Remembering Leary by Zach Leary in the New York Times Book Reviews
Luc Sante “The Nutty Professor” Review of Greenfield Bio in New York Times Books
Some people hold the New York Times and its book and movie reviews as Gospel. But after Zach Leary read Luc Sante’s review of Robert Greenfiields which I have talked about in a post early last month..
Sante uses Greenfield’s twisted caricature of the late Harvard Professor as a springboard to heap some additional venom on top of Greenfield’s mountain of muck. At the beginning of the review, he summarizes his impression of Timothy Leary:
“,,, although he was among the major protuberances in the cultural bouillabaisse we call The Sixties, he was not much of a 60′s type himself, as Robert Greenfield demonstrates in his thorough and judicious biography. While he may have been the leading spokesperson for LSD, Leary remained to the end an old-fashioned booze hound, as well as a snake-oil peddler of the most traditional American sort. Had he been born a decade or two earlier, he would probably have been offering to cure arthritis through the application of the electric belt.”
Zach points out that some of the excesses of Ponte’s review:
Luc Sante, writing about Robert Greenfield’s ‘‘Timothy Leary: A Biography’’ (June 25), seemed to review not only a book but a man. And it’s a review of a man that is purely derived from a book that is merely one biographer’s opinion. Greenfield’s book, while very well researched, is ultimately a false representation of a good man. Leary had the failings of someone trying hard to please everyone around him and thus spreading himself thin. Also, to his disadvantage, his life was exhaustively documented, so any biographer can use what’s out there to spin the story. If Leary were alive, he would shrug off Greenfield’s (and Sante’s) assertions with grace, facts, wit and above all pride. Leary was the first to admit his mistakes; however, he had no regrets or shame whatsoever
Zach also comments on of Greenfield’s themes, that Timothy Leary was a “bad father”:
My 18 years of living with Leary as a son was ultimately a beautiful experience. He was a loving man doing his best to raise a son away from the zany antics of the 1960’s that got in the way of doing a better job with my stepbrother, Jack. He played baseball with me, made sure I did my homework on time, took me to basketball practice and did it all with an air of family-based normalcy and pure love that is not even touched on in Greenfield’s book/
Finally he concludes about the Greenfield bio:
Trying to juxtapose the grand nature of an icon with the fallibilies of a very human man is an interesting thing to do, and I admire Greenfield for trying. But when it comes down to it, the biography fails at what it’s meant to do — tell a tale from all sides of the fence, the good, the bad and the indifferent. I look forward to other books, films and whatever else about Leary’s complicated and brilliant life.
I’ve know Zach since he was a baby and watched him grow into an amazing young man during my numerous visits with Timothy Leary between 1976 and 1996. I can tell you that my own experiences are in sync with what he says in his letter to the New York Times.