Acid evangelist Timothy Leary was born on this day in 1920. Aside from being one of the prime movers of the sixties counterculture—and a cheerful revolutionary dubbed “the most dangerous man in America” by Richard Nixon—Leary was an early cheerleader for cyberspace and computer technology in the 80s and 90s.
In the curious video below, Leary discusses drugs on a Pepsi-produced 80s “college cable” program with an “all star” panel that includes Dr. Andrew Weil, Papa John Phillips, motivational speaker John Bradshaw, Sarah Jessica-Parker(?) and Richard Kiel, “Jaws” from the James Bond films(???).
This made me groan, but it didn’t really surprise me all that much either…
In 1988, a floppy disk was sent out as an invitation to a Ron Paul fundraiser hosted by Timothy Leary at his home in Benedict Canyon. That year Paul made his first bid for the White House on the Libertarian party ticket and Leary—given Paul’s stance on drug legalization—was a big fan.
A second disk, which may have been distributed to those attending the fundraiser, is signed by Leary with the following message:
“Thank you for joining me today in support of Ron Paul and the Libertarian Party. As we enter these closing years of the Roaring Twentieth Century, we’re going to see personal computers enhance our lives in ways we can scarcely imagine. Fellow Cyberpunk Chuck Hammill has helped me assemble a collection of bits and bytes you may enjoy.
“If you’re wise ... digitize!”
In agreement with Leary’s interests at the time, the disk contains software credited by the Libertech Project for those who “like the idea of techno-thwarting government abuse” and was “distributed free to Libertarians, Objectivists, Discordians, Cyberpunks, Survivalists, Soldiers of Fortune, Hackers, Entropists, Deltaphiles and similar types…”
The disk contains DOS programs generating fractal graphics and a copy of the paper, “From Crossbows to Cryptography: Thwarting the State via Technology” by Chuck Hammill, given at the Future of Freedom Conference in November 1987.
It’s hard to imagine what ultra-square Ron Paul would have made of Leary’s “futant” pals. I sure hope a videotape of this fundraising event shows up one day on YouTube!
Other prominent supporters of Ron Paul’s candidacy in 1988 were Jesse Ventura, Barry Goldwater, Ralph Nadar and Cynthia McKinney.
Rebels: A Journey Underground is an excellent Canadian documentary history of “the counterculture” produced for television in the late 1990s and narrated by Kiefer Sutherland. It’s the work of writer/director Kevin Alexander, who did a great job with it. More people should see it. I’m happy to see that the series has been posted in full on YouTube.
The six-part series covers a wide swath of historical countercultures moving from William Blake and 1830s Parisian bohemians to mostly 20th century movements like hippie, Jazz, Beatniks, punk, and what was at the time the series was produced, the brave new world of cyberspace.
When Malone (an extreme conservative dubbed “Darth Vader” by Al Gore) saw Disinformation for the first time, his reaction, I was told by two people actually in the room, was “We paid for this anarchist bullshit? Get rid of it!”
Talking heads include Robert Anton Wilson, William Gibson, Douglas Rushkoff, Genesis P-Orridge, John Lydon, Jello Biafra, Captain Sensible, Richard Hell, Malcolm McLaren, Don Letts, Glen Matlock, Jon Savage, Caroline Coon, Paul Simonon, John Doe, Poly Styrene, Rosemary Leary, Ken Kesey, Paul Krassner, Ray Manzarek, Michael McClure, Anne Waldman, RU Sirius, Mark Pesce, John Perry Barlow, Rudy Rucker and many others.
Part 1: Society’s Shadow
From Bohemia and 19th century European romanticism, this film looks back through history to uncover the beginning of “new vision” thinking in Western civilization and its links to what is now called counterculture. From 1830s Paris to New York City’s Greenwich Village at the turn of the 20th century, it follows the paths which brought Europe’s most rebellious voices to America. Includes profiles of William Blake, Victor Hugo, Theophile Gauthier, Charles Baudelaire, John Reed and Woody Guthrie.
Parts two through six of Rebels: A Journey Underground after the jump…
It’s 1994, a year and a half before he died, and Timothy Leary is being interviewed by the obnoxious Nardwuar in British Columbia. Like most interviewees approached by the Tam- wearing asshole, Leary displays tremendous cool in the face of Nardwuar’s grating dweebishness.
The Timothy Leary papers amount to 412 linear feet of letters, manuscripts, research documents, notes, legal and financial records, printed materials, photographs, video and audio tapes, CDs and DVDs, posters and flyers, and artifacts, dating from Leary’s youth in the 1920s until his death in 1997.
What’s even cooler, however, is that they just came across a little-known Nintendo component called a Power Glove. You may remember it from the movie, The Wizard, which I watched at least 5,000 times as a kid.
Power Glove was a fairly esoteric, expensive, and rare precursor to the Wii, so not a lot of people had one. This is probably a good thing, because I understand the technology wasn’t quite developed yet to make it any more than a cumbersome bother to use. Regardless, it’s fun (though not surprising) to know that Leary jumped on the video game gadgetry bandwagon early.
Raise a glass, drop a tab of acid or take a deep hit on your bong in honor of the great Timothy Leary, the counterculture guru and psychedelics spokesman who lived one of the most outrageous lives of the 20th century, born on October 22, 1920.
The revolutionary philosopher was once called the “most dangerous man in America” by Richard Nixon.
Terra II is probably one of the least known of any of Leary’s books. However, when Leary wrote to Sagan, and included a copy, he wrote back, enthusiastically, about an in-person visit. People with Sagan’s reputation and level of success generally avoided Tim like the plague, but Sagan took him seriously enough to come to one of the worst prisons in the country to talk to “the most dangerous man in America” (as described by President Richard Nixon in 1970).
Terra II is a super rare book, it’s true. It was published by Leary’s common-law wife, Joanna Harcourt-Smith, while Leary was in Folsom State Prison and never properly distributed. According to the authoritative Annotated Bibliography of Timothy Leary by Michael Horowitz, Karen Walls and Billy Smith, only between 800 and 900 copies were printed. Most copies were probably sold to directly to supporters to raise money for Leary’s legal fees.
It took me years to get my hands on Terra II. It’s super far-out stuff and something I’ve found to be an object of intense fascination for years. I actually asked Tim Leary about it myself at his house in 1995 and I could tell immediately from his reaction that it was not something he really wanted to discuss (Robert Anton Wilson, who devoted quite a bit of space to the ideas presented in Terra II and Leary’s “Starseed Transmissions” pamphlet in his book Cosmic Trigger gave the topic a cold shoulder as well, as I wrote about here). I just love the idea of Carl Sagan reacting to the ideas in Terra II. Remarkable!
February 19, 1974
Thanks for your last note and the book TERRA II. I have no problems on chance mutations and natural selection as the working material for the evolutionary process. In fact, with what we now know about molecular biology, I see no way to avoid it. But I loved your remark about the “transgalactic gardening club.” Of course, if extraterrestrials are powerful enough, they can do anything, but I don’t think we can yet count on it. I’m enclosing an article on “Life” that I did for the Encyclopaedia Britannica which you might like.
On the basic requirements for interstellar exploration, I doubt if a manned expedition to Mars could be done within the next 25 years for less than $300 billion. Try really costing your spacecraft and see what it would cost. In fact, maybe the reason we haven’t been visited is that interstellar spaceflight, while technically possible, would beggar any planet which attempted it.
If we can do it, how would you like a visit from us in the last week in February? I have no idea what the visiting privileges are, but if your and my schedules permit, Linda and I would love to visit you in Vacaville on the morning of Thursday, February 28. Frank Drake has also expressed an interest in such a visit, as has our mutual acquaintance, Norman Zinberg of Harvard Medical School. What’s your feeling about it? Write to me at the St. Francis Hotel, San Francisco, where I’ll be staying beginning Sunday, February 24, and I’ll try to firm up the visit, if it seems possible, shortly thereafter.
With best wishes,
P.S. The enclosed poem, “The Other Night” by Dianne Ackermann of Cornell, is something I think we both resonate to. It’s unfinished so it shouldn’t yet be quoted publically.
The short film “Timothy Leary in Folsom Prison” was made in 1973 to raise money for Leary’s legal defense and keep his name out there. Leary discusses his jailbreak (intimating that the daughter of a United States senator he refuses to name helped him), the revolution in consciousness and drugs, Eldridge Cleaver and what it feels like to be an imprisoned philosopher. Leary was released from prison in 1976 by then—and current—California Governor Jerry Brown.
What a long strange it’s been for Space Ghost - from Blip the monkey to the high priest of psychedelia, Timothy Leary.
Space Ghost: Now Timothy, tell me, what’s your secret identity?
Timothy Leary: I’m an outlaw, I’m a, a counter-culture person, and that’s where I like to be, out there on the, on the front lines, uh, with my friends.
Space Ghost: What sort of super-powers do you possess?
Timothy Leary: Oh, we flood your eyeballs, over, overload your, uh, your earballs, I give you patterns and swirls of color, and, uh, makin’ you feel better and better, yeah, the power of using light to, uh, to enhance consciousness and alter consciousness is the tricks I’m using now, and, so far, they’re legal, Space Ghost.
Space Ghost: Now, Tim, people depend on me to defend their planets and save millions of innocent lives from impending doom. What do you feel people expect from you?
Timothy Leary: Uh, Richard Nixon called me—I’m proud of this, Space Ghost—he called me the most dangerous man alive, and of course, I tried to be as dangerous to him as I could be. Outsiders, uh, like me a lot because I’ve given the man fits, so I’ve got a lot of friends out there.”
This appeared on TV as the third episode of Space Ghost Coast To Coast, but it was actually the first show of the series to be produced.
Oh yeah, Judy Tenuta (ugh) and Ashley Judd also appear.
At 12:44am on the 31st of May 1996, Dr. Timothy Leary sat bolt upright in bed startling the small group of friends and family who had gathered to keep him company during his final days. He had been diagnosed with inoperable prostate cancer the previous year and it had finally run its course. “Why not?” he asked those keeping vigil. Again, louder, “Why not?” He repeated the question a third time. “Why not?” Then, lying back down, Dr. Leary whispered his final word… “beautiful”… and slipped into death. He was 75 years old.
It’s hard to think of many public figures who split opinion to the degree that Leary did, and still does. Hailed by some as one of the most important philosophers of his generation, by others as a visionary scientist centuries ahead of his time, and by some as a prophet, a mystic, a guru, even a saint. While still others denounce him as a fool, an ego-maniacal charlatan and even – in the words of President Richard Nixon – “the most dangerous man in America”. As is so often the case, the truth is far more complex than the simple narratives produced by those who worshipped or abhorred him. In fact Leary’s life and work encapsulate perfectly the chaos and ambiguity; the heady highs and crashing lows; of the psychedelic counter-culture he – more than any other single individual – helped to create.
While no one will mistake this for a historic meeting of the minds, it does have its odd charm. The Marshall McLuhan of punk Billy Idol chats with Timothy Leary about rock n’ roll, cyberspace and computers. “Pretty deep,” Joey Ramone observes while Television (the band) let old skool technologies like drums and guitars do the talking.
We were working on our first Mondo 2000 issue. It was going to be the cyberpunk theme issue and we’d gotten interviews with the major cyberpunk SF writers, except Gibson. Gibson’s management wouldn’t put us in touch with him. And then we heard that he was coming to the Bay Area and we turned up the heat, but his press agent had him set up for interviews with major outlets only and we were nobody and it was just a brick wall. So somehow, Mu wound up on the phone with Leary complaining about this and Leary offered to let us transcribe a tape of him and Gibson in conversation about ideas for the game spinoff that would accompany the release of the film of Neuromancer — all of this being planned then — back in 1989. Leary was going to lead the development of the game… at least conceptually. (Well, it was all conceptual, ultimately.)
So, the next day, we all showed up at a Gibson appearance in Berkeley radiating some kind of weird intense energy and Gibson was drinking warm beers and glancing nervously over at us while he signed books. We probably looked to him like some weird cult preparing a kidnapping. And after the line of autograph seekers cleared out, Mu strolled up with this insane bezoomny rictus grin that she has and told him that we were running this interview that Leary had done with him. And he literally held the side of the desk like waves were making him seasick and shouted, “That was no interview! That was a drunken business meeting!”
The article ran and Gibson eventually became friendly. This edit from the tape features Leary and Gibson talking about the characteristics of Case (from Neuromancer) and then they go on to talk about William Burroughs. I recommend listening through headphones. Gibson’s voice is rather quiet. There is also at least one other male voice that you’ll hear and that would be someone from Cabana Boy, the Production Company that had the rights to Neuromancer at the time. If you hear a female voice, that would be Barbara Leary, who was Timothy’s wife at that time.
I recently interviewed Gibson for the MONDO project and he had this to say about his vague recollection: “I dimly remember being annoyed that that was going to be published. Mainly because I hadn’t been asked, I imagine.”
In Growing Up In America, Morley Markson revisits his 1969 documentary on counter culture icons, Breathing Together:Revolution Of The Electric Family, with the original subjects of the film to get the perspective of age and hindsight.
Reflecting the past through the present, forming a kind of Möbius strip of history, we watch as they watch: Jerry Rubin’s transformation from firebrand radical to Capitalist cliche, the evolution and assassination of Fred Hampton (through the eyes of his mother) and the unwavering integrity and self-realization of Abbie Hoffman, William Kunstler, Timothy Leary, former Black Panther Field Marshall/expatriate Don Cox, Allen Ginsberg, and MC5 manager and White Panther founder John Sinclair. This is a fascinating glimpse at lives that mattered and still do.
It’s hard to believe that with the exception of John Sinclair and director Markson all of these men are dead. Are these the last of a dying breed?
While Growing Up In America is a vital and significant document, its failure to include some women in the mix is a glaring oversight. Bernardine Dohrn, Angela Davis, Shulamith Firestone and Diane di Prima are just a few of the women who were actively involved with cultural and political upheaval of the Sixties and any one of them would have provided a much needed woman’s point of view to the film. Once again, we’re confronted with the notion that the Sixties counter-culture was a boy’s club.
This fine documentary is out-of-print on video and has yet to be released on DVD.
Utah-based maverick filmmaker Trent Harris, who we recently covered on Dangerous Minds when we posted about his cult film The Beaver Trilogy, shot this forthright interview with psychedelic guru Timothy Leary in 1978, still railing against the powers that be even after his time spent in federal prison.
Timothy Leary’s famous Cooper Union address in New York City on November 1964 was the one of the pivotal moments in the cultural revolution of the Sixties.
The audience seems to be on Leary’s wavelength, laughing and applauding with the excitement and enthusiasm of people who are ready for the change that was rising on the horizon like an orange and purple basketball.