Sure, his kookiness level got up to B-3 a couple of times, but all in all Dr. Leary was INDEED a for-real "intelligence agent," as he defined the term. He was a nice guy who got stuck with a really tough job, and he didn't wimp out.
I can't say I "knew" Leary, but we did meet several times, and BY GOBBS what a FRIENDLY, POLITE, ENERGETIC, FUNNY "REGULAR GUY" he was for a "'60s Guru." He could rant like 14 motherfuckers, too. I saw him do 3 shows; they were all completely different, and enthralling. The man carried himself with great dignity and Slack... for a pussy-and-pill-gobblin' maniac. He was FUNNY. And he certainly went out with style. His website was/is a pretty impressive project. Not everybody has the balls to die online.
It's a damned shame that my dad's generation sees Leary as a mass murderer. Once I was at a family dinner and, hoping to impress my visiting uncle, mentioned that I had been gettings gigs opening for Leary or otherwise being a sort of poor man's low-budget Timothy Leary on the college lecture circuit. My uncle and my dad exploded. "Timothy Leary was responsible for the DEATHS of MILLIONS OF KIDS!" my uncle hollered. I clammed up... obviously there was no sense in pressing the issue. For some reason I expected them to equate Leary's name with "RESPECTABLE PROFESSIONAL ANTI-ESTABLISHMENT RANTER" rather than "MANSON-LIKE DOPE PUSHER." But it's a DAMNED SHAME. Leary was an American Hero, a True and Classic SubGenius.
Leary was a scientist (his pre-infamy psychology theories are still standard issue in that field) who wanted to thoroughly investigate the potential of an incredible new tool. Unfortunately, he was at exactly the wrong/right place and time for the Conspiracy media to FORCE him into another role entirely. In my opinion, the guy handled that impossible mission as well as could be expected. Sure, he fucked up here and there. The poor bastard did HARD TIME to pay for his "sins."
But when you get down to it, the phrase "Turn on, tune in, drop out" is not exactly bad advice. It doesn't necessarily mean LSD. It means Slack.
Hell, LSD almost killed me when I was 16 years old. Only it wasn't the acid, really, it was the acid COMBINED with Jack Webb, LIFE magazine, and the nature of outlawed drugs. THAT'S what killed any kids who jumped out windows on acid... all 3 of 'em. Later in life, in my early 30s, LSD almost SAVED me. Because I wasn't so IGNORANT by then. I wouldn't recommend the stuff to ANYBODY. It's too unpredictable. Which is exactly why it's so important.
My friend Jeff Rosenbaum at A.C.E. in Cleveland, who often brought Leary in for shows at Starwood and so on, said the TV news people in Cleveland were describing Leary as a professor who was "fired for experimenting on students with illegal drugs" and then became a "1960s drug guru." As Jeff pointed out, that's like saying Einstein was "a 4th grade drop-out who went on to make bombs."
Some psychedelics enthusiasts blame Leary for wrecking the legal medical possibilities of LSD by making it infamous and drawing the Con's attention to it. But he tried to keep a low profile. The PINKS decided to make a BIG DEAL out of it, and Leary was the scapegoat.
He went to his grave saying, "Question authority." And we as SubGeniuses must ask, as first did Nenslo:
The only Leary book I've read is his first autobiography, FLASHBACKS. I can't say much about his theories and whatnot. But his LIFE... man. He didn't waste it. He seems to have pumped THAT motherfucker for all it was worth. I can't wait to see the movie.
Funny thing about Leary... every time we met, he bummed cigarets from me. I got the impression he was SUPPOSED to have quit smoking. I noticed on his website dying-diary that his pain-killer regimen included a pack and a half of friggies a day. I guess if I had prostate cancer, I wouldn't worry about smoking, either.
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