LEARY - 40 Years On
Timothy Leary was
dismissed from the faculty of Harvard University for giving LSD to undergraduate
students forty years ago this March. His experimentation with LSD led
him to believe its use was an important means to self-discovery and
a substance that would change the worlds consciousness. He had
no idea just how true that theory would prove to be.
In 1945, when the Big War ended, the surviving soldiers suddenly returned
to a much-changed vision of the America they had fought to preserve.
They had children theyd never seen and others that did not know
them; their wives had joined the work force and many of their brethren
were lost forever. The GI Bill allowed many veterans to return to school
for college degrees. Wartime factories were soon converted to peacetime
uses and men went back to work. The fast unfolding fifties found new,
cookie-cutter housing projects cropping up all over the country, their
G.I. Bungalows filling up with families whose children would soon become
known as the "baby boomers."
America in the fifties was a time of innocence. Mothers still did much
of their own baking and sewing, housekeeping and childrearing. Day care
was non-existent. Fathers were still the primary breadwinners as well
as shade tree mechanics and home carpenters. There was no such thing
as lawn care. A simple push mower still did the job nicely. America
enjoyed an optimism that was reflected in all aspects of society. Clothing
styles were traditional, people dressed up for church, wearing veiled
hats and white gloves. Little girls wore dresses and patent leather
shoes and young boys donned short pants until they were old enough for
trousers. Men wore suits for all important occasions. The silver screen
portrayed American soldiers as the good guys, and Doris Day crooned
to her wholesome leading men in shirtwaist dresses and pearls. Movie
musicals were still the fare of the day although no longer the extravaganzas
of the forties. "From Here to Eternity" portrayed as torrid
a love scene as one could find in the movies where on-screen nudity
Children walked or rode their two wheelers to the local elementary schools,
and mothers participated in PTA, baked cupcakes for school occasions
and provided homemade birthday cakes for their children. The Pledge
of Allegiance was recited every morning in schools along with the Lords
Prayer. Children returned home after school and played tag and kick
the can in the front yard. Families left for work or went to bed with
unlocked doors and open windows.
The Saturday Evening Post still featured Norman Rockwell covers and
the newest invention, television, entertained us with traditional features
such as "Hit Parade," "The Perry Como Show," "Leave
It to Beaver," and "The Three Stooges." The only sign
that anything other than a totally idyllic world prevailed were those
members of a small and obscure but influential group known as "The
The Beatniks lived in a black and white world. Color television had
not yet been invented and even color movies were uncommon. But one of
the things the Beats did have was hi-fi sound. They were into Jazz,
especially the kind of jazz known as bebop. The Beats used this music
as a backdrop to their poetry, creating the first multimedia and the
first signs of unrest brewing in America. The Beatniks also used marijuana,
one of the first mind-altering drugs seen on the fringes of our society.
Everyone had heard of heroin, a terrifyingly addictive drug that only
deadbeat people used, but marijuana was a whole other thing. Jack Kerouac,
Allen Ginsberg, and Ken Kesey were the first writers of the time to
accurately depict the beat generation and its philosophy.
While J. Robert Oppenheimer was in New Mexico experimenting with the
bomb, another scientist by the name of Dr. Albert Hoffman was experimenting
with another very different kind of bomb, one that would also affect
the world quite profoundly. While the A-bomb was being tested so was
the first form of LSD. In 1943, Hoffman took his first "hit"
and was so dramatically affected, he dedicated his career to further
understanding its effect. Finally isolating psilocybin from the mushrooms,
he created LSD. Other scientists began to take notice.
In 1959, Ken Kesey and poet Allen Ginsberg took LSD for the first time.
In 1960 Dr. Timothy Leary, took psilocybin mushrooms while in Mexico
after which he began work at Harvard where he pursued the psilocybin
project. Ginsberg ended up participating in this project, as did many
of the other Beats, including Kerouac and Neal Cassady. In 1961, Leary
gave psilocybin to all the important members of the Beat Generation
and asked them to report on their experiences. Finally, in 1962 Timothy
Leary took LSD for the first time. In 1963, he predicted that within
10 years, over a million people would have tried LSD. Little did he
After being fired from Harvard, (something he couldnt imagine
enduring just two years earlier, but took in stride in 1963) Leary began
his work on The Psychedelic Experience: A manual based on the Tibetan
Book of the Dead. And in 1964, Ken Kesey and his beatnik friends took
to the road in the first hippie school bus (although none of them had
long hair or even beards at the time) and shot the first acid movie.
Meanwhile, Civil unrest was brewing, quietly unnoticed by most American
families. The fear of "The Bomb," which had by then been developed
by several other major countries, brought forth some of the original
folk singers and protesters. Phil Ochs, Joan Baez and Pete Seeger began
to inspire youth with their songs of disillusionment. Racial strife
was beginning to gain attention and black Americans began to demand
equal rights and respect.
By the mid 1960s, the war in Viet Nam had begun to affect the
average American. High school seniors were drafted upon graduation and
soon came home in body bags. As the baby boomers aged, their affluent
parents sent many of them to college. College students whose grades
dropped below par were next in line for the draft. About this time,
Timothy Leary's famous statement "turn on, tune in, drop out,"
gained wide recognition and appeal for those seeking alternatives to
the "System" and ultimately changed the world.
"Turn on." What exactly did turn on mean? Primarily, it meant
to take drugs, drugs that had become illegal by this time because of
the governments fear of losing control over the people. These
drugs were made illegal due to the experiments that Leary was conducting
at Harvard and the subsequent testimony before congress that many proponents
of drugs were forced to give. Turn on simply meant stimulate your mind
with or without drugs, though using drugs was the most common interpretation
of this part of the phrase.
"Tune in," meant interact with people, explore the world.
Discover yourself, examine your mind, your possibilities and draw your
own conclusions. Do not let others lead you, lead yourself. Think for
yourself. Know yourself.
"Drop out," meant follow your own mind and values instead
of being led, blindly, by tradition or others who purport to have your
best interests at heart but in truth, may not. The only way to drop
out was to do your own thinking, to question authority and make your
own decisions. Stop conforming. Stop letting life lead you, begin to
lead your own life.
"Turn on, tune in, drop out." Dr. Leary did not limit himself
to what is accepted and acceptable, he pursued new ideas and encouraged
people to explore their own consciousness, to fully examine their ideas
and beliefs. This was why he was so loved so feared. Richard Nixon called
Timothy Leary "the most dangerous man in America" which only
further inspired the younger generation to follow his precepts.
Suddenly, the well pressed, matched clothing worn by college students
in the early sixties was tossed aside for a totally unconventional look,
which further alarmed society. The Hippie generation was in full swing.
Bell bottoms, love beads, long hair and beards were the standard uniform.
Students "turned on" - pot smoking and experimentation with
psychedelic drugs was rampant on college campuses. Students "tuned
in" to the unsolved problems of society, protesting racial inequality,
poverty, unequal affluence and the Viet Nam War. Men burned their draft
cards and dodged the draft through many creative means including moving
to Canada, showing up at the induction center wearing casts and altering
their body chemistry by eating a wide variety of strange concoctions.
Social mores changed. Students "dropped out" - pre-marital
sex and homosexuality were embraced. Where there were hippies and drugs,
a bond existed that transgressed all boundaries. Scantily clad young
people took to the road in vans painted in psychedelic colors, happily
picking up stray hippie hitchhikers along the way. Communes began to
crop up in isolated locations where their inhabitants "did their
own thing," sharing food, housing, children and mates. Children
were born out of wedlock and given such names as "Moonbeam,"
"Time Warp" and "Winter." The sexual revolution
was well under way and traditional marriage became frowned upon by this
new generation, which ultimately perpetuated a 50% divorce rate later
resulting in many one-parent homes and more working mothers. Women burned
their bras to express their liberation from societys demands and
abortion was legalized. Negroes became known as "black" and
black was beautiful. The black youth movement sported "afros"
a foot wide. Movies such as "Easy Rider" began to portray
"acid trips" in Technicolor while artists like Andy Warhol
and Peter Max produced strange, surrealistic and psychedelic images,
which were snapped up and displayed on every campus in America.
Suddenly, Elvis was out and groups such as the Beatles, The Jefferson
Airplane and Janis Joplins Big Brother and the Holding Company
began influencing young people while sporting psychedelic clothing and
long hair and singing the praises of drugs and sex. Rock concerts drew
hippies by the thousands and featured musicians smoking pot, snorting
speed and destroying their instruments on stage. Many rock stars overdosed
on heroin and died of drug-induced conditions. The hippie generation
climaxed in 1969 with Woodstock, an outdoor rock concert held in upstate
New York with hundreds of thousands of harmonious hippies and their
children tripping on psychedelic drugs and skinny-dipping in the ponds.
Kurt Vonegut, Ken Kesey and Carlos Castenedas became popular authors
promoting the counter-culture and its virtues. Traditional religions
were discarded while atheism grew and ancient philosophies, religions
and cultures were explored and embraced.
Then, suddenly, the assassinations of three prominent leaders, both
Kennedys and Martin Luther King, Jr., left many Americans young and
old, disillusioned and hopeless. This was particularly true of the counter
culture. Oddly enough, within its confines, this was a non-violent group.
Only in the streets of America did violent protests erupt caused primarily
by bewildered police forces whose only training was in the use of Billy
clubs, tear gas and bullets. The national guards shooting to death
of four innocent students at Kent State University in 1970 during a
war protest further exacerbated the ever-growing chasm between the two
disparate generations of the time. Many parents attempted to breach
the gap by smoking pot with their college-age children in hopes of finding
some understanding of this strange new culture.
Even the face of crime began to change. The Manson family led by an
ex-convict named Charlie reveled in orgiastic LSD trips, and in an ever-evolving
paranoiac state, slaughtered 7 people in two nights during a macabre
murder rampage. People began committing other crimes and suicide while
tripping on drugs. Some people took hundreds of so-called "trips"
and possibly altered their consciousness permanently. Never again would
front doors be left unlocked at night.
As these ever-increasingly turbulent times in America spilled into the
headlines of international newspapers, the youths of other nations began
to follow suit. Soon, war protests ensued in Europe, drugs followed
and the hippie generation invaded Europe for long, psychedelic sojourns
traversing the continent in colorfully-painted vans promoting their
As thousands of college graduates were forced to join conventional society,
drug use subsided out of necessity. Other forms of reaching a higher
consciousness grew in popularity. Ancient methods such as transcendental
meditation and yoga were suddenly in vogue. Celebrities traveled to
India to study under the Maharishi. People began to delve heavily into
the occult sciences of astrology, numerology, I Ching, witchcraft and
palmistry. Psychology was a developing science that soon found millions
of Americans prone on their therapists couches.
The traditional eating patterns of Americans began to change as well.
Asian foods became popular. People turned to diets of brown rice, tofu
and vegetables seeking to detoxify the very bodies they had so recently
polluted with drugs and alcohol. For the first time in years, wine consumption
and production was up in America. Bolstered by the introduction of cheap
wine, usually drunk straight out of the bottle by the hippies, a better
quality than Boones Farm Wine was soon in demand.
Ecology and the preservation of the environment became pressing issues.
Songs such as Randy Newmans "Burn On, Big River"
about the polluted state of the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, brought
much needed attention to the state of our environment. The new public
awareness of toxic waste and rampant pollution forced legislation requiring
clean up and prevention of the environmental destruction.
Television was in Technicolor and featured such unconventional programming
as "All in the Family," which shockingly portrayed a family
headed by the bigoted Archie Bunker. Star Trek made its debut, and Saturday
Night Live poked fun at society with a never-before-seen irreverence.
In 1972, the Watergate scandal broke and its subsequent investigation
ultimately forced the first American president ever to resign in the
face of sure impeachment. This added to the growing cynicism about government
corruption already in the forefront due to police brutality and the
exposure of graft and corruption in politics. For the first time, we
had seen an American president publicly booed and excoriated, and our
respect for authority was permanently damaged. Never again would we
blindly follow our leaders.
All of these developments were just the beginning of an ongoing cultural
revolution still occurring in the world today. The words that changed
the world, "Turn on, tune in, drop out" gave credence and
approval to a generational phenomenon that embraced and endorsed a culture
that ran counter to everything this country had stood for in the past.
It resulted in an international society composed of individualists no
longer driven by the morals, values and dictates of others.
Peoples of the free world forever after will think, dress, eat, choose
their forms of entertainment, lifestyles and occupations based upon
what is best for them as opposed to what is acceptable to everyone else.
No longer do we follow patterns of behavior designed by others. We are
free to explore, examine and discover a world that best suits our own
wants and needs. Timothy Learys trip into the science of psychedelia
may have launched the social revolution more than any other single factor.
Little did he know the incredible impact his prophetic words would have
on the world at large when he penned them in 1965.
© Denise Cassino February 2003
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