Thoughts on 420 Eve

The first reference to 420 I ever saw was a flyer handed out at an Oakland Grateful Dead show that was designed to pull people across the Bay to participate in a 4:20 pm ceremony on Mt. Tam on April 20th. A short blurb was published in the news section of High Times in May, 1991, which, strangely, did not mention I had announced to my staff that 420 was proof of cannabis spirituality. From the day I saw that flyer, I began organizing 420 ceremonies in earnest, and the big ones were held by the national hemp legalization group I’d started a year earlier called The Freedom Fighters. There were 420 ceremonies at the Freedom Fighter conventions and at the Freedom Fighter encampments at the Rainbow Gatherings, both the regional in Ocala, Florida, as well as the Nationals.

The first 420 ceremony at the Cannabis Cup was in 1993 simply because after founding the Cup, I did not return to the event for four years, stung by comments that I’d created the event only as a excuse to get high, and not as a serious event. The Cannabis Cup 4:20 pm ceremony began as an open council that everyone attending the Cup was invited to. Council always began with an OM, the ancient prayer from the far east that harmonizes people. I’ve done a lot of research into the origins of the “OM” and come to the conclusion it was created by the Sakka’s (Scythians) and moved around the world. OM has two sounds, the “O” rings the rib cage, and the “M” (also known as a y-buzz) rings the facial bones and skull. I also believe “Amen” is a western adaptation of the eastern “OM.” After the OM, we’d pass Eagle Bill’s Native American wooden staff (in place of a feather), and the person who held the staff was allowed to speak. In this manner we discussed how to move forward with the Cup and our ceremonies. In 1994, Eagle Bill was the master of ceremonies and high priest of 420 council. Later, this function was taken over by whatever counterculture icon we were honoring. For example, when Bob Marley was inducted in our hall of fame, Rita Marley was the high priestess, and Ras Menelik was the high priest.

By 1995, there were numerous 420 pm and am ceremonies taking place at the Cannabis Cup. All the am ceremonies were held in the lobby of the Quentin Hotel, where the staff and performers stayed. I didn’t really organize 4:20 am ceremonies. The Temple Dragon Crew (protectors of the Cannabis Cup) began organizing those. Basically dozens of people would show up and chant and sing for hours until 4:20 am, and then everyone would line-up under a big clock in the lobby of the Quentin Hotel and have their picture taken at exactly 4:20. When I found out the crew was doing this, I joined that ceremony. I would credit Rocker T as a primary instigator of the 420 am’s.

The biggest 420 am celebration was always the night of the awards show, as many would return to the States the next day and usually there was a lot of cannabis left to consume. Entire kolas would be set on fire in the hotel lobby and passed around and sniffed. Later on, the crew took slabs of waterhash and used them as papers, filling the insides with cannabis. Those hash/weed joints were each worth hundreds of dollars and would be consumed in a matter of a few minutes.

The Waldos contacted the Cannabis Cup in 1997. This is the same year 420 starts at Boulder, Colorado, although some try to claim there were 420 ceremonies in Boulder prior to 1997, I’d like to see some proof of those claims before I’ll swallow that story. I published the true origins of 420 in High Times after meeting the Waldos in 1998, around the same time I created the WHEE! festival in Oregon, which was ten times bigger than the Cup. Whee!, like the Cannabis Cup, used 420 as the central ceremony of the event.

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.

 

Who is Steven Hager?

I’m a writer, journalist, filmmaker, event producer and counterculture and cannabis activist, and was born and raised in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois.

My first start-up was in 1965. I created The Cap’n Crunch Courier, a humor xerox zine given away free at Urbana Junior High. Three years later, I created The Tin Whistle, a monthly newspaper eventually distributed in four high schools in Central Illinois. I obtained a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Theater (Playwriting) and a Masters of Science in Journalism, both from the University of Illinois. After graduation, I moved to New York City, worked for a number of magazines before becoming a reporter for the New York Daily News. During this time, I began researching the hip hop movement of the South Bronx and sold my original story Beat Street to Harry Belafonte, and the film with the same name was distributed by Orion Pictures. In 1984, St. Martins’ Press released my book, Hip Hop, the first history of rap music, break dancing and graffiti art. I followed that book with Art After Midnight, an examination of the New York club scene and its influence on artists, primarily Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring and Kenny Scharf.

In 1988, I was hired as editor of High Times magazine where I created the Cannabis Cup, the world’s most famous cannabis awards ceremony, and the Freedom Fighters, the first hemp legalization group. I also created a garage-rock revival band called the Soul Assassins (check out the music at http://theoriginalsoulassassins….). In 1990 I began promoting 420 as a counterculture ceremony and played a leading role in spreading the 420 phenomenon around the globe. For 15 years, I regularly appeared at college campuses as part of a debate on the legalization of cannabis, alongside former New York DEA chief Robert Stutman. The event, known as “Heads versus Feds,” began in 2001 and visited more than 350 colleges in fifteen years, regularly drawing standing-room crowds. Bob and I became known as “The Ultimate Odd Couple,” and have became friends despite the cultural gap between us.

The national hemp group I created in the late 1980s, The Freedom Fighters, held council at 4:20 PM for years before the numerology caught on and we successfully snatched the flag and Liberty Boy spirit from President Reagan (until the Tea Party snatched it back decades later). I blogged very little for the first year or so, but a couple years into it, I began using the blog primarily to share my deep political research. Some recently told me my title had become misleading because it’s not a blog about cannabis per se, although the disappearance of cannabis from religion is the major conspiracy I’m currently researching. Just a long-winded explanation for why I changed the blog name today. The tin or penny whistle was one of the most inexpensive melodic instruments invented and sold for a penny in England in the nineteenth century. It’s appropriate because I am a whistleblower on intel’s Tin Foil Hat Patrol. And please don’t get scared by the truth. The oligarchies have been running the show since the dawn of civilization, and true democracy may never appear in our time, but that doesn’t mean we can’t chart a course for future generations to follow. Without an understanding of political realities, there is no enlightenment. And enlightenment is fun.

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