Tag Archives: City Lights

Allen Ginsberg, Timothy Leary, and the CIA

31 Jul

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It’s widely acknowledged that the Beat Generation writers experimented with drugs, which influenced both the content and style of their writing. I’ve written before about how Allen Ginsberg’s drug use shaped his writing when he had a vision while reading William Blake, forever guiding his poetry.

But dear old Allen Ginsberg was also leery of America’s hand in the drug trade.

Let me backtrack a moment. In 1960 Allen Ginsberg became friends with Timothy Leary. Timothy Leary was an American psychologist born on October 22, 1920, in Springfield, Massachusetts—meaning he’d been born near Herbert Huncke, Jack Kerouac, and John Clellon Holmes a little after Huncke was born and a little before Kerouac and Holmes were born. At Harvard University—which William S. Burroughs also attended—Leary conducted experiments involving psychedelic drugs for the Harvard Psilocybin Project.

The friendship between Ginsberg and Leary led to the psychedelic revolution, with Leary popularizing the phrase:

“Turn on, tune in, drop out”

Timothy Leary invoked Socrates when he said:

“Question authority”

The irony of this, though, is that Leary didn’t drop out or subvert authority. Much like the way the CIA funded abstract expressionism, Leary was doing research at an ever-prestigious Ivy League college which consisted of experimenting on prisoners (see the Concord Prison Experiment). This isn’t all that different than in the 1950s when the CIA launched Project MKULTRA, which administered LSD to unwitting participants as a means toward experimenting with mind control. In fact, prior to meeting Leary, in 1959 Ginsberg participated in experimental studies of LSD at Stanford University, which it turned out were administered by psychologists working for the CIA to develop mind-control drugs. Leary also began experimenting on writers.

Peter Conners’ book White Hand Society: The Psychedelic Partnership of Timothy Leary & Allen Ginsberg, published by City Lights in 2010, alleges that Leary used Ginsberg to further publicize his studies. Here’s the marketing copy for the book from City Lights:

In 1960 Timothy Leary was not yet famous — or infamous — and Allen Ginsberg was both. Leary, eager to expand his experiments at the Harvard Psilocybin Project to include accomplished artists and writers, knew that Ginsberg held the key to bohemia’s elite. Ginsberg, fresh from his first experience with hallucinogenic mushrooms in Mexico, was eager to promote the spiritual possibilities of psychedelic use. Thus, “America’s most conspicuous beatnik” was recruited as Ambassador of Psilocybin under the auspices of an Ivy League professor, and together they launched the psychedelic revolution and turned on the hippie generation.

White Hand Society weaves a fascinating and entertaining tale of the life, times and friendship of these two larger-than-life figures and the incredible impact their relationship had on America. Peter Conners has gathered hundreds of pages of letters, documents, studies, FBI files, and other primary resources that shed new light on their relationship, and a veritable who’s who of artists and cultural figures appear along the way, including Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs, Thelonious Monk, Willem de Kooning, and Barney Rosset. The story of the “psychedelic partnership” of two of the most famous, charismatic and controversial members of America’s counterculture brings together a multitude of major figures from politics, the arts, and the intersection of intellectual life and outlaw culture in a way that sheds new light on the dawn of the 1960s.

Years later, 1967 to be exact, this conversation between Leary and Ginsberg took place about “dropping out”:

Ginsberg: For instance, you haven’t dropped out, Tim. You dropped out of your job as a psychology teacher in Harvard. Now, what you’ve dropped into is, one: a highly complicated series of arrangements for lecturing and for putting on the festival…

Leary: Well, I’m dropped out of that.

Ginsberg: But you’re not dropped out of the very highly complicated legal constitutional appeal, which you feel a sentimental regard for, as I do. You haven’t dropped out of being the financial provider for Milbrook, and you haven’t dropped out of planning and conducting community organization and participating in it. And that community organization is related to the national community, too. Either through the Supreme Court, or through the very existence of the dollar that is exchanged for you to pay your lawyers, or to take money to pay your lawyers in the theatre. So you can’t drop out, like DROP OUT, ’cause you haven’t.

The year after that, Ginsberg penned an article called “Remarks on Leary’s Politics of Ecstasy” for The Village Voice, in which he suggested the American government was trying to silence Leary:

Timothy Leary quit public life to write a book in Mexico some years ago, but he was searched by Agents of Government as he went to cross borders, arrested for possession of some herb, and thus forced to interrupt his writing, return to public action, and defend his person from attack by the State. So he traveled to academies and lectured to the young, & thus he paid large legal fees required by the State & thus maintained an Ashram of fellow seekers well known in Millbrook. Agents of Government raided and repeated abused the utopia, whereupon Dr. Leary was obliged to be Dr. Leary and lecture more to raise money for his family of imprisoned friends. Agents of Government concluded this phase of prosecution with a piece of Socratic irony so blatantly echoing an old Greek injustice that the vulgar rhetoric of a Tyrannous State would need only be quoted to be recognized, were it not for the fact that these States are by now so plagued with Tyrannously inspired chaos and public communication so flooded with images of State Atrocity from the alleys of Saigon to the parks of Chicago that official public conscience here now, as memorably in Russia and Germany, is shocked, dumbed & amnesiac.

Ginsberg grew to become leery of the government’s hand in drugs. Researching, Ginsberg became convinced that the CIA was involved in drug trafficking. Ginsberg’s poem “CIA Dope Calypso” uses the following refrain:

Supported by the CIA

Wikipedia gives a quick summary of Ginsberg’s conspiracy theory that the CIA profited off of drugs:

Through his own drug use, and the drug use of his friends and associates, Ginsberg became more and more preoccupied with the American government’s relationship to drug use within and outside the nation. He worked closely with Alfred W. McCoy who was writing The Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia which tracked the history of the American government’s involvement in illegal opium dealing around the world. This would affirm Ginsberg’s suspicions that the government and the CIA were involved in drug trafficking. In addition to working with McCoy, Ginsberg personally confronted Richard Helms, the director of the CIA in the 1970s, but he was simply brushed off as being “full of beans”. Allen wrote many essays and articles, researching and compiling evidence of CIA’s involvement, but it would take ten years, and the publication of McCoy’s book in 1972, before anyone took him seriously. In 1978 Allen received a note from the chief editor of the New York Times, apologizing for not taking his allegations seriously so many years previous.[83]

Despite our notions of how counter-cultural drug use is its history is steeped in academia and politics. Even so-called counter-cultural writers theorize the government is behind drug trafficking.

Of course there are others who’d suggest that it was Timothy Leary and Allen Ginsberg who were conspiring to change the world.

 

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Coming Soon! Ferlinghetti’s Travel Journals

31 Mar

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In super exciting Beat-, travel-, poetry-, publishing- related news, Liveright Publishing will publish Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s travel journals in September 2015! The suspense is driving me crazy!!

Ferlinghetti is one of my most favorite poets. Back when I was in undergrad, I made my first pilgrimage to City Lights, the bookstore he founded, bought his San Francisco Poems, and proceeded to drag my biology-major friend all around the city to read the poems in their appropriate places. The fact that his travel journals are now being published may just inspire me to hit the road again.

The book, titled Writing Across the Landscape: Travel Journals, will cover the years 1950 to 2013. As I wrote in my recap of the film Ferlinghetti: A Rebirth of Wonder, Ferlinghetti once traveled to Italy to seek out his family roots and promptly got arrested! He also happened to own a little cabin out in Big Sur, California, where Jack Kerouac stayed; Kerouac wrote a book about his time there that’s since been made into a film. For the record, Ferlinghetti does not consider himself a Beat, and he’s not one of the characters constantly described as sitting in the back of a car driven by Neal Cassady. He’s had his own set of adventures through Cuba, France, Haiti, Mexico, and North Africa.

Kerouac’s literary agent Sterling Lord brokered the deal for Ferlinghetti’s new book with Liveright’s editor-in-chief Robert Weil. You can read more about it in The New York Times.

My Year in Review: 2012

4 Jan

What a full year 2012 was! Here’s a quick little recap:::

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In January I announced that the rumors were true. But it took the full year for it to finally look like this.

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In February I joined Pinterest to discover how it may help me as a writer and have been happily pinning ever since.

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In March my personal essay was included in the book Creating Space.

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In April I was one of the editors representing the Burnside Writers Collective at the Festival of Faith & Writing. It was so special to get to catch up with the other editors and writers, whom I just adore. I also had the opportunity to teach a writing workshop while I was there.

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Image via On the Road with Bob Holman / Rattapallax

In April I also worked to create awareness about what we lose when we lose a language. My interview with poet Bob Holman appeared in BOMBlog.

In May I received my MFA in creative nonfiction from The New School. I had a fantastic thesis advisor and a beloved peer group, who challenged me to dig deeper in my memoir about growing up Greek American. After I read a snippet at our thesis reading, an instructor I’d never even had came up to tell me how much he liked my work!

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Image via The Human Tower / Rattapallax

In June I witnessed the world record being broken for the tallest castell on a rooftop.

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In July I heard Amber Tamblyn read for The Paris Review at the Strand. Afterwards we somehow ended up on the elevator together, and I didn’t say anything to her. I never know in those situations if it’s polite to say something like “nice reading” or if the person just wants her privacy. I know she’s involved in the Beat literature community, though, so I should’ve probably talked to her about that.

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Image via The Millions

In August an article I wrote about a funny incident I had related to Jack Kerouac sparked a fiery debate and went viral, getting mentioned everywhere from The New Yorker to The Paris Review.

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Photo via RA Araya

In September I had one of the most surreal moments of my life–reading with David Amram. I got to hear him perform again, this time as an enthralled audience member, in December.

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Photo via RA Araya

That month I also read for poet Miguel Algarin‘s birthday bash.

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I also road tripped through northern and central California, visiting Cannery Row, City Lights Bookshop, The Beat Museum, and attending my college friend’s wedding.

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In October Hurricane Sandy hit New York, and I spent a lot of time in bed.

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In November I failed miserably at NaNoWriMo, but I had a lot of fun creating this ever-evolving Pinterest board for the book I never wrote.

I also gave a reading that got upstaged by a wedding proposal.

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In December there was a flurry of Jack Kerouac-related activities to promote the film adaptation of On the Road, and I got to see author Ann Charters and film director Walter Salles in person at IFC. I also got to take a writing class with screenwriter Jose Rivera at 3rd Ward.

I also went out to Lowell and got to meet Jack Kerouac’s friend and pallbearer Billy Koumantzelis.

 

What were the highlights of 2012 for you?

Banned Book Week 2012

1 Oct

It’s Banned Books Week!

I’ve been in a few conversations recently about censorship that really got me thinking.  In one, I admitted I’m probably a “square.”  I like following the rules.  That said, I believe 100% in the freedom of speech and the freedom of expression.  I don’t believe the government or libraries or anyone else should ever block our access to literature.  In fact, I believe we should have more free access to information and the written word.  As cliche as the saying is, knowledge is power.  Books are an incredible source for people looking to gain knowledge but also for those trying to understand themselves and the world around them a little bit better.  Censorship is dangerous to our well being.

The other conversation I had was in regard to ratings for children’s books.  Now, personally, I don’t really think ratings are all that helpful.  I’ve seen PG-13 movies that were more offensive to me than movies rated R.  The documentary This Film Is Not Yet Rated exposes why this occurs.  This brings me back to literature: the YA books I read as an adolescent were far more scarring than the books I read today.  So many of the books I grew up reading were about teens that had been raped or physically abused or had other terrible things happen to them.  I suppose these were the moral books that were supposed to scare me into being square so bad things didn’t happen to me.  The books I read today may have adult language or themes, but these classics and New York Times bestsellers intended for adult readers are generally milder and less damaging than the books I read when I was younger.  I don’t think ratings on YA books would necessarily change reading habits, and I do believe teens should have free access to the reading material of their choice, but perhaps both parents and young readers should be aware that the YA label can be a bit misleading.

If you’ve never seen HowlBanned Books Week would be a good week to watch it.  The film portrays the true-life events surrounding the obscenity case over City Lights’ Shig Murao and Lawrence Ferlinghetti selling Allen Ginsberg’s Howl.  The book Howl on Trial: The Battle for Free Expression reports on this historical trial, going into more depth.  From the City Lights product page:

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of Howl and Other Poems, with over 1,000,000 copies in print, City Lights presents the story of editing, publishing, and defending the landmark poem within a broader context of obscenity issues and censorship of literary works.

The collection includes:

* The complete “The Howl Letters” — correspondence between Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Jack Kerouac, Gregory Corso, John Hollander, Richard Eberhart, Louis Ginsberg, and others – with first-person insight into Ginsberg’s thinking and the significance of the poems to the author and his contemporaries.

* Ferlinghetti’s account of hearing “Howl” read at the Six Gallery, of editing the book, and of his court battle to defend its publication.

* A timeline of censorship in the U.S. that places the Howl case in the broader historical context of obscenity issues and censorship of literary works.

* Newspaper reportage, magazine essays, cartoons, photographs, and letters to the editor that illuminate the cultural climate of the mid-1950s, when sexual expression in print was suppressed.

* Excerpts from the trial transcript that show the brilliant criminal lawyer Jake Ehrlich in action.

* ACLU Defense Counsel Albert Bendich’s reflections on the Howl case, and his thoughts about challenges to Constitutionally guaranteed freedoms.

*A look at how the fight against censorship continues today in new forms. 

Interestingly, it was a conservative judge who saw the value in Ginsberg’s Howl, finding it to have “redeeming social importance.”

Find out more about Banned Books Week here.

Your Home Can Smell Like Big Sur

9 Jul

Busy poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who is still active at ninety-three years old, moved out to San Francisco and founded City Lights in 1953.  More than just the independent bookstore of Beat pilgrimages, City Lights is a book publisher, and in 1956, Ferlinghetti was arrested on obscenity charges because he had published and sold Allen Ginsberg’s Howl.  He was later found not guilty of a crime.

The year after Ginsberg and Ferlinghetti made the papers, Jack Kerouac finally found fame with On the Road.  The fame was overwhelming, though.  Talk-show hosts invited the naturally shy author on their show.  Wanderlust kids, winos, and dogged readers showed up unannounced at his home.  Fame took a toll on his mind, body, soul.

Ferlinghetti had a cabin, a refuge, out in the wilderness of Big Sur.  He could escape the hustle and bustle of San Francisco for respite along the coast of central California.  After the fame wore him down, Kerouac escaped there too, living for a brief time in Ferlinghetti’s cabin in the woods.  The result of this experience is the 1962 novel Big Sur.

Juniper Ridge now has a room spray called Big Sur.  According to their website, it smells of “wild ginger, burnt honey, salt, damp ground.”  The ingredients are plucked from the deserts and mountains of the West, and 10% of the $20 spray bottle goes back to protecting western wilderness.  They also have a Big Sur soap, essential oil, and sachet.  For $50 you can give the gift of Big Sur, which includes the items already mentioned, plus wild huckleberry jam (perhaps reminiscent of Neal Cassady, whom some have said is Huckleberry Finn incarnate).  The gift comes gift wrapped with real pine cones!  And, like the others, 10% of the profit goes to protecting wilderness.