What Rough Beats

“I met Tim Leary at Allen Ginsberg’s apartment in the East Village one snow Sunday in January to interview the poet for an article I was writing on marijuana [“The Prodigal Powers of Pot” was published in Playboy.] I had been apprehensive about meeting Ginsberg, fearing he would have Kerouac’s hostility to writers who weren’t part of the Beat scene or exhibit the same kind of condescension that some of the Beats treated outsiders with who they put down as square. To my great surprise and relief, I found Ginsberg friendly, businesslike and helpful.

NY in the 50s

He gave me information from his own experience and from his files, making me feel welcome many friends and hangers-on who flopped or crashes simply fell by his place in those days. He was like a practical saint who sheltered and fed the floating population who passed through his pad; every time I was there he was roasting chickens to feed whoever was hungry at the time.  

He introduced me to Dr. Leary, who looked like an eager fraternity guy among the more laid back beats. When Leary heard I was doing an article on marijuana, he immediately wanted to tell me about psilocybin. It was a wonderful stimulus to creativity he said., which was why he was so excited to try it out in some of the poets and writers here at Ginsberg’s apartment. He was going to give them pencils and paper and see what they wrote after taking the drug. He said this was “a scientific experiment. . .”

Once the psilocybin was ingested (I was offered the drug but opted to be ‘the objective reporter,’) Leary told me all the wonderful things it did.  Besides his claim that it ‘made people more creative,” he said that it made people “mellow.”

“Take Kerouac,’” he said, “Now there’s a guy who exhibited a lot of hostility, especially when he was drinking.”

I said I knew.  I’d seen him around the Village when he seemed quite angry.  

“Wait’ll you talk to him today, now that he’s taken the psilocybin,’ Leary said with a grin. “He’s mild, calm and very friendly.”

Jack was standing by himself, staring out the window, with what looked to me like the same sour, glowering expression.    Still, I went up and introduced myself, smiling.

“Oh yeah, Kerouac said, looking me up and down. “Didn’t you write that big bad piece about me in Commentary?”

“No,” I said, ”it was in The Nation.” 

“Yeah, I know you, you bastards are all alike. You know what I’d like to do?”

 I didn’t want to guess.

“I’d like to throw your ass out that window,” he said.

 I went back to where Leary was standing.

“I don’t think the drug has taken effect,” I said. . . 

No,” he said.

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2 Responses to What Rough Beats

  1. Monica Frost April 28, 2020 at 12:20 pm #

    Dan, LOVE your writing!!!! Hilarious recollection of hanging out with all these famous people! I love that you opted to be the objective one that fateful night.

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  1. Thelonious Explains... - Dan Wakefield - May 4, 2020

    […] This post is part two of a series about New York in the ’50s. You can read the first here. […]

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Dan Wakefield

Dan Wakefield