Legend of a Mind

Album: In Search of the Lost Chord (1968)

Songfacts®:

  • This song is about Timothy Leary, who is mentioned several times in the lyrics, although the title is not. Leary is a counter-culture icon who was a proponent ot the therapeutic effects of LSD. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Ethan - Franklin, TN
  • The song features a flute solo by Ray Thomas, lasting about two minutes in the middle.
  • Mike Pinder plays the mellotron on the track. It's been said that The Moody Blues invented "symphonic rock" with their discovery and adoption of the somewhat "cosmic" instrument. "If we hadn't discovered the mellotron, nobody else would have," Justin Hayward told Q magazine in 1990. "It was a very temperamental instrument. It was always going wrong. It weighed a ton. We only had one roadie and it would take all of us to carry it into a gig. We used to sleep on it because it was the biggest thing in our transit. There used to be fights to see who would sleep on it."

Comments: 11

  • Curt from Upper Peninsula, MichiganAlmost everyone refers to this song as "Timothy Leary's Dead", and even among die hard Moody Blues fans the song's actual title is unknown. That is just the tip of the iceberg, though; there is an enormous amount of misinformation about this song and Timothy Leary.

    First, for anyone interested in who Timothy Leary was, I would recommend a quick read of his biography in Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timothy_Leary); it is informative and objective.

    The most important elements about Leary and this song are:
    * Timothy Leary was NOT dead when this song was written by Ray Thomas in December 1967. The Moody Blues recorded it in January 1968, and Leary still was not dead (he died much later in 1996). So why does this song keep saying he is dead? The answer is given right in the song: "No, n-n-no, he's outside looking in".

    * So why does the song say Leary is dead when he wasn't, and then says he's not dead, but looking in? There are several theories about this:
    1. Leary has transcended the Ego, vis-a-vis the Atman self of Hinduism/Buddhism philosophy, which Leary was very keen on.
    2. Leary was arrested in 1966 on charges of possession of marijuana (which was actually in the panties of his wife as they entered the US border at Laredo, Texas). He was awaiting appeal for the conviction of guilty when this song was written (he later was arrested again for marijuana possession, which he claimed had been planted on him by the police), but that happened later in December 1968, almost a year after this song was recorded. At any rate, because of his arrest, he was "outside" of mainstream society - he was outside of the society, looking back at it...
    3. This refers to Leary's famous catchphrase: "Turn on, Tune in, Drop out", inasmuch that he advises people to step out - outside - of the normal, mundane world, and that LSD or other psychoactive drugs are a reliable way to do this (his own advice, not necessarily my own). So, this theory holds that Leary has "dropped out", taking his own advice, thus he is "outside, looking in". And in spite of what the fear mongering Establishment says, he has not died, but is actually still living.

    * Timothy Leary takes trips on the Astral Plane around The Bay. So, this is pretty straightforward. By using LSD, Leary has "Turned on and Tuned in", and is traveling the Astral Plane, a euphemism for having a psychedelic drug induced Mystical Experience (for more on this, refer to "The Varieties of Religious Experience" by Harvard Psychology Professor Dr. William James in 1902), or in Hindu terminology, to achieve Samadhi (sometimes called "Enlightenment" by Westerners). And of course, taking psychedelic drugs is "tripping", so there it is - Leary is tripping on the Astral Plane. "The Bay" refers probably to the San Francisco Bay. He had frequently visited San Francisco area (he earned his PhD in Clinical Psychology at Berkeley in 1950, and went on to serve as the director of psychiatric research at the Kaiser Family Foundation in San Francisco from 1954-58), and was well-connected with some of the movers and shakers of the blossoming Hippie Countercultural Movement happening at the time. He was invited (and accepted) to speak at the hugely important Human Be-In Festival that was held in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park on January 14th, 1967 (a year before the release of this song), which was more-or-less the "official" beginning of the Hippie Movement. "Along the Coast" also probably refers to the West Coast of California. Leary had moved to Laguna Beach, a suburb of Los Angeles, and so was on the West Coast when Ray Thomas wrote this song.

    * Timothy Leary is acting as a guide. The song's lyrics state that: "He'll take you up, He'll bring you down. He'll plant your feet back firmly on the ground. He flies so high, He swoops so low. He knows exactly which way he's gonna go." This refers to Timothy Leary's social experiment that took place in Milford, Massachusetts in the mid-1960s. In 1960 he joined the Psychology Department of Harvard, and along with his research partner Richard Alpert (later known as Ram Dass), started a program called "The Harvard Psilocybin Project", which studied the effects of psychedelic drugs (which at the time were legal) on human volunteers, including the Beat Poet Allen Ginsberg. As a result of these experiments, an alarm was raised by some members of the Harvard administration, and Leary was fired from Harvard in 1963.

    Immediately, Leary, Alpert, and dozens of their students and followers moved to a magnificent 64-room mansion in the affluent town of Millbrook, New York. This mansion was to be known popularly as simply "Millbrook", and was given to Leary and Alpert's newly formed organization called the International Federation for Internal Freedom (IFIF) by Peggy, Billy, and Tommy Hitchcock, heirs to the Mellon fortune. It was here at Millbrook that Leary was given free rein to pursue his interests in psychedelic drugs and spiritual enlightenment over the course of the next five years. Millbrook was set up as a commune, limited strictly to 360 members, and focused its group efforts on fulfilling the mission of the IFIF. This entailed hosting workshops, retreats, and frequent sessions wherein dozens of people took LSD or other psychedelic drugs at the same time, and were led through a guided meditation by Leary or one of the other leaders of the group. During this time Leary went on a number of speaking tours around university campuses presenting a multimedia performance entitled "The Death of the Mind", attempting an artistic replication of the LSD experience. Also at this time in a famous interview in Playboy Magazine, he came up with the phrase "Tune In, Turn On, and Drop Out". At the same time this was happening, the same thing was taking place in California, with the Merry Pranksters group led by author Ken Kesey, though the Pranksters were much less sober than Leary's Millbrook meditation crowd.

    So, a bit of history then to help clarify things about this beautiful song, and it is beautiful, in my opinion. It mirrors the feel of what Leary was doing at Millbrook - a blend of Western and Eastern philosophies, using mind-bending drugs to create a Mystical transcendent experience.
  • Dan from Seattle"Turn on, tune in, drop out."

    LSD was still legal before 1968 - the year between the "summer of love" and Woodstock. Because it was still legal, it was viewed as a better alternative to marijuana, which had been illegal since 1937.

    "fly his astral plane" - as Buddhism and other eastern religions became more popular, LSD was a shortcut to "out of body experiences".

    "trips around the bay" - San Francisco was one of the centers of LSD use. Leary had been on the faculty at Berkeley. Owsley Stanley developed a method for mass-producing high-quality LSD in his apartment off-campus. Ken Kesey ( sponsor of the "Electric Kool-Aid Acid Tests" ) lived in Stanford, where he had gone to graduate school. And of course, San Francisco musicians were famous for their LSD use.

    "He'll take you up, he'll bring you down, He'll plant your feet back on the ground." - Leary believed LSD could be used by adults "for serious purposes, such as spiritual growth, pursuit of knowledge, or their own personal development."
  • Joe from Grants Pass, OrJohn Lodge's bass sounds like McCarntney ; Don't ya think ???
  • Gigi from St. Louis, Mo a somewhat surreal song with parts that say he flies the astral plane taking trips???? lsd??? obviously but no no no no no no he's outside looking in. I love the music switch from slow to fast the slow again you feel like you are on a psychadelic roller coaster ride here. LOVE it!!!!
  • Zanegrey from Wimberley, Txthe song begins as a lark- "hey lets take some LSD!" and then the trip begins with levity and chatter. soon that turns into the beautiful and haunting flute solo and mellotron bends which herald the surreal and dream qualities of the LSD experience.
    the conclusion of the song echoes the maturity of the trip and mind expansion - there is no way to forget the experience. the mind has expanded, the mind matured and timothy leary's message is now fully comprehended !
  • Dougee from San Bernardino, CaAs the song was written decades before Leary's actual death, the phrase "Timothy Leary's dead" may refer either to the "ego death" that occurs during an intense psychedelic experience, or (as mentioned on one blog) the fact that, at the time the song was written, Leary was in exile "outside" in Switzerland to escape persecution from the USA's prohibitionist government. In any case, it is is a great tribute to the man and his mission.
  • Jesse from Madison, WiRay Thomas wrote this song. In fact, Ray wrote some of my personal favorites by the band. He was sort of like George in The Beatles - very melodic and a great, strong songwriter, but not a frontman or a guitarist (it's Ray I'm talkin' about here) which (to most Americans) automatically puts him at the rear. It's unfortunate people don't sing his accolades as a songwriter. All I ever hear about is Graeme Edge or Justin Hayward. Mike Pinder was far less melodic and much darker lyrically and musically, but he too is critically under-rated. Stupid American press. This is one of the Moodies' BEST!
  • Peter Griffin from Quahog, RiHumorous, strange, and...kind of trippy.
  • Charles from Charlotte, NcAnother song from the same album "Visions of Paradise" has a pretty good flute accompaniment from Ray Thomas. Too bad Ray's flute-playing was pretty much pushed aside in the late seventies and eighties when the Moody's sound went in a new direction.
  • Guy from Woodinville, WaYes, another great Moody Blues song. And humorous, too! "Timothy Leary's dead. No, no, no, no, he's outside looking in."
  • David from Wilson, Nythis one of their best songs.love the flute solo, very trippy sounding
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