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author event by kate goldsmith

Deviating toward enlightenment

Don Lattin’s new book connects the dots between the Harvard-sponsored psychedelic drug project
and the spiritual awakening of American culture in the 1960s.

that took place years ago, based upon depth to the story: People like Paul Lee,
Don Lattin interviews he conducted, written one of Smith’s colleagues; Ralph
Saturday, Jan. 16, 11 a.m. accounts from the participants and other Metzner, who worked with Leary and
Merritt Bookstore research. Alpert as a grad student and would go
57 Front St., Millbrook “As a journalist, it goes against every on to travel and co-author “The
(845) 677-5857 bone in my body to make up dialog,” he Psychedelic Experience” with them; says via telephone from his home in and Mirabai Bush, a longtime friend of
California. To keep it authentic, Lattin Ram Dass who would co-found the
would run the re-created dialog by at Seva Foundation with him.
Frank Zappa, one of the 20th centu- least one of the participants in a conver- Lattin doesn’t glorify the drug abuse;
ry’s groundbreaking musicians and sation. “It was an interesting process, the book illustrates the destructive side
social commentators, said: “Without and I think it works. You have to use it of the acid culture and Leary’s down-
deviation from the norm, progress is not sparingly.” ward spiral. He balances that with the
Don Lattin will discuss and sign his latest book, “The
possible.” That quote resonated with me Lattin makes it easy to digest a lot of upside of the 1960s, a fertile and cre- Harvard Psychedelic Club,” at Merritt Bookstore in
while reading Don Lattin’s new book, information that spans quite a timeline. ative time when some of the most Millbrook on Saturday. Photo submitted.
“The Harvard Psychedelic Club: How One of the devices he uses to help us incredible minds of the century con-
Timothy Leary, Ram Dass, Huston keep track is dividing chapters into sub- verged, experimented and truly changed to figure out what it [the psychedelic
Smith, and Andrew Weil Killed the headings of Trickster, Seeker, Teacher the world. experience] all meant.”
Fifties and Ushered in a New Age for and Healer—with each of these titles “It’s an important story to get down, In Lattin’s eyes, Weil has redeemed
America” (HarperOne, $24.99). Each assigned to one of the four to indicate because these people are dying off,” himself.
man, in his own way, turned the status the impact he had on American culture. says Lattin. “Huston Smith just turned “He has had a positive impact in
quo on its ear and helped to define an Leary is the Trickster, the iconoclast 90 … Ram Dass is really sick and, of terms of holistic health. He worked to
era of spiritual awareness that entered who led the charge against the old course, Leary’s dead.” Leary died in transform the healthcare establish-
our culture in the 1960s and continues guard. Ram Dass is the Seeker, who 1996 from prostate cancer. ment,” he says.
to this day. travels within and without to find peace “They all kind of stirred up the waters Of the four main characters, Lattin
The common thread? The psychedel- and love. Huston Smith is the Teacher, and rode the wave of social change,” thinks that Leary was the only one who
ic drug research project sponsored by whose enthusiasm for exploring, and says Lattin. never seemed to find his anchor. “The
Harvard in the early ’60s, led by appreciating, the world’s religions will Interesting personal dynamics rise other three were able to incorporate
Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert become contagious. Andrew Weil is the from the pages. For example, Ram Dass their insights into life,” he says.
(who would later become the spiritual Healer, a medical doctor who will rock still hasn’t completely forgiven Weil for “Leary tried to walk on water. He was
leader known as Ram Dass). Initially, at the establishment with his revolutionary his actions, which included spying for a real megalomaniac,” says Lattin. “In
least, Leary (a psychologist) and Alpert notion of integrative medicine—treating the president of Harvard under cover of his own way, he was a prophet. The
(a professor of psychology) were con- the mind, body and spirit together—and writing an investigative article for the country was really divided, and Leary
vinced that controlled use of psychedel- become the most successful of the Harvard Crimson. fueled a lot of that. Even at the time it
ic (literally, mind-revealing) drugs group, at least in material terms. “When I first called Andrew Weil and seemed extreme, but now it really
would lead to an enlightened society. “The Harvard Psychedelic Club” is Ram Dass, and told them what I was does.”
Huston Smith, an ordained Methodist peppered with references to famous doing, they said almost the same thing,” While Lattin doesn’t recommend tak-
minister and a fervent proponent of reli- people like John Lennon (who is said to says Lattin. “There was a long pause, ing psychedelic drugs, he is part of the
gious tolerance, was interested in psy- have written “Come Together” as the and then they both said, ‘Well, Don, it’s generation advised by Leary to “Tune
chedelics to get closer to God. Leary theme for Leary’s run for governor a complicated relationship.’ in, turn on, drop out.” As a young man,
guided Smith on his first “trip.” Andrew against Ronald Reagan), Aldous Huxley “On the surface they kissed and made Lattin experienced the best and
Weil, as an ambitious undergraduate at (author of “Brave New World” and up, but when you talk to Ram Dass sep- the worst of that culture. In “The
Harvard, got Leary and Alpert fired “The Doors of Perception”), Uma arately, there’s still raw emotions,” Harvard Psychedelic Club,” he makes
after the drugs had moved way beyond Thurman (whose mother was Leary’s Lattin says. “What’s beautiful about it is you believe that it really did start out on
the laboratory. Later, Weil would regret third wife), the Moody Blues (who he’s honest about it.” an idealistic path to enlightenment; and
his actions, which had been prompted wrote “Legend of a Mind” in honor of Of all the main characters, Ram Dass even though you know how it ends,
by jealousy and rejection, and move Leary) and G. Gordon Liddy (who, as comes across as the most sympathetic, you’re sorry that it took a wrong turn.
toward redemption. assistant district attorney for Dutchess the most human, trying to transcend his Still, he leaves the reader with a feeling
Lattin, who came of age in the 1960s, County, brought Leary’s wild days in voracious earthly appetites and bad tem- that great strides were made
weaves the biographies of these brilliant Millbrook to a close). These mostly per even as he is revered by millions as in America’s cultural evolution as a
men into a compelling tale of possibili- serve to underscore the long-reaching a spiritual leader. result of those experiments done half a
ties and disappointments, angels and effects of those mind-expanding experi- “He’s always been a bit temperamen- century ago.
demons, triumph and tragedy. Using the ments at Harvard. Lattin says he inter- tal; there’s that side to him,” says Lattin. “This is, in a sense, a book about reli-
narrative nonfiction style, the author viewed 40-50 people for the book, and “Nevertheless, he’s a wonderful man. gion, but it’s also a book about the
creates a page-turner that can stand it’s the contributions from students and More than anyone else, he’s helped peo- ’60s,” he says. “I seem to be stuck in the
proudly alongside its fictional counter- former colleagues that add a special ple in my generation who are still trying ’60s spiritual scene.”
Merritt Bookstore in Millbrook will
host an author event with Lattin at 11
a.m. on Saturday, Jan. 16. Visit
Nightlife or call (845)
677-5857 for directions. continued from page 13
With four books and many articles to
Partition St., Saugerties. Marji Zintz, Sign-up begins at 6:30 p.m. (845) 246-5775
his credit, Lattin is a journalist with acoustic folk & contemporary jazz, 1-3 The Rhinecliff, 4 Grinnell St., Rhinecliff.
expertise in religious issues. His resume p.m. (845) 246-5775 Parlor Coffee & Tea House, 742 Warren Open Mic, 9 p.m. (845) 876-0590 or
includes nearly 20 years covering the St., Hudson. Open Mic Mondays,
Taste Budd’s Chocolate & Coffee Café, acoustic performance, poetry, 7:30-8:30
religion beat at the San Francisco
40 W. Market St., Red Hook. Mamalama, p.m. (518) 828-2210
Chronicle and TV appearances on acoustic, noon-2 p.m. (845) 758-9500
“Dateline,” “Good Morning America,”
“Anderson Cooper 360” and other
Towne Crier Café, 130 Rte. 22, Pawling.
Jerry Joseph, 7:30 p.m. Tickets $15
TUESDAY ~ JAN. 19 Hyde Park Brewing Company &
Steakhouse, 4076 Albany Post Rd., Hyde
shows. Go to for online, $20 at the door. (845) 855-1300 or Cubbyhole Coffeehouse, 44 Raymond Park. Open Mic Blues Jam, featuring Ave., Poughkeepsie. Acoustic Open Mic, Bob Jaeger, Petey & Brad Scribner, 8:30
more information. Tuesdays, 7-10 p.m. Sign up starts at 7 p.m. (845) 229-8277
A self-described “old newspaper Virgo’s Sip N Soul Café, 469 Fishkill Ave., p.m. No cover. (845) 483-7584
Beacon. MLK Weekend with Bosco and Towne Crier Café, 130 Rte. 22, Pawling.
guy,” Lattin says narrative nonfiction is Inquiring Mind Bookstore & Café, 65 Open Mic hosted by Steve Kirkman or
the Storm, Motown/R&B, pop rock, singer-
a style that takes getting used to. It Partition St., Saugerties. Open Mic Night, Fred Gillen Jr., 7 p.m. Performers sign up,
songwriter, 7-11 p.m. (845) 831-1543
required him to re-create conversations hosted by Chrissy Budzinski, 7-9 p.m. 5-7 p.m. All seats $4. (845) 855-1300 or

Jan. 13-19, 2010 - N ORTHERN D UTCHESS N EWS & Creative Living 15