Camp David

CAMP DAVID MARCH 2008: TIMOTHY LEARY, VAMPIRA & PAUL MARCO

By • Mar 20th, 2008 • Pages: 1 2 3 4 5

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WE SURE GOT HIGH….HONEY!
TIMOTHY LEARY

Timothy Leary

The other night on cable the Turner classic movie channel was screening a mini-festival of LSD movies beginning with Otto Preminger’s delightfully off kilter all-star disaster SKIDDO, a film definitely ahead of its time and desperately in need of reappraisal, the terrific end credits alone demand it. Afterwards I stayed tuned in to catch another pop relic from the cinema of the psychedelic sixties entitled THE LOVE-INS. Even though I had never seen this film before, it became obvious to me within the first ten minutes that this was in fact a totally non-factual Hollywood fantasy of the Timothy Leary story, ripped from yesterday’s headlines as the studio press release might well have put it at the time.

I usually find any Hollywood film that addresses the “peace and love generation” to be eminently watchable, especially those made while it was still happening –1966-1971. It is quite a trip to see how dated these films tend to appear within days of being released, as Hollywood itself was clueless after the surprise success of EASY RIDER to accurately reflect what was really happening with the youth market they were always in danger of losing altogether.

THE LOVE-INS (1967) is ripe with guilty pleasures, a sincere performance from veteran actor Richard Todd (as the Leary figure), perhaps best remembered as the killer from Hitchcock’s underrated STAGEFRIGHT, not to mention the unexpected hoot of witnessing a young Mark Goddard (the heartthrob from TV’s LOST IN SPACE) playing the evil hippie who helps the guru of LSD fleece the faithful followers of flower power with mind-altering drugs. Ironically the actor would also play a similar role a decade later in BLUE SUNSHINE (1976), a cult horror film about LSD. American International Pictures somewhat cornered the counter culture market on the subject with films like THE TRIP and WILD IN THE STREETS, creating stars out of actors like Christopher Jones, Peter Fonda, and especially Dennis Hopper in the process.

As I watched this Hollywood interpretation of Dr. Leary’s rise to celebrity it released a flood of memories within me of the real Dr. Leary, or at the least the one I finally encountered personally during the last two years of his life. The very first time I saw Timothy Leary in person was during a love-in at the fabled Big Sur retreat of ESALEN. This earthly Garden of Eden rests, like a film set, on a cliff hanging over the Pacific Ocean. I can never forget how luminous Timothy Leary appeared on stage. He simply radiated superstardom in his bright-orange Eastern robes, looking more like a high priest in some Technicolor reenactment of Atlantis than a Harvard professor, the mass media would have us believe, having tripped out beyond redemption on psychedelics.

Since it appears to rest with the historian, does it not, to select and condense events as they hopefully come to mind — in that case what I seem to recall about this first encounter was exactly how much Leary lived up to his myth, which was that of an empowering visionary who would eventually change the way an entire generation viewed themselves in relation to the limitless power of the mind, and in their ability to question authority, especially that of the government. This would become his legacy at the end of his life. Dr. Leary was introduced that afternoon by Carlos Castaneda to a capacity audience of young, good-looking, and more than likely rich Californians who already seemed predisposed to strolling through the “doors of perception” as revealed by Huxley’s book of the same name, the author himself having already experienced enlightenment through psychedelic drugs, courtesy of the good doctor himself.

Timothy Leary, an iconoclast from the moment he stepped onto the world stage, initiated a renaissance which resonates most profoundly in today’s 21st century of cyberspace and virtual reality. Leary was most determined to acknowledge Socrates as his major influence philosophically, adjusting one of the master’s most profound observations – KNOW THYSELF – into his now famous advice, “Think for yourself; question authority. Always remember we are living in a decidedly Calvinist America where the very nature of thinking for yourself can bring peril and blasphemy into your lives. They are always quick to inform us we are in the realm of devils with this behavior, perhaps even in league with Satan himself, well that is their reality and they are welcome to it.”

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