Nick Schou Scores "Orange Sunshine"
By Matt Coker
Mar. 16 2010
Nick Schou sits one cubicle away from mine at OC Weekly. And yet, I
interviewed him about his new book, Orange Sunshine: The Brotherhood
of Eternal Love and Its Quest to Spread Peace, Love, and Acid to the
World, from my home while he was on the road to his home in Long Beach.
Complicating matters was the fact that I can't make long distance
calls from my land line, my cell phone is shut off and Schou's cell
cut out a couple times. And made weird beeping noises. Or maybe that
was the "L" talking.
Anyhoots, the shameless promotion of my colleague's second book
(2006's Kill the Messenger: How the CIA's Crack-Cocaine Controversy
Destroyed Journalist Gary Webb being the first) is dealt to my
bruthers and sistahs the same day Orange Sunshine hits store shelves. Dig it!
CLOCKWORK: So, Nick, what's your book about?
NICK SCHOU: It's about the Brotherhood of Eternal Love, a group of
streetwise surfers from Orange County who . . . you know, I emailed a
blurb to Gustavo. What I wrote down is better than anything I can say
about the book.
THE BLURB: Orange Sunshine: The Brotherhood of Eternal Love and its
Quest to Spread Peace, Love and Acid to the World, by OC Weekly's
Nick Schou, is the true story of the best-kept secret of the 1960s:
the Brotherhood of Eternal Love. Dubbed the "Hippie Mafia," the
Brotherhood began in the mid-1960s as a small band of peace-loving,
adventure-seeking surfers in Southern California. After discovering
LSD, they took to Timothy Leary's mantra of "Turn on, tune in, and
drop out" and resolved to make that vision a reality by becoming the
biggest group of acid dealers and hashish smugglers in the nation,
and literally providing the fuel for the psychedelic revolution in
the process. Journalist Schou takes us deep inside the Brotherhood,
combining exclusive interviews with both the group's surviving
members as well as the cops who chased them. A wide-sweeping
narrative of sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll (and more drugs) that runs
from Laguna Beach to Maui to Afghanistan, Orange Sunshine explores
how America moved from the era of peace and free love into a darker
time of hard drugs and paranoia. Kirkus Review hails the book as "a
fascinating read for any audience and essential reading for anyone
interested in the roots of psychedelia."
So, Nick, what gave you the idea to write this book?
Basically, we ran a story in 1999 or 2000, "Laguna on Acid" by Bob
Emmers, about a big Christmas concert, and deep in the article it
mentioned this little-known group of surfers dropped acid onto the
show from a plane. That led to the idea to track those people down
for a feature story. But no one from the Brotherhood talked to me
until I was writing the book. This solves one of the last remaining
mysteries of the 1960s: Who were they, and what were they trying to do?
So, how many of those people were you able to talk to?
From the Brotherhood?
The original Brotherhood was only about a dozen people. I talked with
maybe half of them. A whole bunch have died off in the last few
years, so it was a sort of a now or never kind of situation. Guys in
the Brotherhood realized they are getting to the point where no one
really will be able to remember what happened. So, I talked with
about six or seven in the original group and a whole bunch of other
people who were part of their tribe as it picked up speed in Laguna.
I also talked with the main players on the law enforcement side of
the story, including the cop who busted Leary in Laguna Beach and the
DEA agent who captured Leary after he was busted out of prison in
California, as he was getting on a plane in Afghanistan. Kabul.
Was Leary in the Brotherhood?
Naw, not really. They read his books. These were street guys from
Anaheim who, after reading The Psychedelic Experience--the same book
that inspired John Lennon to write "Tomorrow Never Knows"--it changed
their lives. They looked up to Leary and lured him to California to
be their spiritual advisor. But Leary called John Griggs, the most
influential member of the Brotherhood, his spiritual guru. Leary
actually looked up to Griggs, who was a wild guy with mystical powers
of persuasion, as it were.
Did you have to go to any strange lengths to report out this story?
Yes, in the foreword I write about how I had to hike a mile up a
really remote slope in Maui to talk to a Buddhist hermit who was able
get me an interview with Ram Dass, Leary's Harvard philosophy
colleague and acid researcher. Another time, I had to play guitar
with a Brotherhood smuggler who has a cable access television show in
Did he like your playing?
Yeah, he liked it a lot. He wouldn't let me interview him unless I
went on his show. Another guy, shortly after I interviewed him, spent
eight months in jail for a massive marijuana growing operation.
So, how were you able to do all this and write the book given your
busy OC Weekly schedule?
Well, basically, a lot of the reporting was stretched out over the
five years from when I first reported on the Brotherhood. I took
three months off to write the book. For interviews, I'd basically
drive up to Northern California on weekends, or the Inland Empire or
down to Laguna Beach in my off hours. I tried to go to as many places
where story took place as I could. It wasn't really a sacrifice to go
to Maui. One big part of the Brotherhood story took place in
Kandahar. That's where they got their hash from, the pipeline to
Laguna Beach. One guy mentioned that from the time he got arrested
for a pot growing operation in the '90s until Sept. 11 , he had
a surf resort in Mexico called Playa Kandahar. It was an inside joke.
Then, after 9-11, business went down.
Here's a cliché question: What do you hope readers get from the book?
Well, I think it will be interesting to anyone who was alive back
then. They'll realize the Brotherhood played a very important role in
the changes that would happen. I think also the relatively young
readers today will see that most of what they were doing then are
mainstream American values now, at least among the enlightened part
of society. Marijuana is almost legal. That's what they were really
about. And acid. But I think it shows that, in some ways, it's a very
tragic story. These guys really tried to change the world in five
years. Instead, the world changed them. Something very ideal turned
into something more cynical. They were declared the first real enemy
in the so-called "War on Drugs." You think of them and then see the
kind of violence on the border [thanks to Mexican drug cartels], and
it's pretty clear these were not the bad guys cops made them out to
be, when they were called the "hippie mafia."
Tell me more about what younger readers might get from this.
It will just blow their minds. I think young people today think
America is still very divided, the two Americas that is still talked
about all the time. But in the '60s, it was way more divided than the
way it is now. It's important to realize that and learn a lot from
that decade. It was more complicated than it's been made out to be.
Yes, Leary is the one who said, "Turn on, tune in, and drop out." But
he also wrote a book titled, I've Got America Surrounded, who wanted
to run for governor of California so he could ban football and make
baseball the national sport, and even get rid of all money and shift
to a barter system. And he also wanted to legalize drugs. You know
who he was beaten by?