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El Cid: The Most Dangerous Man in Amerika

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by John Kendall Hawkins

He'll take you up, he'll bring you down,

He'll plant your feet back on the ground.

He flies so high, he swoops so low.

Timothy Leary.

- The Moody Blues, "Legend of a Mind" (1968)

Wow. It's a trip, thinking back 50 years, half a century ago, to 1970. Fewer and fewer of us can. Onnacounta. We're getting old and older. Like Daltrey said, "Hope I die before I get old," but I must have overslept. Too much dope. Fact is, though, there are more young people on Earth now than ever before, and my generation isn't even talked about anymore. I myself can't always determine the fine line between my memories and what They Said (MSM, cartoons, educators, and voices from various master-slave relations I was in-and-out of) happened. Even J-E-L-L-O ads from my pre-lingual years still come at me like product placements in the middle of some other thought; capitalism gets us young, democracy comes down to Prell or Head and Shoulders, the lesser of two evil lathers.

The 70s are so sketchy now, I can't always be sure that I didn't shoot George Wallace. I remember I was a pump jockey at a gas station during the pearl harbor oil shortage of 1974, my first job: mile-long car lines, anger under the sun, pumpin' til the gas ran out; everybody cursing Arabs (before they converted to Islam in our minds). But when I began reading The Most Dangerous Man in America: Timothy Leary, Richard Nixon and the Hunt for the Fugitive King of LSD by Bill Minutaglio and Steven L. Davis, the 70s came rushing back, especially the early 70s, and 1970 in particular. Domestic bombings by the day. So many plane hijackings, it was like folk were confusing it with hitchhiking. So much violence. Amerika at war with peace, in the form of Timothy Leary.

The Most Dangerous Man in America is an outstanding account of what happened in the early years of the 70s, once the afterglow of 60s 'happenings' had worn off and -- bang! -- the Middle Class was faced with four dead in Ohio (May 4, 1970). President Richard Nixon was seemingly out of control, escalating and expanding the unpopular war in southeast Asia, and declaring war on the Youth Culture at home. Where had all the hippie flowers gone? Well, the hippie flowers famously placed in the rifle barrels of Pentagon soldiers by beautiful people had been shot out in a 21-gun salute to the death of the 60s counterculture -- in a kind of butterfly effect, petals falling from the sky like machine-gunned angels. So much violence.

In flawless, often colorful prose, Minutaglio and Davis limit the scope of their 70s narrative to just before Timothy Leary is busted in May 1970 for a pot violation in California, and then jailed, to his escape and capture after three years on the lam overseas. By concentrating on these three years, and all the action contained therein, the authors are able to encapsulate perfectly the madness of the times -- the daily riots, street theatrics, explosions, racist arrests, corrupt politics, and kids old enough to be forced to fight in Nam but not old enough to vote. Minutaglio and Davis are especially effective in employing the strategy of having a fascist il Duce-bag president chase down Timothy Leary, the symbol of mental freedom and flower power, as if he were the Osama bin Laden of Love.

The Most Dangerous Man in America has four parts and an Epilogue. Part I: You Say You Want A Revolution gives us a taste of Leary's doings in 1970, and how Nixon and Reagan conspired to take him down and jail him. Part II: The Sheltering Sky details his post-prison break escape to Algeria, where he is the unwelcome guest of Eldridge Cleaver and the Black Panthers. Part III: High On A Mountain relates Leary's insane times in Switzerland, dropping Rosemary (his wife) and El Cid (his real mate), and meeting up with and exchanging notes with Albert Hofmann, the inventor of LSD. Part IV: Happyland takes us through his trippy removal from Afghanistan, where he'd gone, with his new Ulrike Meinhof-like girlfriend, Joanna, to live among the happy poppy people, like so many American and Euro hippies had done back then.

The authors open by notifying the reader that the book is not a biography of Timothy Leary, but an account of his 28-month life on the lam. They tell us that their primary sources are court documents, personal letters, criminal files, secret government cables, internal paperwork from foreign governments, and audiotapes recorded clandestinely at the White House. That told, they set the scene:

Anti-war radicals are bombing the Capitol and other government buildings. Black Panther militants are calling for Nixon's execution. There are explosions and fires in cities around the nation. Even worse, as far as Nixon is concerned, are the attacks from the Democrats and the media that threaten to undermine his reelection campaign.

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John Kendall Hawkins is an American ex-pat freelance journalist and poet currently residing in Oceania.

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