Mark McCloud has about 30,000 tabs of LSD. He collects them, frames them and catalogues them in his San Francisco home, which is why Mark gets periodically arrested by the DEA. Most of the tabs are now too old to send anyone on any kind of trip, but they sure look cool in his Victorian row house. I visited him there and we talked about hobbies, hallucinogen history and psychedelic rebirths – mostly, I did lots of nodding as Mark smoked a joint and became increasingly mysterious. By the end I wasn't sure what we were talking about, but it seemed very, very important.
VICE: So Mark, you collect tabs of acid as artwork. Why?
Mark McCloud: This happened because I have an interest from my childhood in small, well-made things. When I was growing up in Argentina they put out these little books and the one I remember most clearly was called Weaponry of the Second World War. You would buy a stick of gum and inside would be all these little images to collect. We tried filling the books with them to entertain ourselves.
So how old were you when you arrived in California?
Well, I was raised in Buenos Aires until I was 12 and then sent to a boarding school in Claremont. Two weeks after I got here, Frank Zappa's Freak Out came out, just to place the time [meaning it was 1966]. So I became an American eighth grader, reading The Doors of Perception and doing pot, then mescaline when that came on.
How old were you when you discovered acid?
I was 13. It was in Santa Barbara at a very nice hotel on the beach. Me and a friend had our own cabin and we ordered some cubes from the Brotherhood of Eternal Love, which was Owsley [Stanley's] outlet [he means that it was some primo shit]. The experience was very full-bodied, even though I was nervous and I just liked acid for its humility and educational effects. I was blind but then I could see.
So when did you start collecting it?
Oh, that was when the first imagery came out. See, when acid first came out it was just drops on paper. This was in 1968 and it was the first commercially available acid. It came out of New York City and it was done by this great underground chemist called Ghost – may he rest in peace – and they were called Five by Twenties. They were five drops by 20 on a little card that was the same size as autochrome film and it came out wrapped in Kodak packaging.
And when did the first illustrated tabs appear?
In the 70s. There's a whole vignette of imagery that appears throughout that era and it's usually on sheets of paper the same size as an LP so they could ship it dressed as a record. The first sheets would have a single image that would be divided up into the tabs, usually in a single colour. They quickly became individual pictures, though, with great detail.
One of the very first illustrated sheets.
And how did you come to start framing them?
Well, that's another question about my rebirth. See, I was a very difficult 17-year-old. Hendrix had just died so I took 300 mikes of Orange Sunshine and basically the fabric I existed on changed. I vibrated myself out of this world and into a different thing and that's when I really started collecting. At first I was keeping them in the freezer, which was a problem because I kept eating them, but then the Albert Hofmann acid came out and then I thought, 'Fuck, I'm framing this.' That's when I realised, 'Hey, if I try to swallow this I'll choke on the frame.'
So how did a guy with a freezer full of acid become an acid historian?
Well, I was on the board of the San Francisco Art Institute, and to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Summer of Love I proposed that we do a show on the San Francisco acid guys. So we set up a big art show and I exhibited the whole collection. And 1987 was still loose enough to have a huge acid party with everyone afterwards.
How do you avoid being arrested, given the size of your stash?
I don't. I've been done a few times and it's always for the same thing – conspiracy to manufacture and distribute narcotics. Back in 2000 the DEA busted a group of kids at a high school in Kansas City, Missouri, and that led to a group of distributors in New Orleans and somehow the snitch factory led to me. They wanted to put me away for life, but they couldn't because the tabs were old and inactive. In the end I got off and they had to hand over all their evidence, which was a couple of folders of the photocopied collection. Fuck them. Someone has to say, "Enough already, you fucking arseholes."
The DEA catalogued Mark's collection.
But I'm guessing you know who the chemists are, right?
That's a very difficult question because to admit it is to take a big chance. So let's just say that I can sometimes tell by the flavour who makes it. Some of my favourite guys are Dutch. They do great acid in the Netherlands.
How many trips have you taken in your life?
Half of one. The full trip is when you're happy playing harp in heaven and your job is done. That's the full trip.
Should everyone take acid?
No, because you have to ask the right question to take it. Do you want a one-on-one with your maker?
And what if the answer is yes, even if you've got a mental illness?
Well, there's a correlation between acid and curing mental illness. I realised after my beautiful accidental rebirth that what we usually call psychology is actually just art.
You use a lot of complicated metaphors.
No, I just use the truth.
OK, well, what would you say to someone who is reluctant to take acid?
I would say go with it and don't take it until you're willing. The will is very important. If you are willing, be sure to take it sensibly, surrounded by your favourite things and, if people are involved, make sure they're your favourite people. And just expect a miracle.