LSD Guru Tim Leary Interview

Timothy Leary, a professor turned LSD enthusiast turned felon, talks about the legal system and his organization, SMILE.

LSD Guru Tim Leary Interview

Timothy Leary burst into the limelight, amid a shower of controversy. While members of the left debated whether or not he fingered friends and associates in order to obtain his recent release from prison, Leary eventually came out with a new and radical plan for the future of mankind: SMILE (Space Migration, Increased Intelligence, and Life Extension).

Claiming that extraterrestrial lifeforms made contact with him while he was still in prison, the former high priest of LSD embarked on a media blitz (including national television appearances, a new book, and many lucrative college lectures) to help promote his plan.

Although the image-change kept with his sixties slogan, "You can be anyone this time around,” it was one of the most radical changes he's undergone–abandoning the exploration of the inner mind for that of outer space; trading in the spiritual for the material. Leary's constant changing, from professor to acid king to prisoner to fugitive to prisoner to space migration advocate, continued to confuse those who tried to process and market him for consumption by the public.

He achieved instant superstardom after becoming the first Harvard faculty member to be fired in over a century–the result of his controversial LSD experiments held at his home in Millbrook, New York. Dozens of followers flocked to the estate, where Leary maintained the appearance of serious and continuing research. He was constantly being harassed by the law because his research into inner space involved the use of hallucinogenic drugs. His flamboyant lifestyle, successful lecture tours, and advocacy to "Turn on, tune in, drop out," eventually made him a prime scapegoat for an outraged Middle America. In March of 1970, he was arrested and later sentenced to one-to-ten years imprisonment for possession of marijuana (which was still a felony at the time). He maintains, until this day, that the stuff was planted on him by the arresting authorities.

Jail and adversity never seemed to dampen his passion for communication. His autobiographical Jail Notes was followed by a well-publicized escape and Confessions of a Hope Fiend. Back in the slammer once again, he wrote Starseed: A Psi Phi Comet Tale, Terra III: The Starseed Transmission, Neurologic, and The Curse of the Oval Room. Another opus, What Does Woman Want?, which he whipped together in two weeks, is a whimsical, cursory retrospection into the events of his life, including his occasionally Violent falling-outs with Eldridge Cleaver in North Africa.

Head magazine news editor Allan Earle interviewed Timothy Leary, in order to find out about allegations made that he sold out his friends in exchange for his freedom, and to learn more about SMILE–Leary's vision of the future.

HEAD: Ever since you were recently released from prison, there have been many heavy-handed charges made against you by various people. Maybe we can start by clearing a few of them up. It is well understood that considering your sentence–thirty years for a single joint–your arrest was a result of your high-profile public image as an Oracle of the counterculture, rather than any crime on the books. Now that you've denounced those positions in articles you've written for such publications as William Buckley's National Review and Oui, you have been released. Some people feel that your release was a direct result of these denouncements. Do you feel that you have been rehabilitated? Or do you feel that you were released because the authorities, after reading these articles, though they had been?

Timothy Leary: When I came up for parole at Federsville, I had done five times more time than the guidelines that are established by law say. So don't talk to me about what I did or didn't do. Even if I had been guilty or hadn't been set up, I still had to put in ten times more time than I should have.

If you want to give the credit to the penal system for rehabilitating me, go ahead.

It's been charged that, when you were trying to get out, you were blowing the whistle on some people. You were naming names.

Did you hear what names?

One name was...

My dear friend, I've been charged with everything. There's hardly any sin against man or God that I haven't been charged with. If you produce the named person who will stand up and say, "I, Joe Jones, charge you, Timothy Leary, with doing this," then I will answer this. But anonymous charges and news leaks? My answer is: no one's been indicted or convicted by anything I've told the government.

One of the names that came up was Michael Kennedy. Wasn't he charged or implicated by your testimony?

To my knowledge, that's false. Michael Kennedy, a lawyer from San Francisco, has never been charged or indicted for any crime. That's libelous, man, saying that he's been charged. You can get in trouble.

What about your California lawyer, 'George Chula'?

George Chula? I've never heard of a George Chula.

He's an Orange County attorney.

I said I never heard of the man. I flatly deny that I committed any crime and that I should have been sent to prison. I flatly deny that I got out of prison by snitching. I did attempt to run up a network of intelligent good guys in law enforcement who I can work with. My attempts to do that hurt nobody and put nobody in prison. It may have scared some people but...

Do you think your parole has had anything to do with the fact that you have publicly renounced drugs?

I'm not talking about drugs now because drugs are boring. The phosphorescent electric meaning of drugs is gone now. We're a generation beyond that. You know the musical Hair? When was that, 1967? I just recently read the script of Hair. They had all these people on stage saying, "Mar-i-juanal LSD STP' and the middle class audience would go "Horrors' And for the sex part, they had “Sodomy! Cunnilingus! Fornication!” People kept saying, "No, I can't believe it! Stop it!"

Are you actually anti-pot, or anti-drugs?

I'm not anti-anything.

But you don't condone the use of either. You figure it's something that we've all been through and that should be disregarded.

It's like this. I'm sure when biplanes were first introduced by technologists, those advocating single-winged airplanes were ridiculed. But now with aeronautics, it's not an issue anymore. Drugs are not an issue anymore. Everyone has come to whatever terms they want to with their own brain. Electronics, segregation, biochemistry, black dissension are the more important issues now. Wouldn't it be silly to go around debating about marijuana in 1996?

Are you currently planning to organize some method of acquiring money for a new world society?

I am now using Space Migration, Increased Intelligence and Life Extension (SMILE) which brings together physics, neurology, biochemistry, and genetics. Space migration involves aeronautics, electronics, and all the physical engineering hardware. Intelligence increase involves neurology, bio-feedback, psychopharmacology, the disciplined use of drugs. It involves human psychology, self-awareness, and so forth.

You once said that disciplined use of drugs can increase your intelligence.

I didn't say that. I think marijuana, for example, makes you stupid but sensual. I'd certainly be the last one to pass laws against marijuana. I've watched many of my friends and loved ones become more erotic and dumber-just going around with a glazed expression on their faces from their last orgasms to the next-and I found them really quite boring. It was a great tragedy in my life that this happened to me personally. You're trying to get me to endorse drugs, aren't you?

No. I would just like to know your current views on the matter regarding increased intelligence. If it's not by drugs, how do you plan to increase intelligence?

I'm not going to do anything. Everything I'm saying these days is taken from hardcore scientists. Anything I'm saying is taken from findings of people smarter than I am. I'm a good advertising agency of the future.

Do you have some sort of outline for your course of action?

Yes. I see it as one of my functions to send out signals to the portion of the human race that is ready to mutate and migrate. My program is basically signal transmissions. Oh, yes, I'm trying to generate energy, which will bring together about a million Americans and One million people from Asia, Africa, and Europe. If we can get them working together, all-out, on space migration, we can do it within a decade. One million Americans is less than one half of one percent. Out of every two hundred people who pass you on the street, I want one.

You don’t foresee the possibility that we'll blow each other up before your visions materialize?

I think the chances are less than one percent that we'll blow each other up. However, if we don't get things moving, if we don't migrate into space, you're going to have an anthill, an insect nest-like place. There's going to be more and more people. There's not enough energy or material resources on this planet. And Ralph Nader, who is the biggest insect or monster of all, is an example of what our world's going to be like if we don't get our asses out of here.

Why Ralph Nader?

OK. Ralph Nader thinks our cars should be small, weak, drab, and slow. That's because Ralph Nader is drab, weak, and slow. Ralph Nader wants to put limits and there can be no limits. It's the genetic code's message. The message of evolution is expand, exploit, go faster, go farther, get higher, move out in every direction with more energy and power. And Ralph Nader would have us busted for cosmetics and cigarette smoking. I don't want to be too hard on Ralph Nader. I use him as the prophet or the guru of safety and security. Risk is the key to evolution, and that's what I'm talking about.

It seems that every time we've been united, it's always been against something, rather than for something.

War was necessary until Hiroshima. Now, space migration is necessary to get the whole population mobilized, to put an end to competition and develop technology. If it hadn't been for war, we wouldn't have the wheel, the chariot, the spear, the bow and arrow. We wouldn't have ships. We wouldn't have compasses. All this was because of international competition, but now that's over.

So now you're going to have capsules floating around in space?

That's it, yeah. I'm not planning this. Designs have been worked out to the most precise details by NASA scientists and by projects conducted at Princeton by Professor Gerard Emil, and at MIT by Professor McCarthy.

What's to say a society in outer space will work perfectly?

I didn't say it would. C'mon. I didn't say anything about there not being problems. I would say were in a cataclysm down here. Like in nature, the caterpillar fighting for this twig in space. "Motherfucker, if you come on my twig, I'm going to kick you off because I have to have all this space to myself, and there are only so many branches to this tree." But, if we were butterflies... you see, butterfly psychology is very different. Initially, we are going to become mutants. I have a phrase. I say "No rejuvenation without migration" and "No migration without mutation." In other words, it's going to happen. Just like the butterfly gets very interested in travel. 

The vision you put forward in your recent writings is one which deals at length with immortality.

My number one bumper sticker now is "Stamp Out Death."

Do you feel that our bodies were meant for 500 years?

Yeah. I think our bodies can and should live to the point where we can. Actually, at your age, there's no reason why you should ever die. You should be able to stay alive long enough for medicine to solve the problem that's ticketed to knock you off. Every decade medicine knocks off one of the killers. So there's no reason you can't keep this body. And with the advances in genetics in ten, fifteen years, they'll learn how to turn the genetic tape back to keep you at the age you want. All you have to do is send your body and your hormones a message.

But it's going to be up to someone else to do that. The way the world is going, who knows whether they're going to want to bring you or me back.

But that's the risk you take. I want to tell you that there's no insurance. There's no security. There are no guarantees whatsoever. It's all a chance. If you're intelligent, you want to live as long as possible and be as young as possible and to get as far as possible and so forth. But I want to tell you that I've done a little experimenting with this on my own. The last seven years, I've been frozen. See, I had the U.S. Government put me in a freezer for seven years. So I came back to American society now. I'm resuscitated. You people are quite alien to me. Just in relation to my experience with being deep-frozen and resuscitated, I find that it's great to come back...

How do you feel about coming back to a place with the legal system that put you in jail?

I have a tremendous empathy for anyone who's in prison. And I've come to share their sense of anger and despair. But I'm not all that interested in prison reform at the moment. I think the fastest way to improve the system is to listen to what I'm talking about. That's what Rockefeller said, "We've got the best system if we can make it work.' I assume he was talking about the nervous system, right? The best way to get everybody rich and free is to move the program of SMPLE ahead. Because there is Violence and greed and poverty and class conflict and racial conflict now, and there's no way you can help it. It's going to get worse. There's going to be more population pressure, there's going to be more crime, there's going to be more racial tension, there's going to be more unemployment, there's going to be more deprivation on this shrinking planet. The Only economically different solution is to start moving out to where energy is free and resources are unlimited and Visions can be externalized.

Furthermore, the only way to preserve racial, ethnic, religious, neighborhood, tribal values, the only way to preserve wildlife (which I'm in favor of-whether it's human or animal) is space migration. If we do stay down here and don't go up, it's all going to be homogenized insect anthills. There's going to be the Communist anthill, the American anthill. And individual differences will be eliminated by monster television networks.

Now Reading
LSD Guru Tim Leary Interview
Read Next
Magic Mushrooms FAQ