While he was in the White House, Richard Nixon was Public Enemy Number One with people who took part in the counterculture movement. There was already a large segment of the population who rejected what were considered traditional American values when Nixon took office in 1969. However, his escalation of the war in Vietnam, his anti-drug stance, and his advocacy for conservative values did not sit well with many of the nation’s youth.
Nixon, a career politician known for his rather stilted mannerisms and stoic demeanor, was seen as humorless and uncaring by the counterculture. As a result, he was the butt of many jokes. Some of the nation’s counterculture writers and artists mused what it would be like if Nixon ever took LSD, a powerful hallucinogen that was popular at the time.
Grace Slick, lead singer of San Francisco-based rock group Jefferson Airplane, decided to find out. In April 1970, Slick received an invitation to attend a tea party at the White House being thrown by the president’s daughter Tricia.
It turned out that Tricia and Slick were both alumni of Finch College, an all-girls school located in upstate New York. Tricia was a recent graduate and Slick, who attended under her maiden name, Grace Wing, attended in the 1957-58 school year.
“I’m not really an alumni, because I didn’t graduate,” Slick told journalist Phyllis Pollack in 2009. “I got an invitation in the mail. ‘Grace Wing, we cordially invite you to a tea…Tricia Nixon at the White House.’ And I thought, ‘Oh yeah, I think Tricky Dick needs a little acid.’”
Slick invited Abbie Hoffman as her date to the April 24 event. Hoffman was one of the most notorious members of the counterculture. He had recently been on trial for inciting unrest at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, advocated dumping LSD into the Washington, D.C. water supply, and engaged in numerous anti-government demonstrations and pranks meant to draw attention to himself and his causes.
The FBI and the Nixon White House had files on both Grace Slick and Abbie Hoffman, branding them as domestic security risks for their anti-establishment views and actions. But no one made the connection that the invited Grace Wing and the not-welcome Grace Slick were one and the same until the day of the event.
Slick and Hoffman showed up at the White House for tea on April 24, 1970. Slick had 600 micrograms of LSD powder in her pocket, more than enough to provide a powerful hallucinogenic experience for anyone who ingested it. Her plan was to tuck under into her long fingernail and simply gesture over Nixon’s tea cup during conversation and slip it into his drink.
The plan never happened. Hoffman was still recognizable to the White House guards in slicked back hair and a business suit. Slick was told, “We checked and you’re a security risk.”
Slick and Hoffman and her LSD were turned away at the door and never got to meet Tricia or dose her father the president. As it turned out, even if they were let inside, they never would have met Nixon. He did not attend the Finch alumni event.
Slick remembered the story fondly when asked about it by the Wall Street Journal in 2011, but she expressed mixed feelings about embracing the drug culture of the time.
“LSD was new then,” she said. “It opened up our heads and gave us new insight into the fact that reality isn’t just one thing. That excited us. But it’s also terrifying if your head isn’t in the right place. So in hindsight, our advocating for LSD was kind of dangerous.”
- ^ See Kathleen Davis, “What is lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD)? Effects and hazards of LSD.” Medical News Today, June 29, 2015, http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/295966.php
- ^ Jefferson Airplane was one of the most iconic rock groups of the 1960s and many of their songs communicated the angst and issues of the time period. http://www.jeffersonairplane.com
- ^ Quoted in Phyllis Pollack, “If I Wasn’t Grace Slick, I’d Be Dead,” Counterpunch, May 29, 2009, http://www.counterpunch.org/2009/05/29/quot-if-i-wasn-t-grace-slick-i-d…
- ^ See the FBI’s declassified, but heavily redacted file on Jefferson Airplane at https://vault.fbi.gov/Jefferson%20Airplane%20
- ^ Quoted in Marc Myers, “She Went Chasing Rabbits,” Wall Street Journal, April 29, 2011, http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052748703778104576287303493094530
- ^ Quoted in Myers, Wall Street Journal, April 29, 2011.