Serious Fun

Turn On, Tune In, and Drop Out Redux

Arguing for Leary's influential change agency.

Book Cover Don Lattin (Jesus Freaks), who for years covered religion for San Francisco newspapers, has a new book: The Harvard Psychedelic Club: How Timothy Leary, Ram Dass, Huston Smith, and Andrew Weil Killed the Fifties and Ushered in a New Age for America (Harper Collins). The title pretty much tells you what the book is about—and is useful if you know or remember Timothy Leary and company (Richard Nixon labeled Leary “the most dangerous man in America”). If you don’t, these men were intensely involved in experimentation with psychedelic/psychotropic drugs such as LSD and Psilocybin.

It is, of course, a very large claim to hand the so-called Harvard Quartet credit (or blame) for an epochal shift or transformation, and Lattin makes a valiant attempt to substantiate it. But more significant for this good-time retrospective is its evocation of the playfulness and openness (cynics and nay-sayers would called it naiveté) that went hand in hand with Leary’s rallying cry: “The only way out is in. Turn on, tune in and drop out. Out of high school, junior executive, senior executive. And follow me!”

At the least Lattin credits Timothy Leary, Ram Dass aka Richard Alpert (Be Here Now), Huston Smith (introduced the Dalai Lama to the West), and Andrew Weil (wellness huckster) with fathering the mind/body/spirit movement that resulted in the proliferation of a non-religious spirituality—and thus holistic and alternative medicines, organic produce and vegetarianism, and yoga classes. Which, if you look around, is a significant piece of the current cultural mélange.

Lattin concludes:
They changed the way we see the very nature of reality… We see the best of them in the best of ourselves. In the end, it is not about the drugs. It’s about remembering the life-affirming moments along the way—those glimpses of wonder and awe, empathy and interconnectedness—and finding a place for all of that in the rest of our lives.
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