The first issue of Rolling Stone to bop me between the eyes at the newsstand bore a black border on the cover. It framed an obituary portrait of the guitarist Jimi Hendrix, the quantum mechanic of psychedelic rock, who had died of an overdose of barbiturates or sleeping pills at the age of twenty-seven, an early extinguishing more befitting a Romantic poet. The next issue of Rolling Stone also carried a black border, this one memorializing the blues rocker Janis Joplin, the queen of husky catarrh, whose death mirrored Hendrix’s: overdose at age twenty-seven. It was 1970, and a scant three years after the Summer of Love the counterculture was filling the coffins.
Founded in 1967, based in San Francisco, Rolling Stone was in the hairy thick of the tribal youth tumult, reporting on hippie hedonism, radical protest, and, in a notorious cover story, the floating seraglio of rock groupies whose thrift-shop splendor and Twiggy eyelashes made them style icons for those seeking backstage passes. But other publications were also bumming it to Haight-Ashbury and rolling around in “dope, sex, and cheap thrills.” It was in its formal expressions of generational mourning, its neo-Victorian decorum in honoring its fallen heroes, that Rolling Stone found stature and distinguished itself from the kaleidoscopic collage of underground papers and New Left organs on the news racks. Addressing a national audience instead of just a fervent sect, Rolling Stone made itself the designated mourner of rock royalty, the grief counselor of Woodstock Nation, and keeper of the tablets. A year later, Jim Morrison of the Doors would be framed in a black border on the cover, the Lizard King having reached the fatal cut-off age of twenty-seven.
I’ll begin by getting something out of the way: I have no clear and easy tricks for a happier, healthier you. I have no instant remedies for sluggishness, or shyness, or social discomfort. I possess no secrets to success. My morning routine, which I am not suggesting you imitate, can be summarized as (1) Wake up. (2) Hurry.
But in writing my book Asking For a Friend, I researched the stories of 16 people who made their names, and sometimes their fortunes, by telling people what to do. They are all professional advice-givers, and they have been answering Americans’ thorniest, most intimate questions since before the country was founded.
The story of Slater’s attempts to get and stay well weaves throughout “Blue Dreams: The Science and the Story of the Drugs That Changed Our Minds” and provides some of the book’s most poignant and lyrical writing. Just as important, her experience makes her a convincing travel guide into the history, creation and future of psychotropics. She is, understandably, not an uncritical cheerleader. But she resists the facile role of hard-charging prosecutor. And no wonder, really, given that the drugs have allowed her to have two children, write nine books, marry (and divorce) and hold dear friendships.
This isn’t another chapter in that old story about how we ate badly until fill-in-the-blank came along and revolutionized American dining. This is a story about a world in which there were no avocados until David Fairchild mailed some home, about a strange and meager period in our past in which no one had eaten a zucchini.