Forty five years ago, on Feb. 4, 1967, famed LSD advocate Timothy Leary (1920-1996) came to town for a "Forum on LSD," sponsored by the Social Issues Committee of the student body of Western Washington State College. Deplored by readers of the Bellingham Herald and strongly opposed by influential members of the Board of Trustees, Leary's appearance was supported by Western's then-president, Harvey Bunke. Reminiscing years later, Bunke was to attribute his resignation in 1967 in part to the sharp reaction to his pro-student stance in the controversy.
Leary arrived trailing even more notoriety after the Seattle City Council, provoked by citizen outrage, forbade his scheduled solo appearance at the city-owned Opera House (he would speat at UW instead). In Bellingham, Leary was partnered with Dr. Sidney Cohen (1910-1987), a leading authority on mood-altering drugs. Cohen himself had been an early LSD experimenter but was known to be more cautious, and cautionary, in his views.
Entertainingly moderated by Western professor of speech Laurence W. Brewster, the "forum," which packed the college auditorium (now the PAC Mainstage Theatre) was recorded on 7" reel-to-reel tape. Leary and Cohen each spoke for about an hour, followed by a question/answer session. Sound capture conditions were poor--Leary spoke seated cross-legged on the stage, holding the microphone--the technicians unfortunately failed to record any part of Cohen's presentation and recorded only a portion of the question/answer session. Special Collections transferred the tape contents to CD in 2003.
Despite limitations, this is a fascinating audio time capsule that forcefully evokes a turbulent time in the nation's and Western's cultural trajectory. "Tune in, turn on, drop out," Leary's famous mantra, is repeatedly invoked by the originator himself in the course of his seductive, mesmerizing monolog. "Don't drop out ... act," Cohen argues. The argument goes on. This is your chance to tune in to its beginnings and to hear for yourself the voice of one of the great modern adherents of sensory experience exploration. (Transcript also available)
Head of Special Collections Emeritus