On April 19th, 2021, at 4:30 PM, a ceremony for peace by Steven Hager and the Seeds of Doubt will premiere on Youtube. Several songs from the film have already been posted on the site. “In Search for the Grail” is the film’s theme song.
Johanna Harcourt-Smith was 26-years-old when she met Timothy Leary. After Leary turned informant, she was branded a CIA-honeypot by Allen Ginsberg and shunned by just about everyone. For a time, most of the counterculture turned on Leary and his acid queen.
The primary person Leary ratted out was a lawyer named Michael Kennedy who’d engineered Leary’s prison escape through the terrorist Weather Underground. Leary was only told they “were political people,” not that they were terrorist bombers responsible for the death of a San Francisco policeman. The Weather Underground sought to use Leary as a publicity tool by sending him to Algeria to live with Eldridge Cleaver. They wanted to replay the film Algeria, which documented the success of a terrorist Islamic-Marxist revolution led by downtrodden Muslims, who had no rights in French Algeria. Hundreds of thousands died in their fight for independence, and the Weather Underground was envisioning a similar scenario in the USA, except led by middle-class teenagers. The real mission, however, was driving the left violent in order to marginalize and isolate it from the mainstream.
In 1969, Leary successfully legalized cannabis for a brief moment when he appealed a pot conviction all the way to the Supreme Court and won, so the antiquated 1937 Marijuana Tax Act had to be swiftly replaced by the Controlled Substances Act, which broadened the reign of terror on medicinal plants.
In 1987, when I arrived at High Times the entire editorial staff had recently been fired over the Christmas holidays. The magazine was teetering on insolvency and circulation had cratered. The advertising base consisted of two companies selling lookalike pills obviously intended to be sold as real on the blackmarket. Caffeine was likely the primary ingredient. The magazine had recently relocated to save money on rent, and the files that survived were in a shambles. There were no photo files, and no manuscript log for unsolicited articles. All unsolicited material disappeared into a black hole. The publisher was an accountant who kept the magazine running by cutting expenses. But the publisher turned out to be a puppet for lawyer Kennedy.
Tom Forcade had created a trust to gift the company to loyal employees in the event of his demise, but when Kennedy learned of this, he immediately engineered a trip to the bank vault where the document was stored, and wrote his name on the list of trustees, while promising to serve as “protecter” of the agreement.
Soon Tom was dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound and Kennedy conspiring with Tom’s widow and family, including Tom’s lawyer uncle, the author of the trust. He was a former tank commander in WWII who’d been recruited into military intelligence. Employees began exiting en mass, mostly through sudden firings, but some because the thrill was gone. High Times became a treacherous environment run like an intelligence operation, where information was on a need-to-know basis.
Since the counterculture media had died or been co-opted by the 1980s, being put in charge of a nationally-distributed magazine represented a huge opportunity and I had no problem turning the financial situation around instantly just by upgrading the magazine’s content and focusing on celebrating the remaining counterculture, which included the Grateful Dead followers and Rainbow Family. One day A. Craig Copetus, one of the original High Times employees, visited the office. He seemed surprised to hear Kennedy had taken control. “Right before he died, Tom held a meeting and told us not to let Kennedy get control,” said Copetus. Obviously, Tom had second thoughts about that trip to the bank vault.
I sent a letter to Kennedy outlining my plans for creating universal, non-violent ceremonies that would focus on ending the drug war. I was already doing these cannabis-infused ceremonies in Amsterdam as part of the Cannabis Cup, as well as filming them, and felt a class-action lawsuit could be successfully mounted to protect hippies from persecution by claiming pot was a legitimate sacrament. To bolster these claims, I’d been accumulating evidence Zoroastrianism, the foundation for Judaism and Christianity, had originated as a cannabis cult, and the smoking bush of Moses was a reference to the inspirational power of cannabis. Despite offering a splendid opportunity for Kennedy to double-pay himself and get tremendous publicity for himself (and for the magazine), and increase sales, and especially because it would save countless thousands from jail and financial ruin, Kennedy never responded to the letter.
What Kennedy did instead is launch a series of campaigns to have me fired. A series of publishers were installed, all instructed to “start looking for a new editor.” Attempts were made to kill the Cannabis Cup, but I managed to offload that to Michael Esterson for a licensing fee. The agreement also kept videotaping alive as Esterson agreed to cover that cost. But as soon as the WHEE! festival became profitable, and Mountain Girl agreed to move the festival to her estate, Kennedy summoned me to his office, where he unexpectedly declared WHEE was dead. Kennedy informed me it was a huge waste of time and resources. Bolstering this lie required support from the publisher, who was Mike Edison at the time, who would soon be fired, and who later write a revenge memoir branding me as incompetent. Apparently, among my many crimes was believing the assassinations of the 1960s deserved further investigation, and that a group of teens from Marin had invented 420.
The next year, the trust dissolved and Trans High Corporation gifted to the employees. I was given some token shares along with a handful of other real employees, but Kennedy and Tom’s family held the majority. Kennedy moved into the High Times office and began running the operation into the ground. Meanwhile, I could never comprehend why Kennedy was so angry with me all the time since I’d been making him millions and sales sank without me at the helm. He was living on billionaires row on Central Park South, his summer residence was an ocean-front property in the Yale enclave in the Hamptons, and he also had a winter home in Palm Beach, as well as an estate in Ireland. I was a single dad living hand-to-mouth with two kids with a disabled wife to support at a different location, and just eking by thanks to the debates I was doing on college campuses against the former head of the New York DEA.
One day, I was summoned to Kennedy’s office where he introduced me to Buffalo Mailer, Norman Mailer’s son. Kennedy wanted Buffalo to provide some young energy to the aging editorial staff, so he was being installed as Executive Editor and I needed to introduce him to staff as if it was my idea.
The following day, I was again summoned to Kennedy’s office upon arrival in the morning, where a shame-faced Mailer held a copy of a just-released New York magazine, which contained an interview with Richard Stratton where he announced his next project: running High Times. Kennedy had made a secret deal with Stratton and Mailer was Stratton’s stalking horse. I felt sorry for Mailer, for allowing himself to be dragged into participating in a slimy hoodwink. At the editorial meeting later that morning where Mailer announced the real situation to the staff, only Natasha shed tears for me. The others were already angling for elevation on the masthead.
I was moved out of the office so as not to interfere with the transition. I could never understand why nobody wanted my participation as I’d always thought of magazines as a team effort, and the goal was assembling the best possible staff. My investigative journalism had been a significant part of the magazine’s success, so why wouldn’t that continue? Instead, my contribution was limited to a 500-word monthly column, for which I was paid a steadily dwindling salary.
One day I got an email from Johanna saying she wanted to talk. I’d believed the stories about her being a CIA agent, but I was having second thoughts about that, as well as the truth concerning Kennedy’s participation in the Weather Underground. I knew Bill Ayers remained a close friend since I’d recently edited Kennedy’s adopted daughter’s wedding video.
I soon began formulating my alternative history of the 1960s, in which Tim Leary and Charlie Manson are manipulated pawns deployed to de-tooth the counterculture. Knowing I was on treacherous ground, I sent an email to Kennedy requesting permission to interview Johanna. Strangely, I got a response right away, and it contained an emotional plea not to because the memories remained an open wound. That email was nothing like any other email I ever received from Kennedy. It wasn’t like him to show weakness.
Johanna died recently from breast cancer, but she was able to finally get her story out. She’d watched Wormwood on Netflix and felt compelled to contact the filmmaker, who’d instantly agreed to interview her. During the film, it becomes apparent Johanna felt she was being manipulated into Leary’s orbit and it was through surveillance on her that the CIA was keeping tabs on Leary. But she’d never been a knowing participant. And I believe this is the way a lot of intel operations work. Few have any clue to the unseen strings or who the puppet masters might be.
Johanna had become promiscuous at age 15, and a parade of powerful people connected to arms trafficking and illegal drugs soon became her friends and lovers. She became part of the Rolling Stones jet-setting entourage. At 26, she was likely nearing the end of a glamorous career as swinging super hottie, when Aleister Crowley devotee Anita Pallenberg (who’d inspired the Stones “Sympathy for the Devil” phase), told her to look up Leary because he was available and hiding out in Switzerland.
At their first meeting Leary pulled out Crowley Tarot deck.
I was disappointed the film never delved into whether Johanna could have been sold by her mother to the CIA as an MK/Ultra sex slave. She’d had a raging libido from the age of 15, and typically held at least eight males under her command at all times. The reason Wormwood resonated so deeply could have been because her role as an acid queen was ordained.
The sad truth about Leary is he was half-visionary and half-huckster. His first book on the psychedelic experience was based around the Tibetan Book of the Dead, magic incantations intended to lead the dying to nirvana, basically the same hoodwink MI6 operative Somerset Maugham deployed in the Razor’s Edge, in which the secrets of the universe are located in Eastern philosophies. Imagine leading people from India or China to adopt Catholicism as the true faith. Enlightenment is not like climbing a mountain. You don’t reach the top and become released from temporal bondage. There is no nirvana, no heaven, no hell, no eternal soul. You’re just replacing one Santa Claus story with another. The real secret to magic and religion is it only works on believers.
Strangely, the Weather Underground celebrated the Manson murders, and held Charlie up as a counterculture hero for “killing pigs.” They also celebrated Sirhan Sirhan for the same reason. Both Leary and Manson were held in isolation at the same prison, but their cells strangely located next door, allowing them to communicate.
“They took you off the streets so I could continue your work,” said Manson.
The Soul Assassins held a few rehearsals when I decided to bring a girl group into the act. Originally, this was designed as a way to build a female fan club, all of whom would become Assassinettes, but the promotion stunt eventually morphed into the stars of our show.
The original Assassinette was my girl friend at the time, Claudia, who I’d discovered while she was working as the phone receptionist for Tommy Boy Records. Claudia was a disco queen from Queens, half Italian, half Jewish. As far as style goes, few could touch her.
I think I asked her out on the spot or maybe it was my second visit to the office, but I was gaga over her immediately and couldn’t stop thinking about her.
Claudia had attracted others, most notably Jellybean, who had an open relationship with Madonna at the time. He offered Claudia a job as his assistant but when Madonna found out she hit the ceiling and had it squashed immediately, which hurt Claudia’s feelings since she was currently unemployed, something I suspected might have been somehow related with her unexpected involvement with me. Obviously, Tommy Boy never understood her value, but she would end up doing A&R for Profile Records before launching her own label called Maxi.
Flick brought in Jeannie, Romeo’s girl friend, and Claudia brought in her best friend, Elena, and the original trio appeared first in a club downtown that probably doesn’t exist anymore. Afterwards the girls were mobbed by horny guys while I immediately went down to the dressing room alone. Along the way, “Little Girl” by the Syndicate of Sound came over the sound system, a song we had actually played. Some stranger on the steps blurted out, “sounds exactly the same!”
I changed into a t-shirt as I was dripping sweat, when his imperial highness James Marshall, the dean of East Village rock critics, appeared in the doorway. I had no idea Marshall had even come to the show but was prepared to accept whatever withering comment he wanted to make.
Much to my surprise, he gave us an unqualified rave review, and I thanked him sincerely.
Shortly after this gig, there was trouble in paradise as Elena and Jeannie confronted Claudia about being off key, and that confrontation crushed Claudia and put her into a tearful state.
My Solomon-like decision was to start over. If Claudia couldn’t be chief Assassinette, I needed a new trio, as having the other two without her would be an endless psychodrama afflicting my harmony with the crew.
After calling the band together, and announcing my decision, I also established the first band rule: no sleeping with any Assassinettes.
A promoter had recently created “The Mind’s Eye” at Tramps to revive the garage psychedelic era, the music made by real teens before record companies perverted everything. I sent Andre Grossmann down to photograph the new scene and he came back with really cool photos, one of which jumped out at me. After working up a nice puff piece to promote the club, I invited Ivy, the genius promoter, to come to the office to check out the layout.
“Who’s that?” I asked Ivy pointing at a picture of an exotic multi-ethnic girl with purple streaks in her hair.
“Allegra of the Black Orchids,” she replied. I got Allegra’s phone number and invited her to the office to see her picture in the layout. I told Allegra I wanted to recruit her for my new girl group. I didn’t know it at the time, but that exotic look was half Vietnamese and half Sephardic Jew.
Allegra showed up with Abby, and right away explained she fronted her own band and couldn’t join my girl group, but felt sure Abby was the one I needed.
I don’t think Abby had ever been in the sunshine. Her skin was porcelain perfection. Built like Marilyn Monroe with a face like Betty Page. Abby must have based those bangs off Betty as she soon produced a Page homage video starring herself.
Abby had to be one of the most popular and highest-paid topless dancers in the Tristate Area but never did gigs in Manhattan and none of us were ever allowed to watch that show but safe to say some of the moves made it into our show. Abby worked for a posh private library and no doubt pulled down a significant salary there as well.
Flick found Kimona 117, who had more of a hip hop background, while Abby possessed a PhD in garage rock history. And since they were both alpha females, one wondered how this could harmonize. But once Kimona opened her mouth and belted out a few notes, everyone in the rehearsal room, including Abby, took a step back. Kimona had a voice like Joplin. It was obvious who was going to be the female star of the show.
Abby brought in her best friend Lucy. They were both from Boston and both were professional dancers. It was really confusing trying to figure out who of the three was the sexiest, even when you lined them all up together, but I guess most guys picked Lucy, who eventually became the most popular runway model for the East Village look. Those three girls bonded into a real sisterhood.
And that rule about not sleeping with Assassinettes? Well, I forgot to tell the girls about it and they had their own agendas, so while some hookups happened, others misfired, and it did turn into a bit of a psychic mind-field sometimes after all.
I dreamed about my own Roadtrek for over a decade before I finally was able to secure a vintage Dodge Versatile 190 for $20,000. The key was finding one with solar panels. I had to upgrade the inverter and battery system after boondocking for a week with Busy Bee at the Rainbow Gathering, when we blew most of the circuits between charging the ebikes and blasting our mobile PA.
Since that upgrade I’ve introduced a host of electrical appliances including a hot plate, air fryer, hotpot, dorm fridge, mini heater/cooler fridge, 24 inch Amazon Prime TV, Alexa, mini vacuum, mini washing machine, hepa air purifier, electric shower, mini driver with numerous attachments, Verizon 5G Jetpack, mini heater.
It has emergency food stash, mostly rice, dried beans and various seeds for sprouting, but a quick trip to Whole Foods can easily outfit the vehicle with enough fresh food to last a week or more. Most of the storage space is kept empty for provisions.
I could carry around hundreds of pounds of liquids, but I actually never fill up the water tank unless I’m boondocking, and then only after I arrive close to the destination. I keep the black and grey water tanks empty, and the black water tank was never pooped in.
Should I come upon water in any form, however, I can top off two solar showers, mini tub, and various other containers, the most pure of which is the Brita pitcher in the dorm fridge.
My favorite beverage while driving is an ice-cold Mexican coke. My favorite snack are fresh french fries. Slice an Idaho potato into your favorite size and soak for a few minutes or more in water. Damp dry and spray with a mist of olive oil. Form into a tower and cook on high for 20 minutes in air fryer. Pull the tray after 15 minutes and jumble the fries.
The full-sized bed inside is an organic futon, same model as the one I sleep on every night.
Providing all the necessary comforts (as well as toolkits and medical equipment), these Roadtrek vans are the ultimate tool for social distancing.
Give credit to the Elf for pioneering the concept of a solar-powered trike that can replace gas-guzzling cars for commuting and shopping locally.
A few years later, the PEBL was created as the Elf competitor. Last spring, however, Elf shut down their production and is currently seeking a financial rescue that may or may not come. Since over 800 Elfs were sold over the past six years, it’s not difficult to find a used one on the Internet, often at a fraction of the $10k cost of buying a new one. The Elf started at half that price, but the cost kept rising as improvements were made and features added.
Although the Elf is bigger and wider, remarkably, it weighs much less than the PEBL, which means it’s also easier to pedal. In fact, if the battery gives out, and you don’t have an outlet to plug into, or time to let the solar panel refill a completely dead battery (something that takes around 7 hours), it’s not that difficult to operate the Elf on pedal power alone, something that would be far more difficult with a PEBL.
But on just about every other feature, the PEBL blows away the Elf, mostly due to its suspension system. The Elf works fine on flat level roads with no potholes, but the ride can be bone-jarring over bumps. The antler arms can also be difficult to wrestle over bumps. Not so with the PEBL, which is easily steered with one hand. The Elf has a more recumbent position, while riders are more upright in the PEBL. I prefer upright, but some others may prefer a more recumbent posture.
You won’t often find a used PEBL for sale, which is likely a testament to customer satisfaction. I recently saw a fully-loaded model going for $7,000. At the present, there are two used Elves on the market, one for $3,000 and the other for $4,000. Since many two-wheel ebikes cost over $5k, the used Elf is typically a great bargain. I expect these bikes to eventually start increasing in value as they become more famous.
Because it is charged while in the bike, the PEBL battery is bigger and easier to charge. It also holds more juice. The Elf battery can be removed, or left in place to charge, but the connection and position of the battery makes the operation far more difficult than it should be.
The Elf has an open floor and unfinished interior, while the PEBL is fully enclosed and carpeted. For use at the beach, the Elf makes more sense and is easier to sweep clean of sand. The PEBL is more narrow and has a shorter turn radius, but that may also make it more susceptible to rollover.
The PEBL is a four-season bike easily ridden through rain and snow, unlike the Elf which is designed for warmer weather. Remarkably, the price between the two was not very far apart, which accounts for the PEBL being a great value, even with the recent price rise.
As for modifications, I replaced the Elf mirrors with larger ones that folded in completely. On the PEBL, I put a Batman logo over the BB logo on the front. I’d urge BetterBike to explore a better logo.
The Elf logo was stylized letters for Organic Transit, but many see it just as a “T” for “Tesla.” The logo for a futuristic vehicle like this should be simple and iconic, like the Tesla in my opinion. The PEBL also needed a strip of clear tape on the rear hatch hinge because it leaked rain water into the cabin. This did not solve the problem, but PEBL was nice enough to come pick up the trike and fix the leak free of charge. I also installed a better, wider handlebar with cork handles, front derailleur, and NuVinci transmission, all of which were big improvements and now available as add-ons.
Update on May 11, 2020: I flipped my PEBL after hitting a bump while turning. I was leaning the wrong way at the time. It’s super important to lean your weight into the turns. This forced me to ride the Elf again after a long layoff. I put a backseat pad in the Elf and it made a world of difference. Makes up for the lack of rear suspension. I highly recommend this pad and ended up putting one in the PEBL as well.
After riding both trikes for hundreds of miles, I found I prefer the Elf in summer, but need the PEBL for the cold months. I added two small mini coolers to the Elf to keep the dogs out of the wheel well, and also use small boogie boards as doors to keep them from jumping out during stops. I also put battery-powered electric fans in both vehicles. I’m currently experimenting with various tinted film to put over the windows on both vehicles in the summer. The Batbike will likely be mirrored all around, while the front windshield on the Elf will be clear but still heat-blocking.
If you are considering using this vehicle for commuting you’d probably be happier with a PEBL, but if you are using it primarily as an exercise machine, you might be better off with a used Elf, especially at one third the price.
Update July 2020, the new PEBL 100 looks amazing, and they took my advice on the front logo. This is now the model to have as it has numerous upgrades over previous models.
Update September 2020: Covid really slowed down PEBL deliveries, and some who ordered Spring of 2019 are still waiting. Meanwhile, it’s been reported that the delays are a result of difficulty getting essential parts out of Europe. The owners are presently planning to move the factory to Europe, which will likely result in a big increase in shipping charges and more delays. However, they may have a few refurbished models ready to ship now. Meanwhile, if you want either an Elf or a PEBL anytime soon, better stick with a used model. Hopefully both Elf and PEBL will be back up and running soon.
Update February 2020: formed a bike club in Atlantic Highlands, NJ, for Elf and PEBL riders. The club is called Riders du Soleil. We have some really cool gear for the members.