Timothy Leary, The Psychedelic Experience: Readings from the Book “The Psychedelic Experience. A Manual Based on the Tibetan

Robert Phoenix

By Robert Phoenix

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

When I went to download these tracks from my eMusic profile, I noticed that I had downloaded 666 artists. Whether or not this has any meta-meaning as I unravel the mysteries of these two classic orations from the '60s on Smithsonian Folkways, I'm not sure, but somehow it's a fitting number for Dr. Timothy Leary, a man who once rivaled Aleister Crowley for contempt by the conservative mainstream.

Go ahead: let a bookish and nerdy voice help you kill your ego.

My take on the '60s and much of the psychedelia and mysticism that enshrouded it is much different from what it once was. More and more info is coming out about the CIA's involvement in the countercultural movement. Leary on the east coast and Ken Kesey on the west coast were the hierophant and the fool respectively. Not coincidentally, they were both connected to two of the most powerful educational institutions on both coasts as well (Harvard and Stanford). Rumors have dogged Leary persistently over the years as being a CIA operative to help create a counterculture that would lead to introspection and disengagement from society at large. Whether or not this was true or even successful, the ubiquitous nature of LSD and the art that exploded out of it changed our collective perception forever. Leary was the high priest of the movement and sought to create a new forum for a formless encounter with temporary insanity on these two tracks.

These two recordings are almost laughable by today's standards, as Leary sought to play the role of guide, using imagery from the Tibetan Book of the Dead intermingled with his own psychobabble about “letting go” and “dying to the ego.” They were supposed to be listened to while tripping. Whether or not this was helpful to people in the throes of casting off reality is hard to say, but from this standpoint and this time, it would elicit howls of deep, cosmic, gut-bursting laughter, with its pervading kitschy irony.

But during the height of the '60s, Leary was the way-shower of the masses and his calm, if bookish and nerdy voice might have soothed a few minds frying at the edge of extinction.

A quick note: a number of artists, from Ash Ra Temple to ravers like Effective Force have recorded and sampled Leary's druggy sermon for their own music.