Chef Ra Escapes Babylon

Tom Forcade had multiple film projects in the works when he committed suicide. He’d recently bought controlling interest of a smuggling project, and went to show a rough cut to Robert Evans in Hollywood. Forcade had just paid an editor to whip the chaotic footage into a story. He put a lot of effort into trying to make sense of that footage, some of which involved footage of a real smuggling operation, but Evans sadly told him the edit still wasn’t working.

Apparently, Forcade’s moves into Hollywood contributed to two things: cocaine and guns. According to Gabrielle Schang, Forcade didn’t carry a pistol until after being introduced around Hollywood. He’d been a dealer and distributor and magazine publisher, but was also branching into smuggling and film at the same time. His most precious documentary project involved filming the Sex Pistols historic tour of America. Forcade bought a plane and sent Jack Combs on a mission. He never recovered from Jack’s fatal crash at the end of that ill-fated mission. And that also ended any High Times forays into the film world until I arrived.

Before coming to High Times, I’d launched a moderately successful film project called Beat Street, and never lost sight of expanding my efforts into the world of film and video. When prosumer equipment finally reached the realms of the masses, I began documenting everything, quickly evolving into the most video-centric magazine editor on the national stage. I shot thousands of hours of footage, and often assembled 7-person crews to do four-camera edits with live switching of my major events. All this was working towards the creation of a counterculture television network.

The first project I pitched to the trustees was a Chef Ra travel guide to Jamaica. I was creating an entire galaxy of High Times stars and Ra was intended to be one of the brightest.

Imagine my surprise when the trustees tell me they are putting up thousands of dollars to make the Chef Ra film. That was the good news. The bad news was the project was being given to the aspiring filmmaker son of the head trustee. I didn’t get to play any role in the film until the end. They spent a week in Jamaica and shot a lot of random footage and needed Ra to help work it into a story.

That’s not the best way to make a great documentary and it showed in the final product. But it remains the best portrait of Jim Wilson we have, and since Jim co-wrote the script used to stitch the scenes together, it carries his creativity and compassion.

Freedom Fighter Reunion?

Back in 1987, the marijuana rally scene had long since faded away, and it wasn’t until a group called the Freedom Fighters appeared that the modern rally scene took off. That’s because in the late 1970s, the media was using smoke-ins to mine images of hippies smoking joints in public, and these images were greatly alarming mainstream America, and were helping turn people against legalization.

Because it was so difficult to distinguish hippies from burnt-out drug fiends on looks alone, NORML began a policy of not supporting smoke-ins. It was the birth of what became known as “the suits versus the stoners.”

I thought it was a silly policy by NORML because you can’t have a culture if you don’t congregate and hold ceremonies. So when I got a letter from some students at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor saying their legendary Hash Bash founded by John Sinclair was down to less than a dozen die-hards and about to die, I took action by creating the High Times Freedom Fighters.

The concept of wearing tricorner hats and Colonial outfits was to help carry the new message about hemp and our founding fathers, while also costuming the members so that their appearance could not be held against them. The Freedom Fighters became instant magnets at every rally because news crews seek people in colorful costumes. Members were trained to start talking about George Washington and hemp as soon as any cameras were rolling on them.

To encourage participation, members were given pins at every rally they attended and there was even one letter-writing campaign where you could get a pin with a blue Liberty Bell for every response you got from Congress. John Birrenbach gathered so many responses his tricorn became smothered in pins. I didn’t initially realize the implications of what we were doing, but the magic began manifesting on a big scale right away, and the costumes and Betsy Ross flags were certainly helping.

Within two years, the Freedom Fighters became the largest legalization group in the country and only required $15 to get a lifetime membership that included the Freedom Fighter Newsletter edited by Linda Noel, who was the original brains behind the Boston Freedom Rally. From their inception, the Freedom Fighters were wired into my Cannabis Cup, and a member elected by open council to attend the Cup all-expenses paid every year, an honor won by luminaries like Jack Herer and Gatewood Galbraith. It was bizarre when High Times told me to give up the organization saying it conflicted with my editorial duties. I’d amassed a volunteer army of over 10,000 members, and many were enthusiastic supporters pouring immense energy into creating new rallies and other cannabis events all over the country. It was certainly snowballing.
This background is all in the way of announcing my hope that someday a Freedom Fighter reunion takes place at the Hash Bash and Rodger and I are put in charge of a few of the ceremonies.

May the circle keep on tokin'

chefraDedicated to James “Chef Ra” Wilson
G                                                 G7
I was standing by my window
………C                           G
On a cold and cloudy day
………………………………Em
When I saw Chef Ra a-skating
…………..G                D7        G
Come to carry my blues away.

 

G                                               G7
May the circle keep on tokin’
…………….C                           G
Bye and bye Ra, bye and bye
……………………………….Em
There’s a better world awaiting
…………G         D7         G
In the sky Ra, oh so high.
G                                                         G7
Well, I noticed, the town was lonely
………..C                         G
For Chef Ra, he had gone
………………………………Em
All his friends, we were cryin’
………….G            D7            G
For we felt so sad and alone.
G                                               G7
May the circle keep on tokin’
………….C                      G
And get high, oh, so high
…………………………….Em
There’s a better time awaiting
……….G           D7              G
In the sky, with Ra, so high.
G                                      G7
Undertaker, undertaker
……………..C                             G
Won’t you please drive by slow
……………………………..Em
For that man you are a-haulin’
………….G         D7           G
We so hate to see him go.
G                                               G7
May the circle keep on tokin’
………….C                             G
And get high, Ra, oh so high
………………………………Em
There’s a better world awaiting
…………G       D7            G
In the sky Ra, in the sky.


The First Hip Hop Journalist

Talk to me about being raised in Illinois and how you became a writer.
I started a fanzine in 7th Grade and by the 11th I was publishing my own underground newspaper called The Tin Whistle distributed to four high schools, and banned at all of them.

My hippie newspaper published six issues in 1968. The schools in Illinois were very racist and polarized at the time, but my newspaper led a movement for recognizing black student rights among other campaigns. We were able to elect the first black student council president in the history of Urbana High School, and he did a lot to heal the broken race relations. His name was James “Chef Ra” Wilson and he taught me a lot about ceremony. We both ended up going to the first Woodstock festival, then he went to Jamaica and became an early Bob Marley devotee. We worked on many projects for decades until one Christmas Day when his heart exploded while he was sleeping.

What was your entry into hip hop?
I moved to New York at the end of 1979. My roommate Jeff Peisch was into the music scene and working at Record World Magazine with Nelson George, and he gave me a promo copy of These are the Breaks by Kurtis Blow. Shortly after that, I went to the New York/New Wave art exhibition curated by Diego Cortez, and was astounded by a subway train titled Break by Futura 2000. The connection between the song and the mural made me realize something was going on and nobody was covering it. As a young reporter, it looked like an opening.

What was the first article on hip hop that you read that changed the game for you? Who wrote it? How did you hear about it?
For over a year I didn’t read anyone’s articles. There were none. I only wrote my own. There were a couple of photographers on the scene, Martha Cooper, Henry Chalfant, but I was the only journalist. Most of the coverage aside from me was coming out of England. But they weren’t on the ground and going to any parties, just reviewing records and sometimes interviewing acts if anyone came to England, which was rare early on.

What was the first magazine/newspaper publication that you heard about just focused on hip hop? Did that inspire you to write for it?
There were no magazines until after Run DMC. I guess The Source was the first big one that went all hip hop, although Phase 2 had a fantastic fanzine he was self-publishing for years. I had long since stopped covering hip hop when The Source appeared.

Who were you looking up to as far as writing?
The journalists who most influenced me were Calvin Tompkins, George Orwell, Hunter S. Thompson and Tom Wolfe.

Do you call yourself a hip hop journalist?
I sometimes call myself the first hip hop journalist, because in the early days I was the only professional reporter on the scene. But I have 30 books and only three are on hip hop, and all those concern only the first generation from 1974 to 1984.

How did you feel when your name was on the cover of The Village Voice for your cover with the words “hip hop” on it?
Bambaataa coined the term and focused the culture. I just told his story. It took the Voice half a year to print it, although it was “accepted” immediately. I was enraged they held it so long because I was afraid someone was going to break the story, but fortunately, after endless phone calls and threats to publish elsewhere, they finally put it on the schedule.

You were able to make a major impact in how we receive hip hop through your writing and Beat Street. Did you ever have any intention to impact the culture the way you did?
If only my script had been used, it was the real thing. The movie was a great disappointment. Only the dance crews and some of the rap performances saved it. The plot was completely whack. I didn’t recognize any South Bronx people I knew and wrote about.

Who was your favorite artist interview?
In the world of hip hop I am closest with Grandmaster Caz, Coke La Rock and Busy Bee. In fact, we are all members of a secret society called The Pot Illuminati and hold ceremonies upon occasion. Those are three of the greatest storytellers in hip hop, and also three of the most overlooked people in hip hop’s history.

Who was the 1st person that you heard of calling themselves a hip hop journalist? What opened up for you because of it?
By the time hip hop went global and hip hop journalism was born, I was long gone and had no interest in the gangsta rap that came up in a huge wave to displace the political fervor of Public Enemy. I only did research on the first generation, from Kool Herc to Funky Four to Furious Five to Treacherous Three to the Cold Crush Brothers. And I also covered graffiti and some of the original dance crews. I was in a rock band in the sixties, and after rap got commercialized, I formed a garage band and played three-chord-rock for a decade. Being around hip hop inspired me to get back to my own musical heritage. Although I did one hip hop performance early on as a deejay with Jeff Peisch rapping and David Bither (now of Nonesuch Records) on saxophone. Between the three of us we had enough talent to give the soon-to-emerge Beasties Boys a run, but it was just a one-off goof. But David blew the lid off that party as I recall, with me scratching up some hip hop anthem.

What was the first article you wrote about hip hop?
A biography on Futura 2000 for the New York Daily News. After that I had my Voice cover story, followed by one more Voice story. Then I wrote three articles for the Soho Weekly News. And then a couple stories for the East Village Eye. Then I sold Beat Street and published my book, Hip Hop. Then I stopped covering hip hop and not a single hip hop magazine ever asked me to write anything or even gave me props for blazing the trail, although everyone was reading my book to find out how it all started. Most of the people I was hanging with never got props either, like Coke La Rock. Virtually nobody knows him, yet he was right there with Herc when it all happened and playing a major role. My book went out of print really fast and copies started selling for $500 for years.

Whats your experience with publications?
I prefer to self-publish and maintain control over my work.

Who are some rappers you that you feel changed the game for hip hop?
Grandmaster Caz elevated rapping with his comedy and complex story lines and Melle Mel elevated lyrics to high art with those lines in Superappin’ that became the best part of The Message. In fact, my version of Beat Street (called Looking for the Perfect Beat) was built around the political awakening of a kid in the South Bronx who moves from partying to seeing-the-big-picture. When Run/DMC landed, they brought back the original first generation style of staying hard and giving no quarter, something the original scene had drifted away from.

Remembering Bobby Faust

I’ve met many magic characters in my time, but Bobby Faust and Chef Ra really stand out as the two of the most powerful bodhisattvas I’ve known.
Apparently, Bobby descended into gloom a few years ago after being confined to a wheel chair, but a new pain management specialist lifted his spirits a month ago, and suddenly, he was his old self and contacting people and posting his favorite personal photos on facebook. He posted my Whee utility belt from Whee! 2, and I sent him a link to my latest ebook. The next day he messaged to say he was “blown away” by this manifesto on Bitcoin, and I could tell Bobby was knee-deep in the Bitcoin Revolution and ready to invest. Bobby and I had parted ways on his Y2K apocalypse theory many years ago, when I advised him: “The apocaplyse is always greatly exaggerated.”

Bobby was one of the greatest story tellers I’ve known, and his favorite story involved a trip to Levon Helm’s estate in Woodstock (the same place I went to buy my home). Until he passed away two years ago, Levon was the central spirit of that famous town—Jerry Garcia of the Catskills. One day, Bobby went to visit Levon and discovered him playing basketball with Joe Walsh and Keith Richards. Upon seeing Bobby arriving, Lee tossed him the ball and said, “Show ’em what you got, Bobby.” Now Bobby was never very good at basketball. In fact, it was his worst sport. But that day Bobby summoned up all this chi, and swished five baskets in a row. In fact, he made seven out of ten before Lee let him take a break. And you know what? That’s the last time Bobby ever touched a basketball.

There were several hilarious stories like that one being shared yesterday, many involved his dog Boogie, or his frequent disarming of police and/or firemen, or taking heroic amounts of psychedelics, but one story I neglected to share that I treasure involved Ken Kesey and Mountain Girl.

Bobby was my right hand at the Whee! 2, my eyes and ears at Mission Control as 6/22 and I patrolled the campground independently. After the festival, the Temple Dragons were invited by Kesey and Mountain Girl to visit Mountain Girl’s house—provided we didn’t shoot any video. (I was a bit video crazy during the Whee phase because I wanted to document the ceremonies we were manifesting. In fact, Bobby was a key member of the video crew.)

We were all sitting on Mountain Girl’s patio, probably sharing a joint, when Kesey began busting on Ina May’s speech concerning nipple phobia. Both Bobby and I immediately rose to defend Ina May, but I stepped back and just let Bobby take charge of the situation. “We luuuuuv, Ina May,” crooned Bobby. I could tell Kesey would probably never speak ill of her again, even in jest, so great was Bobby’s power. But that’s the sort of energy any bodhisattva carries around, I guess.

Sometimes magic starts itself

Before I arrived at High Times, I’d spent over a year working on a book about the East Village art scene, examining the art clubs. Art After Midnight goes for around $100 today, although you can buy an updated digital version on smashwords with new illos and photos for under $5. There was a lot of hybridization going on in the 1980s, with punk meeting hip hop and both invading the art world from different fronts. Both styles emanated out of the 1960s counterculture and both found the mainstream too soft.

So I was in a Club 57 frame of mind, where camp becomes a wilderness of mirrors, when I arrived at High Times and just to pass the time, started a column called My Amerika by Ed Hassle, a tribute to Ed Anger of the Weekly World News. I always thought the supermarket tabloids were run as propaganda tools by the CIA, but Anger was an obvious comedy act who made fun of right wing views by taking them to their illogical conclusions.

Bill Kelly, my favorite deejay used to read from his column on his Sunday show. Funny thing, Bill was a big reason I diverted into forming the Soul Assassins. I was hanging out with the first generation of hip hop and inspired by their do-it-yourself energy. I could have formed a rap band I guess, or just become a hip hop journalist for the rest of my life and made a fortune like Nelson George. Instead I veered into garage rock? Maybe because I’d been kicked out of my first garage band for doing LSD in 1967 and never got to finish perfecting my garage rock set. Then I met Brian Spaeth and he’d been kicked out of the Fleshtones, the reigning garage kings of NYC. So I guess we both had something to prove.

Funny thing, after Ed Hassle called for the formation of a new movement called The Freedom Fighters, a hemp movement that would bring back the big pot rallies from the late 1960s (most of these events had died out) it began as a joke really, but when the issue came out, the concept took off like wild-fire, and I realized I had a tiger by the tale. Before long, I was touring around the country, playing with my band in front of tens of thousands of cheering fans, and giving speeches about legalization with Chef RA and Jack Herer at every stop. And afterwards, we’d head back to the campground and eat Ra’s Rasta Pasta, sip Budweiser and pass spliffs until late into the night while the Assassinettes danced around the fire with a full moon beaming down. See, I was trained in “Happenings” by the likes of Jasper Grootveld, Julian Beck, John Cage, and Ken Kesey, so I had a sense of the magic involved in changing people’s perceptions on a massive scale, as well as the techniques for manifesting that sort of magic.

Funny how the natural elements always seemed to be working against us, not to mention all those undercover cop cars that dogged us everywhere. The first time we left New York in our magic bus, we got stranded by a freak snow storm high in the Pennsylvania mountains. Much later, returning from the first Freedom Fighter National Convention, we got lost in a monsoon and a screaming fight broke out about which way to go. When the bus finally got back to our motel, I kissed the ground. But we lost Rodger, who had all the weed, as he couldn’t take the smell of hard liquor on some of us and disappeared never to trust us fully again. And then the party turned into a binge drinking bash with no weed in which our energy unraveled and we lost harmonization. We’d broken up and lost our Assassinettes, not to mention Brian, Bob and Rick. And the vibe just wasn’t the same without them.

In search of the true hippie avatar

Jim Wilson (wearing beret).

The first real-life shaman I met was a kid my age named James Wilson, who became an activist for peace while in high school. Jim was inspired by music and had filled his bedroom with Jimi Hendrix posters long before he discovered psychedelics. He liked the new styles that were coming out and his biggest influence and role model soon became Fred Hampton, who was still alive when Jim made his transformation, but sadly was assassinated by the Chicago police some months later. Fred had recently been named Chairman of the Black Panther Party after ending the gang wars in Chicago, and was steering the organization towards non-violence when Jim suddenly began looking like a Black Panther. Jim went on a mission to single-handedly heal our school’s considerable racial divides and largely accomplished the mission by becoming Senior Class President (the first black in our school’s history to achieve this honor), and by organizing education and harmonization ceremonies. Back then, nobody realized Jim was doing magic. We didn’t know he was a natural shaman. Later he would transform into the Great Chef Ra and it would become obvious.

Wavy, Abbie and Paul at Woodstock.

In 1969, Jim and I both ended up at Woodstock, and he was the first person I knew who I ran into. He was standing at the gates, watching people stream in with a huge glowing smile. I’d never seen Jim so happy. We all felt the vibes of arriving in New Jerusalem. And, of course, we’d get to study some of the grandmasters of our culture up close, like Wavy Gravy, Abbie Hoffman and Paul Krassner. The Pranksters arrived with the magic bus, but not with Kesey, who was certainly my biggest role model at the time. Kesey was hiding out in Mexico as he wished to avoid the fate of Timothy Leary, who’d been railroaded into a lengthy prison sentence for possession of a few seeds of cannabis on the floor of his vehicle. At Woodstock, I came into contact with Wavy’s style, as he seemed to have a handle on the type of magic I wanted to manifest. He’d been studying improvisation under Viola Spolin. Wavy, like Jim, understood the importance of costumes in ceremonies.

Jasper Grootveld.

A couple years after Woodstock, I got introduced to Jasper Grootveld of Amsterdam and became utterly fascinated, especially since Jasper had started the Happenings, of which I was a great student (and especially since John Cage did his biggest Happenings in my humble town of Champaign-Urbana, Illinois). John Cage was into monster displays of energy and media, similar to the Pranksters, while Jasper dressed like an African medicine man and used zero technology in his rituals. Jasper claimed his ceremonies were self-promotional, but they often carried a political message. Most of the time he railed against the tobacco companies and encouraged cannabis consumption as a more healthy alternative. He’d been a journalist briefly and sent by his editor to interview a New Age cult leader who claimed to be god. While Grootveld was interrogating him, the cult leader asked, “what do you believe in?” This stumped Grootveld for a minute, and finally he came up with, “I believe in Sinterklaas [Santa Claus].”

Many decades later, I’d discover Santa is really the Scythian father god that inspired Zoroastrianism, which in turn influenced Judaism, Christianity and Islam. It replaced the pagan pantheons with a dialectical balance between two divine forces, one creator, one destroyer. In earlier times, Santa had a scary sidekick who punished the wicked. In Holland, this devil figure morphed into an African toddler named Zwarte Piet (Black Peter), while in America the sidekick morphed into magic elves. But in the earliest Scythian versions, the sidekick role may have started as a large bird. The Scythians were famous for domesticating birds and animals.

Grootveld began promoting “Klaas is coming!,” while dressed as Zwarte Piet and wearing blackface. Gradually, this ceremony took on his anti-tobacco message. When he began holding public exorcisms at a small statue erected by the Dutch tobacco industry, teens from all over Amsterdam began attending. Eventually, this would manifest the Dutch Provo movement, certainly one of the most enlightened emanations of our time.

Ina May & Stephen Gaskin.

I also learned a lot about magic from Ina May and Stephen Gaskin, who I knew about from Sunday Morning Services in Golden Gate Park back in the late sixties. Stephen had studied most of the major spiritual texts from the East, and could translate difficult concepts into easy-to-understand English. Both had interesting upbringings as their fathers were Masons of the 33rd degree. At age twelve, Stephen was inducted in DeMolay, but would soon reject Masonry for a synthesis of various cultures centered on non-violence. He was a former Marine, however, and believed unruly teens sometimes required a trip to the woodshed to straighten out their path. Ina May inspired the global midwife movement, sharing long forgotten insights on the importance of telepathic vibrations, some of which had been learned after helping deliver home births while tripping.

While I never met John Griggs, founder of the Brotherhood of Eternal Love,  I now believe he may have been the nearest thing to a true hippie avatar, and like many avatars, he had died young, at the zenith of his creative powers, certainly a tragic loss for the world. John’s heart was immense. James put me on the path of political action, the Pranksters put me on the path of fun, Stephen put me on the path of philosophy, but Griggs put me on the path of unconditional love. It’s strange how some of the most important figures in the history of the counterculture remain unknown and uncelebrated, and John Griggs would be the prime example.

Which is why I think it’s so incredible that I discovered yet another aspiring hippie messiah: Father Yod, founder of the Source Family. Who knows, I may have even run into some of them at a Rainbow Gathering over the last 20 years, but had no idea the manifestations of this hippie saint and his flock. Yod was doing improvisational ritual theater pretty much non-stop and he mixed up many spiritual styles, similar to what I was doing for 25 years in my own humble fashion, organizing ceremonies like the original Cannabis Cups and Whee! festivals. You can watch the amazing documentary on the Source Family on Netflix. Once when the family needed funds, he successfully robbed a few banks, crimes that were not uncovered until after his death.

John Griggs.

The biggest problem with attempts to forge a hippie religion was the tremendous pressure put on the leaders. The more spiritual the group became, the more pressure. Many commune founders went off the deep end with egomania or they began taking advantage of people because they had too much power over their flocks. Or the communes went on a ‘kill the guru” phase like what happened to Stephen.

My ceremonies are always improvisational, and everyone is equal, although some are naturally more creatively talented, we can all crank the ceremonial vibes (or try to bring those vibes down).

One day Father Yod began telling his flock he was God. Soon, he woke up, called the family together, and said, “I lied. I am not God. We are all God.” Then he decided to take flight on a hand-glider with no training, crashed and was carried into the house. Although the injuries did not seem life-threatening, he passed over to the beyond nine hours later. There is an important parable in this story.

The greatest thing about Ra is even though he never lost his counterculture flamboyance, he always retained his humility, and refused to surround himself with sycophants like Old Carlo and so many other self-styled counterculture gurus.

It was only late in the quest that I uncovered an important insight: the true avatars reveal themselves through their creative powers, which is when I decided Bob Marley was the true hippie avatar, as well as Bob Dylan and John Lennon.

Moral of the story: Don’t follow leaders, watch the parking meters. I can’t really recommend LSD or any other synthetics as I have seen the devastation they caused to a few, and because you never know what is really in pills or powders. I advise people to stick with plants in their most natural forms and remember, very often the less you do, the higher you get.

The Chain Whipping Incident

Did you know the world’s only hippie memorial is located along the Illinois Central train tracks in Arcola, Illinois? The town I grew up in was actually a hotbed of radical activity in the 1960s. The fledgling Students for Democratic Society (SDS) picked Urbana, Illinois, in fact, as the site for their 1965 conference, and hundreds of members arrived from all around the country. Soon, we had the state’s best garage band, The Finchley Boys, as well as the country’s greatest experimental artist, John Cage, both performing in our little community 120 miles south of Chicago. We also had the first landmark performance of a masterpiece called “MacBird!” which theorized JFK had been murdered and President Johnson was an accomplice in the crime.

Jim “Chef Ra” Wilson was my high school senior class president, the first black elected to that position. He organized the first black appreciation celebration in the history of Urbana High. It was held late at night and included free soul food and a series of performances by notable black musicians who were also students at the school.

My best friend Larry Green, recently arrived from Baltimore, somehow became one of the star attractions of the evening by commanding a gaggle of black girls around him at all times, all constantly cracking up at his improv performances. The alpha chick among them was also the girlfriend of the star of the show, who played keyboards and sang, among many other talents. I remember him from the stage suddenly stopping the show to ask his girl what she was doing with her arm around Larry Green’s neck? Somehow, Larry turned that all around into a big belly laugh and the performance went on. I don’t know if any long-term inter-racial relationships were born that night, but it certainly was a wonderfully healing ceremony for all who attended and I hope we left many of our fellow black students with a sense of our appreciation for their culture, despite the institutionalized racism that had afflicted the school up until then and the fact few of us would actually try the chitlins.

Jim’s ceremonies would continue to evolve and mature as he grew up. One of his best was his annual appearance in the July 4th parade, which wound its way through much of the town before culminating at the football stadium, where the state’s largest fireworks display would be set off come darkness. Jim could often be found in some wild, colorful outfit, roller-skating through the entire parade route and doing circles and stunts the whole way. He was well over 6 foot tall, and had placed third in the state high jump his senior year so his athletic abilities were unparalleled.

In 1968, someone applied for a permit for anti-Vietnam war demonstrators to march in the annual parade and the permit was duly granted on grounds of free speech after a brief court battle even though members of the town councils wanted it denied as un-American and inappropriate. We happened to be driving past Green Street when the protestors were attacked by a gang of men wearing hard-hats, some of whom wielded clubs and chains. Jim Cole, leader of the Finchley Boys, was one of the protestors and would later describe grabbing a fist aimed at his face and then realizing it belonged to someone he knew quite well. I really felt I’d missed out on something exciting, but I wasn’t much of a street fighter anyway. My time, however, was soon coming.

Later that day, I was hitchhiking with Larry and Carole. Carole, at this point, had become Larry’s girl friend.  I’d already read “The Sun Also Rises” so the part of discarded ex-lover who hangs on for dear life had already been portrayed as a noble cause. Whenever I saw films like “Butch Cassady and the Sundance Kid,” I immediately recognized my role.

Anyway, a white car slowed to a stop. “We’ll take the girl, but we won’t take you,” said a dude in the backseat, whose mouth seemed full of marbles. He had a southern, redneck accent and was barely understandable. I looked inside the car and noticed some guys in uniform and thought I saw a hardhat on one of the seats.

“Would you like to ride with these guys?” I asked Carole, who, of course, said, “No.”

As I was explaining the situation, the dude in the shotgun seat reached down on the floor and produced a steel chain. He opened the car door and I began backing away from the car, while holding Larry and Carole behind me. But we couldn’t back up fast enough for the dude swung that four-foot chain and it whipped around my side while he began yelling about his contempt for long-haired hippies like me. At this point, my only thought was to get Carole out of there before the other three dudes got out of the car and tried to abduct her. She seemed to be the real center of interest in all situations, so I grabbed her arm and yelled, “Run!”

Meanwhile, Larry, stepped around me and confronted this dude. Larry had the supreme confidence he could talk his way out of any situation as well as being somewhat fearless. Larry probably began with some comment like: “Hey, now wait a minute, this doesn’t call for violence…” Meanwhile I was already halfway around the house wondering why Larry hadn’t taken off running with us when I yelled “Run!.” Although I couldn’t see what was happening, I soon surmised that Larry had been pushed into a large bush and beaten on his back a couple times with the chain.

Some guardian angel appeared out of no where, claiming to be a Vietnam War Vet. The dude beating on Larry was talking about the war while he was beating on him. And this Vet wanted him to know that all Vets didn’t feel like him and that he should leave Larry alone and let him go. Carole, meanwhile, refused to stay hidden on the other side of the house with me since she was delirious with concern over Larry.

Eventually the three of us re-united and the car drove off. Back at her house, Carole scolded me pretty harshly for running away from the scene and abandoning Larry like that after he tried to stick up for me. But we got over it pretty quick and headed back to Campus-town, where everyone was hanging out in front of Turk’s Head. Larry showed off his chain marks for all to see while we recounted the story of our adventures. Much later than night, while I was alone in the bathroom, I would finally notice the chain welts across my own back.