Steve Jobs and … Owsley Stanley?

March 19, 2011, 10:40 AM UTC

A New York Times op-ed piece strains to make a connection

Stanley at his 1967 arraignment for LSD possession. Photo: San Francisco Chronicle

It’s true that John Markoff’s What the Dormouse Said (Penguin, 2005) quotes Steve Jobs as saying that taking LSD was “one of the two or three most important things he has done in his life.”

And it’s true that Augustus Owsley Stanley III, who died in a car accident last Sunday in Australia at age 76, manufactured and sold more than 1.25 million doses of high-quality lysergic acid diethylamide before the U.S. criminalized the hallucinogenic drug in 1968.

But to suggest that Owsley was the Steve Jobs of LSD, as Michael Walker does in Saturday’s
New York Times
, seems a bit much.

On the paper’s op-ed page, Walker, the author of Laurel Canyon: The Inside Story of Rock ‘n’ Roll’s Legendary Neighborhood (Faber & Faber, 2010) draws several comparisons between Apple’s (AAPL) co-founder and LSD’s most famous underground manufacturer:

  • “Like Mr. Jobs, Mr. Stanley was fanatical about quality control. He refused to put his LSD on pieces of paper — so-called blotter acid — because, Mr. Stanley maintained, it degraded the potency. ‘I abhor the practice,’ he declared.
  • “And like Mr. Jobs’s mandate for creating products he deems ‘insanely great,’ Mr. Stanley’s perfectionism had the effect of raising standards across an industry — or in this case, a culture. He became a patron of the Grateful Dead and helped transform them from inchoate noodlers into the house band for a generation.
  • “Among the movement’s many avenging nerds, Mr. Jobs alone epitomizes Mr. Stanley’s unhinged originality and anarchical spirit — before founding Apple, Mr. Jobs and his partner, Steve Wozniak, sold illegal ‘blue boxes’ that allowed free long-distance calls and later proselytized so persuasively about the latest Apple gizmo that he was said to project a ‘reality distortion field.'”

Owsley Stanley, Walker concludes, “knew a thing or two about that.”

You can read Walker’s “Electric Kool-Aid Marketing Trip” essay here.

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[Follow Philip Elmer-DeWitt on Twitter @philiped]