photo manipulation by nacrowe
i never really knew what to make of TIMOTHY LEARY, the legendary 1960s counterculture guru of DRUG CULTURE and advocate for all things freedom of thought. beyond his famous maxims of "think for yourself, question authority" and "turn on, tune in, drop out" i was pretty naive on the man himself. its interesting because the portrait made in the BRITISH TV documentary TIMOTHY LEARY: THE MAN WHO TURNED ON AMERICA (BBC, 2001) is one of a narcissistic egomaniac who was more bent on chasing fame then careful study and scientific contemplation.
raised by his mother and aunt after being abandoned by his father as a child, LEARY excelled in school but was crippled by his heavy-handed CATHOLIC upbringing which traded in guilt and shame as controlling mechanisms. his whole life was one of isolation in a crowd. LEARY found himself at WEST POINT but left voluntarily after being reprimanded for breaking their honor code when lying about his drunkenness on night to his superiors. he eventually went to BERKELEY in the 1950s where he collaborated on a clinical psychological personality diagnostic tool that brought him some notoriety, partly because he took full credit for it. during this period his first wife and mother of his two children committed suicide after learning he had fallen for a coworker. the couple had practice spouse swapping and other practices with the local bohemian crowd but apparently falling in love was the taboo he transgressed.
eventually he found his way to HARVARD as well as another marriage or two and discovered through a peer the psychoactive effects of PSILOCYBIN. he felt this was a new frontier in the world of clinical psychology and pursued its effects with graduate students. this eventually led to his dismissal as the line between scientific rigor and recreation was seriously blurred. whats interesting about this period is that these IVY LEAGUE credentials are what largely separated him from his later peers (like THE MERRY PRANKSTERS) and provided him a sense of cultural cache and intellectual status. after leaving HARVARD he moved to UPSTATE NEW YORK where he ran a retreat that careful administered PSILOCYBIN and later LSD in a controlled environment. whats intriguing is that the culture ran away from this type of closed setting and in the 1960s went national, with varying results. he became an advocate and countercultural icon for a movement that largely wasnt interested in his carefully administered doses in an austere, supportive community of peers.
once the government caught up to speed and made such PSYCHOACTIVE SUBSTANCES illegal, all scientific experimentation ceased at research institutions and LEARY became a bit of a pariah and his later years were spent in and out of prison and with varying allies that he would never have encountered otherwise. that stuff didnt interest me that much.
my hope with this documentary was getting at what the crux of his actual message was, but this documentary seems to just paint him as a intellectual lightweight and phony in search of NOTORIETY and the LOVE and AFFECTION he never got as a child. this is seen in the people chosen to be interviewed including an ex-wife, former BERKELEY peers and even G GORDON LIBBY. i thought this was a film with an agenda. were none of his advocates available for interview? did he really never have any?
im not convinced.