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Interview with Don Lattin

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McKiernan Interviews
Interview with: Don Lattin
Interviewed by: Stephen McKiernan
Transcriber: Lynn Bijou
Date of interview: 27 October 2022
(Start of Interview)

DL: 00:00
Six books and they all have something to do with (19)60s, you know, I am kind of fascinated by that era, too.

SM: 00:07
Yeah, well, you just wrote one heck of a book. I-I just love it.

DL: 00:12
Thank you. That is the one, that is the one that did, did well in terms of sales and all that.

SM: 00:18
Well, what, I think I am going to start out the interview. I am interviewing Don Lattin who was the author of, "The Harvard Psychedelic Club." It is how Timothy Leary, Rahm Das, Houston Smith, and Andrew wild killed the (19)50s and ushered in a new age for America. And this is, I am really excited about doing this interview today. Don, I would like you to first start off with a ton about your background. Please describe your early years. Your growing up, where you grew up, your parents' background, your schooling, from high school and college before you became a writer.

DL: 00:51
Okay, well, I was born in Suffern, New York, a little town just across the New Jersey border, northern New Jersey border, in the fall of 1953. So, that actually demographically speaking, [chuckles] Steven puts me Smack dab in the middle of the baby boom generation. And, my father was a, kind of a frustrated actor who had to get a job as a salesman to support his family working for Lipton tea, at Thomas J. Lipton Incorporated, and another was your typical (19)60s, (19)50s-(19)60s housewife. My mother was Jewish, and my father was kind of a lukewarm Presbyterian. So, I was, I was raised in the Presbyterian and United Church of Christ, kind of very lukewarm, kind of Protestant upbringing. When I was 12, my father said, "Do you want to keep going to church?" I said, "No," and he said, "Good, and then we do not have to take you anymore." [laughter] So, that was my, that was my religious upbringing.

SM: 02:04
Oh wow.

DL: 02:05
It was not very serious, but yeah, it was the 1950s and the early (19)60s, when you know, if you did not go to church, you were suspected of being a communist or something. So, but that was my religious upbringing, such as it was. So, I kind of bounced across the country as a child. I lived only for my first three years in New Jersey. And then we moved to Ohio. And I was there for about three or four years. Then we moved to Colorado, outside of Denver, I was there for about four more years, and then we moved to Southern California. I was in junior high school, and spent the rest of my time at home living in Southern California. And, so I went to public school, and I mean, my parents, it was not a particularly happy marriage, I actually write about it quite a bit in one of my other books called, "Distilled Spirits," which is a group biography with three other guys and kind of a recovery memoir. And I write about, you know, my upbringing quite a bit in that book. But it was not a happy marriage for various reasons. I had a brother who died in a tragic accident before I was born, I was what they call a "bereavement baby," I was born 10 months later to replace him. And my, it was a default of the car, my mother was driving, my brother, whose name was Alan and died. And my father basically never forgave my mother for this accident. And, the marriage kind of did not survive that. They stayed together till I was 12, but then they got divorced. So that was, you know, major, major kind of trauma in my childhood, you know, a lot of arguing with my family, and then the divorce was very bitter and left me, you know, feeling kind of alienated and not too much of a believer in the traditional family values [laughs] of America, questioning a lot of that. So, that was that and you know, I started experimenting with drugs and alcohol at a fairly young age, you know, probably around 12. Kind of around the time of my parents’ divorce, I am not sure how much that had to do with it, you know, probably contributed to it a bit. I got in some trouble in high school, marijuana and other drugs. And, but I, you know, always did fairly well in school. I was pretty good student. And I got accepted to go to UC Berkeley, in the fall of 1972. So, I moved up from Southern California, to Berkeley, basically, technically, the day after high school graduation and kind of never looked back, you know, I kind of wanted to get away from what was left of my family. And, and spent four years at Berkeley except for one year I studied abroad in England. So, I went to school at the University of Birmingham, in England, for my junior year, and kind of bummed around Europe, went down to Morocco, you know, kind of, did not do, did not do a lot of studying that year, [laughter] mostly just bombing around Europe. But somehow, I managed to get an undergraduate degree in sociology at UC Berkeley in (19)76. I say my real education was really working at the "Daily Californian," the off-campus student newspaper, which actually had just gone off campus, because of the anniversary of the People's Park riots in Berkeley. The editors at the Daily Cal said, "Let usretake the park," and there was a riot and one guy was killed. And, the university tried to fire the editors of the newspaper. And, they did not, because of the year before I was there, but we, they, they did not agree. And they kind of marched off campus and kept publishing the paper. But, we were basically separate from the university and worked out an agreement with the University. So, it was a really interesting time to be a journalist, then, you know, and it was not your typical college newspaper, because we were, you know, had to survive, you know, financially on our own. And we were also sort of became the paper for the city of Berkeley covering, you know, Berkeley news, what was going on politically, in terms of local politics in Berkeley, then, that was really interesting. And so, I did a lot of writing about, you know, the new left, and politics, and, and drugs, and covered various things like rent control, you know, lobbying campaigns, Berkeley marijuana initiative. Berkeley was the first city to decriminalize marijuana, and I wrote a lot about that. And, and also do a lot of experimentation with psychedelic drugs, which I read about a bit at the end of Harvard Psychedelic Club. [crosstalk] Did you have any interaction with anybody from the free speech movement? That was, what, way before your time in (19)64-(19)65? But, they used to have a lot of remembrances going back to the. Yeah, well, that was, that was, that was in the air. But yeah, that was (19)64. So, you know, that was like, you know, eight years earlier, right. And it is almost like, seemed like another era in some, some ways, you know. I mean, by the time I got to the Bay Area in (19)72, you know, I sort of always wished that I could have been there about, you know, six or seven years earlier, right. [chuckles] In the, the mid (19)60s, and kind of a more hopeful, idealistic era of what we call the (19)60s, you know.

SM: 07:58
Did you ever-

DL: 07:59
(19)70, by (19)72, you know, there was a much harder edge to the whole scene, you were there, you remember.

SM: 08:04
Yep. Yep-yep.

DL: 08:04
The drugs were different and it was just a different feeling. I mean, I think a lot of the hope, and the idealism was already gone. You know, and I was always, I fell in with an older group of people, friends, like I was, you know, so I was what I was looking at, in early 20, early 20s. And I fell in with a group of people who were about 15 years older than me, became my best friends for life. You know, and they had, they were mostly people who had come to San Francisco, you know, when you, some, during the beatnik era, the end of the beatnik era and the beginning of the hippie era, like the early 1960s. And they became, became my kind of tribe and my friends, and I was kind of a kid, right. I was, like, 15 years younger. And, and I was, I was kind of trying to keep the party, you know, a lot. [laughter] And they were, they were starting to get older, you know, settle down and have kids and all that.

SM: 08:12
I think that (19)72 here was also the period, I think the Angela Davis trial was happening around that time.

DL: 09:06
Yeah, that was going on. [crosstalk] The Vietnam War was, was winding down, right. So, the anti, there was a little, it was the tail end of the anti-war movement. There was a lot of, the Angela Davis, the whole, you know, ethnic studies was a big issue, you know, the various liberation movements, you know, African American, we used to say Chicano, you know, though, and, of course, the sexual revolution, and, you know, the gay rights thing was just kind of getting going. So, there were a lot of, you know, liberation movements going on. I mean, on terms of that the campus like one of the big issues then, were there was this debate over the criminology school which had a, kind of, several Marxist professors and they were challenging the whole, some of the ideas. They were, they were not training, you know, law enforcement officers. They were critiquing, you know, law enforcement in America. So there-

SM: 10:03

DL: 10:03
-were a lot of big controversies around the criminology school and cracking down on some of the leftist teachers there. So that was, that was a big issue in ethnic studies, that sort of thing.

SM: 10:16
Chris Reagan was governor, I believe at that time.

DL: 10:18
Reagan was governor. Yeah, you know, there was still, you know, there was still some protests, I did get tear gassed once, you know, [laughs] demonstration. So, that was still going on. But it was nothing like earlier in the, in the late (19)60s, then it kind of, then it kind of died down a bit.

SM: 10:23
Did you ever, and we were going to get back into the Harvard Psychedelic Club, did you ever do articles on the Black Panthers? Because they were becoming very big at that time.

DL: 10:45
Yeah, they definitely were. That was all going on in Oakland, you know, right next to Berkeley. No, I did not really write too much about the, the Panthers. There are a lot of stories about, remember the Bakke decision?

SM: 11:01
Oh, yeah, that was big.

DL: 11:02
The controversies about affirmative action.

SM: 11:04
Oh, yes.

DL: 11:05
That was a, that was a big, that was a big issue. I was also the editorial page editor at, "The Daily Cowl." So, I was involved in editorials around a lot of those, those issues.

SM: 11:16
Wow. Okay. Before, I am going to talk about, before we talk about the actual book, was the afterword in the book. It, where you asked yourself, "Why am I writing a book about four people-

DL: 11:32

SM: 11:33
-who are involved in drugs? And you talk about on a few pages, your experience, when you were a freshman going to Big Sur? Could you talk about that?

DL: 11:43
Sure, sure. Yeah. So, you know, I think I first experimented with LSD in high school, I did it, I do not know, three or four times. I never had, you know, kind of a full-blown mystical experience. Maybe it was something to do with the dose, or the set, or the setting, you know, which is always important. So, I, but when I got to Berkeley, and I actually came in the summer of (19)72. And I had, it was really my first girlfriend in college, her name, Julia, and we had just met, and we both lived in this, the high-rise dorms on the south side of campus. And we ran this experimental program called Hearts Technology and Society, which was, it was kind of the height of that whole, like, a University Without Walls, you know, alternative education movement. Right.

SM: 12:41

DL: 12:42
And the idea was that, you, it was for freshmen, and you would live in a dorm with your instructors who were mostly, you know, graduate students and teaching assistants. And, basically, study arts and we had like, video cameras were a new thing. We had some video cameras, we were playing around with those, music and, you know, critiquing society, and it was a very open-ended program, where there were no grades, and there was no kind of, you hung out with your instructors. And in some ways that, also it was kind of a big party. There was a lot of drug taking going on. And then, we lasted one-year university kind of got what was going on and canceled the program. [laughter] Everybody got, everybody, it was like, everybody got A's, which made them suspicious.

SM: 13:36
Oh yeah. [laughter]

DL: 13:36
So, the university, they could not take the credit away, but they wound up making it so you could not apply the credit to hardly anything, right. So, it was like a whole, basically a whole year of college where it was great for my grade point average, but I could not really apply it much, much to a major. But, so that was, that was kind of environment. You know, it was alternative education. It was like questioning everything, you know, and, and so my girlfriend and I went down. So, this was sometime before Thanksgiving. So, it was fairly early in the school year, we had some blotter, acid, some LSD which we took down to Big Sir, drove down in my 1965 Mustang. And we, we were, you know, camped on a bluff overlooking the Big Sir coast. It is fantastic stretches of coastline, you know, south of Monterey. And anyway, we just had this amazing experience where we kind of melted together and became like one being, and kind of read each other's minds and started out you know, just feeling totally out of love with nature and the environment around us. And it was, you know, it was really turned into what I would call a, full blown mystical experience where, you know, just like white light and coming together as one thing, and it was just the most amazing experience I have ever had. I mean, I just, it just blew me away with this question. My whole idea of what, what, what is reality? What is consciousness? What is what is, what is, what is, what, where, where does my body stop and the rest of the world start? All those, all those boundaries are just kind of blown away. And it was just a beautiful, beautiful experience. And, you know, in my naive, you know, 18-19-year-old mind, I thought, "Well, that is it that this is true love, I found my soulmate, you know, we will be together for the rest of our lives. This is what it means to become in one with someone," and, and we had that experience and went back to school. And then for, for a week or two after that, or actually for about a month, month after that every time we touched. Yeah, we do, do the acid, we were not trippy anymore. But, every time we touched, we physically melt together. It is this amazing thing. It just continued. So, you know, I, I thought that was it. You know, this, she's my soulmate. And I do not know a month or two after that we had another, another trip. In the woods, kind of a dark woods up in northern California. Turned out it was a, with another couple, it turns out it was a hunting lodge, [laughs] where we were actually staying at. So, we were out in the woods, and there were gunshots going off.

SM: 16:40

DL: 16:40
And they were kind of a lot of rednecks around and they set the setting. It was very important for an LSD trip. But this was like the worst setting- -you can imagine. And so, there was a lot of paranoia and fear. And I basically had another, I had a bad trip from central casting, you know, where I got paranoid, I felt very Small, I felt very alienated. I felt very scared, terrified that I was sort of disappearing or dying. It was very, very difficult, trip. And really, we were at this lodge where the boys and the men and women had to sleep in separate areas. So, I was not sleeping, was not with my girlfriend, hearing voices all night. And just, then after that, the next day, we kind of got an argument, and we roundup splitting up. So, and in some ways, I never completely came down from that trip for a couple of weeks, I would have what we used to call flashbacks. Which I used to think we were just anti-drug propaganda because there was so much ridiculous, you know, anti-drug propaganda, you know, during that era. But this case, flashbacks, they, they can happen, and they do happen with people. So, for a few weeks, maybe even a month or two, I cannot remember exactly after that. I would have these flashbacks, which were very terrifying because I, did not really know what was real. I mean, I, I stopped driving because I was not sure if lights were red or green. And I had a very difficult period, I could not read, I could not concentrate at all.

SM: 16:48
[laughs] Wow.

DL: 18:19
You know, it was first year student at Cal, it was not, as I said, it was not a rigorous academic program that I was in [laughter]. But I still had to do some reading, right?

SM: 18:26

DL: 18:28
I mean, you know, one sentence, I just, I would hit a word and I would go off on a tangent, I had no-no ability to concentrate. And you know, and looking back on it, it was you know, I mean, you would probably call it a psychotic break, right. And if I would have, probably if I would have, and but I was very scared about telling anybody what was going on because I was afraid, I would be you know, locked up in a mental hospital or something and back then that is probably what would have happened. So, I kept it to myself for the most part and struggled with it. And it was a really difficult period, came out of it in a few months. And I think that came out in the long run kind of saner than I went in. I see the other side, right, of sanity, but it was a really difficult period. So, so I mentioned, and I write about it because those two experiences left, left me both, you know, fascinated and, very frightened about the power and the potential of psychedelics. And I, you know, and so for a long time I, not for a long time but for a few, for at least six months or so I did not do any drugs, no marijuana, no alcohol, nothing. Eventually got back into psychedelics, but so yeah, and I looking back on that I used to see it as kind of a good trip and a bad trip. But I actually kind of see it now is kind of one thing, kind of a, growth process, or a process of individuation. You know, I see the whole thing kind of as one event now rather than a good trip and a bad trip.

SM: 20:01
That is a, that is a good way, that is a good way to get into talking about the Harvard Psychedelic Club. Could you, what was the Harvard Psychedelic Club? And of course, it is, it is really about four people. And if you could-

DL: 20:16
Yeah, well, yeah.

SM: 20:18
-you go ahead and [crosstalk] say who those people were?

DL: 20:21
Yeah, okay. Well, the Harvard Psychedelic Club, was, there was, there was nothing actually called the Harvard Psychedelic Club. That is just a, a title for my book. And kind of my, my shorthand way of describing it. What I was writing about was something, it was called the Harvard Psilocybin Project. And later, the Harvard Psychedelic Project, which was a, some early research into looking for potential uses, and just understanding the psychedelic experience, with either psilocybin, which was synthesized psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms, and then later LSD. And so, the Harvard Psychedelic Club, is a book about four individuals who crossed paths at Harvard in the fall of 1960, which was a really interesting and kind of pivotal time, both at Harvard and in the country. And the, John F. Kennedy, who had been a Harvard man who had just been elected President of the United States, and much, much, much of the hope and the optimism of the (19)60s was kind of personified in Kennedy, and [inaudible] running for president, and then winning over Richard Nixon, in 1960. So that was kind of a backdrop. Anyway, the four individuals in the book are Timothy Larry, who was a lecturer in clinical psychology at Berkeley, one of his colleagues, Richard Alpert, who was an assistant professor in social psychology, clinical psychology in Harvard. And the, the third person in the book is Houston Smith, who was already a renowned scholar of world religions. He already had a show on the early public television network, before PBS, but early public television network about the world's religions, Houston Smith, he was not actually at Harvard, he was teaching, nearby MIT, but it was very close to the Harvard Cooke group. And then the fourth character in that book is Andrew Weil, who was a bit younger, all four of these guys are kind of pre-baby boom themselves. But Weil, Weil was a, was a, was a bit younger, he was a freshman, brilliant, very ambitious freshman at Harvard. So, the book looks at, it is, the book is a group biography of these four guys, how they crossed paths at Harvard, and kind of, what happened with this grand experiment in psychedelic research at Harvard. And in 1960, which resulted in Larry and Alpert being kicked out of the university and going on to become kind of the pied pipers of the psychedelic counterculture in the mid-1960s. [crosstalk] Go ahead.

SM: 23:20
These four are so historic in so many ways, and it is almost like the perfect storm, you know, the, how they all ended up together in some way over that period between (19)60 and (19)63. And, and you do a really good job of giving us a little brief description of each of their backgrounds prior to Harvard. Could you talk a little bit about Leary and Alpert and Smith and while, it, before they get to Harvard, because I think it is important that you get a feel for who they are even before they get there.

DL: 23:55
Yeah-yeah. Well, I mean, Leary, you know, who became a very divisive figure, you know, Richard Nixon called the most, he would later call him, in the decade, would call him the most dangerous man in America and helped fuel a backlash against, certainly against psychedelics, or specifically against psychedelic research in university settings. But anyway, before. So, Leary was already, he was a rising star in clinical psychology. He had written a, in the 1950s, he had written a book about, he was an expert in personality assessment. And, he had written a very well received, kind of award-winning book, which stayed in print for many-many, many years longer than later books about psychedelics. So, he was, you know, he was kind of a rising star in psychology in the post war era. But even before he first experienced psychedelics, which was on a halt on a vacation in Mexico, in the summer of 1960, when he first took magic mushrooms. But even before that he was questioning, you know, the conventional wisdom in psychology and psychiatry, he did not think talk therapy was really effective. He was doing a fairly radical critique of the power dynamics between, you know, like patient and doctor, and researcher and research subject in like a, psychological testing. So, he was, he was kind of radical in some ways and kind of questioning authority even before he had his psychedelic trip, which totally transformed him and convinced him that psychedelics were going to not only change psychology, but change the world. So that was kind of his background. And Alpert, Richard Alpert grew up in a fairly wealthy Jewish family in Boston. [inaudible] was, helped found Brandeis University. And, so, kind of a railroad executive, lawyer, very pretty, rough, really successful guy. And so, Alpert grew up in this family, he was very bright, very charismatic, young, ambitious. Kind of on the fast track, kind of on tenure track at-at Harvard, much more, you know, identified with the Harvard CNN delivery ever was, where he was just actually on a three-year kind of temporary contract with Harvard. But Alpert was, was on tenure track. And very brilliant-brilliant authority. He was very charismatic, great lecturer, he is very popular with the students. And he was, he was also struggling with his sexuality. He was basically a gay man in the closet you know, and struggling with that, some of that would have something to do with how he got in trouble later on at Harvard. S, that was basically Alpert's background. Houston Smith, you know, was a child of Methodist missionaries, he was born and grew up in, in China. And, so was exposed, you know, grew up, you know, in a hoarder culture, and climate, and came to the States, thinking he would be in a training, become a minister, which he did, he was a, became ordained Methodist minister, but he was more interested in teaching than in preaching, and really became one of the early authority on world religions. And, he wrote a book called, "The Religions Of," was originally called, "The Religions of Man," and later called "The World's Religions," which for many years, maybe still is used as a textbook, you know, in comparative religion. And, but he has never really had a mystical experience himself. And he had been reading about psychedelics and he would read, you know, of course, Aldous Huxley wrote a book published in 1554, about the doors of perception. And so, Houston actually had sought out Aldous Huxley and became friends with Aldous Huxley, and had something to do with Huxley coming to MIT to deliver some guest lectures at this very same time, right-

SM: 23:58

DL: 24:36
-in the fall of 1960. So, that was the other sort of piece of the puzzle. I mean, Aldous Huxley, who at the time, you know, was probably one of the best known, you know, writers in English language, right, and public intellectual and towards the end of his career. So, Huxley was kind of part of the mix. And this, this was at Harvard, and MIT too. And, and Andy Weil was, you know, he was just a very-very, very bright, ambitious freshman who was interested in, he grew up in. Well, you know, it has been like 12 or 13-14 years since I did, reporting on this book. I cannot remember anything, but I think he grew up in Philadelphia.

SM: 29:16
Yep, he did. Yep.

DL: 29:17
Yeah. Yeah. What is on the top of my head right now? [laughs] But yeah, he grew up in Philadelphia, I think his parents ran a millinery shop. He, just a really bright, young bright kid, and was interested in-in psychedelic research and tried to get involved with the, the Harvard Psilocybin Project and we can talk about that if you want but that is kind of, that story in the book. [crosstalk] And, and went on to go to medical school and become a real leader in the holistic health and integrative-

SM: 29:50

DL: 29:50
-medicine scene. But, but so yeah, he was, he was, I do not know like 10-15 years younger than these guys.

SM: 29:59
Can you discuss what happened in that period, (19)60s, (19)63? I know that, Alpert and Leary had a home off campus. And, that is where the, you know, they, they would have the experimentations with drugs, with the, I guess, the mushrooms and then eventually LSD, could, could you describe, like you do so well in the book itself, it, well who they were trying to reach, they were not trying to reach undergraduate students, which was not, they would never be allowed to do that. And according to Harvard, but graduate students-

DL: 30:39

SM: 30:39
-or people off, that are not students, or could you talk about the whole process where people came to their home? And they had to, you know, have, they would be there themselves and guide them through a trip and just, just that kind of information?

DL: 30:57
Okay, right. Well, there were, what was, what was called the Harbin Psilocybin Project, there are a couple of different aspects to it. I mean, there were really two kind of formal studies, research projects that came out of that. One was called the Concord Prison Project, which was giving psilocybin to prisoners, along with some kind of support and therapy, mostly with graduate students working with the, the prisoners to see if they could reduce recidivism rates. Psychedelic therapy, could reduce recidivism rates. But again, this what was very radical about that was not that they were using prisoners for drug tests, that was actually done quite a bit in some very unethical ways, with other drugs in that era, but what was interesting about that is, you know, something that the graduate students would trip with the prisoners, they would experience this, this psychedelic state together, or sometimes the prisoners would sit as guides and the graduate students would be taking the drugs, right. [chuckles] And so that, that was in line with Leary's kind of radical critique of power dynamics between research subjects and, and, and you know, and, and, and researchers or between patient and doctor, right, so, so that was an interest. So, that was one thing. And then there was another thing called the Good Friday experiment, which I can talk about if you want later. So that was, those were the two kind of formal sort of studies that came out of this, this project. But, but the other thing, and in some ways, the main thing that Leary was doing, and Alpert was doing, is they were just basically doing kind of basic research, I guess, you could say, in terms of psychedelics, and they would give, first it was psilocybin or the synthesized psilocybin, they were actually taking mushrooms, so it is like the active ingredient in magic mushrooms. So, they would give these to graduate students, but also to like, they are interested in giving it to artists, you know, painters, musicians, philosophers, other professors, you know, basically anybody who would agree to come over to, you know, Leary's house and have an experience, you know, four or five hour experience on, on psilocybin, and then write up, you know, reports about their experiences. So, it is kind of just raw research into, you know, people describing what happens in a psychedelic experience. And then, you know, and they were also interested in seeing if it could, you know, spawn that creativity among musicians or artists or, so all kinds of people, you know, famous jazz, semi famous jazz musician showed up and people like, you know, Allen Ginsberg, who was, you know, very well known, the beat poet. Folks like that kind of showed up. And, you know, in some ways, this, lot of times these research sessions kind of seemed more like parties [chuckles] than the research, you know. There was a lot of that going on. And, the, Leary and Alpert had agreed to not let undergraduates participate in this, because there are some dangerous psychological dangers as evidenced by the story I told, right. They are taking these substances. They had agreed to not let undergraduates participate. Andy Weil was an undergraduate and he had a friend and a dorm mate named Ron Winston who was the son of a famous jewelry, ran a jewelry business and, Alpert admitted that he also had kind of a romantic attraction to Ronnie Winston and well, they did not formally bring him in to the Harvard Psilocybin Project. Privately, you know, he would- gave, gave Ronnie Winston, psychedelics and kind of led him on some trips and got in trouble for that, right. [crosstalk]

SM: 34:20
Yep. Yeah, go ahead. Yep.

DL: 35:07
Yeah. And so, Andy Weil had also, Andrew Weil had also wanted to be part of this and was told that he could not. So, there was some jealousy I think involved with, you know, why did Ronnie Winston get to participate in this and not him. And so, Andy Weil was working as a reporter for the Harvard Crimson, the Harvard student newspaper and wound up doing an exposé about Leary. And Alpert had violated their agreement with the University by giving drugs to undergraduates and convinced, in a, fairly underhanded way to convince Ronnie Winston to kind of rat out Richard Alpert, and that-that was the-the incident that got them kicked out of Harvard. But there was a lot of wild stuff going on, you know, a lot of, you know, fairly, I do not know how to characterize it, just kind of fast and loose, was not, it was not a buttoned-down research project by any means.

SM: 36:13
I know during those three years that they had their critics on the faculty too, that, there were some well-known names. I think one of them was B.F. Skinner, I think, the well-known names of people that I can remember in the (19)60s and (19)70s, who wrote books, you know, on psychology.

DL: 36:31
Yeah, there was a lot of professional, you know, there was a lot of professional jealousy, I think in the, the departments, it was the psychology department. And there is this, their department was, I think called social relations, kind of a social psychology department. And yeah, there was a battle kind of between the behavioral, behaviorists who, Skinner was the leading behaviorists, and other in the Freudians. And then, there was also this whole kind of humanistic psychology was just kind of getting going, right. You there?

SM: 37:05
Yes, several-several of the editors over a period of time had been writing articles on this, the, on Leary and Alpert too, even before Weil got there, I believe. And then he, he got into that position and, and one of the things that needs to be known to and, and you bring it up throughout the book or toward the end as well, that, the Harvard administration used Weil as kind of a spy.

DL: 37:39
Yeah, well, what happened was, what happened was, they, none of the, there were several undergraduates, I think, who had been, had been given the drugs but, none of them wanted to really, you know, come out and sort of testify against Leary and Alpert because they, they were favor what they were doing. And, and Ronnie Winston, the way Andy Weil got Ronnie Winston to come forward is he, they went to Ronnie Winston's father, his name is Harry Winston who ran this, it was a benefit, I think a university benefactor and you know, fairly prominent businessman and [inaudible]. Anyway, he, they-they basically went-went to Ronnie Winston's father and said, "Your son is taking these, you know, dangerous drugs. And if he does not, if he does not, you know, admit this to the university administration, we are going to name him in the newspaper article," [laughs]. So, in order, and so Harry Winston, his father convinced him to, you know, basically tell the university administration what-what had gone on, he was given drugs by Professor Alpert. And that-that was, how they, you know, cut the goods on-on Alpert. And that was the one particular incident which where they can sort of pin down and use to expel them from the university. But, they were looking for a reason. I mean, and actually, you know, Leary and Alpert, were already ready to move on. I think they needed a bigger stage. And they certainly got, they certainly got one, you know, after they left Harvard, there was a lot of publicity about this, you know, the Harvard drug scandal that was page one of the New York Times, but it was really Andy Weil's story in the Harvard Crimson that started the whole thing, you know. Then, a day or two later, on-on the front page of The New York Times and anywhere with a big article, big exposé, or like magazine, even mentioning, you know, sort of rumors about heterosexual and homosexual affairs, you know, so there was some pretty vicious stuff [chuckles] put out there to get rid of them, to bring them down. Of course, they were not brought down they just moved on and, and became national figures and leaders in the, in the psychedelic counterculture of the (19)60s.

SM: 39:59
I know as years went on Weil kind of, felt kind of guilty for what he did, because [crosstalk]

DL: 40:08
I mean, he really, you know, the other thing is that through Andy Weil was also, doing, he, he started his own little drug, drug research project in the dorm with other people at this time, he was able to like use some, actually use some Harvard stationery and forged letters to send those labs and got some psilocybin sent to him. And, he's trying to sort of do his own version of, of psychedelic research with his friends in the dorm. So, none of which, of course, he mentions in the article that he wrote, [laughs] which brought down Leary and Alpert. So, yeah, later on in the (19)60s, Andy Weil became, you know, kind of the go to guy on, kind of understanding the psychedelic experience and wrote a book called, " The Natural Mind," about drugs, and human consciousness, and kind of, in some ways, replaced them for a while and kind of the go to guy for the straight story, you know, on what drugs really do and what the, benefits could be, and not exaggerating the dangers. And, you know, he was, he felt very bad about the way he handled the whole thing and sought forgiveness for many years from Leary and Albert. Leary forgave him, Alpert, it took a long time. But in the end, Alpert finally did forgive him for what he did. But, he was very bitter about it for many years.

SM: 41:34
This kind of crisis, between (19)60 and (19)63, with Leary and Alpert was not something that Harvard had not seen before. You talk also about the Brook Farm situation, 120 years earlier with Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau.

DL: 41:55

SM: 41:58
And-and, and Emerson was kicked out of, kicked out as well. So, you, any, could you discuss that a little bit if you remember it?

DL: 42:06
You know, I do not remember the details to tell you the truth. I am sorry, on that. I have to go back and look at the, look at the book. But Emerson was, was kicked out of Harvard, and Leary often would cite that, you know, as he is in such good standing right, [laughs] in the tradition of Emerson. But, but you know, I am sorry, at the top of my head, I cannot remember the details of what happened.

SM: 42:30
What happened after they left? Where did Leary go? Where did Alpert go? And, and, of course, Weil, would continue his education at Harvard.

DL: 42:43
Yeah, well, right after they got kicked out of Harvard, they were already had been setting up a kind of a research center or, another party headquarters [chuckles] down in Mexico, in a place called, [inaudible], in the coast of Mexico. And so, they, they just basically continued doing their research and experimenting with psychedelics of various kinds. By this time, LSD was brought into the, had been brought into the mix. So, they were inviting people down to Mexico, and it was the same thing, you know, artists, philosophers, you know, students, academics, were coming down there, psychologists to participate in these sessions, psychedelic sessions and writing up reports and all that. They very quickly got kicked out of there. They bounced around, there were a couple of places in the Caribbean, they tried to set up and eventually a few years later wound up at a place called Millbrook in upstate New York, an old beautiful estate, a mansion where they set up shop and basically continued their psychedelic experimentation research there for, for a few years into the mid, mid (19)60s.

SM: 44:07
Yeah, and-

DL: 44:08
Leary and Albert were above them.

SM: 44:09
-I think they were getting funding from the Andrew Mellon Foundation, or I think one of the, some group was helping them pay for the-

DL: 44:20
I am not sure what that is. [crosstalk] Well, it was. Yeah. So, there was a woman named Peggy Hitchcock- You put, you put little character descriptions for each of the four throughout the book, which I really liked. You called Timothy Leary, the trickster, Ram Dass was the seeker, and Houston Smith, the teacher, and Andrew Weil, the healer. -who was a supporter, and she was, one of the, an heiress of the melon fortune. And, and she had a brother named Billy Hitchcock. There are a couple of Hitchcock brothers, any, the, the Hitchcocks had this estate, which they were not using, and they basically just kind of turned it over to Leary and Alpert for a few years, and let them use this, use this beautiful estate. And, you know, the government was still after them. One of the funny ones, J. Gordon Liddy, who would become famous later as one of the Watergate burglar masterminds was a local D.A. in this county in New York and, he was going after Leary and Alpert, they were still on surveillance, and police raids. And you know, Leary by this time, Leary was notorious, so everywhere he went, the government was after him. And, eventually he busted going across the border from Mexico with a tiny little bit of marijuana, which he claims was planted on him and wound up going to prison. That is another part of the story that we can get into if you want to, but, but, you know Leary, by this time had become just notorious. And, and also kind of reveling in his notoriety. You know, he was a real, was a real, I call him a trickster.

SM: 44:25

DL: 46:02
Yeah, kind of the archetypal kind of, you know, role that they, that they took on to kind of explain, but. I wondered as I called Alpert the seeker is, you know, he was always, he never really came off as like, you know, all knowing guru or something. You know, he was just another kind of, seeker like so many of us, you know, in that era, we had, of course, you know, gone to India after, well, I mean, so you asked me what happened with them after Harvard, I mean, and after Millbrook. You know, Leary, well they both sort of showed up in San Francisco, you know, for the whole. So, while, there was this whole other scene going out on San Francisco in the early to mid (19)60s, psychedelic revival, you know, with a Grateful Dead, [inaudible] and the Merry Pranksters, you know, Alan Watts, and other things going on out here. In some ways, the scene in San Francisco was much wilder than what was going on in, back in Boston at Harvard. And so, the, the real focus, you know, shifted in like, (19)65-(19)66, out to San Francisco, which was kind of Mecca, for the whole psychedelic counterculture, fueled by the Grateful Dead and that is the whole scene here, the Jefferson Airplane, psychedelic rock, coming of age and the concerts and so, Alpert was out here for a while. He was a big part of that scene. And then went off to India, famously, and became a devotee of a guru named Neem Karoli Baba and became a spiritual teacher, reincarnated themselves as Ram Dass, came back and was very influential in helping, I think people of my generation, you know, kind of make sense of the psychedelic experience, put it in another context, maybe finding you know, kinder, gentler ways to explore their consciousness through say meditation or other spiritual practices, not never, never really renouncing psychedelics or denouncing psychedelics, but maturing and the spiritual search around that. See, that this particular period, is also that period of that you call the tidal wave that was coming, all these people come from all over the country to San Francisco. And, "Are you going to San Francisco," was a very popular song at that time, all on the radio. [sings] And if you go to San Francisco, to be sure to wear flowers in your hair.

SM: 48:34
That tidal wave was, a lot of them from the East Coast.

DL: 48:37
It was from all over, yeah.

SM: 48:39
(19)65 and (19)68.

DL: 48:40
Yeah it was eventful.

SM: 48:40
What were some of the, I know there were a lot of big events that happened at that, during that, there was a bee-in, there was the trip festival, there was a love pageant rally, I am thinking and then many other things. I know that Alpert also went to work on the Oracle. And he was a writer or among the editors.

DL: 49:01
Yeah, he wrote some articles in the Oracle, which was really one of the first, you know, was, underground newspapers. Yeah, they were, I mean, it really began with Ken Kesey, you know, who, Ken Kesey was a, a very well known, young, successful novelist at the time. He wrote two books, "Sometimes a Great Notion," and "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," And, so he's, really up and coming writer, and then he, he was exposed to LSD by volunteering in a research project. I think it was at a VA hospital, that Administration Hospital in Menlo Park, which was, turned out later was secretly funded by the CIA, which was doing their own research about psychedelics. [laughter] So, talk about blowback, right?

SM: 49:59

DL: 49:59
I mean, they did not know what they were getting into and they turned on Kevin Kesey, so, Ken Kesey. [laughs] So Kesey, started this group called, they started having these events called acid tests. And I think this began when was, like I said been awhile since I wrote this but, like (19)63-(19)64 when the first acid tests where they basically had, you know, kind of parties and they put the acid in the punch, and a lot of dancing, and kind of carrying on, and very revelatory, celebratory atmosphere. And so, there were series of these acid tests, which got, which moved up into San Francisco and got bigger and bigger. So, there was that and then there was something called the Trips Festival. There was the human being in Golden Gate Park, which was when Leary I think famously uttered his mantra "Turn on, tune in, drop out."

SM: 50:14

DL: 50:14
So, you know, that was an event in Golden Gate Park with Allen Ginsberg, and Alpert, and Schneider a lot of the beat poets, and of course out of San Francisco bands, Aeroplan, Grateful Dead, they were all playing there. Yeah so that was, and that was (19)66-(19)67. A lot of people were already kind of saying, "Well, it is time to move on." There was something called the, "Death of the Hippie," they had a big, sort of, a march, {inaudible] are enough, because the hippie thing, and trying to become the media, and you know the media had discovered this, right.

SM: 50:14

DL: 50:17
But by the-the time that song came out, "If you Come to San Francisco," you know, I mean, a lot of people were already saying it is time to move on, you know, the scene was just getting too crazy and too crowded. And, and the drugs were changing. People were, you know, getting into speed, and heroin, and more harder, dangerous drugs and-

SM: 51:55
Yeah, the 19- the 1967, Summer of Love, the next year in (19)68 was a disaster.

DL: 52:01

SM: 52:03

DL: 52:04
I mean, that was a bit before my time, but you know, yeah. And then, you know, of course, there was, but you know, it was. I do not know, it is hard to say exactly. It all depends on what particular scene you were in, right. I mean, where you were in all this. I mean, when I came in (19)72, it still seemed pretty, some of it still seemed pretty cool, and still pretty, you know, hopeful. But you are talking to old timers, and "No, you should have been here in (19)66 man," you know.

SM: 52:30
Well, you in, in the book, you talk about the interview that Leary had with Playboy Magazine. And there is two things that, I, that come out of that interview very clearly. They said, they asked him, "Who you are trying to make love with?" And he says "I am making, I want to make love with God, at the purpose of what I am doing. I want to make love with God, I want to make love with myself. And I want to make love with a woman." [laughs]

DL: 52:54

SM: 52:54
And then, and then he said, and then, I think Allen Ginsberg confronted him at a panel, and this, you described this, and because they, they were questioning some of the, one of the, some of the things he was saying whether everything was true or not.

DL: 53:14
Oh, right. [chuckles]

SM: 53:14
And Leary said, "One third of everything I say is bullshit. One third of everything I say is wrong. And the, and one third is, right. So that means it is like a baseball player. I am in the Hall of Fame," [laughs]

DL: 53:29
Right? One third of like, brilliant gems of wisdom. Right? Yeah. That was Leary, I mean, you know, that that Playboy interview was, you know, notorious. And he was a, he was a trickster, right. I mean, he would just make shit up, you know. [chuckles] And he was, you know, giving an interview to Playboy, so, of course, he was going to talk a lot about sex. Well, there was a lot of, there was a lot of sex, and a lot of acting out in that whole scene, you know. But, yeah no, I love that, quote, you just started, recited from Leary. That really says it all, you know, he had a real sense of humor, you know, I mean, it was like that, that is kind of one of the things that you kind of miss from the (19)60s there was a sense of irony, and no one was taking ourselves too seriously. And it was all kind of a cosmic joke in some way. You know, there was a lightness to it, that, we do not have any more, political discourse. [crosstalk] There was you know, there was division, there was, people forget that (19)60s were very divisive time too, you know, but it was sort of the whole so called, "generation gap," right and all that. But I mean the divisiveness, it pales in comparison to what we are experiencing now, you know.

SM: 53:33
Yes. [laughs] I know that, when Alpert became part of the, the Oracle, the, the-

DL: 54:43
He wrote for, the I mean, he, he wrote for the Oracle- he was not like one of the, he did not found it or anything but, it was a guy, Alan Colin who started it and there was a collective started it, but yeah, he did, write, he did write some pieces for it.

SM: 54:45
Right. You define the, the evolution of the Oracle it was, it was an idealistic exploration into the personal experience and social implication of mind-mind, I am, I cannot read my writing, mind expansion. And-

DL: 55:11
Also, it was just a beauty, just technically it was, it was the whole psychedelic art scene, right. You know, these famous posters from that era. And this is all done, you know, before computers, this is all done by hand, you know, and this is beautiful artwork, very trippy artwork in the Oracle. It was just, you know, it was there was nothing like it [chuckles], it was not just the content. I mean, it started out, it is kind of more, of a political kind of focus, kind of a new, less political focus, but it became more, kind of the journal. And this, was a blossoming psychedelic culture. And just, just you go back and look at some of, the old editions. I mean, there's a, at some point somebody came out with, I think, Alan Colin, the founder of it, came out with a hardcover, facsimile edition, you know, reprint of all those Oracle's, I actually have, this beautiful, beautiful artwork, and just so you know, reminiscent of the time.

SM: 56:07
This truly was, when you, when all these things you have been talking about was the Age of Aquarius, that were so, you know, we think of the fifth dimension singing that song and, and that really was the Age of Aquarius. And, you know, some of the things you know, were, eastern mystique, mysticism, utopian revolution, you bring up sexual liberation, the ecological awareness, even Native American spiritual.

DL: 56:36
Right, all the different liberation movement in America {crosstalk] women, gay people, young people, it was all, you know, all liberation. Yeah, it was a very, you know, and a lot of this was not all fueled by psychedelics, but a lot of it was, you know, because when you on the psychedelic experience, you tend to like, and appreciate, let us just take the environmental movement, you know, I mean, obviously, there is a lot of other reasons for the [inaudible]. But a lot of people had experiences on psychedelics, where they really felt at one with nature and had a whole new way of looking at sort of nature, and themselves in, in a holistic way, right. So that was, that was, I think, fueling a lot of the interest in environmentalism. Like people think of the (19)60s counterculture as being protesting, and sort of being against everything. But, they were not just against everything. I mean, they were for civil rights. They were for environmental protection. You know, they were for sexual liberation, you know. In a lot of ways, it was a very hopeful movement, there was a lot of divisiveness, of course, but it was basically a lot of hope.

SM: 57:46
Toward the latter part of the (19)60s, there was the, Time Magazine wrote an article on, the crisis in, with drugs in America and talking about the crisis of drugs in the (19)60s and the (19)70s. And but then, so there were there was also a crisis of drugs in the (19)50s and (19)80s. And you bring, bring it up in the, in the book. Alcoholism was a big crisis in the 1950s. And, and, and we have drugs today, so that, you know, but there was a lot of criticism of LSD. And what was happening at that time. You go into detail on it in, in your book. Could you talk a little bit about the press and half of the coverage of LSD in the late (19)60s?

DL: 58:36
Yeah, well, you know, there was a lot, what people sort of forget is, let us go back a little bit, you know, in the 19- So, LSD was synthesized. It was this, this psychedelic, powerful psychedelic properties of LSD was discovered by Albert Hoffman, the Swiss chemist in 1943-1944. So soon after the war, Sandoz started sending out LSD to psychologists, academics, researchers all over the world. I mean, it, the-the rules were much looser than about you know, how to experiment and deal with new emerging drugs right, than they are now. But, so Sandoz was a chemical company was sending out LSD that people, anybody who would ask for it, basically with any kind of a credential. And basically, trying to, what can we, what can we use this drug for? And so, there was all kinds of research going on. First, they thought it well, it would be the way to understand the psychotic state because in some way the psychedelic experience can sort of mimic psychosis in some ways. So, there was a lot of research into that going on everywhere and looking for beneficial uses of the psychedelics. And so, there was a lot of work around using psychedelics to help treat, for instance, alcoholism in the 1950s, there are studies going on all over the world. And there was a lot of promising results in terms of using it for, to treat depression, alcoholism, things like that, trauma, along with, with psychotherapy. So, there was a lot of positive coverage of psychedelics, including the potential for generating mystical experiences in the 1950s, and 1960s. And it really was not until the drug became associated with the counterculture, and the anti-war movement, and the hippies, and the new left, and all that, that the government really sort of started targeting it. And, you know, the thing about drug prohibition, it is usually, it is not normally not about one particular drug, whether it is alcohol, tobacco, LSD, heroin, whatever, it is more about who's taking it, right. [chuckles] It is an attack on, on, on who's using it as much as on what the drug actually is or how dangerous it is. So, the Nixon administration basically determined that or decided that, well, one way, one way we can go after both the civil rights movement, and the counterculture, hippie, new left movement is to increase penalties of their, you know, their common pleasures, which were marijuana and psychedelics, right, because marijuana was, you know, very big in the African American community and along with other communities. But so, a lot of the, I think the so called, "drug war" of the (19)60s and (19)70s, was really a political war against certain groups in this country. And that is pretty clear now. And even some people in Nixon's administration later kind of totally admitted this.

SM: 1:01:54
I think in 1966, it was still legal, LSD was still legal. And in the latter part, it was banned, I believe in California, and then in (19)68, was banned in the United States.

DL: 1:02:09
Yeah, it was, it was sort of, it was, kind of, it was getting banned sort of state by state. And then there was something called the, "Controlled Substances, U.S. Controlled Substances Act," which was passed in 1970, which really increased penalties for a lot of drugs. And then these are, and that is the, for the most part still the case. People forget that marijuana under federal law, is still illegal, right.

SM: 1:02:33

DL: 1:02:33
I mean, Biden just recently, you know, pardoned, you know, some, some a lot of people but, but the law says that under federal law, marijuana is still a felony, right? So, it is right up there with heroin, right? So, the, the drug laws are just insane, right? There is, there is no sense to them at all.

SM: 1:02:53
Some of the press was talking about the flashbacks, and people killing themselves, jumping off buildings, and I can remember back, I remember this because it was on black and white T.V., Art Link letter on one of his shows talking about his death of his daughter. I remember that.

DL: 1:03:08

SM: 1:03:08
I remember seeing it.

DL: 1:03:09
Yeah no, that got a lot of attention, that got a lot of attention. And, he really went after Leary and he blamed Leary, you know. Yeah, so that is what happened, like the one incident, you know, who knows? Who knows whether, you know, LSD really caused his daughter to commit suicide, or what else was going on there?

SM: 1:03:26

DL: 1:03:26
It is a very complicated thing. But, yeah, there were there will be, you know, the scare stories. And so, the media really turned on the whole psychedelic scene, I do not know, like, you know, late (19)60s and into the, into the (19)70s. And, and it was not, and then when the tragedy that it was not just, you know, increasing penalties for possession or sale, it was really caused universities to and medical centers to stop doing research about the potential beneficial, beneficial effects of psychedelics-

SM: 1:03:58
That is right.

DL: 1:03:58
-which has finally come back now in very big way. You know, it is getting a lot of attention right now. But that was all kind of shut down from basically (19)75 to like, 2005. So, like, you know, 30 years, research into, you know, exactly how these strokes can help us understand the brain and administer to the beneficial uses for alcoholism, depression, trauma, that is all coming back now, in a really big way. The government is even starting to fund it again, just recently, one or two years. But yeah, there was a real dark age of research into psychedelics. And it was not just Timothy Leary, that caused that, I mean he was a factor in it, but there were lots of reasons for that.

SM: 1:04:00
Yes, yes. What was called the psychedelic era was turning into the amphetamine era, and I know that, the term, “tune in, turnout, and drop out," that was certainly the code for Leary but it was not the code for the other three. And that is something and because they were in the turn, they could tune in, turn on, but they were not going to do drop out, and I am talking about Elbert Smith. And Weil, they went on to do unbelievable things, and, and just your thoughts on now, the downward fall of Leary toward the end of his life, Leary and Alpert going to India and coming back and being the change person because of the guru experience? And certainly, all the things that Weil has done in his life with his enterprises, his books, can you talk about, could you talk about those three? That, what, refused to drop out? That is why-

DL: 1:05:42
You know what, let me just stop you for a second. I think my, do you hear me?

SM: 1:05:46

DL: 1:05:48
Okay. I think my-my earbuds are about to die. So, I am going to change my give me a second here, okay.

SM: 1:05:54

DL: 1:05:54
Let us see. [inaudible] Okay, how is that?

SM: 1:06:06
Okay, okay.

DL: 1:06:08
Okay, man. I am sorry. So, well, yeah-

SM: 1:06:12
[crosstalk] If you could just talk about the, you know, after all this stuff with Leary, but certainly, what Ram Dass, Andrew Weil and Houston Smith, what they did with their lives, after all this?

DL: 1:06:30
Yeah, you know, yeah. Well, you know, I think Andy Weil, like I said, he went on to, really become a proponent of what was called integrative medicine and holistic healing. And, you know, basically looking at the connection between mind, body, and spirit in terms of health, and wellness. And, you know, that is, it was not just Andy Weil but he was a big part of that. And, you know, just like today, you know, it is pretty well accepted that you know, like, say meditation can be used for like stress reduction, and, you know, the health benefits of meditation and various, you know, mind, body, spirit disciplines. A lot of that came out of the (19)60s, and a lot of that came out of the psychedelic, ritually, people got first kind of, taste of that with the psychedelic experience, then they went on to, to find kinder, gentler ways of doing that with meditation and other spiritual practices. And so, just basically, you know, kind of revolutionizing the way we look at health and wellness, which you see now, like in a mainstream, like medical, like Kaiser Permanente, the big health care provider here with all kinds of focus on, you know, mindfulness, meditation, stress reduction, a lot of that, came, come, came out of the (19)60s in the psychedelic era, and Andy Weil, you know, it was a, it was a big part of that, and continues to have a big center in Arizona, and training doctors in bringing together both, you know, not throwing out traditional mainstream medicine, but combining it with other forms of, other ideas of ,what constitutes health and wellness. So, I think he was influential in that way. And Houston Smith, you know, I think really encouraged a lot of Americans to have a more open-minded attitude towards religion, and people be openness to the wisdom of other religious traditions. With tolerance and understanding in that way, I think Houston was very, very influential there. And, you know, people have psychedelic experiences, they often have deep, profound mystical experiences, which go beyond you know, doctrine, dogma, and denominationalism. We used to look at religion say back in the (19)50s, and (19)60s, and a lot of people of course, still do, but you know, I think that is one of the big shifts in the, the religious landscape is that you know, there's fastest growing religion now are, you know, people who call themselves spiritual, but not religious. They may not be affiliated with, you know, mainstream religion, but they still are interested in personal spiritual experience. And that is, that is what, I think that, that shift towards the experiential way of understanding religion was a lot of that was fueled by, by psychedelics and later by meditation, and other spiritual disciplines who are interested in Buddhism, and Hinduism, and all that even Native American spirituality here. A lot of people got interested in that through the, initially through psychedelics, and that is a huge shift. You know, it is some people even think it is like a new kind of great awakening, like kind of moving away from, word-based religions to experiential based religion, which was far beyond psychedelics, but something psychedelics fuel a lot of that. So, I think we can I think Houston has something to do with that along with long with Alpert.

SM: 1:06:32
Well, if I can read something from your book, is that okay?

DL: 1:07:04

SM: 1:07:05
Yeah, this-

DL: 1:07:35
You will probably say it much better than I will say it. [laughs]

SM: 1:10:09
-this is on page 183. And I think it is really, you talk about how the counterculture became the culture. And it is, it is very well said, I will be really fast here. "Why did Weil's career suddenly take off? Weil had been saying the same thing since the (19)70s. Weil did not change, America changed. Sometime in the 1990s, American culture caught up with the (19)60s counterculture. The counterculture became the culture. Yoga became big business. Meditation is prescribed by the family doctor. Supermarkets stocked organic produce and home, homeopathic cures. The Rolling Stones provide the soundtrack for computer advertisements. Looking back at it all, Weil sees a direct connection between this experience on psychedelic drugs and his later career, in holistic health. Those experiences show me what is inside your head is connected to what is outside your head, and that you change, things, outside change by working on things inside, he said, and there is a clear application to help their state of mind, belief, and expectations absolutely influence health, and the course of illness. And those days, that kind of thinking was pretty much out of the mainstream. Now it has really changed." I think that is beautifully written.

DL: 1:11:31
Yeah, well thank you, yeah.

SM: 1:11:32
And it describes it perfectly about, you know, how, like, how the counterculture became the culture.

DL: 1:11:38
Yeah-yeah. Well, you know, so much of this, yes, Steven was fueled by demographics. You know, I mean, the, what happened, you know, the whole baby boom generation is this, huge group of people who kind of, you know, we have gone through, gone through life and influencing the culture, because there is so many of us, right. And, and so, you know, eventually, you know, people who were a part of the counterculture, were running, you know, were running companies, and were running, you know, becoming politicians. And, and were running corporations, you know, I mean, these people, you know, eventually, assumed kind of positions of power and influence, in the media and elsewhere. So that, I think that is, that is part of it. I think that what Americans do not remember, though, is that, you know, the counterculture was definitely a minority of people, baby boomers. Everyone has an interest, into all this, but it did sort of, the ideas kind of spread in, into mainstream culture over the next few decades for sure.

SM: 1:12:41
Yep. Yep.

DL: 1:12:44

SM: 1:12:46
Now, you were talking about the latter parts of their lives for-

DL: 1:12:50
Yeah, you know, what I was, I just was looking at, can I read a few paragraphs from the book?

SM: 1:12:54
Oh, yes-yes.

DL: 1:12:55
Cause, I, I think so there's, this is a quote, this is about Leary. And I told you that Leary kind of, you know, seemed a little lost in some ways in the last few decades of his life. He died in the (19)90s. He was the first of the four in the book to die. There's a guy Robert Forte, who spent a lot of time with Leary towards the end of his life, younger, younger guy. Anyway, so this is, his, this is his take, you know, we asked him, this is Robert Fore, was Tim, is it a quote from Forte, "Was Tim a wise man or was he a psychopath? Psychopathic, egotistical maniac or both? I would hang out with him until three in the morning. Sometimes he would appear like a non-ordinary being. There was this, a tangible aura, he would glow. Sometimes he was just so clear and present and positive. But other times he would just morph into this twisted, angry, fucked up old man," end of the quote. Then I say, "Leary was different things to different people. He was reviled. He was revered. He was a prophet. He was a phony. He was a brilliant, innovative thinker. He was a fool. He captured the irreverent, rebellious spirit of the (19)60s. He was a fame seeking manipulative con artist. Who was he? Perhaps the Trickster said it best when he once quipped, quote, "you get the Timothy Leary you deserve." [laughs]

SM: 1:14:17
Wow. [laughs]

DL: 1:14:17
That is the end of the quote, so. That, that sort of sums up Leary especially towards the end of life, I think.

SM: 1:14:23
Right. [chuckles] And how about Alpert?

DL: 1:14:29
You know, how Alpert you know, he-he, he became, you know, he wrote a series of books and continued to lecture. And, you know, he became a devotee of, of an Indian guru Neem Karoli Baba. But, he never really became a guru himself, you know, and that is, I think, what made him relatable to people. He was just another, another seeker. And then you know, in the (19)80s, he got-got very involved with, he started helping to start something called the Seva Foundation, they did a lot of-

SM: 1:15:04
Very good, very great.

DL: 1:15:05
Charitable work with helping with blindness in Nepal. And then during, he got very interested in the whole, sort of the death and dying movement, you know, Elisabeth Kubler Ross, and the whole move towards re-examining how we deal with death. And the whole rise of the hospice movement, you know, which people forget is a relatively recent thing, you know, and did a lot of work with, during the AIDS crisis, you know, of helping gay people, and other people who are dying, make that transition, you know, writing about it, but also just personally, one on one dealing with a lot of people doing a lot of quiet, you know, work helping people. And then he had a big stroke, Ram Dass had a stroke in the (19)90s, which really inhibited his ability to speak, you know, at the time, he was going to start a kind of a radio show about consciousness. And of course, radio was off the table when you have to spend like 30 seconds between words to find the words, you know, and he struggled. So, he struggled with his speech, and it got a little better over the years. But, you know, he, that the stroke really slowed him down. He moved to Maui and lived the last parts, of part of his life on, on Maui, but continued to teach, and people would come see him and there is a whole online, there is a whole group of his, his kind of friends and followers started a website, which, you know he, he passed away a few years ago, but he's still out there on the internet, you know, there's so much material from his past that can be recycled and enjoyed by people. So, he continues to have an influence even posthumously. And I think, in a very positive, pretty positive way. And how about Smith? [inaudible] I mean, Houston, Houston, also just died a few years back, a few years before, Alpert. He continued to write, continued to teach well into his 90s. I actually did a little work, for a while I was helping on an autobiography that he was trying to put out, which eventually did. He got very involved with the Native American church, and helping them secure the religious freedom to use peyote and their, you know, religious rights. He, you know, he was, he was always kind of skeptical, but also supportive of the psychedelic movement. You know, he called it on its excesses. But was basically supportive. And I think, glad to see that there was a lot of new research and, you know, last decade or so into the beneficial uses of psychedelics and understanding the spiritual and mystical dimensions of it, so he, you know, he tried to stay as involved as he could later in life. You know, he almost made it to 100. You know he, had some, some cognitive problems and memory problems, you know, towards the end, but he continued to hang in there till the end.

SM: 1:18:15
Well, I wanted, you, in the conclusion, I have just got some, some things that you wrote, and then we will finish. I think this is very important. You say there's a Rosetta Stone that brings the Harvard psychedelic club together, Leary, Albert, Smith, and Weil did nothing less than inspire a generation of Americans to redefine the nature of reality. And another one here is that people who take LSD and those who do not, people understand, should understand that we should listen to both. Because reality is different things to different people. And so, reality under drugs, do not knock it until you have tried it, and that kind of thing. And that is something that I think, goes into the fact we ought to be listening to each other more, instead of judging each other more. And one very important-

DL: 1:19:09
There was, there was kind of a divisiveness in the (19)60s, if you turned on or not. Like are you, remember the Jimmy Hendrix, Are You Experienced?

SM: 1:19:17

DL: 1:19:18
They were talking about that, yeah.

SM: 1:19:19
Now, one very important part you talk about is the boomers were raised by Dr. Spock. And Dr. Spock's main message was that children need to think that anything is possible. Well that gets right into the counterculture too. Do you have any thoughts on that and Dr. Spock?

DL: 1:19:39
Yeah, well, that is, you know, that is part of the whole, the whole it is much bigger than psychedelics and much bigger than really the (19)60s, this is really the whole human potential movement. You know and, and like I said before, this shift towards people focusing on personal, spiritual, mystical experience and, and kind of finding their own way, in some ways, almost kind of growing their own religion. You see that in the whole, spiritual but not religious cohort, which is, which is the fastest growing religion in America right now by far. So yeah, that is all, that is all out there. And what is interesting right now, you know, in 2020, in the, you know, the fall of 2022. You know, there is so much, there has been a huge new wave of interest in psychedelics, both spiritually and therapeutically. Now, there's clinical trials going on, it has been a lot written about it. I mean, I wrote a book, my last, my last book was called, "Changing our Minds, Psychedelic Sacraments and the New Psychotherapy," which was about both the clinical trials that are going on now to, to, to use psilocybin and MDMA to help people with, with, with various mood disorders and behaviors. And, and also the whole spirit, our whole spiritual Renaissance. There's a lot of psychedelic churches forming, underground psychedelic churches are coming above ground now. It is a really interesting time. And about a year after, about a year and a half after my book came out, Michael Pollan, the noted, you know, food writer, came out with a book, very similar title, "How to Change your Mind." Kind of a similar focus to my book, but his was a runaway New York Times bestseller, he had a much bigger publisher. Anyway, his, that, his book was very influential. And then there is a whole Netflix series that came out a few months ago based on his book. Nova just last week did a, did a show on can psychedelic cure. I am writing a series of articles now on, kind of the, psychedelic churches that are coming above ground. So, so this is, there's a whole new wave of this just in the last few years. And more, and more people you know, who have never really thought about this or experienced this are starting to read about it, and want to experiment with it, and laws are changing. There i's probably 20-25 cities around the country have decriminalized psychedelics in various great extent, the entire state of Oregon has basically decriminalized all drugs and is setting up a regulated legal, psilocybin facilitated psilocybin services kind of system. Colorado is going to vote on the same thing next month. So, California was talking about it. There's a lot of changes going on. And this is all kind of, in some ways, an echo of the (19)60s.

SM: 1:22:30
Very good. This is the last thing I am going to read. And I am on the last question. This is so beautifully written by you on page 215. And it is this, "None of the men of the Harvard Psychedelic Club officially fall into the demographic, known as the baby boomers: the generation born in the aftermath of World War Two was their primary audience. Many of these kids were "Spock babies," so called because they were raised by parents taking the advice of Dr. Spock, the influential American pediatrician. His main message was that children need to sink that anything, that anything is possible. Those of us boomers who grew up into the countercultures, and are revolutionaries tried to live out that prescription, and many of us turn for a time to psychedelic drugs to broaden their vision of what was possible. We did not always live out our visions, but at least we sought them out. Perhaps the historical importance of Leary, Alpert, Weil, and Smith is not so much any particular vision. But the very process of envisioning for a moment in time we have the experience of expanding our minds. And one of the side effects of that condition is envisioning an alternative way to live." That is beautifully written.

DL: 1:23:50
Thank you. I mean that is a good note to end on. [laughs]

SM: 1:23:53
I think it is a great note to end and what, what I would like to thank you again, the question I want to ask that I have been asking everyone at the very end of my interviews is what, the people that are going to be listening to this are going to be, could be 15 years, 50 years from now. They could be students, faculty, national scholars listening to this tape, what is your word of advice for them? Any things you might want to say, a lasting message that you would like to deliver to them?

DL: 1:24:32
Big of a question for me. [laughs] Just take a deep breath relax and it will be okay.

SM: 1:24:41
[laughs] All right, well.

DL: 1:24:45
Do not take yourselves, do not take yourself too seriously.

SM: 1:24:49
Well, I tell you, I want to thank you for doing this and I had to cut, you know, there is two parts now because I had to turn this off because the battery was low. So, we have got the batteries. But, thank you very much. And-

DL: 1:25:03
Sure, happy, to happy to help. It was good talking to you, Steven.

SM: 1:25:06
You have a great day and I am going to turn this off and, okay, one last thing is you will get a copy of this that will be through the mail, on email sometime in the next two weeks. And, then you will you can listen to it and if it is okay, I hope they, you know, they have to put it together now because I had to take a break. And then, you will just let them know so that we can put it on site with your picture that you sent me, and a brief biography in the back would be expanded down the road. So, thank you very much.

DL: 1:25:42

SM: 1:26:01
Well, it was beautifully-

DL: 1:26:02

SM: 1:26:08
Well, you are one of my top 100. But I, you know, I am a bibliophile. I read a lot of books. Your book is one of my top 100, ever. So, I just learned so much from it. I never was a very big fan of Leary. But, I have become a big fan of Ram Dass and, and one of the things that he has done over the years, and I have always knew about Mr. Houston Smith. I knew about him already. And Andrew Weil, we already know a lot about him, so. I do not dislike any of them, but Leary's a different man that is for sure. [laughs] He was a rebel. All right.

DL: 1:26:46

SM: 1:26:47
You take care and be safe. Bye. I am recording, still? I am.

(End of Interview)

Date of Interview



Stephen McKiernan


Don Lattin

Biographical Text

Don Lattin is a journalist, educator, consultant, and award-winning author. Lattin published six books, including The Harvard Psychedelic Club and Changing Our Minds: Psychedelic Sacraments and the New Psychotherapy. His work has appeared in many magazines and newspapers, including the San Francisco Chronicle where he worked as a staff writer. Lattin has been a commentator for numerous television news shows, including Dateline NBC, PrimeTime Live, Good Morning America, Nightline, and Anderson Cooper 360. He specializes in religion, spirituality, and psychology. Lattin also taught as an adjunct faculty member at the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California at Berkeley where he earned a Bachelor's degree in Sociology.





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Binghamton University Libraries

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Psychedelic; Harvard; Book; Drugs; LSD; 60s;  Psychedelic experience; Psilocybin; Berkeley University; Counterculture; Talk.


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Stephen McKiernan's collection of interviews includes more than two hundred interviews with prominent figures of the 1960s, which were collected between the mid-1990s and 2010s. The collection provides narratives of people who were actively involved in or witnessed events in the 1960s, an era which spurred profound cultural and… More

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“Interview with Don Lattin,” Digital Collections, accessed June 17, 2024,