On Timothy Leary – A 1996 Telephone Interview with Peter Gorman

Allen Ginsberg and Timothy Leary at the Human Be-in, Golden Gate Park. San Francisco, 1967 – Photograph © by Lisa Law

High Times, August, 1996 – A special supplement – tribute to Timothy Leary

On Timothy Leary – A 1996 Telephone Interview with Peter Gorman.

AG: See, if stuff is printed in my name, I get responsible for the syntax …and I have a bibliographer who puts all that down and it’s already a two-volume bibliography which is enormous so I have to be careful that what I print under my name is what I have edited.
PG: Right

recorded summer of 1996 – Allen’s voice on the tape is noticeably strained Allen died the following year, in April 1997

AG: Hello
PG: Hello, Allen Ginsberg?
AG: Yes
PG: Hi This is Peter Gorman from High Times. Hi. Thanks for agreeing to do this. I don’t know if Peter (Orlovsky) explained. We’re just putting together a thirty-two page kind of a tribute to Tim Leary and it’s just an insert, in September’s issue – in August’s issue, and among other things, Martin Lee wrote a history of (LSD),Jonah Raskinwho was with the Weather Underground,did an interview with him a couple of weeks ago, Rosemary (Woodruff) Leary) weighed in with a piece about the Millbrook bust, and now I’ve called people like Ken Kesey and Albert Hofmann, just to have people tell me a story or two about Tim Leary, you know, that would draw a better picture for our readers, you know, who the guy really was, as opposed to what we’ve read he was.
AG: Yeah
PG: So I was hoping that you would do the same.

AG: Yeah, and I was just wondering.. Well, I saw him in January. I think it was amazing,
he was full of spirit and quite tender. The illness had brought on a very tender affectionate side to him. I’d… I was.. He hugged me, and I kissed him, and with some little twitting,
me, I said “I knew I’d turn you gay, sooner or later”, and he said, “For you, any time!”. It was kind of cute, you know, because he always was quite straight and macho, (not macho, but very straight, Irish coach).

One thing I do remember, he came up to my apartment in New York, in 1960, to meet (Jack) Kerouac, and Kerouac was there with the poet Bob Kaufman, (the Surrealist, Jewish African poet – or African-American, Jewish poet), and Leary, and I think we were taking psilocybin, and Kerouac caught on to him and started to coach Leary (you know, like an Irish football-coach, you know, advancing the football game and managing the team). And when he got high, Jack Kerouac said..after a while, after Kerouac had taken the psilocybin – he said, looking out the window on 2nd Street, in between Avenue A and B [on New York’s Lower East Side], he said, “Walking on water wasn’t built in a day!”..

Jack Kerouac

And then we went on a kind of a pilgrimage to various people, Robert Lowell, and Barney Rosset, and others, distributed a little bit of psilocybin, and sat with them. Lowell was (in a) somewhat gloomy mood, but liked Leary. And I sat down, and we left, after we’d come down a bit. We gave him a very little amount. Leary gave him a very little amount, (he took very little). We gave it to him in his hand and…Lowell was a little gloomy, so we left. “Well”, he said, “I want to think it over” and (I said) “Love conquers all”. And he said, “Oh I’m not sure of that!”

Robert Lowell

Barney Rossett had sort of a bum trip. He said, “I paid my dollars to my psychiatrist,
fifty dollars an hour, to keep me from having this kind of experience!”

Then he sent me to give some to Thelonious Monk. So I delivered it to his house, near where Lincoln Center is now, and, about a week later I saw him in the Five Spot and asked him what he thought of Leary’s pill, the psilocybin. He said “Got anything stronger?”

Thelonious Monk

Then we gave some to Dizzy Gillespie, and I asked him what his reaction was, about two weeks later, again at The Five Spot. (He said), “Anything that gets you high, man”

There was a time when the government had set him [Leary] up. But the key thing was… the reason they wanted Leary was that he had escaped through the offices of the Weathermen, I believe. And the heads of the FBI were trapped, because they had been wire-tapping The Weathermen, and it was illegal for them to do that, unless it was an international conspiracy – “Moscow Gold” – And they kept Leary incommunicado, I mean around about 1970, (19)75 was that?

PG: I thought he was out by then. (19)70, I thought, (19)71, when he fled to Algiers.

AG: No, he fled to Algiers but then they caught him in Afghanistan, and so they grabbed his passport as he left the plane. The American Counsel rushed up and grabbed his passport. So he was then without a passport, then expelled from Afghanistan to the United States, where he was in jail for quite some time. You have all that on record, don’t you?

PG: Yes

AG: So it would be around (19)74 or (19)75. I think it was (19)75, because I got a call from.. well, a call from him, actually. It was very rare (because hardly anybody had heard from him), it was all through Joanna (Harcourt-Smith), who had a kind of monopoly on communication – and he said he was sleeping on steel sheets and in solitary. And what they were trying to do..
Oh well, she had called and said she wanted to arrange for Leary to get in touch with Bill Kunstler. So I consulted Kunstler and called her back, and said that if they wanted to get in touch with him, here’s his number. (Kunstler had expected some kind of entrapment, actually, from her), and they never did call.
Later on, when Leary got out, I was explained what the problem was there – that the FBI had been wire-tapping the Weathermen illegally and they wanted Leary to testify that (they) were getting “Moscow gold”, that money was coming from abroad, as part of a big Communist conspiracy. Well, as far as he knew, it wasn’t, and they were just a domestic..domestic dissidence…and.. so, he was.. they were keeping him, the government and the FBI was keeping him..the Feds were keeping him, in solitary, trying to get him to change his story, to testify for.. Sullivan, (I think his name was, or somebody, I forget who, in the FBI), who was otherwise going to go to jail, and finally those guys in the FBI did go to jail – maybe Felt? [Mark Felt, later to be revealed as the Anonymous “Deep Throat”], I’m not sure. Do you know the story?

PG: …Not off-hand.

AG: You might (just) check, (have) fact-checkers check it out. But some civil higher-up (named Mark Felt, but I’m not sure), did have to go to jail for violating the law and wire-tapping when they shouldn’t be. And the people on the Left, some of the lawyers (I think Michael Kennedy) were claiming that Leary had sang, naming names, but Leary’s account was that he’d actually refused to cooperate with the government and thus the trial of the FBI people went on and they went to jail. This was at a time when the Left was disillusioned with Leary. He had fled with the Weathermen, from jail, and they had made him sign a.. some kind of a manifesto addressed to me, partly, renouncing pacificism, or renouncing non-violence, (and) they delivered him, of all places, to Eldridge Cleaver,  now in Algiers, Algeria, yeah. And, after a while, Cleaver put him in jail, or arrested him and held him incommunicado, do you remember that?

Eldridge Cleaver and his wife Kathleen in Algiers

AG: Years later, they met again in jail and went over what happened and it turned out that the FBI, or CIA, one of the government agencies, had been feeding disinformation to Eldridge Cleaver saying that Leary was a member of the CIA and was there to infiltrate and spy on them. And, I think, some acquaintances of, some black acquaintances of, Eldridge Cleaver, who were in his group in Algiers, were actually double-agents, were feeding him that disinformation. So Leary was the recipient of a tremendous amount of disinformation and attack from the Narcotics Bureau, Treasury Department, G. Gordon Liddy, of all people, (the criminal himself), and CIA and FBI, and, almost an international conspiracy to entrap him, and to put him through the ringer. And he emerged from it cheerful and not embittered, as many people might have been, went through that ordeal for years, beginning with his bust of going down to Mexico, where he took responsibility for his daughter’s…
his daughter had put a little bit of grass in her..bosom, and (after being warned not to take anything at all), crossing the border. And he was turned back at the Mexican border and sent back to American customs, where they found the grass. And so, as father, he honorably took the bust, (rather than the daughter), and was sentenced to something like thirty years for a couple of joints, by a judge in…Texas, who denounced Leary as an unwholesome influence because of his books and writings, and so gave him this big huge sentence, which was constitutionally questionable, because you can’t, you can’t sentence a person for his books and writings.

AG: And so the sentence was, again, one of these exorbitant miscarriages of justice (what I did..), which was righted in an odd way by a lawyer from Texas, whose name I’ve forgotten, who won Leary’s appeal from the bust on a technicality that for him to register with the marijuana, marijuana tax act, would’ve put him in double jeopardy, or something like that, you know, forced him to testify against himself. So he was released from that, and he won that case. And in that release, many people were also released, because he had overturned the Marijuana Tax Act law. That was the beginning of his troubles, not the beginning but that was the beginning of his incarcerations. But before that, his troubles were initiated (at Millbrook) by none other than Gordon Liddy, who himself later was convicted of all sorts of crimes.

C.Gordon Liddy in 1964

AG: Yeah, but what’s interesting is that in those days, Liddy was constantly raiding Millbrook illegally, without warrants and without proper court provisions. And I remember there was an ACLU man called Noel Tepper, a lawyer, I think in Poughkeepsie, whom I interviewed around that time, or went to see if I could help, what I could do to help, who said there were so many violations of the law in Liddy’s raids on Millbrook that it would take a team of lawyers years to sort them all out and sue. So Liddy got away with it, but he himself was such a wild man and a nuisance that they didn’t want him around Poughkeepsie running for District Attorney (because he was an Assistant District Attorney). So they bounced him off to Washington, the White House, where he became part of the, I believe, the Nixon.. Plumbers group, or something?..

AG:Not only that, but also, part of the White House Group for.. you know, an Advisory Group on Drugs, no less! Liddy had parlayed illegal activities in raiding Millbrook into a White House Advisory job – Okay.

PG: Thanks
AG: You have enough? – Yeah – Is it possible for you to send me a little..?
PG: I’ll send you a copy and I’ll send you a transcript.
AG: Oh, oh your edited version, yeah.
PG: Okay.
AG: Both.
PG: Yes, of course.
AG: Yeah. You can send it by fax. Do you have a fax number?
PG: 675-1686.
AG: Then I can respond to that.
PG: Thank you very much. Thanks for your time.
AG: See, if stuff is printed in my name, I get responsible for the syntax …and I have a bibliographer who puts all that down and it’s already a two-volume bibliography which is enormous so I have to be careful that what I print under my name is what I have edited.
PG: Right.
PG: Yes. You bet. Thanks very much. Goodbye.

Om Orgy poster, April 16. 1970 – artist – Barry Thomas – Timothy Leary Archives

Audio for the above can be found here (as part of a three-part podcast – Peter Gorman’s interviews, (on “(The) Psychedelic Salon”), (this one with Allen is followed by interviews with Baba Ram Dass and with Laura Huxley) – see also the interviews with Albert Hofmann, Dennis McKenna, and Oscar Janiger)

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