The first thing I noticed about the audience was the lack of college age students. There were a few, but most of the crowd was my age or older. Most of them, while appearing liberal in attitude, looked fairly "square" and conservatively dressed, although there were a few hip folks, which were mainly the collage age students. I had the longest hair. A lot of them looked like instructors. 210 people attended.
The stage set was unimpressive (no psychedelic light shows or Indian music in the background). There was a lectern and some kind of partition behind it. Leary didn't use any props other than the microphone in his hand. He walked around with the microphone and the cord looped around his arm. He coughed several times, but made a point of doing so off mike. He used the microphone fairly professionally and articulated his words very clearly.
Leary started by saying that he dug the open-mindedness of this area and said that two years ago, he did a lecture here with Abbie Hoffman and Hunter Thompson (who wrote a book about the Hells Angels, and took on other strange reporting assignments). He slipped on the name of the college, calling it "Skyline."
After the opening remarks, Leary stated that his job was to teach people to think for themselves and to question authority. He reminded us that America had a history of doing so, but now it's mainly the bohemians who do this best.
Then Leary went into the philosophical "finding out what we are all about" theme, which seems to crop up in many of his lectures. He didn't dwell on it tonight. Next he talked about Eastern Europe and how the youth of the 60's were probably responsible for the gains in freedom behind the iron curtain (At the time of the lecture, I thought that all of this was all a bunch of typical Leary bunk, but after researching it further, I've decided that there may be some truth to this. In particular, Frank Zappa may have had a major role in liberating Eastern Europe. Zappa seems to be a major hero over there and they seem to be very saddened by his death).
From this, he talked about the 50`s and "beatniks." He seems to be insensitive to the fact that most members of the Beat Generation do not like to be called beatniks, but this is the term he always uses. Leary drifted in and out of this subject several times during the lecture. He said that the beats set up the 60's for the Hippies.
I had no doubt that Leary was keeping up with current events. In addition to mentioning the events in Eastern Europe, he talked about the violence in China, the mess in Panama, the current political situation, and several other topics. Although many claim that drugs have ruined him for good, I could see no indication that he was not in touch with the world around him. The only thing I didn't like was that he had a bad habit of jumping from topic to topic, instead of finishing one topic before starting another.
Leary has a strong dislike of politics. He takes the Kennedy line "Ask not what your country should do for you, ask what you should do for your country" and points out that it stinks of Nazi Germany, although he did not phrase it that way. He also got in a little Quayle bashing. He doesn't think much of the pope either: "smartest man in the 12th century."
Leary touched on neurons, as he usually does in his lectures. This time he referred to them as computers, as in "the 100 billion computers in your brain." He also claimed that 20 billion of these "computers" make up our pleasure centers. He didn't spend too much time on this subject.
Leary talked about the "drug wars," pointing out that in the 60's, everyone was satisfied with marijuana and LSD. But when the government tried to suppress those drugs, people started using more dangerous drugs, since they were easier to obtain. He predicted that the drug wars will have to be called off in 5-10 years, pointing out how even George Shultz is speaking out in favor of legalization. I hope he's right but don't feel very optimistic on that point.
After the lecture, Leary took about 5 questions. The first addressed the problem of not remembering the insights gained from a drug once you come down. Leary avoided answering this question. My own feelings is that like dreams, some people remember the experience and some don't. I seem blessed with the ability to remember the great insights... the all-one and the question of relativity to name two.
The next question concerned Leary's views about life after death. Apparently, Leary doesn't have any. He played around with the question for a while and then said he wanted to move on to something less disgusting.
Someone asked Leary why it is that college students are claimed to be more liberal today than 8 years ago (a claim I dispute) yet most say in polls that they would give up some of their civil liberties to have the drug wars. Leary's answer: don't trust polls. He pointed out that many students are probably not truthful when answering such polls, out of fear or for some other reason.
The fourth question was something to do with the industrial-military complex and did Leary think that it wall fall apart on it's own accord. Leary didn't seem to think so.
Throughout the questions, a woman in front of me kept holding up her hand and Leary kept avoiding her. He saved her for last. She asked a typical "poisoning the well" question, "What about drugs destroying the brain?" Leary yells, "Brain damage? You've got to be putting us on?" Everyone laughs and leaves.
Copyright © 1995, Colin Pringle