Timothy Leary
(excerpt from Chapter Five of Rock & Roll Medicine©)



Timothy Leary is scheduled for a stop on his 'stand-up philosopher' tour. Leary is a bit like the Merlin of rock and roll, after pioneering the psychological terrain of the acid trip. Perhaps it is the fact that Leary a former Harvard professor, condones the explorative nature of the hippie rebellion and he confirms for my friends and me that we are in the frontier of new thought. Though we are all in possession of strong independent minds, we have not formalized our intellectual development with higher degrees, so Leary is somehow important. We imagine how much fun getting high with him would be.

Back in those days it was not unusual for an artist to perform two shows in the same evening. Since Timothy Leary doesn’t really have a stage set and full-blown crew, it is an easy gig. A little dinner for ten people and some bottled water and coffee in his dressing room. When he shows up at the venue with his manager, he makes his way to the backstage area; probably knowing that’s where the action is. The girls, Elizabeth, Kelly, and I are preparing dinner. Rat, the lighting designer, and Roger, who sells tickets in the box office, are also hanging out in the dining area and tend to be very well informed about music and the culture.

Leary, at 60, a relatively tall man with hair that is starting to gray at the temples, comes into our tiny kitchen area, a room about the size of a bathroom, maybe 6’ by 9’, and greets us with a warm ‘Hello.’ Chatting with him is fun and comfortable. We kid him about the song by The Moody Blues, where they say "Timothy Leary's Dead." He laughs heartily and seems very relaxed with us. Soon the question comes up, ‘does he want to join us for a smoke?’ His answer is ‘yes’. We lead him up a ladder attached to the wall into an area above the dressing rooms that we call ‘the loft.’ The loft, with its excellent view of the stage, is a place to watch the show without venturing out into the crowd. When there, we are virtually invisible to those out front.

With six or seven people in this intimate space, we are packed like sardines, but the closeness is thrilling as we pass around a couple of joints, joking and laughing with this infamous outlaw of the academic world. Our lofty cave, the intellectual wizard, sharing some medicine, sacred smoke. We carefully climb down after twenty minutes of quiet ceremony touching on the highs and lows of consciousness, we climb down to earth and Timothy Leary goes to find his dressing room. Elizabeth, Kelly, and I put out dinner and prepare for the show. Rat returns to his duties at the light board.

After dinner is cleared away, I can hear Leary doing his set while I wash dishes in the large stainless steel sink that is almost as big as the kitchen itself. His show is a form of humorous lecturing, explaining a mix of quantum physics and acid trips, among other things. He does the piece about finding your spot. Your power spot. It’s out there somewhere, be intuitive, discover it and from there, within yourself, you can see it all.

Drinking from a carafe of wine as he strolls the stage, delivering his amusing stories, he is clearly enjoying himself. The girls are either in the dressing room tidying up or out front watching the show, as I rinse a soapy plate and place it in the drying rack. Suddenly, I hear a collective gasp from the audience; a scuffle of chairs, and then applause. Keith Luecke, the Uptown production manager, runs up the stairs and informs me that Leary has just walked off the edge of the stage, hitting the floor with a thud. But he’s back on the stage in no time, seemingly unhurt, heard saying "Please don't take me out now, Coach, I'm not finished," and then carrying on with the show.

When the set ends, Leary bounds up the stairs, looks at me and says, “Did you see me fall off the stage?”

“No I didn’t, but I heard all about it. Are you OK?” I inquire.

“Oh, I’m fine. I guess I just got a little carried away and didn’t watch where I was going,” he chuckles.

I ask him if he will sign the newly painted wall of the kitchen. “Sure,” he says, “I’d love to.” I hand him the large blue marker, he takes it and scrawls across the wall in giant letters,

‘WE DEFIED GRAVITY… FABULOUS TRIP! LOVE, TIMOTHY LEARY’ handing me back the marker with a big grin on his face.



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