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Tim Leary Remembers the 60s

While I was writing the first “unauthorized history” of Dr. Timothy Leary and the psychedelic movement in America in the 1960s, I dropped in at the UC Berkeley Student Union for a fascinating lecture Tim gave there on January 11, 1977. (My book was called “Whatever Happened To Timothy Leary?” It was published in 1980.)

Leary was one of UC’s most famous alumni, having received his PhD in psychology at Berkeley in 1950. Lately, the only institutions which Leary could call home had high front gates and bars on the windows. He was still facing ridiculous federal prosecution for an attempt to smuggle half-an-ounce of marijuana into Mexico on December 23, 1964. He’d drawn a 30-year sentence which his attorneys appealed for over two decades and, in the process, managed to overturn the archaic Marijuana Tax Stamp Law which had long been one of the unfair tools used to persecute Leary and other border-crossing psychedelic voyagers.

Leary had suffered a lot of bad press in the early 1970s and he seemed to want to talk more about Space Migration in the future than the “good old days” when he espoused “Turn On, Tune In and Drop Out,” the days when “authorities” like Richard Nixon decided Tim was the Pied Piper who had single-handedly started the psychedelic revolution and was, therefore, responsible for a turned-on generation. (The truth was that Tim did not make any important discoveries in the field of psychedelics. He was a strong promoter of the drugs but hardly the only one.)

Tim’s UC Berkeley audience wanted to hear about Leary’s colorful past. Here’s what he said that evening in 1977:

“The 1960s,” Tim admitted, “was an incredibly volatile decade. I like to think that more happened in the 60s — more cultural revolution, more total reformation, review and social change — than in any decade or even century in human history…

“I want to tell my fellow veterans of the un-civil wars of the 60s that we can’t go back. I hope that no one expects me to lead a Charge of the Light Brigade back to Woodstock… It didn’t stop at Woodstock. The game goes on.

“I think we should do something about memorializing what happened then. The media will never tell you what happened. Maybe we should form an association like the American Legion or the VFW. Right?

“We can have a statue of a barefoot, long-haired hippie on every village square in every town.

“We could have annual conventions in cities like New York and Philadelphia, wear funny costumes and get busted for old times’ sake.

“We could have clubhouses and sit around and smoke and play old Beatles records. I make gentle fun of myself and other 60s veterans. But I think there’s a lot to be proud of. I’ll list four or five things I think happened in the 60s. You gotta understand the past before you can move on to the future.

“One of the things that happened was a confrontation between the generations and that was interesting. It was unlike any cultural conflict in the past… It wasn’t a territorial game, because everybody was involved in it… Nor was it basically a conflict about religions, although it had religious overtones.

“It wasn’t an economic struggle because both the Haves and the Have-Nots were doing it.

“It wasn’t a racial conflict, although there were racial overtones and a deeper understanding of the difference between and the incredible contributions of each race developed. That was all part of it.

“No, it was literally a mutational, generational war. I think that’s over now; there’s a much better understanding between generations.

“The successful hippies of the last decade are now taking over the country… The educational process is a little more mature today — you have no idea how bad the educational system was, in terms of authoritarianism, in the late 50s and early 60s. They had to have riots and they have to have confrontations, but it led to a higher level of understanding…

“I’d say the most important thing that happened in the 60s was the clarification and deeper awareness of the differences between the basic equality of the sexes.

“Sexual liberation and increased sexual honesty and deeper understanding of the male-female relationships is something that’s going to change society permanently and for the good…

“The cultural revolution of the 60s was, I think, at the bottom line a consciousness movement. Consciousness of the body, consciousness of the brain.

“That consciousness movement is now a great national industry… But before the 60s the human body was a kind of robot that was supposed to act productively for the state, a domesticated robot, if you will.

“You could bounce up and down a few times to procreate, but, outside of that, the notion of body consciousness was very, very sinful, if not psychotic.

“The discovery was made — with a little help from our Oriental friends — in the 60s, that the human body is a time ship with an incredible number of portholes and receivers and antennae and that there are literally hundreds of body somatic intelligence experiences that can be sensed… Now we realize that pleasure is an art. Pleasure is very complex. I think we all discovered that in the 60s…”

“You did it!” yelled an adolescent fan from the audience.

“No,” said Tim with accurate modesty. “No one person did it. There’s no creativity, no originality. We were surfers. We watched the waves coming in. We surfed on them. We didn’t create the waves.”

(Dr. Timothy Leary died of cancer in his Los Angeles home on May 31, 1996.)

One Comment

  1. Betsy Cawn October 11, 2020

    In his 1929 “Marriage and Morals,” Bertrand Russell predicted that society would change radically when women had control over their reproductive capacities — that the invention of birth control would alter the balance of power between men and women. The “discovery” of the “G spot” and exploitation of women’s sexual expression — long enslaved to survival in a “man’s world” — transformed the culture of hedonism into a multi-billion-dollar industry. But the intergenerational revolution of anti-authoritarianism was underwritten by newly unleashed freedoms creatively explored by young men and women alike. The “50s” still stand as a civic/social watershed in which the ability to capture and share new understanding of realism challenged the dominance of well-paid dream weavers.

    Psychedelics introduced a rupture of the presumptions of status and servitude; the backlash was enormous and long-lasting. Part of the mystery of Lake County is the precious insistence on recreating the experience of the 1950s in celebrations of quaint festivals and family-oriented lifestyles. Ain’ no hippies ‘roun heah, heah?

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