How a scholarly hippie got pulled into the orbit of the psychedelic revolutionary whom then-President Nixon labeled “the most dangerous man in America”
Lisa Rein conducts the first in-depth interview of Timothy Leary’s longtime archivist, Michael Horowitz
Interview 1: December 1969 – November 1970
LR: How did you become Timothy Leary’s personal archivist?
MH: I was uniquely suited for the role with my background working with rare books and manuscripts, and my immersion in the psychedelic counterculture, first in New York City and later in San Francisco. The immediate catalyst was meeting Robert Barker in San Francisco at the tail end of the ‘60s. Bob was a fellow consciousness explorer and an art book collector. He’s a Gemini from San Antonio, I’m a Sagittarius from Brooklyn. We clicked.
LR: What kinds of projects had you worked on during the Sixties?
MH: I’ve worked with rare books since my graduate days in the early ’60s, first as an assistant to the curator at the NYU library, then in the book department of an auction house on Madison Avenue. Privately I scouted first editions on my travels in the U.S. and Europe. In 1967 I landed in San Francisco and soon after began working at a high-end antiquarian bookshop. Bob was ferrying people and supplies to Alcatraz during the Native American occupation of the island, while working a straight job. He was connected to a group of Texas hippies who were influential in the local art and music scene.
What brought us together was our shared passion for book collecting and for mind-altering drugs and their history. We set up a library in North Beach, the first devoted to that subject–the Fitz Hugh Ludlow Memorial Library. The library is now at Harvard’s Houghton Library as part of the Julio Santo Domingo Collection, the largest collection of it’s kind in the world.
LR: Who was Fitz Hugh Ludlow?
MH: Ludlow was a proto-hippie from the American Civil War era. He started experimenting with drugs before college, and published his bestselling first book, The Hasheesh Eater, in 1857, at age 21.
MH: It was the first book on drug experience by an American author and caused a wave of experimentation much as Leary did with LSD a century later. Ludlow took psychedelic-level doses of hashish paste and cannabis extract. He came to the West Coast by horse and stagecoach, and took Mark Twain under his wing in San Francisco, probably turning him on to hashish. He was the epitome of a writer-adventurer, and his innovative methods of curing opium and morphine addiction, during the first American drug epidemic, included using cannabis during withdrawal. He was praised by Twain, Aleister Crowley and the Beats, yet a pretty obscure figure when we first learned of him through the chance discovery of his most famous book.
We felt a spiritual bond with Fitz Hugh. Later, when we became involved with Timothy, we realized his Millbook enclave was situated right beside Poughkeepsie, where teenage Ludlow hung out at the local apothecary shop.
LR: How did you and Robert Barker meet?
MH: I was looking for a ride home from the Altamont Rock Festival. It was supposed to be our West Coast Woodstock but the violence near the stage where the Rolling Stones were closing out the concert seeped into the consciousness of the huge crowd. Walking back to the cars parked a few miles away in the darkness, fires burning here and there, made for an apocalyptic setting and a bad re-entry from the LSD many of us had taken in the sunshine when the concert began hours earlier. I couldn’t find the car nor my friends I’d gone with and was looking around for a ride. I began to wonder if I’d be left there with a couple of thousand other equally stoned heads. Barker saw me and motioned me into his packed VW bug. After dropping off the other passengers, he and I went to Chinatown for a cheap delicious dinner at Sam Wo. I invited him to drop by the bookshop where I worked, which he did the following week.
It turns out Tim and Rosemary were also at Altamont. There’s a vivid account in Flashbacks, worth reading for the distinction Leary makes between the peacefulness of the 300,000 strong audience and the violence around the stage. Three months later he was in prison and we were his archivists.
LR: So, it’s the end of the decade. Nixon is President and declares a War on Drugs. The Vietnam War is still going on. We’d just put a man on the Moon. Woodstock had happened that same summer. Altamont was supposed to be “Woodstock West,” but ended up creating a disappointing end to the decade, instead of a hopeful one?
MH: Yes, the euphoria of the Summer of Love was receding in the face of the government’s covert offensive. Altamont mirrored the darkness and paranoia that was escalating with the war, the assassinations, Nixon’s election, the Manson murders, the increasingly brutal suppression of the anti-war movement, Black uprising and student rebellion. The Bay Area was ground zero of the struggle but also an outpost of writers, artists and musicians who continued to build on a vibrant underground culture.
Bob and I talked about merging our book collections with a third collector-friend in LA and opening a private library. We needed a new direction for the new decade.
LR: Who was the LA collector?
MH: William Dailey, another rare book guy from LA with an eye for fine illustrated French drug books. Paris is where recreational drug use flourished in the 1840s, and over time the Ludlow Library became a kind of underground salon of aficionados of mild-altering plants and drugs. We likened ourselves to the members of the Hashish Club who held elegant drug parties in Paris in the 1840s. The literary and artistic underground had great appeal to us. All underground movements had their recreational drugs of choice.
LR: What made you decide to start a library of drug-related books and literature?
MH: Bob’s vision of a private, drug-focused library was appealing, and he convinced me to give it a shot. He went ahead and rented a one-room office at the intersection of Columbus and Stockton, and furnished it with a desk, chairs and bookshelves. To help pay the rent, we sublet space to the Church of the Tree of Life, one of the first psychedelic churches whose sacraments were mostly obscure psychoactive plants not yet declared illegal. Michael Aldrich, the first Ph.D of cannabis history and folklore and an early marijuana reform activist who marketed the first hemp rolling papers, came aboard as curator a year later.
We embraced a mission to archive the ‘60s counterculture with a library-museum. The books introduced us to other historical countercultures and the drugs of choice that fueled them, and from there to the sacred plants of tribal societies, eventually back to the ancient history and to the myths of pre-recorded history. Over time we amassed the largest library in the world on the subject, and hosted drug discoverers and scholars like Albert Hofmann, Gordon Wasson, Richard Schultes, Sasha Shulgin and Terence McKenna. This was the setting the Leary Archives would fit into.
LR: Who came by to use the Ludlow Library?
MH: We were just two blocks north of City Lights Bookstore, which was a shrine to us. Lawrence Ferlinghetti dropped by to welcome us to North Beach. Our first visitors were Beat poets, underground cartoonists and psychedelic poster artists who donated signed copies of their work. We also evolved into a museum of contemporary drug paraphernalia, rolling papers and handmade roach clips, pinbacks and all manner of beautiful psychedelic accessories made by local hippie artisans.
Once we had finished shelving the several hundred books, organized by drugs, with separate sections for poetry and fiction, women’s writings, underground comics and art—anything that was drug-influenced—even official government anti-drug propaganda. Lurid paperbacks and memoirs of narcotics agents sat together with scholarly works by psychologists and anthropologists, Works by De Quincey and Coleridge, Aldous and Laura Huxley, Burroughs and Ginsberg shared space with R. Crumb comic books and 1890s coca wine posters, Lenny Bruce record albums and movie posters from Reefer Madness and Marihuana: Weed With Roots In Hell to Easy Rider and The Trip.
LR: Do you think that these books about drug experiences allow people to learn from those who have taken the drugs without actually taking the drugs themselves?
MH: Powerful descriptive writing about personal drug experiences mimics the effects of the drugs themselves. Reading Aleister Crowley on how hashish aided his meditation, or Mezz Mezzrow on playing in a jazz band on marijuana, or Gordon and Valentina Wasson’s otherworldly mushroom journey in a curandera’s hut in Mexico, or Anais Nin describing how LSD turned her body into liquid gold can be mildly psychoactive in itself. Especially so if you’d had your own prior experiences. We also collected books and studied the rituals of the peyote and mushroom cults, the history of the opium wars and laughing gas parties. We learned that drug literature is endless, and drug-taking was one of the earliest and most common activities of mankind.
LR: OK, let’s talk about the Leary archives now. When and how did it happen exactly that Tim’s archives ended up under your watch?
MH: A few months after we’d set up the Ludlow Library, Leary was sentenced to 10 years on federal charges for possession of a half ounce of weed, stemming from the Laredo bust in 1965. A week later he was sent back to California to face charges there from another bust In Laguna Beach in 1968.
MH: Timothy Leary, whom neither of us had met, was sent to the California State Prison in San Luis Obispo for one to ten years for his Laguna Beach bust for two half-smoked joints. Bail was denied, specifically on the basis of two published articles: ”Deal For Real,” (September 1969) a defense of psychedelic chemists and distributors, published in the East Village Other (the leading underground newspaper in NYC), and a memoir of his Laredo pot bust, “Episode & Postscript (Playboy, Dec. 1969).
LR: So, wait, Tim was in prison in the first place for possession of very small amounts of cannabis? And, for political reasons, he was denied bail by a Governor Reagan-influenced Judge? And then given an over-reaching sentence, by that same judge?
MH: Exactly. Bail was denied by a Reagan-appointed judge in Orange County, one of the most rightwing in California. The judge held up the publications in the courtroom and during his ruling called Leary “a pleasure-seeking, irresponsible Madison-Avenue advocate of the free use of LSD and marijuana.” “Pleasure-seeking” was a generic put-down of both Tim Leary and the hippie culture; “Madison Avenue” simply meant “successful.” Leary was being punished for being the public face of the Psychedelic Movement.
A more devious goal was to keep Leary from challenging the incumbent California governor as a candidate in the fall election. Imagine Tim on TV debating Ronald Reagan!
LR: Tim ran for governor of California?
MH: Yes. He was stoked by the Supreme Count ruling in his favour on the Marijuana Tax Act (later reversed, but that didn’t faze him—few things did). He knew that attacking the power structure would be at great personal cost and he would lose battles along the way, but any time he saw an opportunity to spark a cultural evolution, why not give it a shot?
The most radical proposal in his platform was legalizing marijuana and taxing it appropriately. It was a lot like the model adopted by Colorado and Washington 45 years later.
LR: And John Lennon wrote his campaign song?
MH: Yes. John Lennon did compose his campaign song, “Come Together, Join the Party,” when Tim and Rosemary joined John and Yoko at the Montreal Bed In to end the war. After it was clear that Tim’s felony conviction had knocked him out of the race, John repurposed the song into the Beatles’ hit, “Come Together.”
LR: Where does Holding Together fit in to all this?
MH: That was the defense committee formed by Tim’s wife Rosemary, with Joanne Ziprin, whose family sublet the Leary’s Berkeley Hills home.
LR: Where did the name come from?
MH: It came from an I Ching reading she cast with Ken Kesey, the hexagram for “Holding Together brings good fortune.” The event was covered in the Berkeley Barb, which closely followed Tim’s trials and tribulations during these years.
LR: Tell me about the first Holding Together event?
MH: Holding Together’s first benefit event was the Om Orgy held in mid-April at the Family Dog rock venue on the Great Highway in San Francisco. It was there Bob and I met Rosemary, told her about our psychedelic drug library (which already included most of Tim’s publications) and offered to help. We were not really sure what we were getting into. Talk about understatement!
MH: Beat poet Allen Ginsberg, Leary’s longtime friend and outspoken supporter, spoke at the Om Orgy about Leary’s imprisonment as a political prisoner, and how it was unconstitutional for him to be held without bail for such a petty offense. Allen went on to play a huge role in Timothy’s defense on this issue over the next few years. Tim had no more eloquent public supporter than Allen throughout his career, although there were occasional periods when they clashed on tactics.
LR: What were your first impressions of Rosemary?
MH: Her beauty and haute hippie dress style made it impossible not to crush on her. You could see she was under a lot of stress. We wanted to do anything we could to help her. She was somewhat cautious about us. She herself faced felony charges of up to five years for possession stemming from that Laguna bust, and the Bay Area was crawling with undercover narcs in beards and jeans. But our sincerity must have been evident, because she invited us to the Leary home in the Berkeley Hills to discuss the archives.
LR: What did Timothy’s archives look like when you first saw them?
MH: By the time we finished talking and sharing a joint of Barker’s best, she’d made her decision and walked us behind the house to a detached garage. Inside stood four or five four-drawer institutional grey metal file cabinets, the paint chipped with spots of rust. I opened a drawer at random. It was filled to capacity with neatly arranged and labelled manila file folders.
LR: That must have been very exciting for drug historians like you two.
MH: If here was any doubt about volunteering to take on the Leary archives, it ended in that garage. The very first thing I pulled out was labelled: “Nov. 1963 – Huxley.” Inside was a carbon copy of a typed letter Laura had sent to their closest friends detailing the circumstances of Aldous’ death. It was less than ten years since these events but, to us, it was like the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
I started reading it, standing in the chilly garage. Bob and I were steeped in LSD history, and knew this was the first documented use of LSD during the end of life process. Aldous Huxley was the toweringly influential figure whose books inaugurated the modern psychedelic age.
LR: What else did you see that night?
MH: Bob opened another drawer that was filled with dozens of mimeographed reports written by the prisoners at Concord Prison after Tim and Ralph Metzner had given them psilocybin in 1961, with one taking it with the prisoners and the other acting as a guide.
There were letters between Tim and Aldous, Alan Watts, Ginsberg and Kerouac. Manuscripts, purple ink mimeos and offprints from Harvard and Millbrook. Invoices for psilocybin, LSD and DMT ordered from labs when those drugs were still legal. We were like kids in a candy store. Rosemary practically had to drag us away to continue talking about what to do with the archives.
LR: Had the archives been threatened or harmed in any way? Why was Rosemary asking you to take over looking after them?
MH: The archives at that point were unharmed and in perfect order. Tim was a scientist, and felt certain his work—the personality research in the 1950s, and even more, the psychedelic research in the following decade—was of a momentous time in history that was going to change everything. Like Huxley, he believed that the discovery of LSD was one of the two or three most important events of the 20th century. The others being the fissioning of the atom and the discovery of DNA, all three happening within a couple of years of each other.
Rosemary had a specific reason for finding responsible people to look after the archives. If Tim’s legal appeals were unsuccessful, he was going to attempt an escape. Of course, nothing was definite that early, and there was no escape plan yet, but Tim knew his archives would be vulnerable (as well as his archivists). They presented a detailed record of his life’s work and the much maligned (but lately resurrected) Psychedelic Movement. The FBI didn’t get around to us until much later, when Tim used his archives as a bargaining chip in winning his freedom. That’s getting far ahead of the story.
LR: So this meeting was when Tim had been imprisoned, but before he escaped?
MH: Yes. He was imprisoned March 20th. We went to the house and saw the archives the first week of May.
LR: Did you know there was an escape plan?
MH: Not at all. They kept us in the dark because total secrecy was obviously needed, and because they wanted to protect us. They needed someone to take care of his archives and keep them safe from seizure and potential destruction at the hands of the government, as Wilhelm Reich’s had been in the 1950s. And he got two archivists to do this. Bob and I needed each other, and Tim and Rosemary needed both of us.
LR: What happened after you were given the archives?
MH: After she next visited Tim, Rosemary told us that he was ecstatic to hear about our volunteering, and the fact that we were from the LSD culture and operating a drug library in San Francisco. He immediately put us on the visiting list.
Bob visited first and came back with instructions to move the library out of the Queens Road house. We rented a truck and moved the row of file cabinets to the historic Claremont Hotel in the Berkeley Hills. He told us to contact his lawyers and find out if we could help with the appeal. They paid for one month at the Claremont for initial research. After that we moved them to North Beach, where we sequestered them within the Ludlow Library. We felt they were protected there—but at the time we didn’t know precisely whom we were protecting them from.
LR: What was it like meeting Tim for the first time? Had you two ever met before that?
MH: Challenging in ways I could not have foreseen. I’d read his books, gone to his talks and events in New York City, watched him on tv standing up to his hostile detractors in a focused, spirited way. He was routinely called the devil, a menace to society, the Pied Piper leading the young to their doom. He always smiled and patiently explained the factual situation to their deaf ears. He freaked out almost every level of society but had a large and loyal following of mostly young people who shared his vision of a new and enlightened society based on the impact of the new consciousness-expanding chemicals like LSD, along with the shift from an alcohol to a marijuana-based society.
Even in 1970, with the war, social breakdown and so much paranoia in the counterculture–even in prison, unjustly–he had the same upbeat approach to everything, and the belief that somehow the psychedelic culture would prevail, and the national consciousness would be raised.
But there was a lot going on underneath. Prison was changing him. Meanwhile, I was the proud archivist going to meet him. Archiving for Leary was my niche in the revolution. It was sort of like reporting for duty.
LR: What didn’t you foresee?
MH: Something came up from my subconscious at the last minute. I wanted to take LSD with him. I just picked a really inappropriate day to do it, visiting him in prison.
LR: You took acid with him in prison?
MH: Well, that was my plan. I cut a hit of windowpane LSD into two equal parts, ate half at the airport and placed the other half under my fingernail. It was so small I’d knew it’d be undetectable and I wouldn’t have to fish around for it when I saw him.
It was a light dose, but not light enough for going into a state prison for the first time in my life. It hit me as the airport taxi drove through the prison gates and I panicked. Why the fuck did I do that? It took all my concentration to hold back the acid waves that were swarming through my head. At least half a dozen burly uniformed prison guards looked me over with disdain. One guard shouted, “Look at that freak visiting Leary!” Everyone’s head turned. I’d toned it down, but still had the wild fro, the peace sign necklace, and the bell bottoms. At least the shaded eyeglasses hid my dilated pupils.
At the registration desk I struggled with visitor forms, reluctantly giving them my personal information. The tiny square of green gelatin under the finger of my writing hand felt like it was a glowing radioactive particle as I filled out forms. The desk clerk was puzzled when I said I was Doctor Leary’s archivist. I explained that I was like a secretary who looked after his papers. After an eternity he shrugged and pointed me toward the first of two iron gates that clanged shut behind me. After this ordeal I was relieved to see Timothy waving to me from behind a window, flashing the hippie peace sign salute.
LR: Did he realize you were tripping?
MH: Not at first. He greeted me with a hug. With that I couldn’t hold back the acid waves any longer. The vibes reached him.
LR: How did he react, once he knew?
MH: Not well. Visiting time was precious. He had a lot of tasks to lay on me. Help the lawyers with research for the appeal. Edit and get his prison writings published—Playboy and Rolling Stone would pay something unlike the underground press, which would publish anything of his. Messages to Rosemary. Call Allen Ginsberg. All that and more. But I had showed up like a stoned graduate student arriving for a seminar on the evolution of consciousness. Just as my first visit appeared to be going off the rails, Tim did an about face. He transformed into that Harvard professor and gave me the crash course in his psychedelic drug theories that he could see I was craving.
LR: What was his rap?
MH: For Leary and his associates, for Huxley and Watts, it was a given that LSD came into the world at exactly the time it was needed. Allen Ginsberg provided a proper meme–“God in a pill.” A triumph of technology, appropriate for a pharmaceutical society. Remember, Albert Hofmann’s psilocybin pills had won the endorsement of magic mushroom shamaness Maria Sabina.
LR: Where did his theories come from?
Science, basically. His training in psychology. Leary liked to organize information in lists and charts. For the psychedelic experience he turned to older models like Eastern philosophy. The Tibetan Book of the Dead. Ancient occult systems like Tarot, the I Ching, astrology. And increasingly the science of atomic structure and quantum physics. He’d started out a clinical psychologist mapping interpersonal interactions and personality types before he took psilocybin and LSD. The rap he gave me was a comparative analysis of the levels of consciousness triggered by every class of drug, from heroin to LSD. Seven levels which expanded to an eight-circuit theory he called “Neurologic,” written in another prison three years later.
LR: Did you slip him the acid?
MH: I was going to drop it in his soda, but when I looked at my fingernail, it wasn’t there. It must have fallen to the floor where it ended up in the janitor’s mop. I wasn’t the only one who dosed him in prison, or attempted to. Far from it. Rosemary and Joanna passed a chunk of hashish directly into his mouth when they greeted him with a kiss. Everyone assumed he wanted them to bring him LSD. He didn’t, but they did. He was the person who popularized the parameters of Set and Setting, so prison failed on the second count. But I won’t attempt to account for the entire 4-1/2 years he spent in the slammer.
LR: So the LSD you took that day turned out to be the right thing after all?
MH: It has a way of doing that, and that day was no exception. Huxley said when taking it under the right circumstances, it delivers exactly what the person needs, but sometimes even the wrong circumstances will do.
I felt my IQ was permanently boosted that afternoon. When I got back to my friends in the Bay Area I was buzzing for days, rapping out what I’d taken in. Being with Tim was like getting off the local and boarding the express. Reception-integration-transmission was his model for the yoga of communication.
It was the best class I’d ever taken, and it happened in a prison visiting room! After that I was ready to tune in to the more practical stuff. I began taking notes. I took notes for the next six years.
LR: What made Leary such an intellectual force?
MH: He thought creatively, made instant associations like one does on LSD. It was a knock that became a cliche that he’d fried his brain from the large number of trips he’d taken, but that was actually his training as a psychedelic philosopher. The foundation was his education as a psychologist. He was greatly influenced by McLuhan’s ideas about living in an age of transformative electronic technologies. His conversations were often about adapting to the chaos of reality. His creative style of thinking kept him from succumbing to the paranoia of being a caged prisoner, and later a hunted outlaw, and also produced a body of work in a variety of media over a lifetime.
LR: It sounds like Tim was getting fed up with the harassment of him and his family?
MH: He was shocked and angered that his bail had been denied even while appealing his case on important first amendment issues, and that his wife and son were also convicted of drug crimes. In prison he had time to obsess over his draconian sentences: Ten years for a half ounce of pot (a set up at the Texas-Mexico border), another dime for 2 roaches in the ashtray (planted), up to eight more because visitors to his Millbrook enclave had been seen lighting up by Deputy Sheriff Gordon Liddy in the surrounding woods through binoculars.
He knew he’d pushed the envelope, but he felt he played within the rules–never publicly advocating everyone use marijuana or LSD, just writing and speaking enthusiastically of its pleasures and potentials. He did advocate a drug moratorium for a year and testified before Congress how best to deal with what they called a drug crisis which was more a law enforcement opportunity. He’d incorporated the League for Spiritual Discovery as a religious entity so members could use LSD as their sacrament, fought and won a Supreme Court marijuana case, published four books and 40 scientific papers on psychedelic drugs.
LR: So desperate times required desperate measures? And really, they weren’t playing by the rules anymore, by keeping him imprisoned for such a minor drug offense.
MH: The government strategy was to shut down the psychedelic movement and its large role in the youth rebellion and anti-war movement by making an example of him. Plus I think it really bothered them that he didn’t play the remorse card. They couldn’t shut him up and now he was running for governor of California!
He was a 49-year-old political prisoner facing what amounted to life in prison, burdened with legal debts and cut off from his means of livelihood. Bob and I were even selling his 1950s personality tests to educational and military institutions. Like Lenny Bruce, he wanted to win on first amendment legal grounds. He had three sets of lawyers fighting his federal, California and NY State cases, but those were dragging on. For all that, the separation from Rosemary was the heaviest blow.
LR: What was the practical stuff you did for him?
MH: Bob and I were bringing manuscripts in and out of prison under the guise of legal briefs. After a while the authorities let us pass It was a minimum security prison and he was something of a celebrity. Huey Newton was being held at the same time in the medium security East Wing.
We spent the summer of 1970 splitting our time between buying books, soliciting donations for the Ludlow Library, and researching Tim’s archives for the lawyers, editing his manuscripts with him, sending them out to magazine editors.
Tim was writing all the time. Daily love letters to Rosemary. A journal of his life in prison, including how he adverted a violent fight between prisoners. Fiction, too: A fantasy about the Woodstock generation turning on the leaders in the White House. Some of it was published in the book Jail Notes. His most consuming text was his personal appeal brief directed to Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, whom he thought would be the most sympathetic to his plight, in which he compared himself and his family to American eagles in captivity. It was a legal brief in the form of a poem.
LR: What were his lawyers’ strategy?
MH: First of all, getting him out on bail on a writ of Habeas Corpus. Then an appeal of the draconian terms of a sentence of up to ten years for possession of .025 grams of cannabis. When bail was repeatedly denied, escape loomed as an option.
LR: Who represented him?
MH: Michael Kennedy & Joe Rhine, whose offices were in a “painted lady” Victorian house in San Francisco, very stylish inside and out. They were important figures in the network of radical left defense attorneys who included Charles Garry, William Kunstler and Gerald Lefcourt. There were Bay Area attorneys like the Hallinans, Tony Serra and Michael Metzger who handled the higher profile dope cases. Kennedy & Rhine worked on the Yippie conspiracy case in Chicago, the Black Panther Party cases in Oakland, won an acquittal for Los Siete de la Raza. In their eyes Leary was a classic political prisoner with an unusual drug angle—he had started a religion. His published writings and talks were cited in the courtroom. First amendment issues everywhere. Michael Kennedy was bold enough to consider all options of getting him out.
This copy (above) was revised in Switzerland the following year, with Tim’s Algerian name (Nino Baraka) printed in and his typed note on the bottom: “Since it is forbidden to send creative works about prison life from prison, this poem was typed as a legal brief (which is protected from censorship).”
LR: How did you feel when you first found out about the breakout? Did you really have NO IDEA that that was in the works?
MH: We had no clue about such a plan. Nobody thought that could possibly be in Tim’s playbook. People like him were not expected to try to escape from prison, let alone succeed. But then, US citizens weren’t expected to be sentenced to ten years and have their bail denied, either, because of their writings and talks.
LR: Sounds like being Leary’s archivists was consuming your lives.
MH: You could say that. We kept it quiet except to our closest friends. The library was a good cover for us. Some idiot published it in one of the underground papers but our having the Leary archives was generally not known.
LR: How did you find out that Tim escaped?
It was an early Sunday morning and I was asleep in my Berkeley pad. Barker knocked loudly and woke me up. He had driven over from his place in North Beach. He was giddy with excitement as he told me that Tim had escaped the previous night.
Different feelings surged through me. Shock to begin with. Exhilaration that he was free. Disappointment that our trip with him was over.
LR: But it wasn’t.
MH: It was just the end of Act One. Right then Bob laid on me what he’d been thinking about on the drive over. We’d better expect the police. Maybe the FBI. We were exposed from our prison visits. We had possession of his archives. Oh, and Rosemary was unreachable.
Exhilaration gave way to paranoia as Bob continued to catch me up. An old con, now on the outside, whom Tim had known in prison had been roughed up by federal agents earlier that morning. After they left he phoned Bob to say they might be headed here. If I had any dope in the house, I’d better do something about it.
I grabbed the little stash box with my precious tabs of orange sunshine and chunk of Nepalese temple ball and, after looking for any suspicious parked car, ducked under the wood frame cottage and chose a spot to bury it in the dirt. That done, Bob drove us to breakfast. I stayed away from the house the rest of the day. We drove out to Golden Gate Park and saw Creedence Clearwater Revival at the Carousel Ballroom in the evening.
LR: Did you expect the FBI would come for the archives?
MH: That was one of our fears—which spiked from time to time until they did come for them five years later. We did expect to be picked up for questioning. That didn’t happen either. We were not in their sights at that time. Like everyone else in the counterculture, we waited to see what would happen next.
LR: How did the counterculture react to news of Tim’s escape?
MH: People were stunned—and jubilant. The underground press covered it with banner headlines. “Proud Eagle Flies Free.” They printed full-page “Welcome Tim Leary” signs that people put on their front doors and in windows. It was a bright flash in a dark year. Violence in the streets and campuses. Days of Rage in Chicago. Convictions of the Chicago 8. Murders of Black Panthers. Kent State. Manson trial. Fatal OD’s of Janis and Jimi the same month as the escape. At least Tim was free! A Harvard professor, a peaceful man, had successfully busted out of prison. Peoples’ minds were blown.
LR: And the Weather Underground made it happen?
MH: It was a phenomenal coup for them. They were starting to become a serious force and that act elevated them within the hippie culture. Breaking Tim out and spiriting him and Rosemary out of the country was a wedding of the psychedelic subculture and the revolutionary left.
MH: The symbolism of the escape could not be ignored, especially after the Weather Underground publicly claimed credit, while rumors floated up that the LSD orange sunshine makers and global distributors, the Brotherhood of Eternal Love–for whom Tim Leary was a kind of guru–had financed the operation. His high-powered San Francisco lawyer Michael Kennedy confirmed the escape with a lot of fanfare.
LR: How on earth was he able to have typed up an escape note?
MH: California Men’s Colony West was a minimum security prison and he had access to a typewriter. It was just like him to write such a note, evoking Socrates and urging the prison guards to follow him to freedom. The next letter, sent to the Berkeley Barb, when he was underground with the Weathermen, was much more militant. He talked of waging revolutionary war against a genocidal government, of being armed and dangerous. That sounded like it came from Weather, but Tim enthusiastically adopted the rhetoric of those who had freed him. That they were middle class recent college grads made it even better. It sparked a serious debate in the counterculture. It was a radically different Timothy Leary for most people.
It got more polarized with his “Shoot to Live” statement. He later softened that to “Aim for Life,” but by that time Allen Ginsberg, Ken Kesey and the followers of Eastern teachers were challenging his rhetoric in the press.
LR: How were you holding up with all this stuff going on?
MH: Well, I remember walking past a newspaper kiosk in downtown San Francisco a month after the escape and seeing a bold black headline on the front page of the latest Berkeley Barb–“Smoke It and Blow it Up!” Smoke pot and make bombs. It was another “What the Fuck?” moment. I had more than a few of those during those years. Both he and Rosemary put their names to that. It was not their style, but prison did that to him. It was another over-the-top “thank you” to the Weather Underground, adopting their rhetoric. The Learys were not violent, but he was a philosophical bomb-thrower for sure.
LR: So you went back to your life?
MH: For the most part. We didn’t hear from them directly, but from reports in the underground press we learned that Tim and Rosemary had landed in Algiers, under the protection of the now International Black Panther Party. Expecting to hear from them, we rented a PO Box in Berkeley under the name Bodhisattva.
LR: Why Bodhisattva?
MH: We thought the word would give us suitable cover since it would be unfamiliar to anyone surveilling us. It did not suggest revolutionary politics, except ironically. It suggested, partly in jest, that when the dust settled sometime in the next century, that Timothy Leary might just be so regarded as an American bodhisattva. Allen Ginsberg loved the name and reflected on Kerouac’s use of it as a play on “bohemian” and “hobo.”
Timothy’s longtime colleague and pal, Ram Dass (Richard Alpert), was the bodhisattva of the two. Tim was happiest being MVP—”Most Valuable Philosopher.”
LR: How long before you heard from the Exiles?
MH: The first letter arrived about six weeks after the escape.
Additions in [brackets] are for historical clarification.
Nov. 4, 1970
Fast pace…moving moving…high energy tradewinds…playing complex game with Eldridge
[Cleaver] guiding us around Middle East. At present nicely settled working on Jail Notes…hoping for Jan 1st finish. We hope that the last two months have not been confusing to you. One thing must be remembered…AMERIKAN ATMOSPHERE IS SO POLLUTED WITH NIXON POLICE FOG…It is hard to realize how heavy the bar-o-metric pressure is and how it pulls you down into Nixon thinking…From here you realize that the freedom brotherhood is international…global…you see the complete total insanity of Amerika…how the system scares and frightens and co-opts. During seven months in prison the only voices which made any sense to us were Huey
[Newton] and Bobby
[Seale] and Leila Khalid
[Palestinian airplane hijacker] and the Weathermen.
We were puzzled by the Kesey note you sent. Poor Ken. That dreary old Calvinist death-wish…. Would he drop acid and wander down to the ghetto office of the Panther Self Defense and talk about “nuts with guns”?
[Kesey had written, “We don't need another nut with a gun” in response to Leary's “shoot to live/ aim for life” statement in an exchange the two had in the underground press.]
We are passing through the cycle of Seven Revolutions: the Seventh is the Life-Death Passage (Sundance, etc.) in which you face death, spin the wheel and choose Life. It helps to have a network of loving fearless friends who will face death with you. Rosemary did. Jeff Jones and Bernadine
[Dohrn] did…Eldridge and Huey and Jonathan Jackson did. It’s a fascinating society of re-incarnates. It’s an old mythic game. And it does produce New Life. It’s complex (in that it has to be experienced) and yet simple.
I have suggested to Mike S
[Standard, Leary's NY attorney] that he be available to you for legal and contractual help in publishing any of the materials we discussed: sale of archives, Psychology of Pleasure, Festschrift, Anthology, collected works, picture books, reprints of
[Psychedelic] Prayers, Politics
[High] Priest, Interpersonal Diagnosis
[of Personality], etc…. We know that a lot of pressure has been placed on you both from without and from within. Let us know how it looks to you and we’ll respond as honestly and eloquently as we can.
We do thank you dear brothers for your help and love. We are sorry that we had to keep you in the dark about the escape…but you will understand our decision was based in great measure on our desire to protect you.
From the vantage point of the Third World one gets an amazed sense of wonder at the American and European white middle class fearfully protecting its privilege. We long to hear from you and to start moving energy behind our beautiful flower plans. Thanks, love, write us, stay high, stay free.
(signed) Tim and Ro
Coming next: Part 2: Algeria!