Taking a trip with Timothy Leary
John Lennon distilled the psychedelic experience to three minutes in “Tomorrow Never Knows,” the closing number on the Beatles’ Revolver album. Roger Corman expanded the scenario to 85 minutes in the 1967 film The Trip, starring Peter Fonda, with a script by Jack Nicholson. Timothy Leary’s Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out, another relic of 1967, newly reissued by Real Gone Music, hits a mid-way point, ushering the listener through an LSD trip in a little over half an hour.
Got 37 minutes to spare?
The album’s press release notes the modicum of uncertainty swirling around this title. First, Leary had a released an album with the same name (on ESP-Disk) the year before, “a spoken word record offering Leary’s thoughts on LSD, philosophy, and religion.” Why another album was released with the same title the following year (on Mercury Records) isn’t clear; surely it would be confusing? The Mercury version of Turn On… is presented as the soundtrack to a little seen film of the same name, which, according to Billboard, had its premiere on June 1, 1967, at the University of California in Berkeley (Real Gone discounts an alternate theory, that the album was a soundtrack to five separate short films).
No matter. The album’s been lovingly restored in this reissue, with the original artwork and liner notes, including the stern warning, “Mercury Records, Timothy Leary and the Producer, Distributors and Exhibitors of this film strongly caution each of you that no chemical, whether LSD or others, should be used without proper supervision.” The vinyl only release is also in groovy colored vinyl; a red, blue, and green mix that creates its own sense of disorientation as it swirls around on your turntable.
The album takes you through the entire course of a “trip,” as experienced by the adventurous “Voyager,” Ralph (Ralph Metzner). An opening instrumental number sets the stage; that’s not a sitar you hear, but another Indian instrument, the veena, played by Maryvonne Giercarz, a teacher of ethnic musicology and described as “the only artist in the western world who plays this exotic instrument” (the other musicians are Lars Eric on guitar and Richard Bond on tabla).
“Ralph?” Leary asks as he offers the Voyager “the key to immortality.” “The time has come. The time has come. To go out of your mind. Are you ready, Ralph? Are you ready…to die, and be reborn?” As the music continues in the background, Leary, along with a feminine “Divine Connection” (Rosemary Woodruff, later Leary’s wife), talk Ralph through his trip, with soothing suggestions (“Float beyond fear. Float beyond desire. Into this mystery of mysteries”) and gentle chidings (“You can’t take that on the billion year voyage to God”). If you’ve ever participated in any kind of exercise where a speaker leads you through relaxing every part of your body (“Start with your toes….”), you’ll get the general idea.
It’s not all incense and peppermints. When Ralph becomes a part of his own body’s circulatory system, he suddenly fears he’s drowning. In another sequence, he falls into a nightmare. But Leary and Woodruff are always at hand to talk him down (“Ralph, can you float through the universe of your body and not lose your way?”) and the trip continues, bringing Ralph back to a calm “Re-Entry.”
This would be a great album to chill out to, and perhaps entertaining to spring on party guests (if you don’t mind the prospect of having them sprawling blissed-out all over your floor). It’s an artifact that takes you back to a kinder, gentler time. Collectors take note: it’s also a limited edition release of 1600. So snap it up quickly before the last crystal ship departs.