Strange how High Times kept bringing me back. The final go-round was the most excruciating of all, but I always had a sense the powers-that-be were playing defense against me when they should have been on my team.
While I’d been away this time for two years, video operations entirely ceased, and this happened during the same time frame that Youtube took off and minted a generation of video stars outside the establishment pipelines. The magazine had bizarrely gone no-pot for a disastrous year followed by a nothing-but-pot policy.
I knew nobody was really on my team, but I dove into rebuilding my video operations, but this time on a professional scale. I turned my office into a video studio and shot and edited video every day. Making this foray into film and television was my biggest priority, although I also brought back real investigative journalism, something the magazine was in dire need of, and penned two of my greatest features, one on the CIA’s LSD attack on a French town after WWII, and the other was on an unknown Canadian named Rick Simpson. Both articles attracted attention, something High Times hadn’t seen much of since I’d departed.
But my pride and joy was my High Times Reality TV pilot that I was working up for Comedy Central. I’d already had a couple meetings with the head of the network and they were watching the show’s progress with great interest. I was working on creating the cannabis alternative to Sasha Baron Cohen. Unfortunately, much of the staff were somewhat devastated upon my return as no doubt they’d been expecting the promotion themselves, and some had zero intention of working with me on anything. It certainly helped this attitude along that the owners were ringleaders of the vibes against me.
The first half of the show got screened at the free Woodstock Film Festival. The second half was shot but the footage was hijacked and used to make a generic “welcome to the Cup promo” film that ignored the Borat-style film I’d shot, and replaced it with an endless parade of bud shots.
Hopefully, some day, I will finish the project. But in the meantime, you can check out part one here:
When CBS announced a former British commando had moved to Hollywood and was launching a survival elimination game show called “Survivor,” I instantly knew the concept was going to be a big hit, mostly because it was mining tribal traditions, something I’d been doing for over a decade through my events and organizations.
Of course, I didn’t want some cutthroat competition, just a group of cinematic stoners checking out all the strains of the annual Cannabis Cup. Maybe that sounds easy, but it’s actually quite a daunting task unless you’re an experienced bud-tender or distributor who knows his strains.
We had a talented young comedian, a hip hop music producer (and grower), an aspiring performance artist, a medical user, a noted activist, and a super hottie from England. They were all thrown into a one bedroom houseboat in Amsterdam and told they had to stay onboard until they had tried all the strains, which were released slowly in increments of a half dozen or so at a time.
After 36 hours or so, the young comedian requested to get off the boat and soon announced he was off pot for good. He had entered the contest not really being very experienced with cannabis, but only wanting to win the contest and get some notoriety for his comedy. As a joke, he rolled a dozen strains into a giant joint and began toking on it. Within a few minutes, you could see a pronounced change in his body language.
The Castaways picked the Cannabis Cup winner that year, and I was planning on another season, and keeping some of the Castaways as characters in my tv universe I was building, but when they returned to the States, the hip hop producer’s estranged wife initiated a custody battle to bar access to their daughter based on his participation in the show. When he called me hysterically after the judgment, I asked for a copy of the transcript.
I’d just won a similar custody battle based on my being editor of High Times initiated by a bipolar member of my wife’s family, so I had experience with the terror this dude was going through, and you don’t know real mental terror until someone swoops in and seizes your only child.
But, at the same time, I had to admit the transcript read like a Cheech and Chong script. The producer had denied being involved in the show from the get-go and the lawyer led him down a garden path until he produced a copy of High Times with him on the cover, holding his distinctive cane, a cane he now held firmly in his grasp in the witness stand. The producer went down in flames.
I contacted the comedian because I wondered if he wanted to work on an animated film about our project. A lot of the comedy we’d worked on together during the event had been successful. We’d produced a sitcom every night for four nights running and showed the results to open the shows at the Melkweg. This mini series was treated with waves of applause and belly laughter and was obviously the most entertaining thing we’d produced content-wise from all my improvisational explorations.
But the comedian freaked again, and sent a letter to all the Castaways saying I was planing on mining their personal tragedies for profit and advised them all never to speak with me again. He certainly never did.
But we did get a live web show so popular it kept crashing our website while it was on, and the highlights were immortalized in a DVD you can watch here:
It’s unfortunate how little video footage got captured during the first Whee! festival outside Eugene, Oregon. The entire adventure had begun as my plot to establish a Weed Woodstock. (Although, in truth, the original was funded almost entirely by weed money, and the event helped cement Woodstock as a weed distribution center.)
I remember taking the trustees to lunch at some five-star restaurant and saying, “You have to be committed to a new event for five years, because that’s how long it may take to break even.” But I assured them after five years, my Whee! fest would be as big if not bigger than Woodstock. And I believed this because the event was promoted as a prayer for world peace, a serious non-denominational ceremony recognizing cannabis as the sacrament of peace culture.
Of course, Whee! exploded immediately, drawing 20,000 to the event, most of whom got in for free and were fed free by a non-stop crew kitchen, and anyone could volunteer to be crew.
After the OM circle, someone handed a bottle of whiskey to Felipe and said he was done with this. Felipe and I did a bunch of powerful ceremonies together, and that was certainly one of the best.
But the day after the event ended, we invited the Pranksters to our motel room to celebrate and eat pizza. Only Ken Babbs showed up, and this is what transpired. The next day, we went to see Kesey, and he introduced me to non-linear video editing, just going prosumer. I had been a devoted follower of improvisational ritual theater as practiced by the Pranksters, and took this direction very seriously, devoting the rest of my life to capturing video of the ceremonies I was staging. Sure glad I kept these memories, and if you want to know what Hager ceremonies look and feel like, this will clue you in.
As soon as I got back to New York, the trustees informed me that Whee! had been a financial failure. Although I knew that was a lie. Through immense efforts I manage to resurrect one more Whee! at the same site the next year before my precious Whee! ceremony was cast to the winds, and thus ended my longstanding campaign for the recognition of spiritual rights for cannabis users.
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.
Dedicated to James “Chef Ra” Wilson
I was standing by my window
On a cold and cloudy day
When I saw Chef Ra a-skating
…………..G D7 G
Come to carry my blues away.
May the circle keep on tokin’
Bye and bye Ra, bye and bye
There’s a better world awaiting
…………G D7 G
In the sky Ra, oh so high.
Well, I noticed, the town was lonely
For Chef Ra, he had gone
All his friends, we were cryin’
………….G D7 G
For we felt so sad and alone.
May the circle keep on tokin’
And get high, oh, so high
There’s a better time awaiting
……….G D7 G
In the sky, with Ra, so high.
Won’t you please drive by slow
For that man you are a-haulin’
………….G D7 G
We so hate to see him go.
May the circle keep on tokin’
And get high, Ra, oh so high
There’s a better world awaiting
…………G D7 G
In the sky Ra, in the sky.
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.
I was contacted today by a reporter working on an article on the history of 420. I’m happy to help any researchers interested in this topic. There’s a big difference between using the word “420” as a code, and organizing a ceremony. The idea of 420 ceremonies really spread around the world primarily through the Cannabis Cup, which was attended by influential stoners from around the world. Below are some of the questions I was asked, and the answers I gave.
I have the HT edition with the flyer and in bold it states “Get together with your friends and smoke pot hardcore.”
We didn’t publish the flyer, just some of the text. The purpose of the flyer was to attract people to an annual ceremony on Mt. Tam.
It’s abridged? I didn’t know that.
I saw the entire flyer. It was for a ceremony on Mt. Tam. At the time I was researching Soma and shouted out “THIS IS IMPORTANT!”
The most important thing to realize about counterculture ceremonies is they are always rooted in improvisation. The Waldos were masters of improvisation. But the Waldos did not create the Mt. Tam ceremony. That was created by the kids in their high school who came later on, their younger brothers and sisters created that ceremony, but it stayed on Mt. Tam and never moved…until the Cannabis Cup. After I spent decades promoting 420, a campaign began to write me out of the history.
I guess he’s passionate about crediting the Deadheads.
Jack Herer was a lifelong Deadhead and sold most of his books on Dead Tour. Jack’s first 420 ceremony was at the Cannabis Cup. I clued him into 420.
I think Wavy-Gravy’s ‘eternity’ comment puts it in the longest term perspective. It’s his way of saying “so what?”
Spirituality has many flavors. The secret is you have to believe. I wrapped my deepest beliefs around 420 from the moment I became aware of it. There’s something deeper going on here than just having a party.
I was the first person to announce cannabis was Soma of the Rig Veda, at least in North America to my knowledge. It was during my investigations of the historical use of cannabis that I became aware of 420. If you are going to write the true history of 420, please never forget the Temple Dragon Crew!
I was seated in the auditorium at Urbana High, waiting for the senior class speeches to begin, when Larry Green suddenly appeared out-of-nowhere wearing an elegant double-breasted pinstriped suit, while sporting my blue hat.
“Can I borrow your hat?” he’d asked me the night before on the phone. “Sure,” I replied. And in a few minutes, Larry arrived to pick it up so he could wear it during his election speech the next day. My hat was famous around school for having “LSD” embossed on it, just as I was somewhat famous for being one of the first people in town to actually take LSD.
Smitty detested that hat so much that the first time I wore it into the boy’s locker room for gym class, I was told Smitty wanted to see me in his office. I’d never been summoned by Smitty before and was plenty nervous going in, and assumed it had something to do with my new underground newspaper, but it didn’t. Smitty just ordered me leave my offensive hat in my hall locker, or he promised to confiscate and destroy it.
I was the publisher/editor of The Tin Whistle at the time, and Larry was our official candidate, and I was running the campaign promoting Larry’s election. Our school was in great emotional turmoil at the time, starting when Smitty encouraged members of the U-Club to beat-up longhairs and Frank Sowers hit the kid with the longest hair in school (Doug Blair) over the head with a baseball bat, and the next day Carp retaliated by sucker punching Frank on his front lawn. Then the radical blacks sided against the U-Club and jumped on one of the head jocks in the halls. At first, that seemed like maybe a good thing. Obviously, it was not.
I remember standing on the second floor of Urbana High about a day later when I saw a typical violent altercation about to go down. There were around six sophomore blacks ganged-up against one prominent senior starter on the football team. But before any blows were thrown, a half dozen white members of the football team appeared out of nowhere, running to the rescue from all directions. Obviously some sort of alarm system was now in place amongst the team to thwart these random beat-downs that were taking place. At that moment, all sympathy shifted away from the blacks, who had suffered under Smitty’s racist regime, and back to the head jocks, who were now just viewed as total innocents trying to defend themselves against superior numbers. I started thinking how could The Tin Whistle help end all this senseless violence?
Meanwhile, Charlie Gerron, a columnist in The Tin Whistle was stoking the flames, challenging any jock in school to a one-on-one match, and I’m sure Charlie would have gladly taken anyone on, had anyone ever accepted.
Jim Cole, former lead singer of the Finchley Boys, came back to school for a few days the previous semester, while he was renting a room at Eric Swenson’s house. One morning Cole was asked to read the day’s announcements over the public address system and he read them all perfectly, except for the fact he changed the final one, a fundraising effort for the Association for Foreign Students: “the AFS will be sponsoring a race riot in the cafeteria at noon. Bring your own weapons.”
You see, the previous day, a racial altercation had cleared the lunchroom momentarily, and everyone was still on edge from that incident. But Cole sure let the air out of the balloon with that fake announcement. We all laughed heartily together, blacks, whites, jocks. Cole, meanwhile, bounded straight out of the school and never came back. I guess the Grandmaster of Mayhem had been searching for a proper exit line and that was it. So this was the background to the student elections taking place at Urbana High in the fall of 1968.
My hat must have provided the final magic touch, because Larry certainly wowed the crowd that afternoon. It may have been his first “great performance,” although certainly not nearly his last. Sauntering across the stage in a sort of Fred-Astaire-meets-Lenny-Bruce persona, Larry launched into a beatnik poem by Shel Silverstein lifted out of Playboy magazine. (I wonder if any students thought he was jivin’ off the top of his head?) When this performance was over, Larry asked everyone to vote for Jim Wilson. And then Jim took the stage and gave a very serious speech about the need to address the racial communication issues at the school, a speech that soon swept Jim into office, with all of us in full support.
Except for that slight last-second, ego-meltdown by Larry, who, after his grand performance was over, was swarmed by sycophants urging him to stay in the race. I remember Larry coming up to me soon after he heard I was urging people to vote for Jim Wilson. He was super mad and saying “I am running!” I was crestfallen at that moment because I knew Larry was letting the magic slip away. It was a sort of Frodo-won’t-let-go-of-the-ring moment.
You might wonder, why the hat? Larry was still under haircut rules at the time, and I had just recently escaped them. I think I wore that hat so much because it helped disguise the fact my hair was really shorter than it should have been. And I think that’s the same reason Larry employed it, as his character that day was an ultra hipster. And Larry was running against another white dude with almost shoulder-length blonde hair. So the hat may have been the perfect touch to his act. You’ll also notice that in my column for that month, I’d created these white and black devils as a comic illustration, representing, no doubt the twin paths that had emerged at the beginning of the counterculture, one of which involved violence and one of which did not.
Jim Wilson was now the first black senior class president in Urbana High history, thanks in no small part to Larry Green throwing him his support (and then taking it back too late for anyone to notice), and the fact no member of the U-Club ran against him, and as a result of the football coach unfairly blackballing him off the team. And the first thing Jim did was ask every student to fill-out a one-page query on racial attitudes.
We didn’t know it at the time, but Jim edited these responses and was going to have them read aloud in public assembly, just to show us how crazy deep our collective racism really ran. See, most of us were living in our own little worlds. Some of the more socially progressive among us certainly had no idea of the primitive beliefs being held by some of our fundamentalist fellow students, just as none of us knew the history of racism in the town, and how all blacks had been herded around the hemp factory near the railroad tracks on the north-side to live in shacks with no electricity or running water. These conditions existed up through the 1960s in some parts of the slum, although slowly a few black families had leaked into better parts of town.
The reading of selected passages of these forms caused great stress, as evident in a photo of some tearful reactions published in the yearbook as it was happening (left).
Charlie Gerron, in fact, rushed the backstage and began pounding on the door, eventually reduced almost to tears. Charlie wanted to beat-up the students reading those ugly responses behind a screen. Charlie didn’t realize those weren’t the same students who thought black people smelled bad and were spawns of the devil, that was just Albie Fisher and some friends of Jim’s reading those outlandish statements of ignorance.
Jim’s student forum on racism worked to perfection, however, as no one in the school from that day forward ever asserted there was no such thing as racism at Urbana High. The only question now was, what was Jim going to do about it?
Prior to the arrival of Cream and Jimi Hendrix, it was pretty much unheard of not to have a dedicated rhythm guitar player in almost every ’60s’ garage band. In fact, my former band, the Knight Riders, was actually one of those few since John Knight played organ. I played bass in the Knight Riders, a beautiful Gibson SG.
Twenty years later, when I started the Soul Assassins in my Upper West Side apartment in New York City, I began by playing cardboard boxes with drum sticks. Brian Spaeth was the first actual instrumentalist in the Soul Assassins, since he played both bass and sax. Bob Brandel, one of the leading guitar players from the original garage band scene in Central Illinois came in next on lead guitar. As soon as Brian Moores, a former drummer for the Finchley Boys came on board, it was only natural that I start playing rhythm.
One afternoon we were practicing “Just Like Me,” when, out-of-the-blue, I took a timid little solo on top of Brandel’s howling solo. And when we were listening to the tape later, the band went crazy: two guitars soloing at the same time! They thought it sounded great! Me, I had the exact opposite reaction. I thought the song lost all intensity the second the rhythm guitar dropped out and I vowed never to let the rhythm drop out of a song again. It was my first and final guitar solo.
Years later, I remember talking to Chip Znuff, who was a big Soul Assassins fan. I said something like, “I’m just a rhythm guitar player.” He looked stunned. He couldn’t believe I didn’t understand the crucial and central role played by the rhythm guitar in many bands, including the Soul Assassins. But as the Ramones proved so well, any band can get can by with no lead guitar. But few get by without a solid rhythm. In fact, it’s the rhythm guitar that defines the sound of many rock bands. The Rolling Stones would be a perfect example.
I was playing a Fender Telecaster out of a Fender Deluxe Reverb with trebles cranked up on both. The sound was super crunchy like a saw-blade carving up chunks of chords and spitting them out. Brandel’s lead guitar usually landed between me and the bass. That’s how far up in the treble atmosphere I normally resided.
Anyway, for those who care, the Soul Assassins are coming back for a grand performance soon. Dino Sorbello is on bass, Rodway on drums, Brandel on lead guitar and me. We’re all looking forward to loading up that old lumber truck for another ride down the mountain—two wheels on all the curves— a style also known as “r-r-r-real rock’n’roll.” To commemorate this occasion, I’ve been digitizing some of the old Soul Assassins tapes and I actually found that one and only guitar solo I ever took on “Just Like Me.” You can find it by clicking the link at the top-right column of this page that says “click here to listen to the Soul Assassins.”
After I posted my take on Alex Jones’ ridiculous Madonna-Illuminati conspiracy theory, I got this response on facebook: “Illuminati conspiracy, today, revolves around the idea that some groups have been in touch with higher intelligence….”
Anyone who claims special access to information from other dimensions and or galaxies (ala David Icke), is a guaranteed 100% fraudster. This hoodwink is nothing new, by the way. It’s been going on for centuries and never seems to fail to capture true believers. In fact, this is how all religions start out. When spirituality moved from tribal shamanism to organized religions, the first thing the corrupt priesthood did was claim a special relationship with god. All religion is really magic. You can claim your messiah’s miracles are really real, but there isn’t any fundamental difference in the way Christianity, or Scientology, or Mormonism, or Aleister Crowley actually works—it’s all magic. And magic does work—if you believe in it, so it’s pretty much self-fulfilling.
I don’t doubt that telepathic energies exist, and some of those energies even travel through the dimensions of time and space. Also, some people, usually known as “psychics,” can occasionally tap into these telepathic energies. A good example would be George Washington Carver, who had the ability to “talk to plants.” But for every real psychic there’s always been ten thousand fraudsters, all claiming special access to hidden knowledge they will happily share with you—for a fee. Why anyone would ever believe any of this hogwash is beyond me. One thing about real psychics like Carver: they don’t use their abilities to manufacture religions or profiteer in any way from their special talents. And if they did, they’d likely lose those talents right away. So please don’t make the mistake of thinking the ruling elites have any special access to other dimensions or worlds in outer space or are really lizard creatures from another dimension. This is simply a hoodwink story made-up to justify their monopoly on power and keep the populace in a state of shock and awe, and prevent them from realizing the truth—that people have the power. It’s just a matter of waking up and shaking off the mind control mechanisms being manufactured to prevent that global wake-up from taking place. And claiming the Illuminati have contact with other dimensions is not part of the solution, but just another rabbit hole leading to nowhere.