LSD, also known in the 1960s by its slang name, “acid,” became something of a revolutionary, counter-cultural substance in that period. And Leary, after a time as a university researcher exploring the drug’s psychotherapy potential, became a kind of “pied piper” for the drug’s recreational and spiritual use. He would write a dozen or more books on LSD and the psychedelic experience. And with subsequent media attention, he became something of national guru to a younger generation then rebelling against the status quo. During the 1960s he also became known for his phrase, “turn on, tune in, drop out,” a slogan he used for urging people to embrace self-enlightenment through psychedelic drugs and mind expansion, while “dropping out” – i.e., breaking free of social convention, questioning authority, and becoming independent thinkers. Leary’s explanation of his slogan was typically more nuanced than what the media often suggested, i.e, “getting stoned; dropping out of school, work, etc.” More on Leary’s career, his impact, and LSD a bit later. The song, meanwhile, became a popular Moody Blues tune in its day and beyond, and a classic of the psychedelic genre. It also served to boost the respective careers of both Leary and the Moody Blues during the 1960s and after, as well as burnishing the Leary/LSD connection in cultural history.
“Legend of a Mind” was recorded by the Moody Blues in January 1968 and was first released in July 1968 on their album, In Search of the Lost Chord, which explores a variety of “quest and discovery” themes, including those of spiritual development and higher consciousness. The U.S. drug scene had already begun to surface in 1965-66, and Leary and LSD had both been in the popular press by then as well. “Legend of A Mind” is seemingly a praiseworthy ode to Leary, intimating for him a guru-like status, though it is the song’s Eastern mystical sound that conjures up a trip-like, ethereal quality, offering a prime example of that era’s psychedelic music.
“Legend of a Mind”
Known for an earlier 1964 rock-n-roll hit, “Go Now,” the Moody Blues had gone through some personnel changes by 1967-68 and began moving in a new musical direction. The group then consisted of Justin Hayward, vocals and guitar; John Lodge, bass, guitar, vocals; Ray Thomas, flute, percussion, harmonica, vocals; Mike Pinder, keyboards, vocals; and Graeme Edge, drums, percussion, vocals. The group’s previous album, Days of Future Passed, of 1967, produced hit songs such as “Nights in White Satin” and “Tuesday Afternoon,” marking them as a rising international rock band.
The Moodies’ style and sound at this point in their career had a certain orchestral, Eastern, and mystical quality about it, due in part to the use of a novel keyboard instrument called a Mellotron – an instrument capable of duplicating orchestral sounds of violins, flutes, choirs, and more. Adding to the Moodies’ distinctive sound at this time were two Indian instruments – the sitar and the tambura – then being used selectively by other groups such as the Rolling Stones and the Beatles as well. The sitar and tambura are heard throughout In Search of the Lost Chord and “Legend of a Mind.”
Ray Thomas, who wrote the song, sings the vocals, and also has a long, beautiful flute interlude in the middle of the 6:40 minute song, suggesting an under-the-influence moment as wandering, seductive background music ebbs and flows, finally emerging with an optimistic-sounding ending and presumably a positive “trip around the bay.”
“Legend of a Mind”
Timothy Leary’s dead.
Timothy Leary’s dead.
Along the coast you’ll hear them boast
He’ll take you up, he’ll bring you down,
He’ll take you up, he’ll bring you down,
He’ll fly his astral plane.
The Moody Blues song, while never mentioning LSD per se, puts Leary at the center of its lyrics, describing him as the person who dispenses thrills on “trips around the bay.” But more than the lyrics, it is the song’s musical sound that suggests the mystical and “trippy” effects of LSD. And the Moodies’ music captured the psychedelic experience perhaps as good, if not better than, any group of that era.
Bruce Eder of AllMusic.com, writing a profile of Ray Thomas, observes:
…Thomas delivered the [MoodyBlues’] defining psychedelic-era anthem, “Legend of a Mind.” With the central phrase “Timothy Leary’s dead/Oh no, he’s outside, looking in” and its elaborate instrumentation (swooping cellos and droning Mellotron sharing the spotlight with Thomas’ flute), the song became a central part of the psychedelic era’s ambience, and part of the pop culture ‘soundtrack’ almost as much as the Beatles’ ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ or ‘Penny Lane;’ the fact that it utilized the name of Dr. Timothy Leary, a widely known, once respected academic turned LSD guru, only boosted the group’s credibility as a serious psychedelic act within the counterculture of the period….
In 1967, the “Summer of Love” commenced with all manner of young people gathering in San Francisco, elevating the term “hippie” in popular culture as well as the Haight-Ashbury drug scene.
Timothy Leary was already some years into his LSD notoriety by then, having published The Psychedelic Experience in 1964 with colleagues Richard Alpert and Ralph Metzner and lectured around the country. In San Francisco in 1967, Leary spoke at the “Human Be-In” gathering in January at Golden Gate Park (more on this later) where some 30,000 heard him offer his philosophical phrase, “turn on, tune in, drop out.”
The following summer, the Moody Blues released In Search of the Lost Chord, hitting No. 23 on the U.S. album charts in July 1968, also reaching No. 5 in the U.K. Three songs from the album would bring more notice to the Moodies – “Ride My See-Saw,” “Voices in the Sky,” and “Legend of a Mind.” And the album itself would be lauded over the years for its musicianship (33 instruments used by the Moodies themselves) and its mystical and psychedelic qualities.
The 1960s, meanwhile, continued to see cultural change throughout the world, driven by the post-WWII baby boom. By 1968 in America – a presidential election year – political tumult and convulsive change were front and center. Already buffeted by ongoing Vietnam War protests and civil rights unrest, the assassinations of Martin Luther King in April and Bobby Kennedy in July added more woe to the nation’s misery. Then came the televised protests and street riots at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago that August. Social protest, drugs, alternative life styles, Eastern mysticism, and the call of the counterculture were all part of the scene. Youth the world over were then searching for explanations and alternatives. The “Timothy Leary” song became part of the musical backdrop.
Although Leary initially did not like the Moody Blues song, he soon adopted it as something of a theme song during his lecture tours. But the irony was, as Ray Thomas would later reveal in a Rolling Stone interview, he wrote the song as something of a put on; “I was taking the piss out of him,” Thomas said in the interview. “I saw the ‘astral plane’ as some gaily painted little biplane: you pay your two bucks, and he’ll take you around the bay for a little flight…” Numerous listeners, however, never got the put on, “hearing” the song’s spiritual and exploratory content instead.Justin Hayward of the Moody Blues, in a 1996 interview with rock critic Roger Catlin of the Hartford Courant(CT) newspaper, added his perspective on the song:
“Some of us in the band — and this was 1966, ’67 — were going through our own psychic experiences, as a lot of musicians were at the time, probably being led by the Beatles. We were reading a lot of underground press and reading about Tim Leary, so we put him in…”
“The song is a very tongue-in-cheek version, a very cheeky English version of what we thought things would be like in San Francisco in the `flower power’ days’… It was tongue in cheek, but with a background of serious meaning. It did mean something to us. We were using a lot of phrases of the time, extracts from the Tibetan Book of the Dead, talking about the astral plane and so forth, and it’s a reflection of that.”The Moody Blues – some of who had taken LSD in 1967 – didn’t meet Timothy Leary until their first U.S. tour, later in 1968. “We met Tim, and he wasn’t offended by our lyrics at all,” said Hayward. “He enjoyed it, and we became friends over the years.”
Moody Blues keyboardist Mike Pinder, who arranged the song, said in a 1996 interview, that the line,“Timothy Leary’s dead / Oh, no, he’s outside looking in,” was actually a high compliment to Leary. “It was quite metaphysical,” Pinder explained. “It used him as an out of body experience and looking back at life at a normal level.”
Others have also noted this line in a similar vein, that “Timothy Leary’s dead” had to do with “ego death” as experienced in transcendental meditations as instructed in Tibetan Book of the Dead. In fact, Leary’s 1964 book, written with colleagues Richard Alpert and Ralph Metzner – The Psychedelic Experience – also instructed its readers how to prepare for and take LSD and other such drugs and was subtitled, A Manual Based on the Tibetan Book of The Dead.
“Those who didn’t get the message behind the song,” Pinder would say with a laugh during his 1996 interview, “were on the other outside looking in.” As for Leary, he never had a problem with the song, according to Pinder.Regardless of how the lyrics are parsed for “Legend of A Mind,” or what they were intended to mean, the song is one of the classic examples of psychedelic music in that era – as are several other Moody Blues songs and the album, In Search of the Lost Chord. For millions in the late 1960s, the song was taken at face value, as part of the culture.
“Legend of A Mind” certainly made Leary more of a pop star than he already was at the time, and kept his name tied to that era thereafter.
For the Moody Blues, “Legend of a Mind,” proved to be one of their most popular numbers, especially in concerts stretching over some 35 years.
And apart from the song’s composition and history, there is, of course, a lot more to the legend of Timothy Leary and LSD than the Moody Blues tune. That part of the story is next.
Dr. Timothy Francis Leary (1920 –1996) was born in Springfield, Massachusetts, the only child of an Irish Catholic family. His parents separated when Leary was 13 – his father, a dentist, left his mother. Leary graduated high school in Springfield, but his college experience would be protracted and difficult. He passed through several colleges – Holy Cross, West Point, and the University of Alabama – running afoul of rules and regulations, ranging from alleged honor code violations at West Point to expulsion from the University of Alabama for an overnight stay in a women’s dorm. Later reinstated at Alabama after service in the Army during WWII, Leary received his undergraduate degree in psychology in 1943. By 1946 he received an M.S. in psychology at Washington State University and in 1950, a Ph.D. in clinical psychology at the University of California, Berkeley. Leary then became an assistant professor at Berkeley. Through 1958, he was also director of psychiatric research at the Kaiser Family Foundation Hospital in nearby Oakland. During these years, he was discovering that conventional psychotherapy was not exactly his cup of tea. But in his Berkeley years, he and his wife were party goers, drinkers, and had their respective affairs. In 1955, his wife committed suicide, leaving him to raise two young children. On a sojourn to Europe, he met David McClelland, director of the Center for Personality Research at Harvard University, who found Leary’s work impressive, offering him a position at Harvard. In 1959, joined McClelland’s research center at Harvard and also became a university lecturer in psychology.In August 1960, after learning about the possible mind-altering and spiritual qualities of a certain variety of mushrooms in Mexico, Leary traveled there with a colleague to sample psilocybin mushrooms. It was an experience that drastically altered Leary’s life. He would later comment that he learned more about his brain and its possibilities and psychology in his five hours after taking the mushrooms than he had in the preceding fifteen years of study in psychology. Returning to Harvard that fall after his experience, Leary and Richard Alpert, among others, began the Harvard Psilocybin Project, a research project to analyze the effects and therapeutic potential of psilocybin and other hallucinogens on human subjects using synthesized compounds. Mescaline, LSD, and psilocybin were all legal at the time. In the Harvard project, Leary and colleagues assessed and recorded the effects of the psychoactive drugs. They also conducted some experiments with prisoners, and encouraged others in the university community to experiment with the drugs, believing them to hold great promise for understanding human behavior. Leary also came to believe that everyone, not just academic researchers, had the right to experiment with consciousness alteration. In late 1961, early 1962, Leary had his first experiences with LSD. Not long thereafter, he would predict that within 10 years more than a million people would try LSD – which turned out to be a conservative projection.
Leary and his colleagues also caught the attention of other academics with their writing in The Harvard Review, which published a special edition in the summer of 1963 on “Drugs and The Mind.” Leary and Richard Alpert published the lead article, “The Politics of Consciousness Expansion.” And coming from two respected Harvard scholars at the time, it created quite a stir – in fact, the whole edition did. And there was more on the way, as the back cover advertised a new forthcoming journal — The Psychedelic Review, edited by Leary and Alpert associate, Ralph Metzer – which became a serious academic journal and was published through 1971. But it was the lead article by Leary and Alpert in The Harvard Review that got the attention of East Coast intellectuals, and was a sign of things to come in the 1960s. According to the website Lysergia.com, “The Politics of Consciousness Expansion” by Alpert and Leary,“represents the exact point where Leary, Alpert and their merry band of acidheads started to diverge from the straight academic path.”
Yet well before Leary’s involvement, LSD was a reputable research field, with lots of earnest scientists looking into possible uses and effects. By one count, between 1949 and 1959 there were nearly a thousand published papers on LSD in professional journals. There were also a few reports that had appeared in the mainstream press.In fact, unbeknownst to the public at the time, Time-Life owner and publisher, Henry Luce and his wife, Clare Boothe Luce, otherwise respectable Republicans, were both quiet cheerleaders for the drug, each having indulged in the 1950s and early 1960s with positive results – Clare, reportedly more than a dozen times. And at least one historian has suggested that the Luces’ Time and Life magazines gave favorable coverage to the drug early on and well into the 1960s, even after psychotic “scares” had been reported.
“Time and Life were fascinated by LSD,” wrote Stephen Siff’ in a 2008 paper for Journalism History. “Henry Luce’s magazines discovered LSD in 1954 and remained enthusiastic even as the drug was becoming popular with recreational users, frequently discussing the experience in an explicitly biblical framework. Scare stories were balanced with endorsements of LSD by professors, businessmen, and celebrities, and some articles even read like advertisements…” Time first wrote about LSD in 1954 with an article titled, “Dream Stuff,” an account of LSD’s use in psychotherapy. “LSD 25, while it has no direct curative powers, can be of great benefit to mental patients,” the magazine stated. Life magazine, in “Seeking the Magic Mushroom” of May 13, 1957 (top of cover shown above earlier), documented the use of psilocybin mushrooms in the religious ceremony of the indigenous Mazatec people of Mexico. And Time in 1960 reported on celebrities taking LSD under the supervision of their doctors. Years earlier in Switzerland, meanwhile, a research chemist named Albert Hofmann working at Sandoz Pharmaceuticals had synthesized both LSD and psilocybin, which were made readily available to U.S. and other researchers by 1949.Back at Harvard in the early 1960s, Leary first gave psilocybin to graduate students and important members of academic community, asking them to write accounts of their experiences. Beatnik poet Allen Ginsberg heard about Leary’s Harvard research project and made himself available for experiments. Ginsberg’s involvement helped spread word of the substances to other artists and intellectuals, and he and Leary formed something of a campaign to spread the psychedelic gospel, which by then also included LSD. Meanwhile some of the Harvard faculty found Leary and Alpert’s handling of the drugs in their project to be lax and cavalier. In May of 1963, Alpert was reported to have given Harvard students the drugs, with Leary also charged with failing to show up at his lectures. Alpert was fired and Leary’s contract was not renewed. News of a university drug scandal was widely reported at the time, with Leary and Alpert taking on the image of rogue professors seeking new truths. Reporting of the pair’s ouster from Harvard and/or their drug adventures received national coverage in magazines such as Esquire, Look, The Saturday Evening Post, and the New York Times Magazine. After leaving Harvard, Leary, Alpert and others would eventually set up shop on a large estate at Millbrook, New York. The estate was made available to them through Peggy, Billy and Tommy Hitchcock, heirs to the Mellon fortune who had become interested in Leary’s work. The 2,500 acre estate and 64-room mansion, located in Dutchess County about two hours north of New York City, became something of new age scene, with dozens of residents, variously involved in transcendental meditation, sex games, and psychedelic drug experimentation. Leary also conducted paid weekend seminars at Millbrook on the psychedelic experience– having taken a lecture and light show to New York city where he advertised the Millbrook seminars. One New York Times report in later years would describe the Millbrook scene as follows: “the headquarters of Leary and gang for the better part of five years, a period filled with endless parties, epiphanies and breakdowns, emotional dramas of all sizes, and numerous raids and arrests, many of them on flimsy charges concocted by the local assistant district attorney, G. Gordon Liddy…”– an infamous figure himself, later convicted in the Watergate/Richard Nixon fiasco of the mid-1970s.
In August 1964, Leary, Ralph Metzner and Richard Alpert published, The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on The Tibetan Book of the Dead, in part, a “how to” guide intended for those planning to use psychedelic drugs. The book rose to bestseller status by 1966. A reading from the book was also recorded by the authors as a spoken-word LP under the name The Psychedelic Experience in 1966 . Leary also recorded another spoken-word album, titled LSD (cover shown later below), which instructed on the use of the drug and answered questions about its effects. Leary and Alpert would also hold meetings with the press when traveling in various U.S. cities. In December 1964 Leary and fashion model Nena von Schlebrugge were married at the Millbrook estate, though divorced not long thereafter.
It was in 1966 that Leary began using his slogan, “Turn on, tune in, and drop out” – inspired in part by Marshall McLuhan, the famous mass media analyst and advertising man. McLuhan coined the phrase “the medium is the message” in his famous 1964 book, Understanding Media. McLuhan and Leary had lunch in New York City sometime in 1966 — a meeting recounted by Leary, during which McLuhan offered other advice to Leary, suggesting the key to Leary’s work was advertising and that his product – “the new and improved accelerated brain” – should be promoted to arouse consumer interest.
“Associate LSD with all the good things that the brain can produce—beauty, fun, philosophic wonder, religious revelation, increased intelligence, mystical romance,” McLuhan reportedly told him. “…[G]et your rock and roll friends to write jingles about the brain.” He also gave Leary some style pointers – again, according to Leary’s account: “Wave reassuringly. Radiate courage. Never complain or appear angry. It’s okay if you come off as flamboyant and eccentric. You’re a professor, after all. But a confident attitude is the best advertisement. You must be known for your smile” – all advice Leary appears to have adopted.
In 1966 Leary testified before a U.S. Senate hearing in support of citizen’s right to experiment with consciousness raising drugs. But by the mid-1960s, Leary had run afoul of the law on some drug charges. In fact there would be three arrests over a period of several years: one at the Mexico border in Laredo, Texas in 1965; another at the Millbrook Estate in 1966; and the last in Laguna Beach, California in 1968. Convicted for illegal possession of marijuana on the Texas charge, Leary’s conviction under appeal was reversed by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1969. The Millbrook arrest yielded no drug charges. The Laguna Beach arrest for possession of marijuana, however, would result in a conviction and prison term. More on this a bit later.America’s drug culture in the mid-1960s continued to receive media attention. The March 26, 1966 edition of Life magazine featured LSD as its cover story of a hand reaching out for colored squares (cover shown near the top of this article). And despite the scare headline on that cover – “The Exploding Threat of the Mind Drug That Got Out of Control, LSD” – the tone of the magazine’s coverage in a ten-page spread was more curious than condemning.
In one of the Life pieces, the views of a cross-section of individuals were presented, including that of a Navy intelligence analyst who took the drug to help solve a problem in pattern recognition while developing intelligence equipment. A theologian who took LSD reported a “Moses-like burning bush” revelation, feeling his was a positive experience.Another of the Life articles included a separate account reported by a “hard headed businessman” who described the details of his LSD trip in confident terms. Dr. Stanley Cohen, meanwhile, who had published the book The Beyond Within, expressed alarm in his comments to Life about possible brain damage among indiscriminate users. Said Cohen: “Many people are doing to themselves what we [psychologists] would never consider doing experimentally…”
The Life editors also offered a question-and-answer series on LSD aimed at the general public, which prompted Leary and friends to put out their own spoken-word recording – an “LSD” LP on Capitol records – that addressed many of those same questions (see image above).
In September 1966, Leary also had a featured interview with Playboy magazine, then well known and well regarded for it lengthy interviews with leading personalities of the day.
But the rising “street use” of LSD soon raised social concerns, which would lead to restrictions and controls on the substance. Sandoz tightened researchers’ access to the drug in 1963 and again 1966 amid concerns about the volume of LSD leaking out of laboratories and into the hands of recreational users. Then, in 1965, the U.S. Congress passed legislation prohibiting the sale of LSD, but not possession for personal use.
Other bills in Congress proposed to ban the substance completely. Senator Thomas Dodd (D-CT), one of those moving in that direction, convened subcommittee hearings in late May 1966 on recreational drug use among America’s youth. Timothy Leary was one of the witnesses Dodd called to testify. In his testimony, Leary asserted: “the challenge of the psychedelic chemicals is not just how to control them, but how to use them.” He emphasized the need for further investigation of LSD rather than prohibition. He claimed that LSD and many other psychedelic drugs were not dangerous, so long as they were used wisely and with precautions. Senator Dodd, however, pointed to earlier testimony by a doctor who said LSD encouraged homicidal tendencies and destructive behavior.Also at the hearing was Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts who at one point characterized Leary’s testimony as “general hyperbole.” When Kennedy asked if LSD usage was dangerous, Leary replied, “Sir, the motor car is dangerous if used improperly… Human stupidity and ignorance is the only danger human beings face in this world.” Leary called for licensing that would require LSD users to be highly trained, much like a pilot’s license, so that responsible adults could use LSD “for serious purposes, such as spiritual growth, pursuit of knowledge, or their own personal development.” He also noted that without such licensing, Americans faced “another era of prohibition” that would create a new group of college-educated white-collar criminals. In a later autobiography Leary charged that Kennedy had bullied him at the hearing in an attempt “to gain respectability points by lynching me!”
In 1966, New York passed an anti-LSD law and California followed suit later that year, in October. Still, the drug culture – and LSD usage – were at its peak, and no where was this more apparent than San Francisco.
By 1966-1967, the counter culture was becoming a growing movement in America, especially on the West Coast, and San Francisco had become one of its epi-centers. An eclectic assortment of disaffected youth, activists, “Hippies,” “flower children,” and others were coming to the city. Many of those who came were suspicious of government, opposed the Vietnam War, and rejected consumerism. Others pursued communal living. Still others were on a spiritual quest, involved with transcendental meditation.
In January, a huge turnout of some 25,000 to 30,000 people of all stripes came to the Polo Grounds area of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park for what had been billed and promoted in the alternative press as a “Pow-Wow” and “a gathering of the tribes” in the Bay Area – a coming together for a “Human Be-In.”
The gathering was also conceived locally as something of a unity rally, as there were philosophical differences among various factions, especially between those who thought the movement should be more political and more activist, as opposed to those who thought it should be more spiritual, inner-directed, and a-political, not involved with trying to change the system. Leary would become a figurehead for this latter group, generally the hippie/spiritual contingent.
Leary, in fact, was prominent among the headliners that day – those featured in the program of speakers and music that Saturday January 14th. Among others were Richard Alpert, Allen Ginsberg, Jerry Rubin and others. A host of local rock bands were also on hand, among them, the Grateful Dead, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Santana, and the Steve Miller Band. LSD flowed freely throughout the crowd, as the “Be-In” was also, in part, a protest against California’s law enacted in October 1966, banning the use of LSD.
Leary, in his all-white garb that day – dress that would become part of his persona at such events – appeared with flowers tucked behind his ears and offered his message of “tune in, turn on, drop out” to the crowd. At the time he was 45?? years old. Still he became something of figurehead for the new movement.
In many ways, the January 1967 “Be-In” was a warm-up for the “Summer of Love” that followed in San Francisco that same year, popularized by the song, “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair),” written by John Phillips of The Mamas & the Papas, and sung by Scott McKenzie. The song, released in May 1967, was also used to promote the Monterey International Pop Music Festival, another big youth and counterculture event held in June of that year. College and high-school students began streaming into the Haight-Asbury section of San Francisco during the spring break of 1967 – a pilgrimage that continued through the summer, swelling the city’s population by an additional 100,000 or so newcomers. At the Monterey Festival that summer, a classic line-up of 1960s artists performed, including the Grateful Dead, the Animals, Simon and Garfunkel, Jefferson Airplane, The Mamas & the Papas, The Who, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin. Also that June, the Beatles released their Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, which became part of the “summer of love” soundtrack.Leary by this time had also developed a multi-media play, or series of plays, exploring the psychedelic experience that, for a time, had drawn considerable audiences off Broadway in New York and also the attention of the New York Times. One of Leary’s plays used the title “Death of Mind.”
But Leary also wanted to make a film using his play as a starting point, and he reportedly sold the rights to Death of Mind to Columbia Pictures, receiving a down payment of $300,000.
In May 1967, a 35mm film starring Leary, Alpert and Leary’s partner, Rosemary, came out in Los Angeles. The film used the title, Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out. It also had its own musical score recorded by Mercury Records, also titled Turn On, Tune In Drop Out: The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack. The film, however, went nowhere, and had a very limited showing.In early July 1967, Time magazine featured the cover story, “The Hippies: Philosophy of a Subculture.” Time’s coverage offered another indication that the counterculture was permeating mainstream America.
By then, a debate over the meaning of the counterculture and the drug scene had already begun. And in the Time magazine piece, everyone from historian Arnold Toynbee to California’s Bishop James Pike offered their views. Worried parents were represented as well, troubled over their children dropping out of college.
The article also described the guidelines of the hippie code – which sounded a lot like Timothy Leary’s slogan: “Do your own thing, wherever you have to do it and whenever you want. Drop out. Leave society as you have known it. Leave it utterly. Blow the mind of every straight person you can reach. Turn them on, if not to drugs, then to beauty, love, honesty, fun.”
Psychedelia, in any case, was in full flower by that time, receiving mass media attention. And Timothy Leary was often part of the story.
“America’s Bad Trip”
By August 1967, American press reports were turning more skeptical and negative on the drug scene. One of the stories receiving headline treatment on the cover of the August 8th, 1967 edition of Look magazine used the tagline “Drugs: America’s Bad Trip: The Pot-and-Pill Kick That’s Getting Out of Hand.” But even in that issue, Timothy Leary was still getting a share of the coverage. He was profiled and interviewed by Look senior editor J.M. Flager who visited Leary at the Millbrook estate in New York. The five-page spread on Leary also included photos by James H. Karales, and was titled: “Drugs and Mysticism: The Visions of ‘Saint Tim’.” Amid photos of a Leary-staged play adapted in part from Herman Hesse’s Steppenwolf, and some room-to-room visits looking in on Millbrook residents, a few in meditative pose, Look offered a couple of bolded pull quotes on Leary and his activities. One that read: “Prophet or phony? An exotic scholar makes a religion of LSD,” and another on Millwood: “At Leary’s rustic mecca ‘every room is a psychedelic trip’.”At the time of the Look profile, according to the magazine, Leary had taken LSD a total of some 300 times. The article was generally skeptical of Leary and his theology. Still, the magazine included a total of 17 pages of text and photos on the drug issue, including a personal account of an LSD trip taken by one of its senior editors, Jack Shepherd, and a report focusing on a doctor at the Haight-Ashbury Free Medical Clinic in San Francisco.
The Saturday Evening Post also featured LSD on its cover in September 1967, also raising concerns with its tagline: “The Newly Discovered Dangers of LSD – To The Mind, To The Body, To the Unborn.”
The hippie and drug scene by then had fully permeated mainstream culture. In New York, the rock musical Hair, which told the story of the hippie counterculture and sexual revolution of the 1960s, opened off-Broadway on October 17, 1967.
In November 1967, Leary married his third wife, Rosemary Woodruff, a former actress and airline stewardess. Their wedding ceremony was held at a desert ranch house near Joshua National Monument in California. Many of the guests at the wedding were reportedly on acid at the time. By 1968, Leary and his family had moved from Millbrook, New York to Laguna Beach, California. From his new base he continued to write and lecture about the psychedelic experience.
In 1968, Leary published two more books – High Priest, a recounting of Leary’s 16 most life changing “trips” when under various forms of hallucinogens, and The Politics of Ecstasy, a collection of some of Leary’s essays and lectures the on the psychedelic drug experience – most previously published in magazines, journals and underground newspapers.
During 1968, Leary continued to crop up in news reports. One TV news clip from CBS-KPIX Channel 5 in San Francisco on July 10th, 1968 captured Leary’s remarks at a press conference at the Psychedelic Shop on Haight Street in San Francisco, where he offered his views about LSD, teenagers, and their parents. “LSD is not dangerous physically,” he told a reporter. “It can be dangerous psychologically to someone who’s not prepared to confront the energy and the grandeur and the wisdom of the divine process. It scares you out of your mind.” Further on in the interview, he praised a group of young people at the conference, and urged parents to try to understand why their kids were taking drugs and to learn what they were experiencing. He even suggested to parents: “Perhaps eventually, when you’re spiritually ready, you’ll turn on with your children.” It was also in July 1968 that the Moody Blues song about Leary, “Legend of Mind,” featured earlier above, was released on their album, In Search of the Lost Chord.In 1969, Leary continued to be in demand on the lecture circuit, especially on college campuses. In February 1969, for example, he gave a series of lectures on the psychedelic experience at UC Berkeley. Leary was also moving around in prominent Hollywood circles and that of other notable celebrities. In June 1969, Leary and his wife, Rosemary were invited to Montreal, Canada for John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s “Bed-In” and recording session (among others, including: Tommy Smothers, Dick Gregory, Murray the K, Al Capp, Allen Ginsberg). Leary and Rosemary both sang on the recording of “Give Peace a Chance,” and are also mentioned in the lyrics. Leary at the time had mentioned to Lennon that he was intending to run for Governor of California in 1970, believing that since a Hollywood actor like Ronald Reagan could be elected, maybe he could pull off a surprise with his youth following. In any case, Lennon asked if there was anything he could do to help his candidacy. “The Learys wanted me to write them a campaign song,” Lennon told Rolling Stone, “and their slogan was ‘Come together.'” Leary had come up with slogan, “Come together, join the party.” Lennon then wrote a quick “chant-along thing” and Leary took the demo tape home and aired it on some radio stations. But Lennon later decided that he wanted to do something else with the lyric he had started, rather than finish the Leary campaign song. Leary soon had legal troubles and never ran for Governor. “Come Together,” meanwhile, became a big No. 1 Beatles hit in 1969. In August 1969, America witnessed another demonstration of the burgeoning power of the post WWII baby boomer generation as more than 400,000 gathered on a large farm in the Catskills area of New York state from August 15th-to-18th for the Woodstock Festival. Billed as “An Aquarian Exposition: 3 Days of Peace & Music,” Woodstock became one of the seminal moments of the 1960s counterculture, a peaceful celebration, with some historians marking it as a closing act for the 1960s counterculture. On the West Coast, however, some months later there was a different turn. Another huge outdoor music festival was held on December 6th, 1969 at the Altamont Speedway in northern California. That concert drew 300,000 people, some calling it a “Woodstock West.” But this event was marred by violence, property damage, and four deaths, one a killing of an irate fan by a Hells Angels member (the biker gang hired to protect the Rolling Stones) who saw the fan draw a pistol during the concert threatening performers. Earlier that summer, on August 9th and 10th, the murders of seven people in Los Angeles over two days, including actress Sharon Tate, committed by followers of Charles Manson, had also occurred. The Manson murders, as they came to be known, were linked in media reports to “a hippie clan,” “hypnotized hippies,” “nomadic hippies” and other such descriptions – generally tarnishing the image of the “peace and love” hippie subculture. These events – plus ongoing protest and social unrest over the Vietnam War – contributed to a rising concern about “social permissiveness,” law and order, and the impact of drugs in American society.
In Washington, DC, meanwhile, Richard Nixon had been elected president following a tumultuous year of political and social unrest, including the assassinations of Martin Luther Kind and Robert F. Kennedy. Through 1969, the Nixon Administration had begun to set a new tone across the nation.
Linkletter v. LearyIn December 1969, President Nixon convened a Governors’ Conference on Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. Forty of the nation’s governors attended the gathering at the State Department in Washington, D.C. Nixon, aware that drug abuse had been growing among upper middle-class kids, saw that a public education strategy might be more politically palatable than sending college kids to jail. But he also called for expanded drug search powers and warned the governors in his remarks that unchecked, the drug problem would destroy America.
Also with Nixon that day at the Governors Conference was Art Linkletter – a popular TV personality known throughout the nation for his “Kids Say The Darndest Things” segment on his House Party TV show. Linkletter was one of the featured speakers to address the governors. The drug problem had hit Linkletter personally. His 20-year-old daughter, Diane, had committed suicide only months before, jumping to her death from the sixth floor of her West Hollywood, Calif., apartment on October 4, 1969. Linkletter blamed LSD as the culprit. “It isn’t suicide because she wasn’t herself,” Linkletter told the media shortly after he death. “It was murder. She was murdered by the people who manufacture and sell LSD.” Linkletter claimed that his daughter had taken LSD the night before her death, and her panic over its effects led to the fatal plunge. But an autopsy showed no trace of LSD in Diane’s body. However, Diane had taken acid six months before her death and Linkletter said she had experienced a “flashback,” which prompted her to jump out the window, an account which spread though the media.
Two weeks after his daughter’s death, Linkletter was in the Cabinet Room of the White House, where President Nixon invited him to recount the tragedy to a small group of congressional leaders, including Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield, Speaker of the House John McCormick, and several others. At the December 1969 governor’s conference, meanwhile, with Nixon and Vice President Spiro Agnew on the platform, Linkletter told the governors that the older generation must help get kids “turned on to life” instead of “turned on to drugs.” Linkletter also blamed the people he called “missionaries” for making drugs attractive and available to younger people. And he singled out Dr. Timothy Leary, whom Linkletter called “a poisonous and evil man” for promoting marijuana and LSD. With his daughter’s death, Linkletter became involved in the anti-drug campaign, giving talks on the issue around the country, and railing against permissiveness in society and what he believed to be the threat to family values.
Some years later, on a TV show, Linkletter would again attack Leary, saying that his daughter and her generation believed there was nothing wrong with LSD because Timothy Leary had claimed it was “Gods’ gift to young people.” Linkletter also said on that show that Leary “happened to be an intellectual, a university-based guru, and gave the youngsters a kind of rallying point.” They weren’t just talking about hippies touting the drugs, explained Linkletter, “they were talking about an intellectual leader. And he [Leary], by saying these things, was giving them an additional argument for experimentation…” Linkletter added that Leary wasn’t alone in promoting the drug scene, also pointing to Grace Slick of the Jefferson Airplane, poet Allen Ginsberg, and Aldous Huxly in his book, The Doors of Perception, “all of whom were promoting the glories of drug abuse in what was a drug world.”
Yet, by the mid and late 1970s, some startling revelations about drugs and LSD would come from a somewhat unexpected quarter.
“CIA Does LSD”
In one LSD experiment gone awry was recounted in the case of Frank Olson, a 42-year-old government scientist was reported to have committed suicide after being given the drug. In late November 1953, Olson plunged to his death from the 13th floor of New York’s Statler Hotel, just opposite Penn Station. At the time, Olson’s death reported as a suicide of a depressed government bureaucrat who came to New York seeking psychiatric treatment. But 22 years later, the Rockefeller Commission report was released, detailing a litany of domestic abuses committed by the CIA. And with that report, some of the ugly truth began to emerge: Olson’s death was the result of his having been surreptitiously dosed with LSD days earlier by his colleagues. Still, there was more to come about the government and LSD in subsequent House and Senate investigations.
In the mid-1970s, the Church Committee – named for Senator Frank Church (D-ID), and officially named the U.S. Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities – conducted a wide-ranging series of hearings on the activities of the U.S. intelligence community (and also, in similar investigations, through the Pike Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives ). Among the Church Committee’s findings, for example, it reported that from 1954-1963, the CIA “randomly picked up unsuspecting patrons in bars in the United States and slipped LSD into their food and drink.”In 1977, a Freedom of Information Act request uncovered a cache of 20,000 documents relating to Project MK-ULTRA, which led to a joint hearing by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and the Senate Subcommittee on Health and Scientific Research in August 1977. These hearings produced a new round of revelations leading to more news headlines about the government and drug activity, such as the one above, “80 Institutions Used In C.I.A. Mind Studies,” reported by the New York Times, August 4, 1977. In 1984, the U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) also issued a report on the topic, finding that Department of Defense, working with the CIA, gave hallucinogenic drugs to thousands of “volunteer” soldiers in the 1950s and 1960s. In addition to LSD, the Army also tested other hallucinogens. Many of these tests were also conducted under the MK-ULTRA program. Between 1953 and 1964, GAO reported, the program consisted of 149 projects involving drug testing and other studies on unwitting human subjects.
There is a lot more detail on the House and Senate investigations and their findings – as well as a number of books on the topic – a subject well beyond the scope of this article, only offered here briefly in the context of the Leary story. For those interested in this issue, there are a number of sources listed at the end of this article in “Sources, Links & Additional Information” that provide beginning leads to further source material.
Arrest & Flight
Timothy Leary, meanwhile, hit some rough water in the 1970s. His earlier 1968 arrest for possession of marijuana in Laguna Beach, California resulted in a 1970 conviction. He was sentenced to a 10-year prison term and began serving time at the California Men’s Colony in San Luis Obispo. At that point, Leary’s life turns into something of a Hollywood action movie script. Not eager to serve his sentence, Leary engineered an escape from the minimum security prison in September 1970. He climbed to a rooftop and up a telephone pole, then going hand-over-hand along a cable across the prison yard, above and beyond barbed wire, he dropped to the road below outside the prison. There he was reportedly helped by members of the leftist underground Weathermen group who helped move him and his wife Rosemary to Algeria. There he was given sanctuary of sorts with Eldridge Cleaver’s American government-in-exile. Leary would later have a falling out with Cleaver, and continue on the run as a fugitive to Switzerland, Austria, and Afghanistan before being captured in Kabul and sent back to prison in 1973. He remained in prison for the next three/several years, at one point, in a cell next to Charles Manson serving his sentence for the Sharon Tate murders.In prison, and seeking a way to reduce his time, Leary began cooperating with prosecutors, naming names and writing incriminating articles, which caused a falling out among some of his followers. In 1974, he was publicly denounced by a group that included Arthur Miller, Dick Gregory, Judy Collins and Country Joe McDonald. At a press conference that included Leary’s son, Jack, Allen Ginsberg, Richard Alpert (then Ram Dass) and Yippie leader Jerry Rubin, Leary was called an “informant,” a “liar” and a “paranoid schizophrenic.” In 1976, Leary was released from prison by Governor Jerry Brown.
For the next 20 years or so, Leary became something of notorious and caricatured figure, sometimes branded as a loony who had “fried his brain on acid.” Yet at times, he seemed to be into the next new thing, reinventing himself as he went. In the early 1980s, he tapped into the information age, attracting the attention of the young and wired. He embarked on some college lectures touting the future of computers and also worked on a software line called Futique and helped design programs to digitize thought-images. He believed the internet was going to empower people on a massive scale and at one point proclaimed the PC would be “the LSD of the 1990s.”Leary and G. Gordon Liddy made something of an odd couple on the lecture circuit for a time in 1982. And in 1983, he published his autobiography, Flashbacks, a later paperback edition shown below. Several years later, in 1988, he appears to have hosted a fundraiser for Rep. Ron Paul at his home in Benedict Canyon, California. Paul, then making his first bid for the White House on the Libertarian ticket was a proponent of drug legalization, garnering Leary’s support. Personal tragedy hit Leary in 1990, when his daughter Susan committed suicide in prison hanging herself. Leary’s later years were spent writing about space exploration and the process of death. In the spring of 1996, he developed terminal prostate cancer and died in his home in California. At his death, Leary was cremated and some of his ashes were launched into space on a privately owned satellite, along with the remains of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry and a few others – truly, on the “outside looking in,” as the Moody Blues song put it in 1968. In his obituary, he was lauded as a person who had seemingly done it all, consorting with the famous and infamous throughout his life, as offered by Laura Mansnerus in his New York Times obituary:
…As the era of drugs, sex and rock ‘n’ roll unfolded, it seemed that Mr. Leary was at every scene, alongside a strange cast of famous characters. He took psilocybin trips with, among others, Arthur Koestler, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Robert Lowell, Maynard Ferguson and William Burroughs. He was arrested by G. Gordon Liddy. He sang “Give Peace a Chance” with John Lennon and Yoko Ono. As a fugitive on drug charges, he lived in Algeria with Eldridge Cleaver and dined in Gstaad with Roman Polanski; back at Folsom prison in…
Although Leary had his fans into his later years, and has followers still today, those in the scientific community who worked on psychedelic drugs for their medicinal and psychotherapy potential are not among his admirers. For Leary’s proselytizing and popularizing LSD in the 1960s was not viewed positively by this community, their research essentially shut down by the LSD backlash that had occurred. Serious scientific research into the psychoactive drugs and their possible beneficial uses was set back decades by some estimates. And it wasn’t just LSD, but dozens of other drugs seen as possible treatments for depression, post-traumatic syndrome, alcoholism, and end-of-life applications. Now in recent years, some 50 years after many of these substances were first studied, research has resumed. Even Harvard is studying LSD again.“Timothy Leary’s dead,” say the Moody Blues lyrics — though now that line can refer to his actual death. Yet Leary’s psychedelic rebirth in the 1960s, his rise to guru celebrity, and his LSD advocacy had impacts far and wide. Charlatan or visionary, the debate on Leary is likely to go on for years. And just in time to help that process along comes a trove of Leary documents recently acquired by the New York Public Library – some thousands of letters, writings and documents related to his scientific research on psychedelic drugs, much of it never published. The library purchased the collection from the Leary estate in 2011, and is now deciphering the material on its website. It joins a number of existing biographies and articles on Leary, some of which are cited below.
Additional stories at this website on the 1960s and 1970s can be found in the period archives for those respective decades. Stories on music or politics can be found respectively at the “Annals of Music” and “Politics & Culture” category pages. Thanks for visiting – and if you like what you find here, please make a donation to help support the research and writing at this website. Thank you. – Jack Doyle
Date Posted: 26 November 2014
Last Update: 17 January 2017
Comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Jack Doyle, “Legend of a Mind: Timothy Leary, 1960s,”
PopHistoryDig.com, November 26, 2014.
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