Me And Tim Leary

The first time I met Timothy Leary, it didn’t count. I didn’t know who he was. I was just a high school kid— between sophomore and junior years I think— forced to take a shitty job— literally— for the summer. Leary was known in academic circles, not yet much in pop culture. In retrospect, I’m pretty sure I had never heard of LSD when I replied to an ad for a job in Millbrook in far away Dutchess County.

My parents believed in work… even work for work’s sake, especially for boys. School’s out for summer— find a job. Actually, my father gave me one. I really hated it and refused to do it the way he demanded I do it. He expected me to sell schmattas to poor people in Brownsville. He and his partners did “charity” clothing drives in their spare time, collecting used clothing to give away to poor people. But instead of giving the clothes away, they sold the stuff— or expected me to. They had a store front in an all-Black Brooklyn neighborhood and expected me to sit there and sell the clothes to people rummaging through the cardboard boxes.

Mostly I just gave everything away. I lasted about a week, maybe two, before they fired me. Good! My father and I never got along-- I mean, like never. After he fired me they insisted I get another job. Somehow I saw the ad to go work digging ditches in Millbrook. It included room and board and pretty good pay. I took a Trailways bus and found the Hitchcock estate, which is where he and Richard Alpert were staying courtesy of some Mellon heirs.

They had just moved in and it hadn’t turned into a party scene yet. There was something wrong with the plumbing and they had a crew working on it. I was part of the crew. I lasted a day, knee-deep in sewage. After work, I took a hot shower and then, without saying anything to anyone, I got back on a Trailways bus and returned to Manhattan and took a subway back to Brooklyn.

Eventually, the estate became famous and the following year Leary wrote The Psychedelic Experience there. The house was always filled with counter-culture celebrities like Allen Ginsberg (who I later wound up in a jail cell with), Charles Mingus (who I later hired to play at my college), Maynard Ferguson, Alan Watts… All the cool kids.

Once I wound up in college I became chairman of the Student Activities Board, which put on both a concert series and a speakers series. I hired Leary to come speak and he gave a talk something like this:

I picked him up, either at a train station or an airport; I can’t remember which. I was really excited to go get him and drive him to the campus. I had never tried acid. He gave me some and I kept it until I was ready for my first trip, later that semester at a Jefferson Airplane concert. After the concert, I wound up at Ratner’s, a Jewish deli on Second Avenue, with Bill Graham, Sandy Pearlman and Airplane members Paul Kantner, Marty Balin, and Jack Casady. Graham later acquired the theater next door and opened the Fillmore East. I was the only one on acid but Graham and Kantner especially picked up on it and it was the beginning of deep friendships with both of them that lasted for the rest of their lives. Years later I put out a couple of records by SVT, Casady’s side project, on my San Francisco-based indie label, 415 Records. Here are a couple of songs:

As for Tim… he kind of became an honorary member of 2 Al Jourgensen projects when I worked at Warner Brothers, Ministry and the Revolting Cocks. Everything always seemed to be falling apart in Jourgensen world. I used to run into Tim backstage at shows in the mid-'90s as his extraordinary life was winding down. We never re-bonded during that period, although I'm glad I had the opportunity to thank him for giving me my first acid trip and for helping me profoundly change my life. He knew he was dying but not many others around him did until near the end.