Earl Crabb (esoft) Fri 10 Dec 10 21:11
That bio doesn't sound like Carlos. Is that episode online somewhere? I met Carlos, and would recognize him, if it is indeed him.
Peter Richardson (richardsonpete) Sat 11 Dec 10 08:29
Peter, I enjoyed the passages on Burroughs. Leary's letter to him sums up the project and its ironies, I think. Can you tell us more about that and other attempts to recruit artists like Thelonius Monk to the cause? I was vaguely aware of the Brotherhood of Eternal Love, mostly from reviews of Nicholas Schou's book, Orange Sunshine. How did they get involved with Leary?
Peter Conners (peterconners) Sun 12 Dec 10 15:38
Once Ginsberg decided to help the process, the recruiting went very well. Among the recognizable artists and intellectuals who took psilocybin as part of the Harvard Psilocybin Project were Robert Lowell, Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs, Charles Olson, Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, Barney Rosset, Muriel Rukyser, LeRoi Jones For the most part, Ginsberg had the "in" and Leary swept in with the credentials, the follow-up questions, and the pills. It was a powerful one-two punch and they were very successful at garnering volunteers. Nicholas' book is definitely the place to go for info on the Leary-Brotherhood connection. The inner circle of the Brotherhood revered Leary and The Psychedelic Experience and when Leary moved back West he connected with them. They were the ones who put up the money for the Weather Underground to break Leary out of prison. Between Leary's notoriety and the Brotherhood's, their relationship speeded the demise of all involved; there was just way too much high level drug activity and publicity for the Feds to go unpunished.
Peter Richardson (richardsonpete) Mon 13 Dec 10 14:26
The government's role in LSD research still isn't widely known, despite some excellent books on the topic. Soon after that research indicated LSD couldn't be weaponized, its private use was prohibited. In between, of course, came Ken Kesey, the Pranksters, Acid Tests, etc. Peter, can you talk about the disjunction between the Ginsberg-Leary partnership, at least as it was originally drawn up, and what was happening in and around La Honda? Many have heard about the Millbrook encounter, but I didn't realize until I read your book that the spirit behind the Pranksters' visit was a kind of challenge to that partnership.
Peter Meuleners (pjm) Mon 13 Dec 10 14:50
Does Bill Wilson work into this narrative or had he ended his association with Leary prior to the Ginsberg connection?
Peter Conners (peterconners) Tue 14 Dec 10 12:18
I'll take the short question first... No, Bill W. doesn't come into WHS b/c he wasn't part of the Harvard Psilocybin Project proper. I did have him in an earlier draft, but he didn't make the final cut for the book. That's a tough door to open without making it an entire chapter and it just took me too far astray my intention. That said, the connection between Bill Wilson, AA, and psychedelics is an interesting one and there was some good research done (pre testing ban)on giving psychs to alcoholics - along the same lines as the MDMA and psilocybin testing currently going on with terminally ill patients and soliders suffering from PTSD.
Peter Conners (peterconners) Tue 14 Dec 10 13:05
The Pranksters' visit to Millbrook is definitely a fascinating story. Obviously Tom Wolfe famously wrote it up in Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (which I'm told is currently being filmed) and that served as the definitive account for a long time. However, Wolfe was traveling with the Pranksters, so his take on it was securely from their perspective. In WHS, I looked at it from a greater distance and took the Leary camp's version into account. From their take, they were coming off a long trip and were just starting to shut-down when The Bus came rolling up the driveway, smoke bombs, blaring music, etc. Rather than deal with this strange new wrinkle, most of the house just retreated to their rooms. Leary says he was just returning from business travels and was very sick in bed with the flu. So that left Richard Alpert to welcome the group and give the tour. In short, Millbrook was taken off guard by the visit and it isn't hard to imagine how overwhelming the entrance could have been. The Pranksters certainly had a vision of how it would all go down and the reality didn't meet their expectations. It's also important to remember that the Millbrook group had been experiencing increasing brushes with the law and they were trying to assimilate that into their open lifestyle. So they were surely wary of the attention The Bus drew to their compound as well. That aside, there was a philosophical difference between Leary's approach and the Prankster approach. Leary was more about guiding the trip, providing the right "set and setting" and using psychedelics to open the mind to new ideas, spirituality, psychological insights, etc. The Prankster's certainly overlapped with those goals, however (and the name says it all) the approach was more about confronting (pranking, freaking out, perpetrating hilarity & stimulating the unexpected) so that the trippers would come face-to-face with their own established thought and behavior patterns. I've often thought of these approaches as Left and Right brain illustrated geographically, at that time, as East and West coast.
Peter Richardson (richardsonpete) Tue 14 Dec 10 16:09
Yes, I see what you mean, and nicely put. One other threat to the program, I guess, was Andrew Weil's article in the Harvard Crimson. (It ran, I think, the same month that *Cuckoo's Nest* appeared.) Weil's description of the Harvard program required an immediate response, though in same ways it articulated Ginsberg's and Leary's highest hopes. How would you characterize that exchange?
Steve "Peter" Silberman (digaman) Wed 15 Dec 10 08:53
Sorry I'm late here, I had a major deadline. Peter, thanks for writing this book! I enjoyed it and learned a lot, despite the fact that I've been studying Ginsberg in-depth for more than 35 years, and (as most of you know) was one of his teaching assistants at Naropa. I was also interested in Leary as a kid, though that interest waned over time as I realized how much of what he was saying was just hype and blarney. Peter Richardson, you said: > We may be in trouble if Allen Ginsberg is the grounded, sensible one in our partnership. I guess? I know such snark is nearly de rigeur these days when discussing the Beats, but Ginsberg *was* notably grounded and sensible, by any standard, not just Beat or Hippie standards. In fact, his political views (see the song/poem "Capitol Air," for example) have stood the test of time surpassingly well, compared to the public statements of many other people of his era, some of them leaders of nations. Peter Conners, how did your opinions of Ginsberg and Leary change as you wrote the book?
Peter Conners (peterconners) Wed 15 Dec 10 08:55
Andrew Weil was reporting and directing the reportage on the Psilocybin Project for the Harvard Crimson. Leary felt that the first article portrayed the Project as overly optimistic about the prospects of psilocybin in Psychology, so he wrote a response insisting that they were, in fact, proceeding in a measured and cautious way. Once the Crimson/Weil latched onto the Project it helped open the group up to more scrutiny on campus and also outside of Harvard. In a sense, Weil and the Crimson blew Leary's cover. The articles became more sensational and even when there wasn't much to report, the Crimson made the Project front page news. It turned out that not only was Weil directing the Crimson on this reporting, but he was also acting as a spy for the administration and reporting directly to them about Leary's activities. In short, during his Harvard days Weil was no friend to Leary or the Project and his efforts helped speed their demise. Don Lattin's book The Harvard Psychedelic Club delves into the whole Weil-Leary dynamic in detail and explores what the motivations were for Weil's behavior, so I'd highly recommend that book for people more curious about the Weil connection.
Peter Conners (peterconners) Wed 15 Dec 10 09:21
Hi, Steve, good to have you here... I was much more in-tune with Ginsberg when I started writing the book, so my perception of him changed very little. I'm a poet and have been reading and studying the Beats for a good 20 years including the letters, biographies, etc. So my grounding in Ginsberg's story, motivations, and connections was solid from the get-go. I was aware of the big picture Leary, but hadn't spent nearly as much time thinking and reading about him prior to writing WHS. The opportunity to contemplate his life and role was a big motivator for me in taking on this project. In general, I like to write about things that I know something about, but that I'd like to learn more about. That learning part is what keeps me going. Leary is a tricky subject, no doubt about it. One of his famous quotes is "You get the Timothy Leary you deserve." That is the most telling and accurate phrase to sum up the challenges of writing about him. There are many different Learys - some of them quite admirable, some of them abhorrent. My favorite Leary is the Harvard era Leary and that was really the focus of my research. There was a sincerity and purity to his efforts at that time that reflected a respect for psychology, his colleagues, and the potential of the drugs. Even after all the time I spent reflecting on the two men, I still get an electric charge when I think about Leary and Ginsberg sitting together at Leary's kitchen table after Ginsberg's first trip at Harvard and planning how they would proceed. It's truly a flashpoint moment and I believe in the purity of the motivations that sparked it. Unfortunately, the more heat Leary drew to his activities, the more he had to become TIMOTHY LEARY to pay the bills to fight the legal battles to keep the trip going. It's a pretty common scenario: a famous countercultural figure gets trapped in a charicature of themselves and can't escape. Ironically, in trying to shut Leary up, the law was forcing him out onto college campuses, media, etc. to spread his message, because that's how Leary was making his money. The situation quickly grew out of control and, without a doubt, Leary got off on being at the center of the storm.
Peter Richardson (richardsonpete) Wed 15 Dec 10 10:49
Steve, welcome to the conversation. De rigeur snark? What Peter's book shows (among other things) is that Ginsberg was the sensible one in the partnership. Also that his public image was linked to the systematic derangement of the senses. That's not usually associated with grounded and sensible in the public mind, and Ginsberg knew that very well. That's why he wanted to partner with Leary.
Steve Silberman (digaman) Wed 15 Dec 10 11:05
I suppose. I suspect that Ginsberg's experiences with his mother Naomi's schizophrenia, as chronicled in his great poem "Kaddish," gave him mixed feelings about "the systematic derangement of the senses" from the very beginning. It's certainly not what he was promoting from the late '60s on; even his advocacy of LSD was more along the lines of "widen the area of consciousness" than "undermine consciousness." And certainly after he met his Buddhist teacher Chogyam Trunga in 1970, he was all about grounding the mind in meditation rather than getting high -- via drugs, chanting, meditation, or anything else. Just saying, many people have a kind of naive view of the Beats, and Ginsberg in particular, that he promoted madness as a way to live. He was more a spokesman for a wider view of sanity.
(fom) Wed 15 Dec 10 11:31
I didn't actually see that as snark, de rigueur or not -- just an amusing comment. And as down-to-earth and sane as Ginsberg was, he was also pretty trippy. I don't have anything like the background Steve has, of course, but I do have a little first-hand knowledge: I met Ginsberg and chanted with him in the park during the 1968 thing in Chicago and took a memorable long walk with him (just me and him) up Michigan Avenue the night of the violence there. He was a relatively sensible but also kind of zany counterculture figure, ya gotta admit.
Steve Silberman (digaman) Wed 15 Dec 10 14:59
fom, will wonders never cease! That's wonderful. I wish you had a recording of that conversation.
(fom) Wed 15 Dec 10 15:18
Oh so do I. When we got to his hotel, he said "I'd invite you in, but Burroughs is up in the room and he doesn't like women!" and gave me a nice little kiss goodnight. I was so starstruck. (Of course I knew he was gay, I didn't have a crush, was just starstruck.) Also remember that he talked about how all is one; and as we were crossing the bridge, he gestured up at the tall buildings and said "This reminds me of Moloch whose eyes are a thousand blind windows!"
Lisa Harris (lrph) Wed 15 Dec 10 19:26
Loving this conversation. And <fom>, who says you can't have a crush on a man you know is gay?
Peter Conners (peterconners) Thu 16 Dec 10 08:55
This is why I love the Well (and why I give it a shout-out in the WHS acknowledgments page). What a wonderful story. Thanks for sharing it. I know there are a whole bunch of other Ginsberg stories out on the perimeter of the Well right now too. Anyone care to share? I'd be very curious if anyone has a good Leary story/anecdote to share too.
Peter Richardson (richardsonpete) Fri 17 Dec 10 13:27
I don't have any great Ginsberg stories, though I appreciated his performance at Harper & Row when I worked there in 1988. Harper's corporate offices were staid, and I was secretly delighted when Ginsberg pulled out his squeezebox and chanted a poem about a new boyfriend. It was a good example of Helen Vendler's comment that Ginsberg was "responsible for loosening the breath of American poetry." Two miscellaneous comments: 1. My late uncle was what Leary was supposed to be in this partnership--a respectable psychologist. He ran clinics, tested Sirhan, testified in the RFK murder trial, etc. He also took acid under clinical conditions in Long Beach as part of his training, I think. He was a combative fellow, a heavyweight boxer in college, but when he came home that night, he was as gentle as a lamb. My aunt was distressed because the dinner (specifically, the gravy) hadn't come out right. "Everything's going to be all right," he said soothingly. That's when she knew something was up. 2. The Bill Wilson topic came up earlier. This morning I read Clancy Martin's article ("The Drunk's Club: A.A., the Cult that Cures") in the current issue of Harper's. He includes several references to Wilson and his penchant for psychedelics.
Steve Silberman (digaman) Sun 19 Dec 10 09:44
<scribbled by digaman Sun 19 Dec 10 09:44>
Steve Silberman (digaman) Sun 19 Dec 10 09:46
I have too many Ginsberg stories to tell. But here's one: In 1987 or so, he was giving at reading at San Jose State University. I was traveling with him and checked in with him at the San Jose Hilton. When the bellboy informed him that he had been given the presidential suite, he excitedly ran into the bathroom and said, "Does that mean Reagan took a crap in this toilet bowl?" Later, we were walking down the bright pink hallway of the hotel, swathed in cheerful carpets and wallpaper, and passed a dank and dreary janitorial closet with the door left open, revealing a rusty pail and mop. "That's what I always think is going to happen," Ginsberg said. "Some door is going to open in the middle of the nice, beautiful world and reveal how HORRIBLE everything really is!"
Teleological dyslexic (ceder) Sun 19 Dec 10 11:30
That reflects many aspects of all kind of angles in life.
Gail Williams (gail) Sun 19 Dec 10 11:31
That's a great moment. I know you have too many stories... but, sheesh, Steve, you gotta share these trippy poet realtiy perception stories. That door opens in the middle of the nice AND horrible world, and reveals something ... powerful in its own right.
Steve Silberman (digaman) Sun 19 Dec 10 11:54
Totally. That door is the First Noble Truth.
Peter Conners (peterconners) Sun 19 Dec 10 14:32
Excellent story, Steve, thanks for sharing that one.
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