By Matt Coker
By R. Scott Moxley
By Charles Lam
By Nick Schou
By Gustavo Arellano
By Gustavo Arellano
By Steve Lowery
By R. Scott Moxley
Once Griggs discovered Hodgson played the harmonica, he refused to let him do any actual work. While Hodgson belted out blues riffs on his mouth harp, Griggs pushed the broom, making up nonsensical lyrics to go along with the melody. It didn’t surprise Hodgson that Griggs knew a lot of people in Laguna Beach or that his friends shared Griggs’ indefatigable appetite for celestial daytime distractions. Everywhere they went, someone would pass Griggs a joint to smoke. “People kept us loaded all day long,” Hodgson says. “It was incredibly menial work, but being with John made it fun.”
Although Griggs loved to goof around while high on pot, he was serious and even evangelical in his enthusiasm for another drug that had been cooked up a few decades earlier by Albert Hofmann, a Swiss chemist with Sandoz Laboratories: lysergic acid diethylamide, or LSD, also known as acid.
Hodgson had tried LSD a few times at parties and thought of it as a rather intense recreational high, but Griggs insisted that acid was nothing less than a religious sacrament, a key that in the proper hands could unlock the mysteries of the universe. “He told me that he’d seen God while high on LSD,” Hodgson recalls. Earlier that year, Griggs explained, he and a few dozen close friends, all of whom grew up in the shadow of Disneyland in the working-class city of Anaheim, had absconded to a cluster of houses in the secluded hills of nearby Modjeska Canyon. Griggs, only 22 years old and already married with two kids, lived in a century-old stone building he called the Church. He asked Hodgson to take some LSD with him there. At first, Hodgson refused, but Griggs persisted, and eventually, Hodgson gave in.
* * *
Encircled by oak trees and perched atop a steep hill at the end of a winding dirt road in Modjeska Canyon, the Church had a screened patio in the rear that afforded a sweeping view of Saddleback Mountain, a 5,600-foot escarpment of the Cleveland National Forest named for its twin peaks that, when viewed from a distance, form the silhouette of the pommel and seat of a saddle. Beneath the porch flourished an orange grove and a vegetable garden, where Griggs and his friends grew their own food. Decorating every wall inside the stone building were portraits and representations of various deities: Jesus Christ; Buddha; a host of Hindu gods and goddesses; even snapshots of Eastern mystic teachers such as Paramahansa Yogananda, an Indian-born teacher of transcendental meditation who achieved fame in Europe and America after World War II.
Incense candles burned in imported bronze dishes, filling the house with hazy smoke and the odor of sandalwood. Stacks of metaphysical and psychedelic literature adorned the bookshelves: dog-eared copies of works by Timothy Leary, Ralph Metzner and Richard Alpert, a trio of Harvard psychology professors whom Hodgson had heard were using LSD in experiments on one another, their students, even local prison inmates—the latter in an attempt to prove that acid, when expertly administered, could reduce recidivism rates. To readers like Griggs and his friends, Leary’s just-published The Psychedelic Experience was a timely how-to manual for cosmic mind expansion. It billed itself as a translation of the ancient Tibetan Book of the Dead, a compilation of aphorisms, chants and prayers that steer Buddhist initiates toward a state of enlightenment after achieving the death of one’s ego. Griggs told Hodgson that he and his buddies from Anaheim recited it chapter and verse whenever they got high on acid, and that the book guided them in their quest for spiritual enlightenment.
Griggs and his friends, Hodgson reasoned, were willing guinea pigs in an experiment Leary didn’t even know was taking place in California. They were dropping acid and transforming themselves one trip at a time in hopes of proving Leary was correct that LSD could cure the most hardened criminal. A few of the folks at the Church were suntanned surfers with flowing locks of golden hair and sublime, spiritual dispositions, but most of them, including Griggs himself, were former heroin addicts and boozers, petty crooks, and street fighters who’d drifted in and out of juvenile hall, jail and reform school. They had nicknames such as Dark Cloud, Eddie Spaghetti, Fastie and the One-armed Bandit. “They thought of me as a soft city boy,” Hodgson recalls. “I couldn’t relate to any of them except John, who insisted I take acid with all of them.”
Following Griggs’ instructions, which he gathered were gleaned from Leary’s acid manual, Hodgson lay down on the floor of the screen porch with several strangers and closed his eyes. “We all joined hands,” he recalls. Just as Griggs had promised, what happened next changed his life forever. “It was an out-of-body experience, a religious experience,” he says. “Someone was reading from The Psychedelic Experience and making sure everyone was okay, that nobody was having a bad trip. I remember helping Christ carry a cross. I remember seeing this pierced figure bleeding and a crown of thorns and him carry a cross and me helping him. I don’t know what it meant. It blew my mind. It’s been a point of wonder all my life.”