The first documentary on the emerging hemp movement

Modern life is evolving so fast it’s hard to imagine the vibes going down 30 years ago. Which is why it’s so entertaining to check out a documentary I produced early in the 1990s titled Let Freedom Ring: the Origins of the Hemp Movement. It came out just after my discovery of 420, but three years after I’d created the Freedom Fighters with the help of Rodger Belknap of West Virginia, who quickly became our organization’s chief funder and spiritual advisor.

The Freedom Fighters went from a handful of High Times staffers to the biggest cannabis legalization group in the world in two years, while the Ann Arbor Hash Bash went from a dozen hardcore devotees to many thousands cramming the diag at the University of Michigan. Marching into rallies in our Freedom Fighter outfits was the ritual that helped galvanize a national movement.

Shortly after the film was released, however, Rodger was railroaded into jail, while High Times forced me to disband the group, allegedly because NORML was unhappy about the competition, which seemed weird since our newsletter had been recognizing and supporting NORML chapters from inception, and many Freedom Fighter state groups were also affiliated with NORML, including the chapter in Boston that created the Boston Freedom Rally.

Our big campaign was bringing activists together for major rallies. We organized free campgrounds with free food and a free bus ride to the rally. When Rodger asked me what was needed for the organization, I told him we needed a school bus and council tipi. Within a few weeks we had both and took off for the Rainbow Gathering in Ocala, Florida, where I flew a High Times flag and nobody cared.

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.

The Bronx Crusaders

BronxCrusaderslogo

I had a period that lasted less than a year when I was considered a hot, emerging screenwriter. Of course, as soon as Beat Street came out, that myth evaporated because even though the movie did ok, the script was awful, not that they used a word of my dialogue—in fact they didn’t keep anything but the characters’ names.

But there were a few months when I got to know what it feels like to be constantly courted for one project or another. I started working on a couple of treatments before Beat Street came out, one was the story of Frankie Lyman and the Teenagers that I was working on with a young black director, and the other was a comedy about the South Bronx, featuring a parody of Curtis Sliwa battling a local crack-head drug lord.

At the time, I was working on Art After Midnight with art director Flick Ford, and Flick had a business partner named Rob Taub, who was also a comedian who was dying to work on a project with me. Curtis Sliwa had just emerged at the time and I thought his organization, The Guardian Angels, was ripe material for satire. Curtis created an unarmed citizen militia that began riding the NYC subways in uniforms to make the passengers feel safe again and provide a free emergency response team. Before that he managed a McDonald’s in the South Bronx. Curtis turned out to be quite savvy about manipulating public events to promote his all-volunteer force. Who knows, maybe Curtis even inspired me a little, because within in a few years I’d create my own emergency response volunteer force, The Freedom Fighters, the first hemp legalization organization in America, founded by me and Jack Herer just three years later.

Imagine my surprise when five years later, I end up going on the road to major college campuses for a few years debating Sliwa on the issue of marijuana legalization, which he was against naturally. Curtis’s favorite phrase was “sensory mind wing ding,” which was his term for a hippie pothead. We got along great as Curtis is a charming guy and not exactly the Archie Bunker character he plays on stage and when he’s on the radio, although he can lapse into one of those rants anytime, it is often mostly for comic effect.

imagesThe cops really hated Sliwa, though. In fact, some of them hated him so much they hired the mob to rub him out. The hit was supposed to take place while he was locked in the back of a taxi cab and everything went off as planned, except Curtis jumped around so much in the back seat they only managed to plug him a few times in the gut. Somehow, he got out of that cab and got to hospital and spent years trying to track down the mobsters and cops who set him up. My impression of Curtis certainly improved after he showed his mettle in this incident, although the media tried to play it like maybe Curtis invented the whole story? Yeah, sure, Curtis shot himself a few times so he could blame it on the cops? Not very likely.

But that film script, Bronx Crusaders? That went out to Hollywood where the bigwigs said “it’s not funny.” See, Len Bias had just died and coke was now considered something you couldn’t joke about, even though I always thought cokeheads were pretty funny. The execs were all rushing into treatment programs. I mean, Cheech and Chong made millions poking fun at potheads, why can’t we have a classic cokehead comedy to match up against Scarface?

Unfortunately, that media company Flick and Rob started was working with all the big corporations at the time and initially very successful, but didn’t survive the rapid technological changes that were on the horizon. In fact, the failure of that business created a cascade of tragedies, the foremost of which was the breakup of Flick’s first marriage. I even trace the dissolution of the wonderful Soul Assassins, who would have been famous had Little Steven’s Underground Garage only been around at the time, with that same spiral of doom, as John McNaughton would say.

I found the treatment for the Bronx Crusaders and was thinking about putting it up for free on Smashwords if anyone wants to check it out. I guess there’s still hope for some of these projects I once tried to manifest.

Enter Juicy Lucy

Our third gig was Kimona’s friend’s swan-song, as she left town very shortly thereafter. The original Assassinates had been great, but after disharmony set in, we dissolved the group and started over. Kimona 117 and Abby were on a different level and both brought their unique and considerable talents to the table. You can also see that Kimoma is all rocked-out and in full garage goddess mode by her first gig. In fact, I’m the only one who looks the least bit shifty here, obviously my mind is in other places (top). Perhaps I’m looking at one of many promoters that showed up to check us out that night, Stacy Fine, for example, who was running the hottest Monday night scene and immediately wanted to book us for a new Wednesday night event she was starting at a plush restaurant (Big Kahuna) in Times Square of all places.

I remember early in this show the Assassinettes came down to the front row and started going bananas right in front of me, like I was some sort of rock god. They were hailing me and swooning and trying to touch my leg. It was a joke, of course, but the crowd didn’t know that because those three girls hadn’t taken the stage yet.

In a few days, we’d all assemble at the Big Kahuna to check out Stacy’s first party. We were already booked for the next week at. Abby showed up with this amazing blonde goddess from Boston we would soon be calling “Juicy Lucy.” We told Lucy she was in the band the second we saw her. No audition necessary. I don’t think we cared what she sang like, she looked fantastic! And it was so perfect, Kimona being a redhead, Abby a brunette and now this gorgeous blonde! Our whole scene was buzzing the second Lucy showed up and everybody wanted to be the first to date her. Both boys and the girls were going crazy over Lucy!

Here’s a candid shot I took on the road one morning when she was all tired and had no makeup on. Even then, Lucy was drop-dead beautiful. Even John Holmstrom, who had been sort of down on the Soul Assassins as a distraction from my job, turned to me and said, “I wanna be in the band now,” the second he saw Lucy. But I was thinking, what would John actually do in the band? Once those three new Assassinettes got together the magic really started to roll. First, they were all single! Every rock dude in the East Village was soon kissing my ass trying to pry their way into our scene so they could nail one of the Assassinettes. They were all crazy hot, but the energy field they created when all three got together was overpowering. Of course, we’d all pledged not to get involved with any of them, although that pledge would start eroding the second we all got drunk together. Another promoter, Deb Parker attended that Big Kahuna show and we instantly became her favorite garage band. Later Deb would open a bar in the East Village that instantly became our favorite watering hole.

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.

First Visit to a Recording Studio

Unfortunately the Soul Assassins made only a few trips a recording studio, the first, in fact, with the original Assassinettes (Claudia, Helena and Mean Jean), as well as original drummer Brian Moores on January 2, 1988. Flick and Brian Spaeth found the studio in the East Village where we eventually did most of our recordings. I guess it was run by some coke-head because the sound we got out of that place was always terrible. The owner was going to record and mix us one afternoon, but after a few songs, he split and left some crack-head behind to do the mixing. Of course, that dude was being paid by the hour, so he kept us there all night, twiddling knobs, acting like he was souping things up. What a joke. Garage bands sound best with zero mixing. But you have to know how to mic and EQ the instruments, which these guys obviously didn’t have a clue about. Even the demo tape they gave me on a cassette tape had crazy levels, one track riding the red all the time and the other barely there at all. It was sad that we never really stepped into a competent situation in a studio or who knows what sort of records we could have produced.

Flick and Brian were masters at showing up at the studio armed with Brian’s ancient tape-recorder and a brand-new song they wanted to do. Brian would play some Bill Kelly Show taped off his equally ancient radio. It was like a game of telephone tag trying to decipher those faint and scratchy sounds. I’m hopeless at transposing anyway, practically tone-deaf, so Bob Brandel would always work out the chords for me. He was so amazing on guitar that it usually only took Bob a few seconds before he riffed off some major chunks that sounded just like the record, only better.

In fact, it was a testament to how great the band was that we could even learn a song and record it minutes later as if we’d been playing it all our lives. I just put up a new track on our bandcamp site (see link top-right column). It’s from that first session: “That’s the Bag I’m In,” perfect for Flick’s bulldog personality. We also recorded two originals I wrote that day, “Scream” and “Higher Ground,” as well as “All Night Long,” “Down at the Nightclub,” “”Have Love,” “The Assassinettes Theme,” and a few others. The reason we picked up “Have Love” is Brian’s brother Gordon (a member of the Fleshtones) told us my song “Scream” was a copy of “Have Love” (even though I’d never heard that song before). But once I listened to “Have Love,” I realized it blew my humble tune out of the water. Gordon would eventually teach Flick how to play the harmonica.

The original Assassinettes had no problem with “Scream” but their replacements did. At least Abbey did. After she heard the song on the radio one day, she told me we couldn’t play it with her on stage because of the line that went: “If you got a gal that don’t know her place, all you have to do is laugh in her face, and just scream!” Abbey didn’t dig that line, so we dropped the song. I just posted a bunch of songs from that first session on our bandcamp site for the first time, so you might want to check them out.

Why not check out my band, the Soul Assassins, or my free eBooks, just click the links at the top-right column of this page. And please subscribe so you don’t miss any future posts. And thanks for stopping by.

The Plan to Make Rock History: Phase 2

I guess you could say Phase 2 of the Soul Assassins’ plans to make rock history began in a rehearsal studio in the East Village, when I met four people for the first time, three of whom would become longtime friends. We must have been operating on a very high magic-factor, ’cause a Hollywood screenwriter could not have concocted a better set of characters for our script.

Where to begin?

Ok, Allegra’s friend, Abbey Lavine, she’s the super hottie on the left. Notice the Betty Page haircut (long before that craze took off). In fact, Abbey once played Betty in an independent film. She was a literary scholar and librarian. A brainiac. She was also semi-famous as the world’s greatest female 8-track music collector and appeared in a documentary on the subject. She was also a go-go dancer at a Queens strip club when she needed the money, but she vetoed the idea of me coming to see that performance once so I won’t be offering up any photos along those lines. Abbey was the first vegan I ever met and she knew garage rock history as good as I did! She hailed from Boston originally, and her crowd from Boston included Dino Sorbello, who was sort of the unofficial king of the garage scene at the time. He courted Abbey for years, and even won her heart for a while, and they lived as king and queen of garage rock on Sixth Street. Some of the best bands at the time were from Boston (Lyres), and the best after-parties were always at Dino’s, where the band could crash when the sun came up. But enough about Dino. Abbey had a very sharp wit, and sometimes put some camp into her go-go dancing. I particularly remember her “bunny” moves with paws outstretched. I do have video on that move.

Kimona 117 (above, far right) had a voice, though, nobody could fuck with. The second she started singing, the energy in the room shifted, with her at the center of gravity. We instantly hailed her as the female alpha in the band  just based on voice alone. She also had great style and a voluptuous figure. Kimona wasn’t comfortable and at-home with the music the way Abby was: she had yet to get her schooling in garage rock history, but that would come easy. You can see in the picture she has not yet assumed the regal bearing of garage rock goddess she would soon attain. Kimona was struck by many tragedies, unfortunately, and was struggling with a law-suit and bad-news boyfriend the day we met her. One of her best friends was on crack. So we quickly pulled Kimona out of that scene and she became our hang-out-every-day side-kick. We all knew instantly we had a diamond, not even in the rough, she was pretty polished even back then.

Drummer is always the hardest position to fill in any band. I got a whiff of the reason why when, for a micro-second, I was going to play organ and guitar in the Soul Assassins, before I figured out all the shit I was going to have to drag around to the gigs. Well, that shit doesn’t even come close to what a drummer needs to drag around to the gigs. Brian Morse had been the real thing, a former drummer for the Finchley Boys, the most famous garage rock band of central Illinois. But Brian could not shake a stick compared with the pad-pounding Dave Rodway! Holy cow, that guy had some crazy energy and the strength of Hercules! Dave was also an accomplished martial arts expert and his idea of a fun thing was to sleep on a bed of rocks. He avoided mattresses like the plague. It softened him up too much! Dave was a rock! I’ve never seen anybody so chiseled before or since. He was the dream drummer for any rock band, and of course, other bands instantly wanted to steal him away. Dave had a blast at the rehearsal, though. He had his pick of any band, any style he wanted to go for, but he went for us. He told me that day he loved playing off my rhythm guitar. That’s Mr. Brandel on the right. I don’t think he’s been properly introduced yet.

But the Joan-Jett lookalike in the middle (top photo)? That’s Kimona’s friend  Joia Morello, who left town the day after doing one gig with us. And wouldn’t you know it, Abby knew a garage rock goddess who wanted to join. And she was a blonde, which might go good with Abby’s black, and Kimona’s red. And she would actually evolve into the greatest of all the East Village garage rock goddesses, the favorite runway model for the top designers looking to achieve that magic “East Village” effect. But you’ll have to wait for the next episode of this blog to meet her.

If you like these stories please check out the Soul Assassins Greatest Hits on bandcamp, just click the link at the top-right. Also subscribe to my email alerts so you don’t miss any future posts. And please check out my free eBooks on smashwords. And thanks for stopping by. And….

Birth of the Assassinettes

Our first gig (a High Times Christmas party) was a huge success, drawing a standing-room-only crowd of over 500 to the restaurant on the first floor of the McGraw Hill Building. We couldn’t wait for our next performance. The success, I knew, was at least partially due to distributing free mushrooms to the crowd. We resolved to continue that tactic for all future gigs. The great thing was we got people dancing at a time when people didn’t dance in New York. The only band I knew that created an instant dance scene was The 52’s, so we were in good company. I also knew that in order to build our fan base, we needed female fans. Guys show up in force at gigs where they know hot girls can be found. How were we going to attract a bunch of hot girls, I wondered? I soon came up with a plan: we would form a sister organization for the Soul Assassins called “The Assassinettes.” My girlfriend at the time, Claudia Cuseta (who I’d met working the front desk of Tommy Boy Records) was the first one to be inducted and she quickly recruited her best friend, Helena, to join as well. Flick came up with the third girl, Mean Jean, who was going out with his hairstyling buddy from high school, Romeo. That’s them in the photo, from left to right: Claudia, Helena, Jeannie. Hot, eh? Yes, they added quite a lot of pazazz to our second show, even though they only performed on three of our ten songs. Flick had booked us a gig in a bar downtown and Captain Whizzo, who had recently dropped by High Times to introduce himself, agreed to add his psychedelic light show to the festivities. I think we paid him $50 and all the mushrooms he could eat. Of course, we also brought shrooms to hand out to the crowd a half hour before showtime. Much to my surprise, East Village Eye rock critic James Marshall showed up. I wasn’t sure if James liked me at the time; I knew he was extremely hard-to-please musically-speaking. Imagine my surprise when he comes down to the dressing room in the basement after the gig to tell Flick and me how much he enjoyed the show. At that point, I knew nothing could stop us. The crowd, needless to say, had gone berserk cheering us on. I remember getting eye-contact with Flick during a peak moment and both of us smiled as if to say, “It’s working, man!” Problems would soon emerge, however, as the Assassinettes began to squabble. Jeannie and Claudia were clashing, and inexplicably, Helena was taking Jeannie’s side against her best friend.  I was head-over-heels in love with Claudia at the time, and I couldn’t take the stress of refereeing the disputes. This conflict was also affecting my relationship with Flick, so I disbanded the original Assassinettes. We needed to look for three new Assassinettes, I told Flick. And the number one rule next time around is nobody from the band sleeps with any Assassinettes! This would solve the problem, or so I thought.

You can listen to the Soul Assassins for free, or download some of our best tunes for 99 cents at our Bandcamp site.

Hip Hop to Soul Assassins

While I was researching my hip hop book and film project, I got inspired to get involved in music again. I’d left that scene behind in 1967 after being kicked out of my Illinois garage band for taking LSD. In all fairness, the Knight Riders did offer me to rejoin a few days later, but the chemistry was already ruined.

It wasn’t until I began interviewing all the kids in the South Bronx who created hip hop, that I got the urge to get back on stage. And at first, I edged into hip hop as a deejay, enlisting my two best friends, at the time, David Bither and Jeff Peisch, to join as my emcee group. Jeff rapped his own lyrics, while David blew wild sax solos, and I scratched up some break beat records Bambaataa had clued me onto. We held a performance at the cavernous apartment on the Upper West Side Jeff and I were living in. All three of us were rising freelance writers at the time, working for Horizon magazine, and other publications. Jeff and David got a cushy gig that summer with Lincoln Center. “High-level executive meeting” was Jeff’s code-phrase for smoking a joint during work. Our initial performance was attended by many critics and music-industry insiders, all of whom positively raved about how great we were. If nothing else, we certainly had attitude. Dave’s sax playing is what took it over the top since Jeff’s rapping style was more of a white-boy parody of real rap, talking about his Sony color TV set and Klipsch speakers, and other toys he coveted. We probably could have become something, but I had also been moving in circles around the East Village, writing for the Soho News and East Village Eye,  and soon discovered garage bands were very much in fashion downtown. Laurie Lennard was going out with Jeff at the time, and was one of the top goddesses on our scene, a real go-getter who eventually landed a job booking talent for David Letterman. Laurie would later become famous for marrying Larry David and producing “An Inconvenient Truth” with Al Gore. According to Jeff, her body was an exact replica of Marilyn Monroe’s. That’s her in the red sweater with her arm around me in the above photo. Jeff would soon become news director of the newly-created MTV, and then an award-winning producer for Time/Life, while David eventually landed his dream job co-running Nonesuch Records.

I’ve always been a rocker at heart. So I switched gears and told my friends to come to a rehearsal for a garage band I was going to start. I had two cardboard boxes set-up in my bedroom and a pair of drumsticks. That was going to be my instrument to get started. I tried to enlist Dave to play organ, as he knew music theory, could write songs, and sang like a bird. But Dave would only come to the rehearsal if he could play lead guitar. He’d already been in a few bands as a keyboardist and wanted to make the switch. Flick Ford, my favorite art director at the Eye, was a natural choice as a lead singer. He had a dynamic energy that could bowl you over when he was on. But I didn’t know if Flick could sing, so I also invited Rick Dehaan to show up because he had a great rock’n’roll look and had recently tried to commit suicide. I thought this project might pick up his spirits. Rick’s psychiatrist asked him what concrete steps he was taking to make improvements in his life, and Rick replied: “I’m playing the lottery.” “But that’s not very concrete, is it?” replied the psychiatrist. The next day Rick won a million dollars. At that point I was probably thinking we could use Rick to buy equipment. Brian Spaeth helped me conceive the whole project. Brian had been through a similar experience as me, having been unceremoniously booted out of the Fleshtones, the reigning gods of garage rock in New York. The only band that could touch the Fleshtones at the time was probably the Lyres out of Boston. I met Brian when I began working at High Times as Executive Editor. It was a relief to finally land a weekly paycheck after being a freelancer for months. Anyway, I told Dave I’d already promised lead guitar to Bob Brandel, one of the best guitar players from the garage scene in Illinois, who was now working for NBC news as an art director. So that became the core of the band, which I soon named “The Soul Assassins:” Brian on bass, me on cardboard boxes, Bob on guitar and Flick singing. We knew right away we were onto something. Brian didn’t like the idea of two lead singers at first, but I told him the lead singer’s ego was always the biggest issue in any band and that if we had two, it would help keep their egos in check. Rick never had an ego, but Flick soon developed a whopper. But then so did I, I suppose. (I guess the funniest confrontation was the night Flick got drunk and said, “I am the head dick in the band.” To which I replied: “That’s right, Flick.” We were both pissing on the roof at Dino’s on Sixth Street.) I soon pulled in Brian Morse, who had drummed briefly for the Finchley Boys back in Illinois, which allowed me to switch to rhythm guitar. Our first gig was a High Times Christmas party, and the film director John McNaughton (a grade-school friend of Bob’s) flew in for the party and played organ on a couple of songs. You can listen free to the band, and download songs for 99 cents by clicking the Soul Assassin link in the middle of the links at the top-right of this page.

Below from left to right: John, Bob, Flick, Me, Brian Moores, Rick, Brian Spaeth, moments before taking the stage for the first time.

Who is Steven Hager and what did he have to do with 420?

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.