The Steven Hager Archives

The Tin Whistle was the largest and most successful underground newspaper in downstate Illinois.

1966-1969

Letters, drawings, short stories, artwork and memorabilia, including the only complete copy of the self-published monthly newspaper The Tin Whistle, created in 1968.

I was able to recapture letters I’d sent to many from the period so I’d have both sides of our conversations, and the best of these involved exchanges between me and my disillusioned cousin in Vietnam. Also included are letters exchanged with friends who had just moved to San Francisco. I captured the era’s zeitgeist in my 1967 short story “East Village,” a portrait of characters inhabiting a teenage crash pad in New York City, a tatty tale that now leads off my book “1966.”

My hometown (Champaign-Urbana, IL) became a mecca for countercultural activity in the 1960s. Most of my friends were creating art and music and experimenting with mind-expanding substances.

Untitled by Steven Hager, watercolor on paper, 1968.

Like many others, I was forced to leave home after several confrontations with my father. I captured the horror of those years in my short story, “The Steam Tunnels,” written when the abuse was still fresh in my mind.

The first real psychedelic anthem I ever heard was written by a 15-year-old in my class at Urbana High named Mark Warwick. Titled “Only Me,” the song deployed eastern-tinged scales and feedback to great mystical effect.

Mark’s band, The Finchley Boys, were whisked out to San Francisco and momentarily adopted as “the next big thing” by the trailblazing Cockettes (whose influence launched glitter rock and produced the sort of zeitgeist that led into The Rocky Horror Picture Show).

Musicircus by John Cage.

Champaign became a counterculture mecca in large part because John Cage was living and working in town, creating his most impressive happenings. At the Musicircus held in the University of Illinois stock pavilion, Cage positioned the audience in the livestock pit, while performers appeared on the platforms normally reserved for livestock judges. Cage collaborated with artist William Wegman, as well as various local composers and performers.

Bob Nutt and Irv Azoff.

Bob Nutt and Irv Azof (soon to become the most powerful man in the music business) became the promoters for local teen rock bands, which included the Knight Riders, for whom I played bass.

Also includes documents involving an elaborate entrapment scheme initiated by a State Narcotics Taskforce, a case held over me for two years while they waited in vain for me to cave and go State’s Evidence against my counterculture cohorts.

Many years later, I discovered virtually all underground newspaper publishers like me had been subjected to similar operations.

Inside my apartment in Stockholm.

1970-1971
Exile to Sweden, thanks to a low draft number, where I lived out my down-and-out in Stockholm fantasies. I bought an antique used typewriter and began churning out philosophical musings, some of which involved CIA penetrations on the deserter movement, a wing of which was connected to LSD trafficking. The most notorious dealer had been jailed just prior to my arrival. Penniless, and on a one-way ticket, I bluffed my way through customs wearing a skimmer, carrying a silver-tipped cane, and wearing an improvised outfit out of a bygone era. “I’m here to inspect Stockholm University to see if I want to attend,” was all I told them. I ended up as an extra in the film on Joe Hill and nearly scored a speaking role as the costume crew took a liking to me.

1972-1977
College journalism, first at San Francisco City College, then playwriting at the University of Illinois. My one-act play was invited to the prestigious National College Theatre Festival and garnered a standing ovation. My playwriting was influenced by Anton Chekhov and Samuel Beckett.

Then it was back to journalism as I picked up a Master of Science degree from the University of Illinois. My thesis project was an examination of the recently created anti-abortion movement, which included a visit with the founder of the movement in St. Louis, Phyllis Schafly.

1978-1984
Professional journalism begins, first at Showbusiness Newspaper, the seedy underbelly of the theater business, led by the notorious Leo Shull. A procession of magazine jobs followed before arriving at the Daily News, where I began writing about hip hop in 1980, collecting massive interview recordings from the major creators and then publishing the first history on the subject while landing a film deal with Orion, which became the groundbreaking “Beat Street.”

From there I began interviewing leading figures emerging in the art world, including Jean Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring and Kenny Scharf and published the influential “Art After Midnight” so hated by someone at St. Martins Press they shredded thousands of copies only to see the value rise astronomically in a few years. It remains the best document of the East Village art scene.

1985-2005
Started working with High Times and rose to Editor-in-Chief in a few years, while launching a parade of movements, starting with the hemp movement, the medical marijuana movement, and the home cultivation with Dutch seeds movement, which included the Sea-of-Green cultivation technique that transformed indoor cultivation and led to the emergence of Amsterdam as a world cannabis capital.

I founded a legendary garage-rock band, the Soul Assassins, who frequently performed at Continental Divide, The Mind’s Eye, and The Dive, and also appeared at some of the major rallies, including playing in from of 50,000 in Washington DC. The band traveled to the rallies in a psychedelic bus painted by NYC graffiti artists.

Began doing college debates with the former head of NYC DEA, Robert Stutman, and ended up visiting over 300 colleges, and videotaped hundreds of debates as well as collecting the local TV news coverage. The event became one of the most popular college lectures of the decade, producing standing-room-only audiences in multi-thousand seat theaters. The debate was so lop-sided I had to coach Bob on which points he should ditch and which ones were my weakest. Our carefully crafted performance was stuffed with stand-up comedy interspersed with moments of high drama, and instead of polarizing the audience, we drew them closer together. By the end most everyone agreed cannabis was not for kids, and should be respected, not abused, but it was also not a crime worth destroying lives over. We always had a line of medical marijuana users asking questions, many of whom were Vietnam Vets, begging Bob for compassion, and he provided it.

The more hostile vets often had to be subdued by me because Bob was the target of their anger. Whenever Bob invited anyone abusing him verbally to engage in a more physical event, I knew it was time for me to jump in front and absorb the hostility and begin tamping down the fire.

“Don’t blame the cops,” I always began. “They don’t make the law. They are trapped in this nightmare just like we are.” One of my central points was that prescription medications posed far more danger than cannabis, and eventually we would see tremendous devastation from over-prescription of legal drugs.

I told college kids not to intoxicate, but concentrate on their education. I did provide dispensation for one day only. On April 20, at 4:20 PM if they held a circle of hands, and a moment of silence for world peace, it was okay to partake of the peace culture sacrament. Nowhere was this embraced more ardently than Boulder, Colorado, which is why for a brief time, Colorado grabbed the center of gravity on 420.

At every debate I invited Bob to attend the Cannabis Cup in Amsterdam, all expenses paid, so he could try cannabis for the first time. Bob always declined and some repartee between us that followed usually produced the biggest laughs of the night.

While at High Times, I switched from audio taping interviews to recording everything on video, especially the ceremonies. After creating numerous events, like the Cannabis Cup, WHEE!, the Stonys, the Doobies, the World Marijuana Film Festival, I assembled video crews to live mix four-camera shoots in anticipation of streaming events on the internet.

Wrote a screenplay based on my garage rock days titled “The Runaways,” and planned a $100k production but failed to raise the funds although a successful reading was staged at the Living Theater to much applause.

I launched a parody of “Survivor” titled “Cannabis Castaways” that became so popular it crashed the website repeatedly. The focus of many events was injecting a dose of clean spirituality into the cannabis freedom movement and deploying 420 as the spearhead on that effort.

Bell, book and candle have been the foundation for ritual for millennia, so I created 7-candle sculptures as a focal point for ceremonial altars. Seven colors, seven scents and seven symbols drawn from a variety of cultures to signify unification of all religion under one rule: “Don’t hurt anybody.” This followed my belief cannabis was the original sacrament that launched peace culture, which created Buddhism and Christianity. Aum and Amen are the same thing, just different ends of the Silk Road.

The video crews were needed to document my belief that holding peace ceremonies could foster a template for passing responsible cannabis culture down to the next generation and prove the case of religious use. I planned to send this case to the Supreme Court using the video as evidence, along with my investigations into the history of religion, and how cannabis’ essential part in creating most religions had strangely been written out of history.

In 1990, I wrote the first national magazine article explaining how the CIA killed JFK, and then assembled the greatest investigative journalism team High Times money could buy, a list that included Paul Krassner, Dick Russell, Peter Gorman, Mike Ruppert, Dan Hopsicker and Robert Anton Wilson. Strangely, both campaigns created immense pushback from the bosses at High Times, although it took them years to figure out a way to declaw and erase me.

2006-2018
Created “The Tin Whistle” blog now with millions of views, and self-published a series of books on culture and politics, including “Killing Kennedy,” “Killing Lincoln,” “Hip Hop Archives,” and “1966.” Since little of my original script of “Beat Street” was used in that utterly plastic version of hip hop crafted by Harry Belafonte, I posted the original script under the original title, “Looking For the Perfect Beat,” on my Smashwords site.

Released a book of my songs with lyrics and chords. Made numerous short videos and built a Youtube site with millions of views.

I own the rights to all my journalism, books and video, including work I did with High Times, and possess the largest archive of High Times-related material, including maps to where all the bodies are buried, and the keys to understanding why my investigative journalism, as well as my campaign for spiritual rights upset the powers-that-be.

Not long after my departure, High Times began losing millions of dollars and now teeters on the edge of existence.

2019-2022

Created the world’s first solar bike club in Highlands, New Jersey. Wrote, directed and released  Green Easter on Youtube on April 19, 2021. The documentary contained a synopsis of my theories on the development of religion, as well the CIA’s penetrations into the counterculture. The theme song was titled “In Search of the Grail.”

Created and narrated a 70-episode podcast “Everything You Know is Twisted,” which can be found here, on Youtube, and on Podbean.  My cannabis hymns were recorded by The Seeds of Doubt, featuring Sam Levine of Nashville on wind instruments. Began pre-production on a number of documentaries, including Pot Waco, Art After Midnight, and Making Beat Street.

Sizzle reels for my film projects can be found on Youtube and IMDB.

 

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