A few months ago, I picked up on Timothy Leary's writings on various mind-altering substances, and I remarked that he had criticized the use of narcotics, and more than occasional use of alcohol. I thought this seemed like wise advice. I got quite a few comments, and some of them mentioned that Leary did not always follow his own advice.
Diana Trimble posted an addition comment on July 25, and it's worth quoting here:
As others have pointed out, Leary was not only a drinker, he was a BIG drinker! A lot of what he wrote was super idealized and not to be taken as a template for how he lived himself. When Owsley Stanley's group went and hung out at Meadowbrook (Rhoney Gissen talks about this in her biography) this was one of the main contrasts - the Leary crew were all drinking Martinis and smoking cigarettes being quite the East Coast sophisticates whereas all the California people were tripping their brains of and never touched booze.
I knew Leary personally and there was always tobacco, alcohol, cocaine, etc. around. One time in the last few years of his life, I remember going up to the house on the hill and I was at the time doing 12 step sobriety which I told him right off the bat, but throughout the evening he kept either forgetting or he was being a prankster (you couldn't always tell, it was part of his charm) because he just kept offering me drinks, joints, and each time I'd say "yeah, I'm kinda doing the sober thing" and then an hour later "still sober Tim!" and the offers would be harder and harder drugs....nitrous oxide...mescaline...?. He finally offered me straight up heroin by the end of the night! In retrospect, it was pretty hilarious though at the time I was like, "Jayzus! You don't offer an ex-junkie smack!"
Other psychedelic scenes and individuals I've known though, have definitely steered away from alcohol. I like to include it in a come-down from psychedelics but not at the same time.
There are really no hard and fast rules. Excessive alcohol use does indeed dull the mind, not to mention fuck with the physical body, but I believe it has its place on the shelf with all the other natural intoxicants.
I'm also an old friend of R.U. Sirius who obviously also knew Leary (we've even hung out with him together, ha ha. good times!). You can check directly with him if you want to know first-hand verification that what I say is true: whatever he might have postulated, IRL, the Professor loved a stiff drink and he continued to dabble in all sorts of drugs, not restricted to the psychedelics or "good" drugs, right up to the end of his life.
And quite happily too I might add!
Diana Trimble means Millbrook, not Meadowbrook, obviously.
I may be repeating myself here, but the most glaring thing I got from Rbt. Greenfield's well-researched and very critical bio of Leary: alcohol was the drug that caused more problems for himself, more than weed (the small amount that got him busted in Laredo and led to a Supreme Court decision; the stuff planted on him by Laguna Beach cops), or LSD.
And it probably goes back to genes and imprinting (ironically). His father drank, and then when Leary was binge drinking at West Point and getting caught smuggling alcohol for other cadets, and the very painful story of the "silent treatment" he got there, refusing to leave. And on. As a rising academic star during the Mad Men era, you were expected to drink and drink at cocktail parties, He never got over that.
I appreciate what Diana says about the difference between his public philosophy and his private life. It's true. I think we all have private vs. public presentations of ourselves. This aspect of social reality was brought out most lucidly and wonderfully by the great sociologist Erving Goffman (no relation to RU Sirius... that I know of).
And what of this disparity? Accusations of "hypocrisy!" seem, I guess, fair game, but unless it's a Bible thumper moralist or some politician whose lawmaking has effects on others' lives and well-being, I think this "hypocrisy" idea misses the point. Intellectuals are people who are in the business of producing decontextualized ideas. Inherent in this is a certain idealism, a proffering of a better world that is possible. Leary's life embodied this, in my view.
I really like what Ezra Pound wrote late in his life (1960):
"Every man has the right to have his ideas examined one at a time."
I love the Ezra Pound quote. Isn't everyone right on some ideas and wrong on others? And almost everyone has a "belief system," which almost by definition is going to be sometimes right and sometimes wrong.
I love Leary's insight that alcohol is a dangerous drug that should be used with caution, even if he couldn't quite live up to it in his personal life.
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