Friday, April 09, 2010

I Took LSD w/ Groucho Marx

from the 1960's recollections of writer/activist Paul Krassner

I've taken LSD in all kinds of unusual situations:
when I testified at the Chicago Conspiracy Trial;
on the Johnny Carson show - Orson Bean was guest host
I was also sort of a guide for Groucho Marx once.

while I was researching the Manson case I took acid with a few women in the family including Squeaky Fromme and Sandra Good.
It was a kind of participatory journalism....Otto Preminger made a movie called Skidoo. It was pro-acid propaganda thinly disguised as a comedy adventure.And the part of God was played by Groucho Marx.

Recently Tim Leary cheerfully admitted to me: "I was fooled by Otto Preminger. He was much hipper than I was." ... Anyway, Ram Dass kept seeking illumination and having his feet kissed by strangers, while I stayed at home and got a call from Groucho Marx.
He was going to be in an Otto Preminger film called Skidoo, and it was pretty much advocating LSD, and he had never tried it but was not only curious but also felt a responsibility to his audience not to steer them wrong so could I get him some pure stuff and would I care to accompany him on the trip?
.... I did not play hard to get.

The acid with which Ram Dass- in his final moments as Dick Alpert failed to get his guru higher was the same acid that I had the honor of taking with Groucho Marx. As I left the bank vault that week, I was breathing slowly and deeply so that I would not laugh my ass off in the lobby.

We ingested those little white tabs one afternoon at the home of an actress in Beverly Hills.

Groucho was interested in the social background of the drug. There were two items that particularly tickled his fancy.

One was about the day acid was outlawed. Hippies were standing around the streets waiting for the exact appointed minute to strike so they could all publicly swallow their LSD the exact second it became illegal. The other was how the tour bus would pass through Haight-Ashbury and passengers would try to take snapshots of the local alien creatures, who in turn would hold mirrors up to the bus windows so that the tourists would see themselves focusing their cameras.

I told Groucho about the first thing I ever sold to the old Steve Allen show. It was a sketch called "Unsung Heroes of Television. " Among the heroes was the individual whose sole job it was to listen intently the whole half hour for somebody to say the secret word on "You Bet your Life and then to drop that decoy duck when the word was said. He told me about one of his favorite contestants "a gentleman with white hair, on in years but a chipper fellow. I inquired as to what he did to retain his sunny disposition. "Well, I'll tell you, Groucho," he says "every morning I get up and I make a choice to be happy that day."

We had long periods of silence and of listening to music. I was accustomed to playing rock 'n' roll while tripping, but the record collection here was all classical and Broadway show albums. After we heard the Bach "Cantata No. 7 Groucho said, "I may be Jewish, but I was seeing the most beautiful visions of Gothic cathedrals. Do you think Bach knew he was doing that?

There was a point when our conversation somehow got into a negative space. Groucho was equally bitter about institutions such as marriage ("like quicksand") and individuals such as Lyndon Johnson ("potato-head") Eventually, I asked, "What gives you hope? Groucho thought for a moment .... . Then he said just one word out loud: "People."

After a while, he started chuckling to himself. I hesitated to interrupt his revelry. Finally he spoke: "I'm really getting quite a kick out of this notion of playing God like a dirty old man in Skidoo. You wanna know why? Do you realize that irreverence and reverence are the same thing?" "Always?" "If they're not, then it's a misuse of your power to make people laugh" And right after he said that, his eyes began to tear.

When he came back from peeing, he said, "Everybody is waiting for miracles to happen. The human body is a goddam miracle." He mentioned, "I had a little crush on Marilyn Monroe when we were making Love Happy - I remember I got a hard-on just talking to her on the set." During a little snack: "I never thought eating a fig would be the biggest thrill of my life." He held and smelled a cigar for a long time but never smoked it.

"Everybody has their own Laurel and Hardy," he mused. "A miniature Laurel and Hardy, one on each shoulder. Your little Oliver Hardy bawls you out-he says, 'Well, this is a fine mess you've gotten us into.' And your little Stan Laurel gets all weepy -"Oh, Ollie, I couldn't help it, I'm sorry, I did the best I could. . . ' "

The year after that, I was heavy into my Manson investigation. During the acid trip with three of his family members Squeaky Fromme, Sandra Good and Brenda McCann I got an even more awesome compliment. Sandy Good had once seen me perform at The Committee in San Francisco. Now she was saying to me, "When people used to ask me what Charlie was like, I would compare him to Lenny Bruce and Paul Krassner." My heart thumped rather strangely.

Sandy had been a civil-rights activist. But Charlie Manson stepped on her eyeglasses, threw away her birth control pills, remolded her personality and transformed her value system. So now she was parroting Charlie's racism and asking me to tell John Lennon that he should get rid of Yoko Ono and "marry his own kind." I've never met Charlie Manson, although I've corresponded with him. But I have heard a tape of his rap, and he definitely used humor as a tool for evil.

For the first time I understood in my guts what Groucho Marx had meant about misusing the power to make people laugh. After our acid trip, I had only a couple of contacts with Groucho.

The first concerned a rumor that he had said "I think the only hope this country has is Nixon's assassination.
I wanted to verify whether he had actually said that. "I deny everything", he joked, then admitting he had indeed said it over a luncheon interview with a now defunct magazine, Flash. "Uh, sorry, Mr. Marx, you're under arrest for threatening the life of the president. I can't tell you how much I enjoyed A Night at the Opera. Here, now, if you'll just slip into these plastic handcuffs...."

Think of this as a piece of combat history. To fully understand the context in which this battle for the will has been taking place, you need only retrace the chronological profile of G. Gordon Liddy from his role as a Poughkeepsie district attorney who raided the Millbrook mansion where LSD was an experimental sacrament to his function as a CIA operative who offered to assassinate Jack Anderson on behalf of the Nixon administration. Had Liddy been given the go ahead, columnist Anderson wouldn't have been around to embarrass the Carter administration into not invading Iran, and we might be in the middle of World War III at this very moment.

I had assigned Robert Anton Wilson to investigate the game being played at Millbrook. In my capacity as standup comic and drug virgin, I had been poking fun at all the highs I'd never tried. Wilson came back and presented me with our cover story, "Timothy Leary and His Psychological H-Bomb." After it was published Leary called to invite me for a weekend at Millbrook. Working with him were Ralph Metzner and Richard Alpert. Somehow, despite all the accoutrements of Eastern religion, the scene was quite American. Even this top level of the psychedelic hierarchy consisted of a Catholic, a Protestant and a Jew.

Yet they were performing a cosmic task, this trio of Ph.D. dropouts, helping to spread the expansion of consciousness in the middle of a sadomasochistic empire whose perpetuation depended upon the mass contraction of consciousness. Originally, the CIA had intended to use LSD as one more means of manipulating the population. That scenario backfired. A generation who trusted their friends more than their government deprogrammed themselves from the society that had shaped them, and then reprogrammed themselves , into an infinite variety of incarnations. The think tanks had not formulated a contingency plan for this counterculture that was refusing to be brainwashed into becoming consumer and military zombies. This -mutation!-would certainly have to be discredited.

LSD influenced music, painting, spirituality and the stock market. Tim Leary let me listen in on a call from a Wall Street broker thanking him for turning him onto acid because it had given him the courage to sell short.

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