerts as a kind of loosely organized infrastructure for American counterculture, detailing how the band and their fans were inextricably linked to LSD distribution from the 1960s through the 1990s.

In addition to the Grateful Dead’s longstanding connection with LSD chemist and sound engineer Owsley Stanley, Jarnow describes how Grateful Dead concerts served as a meeting point and social network for high-level LSD dealers like Karen Horning and chemists like Sarah Matzer and William Leonard Pickard. The book also discusses how the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration targeted LSD-trafficking Deadheads in the 1980s and 1990s.

The book also examines the influence of LSD and other psychedelics on diverse fields of American culture, especially technology, and Silicon Valley. Jarnow describes the psychedelic use of Apple Computers founders Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak and how early Internet technology like ARPANET was used for countercultural purposes.

Heads” also examines how LSD and the Grateful Dead impacted the art world, influencing the New York graffiti clique Rolling Thunder Writers and artist Keith Haring. Jarnow reports that Keith Haring’s first commercially available work was a T-shirt Haring designed to sell in the parking lot of Grateful Dead shows.

Heads” also offers a history of the Grateful Dead’s fans, known as Deadheads. The book presents biographic information about the band’s archivist Dick Latvala, the network of Grateful Dead tape trading, and the history of concert promoter Johnny Dwork and the Hampshire College Grateful Dead Historical Society.

In its attempt to cover a range of central narratives within American counterculture and the hippie scene, the book presents histories of the Bread and Puppet Theater, the American jam-band Phish, Wetlands Preserve, John Perry Barlow, and the Electronic Freedom Foundation, psychedelic pioneer Terence McKenna, and Humbead’s Revised Map of the World.


Heads: A Biography of Psychedelic America received significant mainstream coverage and generally favorable reviews.

Hua Hsu of The New Yorker described the book as “meticulously researched” and praised Jarnow for his “attempt to complicate and extend the history of psychoactive drugs in this country.”

Writing for SFGate, Steve Silberman praised the book for its novel approach to psychedelic counterculture: “rather than giving more screen time to overhyped blowhards such as [Timothy] Leary, Jarnow refreshingly focuses on the overlooked foot-soldiers of the lysergic revolution.” Silberman described the “most regrettable oversight” as “Jarnow’s failure to explore the Afrofuturist movement and other aspects of [BIPOC] psychedelia.”

Kirkus Reviews commended the book’s depth of research: “Jarnow has a bloodhound’s sense of the marrow of an argument and the meat of historical fact.” Kirkus questioned some of Jarnow’s conclusions about the influence of psychedelic culture while reiterating the book’s writing style and entertaining history: “Though Jarnow is sometimes unduly celebratory and sometimes begs credulity—is the fact that we use emoji on our mobile phones really evidence that the psychedelic revolution carried the day?—his book is a lot of fun to read, and it absorbs its own weight in excess reality.”

Upcoming Reading

August 18, 2023

  • McKenna, Terence. True Hallucinations: Being an Account of the Author’s Extraordinary Adventures in the Devil’s Paradise. Harper Collins, 1994. (Amazon) (Audible)

September 15, 2023

  • Davis, Erik. High weirdness: Drugs, esoterica, and visionary experience in the seventies. MIT Press, 2019. (Amazon) (Audible)

October 20, 2023

  • Hatsis, Thomas. The Witches’ Ointment: The Secret History of Psychedelic Magic. Simon and Schuster, 2015. (Amazon) (Audible)

November 17, 2023

  • Holland, Julie. Good chemistry: the science of connection, from soul to psychedelics. HarperCollins, 2020 (Amazon) (Audible)

December 15, 2023

  • Muraresku, Brian C. The Immortality Key: The Secret History of the Religion with No Name. St. Martin’s Press, 2020. (Amazon) (Audible)

January 19, 2024

  • Leary, Timothy, Richard Alpert, and Ralph Metzner. The psychedelic experience: A manual based on the Tibetan book of the dead. Citadel, 2022. (Amazon) (Audible)

February 16, 2024

  • Shulgin, Alexander Theodore, and Ann Shulgin. PIHKAL: a chemical love story. Berkeley: Transform Press, 1995. (Amazon) (Audible)

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