Getting High With Six Famous Folks

By Paul Krassner 01/13/14

A laugh-along journey into the absurdities and mindsets of some cultural icons.

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Humorist and author Paul Krassner was himself something of an icon in the halcyon days of the '60’s counterculture that led to a significant expansion of consciousness and profound reform initiatives in the U.S. and much of the world, even while its “mind liberation” theme influenced hard drug addiction. Here is a fun peek inside some of the memorable if not hysterical moments. – The Editors

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When it came to drugs, I was really puritanical. I didn't even use any legal drugs. I never took aspirins or sleeping pills or speed. I never smoked cigarettes, and I never drank coffee or liquor. I had no socially acceptable vices. But then In the process of editing my satirical magazine, The Realist, (1958-2001), I was influenced by its writers and readers alike, including these countercultural icons who I was fortunate enough to have as my psychedelic tripping partners.  And so off we go…

JOHN LENNON AND YOKO ONO

In July 1972, three weeks after the Watergate break-in — while Richard Nixon was pressing for the postponement of an investigation until after the election, and the mainstream press was still referring to the incident as a “caper” and a “third-rate burglary”— investigative researcher Mae Brussell completed a lengthy article for The Realist, documenting a Watergate conspiracy and listing the players, from the burglars all the way up to FBI Director L. Patrick Gray, Attorney General John Mitchell, and President Nixon.

Before we could go to press, instead of my usual credit arrangement with the printer, he insisted on $5,000 cash in advance. I didn't have the money, and I had no idea how I would get it. Yet as I left the printing plant, I was filled with an inexplicable sense of confidence. When I got home, the phone rang. It was Yoko Ono.

She and John Lennon had been on a cross-country journey and had just arrived in California. They invited me to lunch. At the time, the Nixon administration was trying to deport Lennon, ostensibly for an old marijuana bust, but actually because they were afraid he was planning to perform for protesters at the Republican convention that summer.

I brought the galleys of Brussell's article, which provided a context for John and Yoko's current harassment. After lunch we went to a local branch of the Bank of Tokyo and withdrew $5,000 cash. Then they spent a weekend at my house in Watsonville. They loved being so close to the ocean. 

In the evening we smoked a combination of marijuana and opium, sitting on pillows in front of the fireplace, sipping tea and munching cookies. When I referred to Mae Brussell as a saint, Lennon disagreed.

“She's not a saint,” he said. “You're not a saint. I'm not a saint. Yoko's not a saint. Nobody's a saint.”

We talked about Mae Brussell's theory that the deaths of musicians like Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Otis Redding and Jim Morrison had actually been political assassinations because they were role models on the crest of youth rebellion.

“No, no,” Lennon said, “they were already headed in a self-destructive direction.” 

We discussed the Charles Manson case, which I had been investigating. Lennon was bemused by the way Manson had associated himself with Beatles music.

“Look,” he said, “would you kindly inform him that it was Paul McCartney who wrote 'Helter Skelter,' not me.”

Yoko said, “No, please don't tell him. We don't want to have any communication with Manson.”

“It's all right,” Lennon said, “he doesn't have to know the message came from us.

“It's getting chilly,” Yoko said to me. “Would you put another cookie in the fireplace?”

A few months later, Lennon would tell me, “Listen, if anything happens to Yoko and me, it was not an accident.” But for now, we were pleasantly stoned at my oasis. Lennon was absentmindedly holding on to the joint.

I asked him, “Do the British use that expression, 'to bogart a joint,' or is that only an American term—you know, derived from the image of a cigarette dangling from Humphrey Bogart's lip?”

“In England,” he replied, “if you remind somebody else to pass a joint, you lose your own turn.”

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TIMOTHY LEARY

In 1964, I ran a front-cover story by Robert Anton Wilson titled “Timothy Leary and His Psychological H-Bomb.” When that issue of The Realist was published, Leary invited me to visit him at the Castalia Foundation, his borrowed estate in Millbrook, New York.

We drank Sandoz liquid LSD in orange juice and talked about the way people are always trying to get you onto their game-boards. Leary discussed the biochemical process “imprinting” with the same passion that he claimed he didn’t believe anything he was saying, but somehow I managed to believe him when he told me that I had an honest mind.

“I have to admit,” I said, “that my ego can’t help but respond to your observation.”

“Listen,” he reassured me, “anybody who tells you he’s transcended his ego...”

We were tripping on acid again when I accompanied him to the NBC studio where he was scheduled to be on Meet the Press. In the Green Room, he was pacing back and forth, holding a 9-by-12 manila envelope behind him, covering the seat of his tight white guru pants.

“It ripped right down the middle,” he explained, “and I’m not wearing any underwear.”

At the University of California in Berkeley, there was an official announcement that distribution only of “informative” literature—as opposed to “persuasive” literature—would be permitted on campus, giving rise to the famous Free Speech Movement, with thousands of students protesting the ban in the face of police billy clubs.

However, Leary claimed, “These demonstrations play right onto the game-boards of the administration and the police. I think that the students could shake up the establishment much more if they would just stay in their rooms and change their nervous systems.”

“It’s really not a case of either-or,” I argued. “They can protest and explore their 13-billion-cell minds simultaneously.” 

But Leary became politicized. Little did he dream that, a few years later, he would be in a courtroom testifying for the Chicago 8, a group of antiwar activists charged with conspiracy to cause rioting at the Democratic convention in 1968.

Defense attorney William Kunstler asked him, “When did you first meet Abbie Hoffman?”

Leary: “The first time I first met Mr. Hoffman was at the LSD Shrine and Rescue Center in New York City. That would be December of 1966.”

Kunstler: “Now, lest there be any confusion, what does LSD stand for?”

Leary: “It was the League of Spiritual Discovery. That was a religion incorporated in the state of New York, and we had a rescue center in New York where hundreds of people taking drugs could be rehabilitated.”

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ABBIE HOFFMAN

I was a co-founder of the Yippies (Youth International Party) with Hoffman (famous for Steal this Book) and Jerry Rubin among others. We galvanized huge numbers of young people around a liberating, peace-and-creativity-oriented vision of human society.

At our counter-convention that summer, hash oil in honey was the drug of preference. I swallowed two tablespoons in Chicago's Lincoln Park. I sunk to my knees, holding on to the grass very tightly so that I wouldn't fall up.

We so-called Yippie leaders were zonked out of our minds. Abbie and I were being driven around Chicago when we realized that we were being followed by another car. It was like being in a slow-motion chase scene. Could this merely be paranoia as a side effect of the hash oil?

The previous day, we had been refused service at a restaurant. We told the manager, “You're about to have your first Yippie sit-in,” and they finally served us. Now we stopped there again, shook hands with the manager, and told him there were no hard feelings, even as he was being put on the suspect list by the cops who were following us.

We also stopped at an art supply store where we had been treated rather rudely, and got them listed as accomplices, too. Finally, we parked. So did the cops. We got out and walked back to their car. They tried to appear nonchalant.

“Hey,” Abbie asked, “are you guys following us?”

“That’s right.” 

“Are you federal or local?”

“We're plainclothes officers with the Chicago Police Department. You're under 24-hour surveillance.”

“Wow,” I said, “three shifts, just for us!”

“No, we're short on manpower. We're on two twelve-hour shifts.”

“Well,” I said, “it’s an honor just to be nominated.”

We introduced ourselves and shook hands with the cops. Their names were Herbie and Mac. We offered them official Yippie buttons, but they said, “No, thanks, we're on duty.” We explained that if we happened to lose them in a crowd, we'd be able to spot them more easily if they were wearing Yippie buttons, so they accepted the buttons and pinned them on their jackets.

Then the cops asked us if we were planning to eat soon, because they had been following us for a while, and now they were getting kind of hungry. Although we had terminal dry mouth from the hash oil, maybe lunch would stimulate our salivary glands. We asked the cops to recommend a good restaurant since we were new in Chicago.

“Well,” Herbie said, “the Pickle Barrel in Old Town has pretty good food.”

“And,” Mac added, “their prices are quite reasonable.”

“Okay, what's the best way to get there?”

“Follow us.”

This was indeed a rare and precious moment. We obediently got back into our car and followed the cops. I thought they were going to try and shake us, but we managed to never lose sight of them. It was as if someone had pushed the Rewind button and now our slow-motion chase scene seemed to be running backward. We expected to see the cops stop at the art supply store, and the restaurant, but instead we just followed them straight to the Pickle Barrel.

And we sat at separate tables.

**

KEN KESEY 

In 1971, I interviewed the famous author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and a co-founder of the community called The Merry Pranksters — each of us using an electric typewriter on my dining-room table, passing paper with questions and answers back and forth. He used the remainder of my chunk of hashish to boil a pot of tea for our creative fuel.

“Do you see the legalization of grass,” I typed, “as any sort of panacea?”

“The legalization of grass,” he typed, “would do absolutely nothing for our standard of living, or our military supremacy, or even our problem of high school dropouts. It could do nothing for this country except mellow it, and that’s not a panacea, that’s downright subversive.”

“Since you’re against abortion,” I typed, “doesn’t that put you in the position of saying that a girl or a woman must bear an unwanted child as punishment for ignorance or carelessness?”

“In as I feel abortions to be probably the worst worm in the revolutionary philosophy,” he typed, “a worm bound in time to suck the righteousness and the life from the work we are engaged in, I want to take this slowly and carefully."

“Punishment of unwed mothers? Bullshit!," he continued. "Care of neither the old nor the young can be considered to be punishment for the able, not even the care of the un-dead old or the un-born young. These beings – regardless not only of race, creed and color, but as well of size, situation or ability – must be treated as equals and their rights to life not only recognized but defended! Can they defend themselves?

“I swear to you, Paul, that abortions are a terrible karmic bummer, and to support them — except in cases where it is a bona fide toss-up between the child and the mother’s life — is to harbor a worm of discrepancy.”

Krassner: “Well, that’s really eloquent and misty-poo, but suppose Faye [his wife] were raped and became pregnant in the process?”

Kesey: “Nothing is changed. You don’t plow under the corn because the seed was planted with a neighbor’s shovel.”

Krassner: “I assume that it would be her decision, though?”

Kesey: “Almost certainly. But I don’t really feel right about speaking for her. Why don’t you phone and ask?”

I then — uncomfortably — called Faye Kesey in Oregon and reviewed that dialogue.

She asked, “Now what’s the question - if I were raped, would I get an abortion?”

“That about sums it up.”

“No, I wouldn’t.”

A couple of years later, Kesey said to me, “If you’re going to write about my position on abortion, I’ve changed, you know. It has to do with the war on drugs. The war is not on drugs, the war is on consciousness. Nobody has any right to come in and mess with your inside. They don’t have any right to tell me what to do inside my head, any more than they have any right to tell women what to do inside their bodies. What’s inside of us is ours, and we’ve got to fight for it.”

**

RAM DASS 

I had become friends with Richard Alpert, Leary’s research partner at Harvard, where they were kicked out for experimenting with LSD. When Alpert went to India to meditate for six months, he returned as Ram Dass. He visited me, and I taped our acid-tripping conversation.

“In 1963,” I said, “I predicted as a joke that Tiny Tim would get married on the Johnny Carson show, and in 1969 it happened. You and I talked about that, and you called it 'astral humor,' but I never knew exactly what you meant by that phrase.”

“Well, it's like each plane of reality is in a sense a manifestation of a plane prior to it, and you can almost see it like layers, although to think of it in space is a fallacy because it's all the same space, but you could think of it that way. And so there are beings on upper planes who are instruments of the law. I talk about miracles a lot, but I don't live in the world of miracles, because they're not miracles to me. I'm just dealing with the humor of the miracle concept from within the plane where it seems like a miracle, which is merely because of our very narrow concept of how the universe works.”

Ram Dass knew of my involvement with conspiracy theory.

“I'm just involved in a much greater conspiracy,” he continued. “You can't grasp the size of the conspiracy I understand, but there's no conspirator - it's the wrong word. That's why I say it's just natural law. It is all perfect.”

“Would you agree with the concept — what William Blake said, that humans were created 'for joy and woe' - the implication of which is that there will always be suffering?”

“I think that suffering is part of man's condition, and that's what the incarnation is about, and that's what the human plane is.”

Finally, I asked him, “If you and I were to exchange philosophies - if I believed in reincarnation and you didn't - how do you think our behavior would change?”

Ram Dass paused for a second. “Well,” he said, “if you believed in reincarnation, you would never ask a question like that.”

And then his low chuckle of amusement and surprise blossomed into an uproarious belly laugh of delight and triumph as he savored the implications of his own Zen answer.

I would find myself playing that segment of the tape with his bell-shaped spasm of laughter over and over again, like a favorite piece of music.

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Paul Krassner’s latest book is an updated edition of  Confessions of a Raving, Unconfined Nut: Misadventures in the Counterculture, available at the author's website.

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Paul Krassner is a writer, comedian and satirist. He is the author of, Pot Stories for the Soul: An Updated Edition for a Stoned America. Follow Paul on Twitter.