Turn on, tune in, drop out

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"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.'"[1] 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.[2]

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.[3]

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".[4]

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.'"[5]

During his last decade, Leary proclaimed the "PC is the LSD of the 1990s"—"turn on, boot up, jack in" re-worked the phrase to suggest joining the cyberdelic counterculture.[6]

In popular culture[edit]

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:

The CSI episode title "Turn On, Tune In, Drop Dead" also parodies the quote, with the episode focusing on how two victims who are supposedly-dead get up and walk away.

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.

Another variation, "Turn On, Tune In, Cop Out", was the title of a 1993 single by the band 'Freak Power'—the name a reference to the hippie culture.

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.").

The band 'Half Man Half Biscuit' vary the phrase to refer to being made redundant in their song, "Turned Up Clocked On Laid Off" on the album 'This Leaden Pall'.[7]

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'.[8]

In the book A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick one character takes over the identity of the main character in a phonecall and ends his dispute with the words: "Turn in, tune out."

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."

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Strauss, Neil. Everyone Loves You When You're Dead: Journeys into Fame and Madness. New York: HarperCollins, 2011, p. 337–38
  2. ^ Ray, Oakley (1983). Drugs, Society, & Human Behavior (3rd ed.). St. Louis: Mosby. p. 382. ISBN 080164092X.
  3. ^ "Transcript". American Experience documentary on the Summer of Love. PBS and WGBH. 2007-03-14.
  4. ^ Timothy Leary, Flashbacks: A Personal and Cultural History of an Era pg. 253,
  5. ^ Hagerty, Lorenzo (1967). "Psychedelic Salon 193-WattsLearyHsbtSumit67". Retrieved 2012-02-02. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  6. ^ Ruthofer, Arno (1997). "Think for Yourself; Question Authority". Archived from the original on 2006-11-23. Retrieved 2007-02-02. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  7. ^ "hmhb.co.uk".
  8. ^ "Jay Aymar.com".