Timothy Leary – Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out [ESP Disk, 1966]
Dr Timothy Leary, the acid guru of acid gurus, and G. Gordon Liddy, infamous CIA nut job to end all nut jobs, stepped out on the stage and performed a nationwide US stand-up tour in the 1980s.
Let that sink in for a while.
Leary urged 1960s teens to turn on, tune in, and drop out, and spent the next decade chased across the globe by the police, the CIA, and the FBI, and then stuck in prison for various drug-related offences.
(Liddy did time too on account of that little Watergate thing. Strange bedfellows indeed.)
A former Harvard professor, Leary gave up academia in 1963 to pursue spiritual enlightenment through Sandoz Lab chemicals and turned on everyone from teenagers to middle-aged intellectuals.
He understood mass media. He knew how to manipulate hungry minds. He made a stack of cash, lost it all, became a parody of himself, and then reinvented himself for the Cyber Generation.
This 1967 album follows the script of his nationwide “lecture tour”, which rocketed him to worldwide infamy.
In it, Leary languidly describes his LSD trips over 22 tracks and it’s not hard to figure out where the seeds of EST began. “I will teach you how to sleep consciously.” He whispers. My brow furrows. Is this an exhortation to Turn on, tune in and drop out; or is it one of those infernal relaxation tapes? Gardens, cottages, streams and nature; this is all sounding horribly indistinguishable from those interminable meditation videos that you find on the Internet.
Throw in some swirly graphics and you have yourself a money-spinner right there. This isn’t too far off the mark, as it happens. Leary spent most of the high watermark summer of ’67 touring the country with this album, a light show and a microphone, and made quite a nice living out of it.
“If you’re over the age of 40, I’m not sure that you should listen to this record,” he intones. “What I’m going to say might make you mad… I particularly don’t like to get people over the age of 40 mad because these are the people with guns and handcuffs and prisons…”
This was the generation who didn’t trust anyone over 35 which makes you wonder why they trusted 47-year-old Timbo, but I digress.
As a hip young 50-something that grew up watching my parents and their friends sway and grow with the psychedelic times, I’m a tad perplexed by this platter.
I confess to spacing out part of the way through listening, and not in a good way either. There was something about his brother and somebody under the age of 20 and expanding consciousness. He mentions expanding consciousness quite a lot.
I ran out of cigarettes at this point and had to go to the store and hand over my over 40 capitalist death bread. He was still talking about cottages and primitive cultures when I got back.
There was something about Eisenhower and a tree in there too but I was making a cup of tea.
“I can turn YOU, the younger generation, on to your own spiritual potential.” He said. So I sat back down and carried on listening. “But if I do so“, he continued, “I get in trouble with your parents.”
Apparently, previous generations imprint us and he can’t turn them on because they’re dead. Bummer.
But he’s studied all of this and he knows what he’s doing. He says that quite a bit too. He knows how to expand YOUR consciousness because he’s spent MANY HOURS reading BOOKS and talking to IMPORTANT PEOPLE who know STUFF.
All YOU have to do is purchase this IMPORTANT ALBUM with FINE LEATHER DETAIL and he will EXPAND YOUR CONSCIOUSNESS with INTERESTING THINGS and RELIGIOUS REVELATIONS. Just clip the coupon at the bottom and mail your cheque TODAY.
(I have no earthly idea what he’s talking about, but I’m over 40 and my ancestors are dead so I have imprint issues.)
Is he still talking?
He’s still talking. He seems to have spent a very long amount of time talking and now my foot has gone to sleep. I want to cry.
MAKE HIM STOP TALKING!
I am now willing to take any dangerous chemical on the market, wear funky Victorian threads with my jeans and paint daisies on my face if he promises to shut up. I am starting to believe that this is why my parents did that.
Think on that, people, an entire generation willing to leave a legacy of photos and videos of mum and dad in loon pants dancing like idiots just so that Timothy Leary would shut up and go away.
They should play this album instead of showing that advert with the frying pan and the egg. “Take drugs and you will talk for fifteen hours about cottages and Eisenhower and some other stuff until your friends’ ears bleed and their eyeballs explode.”
It is track 17 and he’s still talking. I can’t feel my leg anymore. I can’t feel my leg! I have a sudden thought: what if this album never ends. What if Leary keeps talking and I can’t leave the room because my leg has died?
WHAT HAPPENS IF HE NEVER SHUTS UP?
I’m having an acid freak-out and I haven’t taken any acid. Timothy Leary IS an acid freak-out! My dead ancestors circle around me and my imprints hum. I didn’t even know I had imprints but they’re humming anyway and now my other leg has gone numb.
The album ends but I’m too far gone to notice. My tears have mingled with the drool on the couch as Leary says, “Do not frighten your parents.”
Too late, Timbo, too late.