[Allen Ginsberg – photo by Benedict Fernandez, December 1963]
Allen’s November 1966 Atlantic Monthly piece on marijuana –The Great Marijuana Hoax: First Manifesto to End The Bringdown was recently re-published as Time Travel: Allen Ginsberg on Marijuana Tourism, 1966, with a brief introduction by Daniel Fromson. “Ginsberg offers a portrait”, Fromson writes, “of America’s pre-Summer of Love fear of marijuana, dismisses images of crazed “dope fiends” as “palpable poppycock,” and explains why smoking weed in the U.S. often induces paranoia (“The anxiety was directly traceable to fear of being apprehended and treated as a deviant criminal; put thru the hassle of social disapproval, ignominious Kafkian tremblings in vast court buildings coming to be judged, the helplessness of being overwhelmed by force or threat of deadly force and put in brick & iron cell”)”. Lester Grinspoon’s article on this and further observations on Allen’s marijuana use (and ultimate transcendence?) can be found here.
The legalization of marijuana? – or, at the very least, some hysteria-free understanding about the drug? Well, over forty years have passed and the debate still continues. We direct you to the Marijuana Policy Project for the latest in that struggle and for a laudable source of clear-headed information.
Clearly, it’s not just about pot, it’s about “drugs” (and individual freedoms). There’s an interesting sound-clip from NPR in 1971 where Allen and his father debate drug law and drug policy. And here’s another succinct statement.
1971 was just one year before the publication of Alfred McCoy’s The Politics of Heroin In South East Asia, a hugely important book to which Allen significantly contributed. His poem, “CIA Dope Calypso“, written right around this time, masterfully tracks the players. Several years later, New York Times correspondent C.L.Sulzberger offered him a formal apology (“I remember when you first suggested I look into this I thought you were full of beans (but) Indeed you were right..”)
Engagement with Burroughs and Huncke and others gave Allen a significant drug education. Turning to the psychedelics, one immediately thinks of The Yage Letters, and Howl (written, at least partially, on peyote), not to mention “Mescaline“, “Magic Psalm”, “Lysergic Acid”,etc. By the time that the ‘sixties rolled around, well, the key figure was, of course, Timothy Leary (see Peter Conners recent study). Another classic document of the times has recently been exhumed, Allen’s 1968 review of Leary’s Politics of Ecstasy in the Village Voice (it is also, as is Allen’s marijuana essay, included in Deliberate Prose). “For he took on himself the noble task of announcing the evidence of his senses despite the scary contumely of fellow academicians, the dispraising timorous irony of scientific “professionals”, the stupidity, meanness self-serving cowardice and hollow vanity of bureaucratic personnel…” A moving musical (sic) defense of Leary can also be found on “Tale of The Tribe”, Allen’s contribution to Jim Wilson‘s 1997’s Beyond Life With Timothy Leary.
Finally, here’s Allen, talking to Tom Clark, in 1966, looking back, in The Paris Review interview: “So – summing up then – drugs were useful for exploring perception, sense perception, and exploring different possibilities and modes of consciousness, and exploring the different versions of petites sensations and useful for composing, sometimes, while under the influence”. The full context of the comments can be found here (tho’ note also Allen’s follow-up letter of explanation).
Oh and lets not forget one of the most pernicious drugs of them all!