The Master Mind: From Congo Square to the Cockettes

The most vibrant cultural movement of our time was founded in Congo Square, New Orleans, because that was the only place in North America where anyone could mix and forge new ceremonies. On Sundays, use of the square had been set aside for the French-African slaves, who’d been transplanted from Haiti after a revolution broke out there. These slaves welcomed the Houmas natives, who probably had the best drums and undoubtedly reminded the Africans of their own tribal heritage. Congo Square was an appropriate name for this place because it was also the only place where slaves and Indians could legally play drums because they provoked fears of an impending attack throughout the original Colonies. The site had been used for years by the Houmas to hold harvest ceremonies and was considered a sacred spot. There may have been some sort of drum circle or jam session going on at Congo Square every day, but Sunday afternoon was the peak moment when the best performers went off. Congo Square created blues, jazz, rock’n’roll and reefer smoking. This culture traveled up the Mississippi, eventually infecting Memphis, Kansas City, St. Louis and Chicago. When it hit Chicago, a Jewish teen named Mezz Mezzrow jumped onboard and the rest is history.

One of the most important things I learned from cannabis: the more diverse your gene stock, the more vibrant your F1 hybrid. The Great Spirit That Runs Through Everything loves diversity and shows this affection in many ways. The reason Congo Square erupted with such creative energy is because so many diverse cultures were mixing ritual and ceremony to create a unique hybrid that respected all cultures. When you visit Mardi Gras you can clearly see the deep appreciation for Native American tradition. As blues evolved into jazz, elements of Western culture (like harmony and orchestral instruments) were incorporated. The foundation of this culture was always based in improvisation, whether it be in music, dance, slang, or gesture. The counterculture encourages freedom in every aspect, which is why every generation looks and talks different, yet all grow from the same trunk.

The most important influence in the early sixties came in the form of a Magic Bus of Merry Pranksters. Ken Kesey went from celebrated novelist to customizing his jeans and encouraging total freedom, similar in many respects to Julian Beck’s cry of Paradise Now!, only the Prankster version initially involved taking LSD as often as possible, a lifestyle that quickly proved unsustainable. Acid was too powerful and potentially dangerous, although it proved to be a great medicine for those who used it sparingly. If anything was learned in the sixties, it was that reefer is the only safe daily sacrament.

The most influential group to emerge from the Haight (aside from the Grateful Dead) was a commune called The Cockettes. After the Pranksters called everyone to council, strangers began creating instant communes in the Haight that mixed people from all backgrounds. One of these communes was super eclectic and included a few gays, who were really glowing at the time because this was their coming-out party after centuries of oppression and they encouraged everyone else in the commune into dropping acid, dressing as wild as possible, and channeling whatever energy emerged. The Cockettes launched a lot of different styles, but Glitter Rock was their most important. They blazed a stylistic trail soon followed by the New York Dolls and David Bowie, among many others. They also created the cult movie scene, because their original performances evolved out of dressing up and attending a local cinema, where they used the film as a sounding board. Before long, the film element was discarded as the audience was more interested in the Cockettes, so their improvisational antics became the entire show. If the Club 57 crowd had lived in the same commune 24-7 they probably would have fomented something huge, although in a way that’s exactly of what happened when Keith and Kenny moved in together. Andrew Carnegie and Napoleon Hill would’ve called that forging the master-mind, one of their many telepathic keys to success.

The one lesson I’d take away from this is that there’s probably a relationship between the diversity of a Master Mind group and the amount of creative energy that group will eventually unleash.

And isn’t it interesting that our dominant religions work against these laws of nature, encouraging bigotry against other cultures and declaring jihads and crusades against the unbelievers? That’s because war is a profit stream constantly being mined for revenue, so the accepted religions need to do their part to manufacture the conflicts.

Remembering Abbey

Abby Assassinette

From nursery school through the start of second grade, I grew up in Arlington, Massachusetts, just outside Cambridge, where my dad was a biochemist at Harvard University, the first in the family to get an advanced degree. My dad discovered the local sub shops first. Unfortunately, these shops no longer exist, having been displaced by chains like Subways. That’s unfortunate because they had real fresh bread: warm, slightly crispy on the top and fluffy in the center, nothing at all like the Wonder bread baked at Subways. All the possible additions were already chopped fine and you picked out which ones you wanted, just like they do today, only they slice today instead of finely chop. This chopped-up salsa sauce of pickle, onion, hot peppers, and tomato was fully mixed in a bowl before being added to your sub. Oregano flakes and coarse black pepper were a big part of the taste. These shops were located all up and down Massachusetts Avenue in the 1950s, all run by some ethnic group, perhaps Middle Eastern? They created the perfect sub sandwich and my family has been making replicas of them ever since, even though we departed the area when I was around 7 years old, never to return except for brief visits. But my family never took a road trip without my mom making a huge stash of Boston subs for the car, a tradition that continues today with my own kids.

In fact, in my glory days as a rock star, whenever my band (The Soul Assassins) would go on the road, I’d prepare a stash of these, just like my mom taught me. Abby, one of the Assassinettes, was the first true vegan I met and she was very, very picky about what she ate. I’d already gone vegetarian myself, but just for Abby I engineered a vegan version and discovered to my surprise it tasted just as good, if not better, than the animal alternative. Abby had the whitest skin I ever saw, and never went to the beach in her life as far as I know. She loved my vegan Boston subs though, and she’d look forward to our road trips just knowing she was going to get to eat a few along the way. We had no idea at the time she’d become the first in our tribe to pass on to the other dimensions, a victim of a careless doctor not detecting breast cancer for years until it was too late. She refused chemo, preferring to die with dignity. Since Abby was born and raised in Boston, it seems only appropriate to name this recipe after her.

Abby’s Sandwich

Any long roll or baguette will work, although the better the bread, the better this sandwich is going to be. Do not get hard crust bread as the softer versions work far better. Cut one side open and scoop out some bread from the top to make room for the salsa.

Line one side with vegan cold cuts and cheese slices. I prefer the Baked Ham Style and Bologna Style from Lifeline, available at most supermarkets. Galaxy Traditional Foods makes rice-based veggie cheese slices in swiss and cheddar, although I prefer the swiss for this sandwich. Avoid soy whenever possible, it’s heavily GMO’d.

Dice large dill pickle, small onion, ripe tomato (or four to five mini tomatoes). Add chopped marinated hot pepper ring to taste. Mix with dash of olive oil, salt and loads of oregano flakes and coarse black pepper. If you can, let this marinate for a few hours or even overnight in the fridge.

Alternate cheese and cold cuts, at least two layers of cold cut and two of cheese (although you can go Dagwood-style and pile even higher). Spoon the oregano salsa sauce on top, close the sandwich and cut into thirds.

I usually slide the completed sandwiches back into the long paper bag the bread came in, and twist the end closed. If refrigerated, these sandwiches keep for an amazing amount of time and often taste better as time goes on.

Now check out the real Abbey rocking with the Soul Assassins:

The Success Secret

If you’ve never heard of Napoleon Hill this may be one of the most important blogs you ever stumbled onto. Personally, I never heard of him until very recently, even though he’s the father of positive thinking. The recent film The Secret is really just a bland retread of Hill’s incredibly effective insights. Without knowing anything about him, I’ve been practicing some of these strategies most of my life, starting when I visualized myself into a garage rock band at age 15.

Hill was a journalist sent to interview Andrew Carnegie, and that interview changed his life. Carnegie convinced Hill success in business could easily be achieved by virtually anyone, provided they followed a few simple rules involving telepathic energy.  A lot of Carnegie’s insights are surprisingly similar with my concepts on energy, or, as others like to call it, spirituality, although I’ve only recently stumbled onto these insights through Hill’s book. The basic concepts include the ability to form group telepathic mega-minds capable of visualizing a path to success while banishing all thoughts of failure.

Just as Carl von Clausewitz wrote extensively about the telepathic energies of war (fog, friction and centers of gravity), Napoleon Hill outlined the telepathic energies of success in business. This only happened because Carnegie encouraged Hill to visit hundreds of successful people and document the similarities of their strategies for success. The result became one of the top ten best-selling books in history: Think and Grow Rich, published in 1937 after 20 years of research. It’s not really a book about making money, however, but about how to architect a telepathic environment that assures the success of any endeavor. Ken Norton attributed his success against Muhammad Ali in 1973 to having recently read this book.

Think and Grow Rich is in the public domain and can be downloaded in pdf form from a variety of sites.

The New British Invasion


You have to wonder why a British/Dutch bank with little presence in New York City would pay $400 million to put it’s name on the new Nets arena in Brooklyn, when they passed up on owning Lehman Brothers. It’s hard to fathom what benefit Barclays envisions in such an immense expense over the next twenty years.

When I opened my mail today, I think I found the answer.

It’s a new concept in credit cards called the barclaycard, which formerly used to have the most vicious interest rate in the world, but now is currently redefining and re-branding with a permanent 8% rate, no balance transfer fees and no annual fee. This is better than twice as good a deal as being offered by many other credit cards today. But during the pandemic that deal evaporated and the rate now is 25.9 APR.

In 1966, when the modern credit card was born, Americans quickly ran up a billion and a half dollars in debt. Today that figure is close to $1 trillion and expected to keep growing. In fact, by the time most people graduate from college these days, they’re already saddled with such a massive debt load it’s nearly impossible to save money for decades. Many will quickly fall deeply into credit card debt and spend years paying minimum payments on a constantly growing principle until they can no longer meet that minimum and go broke. It’s the closest thing to legal slavery since the Civil War.

You have to wonder how much of the trillion dollars is going to slide into the coffers of Barclays. I got heavily into credit card debt seven years ago when I had to put a new roof on my house, and it took me five years to climb out of it, and by that time I’d already been forced to pay thousands in interest, even though I was constantly trying to shuffle the debt into temporarily interest-free accounts.

In a few years some of us may be wondering who really won the Revolutionary War.

The Stay High 149 Controversy

It’s the most famous tag in graffiti history and also one of the oldest. Yet it’s creator remained a mystery for decades. I searched for Stay High in the early 1980s when I was writing the first history of hip hop, but could never locate him. Later, after I became editor of High Times, Stay High actually reappeared for a brief time and I invited him to the office, where I did a video interview with him and discovered his real name was Wayne.

Several years later, however, I was contacted by a graffiti artist named Luis who told me that he was the original Stay High and that Wayne had actually bitten his tag. Apparently this all started down in Florida, where Luis had an exhibit and told a bunch of local writers he was Stay High 149. Soon, there was an outcry against him for trying to steal Wayne’s legacy.

Luis came to High Times and tried to explain the situation. He claimed that Phase 2 would back up his story that there were two Stay Highs around 1969, both writing the same tag? I asked Phase and he strongly denied that. But I have to admit, I was taken in by all the evidence Luis had marshaled to his cause. He had photos of himself standing in front of faded tags in the Bronx. He had a story about the Junior Latin Lords, who supposedly had a clubhouse on 149th Street.

Although a lot of old school writers were really pissed at Luis, I went ahead and posted my video interview with him, hoping that people would step forward to either confirm or deny what he was saying. I just couldn’t understand why Luis would make up this story as he seemed to be a serious artist. Meanwhile, while he was at the office, I asked him to write “Stay High 149” on my eraseboard. He did, but the signature was a bit clumsy, with none of the flow you’d expect. Luis said his cousin and others would come forward to support his story. But to tell the truth, no one has ever come forward to back up Luis and that video has been up for years now. You can watch him tag my eraseboard and make up your own mind just based on that.

I should have listened to Freedom when he first contacted me to say Luis’s story was absurd. According to Luis, he invented the tag in in 1966, which would have easily made him the most advanced graffiti writer in New York history?

A few days ago, I asked Luis to come in and take a lie detector test to see if he was actually telling the truth. This was his reply:

“Hey, Steve, when we first met you was convinced that I was the real deal, now you ask if I’m willing to take a test. I know I’ll pass with flying colors but what will that prove, there are people that would probably say it was rig. Take yourself for example, you have your doubts because of what you have heard. I believe that is the reason you changed your mind about me on the Cannabis event. Thanks, but no thanks. I don’t have to prove anything to anyone, haters will always be haters no matter what…Peace!”

It’s too late to apologize to Wayne, he’s gone, but I hope nobody else gets sucked into this and I’m sorry I ever took this guy seriously.

Meanwhile, I’ve got a new controversy as someone is claiming to have invented 420 and is saying the Waldo’s are liars. I’ll be posting on this very soon, but felt I needed to clear this up first.

Fun Gallery…the true story by Patti Astor

I was hoping to run into some old friends I haven’t seen in a while, like Fred, Futura and Zephyr, but none of them made it to Patti Astor’s book signing. The four of us belong to a very special group, you see, one that also includes Keith Haring, Kenny Scharf, and Jean-Michel Basquiat. We all had shows at the Fun Gallery, although mine was the only photographic exhibit ever held at that gallery. (Only one photograph sold, btw, an Andre Grossmann blow-up of an early breakdance competition, which was purchased by Gary Pini for around $150. Last time I saw it, it was hanging over a fireplace in his townhouse in Brooklyn, although I haven’t been there in over a decade.)

Patti was a true Queen of the East Village during its glory days. The scene back then was divided between the older, more sophisticated Mudd Club crowd and the retro Club 57 crew, both of which were pursuing much different esthetics, although both worlds got suddenly pulled together when hip hop arrived. Patti and Jean-Michel were part of the core of Mudd Club, while Keith, Kenny, John Sex and Ann Magnuson were the emerging Club 57 stars. The Mudd Club was mostly on heroin at the time, while Club 57 much preferred mushrooms. Later cocaine took over everywhere.

Patti’s drug of preference, however, was probably Veuve Clicqout. At least that’s what usually emerged when a major ceremony of her’s was about to go down. Patti was the greatest master of ceremonies in New York at the time, which is why all these artists wanted desperately to show in her gallery.

Her book is a masterpiece of counterculture literature, and a way better guide to the era than what has been published so far (with the possible exception of my book Art After Midnight). I read it in one sitting and it really took me back to the period. Despite the emergence of AIDS right in our midst, the infusion of hip hop into the downtown scene was monumental. Fred Brathwaite was really the first person to catch onto the potentials of merging downtown with the South Bronx. He met Patti at a cocktail party and the rest is history. In the book, she refers to him as the “chairman of the board.” I had to read the book to discover they were also lovers for a brief time. One of my favorite scenes in the book happens after Patti breaks up with her husband Steven Kramer and moves quickly from Fred to Futura to Jean-Michel. Walking home late at night, Fred looks over at Keily Jenkins and snarls “You’ll probably be next.” “Really?!” says Keily. Not only was Keily next, but he was the one who actually stuck. Of course, Patti wasn’t there to see that conversation. She heard about it later from Keily, one of the many luminaries from that time period who died too young to comb his grey hair.