In his new book, the Weekly's Nick Schou tells the tale of the
Brotherhood of Eternal Love, OC's notorious 'Hippie Mafia'
By NICK SCHOU
Mar 18 2010
Steve Hodgson never forgot the mischievous grin on his new
co-worker's face, a crooked smile that seemed totally at odds with
his flashing blue eyes centered within raccoon-like rings that evoked
a world-weary wisdom beyond the stranger's years. John Griggs was a
wiry, well-groomed man who, from a distance, appeared normal enough,
dressed as he was in the white polo shirt, khaki shorts and tennis
shoes that formed the standard uniform of Laguna Beach's
parks-and-recreation department. But upon close inspection, nothing
could disguise the fact that there was something different, something
askew about him. "He had a somewhat-broken face, and it was just
imprinted with this grin, a smile so large it was threatening to
shatter his face," Hodgson recalls. "His eyes were just beaming, and
I didn't know what he was smiling about."
Hodgson, a soft-spoken, introverted film student who grew up in
Pasadena, was crashing at his aunt's house in Laguna Beach during the
summer of 1966, sweeping stairs and emptying trash bins for the city.
He'd taken the minimum-wage job so he could earn a few extra bucks
while he waited for the fall semester to start at the University of
Colorado. He clocked his time for the city during the day, and in the
evenings, he made a ritual of kicking back on the bluff to watch the sun set.
He couldn't imagine a better place in the world to hang out all
summer than Laguna Beach. Hodgson considered himself a gypsy of
sorts, intellectually speaking at least, and this town was the
genuine bohemian article, a half-hidden enclave of painters, poets
and musicians bursting with creative energy and blissfully segregated
from the rest of Orange County, California's burgeoning suburbia, by
a fortress-like ring of craggy hills and canyons. With a dramatic
coastline, scenic bluffs and rocky coves, Laguna Beach had long
played host to artists, most famously Plein Air Movement painters
such as Edgar Payne and William Wendt. In decades past, the sleepy
artists' colony served as a weekend retreat for Hollywood film stars
such as Charlie Chaplin, Bette Davis, Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland.
By now, however, Laguna Beach had been transformed into a bustling
resort town, teeming with art galleries and cultural celebrations,
often held at an outdoor auditorium at the base of Laguna Canyon,
where the local aristocrats hosted their beloved Pageant of the
Masters, a quasi-feudal ritual in which local residents dressed up in
costumes and re-enacted famous paintings, including Emanuel Leutze's
Washington Crossing the Delaware and Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper.
An avuncular World War I veteran named Eiler Larsenalways dressed in
a rumpled suit, with long gray hair and a flowing beard, known to
everyone simply as "the Greeter"would wander up and down Pacific
Coast Highway, cane in hand, calling, "Hello, there" and affably
waving at tourists as they drove into town.
Hodgson and another city worker were parked in their dump truck next
to a row of trash cans at the top of a flight of wooden stairs that
led down to a secluded beach when Griggs approached them, introduced
himself as a newly minted trash collector, pulled a cigar-size joint
from his pocket and stuck it in his mouth.
"You guys smoke?" he asked.
"Yeah," Hodgson answered.
Griggs jumped in the truck, they rolled up the windows, and, a few
seconds later, Hodgson got high on the job. As he drove south along
the highway to the city dump, Griggs, sitting in the passenger seat,
suddenly rolled down his window. "I'm driving this truck in traffic,
cars are everywhere, and John is leaning out the window as far as he
could reach," Hodgson recalls. "And I'm leaning over trying to pull
him back in, and he's just waving at everyone, yelling, 'Hello!
Hello! I love you! I love you!' and embarrassing the shit out of us."
The next morning, Hodgson's boss, a burly ex-barber, called him and
Griggs into the office. "You guys been drinking on the job?" he barked.
"No, no, no," Hodgson insisted.
"Well, let me smell your breath. I've been getting all these phone
calls about someone driving one of my trucks all over town saying he
Hodgson feigned bewildered ignorance, delighted at the realization
that what had begun as a menial summer job had unexpectedly been
transformed into a mind-altering adventure.
"John just turned you on by his presence," Hodgson explains. "If you
couldn't stand it, you'd be out of that truck in five minutes. He was
one of the most powerful people I've ever met in my life. He was just
there, just open and eager to see you and relate to you only. Like
you're the only one in the room when he's talking to you. I don't
think anybody could meet John for more than 10 minutes and walk away
with the same skin on they had when they met him. He'd melt you down
and put you back together and make you feel love, make you feel great."
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
inmatesthe 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."
* * *
At the end of the summer, Hodgson left Laguna Beach and returned to
Colorado, where, inspired by the visions he'd experienced at the
Church, he set about making a documentary about LSD. He hoped to
interview Leary, Metzner and Alpert, who had been kicked out of
Harvard for refusing to stop their LSD research. At a Sept. 19, 1966,
press conference in New York City, Leary famously commanded everyone
on the planet to "turn on, tune in and drop out." The trio had also
established a commune at the Millbrook, New York, mansion of William
Hitchcock, the son of a millionaire oil magnate whom Leary befriended
while at Harvard. A procession of beatnik luminaries such as Allen
Ginsberg and Ken Kesey, plus jazz musicians such as Thelonious Monk
and Charles Mingus, dropped by Millbrook in a never-ending parade of
LSD-popping poets, socialites and protohippies.
One day, Hodgson showed up with his camera crew. "Leary welcomed us
and gave us a tour and befriended me like a great friend," Hodgson
recalls. "He wanted us to come into town the next day where he was
giving a lecture on The Psychedelic Experience in New York City."
Hodgson filmed the lecture, and Leary asked him if he wouldn't mind
driving an ancient-looking Indian swami, a guest of his at Millbrook,
back to the estate. "'Just don't let him stop at a liquor store,'"
Hodgson says Leary warned. "They had to keep tabs on this swami
because he liked to drink a lot. And sure enough, when he got in the
car, the first words out of his mouth were 'Could we stop at a liquor
After dropping off the alcohol-addled swami, Hodgson said goodbye to
Leary and flew back to Laguna Beach to find Griggs, whom he regaled
with tales of the defrocked Harvard professor. He asked his old
friend if it'd be okay to take a few shots of the Church to use in
the film. When he heard that Leary was onboard with the project,
Griggs beamed with excitement and granted Hodgson his wish, giving
him free rein to film whatever he wanted at the Modjeska Canyon
house. Hodgson felt protective of Griggs and resolved to shoot only a
few scenes that didn't include closeups of anybody's faces. "As I was
packing up, Griggs took me into the living room," Hodgson recalls.
"And on the mantel of the fireplace was an open bowl, 14 inches
across and 10 inches deep, full of 100 microgram capsules of LSD."
Griggs reached into the bowl with both hands and began to dump
fistfuls of acid into Hodgson's rucksack. "Do me a favor," Hodgson
says Griggs said. "Go turn on the East Coast."
* * *
Hodgson never saw Griggs again, and his documentary would never be
completed. He returned to New York and distributed Griggs' acid to
everyone he knew. Then someone broke into his apartment and stole his
film. In the previous few days, he'd received several telephone calls
from the FBI, asking to see his footage. After the break-in, an agent
hauled him into a field office, strip-searched him and interrogated
him about Leary. Hodgson, who had finished college and was now
eligible to be drafted for service in Vietnam, fled to Canada, where
he remains today, 40 years later. He soon heard that Griggs and his
friends in Modjeska Canyon had moved to Laguna Beach and helped usher
in a flowering hippie scene that established the city as a Southern
California version of Haight-Ashbury, luring countless flower
children to overrun the resort town and fill its beaches, coves and
canyons with the scent of marijuana and hashish and the wild sounds
of the latest psychedelic-rock albums.
Griggs would eventually lure Leary himself to Laguna Beach.
Within days of his arrival, Leary was telling anyone who asked that
Griggs was not only his good friend, but also his "spiritual guru"
and "the holiest man who has ever lived in this country." But Griggs
was far more than Leary's guru. He had his own legally registered
church and used its tax-exempt status to establish Mystic Arts World,
a metaphysical bookstore, hippie boutique and head shop on PCH.
Through the store, Griggs and his friends helped transform Laguna
Beach into the epicenter of Southern California's acid scene, where
teenagers from as far away as San Diego and Glendale knew they could
find the most-powerful LSD anyone had to offer.
Griggs and his friends ran the biggest marijuana- and
hashish-smuggling network in the United States. Each week, their cars
and trucks, outfitted with special stash holes or carrying
hollowed-out surfboards, crossed the border from Mexico and made
their way to Laguna Canyon and a warren of clapboard houses and log
cabins on Woodland Drive. The neighborhood became known as "Dodge
City" because of the frequent police raids that took place there, a
surreal skirmish with the local forces of law and order that did
little to stop the flow of illicit drugs into and out of Laguna
Beach. Also at Griggs' command was an even bigger fleet of
vehiclesVolkswagen buses, campers, Porsches and Land Rovers
purchased in Europe and driven east, then sent home on container
ships from India and Pakistan, laden with tons of hashish purchased
in the exotic bazaars of Katmandu and Kandahar.
Griggs and his friends weren't just hash smugglers; they were also
America's largest LSD-distribution ring, complete with mobile
laboratories that always managed to stay one step ahead of the police
and federal drug agents who constantly, but with scant success,
chased after them. Their exploits, beginning well before San
Francisco's so-called Summer of Love introduced the world to hippies
in 1967 and stretching over the next several years, most famously
included springing Leary from prison with the help of the Black
Panthers and the Weathermen. They would eventually lead to the
creation of a multi-agency task force that formed the first legion in
America's global war on drugs, carrying out arrests from Orange
County to Oregon; Hawaii; even Kabul, Afghanistan. The raids netted
dozens of suspects and sent an equal number underground, scattering
around the globe in pursuit of an outlaw life that would, in some
cases, last decades.
By then, Griggs and his cohorts had turned on countless young people
with their own brand of cosmic, mind-expanding, highly powerful LSD:
Orange Sunshine, which would find its way to Grateful Dead concerts
and love-ins up and down the coast of California, and then to hippie
communes and cities across the country and beyond.
Charles Manson and his followers would get high on Orange Sunshine.
So would the Hells Angels and the unruly audience at the Altamont
Music Festival. During a three-day happening in Laguna Beacha
riotous, apocalyptic birthday party for Jesus Christ that began on
Christmas Day 1970a cargo plane would drop a full load of gray cards
over a crowd of 25,000 concertgoers in Laguna Canyon, just up the
hill from Dodge City. Each card included a tab of Orange Sunshine.
That year, the FBI estimated, Orange Sunshine was being manufactured
by hundreds of pill presses stashed in various houses across the
country, and federal drug agents traced the acid's spread to such
far-flung locales as London, Bangkok and Sydney.
Just as Leary was enticed by Griggs to join his cause, so was Jimi
Hendrix, who starred in a movie that paid tribute to the
hash-smuggling exploits of Griggs' cohorts. On a windy summer day in
July 1970, the world-famous musician even played a private concert
for a band of Laguna Beach smugglers and their surfing pals in a cow
pasture high on the slope of Haleakala, a 10,000-foot volcano on
Maui. The concert took place there because several of Griggs' foot
soldiers had just escaped to Maui from the increasing heat in Dodge
City on a 25-foot yacht loaded with 6,000 pounds of Mexican potthe
cultivars of which would become the legendary "Maui Wowie"and
arrived in the tropics like conquering warriors in a royal canoe.
Griggs and the rest of his crew were psychedelic warriors who had
turned on with acid and tuned in to a newfound sense of spiritual
purpose. Instead of dropping out of society, they created their own
version of it, one that they hoped to single-handedly spread through
their entire generation. Their goal: turn on the entire world. First
the police and later Rolling Stone magazine would brand them the
"Hippie Mafia." They called themselves the Brotherhood of Eternal
Love. The book Orange Sunshine is their story.
To read Nick Schou's previous stories about the Brotherhood, please
go to ocweekly.com. Nick will sign copies of Orange Sunshine: The
Brotherhood of Eternal Love and Its Quest to Spread Peace, Love, and
Acid to the World at Latitude 33 Bookshop, 311 Ocean Ave., Laguna
Beach, (949) 494-5403; www.latitude33bookshop.com. April 10, 5 p.m.
This excerpt appeared in print as "Orange Sunshine: In 1966, a young
film student met John Griggs, the man the rest of the world would
come to know as the leader of the Brotherhood of Eternal Love."
Lords of Acid
July 7, 2005
Nick Schou Scores "Orange Sunshine"
March 16, 2010
Mike Hynson, Co-Star of 'The Endless Summer,' Resurfaces With Tales
of the Brotherhood
July 9, 2009
How the Brotherhood of Eternal Love Is Connected to the Weather
Underground Via the Black Panthers
September 17, 2009
Distant Karma Catches Up With the Brotherhood's Brenice Lee Smith
December 10, 2009