American culture cycles and recycles; musical sensibilities, trends in clothes, cars and even haircuts all have their time on the popular stage – all the rage one season, anathema the next, but, hold on to your stuff; the time will come when you (or maybe your kids, someday) will discover things anew and that sparkle will again become apparent. Viewed through a certain lens, our current day takes on a tint of the 1960s – the remnants of the Grateful Dead are back on the road selling out stadiums from coast to coast in conjunction with a vibrant international music festival scene taking place every weekend during good weather, attended by free spirits in day-glo colors re-enacting scenes reminiscent of Woodstock; a political mindset has landed upon the young people of this nation in the form of the Sanders presidential bid, replacing decades of indifferent inaction, and dozens of podcasts, YouTube videos, websites, blogs, and Facebook pages discuss esoteric knowledge categorized under the banner of “spirit science.”
Much of the territory is charted this time around, but there is still the realm of the mind, seemingly as resistant to rigorous cartography as ever, the quirks and foibles of individual experience remaining as unpredictable as spring weather in the shadow of a mountain range.
There are intellectuals who ally themselves with and lead elements of these antiestablishment trends, but none as iconic as Timothy Leary, who lived through permutations as Harvard professor, clinical psychologist, political activist, drug advocate, international fugitive who was housed in 29 prisons, writer, philosopher, performer, California gubernatorial candidate in opposition to Ronald Reagan and spokesman for and darling of a movement that inexorably changed this country and the world.
I was never much of a “Leary guy,” mostly based on his depiction in Tom Wolfe’s Electric Kool Aid Acid Trip (if you haven’t read this book, get it … today) and his Ivy League roots, I believed him to be a bit sterile and elitist. I’m more of a Deadhead with a love for their sound engineer and financial backer Owsley and his home lab tactics that he used to flood the hippie scene with something of the order of 10 million hits of LSD after it was outlawed in California in 1966. After doing extensive research on Leary, it turns out I was wrong; he was kind of a badass.
Leary’s admonition to the 30,000 attendees of the 1967 Human Be-In event to “Tune In, Turn On, Drop Out” (a phrase he popularized but did not actually coin – that credit goes to Canadian media theorist Marshall McLuhan), a clarion call encouraging separation from the predominant “straight” social culture by means of the deconstructive powers of psychedelic chemicals became the tagline of the Summer of Love. The Beatles wrote “Come Together” in support of his 1969 campaign. Richard Nixon referred to him as “the most dangerous man in America.” The appeal of his 1966 marijuana arrest was responsible for the Supreme Court decision that deemed the Marihuana Taxation Act of 1937 unconstitutional. His admonition to pay attention to “(mind)set and setting” from his days a clinician have become the best advice imaginable for the responsible exploration of the realms of consciousness available during psychedelic exploration, particularly for novices.
I must say, he lived a life most of us will only read about (have some fun reading about it here in the book written by the guy who turned him on: http://bit.ly/1pXOSok ), both here on Planet Earth and in the realms of consciousness exploration and advancement. So, DGO, let’s spark one this week for Timothy Leary.
Christopher Gallagher lives with his wife and their four dogs and two horses. Life is pretty darn good. Contact him at [email protected]