Long Live Timothy Leary
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From: Peter Langston <psl>
Date: Fri, 31 May 96 13:28:25 -0700
Subject: Long Live Timothy Leary
Forwarded-by: "Chuck Pliske" <email@example.com>
John Perry Barlow, firstname.lastname@example.org, probably needs no introduction to this
audience. Founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Grateful Dead
lyricist and pounder of good and sometimes lost causes; Barlow speaks in
lyrics, gets people angry, and makes fun of things that beg to be made fun
When I woke this morning I learned of the death of Timothy Leary thru this
essay written by Barlow. It's beautiful. I wanted to share it with DaveNet
***Long Live Timothy Leary by John Perry Barlow
A couple of hours ago, at 12:45 am Beverly Hills time, my old friend and
the corrupter of my youth Timothy Leary made good on his promise to "give
death a better name or die trying." Willingly, peacefully, and unafraid, he
headed off on his last trip.
He spoke his last words a few hours before. On the phone to the mordant
William S. Burroughs he said, "I hope that someday I'm as funny as you are."
He didn't, as threatened, commit suicide on the Net. Or have his head cut
off and frozen. Or engage in any other the other spectacles of departure I
had dreaded. In the end, he surrounded himself with the angelic band of
twenty-somethings who have been uploading him into the Web these last few
months and drifted peacefully out of here.
I was headed his way when he died. When I was with him earlier this month
he said, "When I leave here, Barlow, I want your face to be one of the last
things I see." I think that was one of the sweetest things anyone ever said
to me, and I was trying to make it possible, but death proved itself once
again to be bigger and faster than either of us. The phone just rang in the
middle of this rainy Wyoming night, and now I'm here naked in the dark
trying to think of something to follow him out with.
Two years ago, Cynthia and I spent our last day together with Timmy. When
she died the next day and it became so shockingly clear to both of us how
strange this culture has become on the subject of the second commonest event
in the world, how weirdly shameful is dying in America, we both thought it
time to bring death out of the closet. I did so by grieving her, and
continuing to grieve her, more publicly than is polite in a culture that
claims for itself the ability to conquer and control everything.
But Timmy beat me to the barricades. He flat died. And he died, without
pretending that he was "really going to get well any day now," without
permitting himself to become a ghoulish and futile medical experiment,
without contributing to the stupefying mass denial that causes almost 80%
of America's health care dollars to be blown on the last six months of life.
He died unashamed and having, as usual, a great time.
A few weeks ago, the denizens of leary.com and I rented a phalanx of wheel
chairs and rode them with him into the House of Blues on Sunset Strip, a
place that likely had never seen fifteen people in wheel chairs before.
After a truly merry time, we were headed back to his house and on the way
came within a smile of Tim Leary's Last Bust.
We cruised west on Sunset. And the sun was setting. The top was down on my
metallic mauve rent-a-convertible. A couple of the web girls, Trudy and
Camilla, were sitting on the trunk like psychedelic prom queens,
shoop-de-booping to the funk station on the radio, volume at eleven. Both
the girls were beautiful, Trudy like a character from Neuromancer, Camilla
like a character from Botticelli. The air was sweet and soft as a negligee
on our faces, and the light had that elegiac quality that makes people think
LA might not be so bad after all.
Timmy gave me a high five and grinned. "Life is good!" he shouted over the
music. As I looked up to meet his raised hand, I saw in my rear view mirror,
past the swaying torsos of the girls, the rotating reds of a real Beverly
Of course we were in possession of several of those substances that we
considered safe and effective but which this culture, in another of its
dangerous madnesses, has declared lethal, probably to distract heat from
its own deadly drugs of choice. Furthermore, I had only recently paid an
astonishingly steep California fine for allowing a friend to stand up
through the sunroof of a car I was driving.
He pulled us over in front of the Beverly Hills Hotel. He looked like an
"Officer," I said, nodding back at the still improperly seated girls, "I
know what we were doing was wrong. But you see, my friend here is dying,
and we're trying to show him a good time." Timmy, without saying anything,
smiled sheepishly at the cop and nodded, caught in the act.
He looked like hell but he sure looked happy.
The officer gazed into Timmy's beatific skull-face and lost his starch.
"Well," he said to the girls, "I'd be lying if I didn't say that looks like
fun, but just because he's dying doesn't mean you should. Now get down in
the seat and buckle up and I'll let you go." I felt like honest death had
just made one of its first converts.
In thirty years of following Tim Leary around, he's given me some wonderful
and hair-raising moments. He has been father, anti-father, partner-in-crime,
and devout fellow-worshipper of all that is female in this world. We loved
each other, and shared more memories than I will ever relate. But I think
the look he gave that cop is the memory I will cherish most.
As usual he was "cocking snooks at authority," as Aldous Huxley once accused
him. But he was doing it, also as usual, with wit. And with love.
America managed to forgive Richard Nixon when he died. I hope they will
extend the same amnesty to a real hero, Dr. Timothy Leary.
--- --- --- --- --- --- --- --- --- --- --- --- --- --- --- --- ---
A great TV commercial from one of the life insurance companies. It's
brave like Barlow's piece is brave. On the day after you die... The
phone will ring. Birds will sing and the sun will shine. It'll rain
somewhere. People will make love. Yeah! But your chair will be empty.
Events like this remind me that it's always the right time to have fun.
Life is an artform! Leary taught us that. Let's not forget.
Like Leary, I want to lead a designer life. Be true to yourself. That's
what he said. That's how you have fun! The man proved it.
PS: Leary's website: http://www.leary.com/.
Barlow's Website: <http://www.eff.org/~barlow>
© 1996 Peter Langston