Peter Conners (peterconners) Tue 23 Jun 09 07:21
Im currently researching and writing a book about the relationship between Allen Ginsberg and Timothy Leary. About ten years ago, I was researching Allen Ginsbergs archives at Stanford and I became fascinated with the correspondence between the two men. So after a decade percolating in my brain, I finally felt ready to tackle the book. For the past couple of years, Ive been gathering hundreds of pages of primary resources (correspondence, FBI/CIA files, back issues of professional journals, forms that Leary used in his studies, etc. etc.) and reading every worthwhile book I could track down. Those have been slowly digested and now Im about 125 pages into writing the book. Its tentatively titled, The White Hand Society: The Psychedelic Partnership of Allen Ginsberg & Timothy Leary. Im mainly interested in the early 60s, when Leary was still at Harvard, and he and Ginsberg were working closely to bring Ginsbergs many contacts into the Psilocybin Project. There were a very interesting couple of years before the media & authorities got involved when Leary was still considered a rising star in the field of Psychology and their belief in the Project was earnest and passionate. The division of labor was clear: Ginsberg was to help Leary make the contacts and urge people toward participation in the Project and Leary was to be the professional face who contextualized the drug in a way that straight society understood. In those years, a fascinating roster of poets, musicians, painters, publishers, filmmakers, and other related people either passed through Harvard to take psilocybin or took it with Allen and Timothy in NYC (Robert Lowell, Barney Rosset, Thelonious Monk, Willem de Kooning, Charles Olson, Aldous Huxley, Kerouac, Burroughs ). Of course, things got public and the media entered the fray shortly thereafter that stuff is interesting & will be included in the book too. But Im most interested in this quiet, underground period that really served as the launching point for the psychedelic movement on the East Coast. When Im not working on The White Hand Society, Im making final adjustments and working on some additional poems for my next poetry collection, The Crows Were Laughing in their Trees. That book is coming out in 2010 with White Pine Press, the same great poetry publisher that brought out my last collection, Of Whiskey & Winter. My agent also has a couple of rock music-based novels that shes beginning to shop around, so well see what happens with those. One of the things Ive learned in the literary trenches is to focus on your next project the only thing you can control in the writing world is the project youre working on. Ultimately, thats the most interesting thing to the writer as well.
Scott MacFarlane (s-macfarlane) Tue 23 Jun 09 07:56
<the Beatles (et al.) had flooded the world with color and optimism.> Amazing how four lads from gray, industrial Liverpool could trigger a major expansion of consciousness with colour and vibe. Peter, you're tapping into the government sanctioned origins of the "flood" with this new writing project. MK-Ultra (and the related testing at Harvard) may be the ultimate example of unintentional kulturmutation. Good luck with the book!
Steve Silberman (digaman) Tue 23 Jun 09 10:37
Having enjoyed your Dead book very much, I can't wait to read your Ginsberg book! Get a load of this photograph: <http://www.stevesilberman.com/downloads/ag.hitchcock.leary.ferling.sinaloa.63. jpg> That's Allen, Peggy Hitchcock, Tim, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti at the old Sinaloa nightclub in SF, a classic boho tourist trap. I imagine that Peggy is playing a significant role in your book. I'm friends with one of her sons, or stepsons. She's still alive. Allen, of course, was very intentional about wanting to change the world -- going all the way back to his conversations about "the new consciousness" with the nucleus of the Beat Generation in NYC in the late '40s. I think that overestimating the effect of that meme on the hippie movement would be hard to do, but on the Dead... Garcia seemed to be more interested in the "art" aspects of Beatdom than the political aspects. Like Dylan, and in a similar way, really.
Steve Silberman (digaman) Tue 23 Jun 09 10:42
I remember the first time I saw Ginsberg's kitchen in NYC, with pictures of Walt Whitman, Rimbaud, and various mandalas and whatnot on the walls, and soy sauce and macrobiotic stuff in the cabinets, thinking, "This looks just like one of my friends' kitchens." And then I thought, "Of course it does... Allen invented it!"
Peter Conners (peterconners) Tue 23 Jun 09 11:05
Hi Steve, Many thanks for the good words on GUD and the great photo, etc. Yes, Peggy will certainly come into play as soon as I get the gang off the Harvard campus. Since I'm focusing primarily on the relationship between A.G. & T.L. though, a good deal of my work has been pre-Millbrook, including going back to the New Vision days in the 40s. I'm also covering Albert Hofman and Huxley, along with the lesser known pioneers Dr. Humphry Osmond, Dr. John Smythies, etc. Probably no real Dead until I get to the '67 Be-In, and even then, only a mention. Of course, as soon as you start discussing A.G.'s part in the early phases you automatically bring in an amazing cast of characters, so the book is also a study in the points where art/literature met science/psychology and spawned the psychedelic baby. It's been an illuminating project so far - fascinating having so many of the original letters, etc. New & unforseen connections behind every page. >MK-Ultra (and the related testing at Harvard)< Scott - do you know of a specific relation between the Psilocybin Project and MK-Ultra? There was certainly govt behind lots of studies and there was no doubt monitoring at every phase of Harvard, but I haven't come across any direct funding connections. I'd welcome any insights along those (or any other) lines. Peter
Peter Conners (peterconners) Tue 23 Jun 09 11:07
"And then I thought, "Of course it does... Allen invented it!"" Nice! Yup, definitely tracking it all down to the source.
Steve Silberman (digaman) Tue 23 Jun 09 11:07
HARVARD UNIVERSITY Department of Social Relations Center for Research in Personality Morton Prince House 2 Divinity Avenue Cambridge 38, Massachusetts 12 27 60 Allen Phone me collect DE 2 6223 Want to talk to you. Nothing urgent, just moving so fast that I want to keep in touch. The ripples from that last weekend keep spreading. Big attack on monotheism. Well, not attack. We don't put down. What I mean is, big campaign to show people They are Gods. Peter You know all this, I guess. But they sure need to know it here. Lafcadio The children ask about you They hope you'll be back here soon. I've been writing ten twenty pages a day. Finally revised (what you knew before) that you have to write about the mushrooms (by which I mean most moments of face-smash into real) in poetic beat. All well here. Phone Love Tim
Peter Conners (peterconners) Tue 23 Jun 09 11:28
Great one, Steve! One of the areas that really pulled me in is the way Leary started to incorporate hip slang - even free verse poetry - after merging with Ginsberg's crew. The letters are a very revealing way to see that transformation. You can see the split clearest when Leary describes a situation to his professional peers and then describes the same situation in letters to A.G. et. al. The clearest example of that is in his Concord prison testing. He was working to legitimize the Project and get quantifiable data (which he needed to do), but he was also getting to turn on all these "cons" to psilocybin, playing them jazz records, showing them art books, etc. So you have these professional write-ups and presentation papers about the study, then you have these hip letters to A.G. about turning on these guys to all this new art. In other words, it's linguistically apparent when, as they say, the worm turned.
Steve Silberman (digaman) Tue 23 Jun 09 11:34
Scott MacFarlane (s-macfarlane) Tue 23 Jun 09 11:55
<do you know of a specific relation between the Psilocybin Project and MK-Ultra?> Other than the timeframe and funding from the US government, I don't know the specific ties. (The book Acid Dreams is a good starting point for the big picture stuff). Have you thought about contacting Baba Ram Dass/ Richard Alpert in New Mexico about your project? We're not going to have these direct sources around to ask much longer, and so much of this information has been largely suppressed over the years, (an indirect victim of misinformation campaigns and a War on Drugs that started well before Nancy Reagan). Yet, as Steve's great post just showed, there are some great pure artifacts out there if you're willing to mine for them. As for the Dead, you're probably aware that Robert Hunter took part in the same V.A. MK-Ultra tests that Ken Kesey did circa 1960. IMO, this is the least studied, core component of the tumultuous '60s and why more books like the one you are writing are important.
Sharon Lynne Fisher (slf) Tue 23 Jun 09 12:09
heh. I read that description of the new book and thought, wait til <digaman> gets his hands on that. :)
Peter Conners (peterconners) Tue 23 Jun 09 12:41
At this point, I havent' been in touch with Alpert/Dass, but I've been in touch with many executors and experts in order to get my hands on all the letters and other primary resources. As I mentioned, I've got hundreds of pages of those already in my possession. I've been gathering them for a couple of years now (and, frankly, it's a real pain in the ass... but that's another story). It's great stuff and is forming the core of my book. For example, right now I'm looking at back issues of the Harvard Crimson... specifically, an article written about the Project and published 2/20/62 by Dr. Andrew T. Weil (who was then, of course, not a best-selling integrative medicine guru, but a student working at the Crimson). Amazing how those circles keep spinning outward... Yes, Acid Dreams is a great resource too. But to clarify, I haven't seen any funding connection between Leary's Harvard project and the govt or MK-Ultra. That would be a very important tie if it was in fact present, but from what I can see, it's not.
David Gans (tnf) Wed 24 Jun 09 12:25
Peter, our interview has officially ended, but I hope you'll stick around. The topic will remain open, and I hope you've seen enough of the WELL to want to stay with us.
Peter Conners (peterconners) Wed 24 Jun 09 12:38
David and Everyone - many thanks for asking me to do the interview. There's so much great, smart energy happening here and it was truly stimulating to be a part of it. I definitely plan on sticking around and checking out other discussions, etc. "Just gotta poke around" And I'll check back in here from time-to-time to respond to any other Growing Up Dead or related questions too. Peace & blessings to one & all, Peter
(dana) Wed 24 Jun 09 13:02
Thanks for joining us, Peter.
Scott MacFarlane (s-macfarlane) Wed 24 Jun 09 13:52
Yes, thanks Peter.
what another day it takes: (oilers1972) Wed 24 Jun 09 20:09
Indeed, thank you Peter. I can't wait for your new books.
Infradibulated Gratility (ssol) Thu 25 Jun 09 05:15
Gail Williams (gail) Fri 26 Jun 09 13:25
Great conversation. Thanks everybody.
Peter Conners (peterconners) Thu 2 Jul 09 16:16
Hey Everyone, Just wanted to let you all know that my very own "Head Set" airs tomorrow (7/3) on the G.D. channel on Sirius/XM! I read short sections from Growing Up Dead and put together some other intros to accompany the tunes. All the songs are from shows between 1987-1989. The show airs tomorrow (7/3) at 5PM EST. For Sirius/XM subscribers, the Grateful Dead channel is #32. Cheers, Peter Cheers, Peter
John (delphinus) Mon 6 Jul 09 03:19
Robin Russell (rrussell8) Tue 7 Jul 09 13:14
I'm sorry I missed this discussion. I am looking forward to reading your new book, Peter. You know you have it made when your book becomes a TWA on the Well.
Peter Conners (peterconners) Tue 7 Jul 09 13:16
Thanks, Robin. I'm still popping in here, so feel free to send along any questions once you dig into the book!
David Gans (tnf) Tue 7 Jul 09 14:55
Peter, come visit <deadlit.> and <tours.> and <gd.> !
Peter Conners (peterconners) Wed 8 Jul 09 07:49
Thanks for the reminder, David! I just popped into Deadlit and found the Beat discussion... jumped right in. BTW, thanks again for providing the tunes for my Head Set. It was great sitting with friends around ye olde sirius radio and listening to the set of late 80s greats.
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