My Career as a Concert Promoter Begins

It wasn’t long after I created my underground newspaper The Tin Whistle in 1968, that I decided to become a rock concert promoter to raise money and publicity for the paper, which had become an instant success by selling out at four high schools in Central Illinois, even though it was banned at all of them, except Uni High, our local prep school for the best and brightest.

For my first concert, I asked Blues Weed to perform and they agreed. Donny Perino (seated in the top right photo), the leader and keyboard player, had been my predecessor on bass guitar in the Knight Riders. I couldn’t understand why the Knight Riders wanted to get rid of Donny since he was the best musician in the group, however it didn’t take him long to start a new band using a couple of the best high school age blues musicians in town. Unfortunately, a few days before the concert, Blues Weed pulled out, leaving me scrambling to find a substitute band. Naturally, I wanted a Friday or Saturday night at a major venue on campus, but that turned out to be difficult and expensive. I discovered a hall I could rent on Sunday afternoon for cheap, although I didn’t realize how difficult it would be to get people to a concert on a Sunday afternoon. At the last minute I got my former band, the Knight Riders, to agree to perform for around $100. The total budget on the event was probably around $200 and admission was $5, so I only needed 40 paid attendees to break even, and the hall easily held over 300. I set up 40 folding chairs in front of the stage and left the back of the hall open for dancing.

For some reason, I decided to drop acid shortly after the doors opened. This was not a good idea because as soon as I started coming off, some of my friends started playing mind games and decided to haul me down to the front of the stage and feed me to the speakers while the band was playing. I suddenly got real nervous about the cash in the money box, and inexplicably decided to leave the concert with the money in order to put it in a safe place. About four of my friends came with me, and we stopped by Chug Wyatt’s house so I could drop something off. My friends pretended to drive off without me as soon as I got out of the car. I could see them waving money from the cash box out the car windows as they drove off laughing and celebrating. Fortunately, they just circled the block and then picked me up and took me to my parent’s house, where I dropped off the cash box with my mom.

When we got back to the concert, the show was just ending, and the band wanted to get paid asap. They said they needed cash now because they’d borrowed the amps for the show from another band and needed to put $10 on each amp when they returned them. And they got one of the toughest black kids in town to intimidate me and make sure they got paid right then.

I was tripping pretty heavy while this beefy black dude was threatening to beat the shit out of me unless I produced the money for the band instantly. I ended up calling the foreign student who had bankrolled the first issue of the The Tin Whistle. He gave the band some money, which allowed me to leave with my face intact. But the incident really burned whatever bridges I had with my former band, and I never really spoke to any of those guys again.

Meanwhile Donny Perino turned into a hermit, possibly due to his addiction to marijuana at an early age. Far as I know, he still lives in Urbana, but no one has seen him in decades. I hope he’s ok.

The Outcasts

The first issue of The Tin Whistle included my endorsement for Larry Green for Senior Class president, our counterculture attempt to take over the political structure of a school that had always been dominated by the winners of the annual Daughters of the American Revolution awards.

You’ll notice Larry wears the magic cross that was also the secret symbol of my elementary school streetgang (see “From Violent Streetgangs to Merry Pranksters”). I took both photos the same day, cut them up and glued them together to create the effect of Larry as teenage monster towering over Urbana High.

The story “Tales from the House on High Street” is an obvious¬† reference to Eric Swenson’s pad, our favorite hangout. After the Knight Riders kicked me out of the band for being an LSD addict (or so they thought), I toyed around with the idea of starting a band with Eric and we held a bunch of rehearsals at his house, but I soon came to the conclusion being in a band with Eric wasn’t really going to amount to anything real, as Eric was more than content to just jam in his living room and nothing more. He always had a cigarette in his mouth when he drummed, and used an overturned cymbal on the floor as his ashtray.

Meanwhile, The Finchley Boys were going through their own changes. Somewhere along the line, they started doing an Animals’ cover, “Outcast.” Actually, “Outcast” was originally an R&B love song Eddie Campbell and Ernie Johnson recorded in Phoenix, Arizona, in 1964. The Animals version was faster and they dropped the horn riff and replaced it with a guitar. The song rocked hard, had a powerful hook, and it instantly became a major highlight of the Finchley’s set, eventually becoming their new signature song. It was no longer a silly love song, either. Now “Outcast” stood for the position we longhairs found ourselves in, as we were not being accepted by the establishment.

Faber was the lead singer on “Outcast.” Although Faber had started as the roadie, then played harmonica on one song, he was now singing the two biggest hits the band had. One day when the band was arriving in a car together at Urbana High, Faber and Cole got into a little dispute over some minor matter and Cole announced he was leaving the band so he could concentrate on becoming a guitar player. Cole soon left high school and moved into a room on the second floor of Eric’s house, right across the hall from the padlocked room Daddy Swenson slept in.

Carole

One day I brought Larry with me on one of my visits to Carole’s house. We were sitting on the floor of her porch talking, when Larry went into his imitation of Timothy Leary. Carole started cracking up. It was the first time she noticed how smart and funny Larry was. I had this idea we should cover ourselves with a blanket and pretend we were all in a womb together, about to be born as a set of triplets. I don’t know where I came up with this shit, maybe I was already aware of the Living Theater, because this was essentially an improv-exercise right out of a Viola Spolin handbook. We went to the back yard, threw a blanket over us, and curled into a ball, all spooning each other. I was on the outside, and, of course, Carole was in the middle. It was all very innocent, really. But I could tell right away from the way Carole was petting Larry’s hair, that she’d taken a sudden interest in him.

When she went back inside, her mom was super pissed. “What are the neighbors going to think!” Carole stood her ground, however, saying we were just playing a game and nothing sexual had been going on at all, which was true, sort of.

I could tell there were speed bumps ahead with my grand scheme to make Carole my girl friend, as she seemed easily distracted by other dudes.

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.