Turn on, tune in, drop out
"Turn on, tune in, drop out" is a counterculture-era phrase popularized by Timothy Leary in 1966. In 1967, Leary spoke at the Human Be-In, a gathering of 30,000 hippies in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco and phrased the famous words, "Turn on, tune in, drop out". It was also the title of his spoken word album recorded in 1966. On this lengthy album, Leary can be heard speaking in a monotone soft voice on his views about the world and humanity, describing nature, Indian symbols, "the meaning of inner life", the LSD experience, peace, and many other issues.
In a 1988 interview with Neil Strauss, Leary said the slogan was "given to him" by Marshall McLuhan during a lunch in New York City. Leary added McLuhan "was very much-interested in ideas and marketing, and he started singing something like, 'Psychedelics hit the spot / Five hundred micrograms, that's a lot,' to the tune of a Pepsi commercial of the time. Then he started going, 'Tune in, turn on, and drop out.'" The phrase was used by Leary in a speech he delivered at the opening of a press conference in New York city on September 19, 1966. It urged people to embrace cultural changes through the use of psychedelics by detaching from the existing conventions and hierarchies in society. It was also the motto of his League for Spiritual Discovery.
In his speech, Leary said:
Like every great religion, we seek to find the divinity within and to express this revelation in a life of glorification and the worship of God. These ancient goals we define in the metaphor of the present—turn on, tune in, drop out.
Leary explains in his 1983 autobiography Flashbacks:
"Turn on" meant go within to activate your neural and genetic equipment. Become sensitive to the many and various levels of consciousness and the specific triggers engaging them. Drugs were one way to accomplish this end. "Tune in" meant interact harmoniously with the world around you—externalize, materialize, express your new internal perspectives. "Drop out" suggested an active, selective, graceful process of detachment from involuntary or unconscious commitments. "Drop Out" meant self-reliance, a discovery of one's singularity, a commitment to mobility, choice, and change. Unhappily, my explanations of this sequence of personal development are often misinterpreted to mean "Get stoned and abandon all constructive activity".
Turn on, tune in, drop out is also the title of a book (ISBN 1-57951-009-4) of essays by Timothy Leary, covering topics ranging from religion, education, and politics to Aldous Huxley, neurology, and psychedelic drugs.
In 1967, Leary (during the salon known as the Houseboat Summit) announced his agreement with a new ordering of the phrase as he said, "I would agree to change the slogan to 'Drop out. Turn on. Drop in.'"
In popular culture
The phrase was referenced in several songs of the time. Psychedelic rock band Strawberry Alarm Clock parodies the quote in their 1967 song "Incense and Peppermints", singing "Turn on, tune in, turn your eyes around" in one of the lines. Gil Scott-Heron criticised the concept in his 1970 poem and song The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, with the line "You will not be able to plug in, turn on and cop-out".
The lyrics, "Turn on, tune in, drop out" are included verbatim in several songs:
- "Turn On, Tune In" by Threshold
- "DI-1-9026" on the album Nail by Scraping Foetus Off the Wheel
- "Drop Out" by Infected Mushroom
- "Ever-Increasing Circles" on the compilation album Wake-Up and Smell the... Carcass by the band Carcass
- "Turn On Tune In Drop Out" by Cracker
- "Turn on, Tune in, Stay inert" in "Flash Delerium" by MGMT
- "Turn On / Tune In / Drop Out" on The Fugs' album Tenderness Junction
- "Tune In, Drop Out" in "Trigger Hippie" by Morcheeba
- "Relax" by Superorganism
- The popular Thai author Rong Wongsawan featured the term on the cover of his book "In the Haze of Marijuana" about San Francisco. He also used the term at his writer's retreat in Mae Rim, Chiangmai, which is called the "Tune In Garden."
A variation of the quote ("Tune in, Turn on, Talknet") was used during the 1980-90s for NBC Radio's Talknet nighttime programming block of call-in advice shows.
The film Across the Universe features a cover of the Beatles song Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite!, in which Eddie Izzard ad libs a variation of the phrase ("Just tune in, turn off, drop out, drop in, switch off, switch on, and explode.").
Jay Aymar parodied the phrase by saying, "Tune Out, Turn Off, Drop By", referring to the proliferation of cellphones & social media on his album 'The Chicken Came First'.
In an episode of Superjail!, the Twins, while high on an alien drug, say a variant of the phrase, "Tune up, turn around, drop in."
- Strauss, Neil. Everyone Loves You When You're Dead: Journeys into Fame and Madness. New York: HarperCollins, 2011, p. 337–38
- Ray, Oakley (1983). Drugs, Society, & Human Behavior (3rd ed.). St. Louis: Mosby. p. 382. ISBN 080164092X.
- "Transcript". American Experience documentary on the Summer of Love. PBS and WGBH. 2007-03-14.
- Timothy Leary, Flashbacks: A Personal and Cultural History of an Era pg. 253,
- Hagerty, Lorenzo (1967). "Psychedelic Salon 193-WattsLearyHsbtSumit67". Retrieved 2012-02-02. Cite journal requires
- Ruthofer, Arno (1997). "Think for Yourself; Question Authority". Archived from the original on 2006-11-23. Retrieved 2007-02-02. Cite journal requires
- "Jay Aymar.com".