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The New Jerusalem

The hippies grew up in my backyard. I did not find them good neighbors.

It was nothing personal. I thought it terrific, in the early days of the Haight-Ashbury, that love children could put a dime in a parking meter and lie down in the street for an hour’s suntan (30 minutes for a nickel) and most people would be careful not to run over them.

I wrote a Ramparts’ cover story about the hippies at an early stage in the counterculture’s development that gained me the reputation, not entirely without warrant, of Billy Goat Gruff to the love generation. Some of the flower children went so far as to say they wanted to kick the shit out of me. For one thing, they took umbrage at what I said about their father goddamn, Timothy Leary.

In 1967 he was still a guru in Brooks Brothers clothing. His tweedy suit was Brooks Brothers ’54, the paisley tie more J. Press contemporary, and the carved-bone Egyptian mandala hanging around his neck had to be about 2,000 years old. Dr. Timothy Leary, BA-University of Alabama, PhD-University of California, LSD Cuernavaca, and 86’d Harvard, was out for a night on the town in San Francisco, and tireless proselytizer that he was, he invited me along, even though I had expressed some doubts about his act.

The mission for the night was for Leary to scout somebody else’s act, a Swami’s at that, who was turning on the hippies at the Avalon Ballroom by leading them in hour-long Hindu chants without stopping appreciably for breath. The Avalon was one of the two great, drafty ballrooms where San Francisco hippies, hippie-hangers-on and young hippies-to-be congregated each weekend to participate in the psychedelic rock and light shows that in the sixties were as much a part of San Francisco as cable cars.

This dance was a benefit for the new Swami, recently installed in a Haight-Ashbury storefront, with a fair passage sign from Allen Ginsberg, whom he had bumped into in India. The hippies were turning out to see just what the Swami’s schtick was, but Dr. Leary had a different purpose. He had a professional interest in turning people on, and here was this Swami, doing it with just a chant, without pills, like it was natural childbirth or something.

The word professional is not used lightly. There was a large group of professionals servicing and stimulating the hippie world—in reporting the Haight-Ashbury I called these men merchant princes—and Timothy Leary was the pretender to the hippie throne.

Dr. Leary claimed to have launched the first indigenous religion in America, Aimee Semple McPherson in drag. Leary, who identified himself as a “prophet,” had recently played the Bay Area in his LSD road show, where he sold $4 seats to lots of squares but few hippies. (Dr. Leary’s pitch was to the straight world.) He showed a technicolor movie billed as simulating an LSD experience — it was big on close-ups of enlarged blood vessels — burned incense, dressed like a holy man in white cotton pajamas, and told everybody to “turn on, tune in, and drop out.” Leary was not to be dismissed as a cross between a white Father Divine and Nietzsche, no matter how tempting the analogy. He made a substantial historical contribution to the psychedelic scene in America, although his arrest records may figure more prominently than his philosophy in future histories.

Since he first bit into the sacred psychedelic mushroom while lounging beside a swimming pool in Cuernavaca, Leary has been hounded by the consequences of his act. He discovered LSD and was booted out of Harvard for experimenting a little too widely with it among the undergraduate population, and was asked to leave several foreign countries for roughly the same reasons. When I knew him, he was temporarily but comfortably ensconced in a turned-on millionaire friend’s estate near Poughkeepsie, New York, while awaiting judicial determination of a 30-year prison sentence for transporting a half-ounce of grass across the Rio Grande without paying the Texas marijuana tax, which had not been enforced since the time of the Lone Ranger.

If he were asked to contribute to the “L” volume of the World Book Encyclopedia, Leary would no doubt sum up his work as “having turned on American culture,” though his actual accomplishments are somewhat more prosaic. Together with Richard Alpert, who was to Dr. Leary what Herb Klein was to Richard Nixon, Leary wrote an article in May, 1962, in, surprise, The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. The article warned that in event of war, the Russians were likely to douse all our reservoirs with LSD in order to make people so complacent that they wouldn’t particularly care about being invaded, and as a civil defense precaution we ought to do it ourselves first—you know, douse our own reservoirs—so that when the Reds got their chance the country would know just what was coming off. It was back to the old drawing board after that article, but Alpert and Dr. Leary made their main contribution to the incredibly swift spread of LSD through the nation in 1964 by the simple act of publishing a formula for LSD—all that was needed by any enterprising housewife with a B average in high school chemistry and an inclination for black market activity. It would have been easier to take Dr. Leary seriously if he could have overcome his penchant for treating LSD as a patent snake-bite medicine.

I found an enlightening example of this panacea philosophy back among the truss ads in the September, 1966, issue of Playboy. In the midst of a lengthy interview when, as will happen in Playboy, the subject got around to sex, Leary was all answers. “An LSD session that does not involve an ultimate merging with a person of the opposite sex isn’t really complete,” he said, a facet of the drug he neglected to mention to the Methodist ladies he was attempting to turn on in Stockton, California. But this time, Dr. Leary was out to turn on the Playboy audience.

The following selection from the interview is reprinted in its entirety.

Playboy: We've heard that some women who ordinarily have difficulty achieving orgasm find themselves capable of multiple orgasms under LSD. Is that true?

Leary: In a carefully prepared, loving LSD session, a woman will inevitably have several hundred orgasms.

Playboy: Several hundred?

Leary: Yes. Several hundred.

After recovering from that intelligence, the Playboy interviewer, phrasing the question as diplomatically as possible, asked Dr. Leary if he got much, being such a handsome LSD turn-on figure. Dr. Leary allowed that women were always falling over him, but responded with the modesty of a Pope: “Any charismatic person who is conscious of his own mythic potency awakens this basic hunger in women and pays reverence to it at the level that is harmonious and appropriate at the time.”

Dr. Leary also said that LSD is a “specific cure for homosexuality.”

The final measure of the tilt of Dr. Leary’s windmill, his no doubt earnest claim to be the prophet of the hippie generation, must be made by weighing his beliefs against his frequent and urgent pleas to young people to “drop out of politics, protest, petitions and pickets” and join his “new religion” where, he said: “You have to be out of your mind to pray.”

Perhaps, and quite probably so.

I decided the paper should check out the roots of the New Jerusalem. The question was what, if anything, the hippie phenomena represented besides a pleasant excursion into love, fun and flowers by the overprivileged middle-class kids who comprised the bulk of the hippie overpopulation in the Haight.

One Comment

  1. John Shultz June 30, 2023

    For close to 2 decadesi lived in Willits in close proximity to several people who would be termed”hippies” and they would most likely apply that term to themselves quite happily and like the previous commenter mentioned: they were Not “good neighbors” and i myself took on that identity/life style as a high schooler in south L.A. county allthough i was about a decade too young to say attend Woodstock,my grandfather, a devout member of the John Birch Society did drive from small town Dixon to Golden Gate Park in San Francisco out of a conservative Lutheran curiosity to observe a hippie bachanalia called The Human- Be -In held in mid January 1967 .”These are the kind of people who are ruining America and driving it into a communist statehood !” my grandfather pontificated, as only a head state U.S. agricultural meat inspector running the Dixon Hormel plant could. Their was a lot of right wing anti hippie rhetoric for a 9 year old to absorb on that long drive in gramps new L.T.D. Somehow we found a parking spot and entered the multi-colored mob of humans ,many holding signs aloft with catchy,clever slogans,lots of anti war sentiments.peace symbols and the ever present olfactory waft of burning cannabis,incense,patchouli, and unwashed people all blending together into an indescribable aroma that mirrored the riotious color canvas of multitudes of costume wearing people, none of which apparently lived anywhere near Dixon. My 9 year old sensory apperati was blown into overdrive by the sheer variety of multi-colored stuff people were wearing ! ,of course i got lost in the maelstrom of sensation and celebratory hedonism,Gramps left behind where? as i wandered through the multi colored mob, amazed and unafraid, as none of these people seemed hostile, i ended up captured by a very tall,attractive blonde woman wearing a hot pink ankle
    length fur coat,white lipstick, bold Egyptian style eye make up and sporting a jeweled crown” Oh Hey look! a little boy! C’mere little guy! whats your name?” “Wheres your parents ?” The Hippie Queen gathered me up in her arms,i was quite pleased with the situation !, She fussed over me for a while,then released me,i noticed she was surrounded by a retinue of rough neck biker types all grinning from ear to ear,with sizzling crocodile smiles of L.S.D. intensity. Somehow i found my way back to my rock faced grandfather, he seemed like the only one present not having a good time,he certainly didnt approve of the “scene” and let me know this in no uncertain terms during the lengthy ride back to Dixon “Those are just the kind of people i Dont want you to end up like!” Well,the human subconscious is a funny repository of stuff buried down there below “normal” waking consciousness. I took the hippie path in jr.high school, grew my hair out,watched the movie Woodstock at our local L.A. walk in theatre, marveled at on screen nudity and mudfests, went on during high school to become obsessed with psychedelic drugs of all types,became greatly influenced by Carlos Casteneda’s books and became enamored with peyote,found a connection for shopping bags of fresh or dried cactus buttons,had both exstatic and negative experiences with peyotl,went on to grow psilocybe cubensis mushrooms in my roommates closet, as his mom took leave of the house and her 17 year old son for her boyfriend in San Clemente.The house became a free zone for altered staters, L.S.D. peyote,psilocybin mushrooms and frequent all night trips to the Whittier Hills south of l.A. There were miles of fire roads and trails up and down chapparell covered ridgelines to hike in the magical moonlight summer nights ,baying at the moon like coyotes, the jeweled carpet of suburban south L.A. night lights stretching 20 miles distant to the pin point diamonds of the Huntington Beach pier, and the midnight fireworks display of Disneyland,the appearence of holy visions and hours long uncontrollable laughter at marvelous jokes and hebrephenic puns all soundtracked by seemingly millions of black field crickets,leaf green katydids and the mysterious calls of owls and nightjars./The darker side was the usage of Datura or Jimson weed ,one of Carlos Castenedas “power plants”.We found it growing along the Amtracks rail line near a popular San Clemente surf spot known as Trestles.This plant was not a true psychedelic, but a powerfull deleriant with toxic side effects, but if Carlos Casteneda used it to obtain shamanic powers then it must be O.K.? We dug up a plant ,with its humanoid shaped root, bearing arms and legs,it was a stinker for certain! with a powerfully, noxious stench of a cross between peanut butter and printers ink. it had very large trumpet shaped white flowers and ping pong ball sized, green, prickly pods loaded with white seeds,all parts of the plant were full of scopolamine,atropine and hyoscamine= enough deliriant inducing compounds to provide a many hours long experience of waking dream states,amnesia,a powerfull cotton mouth, and widely dialated pupils.powerfull dream states were superimposed on ones normal waking consciousness, visitations and conversations with imaginary people,submersion into bizzare landscapes,encounters with fantastic animals or people were par for the course, Tthe region of the brain that creates dreams can come up with any phantasm or projection possible, all rendered “real” by the deleriant Datura and its compounds, unfortunately it makes it entirely possible for people to walk unknowingly out into traffic or off cliffs etc. and people have died from the usage of this plant(via accidents or the plants inherent toxicity) which i feel Carlos Casteneda (now deceased) should be held responsible for as his books encouraged a generation of “shamanic power seekers” etc. to experiment with. A couple of fellow voyagers decided to take this shamanic journey plant on a Friday evening at our parentless residence,the results were not good. Delerium is not a trustworthy state,it imparts no wisdom, some of us wandered off to parts unknown and one ended up in the hospital, another in a jail holding cell, i watched helplessly as my friend: his face a scarlet red, offset by gigantic black pupils tear apart the house obsesssively looking for a magical jeweled skeleton key which he kept finding and losing this key of great importance, until he collapsed into a closet while urinating copiously from the gallon plus of water he drank to assuage his violent cotton mouth thirst .The Hippie Rabbit hole is Basically a well intentioned ride into eventual Nonsense,it cannot last,and it can and will result in a certain portion of harm for oneself and others down the line. I pulled myself out of it by learning the basic rules of skepticism,logic, and rationalism to replace the hyper idealistic, faux ,magical “thinking” of the hipster philosophy,i stopped worshipping Tim leary, Richard Alpert= (Ram Dass), Alan Watts, Carlos Casteneda and a host of others ,and by the time i moved up to Northern California/Willits i had enough of the hippie dream ! i didnt live in a hatefull state of emotive reaction against it, i simply dropped it for a more down to earth mindfullness based approuch to living rationally .In Willits i was surrounded by many people of the hippie persuasion and as neighbors they Were lacking, a lot of stoned out, rather nonintelligent and hedonistic B.S. represented as “free thinking” sheer irresponsibility and flakinesspresented as being “free spirited” lots ofhyped up, fake-o spirituality used to excuse simply ultra careless behavior towarsd others “Its the kittys KARMA that this cat has to live a compromised life under a shipping container while im too stoned and too lazy to post a notice at the ultra popular health food store i work at to find that poor cat a real home… i was surrounded by this kind of “reasoning” for years in Willitstowne and dealt with the wounded superiority of many of them simply because i didnt buy into their rabbit hole spiritual excusism philosophies, learning just how clannish and resentfull many of them Are behind that idealized “Love and Peace Facade”that seems as transient as the drug high that eventually wears off.

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