Skip to content

“Alice D. Millionaire” — Grateful Dead

March 20, 2011

Augustus Owsley Stanley III’s long, strange trip came to an abrupt end on March 13th when he died in a car crash in Queensland, Australia. 

Although he wasn’t a musician, “Bear” loomed large in the West Coast music scene of the late 1960’s.    

Owsley, with artist Bob Thomas, designed the Dead's distinctive logo

If you aren’t familiar with him, the LA Times obituary provides an adequate bio of this unique character: http://www.latimes.com/news/obituaries/la-me-owsley-stanley-20110315,0,3733346.story.

Despite his multi-faceted career, Owsley will always be notorious as a psychedelic brand name.  The obit neglects to point out that LSD was legal in California when he started manufacturing it—it didn’t become illegal until October 6, 1966.1 

This, however, is a music blog, so let’s move ahead to February 2, 1967, when the Grateful Dead recorded “Alice D. Millionaire.”2  The song’s title is a pun inspired by several newspaper headlines that referred to Owsley as an “LSD Millionaire.”3

Turn on your lava lamp and groove to “Alice D. Millionaire.”

If you’d heard this song on the radio, you probably would have thought that the title was “No Time to Cry.”  But you wouldn’t have heard it during the Summer of Love—although the song was recorded during the sessions for their first album (The Grateful Dead), it was not included on the initial release of that record.  In fact, “Alice D. Millionaire” was not commercially released until 2001—on a 12-CD box set of early Grateful Dead recordings called The Golden Road.

This song reminds me of a different box set—Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era.  The Nuggets compilation is a favorite of mine—a treasure-trove of “garage rock” singles recorded between 1965 and 1968.  I think “Alice D. Millionaire” would fit nicely on Disc 2—perhaps just after “Time Won’t Let Me” by The Outsiders.

Lyrically, the song begins with a typical adolescent gossip drama:

“You say you’re living in a world of trouble.
All your schemes have popped like a bubble.
Your mother told your sister and your brother told your friend.
Now your secret’s out and you don’t have to pretend.
You can see for yourself, it’s really not the end.
You’re standing there with tears in your eyes,
There’s too much going on now, there’s no time to cry.”4

By the end, however, the “too much going on now” is happening in a distinctly altered state:

“Your yesterdays are all left behind.
There’s a brand new light in your mind.
You don’t need a key to define
What’s written on the magic sign.
There’s no time to cry.
When the season of the magic lantern
Is transformed into a funny pattern,
And the wheel of fortune has a flat tire.
You can’t seem to get any higher.”5

Even so, why call this song “Alice D. Millionaire”?  Maybe it was a sort of “shout out” to their benefactor—at the time, Owsley was playing Lorenzo de’ Medici to the Dead’s Michelangelo—or maybe it was just acid-inspired whimsy. 

I also don’t know why the song was left off The Grateful Dead— maybe someone at Warner Brothers figured out the title—but a remastered version of the album, released in 2003, included it as a “bonus track.”

In that same spirit, I’ll include a few Owsley-related “bonus tracks” for your listening pleasure: 

Owsley clearly inspired Steely Dan’s song “Kid Charlemagne” on the album The Royal Scam.

It’s a great song—Larry Carlton’s guitar solo is particularly cool—but unlike Kid Charlemagne, who winds up a paranoid anachronism, Owsley (while certainly eccentric) reinvented himself several times after his days as a “chemical engineer.”

On the Mothers of Invention’s brilliant (and often hilarious) album We’re Only In It For The Money, Frank Zappa “simultaneously skewered the hippies and the straights as prisoners of the same narrow-minded, superficial phoniness.”6

In the song “Who Needs the Peace Corp?” the clueless protagonist describes his plan for dropping out, which includes a direct reference to Owsley.

Last but certainly not least, Jimi Hendrix gave Owsley a literal “shout out” (“Oh, Owsley, can you hear me now?”—an acidhead precursor of a Verizon commercial?) at the start of his guitar solo on a cover of “Day Tripper”—a song title that, in this context, also can be seen as an LSD-related pun.

To learn more about Owsley from someone who knew him, listen to and read recollections by Charles Perry (a.k.a. Smokestack El Ropo).
http://www.scpr.org/programs/offramp/2011/03/19/rip-owsley-stanley/
http://www.laobserved.com/visiting/2011/03/the_owsley_stanley_i_remember.php

  1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Owsley_Stanley
  2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Grateful_Dead_(album)
  3. Troy, Sandy, Captain Trips: A Biography of Jerry Garcia (New York: Thunder’s Mouth Press, 1994), p. 99.
  4. http://www.dead.net/song/alice-d-millionaire
  5. Ibid.
  6. Steve Huey http://www.allmusic.com/album/were-only-in-it-for-the-money-r22631/review
Advertisements

From → The 1960's

3 Comments
  1. You left out one of the best songs about Owsley, “Mexico” by the Jefferson Airplane.

    • Good catch! I always think of “Mexico” as a marijuana song, but you are quite right… Owsley gets TWO shout outs from Grace Slick.

  2. Jim Laffan permalink

    “Tell us about the Ice Age….” Kesey Interviews Owsley

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: