"Turn on, tune in, drop out" is a counterculture phrase coined by Timothy Leary in the 1960s. The phrase came to him in the shower one day after Marshall McLuhan suggested to Leary that he come up with "something snappy" to promote the benefits of LSD. It is an excerpt from a prepared speech he delivered at the opening of a press conference in New York City on September 19, 1966. This phrase urged people to initiate cultural changes through the use of psychedelics and by detaching themselves from the existing conventions and hierarchies in society. The phrase was derided by more conservative critics.
The phrase is derived from this part of Leary's speech: "Like every great religion of the past 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 later explained 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 that engage 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 elective, 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 were 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.
A common misunderstanding of the phrase, by people not familiar with the context in which it was first said, is that 'turn on, tune in, drop out' refers to 'turn on to drugs, tune in to the counterculture, and drop out of job/society/school', i.e. (to become a 'waster', a 'slacker').
Gil Scott-Heron - The Revolution Will Not Be Televised ("plug in, turn on and cop out")
Infected Mushroom - Drop Out ("you tend to, tune in, and you drop out")
Freakpower - "Turn On, Tune In, Cop Out" (1993)
Hair (musical)-"Manchester England, England" ("Now that I've dropped out/why is life dreary dreary?/Answer my weary query/Timothy Leary, Dearie") and later in "The Flesh Failures" "Singing our space songs on a spider web sitar/Life is around you and in you/Answer for Timothy Leary, Deary"
Dog Fashion Disco - The Acid Memoirs ("Tuning in and dropping out/Dancing buddhas twist and shout")
Edwin McCain - I'll Be ("I've dropped out / burned up / fought my way back from the dead / Tuned in / turned on / remembered the things you said")
The Sisters of Mercy - Black Planet ("Tune in / turn on / burn out in the acid rain")
Carcass - Ever Increasing Circles ("Over and over again, and over again.../ Turn on, tune in, drop out / Out of tune, dropped in, turned off..")
Strawberry Alarm Clock - Incense and Peppermints ("Turn on, tune in, turn your eyes around")
Morcheeba - Trigger Hippie ("Tune in, drop out of love")
Dead Kennedys - A Growing Boy Needs His Lunch ("Turn on, Tune in, Cop out, Drop kick, Tune in, Tune out")
Ghost - Tune In, Turn On, Free Tibet - Title of one of their albums.
D-Mob - We Call it Acieed
Brooklyn Uk - Motown Literacy ("You've gotta tune in, gotta turn on, gotta write your own favorite song")
Foetus (band) - Di-1-9026 ("Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out")
Cristian Vogel - Song entitled "Turn On, Tune In, Drown Out"
The Charlie Daniels Band - Song titled "The Summer of '68" contains the lyrics "turning on and dropping out, just ain't what life is all about."
The phrase was adapted by The Stone Roses frontman Ian Brown in the press conference preceding their Spike Island concert, in the form of "turn on, tune in, don't drop out."
120 days - Norwegian electro-rock band has released a single called Come on, (come down, fade out, be gone)
River Phoenix - Coma ("coma, here I am, coma, turn me on, coma, tune me in, coma, drop me out")
Junction Green - Basidi0carp ("Come sit in-tune, fall right on home, fly out")
Rue Morgue Radio - Rue Morgue Magazine's online radio station (Turn On, Tune In, Drop Dead)
Aesop Rock - The Greatest Pac-Man Victory In History ("Wake. Drop. Walk to Aquarium.")
Obsessive - Tune in, Turn out
Sleep - "Dopesmoker"/"Jerusalem" ("Drop out of life with bong in hand.")
Threshold (band) - "Turn On Tune In" from the Album "Hypothetical"
True Live - lyrics "turn on, tune in, drop out, weekly" from the song TV
The Godz - psychedelic, punk, antifolk band of 1960s and 70s. "Turn On" track 1 on "Contact with the High Godz"
Hideki Naganuma - "Rock It On" from the Jet Set Radio soundtrack ("Tune in, turn on, drop out").
Alabama 3 - "Disneyland is Burning"
Eddie Izzard - cover of the Beatles' "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite" which was used in the movie 2007 movie Across the Universe (Tune in, turn on, drop out, drop in, switch off, switch on, and explode)
The phrase is sampled in Drop Target by Logic Bomb
Static-X - "Fix" ("Tune it in, chill out, drop dead, I need a fix")
The Who - "The Seeker" ("I asked Bobby Dylan. I asked The Beatles. I asked Timothy Leary. But he couldn't help me either.")
Juicy Couture released a men's track jacket with the phrase, "Tune In, Turn On, Drop Dead", which appears to pay homage to Leary's phrase.
Other references in popular culture
On the cover of Mad Magazine #118 (April 1968), Alfred E. Neuman is shown dressed as a hippie with the words "Turn On, Tune In, Drop Dead" circling psychedelically above his head.
A similar name to this phrase was used as the name of a mission in the video game Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories. The name of the mission is "Turn On, Tune In, Bug Out." This is because in the mission you have bugs in all of your places.
Referenced in Newsweek of September 17, 2007: "While others in her generation were turning on, tuning in and dropping out, she was running for student body president..."
Provided the title to academic thesis Tune In, Turn On, Go Punk , exploring links between American hippie and punk counterculture circa 1965-1985.
Mentioned by Maximillian Arturo in an episode of Sliders, in which they land on a Parallel Earth in which America is still in the mindset of the 1960s.