Though she thought her parents "were real estate moguls, or something,” Disorganized Crime: Smuggler’s Daughter host Rainbow Valentine discovered late in her teens that her parents were actually big-time, bicoastal pot smugglers from the 1960s into the 1980s. In this episode, we learn more about her mother, Taffy Lemur’s, action-packed life in San Francisco right at the start of the 1960s counterculture revolution, her father Walter Lemur’s acid-tripping, draft-dodging days in Brooklyn, and how the two came to meet, fall in love, and get into the smuggling business – a story that encompasses incredible moments in history involving jazz giant Dizzy Gillespie, The Beatles’ first concert in America in 1964, Vietnam War protests, Lenny Bruce’s famous obscenity trial, the purest LSD “Mr. Sunshine” could make, and so much more.
Taffy grew up in poverty in Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley, marrying young, but after her first child was stillborn, she fled to Berkeley, “ground zero for the beatniks, who would create the world-famous San Francisco counterculture and the iconic Haight-Ashbury,” Rainbow says. She did it all: posing nude at gay clubs, belly-dancing with sword-swallowers, sound engineering at a radio station, and making jewelry (“her best-selling piece was a Jesus on a cross with a giant erection. That's my mom!”). She knew everyone in the scene; Jack Nicholson came over for Thanksgiving, she gave Janis Joplin her signature fur hat, she dated Pigpen from the Grateful Dead, Dizzy Gillespie made her breakfast once (“Did you sleep with him?” Rainbow wants to know, and Taffy laughs, “Oh yeah. Oh yeah”). She was in the second row at The Beatles’ first American concert in 1964, and transcribed Lenny Bruce’s notes for him during his obscenity trial. The first time she tried acid, it was “Stanford acid,” when Stanford University was learning about the effects of LSD; they would send samples to people to trip on, who would then provide a report back.
Walter’s life was much more uneventful, at least until college, when he met the “sugar bowl man.” This is the person who turned him onto, and then supplied, psychedelics. “It was so great and so much fun and the drugs were so amazing, they were so clean…what the f**k, I even made money,” Walt marvels. “The sugar bowl man had the best drugs I'd ever had. And the acid was made by Nicky Sand, Mr. Sunshine.” Mr. Sunshine was one of many LSD disciples who wanted to make and distribute as much good acid as possible, “to enlighten the world.” Walt ended up loving psychedelics so much he dropped out of Brooklyn College to “major in Acid 101,” and had to dodge the draft board to stay out of the Vietnam War. But the CIA and FBI weren’t too keen on acid trips and hippie freaks, and they put out rumors about trips where people would jump off roofs thinking they could fly, or stare into the sun until they went blind. The rumors, and some actual bad acid, did damage; by the time the Summer of Love in 1967 rolled around, both Walter and Taffy felt that the “true spirit of the psychedelic revolution was over.”
Walter moved to Stockbridge, Massachusetts and ended up “appearing as a featured extra in the 1969 hippie cult classic film, Alice’s Restaurant with Arlo Guthrie,” when he was told that someone wanted to trade a Lotus Elan sports car for two pounds of Lebanese hash. “So my dad goes to the hash guy, tells him the Lotus guy will trade three pounds of hash for the car. The hash guy's psyched, he agrees. And my dad clears one pound of hash for profit.” He ends up deciding to move out West “where the action is,” and trades acid for “a VW bus full of redwood burl slabs” so he could make tables to sell at high-end stores. He takes some of the redwood guy’s acid and ends up “just so high that all you could do is watch,” he describes. “And there you are, you can understand people talking but you were so high you couldn't speak.” His friend left him in the care of his sister – Rainbow’s mom, Taffy.
All this barely scratches the surface of this story and all the incredible details of this period in history and Rainbow’s parents’ place in it. Listen to this episode of Disorganized Crime: Smuggler’s Daughter for even more about LSD culture, Walter’s brief career in film, much more about Taffy’s time in San Francisco, and the day they decided to get involved in the smuggling industry for real.
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