Timothy Leary is still dead

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

The right wing gets a lot of mileage out of keeping the image of drugged out liberal college professors poisoning the minds of students. Their evidence may have started with the eggheads at Harvard in the 60s that planted the seeds of counterculture by way of LSD psychotherapy experiments. That quartet is the subject of Don Lattin’s raucous, witty and unconventional book The Harvard Psychedelic Club.

The timing of this is deft. The same baby boomers who were dropping acid then are now right wing nuts addicted to prescriptions drugs and condemning any thought of free thinking.

Before the dawning of the Age of Aquarius, the social liberation movements, lovebeads and long hair, there was an ad hoc transcendental study at Harvard.  Leary was a research psychologist and widower (his wife committed suicide) raising two children who started kicking it around with psychology professor  Alpert, who was straight on the east coast and on the gay DL on the west coast, but founded his new age identity in India and transformed into Ram Dass, western guru who joined forces with Dr.  Weil became the father of the holistic medicine empire and  Smith, son of Christian missionaries, author of The World’s Religions, giving up the Gospel for mysticism.

The mind-body-spirit and drug movement out of Harvard was the keystone of social consciousness movement that elevated Leary to cultural guru with his mantra ’turn on, tune in and drop out.” By the time he was leading The Gathering of the Tribes for the Human Be In in San Francisco with pals Allen Ginsberg, Jerry Rubin and the Grateful Dead, he was a tripped out celebrity. Psychedelics aside, the metaphysical leaders of the counterculture induced some bad trips and Lattin book is peppered with ironic tales of untranscendental hubris.

Lattin, who was victim to an extended bad trip in the 60s, became a rational skeptic to new age hokum and old time religion now examines spiritual life in America. He was nominated for a Pulitzer for his book Jesus Freaks: A True Story of Murder and Madness on the Evangelical Edge. He is also a thorough historian even with psychedelic license in the time space continuim.

Lattin shorthands all of his subjects to penetrate the real subject of this book, the altered state of post 60s Americana. This book is a fabulous trip, perhaps a post-Kerouac road scholar classic.