Scream (West Side version)

I recently started listening to some old tapes recorded at my Upper West Side apartment back in 1986 when the band first started, and I was amazed at how great the band sounds using a Walkman Pro with stereo mike to record. One of the first things I did after forming the band was invest in a small PA system. If we were going to rehearse in my apartment, I wanted the singers to be able to blast over the amps and drums. And I didn’t want to rely on the crummy house PA’s that you always find in the bottom-tier of venues. On hot days we’d open the window and just let it blast! Saturday afternoons were our usual rehearsal time. I knew we had something when a bunch of people hanging out the windows in the building across the street on West End Avenue all started applauding and cheering after we finished a particularly rousing version of “All Night Long,” a ’60s garage tune from Texas that’s particularly hard to play. That first spring we actually developed a fan club in the windows across the street who knew our regular rehearsal schedule. Later, we moved the rehearsals to real rehearsal rooms and eventually to Giorgio Gomelsky’s, as my building started rattling sabers about the noise. It didn’t help that the super lived in the apartment next to me, or that we had clouds of marijuana smoke drifting into the elevators.

Bands and sports teams are very similar in that they rely on energy harmony and transference. Some days the energy and harmony and transference are working, and some days they’re not. Going into studios to record would always boost our energy, but it could never guarantee those transcendent performances. Flick especially seemed to do his best work when the band was alone, or even late at night when we were just hanging out drinking beers and smoking joints, when he’d suddenly bust into his Lil’ Miscreant cartoon character and start channeling the ghost of Elvis or anybody else he wanted to. But once Flick got on stage, much of that improvisational energy would evaporate, and while Flick always put on great performances, that special magic we knew existed deep inside him seldom surfaced full bloom in recording studios or even onstage. To give a little demonstration of this, in case people think I’m just talking shit, I just put an alternative version of “Scream,” the first rock song I ever wrote on bandcamp just so our fans can hear that other Flick Ford for the first time. I believe this was recorded the same afternoon as that rousing version of “All Night Long.” Certainly the performances are better on this than any other version I know. And this was the original version of “Scream,” before Gordon Spaeth told us my song sounded too much like “Have Love,” and I re-jigged the guitar riff and sped up the tempo. After Flick goes off you can hear Brandel step up to the plate and knock his guitar solo out of the park, and if you listen close, you’ll hear Brian do the same thing on his bass soon afterwards.

http://theoriginalsoulassassins.bandcamp.com/track/scream-west-side-version

In case you just stumbled onto this blog, I’ve been telling the stories about the Finchley Boys and Knight Riders (and Seeds of Doubt)  from central Illinois from 1966-69, while, at the same time, telling the story of the Soul Assassins, my New York City garage band from 1986-89. Check out my free eBooks, links top-right column. And thanks for stopping by.

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.

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.

The Hippie Ten Commandments

1) Everything’s connected (I’m in you and you’re in me), so act accordingly.

2) The true Bible is written in the hearts of the people, so follow your heart.

3) Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

4) Strive to be non-violent in thought, word and deed.

5) Do not lie, cheat or steal.

6) Heart energy is clean energy (as opposed to ego energy) so amplify your love vibrations and keep your ego in check.

7) Cannabis is “The Tree of Life” and has been since the dawn of civilization. Make the most of hemp.

8) Regarding cannabis, however: the less you do, the higher you get; strive to know when its appropriate to be intoxicated and when it’s not (unless you have a medical need).

9) Honor your elders, your ancestors and your children.

10) Pass to the left.

Music, Math & Marijuana

In January 1990, High Times news editor Steve Bloom returned to the office from a trip to the Bay Area and brought with him a flyer for an April 20th event to be held at the top of Mount Tamalpias in Marin County. The flyer indicated that “420” was California police code for “marijuana smoking in progress.” Bloom thought the flyer was funny and a bit ridiculous, but I felt otherwise. Since I’d recently started my research into the spiritual history of cannabis use and was deep into the Rig Veda, I seized on the flyer as evidence of the spiritual powers of cannabis. “I’m gong to re-focus all my ceremonies around 4:20,” I told Bloom. “We can use 420 to spread awareness about the spiritual aspects of cannabis.” From that day on, I began holding 4:20 PM ceremonies in my office at High Times and proselytizing about 4:20. That’s because there’s a connection between math, music, marijuana and spirituality. Numerology has always intrigued me.

Imagine my surprise when Bloom published a one-paragraph mention of the flyer in his news section that month, but failed to mention my promise to use the number to help build the legalization movement, something I thought was pretty important news. I was disappointed I’d failed to penetrate my missionary zeal to my news editor, but remained undeterred and made 4:20 council the central focus of my legalization group, The Freedom Fighters, which at the time may have been the largest pro-pot organization in the world. The next time I returned to the Cup in Amsterdam, I brought 4:20 council with me, and it’s been there ever since. In fact, the 4:20 councils at the Cup were videotaped for 15 years, and highlights can be found on my Youtube site.

Eventually, the Cup crew, specifically the Temple Dragons, began holding 4:20 AM celebrations at the Quentin Hotel lobby. (This was Rocker T’s idea.) The 4:20 AM ceremonies quickly became crowded when word leaked out they were the best parties at the Cup. Hundreds of people took photos of themselves in the Quentin lobby next to a clock as proof they attended a 4:20 AM ceremony. In 1997, I began using 420 as a central element of the Whee! festival in Oregon, and the following year, the ceremony was picked up on by the Seattle Hempfest. If Whee had been allowed to continue, it would be as big as the Seattle Hempfest, but just as I was forced to give up the Freedom Fighters, I was also forced to give up the world’s biggest hempfest.

After 420 caught on, the tour agent, Air Tech, changed their name to “420 Tours.” They set up a website and were soon contacted by Steve Waldo, who indicated he and his friends started the 420. I flew out to San Francisco to meet with Steve and check out his claims. I returned to the office a few days later and announced I’d discovered the origins of 420, and it wasn’t a police code.

Unfortunately, then-publisher of High Times Mike Edison disputed my story and refused to accept the Waldos were, in fact, the true originators. Imagine my surprise when many years later Bloom tried to take credit for “discovering” 420, when he was one of those at the office that could never connect with my efforts along these lines. For Bloom, my attempts at forging an untainted ritual tradition for modern stoners was a bunch of mumbo-jumbo, and I’m sure he feels that way today.

Thus began my odyssey to tell the true history of 420. Now many people spread false stories and stake claims on having a better explanation, but no one can document the use of the term “420” as a reference to marijuana prior to 1971, other than Steve Waldo. And no one can document 420 ceremonies outside Marin county in the early 1990s aside from mine. It’s strange to read Cannabis Culture claim they were using the term in the mid-1990s (several years after I began my 420 ceremonies) when, in fact, Marc initially ridiculed my 420 council at the Cup when he attended the first time. I’m sure that’s where he heard about 420 for the first time, although he later wrote my attempts at “hippie spirituality” were out-dated, which broke off our relationship for a while, although I’m happy to say all that’s been patched up.

Energy comes in flavors

Spirituality is just another name for energy, and energy comes in flavors.

You can channel and amplify different energies, depending on what sort of spirituality you’re looking for.

The hippies of the 1960s weren’t called “The Love Generation” for nothing. That was the energy flavor we were seeking to amplify and share, and we learned a lot about how to manifest that energy.

Mainstream culture is dominated by what I call “warrior” energy. The biggest ceremony in the United States is probably the Super Bowl. Please don’t make the mistake of thinking sports isn’t “spiritual.” Everything in life is spiritual.

If you put all the energy flavors together in one big energy stream, that’s god. God is the energy that flows through all things. It’s like an OM circle. When you are chanting an OM, there’s no bad note. You can’t sing off-key. That’s because the OM embraces every note.

Most ceremonies seek to harmonize energy fields. In sports, any team plays better when they are harmonized. And they all have ceremonies to help with that process. When they stand in a circle, put their hands together and chant the team slogan, they are performing a ceremonial ritual designed to harmonize. There’s really little difference between those types of sports ceremonies and an OM circle. (Although I believe the OM circle is actually the fastest and easiest way to harmonize a group of people).

Proof of God’s Existence

Religions are all rivers flowing to the same sea.

All matter is made of energy, and energy systems can harmonize (tune up). When you hug or kiss someone, your two energy fields (auras) are joined into a single field. Likewise, when you sit at family dinner, the family can harmonize into a single energy field and that’s one reason why family dinners can be crucial in raising well-adjusted children. The earth is a self-regulating energy system. Since my definition of god is “everything” and I believe there’s an energy field created by everything, I have no doubt of god’s existence. In Native American terms, the Great Spirit flows through all things. It makes no difference what name you put on this energy field, the fact it’s there is proof that it exists. I can’t really accept the concept of god as a white-haired gentleman who sits in the clouds with angels around him and sends people to heaven or hell.