Finchley Boys versus The Seeds of Doubt

The Tiger’s Den was a one-story wood building located in downtown Urbana, Illinois, with a large, empty room that was used for a wide variety of functions, including weekly live music performances. In 1966, two local bands emerged, The Finchley Boys and the Seeds of Doubt, and they were among the first bands in Illinois to be influenced by beat music and the British Wave, what we know today as garage bands. The picture above is a performance of the Seeds of Doubt at the Den with a psychedelic light show in full effect.

Guy Maynard.

The Seeds may have come first, I’m not sure, but the Finchley’s sort of roared by when lead guitarist Mark Warwick wrote the first of many originals: “Only Me.”

James Cole and Guy Maynard, the respective two lead singers, were the most charismatic teenagers in town, but they had different personalities. While Cole bedded what must have been dozens of the most nubile teenagers (who were throwing themselves at him), Maynard decided to save his virginity for a great love affair. Both were 16 at the time.

“Only Me,” shifted the balance of power inside the Finchleys. Previously, the highlight of every performance had been Cole’s rendition of “I’m Not Like Everybody Else,” during which he would prowl the stage and sometimes even come out into the crowd. Many of us were facing extreme battles on the home front (see my book 1966), and Cole expressed our intense commitment to preserve our hard-fought long hair and counterculture principles.

But “Only Me” raised the bar. Obviously written after the effects of the glue party the Finchley’s had secretly held at the Shirley sisters’ barn: “Only Me” championed our belief that the emerging psychedelic substances could open doors to true spirituality. It was the first psychedelic anthem I ever heard, although the style would soon be much imitated.

I felt like I was in church whenever I heard that song. But it wasn’t really Cole’s style and didn’t suit him. So the harmonica player, George Faber, took over singing it. Faber was already a showman, but he took “Only Me” to another level, eventually incorporating yoga positions and a live boa constrictor into the song.

One day a minor dispute broke out between Cole and Faber and Cole left the band instantly, saying he wanted to play guitar. He wanted to move beyond being just a vocalist, and may have had Jeff Beck on his mind. Some weeks later, Cole joined the Seeds and for one performance in Danville arranged by Irv Azof as his first solo production, they were the greatest live rock act around.

Jim Cole.

Cole would put down his guitar for one song: “I’m Not Like Everybody Else.” But, in truth, he missed his old band, especially Warwick and Powers, and this attitude was evident, so the Seeds fired him. He roadied a few gigs with the Finchleys, hoping to work his way back in, but that wasn’t happening.

In 1967, I joined the Knight Riders, which was junior class version of The Finchleys and Seeds. We hung out with both bands when we could and were booked by the same managers (Bob Nutt & Azoff).

Carole.

The Knight Riders introduced me to Carole, who I quickly resolved was the greatest teenage goddess in the universe.

One morning I showed up at Urbana High with some LSD. I’d been up all night tripping with Doug Blair, my first experience with the psychedelic state-of-mind. The Knight Riders were horrified when I showed them the extra capsules, and kicked me out of the band on the spot for being a drug addict, even though they’d been smoking the local ditch-weed (which didn’t get you high) for weeks and would eventually evolve into huge potheads.

That same afternoon I took those extra LSD tablets to Uni High and gave them to Carole. Within minutes, the entire school heard through the grapevine that Carole had LSD and Steve Hager had provided it. My brother was a junior there, and I’m sure he must have been greatly concerned, for he told my parents that night before dinner, which precipitated the most violent response from by father, known to my friends as “Bad Dad.”

The Rise of Futura 2000

I arrived at the Mudd Club right on time and went upstairs to view the opening of the new Mudd Club Art Gallery. The owner, Steve Maas, had recently taken over the downtown scene by creating the coolest club in town, one that helped focus the merger of CBGB’s crowd with the Soho art scene. My article on Futura 2000 had appeared that morning, my first cover story for the Manhattan edition of the hip new afternoon New York Daily News.

Futura had designed the headline himself and been paid around $100. While Futura was in the art room sketching the piece, a  senior dude looked me in the eye and said: “We shouldn’t be promoting this.” It was my first inkling my reporting might be rubbing some of the old guard the wrong way.

I assumed we’d all be celebrating up a storm at the Mudd Club. Fred Braithwaite greeted me. When I asked if he’d seen the Daily News article, he pulled out a copy of High Times and showed me Glenn O’Brien’s much more in-depth article that ran for pages with lots of amazing color photos. Jean-Michel Basquiat and Fred were the major characters in his piece.

Somewhat deflated, I speed-read the article while thinking, “Shit, this guy beat me to the punch. I need to start reading High Times.”

Meanwhile, I notice a bunch of girls are looking at me funny. “That’s him,” one says. I can tell they are super pissed-off about something, so I ask them what’s up.

“You called our father an alcoholic! Do you know what if was like for him to read that!” snarled one, which cranked up the angry vibes on the rest of them.

I sought refuge behind the desk with Fred and whispered, “Holy shit. I assumed his dad was dead or he wouldn’t have told me.”

“Well,” said Fred, “he told you so he must have wanted it to come out, even subconsciously.”

It was the first time I realized the power of the media to cause intense emotional problems and how the unvarnished truth is not always the best option. The whole incident put a real damper on the celebration for me, and I went home early, although not before Fred gave me Bambaataa’s phone number, so I could interview him the next day. It was the beginning of a long trail I’d scout for the next four years, a trail I’d been put on by viewing a subway car called “Break” that I’d seen at New York/New Wave at P.S. 1, a train painted by Futura 2000. You can read the original Daily News article in my book Hip Hop: The Complete Archives.

The Pied Piper of Hip Hop

I was a reporter for the New York Daily News and a contributing writer to Horizon magazine, when I attended Diego Cortez’s New York/New Wave at P.S. 1 in Long Island City. Many in the press detested that ultra-hip show, but I was blown away. It celebrated the CBGB punk scene, East Village art, the re-emergence of image, and the recent flowering of graffiti that was taking place in New York. There were several huge rooms covered floor-to-ceiling with art and photography. It was the cutting edge of the underground, and the first time Jean-Michel Basquiat exhibited. Basquiat was the sensation of the moment, his paintings already sold to the de Menil collection. But one room was devoted to photos of spray-painted subway trains, and one of those photos absolutely floored me. I’d only been in New York for a few years, and when I arrived, I assumed the city paid artists to paint those murals on trains because so many of them looked like they were part of a set out of Disneyland. One train in the exhibit especially stopped me in my tracks: it was called “Break” by Futura 2000.

Kurtis Blow had just achieved the first certified-gold rap record with a song called “The Breaks.” At first, I thought Futura’s train was an homage to Kurtis Blow. But then it occured to me there were subcultural undercurrents running through both rap music and graffiti, and that this probably represented an authentic cultural movement that had not been acknowledged in the mass media. (At this time, I knew nothing about break dancing, but that element would surface within days.)

I bought “Break” from Futura and he signed and autographed it to me (it still hangs prominently in my bedroom). Futura introduced me to Fab Five Freddy, who gave me Afrika Bambaataa’s number after I told him I wanted to research where this culture had actually started.

Over the next few weeks, I interviewed Bambaataa several times. He was extremely helpful, and even opened up his archives for me to peruse. Bam had written a book-length report on the history of the Black Spades while in high school, and he let me make a copy. Most important, Bam gave me the telephone number of Kool Herc, and indicated it all started with him. Back in the ’80s, every minor hip hopper in New York was spinning tales about “how it all began” and 90% of these stories were complete fabrications. But Bam only spoke the truth and he never exaggerated about anything. In fact, Bam seemed to be operating on a higher plane of existence, and was obviously a spiritually-charged being. Even better, he became famous and successful beyond imagination while I was working on the story, releasing a monster hit called “Planet Rock,” which created the electro-boogie sound and transformed hip hop and dance music in general.

I got fired by the Daily News, but that was okay, because now I was onto the biggest story of my life, and I knew it. I spent several weeks researching the story, which I eventually submitted to the Village Voice, and titled: “The Pied Piper of Hip Hop.” Keep in mind, at this point in time, the words “hip hop” had never appeared in print anywhere and were not even well-known to most people inside the culture. The story was mostly about Bambaataa, but it covered many of the major developments in the history of the hip hop, including who did what first.

The Village Voice sat on the manuscript for weeks, and I kept calling Robert Christgau, the music editor, leaving messages every other day. I just wanted him to accept it or reject it, so I could submit it to Rolling Stone, and I couldn’t get an answer. I was terrified another writer was going to break the story of hip hop before I did. Finally, Tulani Davis called and said she wanted to publish the article and would edit it.

I went out on a limb in the article and said hip hop was going to become the most significant cultural movement of the decade, and I can’t tell you how many people found that comment ridiculous in 1981. Even in the East Village, there was intense resistance to recognizing the value of rap music in some quarters. Rap was viewed as a ghetto fad that had no significance for the rest of the world.

Sadly, there was always something mysterious about Bam as he was typically surrounded by teenage boys, and there never seemed to be any women around. Decades later, several boys would come forward with accusations of sexual abuse and one of them ended up murdered as a result.

The Doomsday Brigade

Thanks to my friends at American Art & Antiques magazine, a launch I’d worked on with the very capable Jeannie Zebrowski and Susan Colgan, I got a recommendation from them for a job as a reporter for the New York Daily News. It was an incredible breakthrough, and I soon found myself traveling all over New York City writing stories on a wide variety of subjects. I got interested in the survivalist movement that was sweeping the country, and after I submitted this story, it ended up on the front page of the Sunday paper! I had a very strange meeting with the editor of the Sunday edition, however, as he wanted to insert some asides into the text that pushed the piece in a different direction (right wing). I let the editor make the changes (I was a new employee and didn’t want to rock the boat), but after the article was published, I regretted that decision. I never really fit-in with many of that paper’s ardently working-class staff, except the ones like me, who’d been hired to produce a hip new afternoon edition. But after that edition failed to catch on fast enough, dozens of us were fired on the same day exactly one year after we were hired, including me. It was only then I began to sense the paper’s old guard had been waiting for months for that ax to finally fall. No wonder they seemed distant! I put the original story (minus the editing changes) on my smashwords site, where you can read it for free. Just click the link that says “click here for free eBooks” in the middle of the column on the right of this page.

Foreword: The Steam Tunnels

This is a painful entry in the journals of youth—a direct, autobiographical transcription of a familial and generational war, recorded in the penultimate year of 1967, when the forces on both sides of the generation gap assembled for a great face-off. It is perhaps difficult for anyone who did not live through that period to understand just how high the emotions were running on both sides (Get a God-damn haircut!) America was a land of a thousand contradictions (and dances!) whose myths were being put to the test.
Blake Moore is a young man on fire: in love with books and ideas, and he has the great electric current of the 1960’s running through him at full voltage. His mentor is a slightly older classmate named Wesly Pinter, a rebellious semi-delinquent who functions as Huckleberry Finn to Blake’s Tom Sawyer. Pinter introduces Blake to some of the usual ways of teenage rebellion, but he also tells his intrigued and impressionable young friend about a mysterious secret: the existence of the steam tunnels that run underground beneath the entire town, offering an irresistible lure waiting to be discovered, and they are soon exploring the tunnels together. You couldn’t ask for a more perfect metaphor: the tunnels are a labyrinth—a great seething subconscious—affording a clandestine access to key places and buildings throughout the town—as the forces of the underground break through the thin crust of a complacent America, and literally through the cracks of academia as the forces of the burgeoning youth culture swell like lava through the crumbling monuments of the old society.
My favorite moment of the story is when Blake’s father catches him late one night in bed, hiding under the covers surreptitiously reading something with a flashlight. The father bursts into the room in a rage and tears back the blankets, perhaps expecting to find his son reading pornography or some other typical teenage interest: he grabs the book out of his son’s hands and is taken aback for a brief instant: the book is Moby Dick—our greatest American novel. This is a telling moment—the father onslaught is halted momentarily by this discovery—it wasn’t what he expected. His murderous rampage is slowed for a moment—but only for a moment—as he perhaps realizes that his son’s world is deeper and more complex than he assumed.
This very brief little story—its almost a book proposal, really—begs to be expanded and fleshed out into a full length novel. I want more: I want to read about Blake/Hager and his cronies in full battle mode—propelled through the tunnels by mad counter-cultural fuel—rising up from the underground (yes, like steam!) and breaking through into the consciousness of America in 1967. I want to explore the steam tunnels along with Blake—following all the twists and turns, and secret chambers, and I want to be with them as they break into the university!
We can hope that Hager may someday want to revisit this little sketch and turn it into something bigger. This story captures the pressures and violence—both physical and emotional—of a not too atypical family caught up in the turmoil of a radically changing America in the indelible year of 1967. Peace, man!

~Brian Spaeth

Rock’s First Diva

After I finished my book on hip hop (and been basically pushed out of the my own Beat Street film project), I turned my attention to finding out what happened to the biggest stars of early rock history in New York City. Rap music was starting to catch on around the country, and I was afraid the original creators of hip hop were going to be ripped-off by the many corporations that were moving in to cash-in on the new movement, just like their historical counterparts many years earlier.

My investigations led me to Frankie Lymon and Arlene Smith. Frankie was long-dead, so I ended up meeting Jimmy Merchant, who’d co-written one of the biggest hits of the era, “Why Do Fools Fall in Love?” and had been a founding member of The Teenagers with Frankie. I eventually discovered Arlene was living in the South Bronx, not far from some of the hip hoppers I’d spent the last three years hanging out with.

My sister had just moved to a cabin in Woody Creek, not far from Hunter S. Thompson, so when Christmas came, I flew out there to spend the holidays with her and visit the famed town of Aspen and its spectacular ski slopes. I’d never skied before, but I fell in love with the Highlands. I got an unexpected call from Harry Belafonte one night. I guess he was having problems with the director Orion had selected, Andy Davis, and Harry was wondering why I wasn’t hanging around the production office. When I found out I wasn’t going to be the scriptwriter, I basically walked away from the project, although David Picker made sure I got story credit (thanks again, David!). Harry wanted to see me as soon as I got back to New York.

The next night, I got a frantic call from Arlene Smith. Stupidly, I’d sent her a copy of my manuscript at the same time I’d delivered it to my editor at the Voice. Tulani Davis had already told me she loved the article, and I was confident I was about to get my third major feature (and possibly another cover story), following my articles on Bambaataa and the Fun House. But Arlene’s new manager didn’t like the article at all and wanted me to kill it. After I told Arlene I couldn’t do that, the manager called me. He was pretty rude and aggressive and indicated he knew Robert Christgau, head music critic at the Voice, and he was going to get the article killed, whether I liked it or not.

Imagine my surprise when Tulani told me several weeks later that the article was not going to run because Christgau had vetoed it, even though she loved it. I was so flabbergasted and upset ( I’d put a lot of gumshoe reporting into the piece) that I sent a copy to someone I trusted who knew a lot more about the music business than I did, David Bither (who now runs Nonesuch Records), and asked for his opinion before I went to war. David basically said there was some good stuff in the story, but my analysis of the business side of early rock history was a bit over-simplistic, so I dropped the whole thing. But I never wrote another story for the Village Voice, or even talked to Tulani again. I completely forgot about the whole episode until I started putting my greatest hits on my smashwords site and realized, this is one of them!

You can read the article the Voice rejected by clicking the link that says “click here for free eBooks” in the column on the top-right of this page.

Kenny Scharf’s Fun Factory

I sensed there was something important Kenny wanted to tell me. After all, that’s what Min, his assistant, told me when she let me in. But it’s taking Kenny an unusually long time to get around to the subject at hand.

Finally, he pulls out a proof of my Art After Midnight cover that I’d delivered the previous day and waves his hands around, searching for words to express his feelings.

“Don’t you think a different painting would work better?” he gently says finally.

Art After Midnight is primarily about Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring and Kenny Scharf, but it’s clearly centered on Scharf, and I’d picked his painting, “When World’s Collide,” as the Guernica of the East Village art movement, which is why I wanted it on the cover. Flick Ford had sized the painting to its maximum for the page, but that still left a huge blank space, which Flick had filled with his own art piece, creating an illustration in place of a typeface and customizing it with his own esthetic. I thought the two pieces worked together, but I suddenly wondered if the lettering wasn’t overwhelming the painting a bit, which is obviously what was bothering Kenny. But when I called the printer, I discovered it was too late to change, which spared me any further aggravation or having to confront Flick. Fortunately, this faux pax didn’t cost my relationship with Kenny, but I sometimes wonder if he cringes whenever he sees it.

You see, The Merry Pranksters had been my primary role models from the age of 15 (1966), and it was from them I first learned about magic. After an explosive blow-up with my family (detailed in my just-released ebook, The Steam Tunnels), I moved into the empty basement of our home. Very quickly, I painted the white walls with a bucket of battleship grey I’d found, painting huge, swirling faces with the ease of a zen master, even though I’d never done anything like that before (or since). All these ghostly blobs were positive, with happy faces, except one, which unexpectedly turned out very scary-looking.That face was so scary I had to avoid it when I was tripping. I had one step in the darkside at the time, still seeking my eventual path in life. But the Pranksters had redirected me solidly on the path of the Fun Vibe. I hung blankets and bedspreads to divide the room into three sections, and built my art and music studio in the largest one. I began studying the bass guitar in earnest so I could join a garage band, my principle ambition since my friend John Hayes said I could join The Knight Riders if I learned bass, even though Donnie Perino, their current bass player, was probably the best musician in central Illinois.

Many years later, I was passing through town and discovered my parent’s were in the process of covering up my basement murals with sheet-rock. Most of the room was already done, but I did manage to go down with my friend Maarten and get a photo of the spooky face before it was covered up. For some reason, I felt it important to document. Imagine my surprise, when I found myself in New York, 15 years later, confronted by this young Kenny Scharf, who had just usurped the entire Prankster movie by taking it to another level. It was like having my whole life’s journey vindicated in some strange way.

By customizing your existence you create a magically-charged environment. The altar plays an obvious focal point in many ceremonies, and helps focus and center whatever vibration you’re channeling, but the Pranksters and Kenny learned that when you crawl inside your altar, you can spiritually charge everything around you, and open portals to other dimensions if you’re lucky. And when this happens, a tremendous burst of creative energy is released. That is magic. Of course, you can scout any trail you want, energy comes in many flavors, but Kenny was hip to the Fun Vibe, and helped me understand and process a lot of what I’d been through in the ’60s and point me in the right direction again at a time when it was hard to stay centered. It was so weird because the entire art establishment was trying to write Kenny off as “lightweight”, while I found him to be one of the most spiritually enlightened people I’d ever encountered.

Anyway, what I really want to tell you is that Art After Midnight, long out-of-print, can be found on Amazon, Smashwords and iTunes.

The Stockholm Manifesto

Marta was my first real girlfriend

Thanks to mom filling out an application to Valparaiso University, I briefly attended college after barely graduating high school. Mom figured I’d jump on it since my favorite cousin, Tom Hutton, had just returned from Vietnam and enrolled there on the GI Bill. I ‘d kept up a correspondence with Tom during his entire tour, a time during which he went through some heavy, heavy changes and emerged as an ardent anti-war activist.

I’d been living in Oakland when I got the news I’d been accepted, so I hitch-hiked back east, and checked out the Lutheran college both my parents graduated from. Unfortunately, I felt tremendously isolated from all the devout Christians, although I did create two lasting friendships with fellow searchers on the path of illuminated fun I’d been scouting the past three years (The Merry Pranksters being my ultimate role model). We discovered a hay-filled barn with a giant rope swing and it became 24-hour party central. A lot of swan dives into the haystack while intoxicated on LSD, beer or both. After the Kent State Massacre, however, I stopped attending class, and just spent my time studying the art of having fun all the time. When the school music building burned (suspected arson), it came down the grapevine I was the number-one suspect being investigated.

Eventually, my dad caught wind of the situation and cut me off completely, having already wasted $5,000 on tuition fees alone. The best thing that came out of Valpo was an encounter with Joseph Heller, who clued me into Louis-Ferdinand Celine, a tremendous influence on Henry Miller, William S. Burroughs, Joseph Heller, J.D. Salinger, to name but a few.

Maybe I wasn’t attending class,  but I was educating myself in my own way and I burned through everything Celine wrote (that I could find) in a few days. My draft number was low, so when my cousin Tom discovered my circumstances, knowing I’d be inducted straight from the physical exam into bootcamp, plunked down $350 for a one-way ticket to  Stockholm, where his army buddy, Ed Keeling, was attending the university.  I had very few possessions, just a letter from Tom explaining my hasty exit from the States and could he help me out? I had virtually no money, and slept the first few nights on the floor in Ed’s tiny dorm room, with Ed wondering what the hell was going on and when was I going to get the hell out of there?!

I was soon rescued, however, by a couple of amazing Swedish goddesses, one blonde, one brunette. Eva, the blonde, took me under her wing and introduced me to her revolutionary cellmates. She put up with my cynical rants and was even amused by them. Eva sensed I was going to evolve into a great, great revolutionary. In fact, I think she was convinced that’s exactly what was going to happen. This made me laugh. I loathed Marxism more than I did organized religion!

Eva was certainly beautiful and I undoubtedly had a shot with her, but I chose Marta, who was a dead ringer for a French movie star. Or maybe Marta picked me? In a way, she became my first real girlfriend. Marta was a year or two older and gave me some necessary schooling in art of making love. I was living my down-and-out-in-Europe fantasy and having a blast! I even got some extra work in the film Joe Hill, which gave me enough money to buy a typewriter so I could commence creating the first great counterculture novel of my generation, the rock’n’roll, garageband, go-for-broke generation that actually created the sixties.  I never got beyond the opening chapter.

http://www.amazon.com/1966-Steven-Hager/dp/1503318060/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1416661492&sr=8-1&keywords=1966+Steven+Hager

True Ghost Stories

In 1980, while I was working as a reporter for the New York Daily News, I had the opportunity to meet the well-known psychic researcher, Dr. Karlis Osis. I knew he did a lot of top-secret work for the CIA and other unnamed agencies and was expecting him to be aloof and intimidating.

Instead, I found him to be open and generous. I was researching a story on haunted houses in New York City, and was looking for any leads he could provide. Osis immediately revealed that in all the time he’d spent investigating psychic phenomena, only one case really stood out and it involved an apparition seen by three people simultaneously. The trio had been so shaken by the experience, that they’d sought trauma counseling from a psychologist.

My personal experiences with psychedelics in the ’60s, had already convinced me early in life that telepathic energies were real. One of Osis’ best-known books involves the study of near-death experiences. Around half the people who work with the dying on a regular basis believe spirits come to welcome the dead to their new home when people die. This is a common near-death experience. Osis’ other main area of research was remote viewing.

Much of that research was done for the CIA and probably remains classified, but Osis was working with a psychic in an attempt to penetrate Soviet installations with out-of-body experiences. He hadn’t done much work with haunted houses because he thought most of the cases were hoaxes created for profit. I just posted an eBook titled, True Ghost Stories, that details a very spooky story Osis opened up his files for me to write about. I even got to listen to tape recordings of the original interviews. It was an amazing afternoon.