Timothy Leary has moved to a new cosmic plane, but we still have Willard Scott to give us comfort

July 14, 1996|By DAVE BARRY

RECENTLY I found myself in a deep nostalgia wallow as a result of two occurrences:

(1) Timothy Leary went up to that Big Volkswagen Microbus in the Sky.

(2) I turned 49. This means I'm almost 50, which is halfway to the stage in life where a person can wind up on the Willard Scott Birthday Segment of the "Today" show, the one where they show a picture of an extremely senior citizen who looks like "Juanita," the semi-preserved 500-year-old frozen Inca woman unearthed last year, and Willard says: "Happy birthday to Mrs. Claudia A. Smoogent! This pretty lady once played horseshoes with Thomas Jefferson and still digests much of her own food!"

(Note to my friends: If I am ever in actual danger of appearing in the Willard Scott Birthday Segment, you have my permission to shoot me in the head. Also Willard.)

Anyway, these two events got me to thinking back to a time when I was young and people actually took Timothy Leary seriously. I refer, of course, to (cue "Sergeant Pepper") The '60s! What a time! I bet you younger people would love to hear all about it!

I am, of course, kidding. You younger people are sick sick sick of the '60s. Ever since birth, you've been listening to my generation drone on about the '60s, an era so culturally self-important that -- even though my generation is now old and flabby and stodgy and nonrhythmic and sound asleep by 10: 30 p.m.-- we still think we're cool. We think this because of the many unique consciousness-raising experiences we had in the '60s, such as the experience of trying desperately to like Indian music. We had to like it! The Beatles liked it! So we listened for hours to guys playing sitars; we sat there in our beads, concentrating earnestly, waiting for some kind of recognizable melody to show up, like people waiting for a bus on the wrong street. (I now suspect that the sitar players were not actually listening to their own music; they were listening, through tiny, concealed earphones, to baseball.)

Speaking of music: We also had our consciousness raised several feet by the experience of attending the classic '60s rock concert. The way this worked was, word would get around that a major band, such as the Who, was going to perform in some city; you and your friends would drop whatever you were doing (college, for example) and bum a ride there and join a humongous, free-associating throng in some cavernous auditorium, where everybody would sit around marinating in an atmosphere that was one part oxygen, four parts nitrogen and 17 parts doobie vapor.

For the first six hours or so there would be no activity onstage except for two guys messing around with speakers the size of the Lincoln Memorial. From time to time the speakers would emit a horrendous, tooth-vibrating, feedback shriek -- wreeeeeeeeeep -- which would cause the crowd members to sit up and look around for reassurance that this was an external noise, as opposed to something that was happening only inside their personal heads.

As the Who-less hours drifted by, the crowd would spontaneously generate rumors concerning which major musical superstars were going to make Surprise Guest Appearances ("Hendrix is here!" "The Stones are here!" "Somebody saw John Lennon in the men's room! He was operating the blow dryer!") Then, after everybody had lost all track of time and place, one of the concert promoters would get up on stage and, in between bursts of feedback, make some announcement like: "OK! We just got a call from wreeeeeeeeeep the road manager for the Who! (Cheers from the crowd.) He says their plane has just landed in wreeeeeeeeeep Los Angeles! (More cheers.) They'll be on their way here just as wreeeeeeeeeep soon as they refuel!" (Wild cheers, accompanied by the sound of people asking each other, "What city are we in again?")

Then there'd be more hours of waiting and more rumors ("Dylan is here! With Beethoven!") and more announcements ("OK! Listen up! The Who's plane had to be diverted to wreeeeeeeeeep Nova Scotia! But just as soon as they can refuel "). This could go on for days; often the featured act never showed up at all. I'm pretty sure that somewhere in America today, there's an auditorium filled with people still waiting to hear the Electric Flag. But they're happy! That was the thing about the '60s: People were really happy, except when they became convinced that tiny crabs were eating their brains.

Which brings us back to Timothy Leary. What can you say about this guy? He spoke to our generation! He was a genius! He told us to ingest chemicals! So we did! (Of course we did! The Beatles did!) And we had philosophical insights! Important ones! Life-changing ones! For example: When a candle burns, wax drips down the side! Wow!

And that is only one tiny example of the many insights we had, thanks to Dr. Leary, and it is why we children of the '60s (those of us who stayed out of institutions) are still so cool after all these years. Soon there will be denture commercials aimed at us, using classic Beatles tunes to appeal to our eternal coolness. hum through our gums.

Maybe you should shoot me now.

Pub Date: 7/14/96

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