10 Non-fiction Masterpieces

Black Elk Speaks by John G. Neighardt

You have to give props to Native culture, which has always had a tremendous influence on the history of the counterculture, starting with the Tuscarora at Congo Square in New Orleans, birthplace of the improvisational culture we know today as the counterculture. Even though the Natives were much more advanced spiritually, European culture certainly did its best to destroy their vibrant and vibratory ceremonies. Black Elk was one of the most enlightened holy men to ever come down the pike in any culture and this book is a good place to start if you want some idea of how their ceremonies actually work.

The Yankee and Cowboy War by Carl Oglesby

Oglesby was the most articulate and intelligent leader to emerge from the SDS movement, and this book blew conspiracy theory wide open when it traced the links between the Kennedy assassination and Watergate very early in the game. Oglesby tried to penetrate the conflicts inside the Oligarachy that controls America. Especially groundbreaking was Olgesby’s analysis of the war between the Rockefellers and Howard Hughes that probably resulted in Hughes being neutralized. Whether they killed him and put a puppet in his place, or whether they just kidnapped and drugged him into submission is a question that may never get answered.

America’s Secret Establishment by Antony Sutton

This book got completely ignored by the mainstream, and for good reasons. Sutton was a leading economist at the Hoover Institute when he stumbled onto one of the greatest secrets in the world: The Oligarchy controlling America was involved in setting up Hitler and Communism in order to milk war for profit. Sutton detailed how a secret society at Yale University played a key role in transforming our country into a highly-centralized and heavily-controlled state. But then societies like Skull & Bones exist at every major university where the Oligarchy sends its kids to prepare them on how to run the world.

Terror or Love? by Bommi Baumann

Was the 1960s counterculture revolution intentionally led into violence in order to neutralize the hippie movement? Germany’s leading revolutionary certainly thinks so. It’s a toss-up which book will be harder to find, this one or Carl Oglesby’s. Bommi became a successful capitalist and landowner in Germany. Unfortunately, he passed away before we could meet. I would certainly have loved to meet this guy, since he remains one of the greatest unsung heroes of our time, someone who turned away from terror to embrace the core values of the spiritual revolution of the 1960s.

Wilderness of Mirrors by David C. Martin

Just how crazy are the people who run the CIA? They don’t get any crazier than James Jesus Angleton, the super paranoid king of spooks. Martin is a true insider: Yale grad, Navy vet, and Newsweek correspondent, and I spoke to him after reading this stunning book. I wanted to know if Angleton conspired with William Harvey to assassinate JFK. Martin was strenuous in denying any such connection, but now I know better: Angleton, Harvey and Johnny Rosselli were undoubtedly among the key players in that crime.

Gold Warriors by Sterling and Peggy Seagrave

For decades the hidden gold from WWII has been the CIA’s most closely guarded secret. Rather than return all the gold stolen by the Nazi’s and Japanese, certain highly-placed individuals inside the Oligarchy decided to secretly move the gold into secret funds that could be used to manipulate world events. Nixon probably ran afoul of the CIA when he returned one of these multi-billion dollar accounts back to the Japanese, which may be why the CIA decided to take him out of power through Watergate. You need to read this book to discover how the world really works.

The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe

Tom Wolfe was a Yale grad sent straight from the heart of the establishment to report on the emergence of the second counterculture messiah, Ken Kesey (who was already in jail by the time the book came out). Wolfe never connected with the cosmic side of the movement, and, in fact, made fun of its spirituality, but he was a good enough journalist to get the basic story right. Today, I view Kesey as our Odysseus and the magic bus ride as a prophetic message. Perhaps we need to band into tribes and become more migratory as the earth changes set in (just like the original Sakka’s who spread cannabis across the globe). This book remains the best portrait of Kesey and his merry band, and I love the fact my copy is signed by many Pranksters, including the Great Kenmaster Kesey himself.

Living Well is the Best Revenge by Calvin Tomkins

Calvin Tomkins was one of my biggest early influences as a writer. I just love his approach to art, which concentrates on personalities instead of theories. Gerald and Sara Murphy led enlightened lives and you can learn a lot by reading about them. This book begins as a fun read but ultimately turns tragic. And at under 150 pages, it will go very, very fast.

Chronicles by Bob Dylan

As if becoming the leading poet of his generation and then leading the folk movement into rock and becoming the first counterculture messiah (and then turning that job down emphatically and going into hiding) wasn’t enough, Bob Dylan had to unveil an entire new dimension of his artistic abilities with the release of this masterpiece of counterculture literature in 2004. I especially like the encounters he had with Skull & Bones member Archibald MacLeish, who positively drips with evil vibrations as he tries (unsuccessfully) to pull Dylan into a Broadway production he’s developing. This book has a unique perspective on the sixties from the very tip of the lightning rod.

The Man Who Knew Too Much by Dick Russell

One of the most insightful books every written about the Kennedy assassination, Russell figured out there were plenty of people willing to talk about the case who had important info to share, especially the sons and daughters of CIA agents who felt their parents were somehow involved. Even more important, Russell made contact with the one undercover agent who tried very hard to blow the whistle and prevent the assassination, Richard Case Nagell. Russell is now a co-author with Jesse Ventura.

Additional shout-outs to: In Cold Blood by Truman Capote, Treason in America by Anton Chaikin, The Franklin Scandal by Nick Bryant, A Terrible Mistake by H.P. Albarelli and Octopus Conspiracy by Steven Hager (that’s me!)

10 Literary Masterpieces

Really the Blues by Mezz Mezzrow and Bernard Wolfe

Can anyone explain why this book never won any awards or even had a film adaptation, considering it’s the greatest work on the origins of the counterculture that gave birth to blues, jazz and rock’n’roll? The answer, of course, is that Mezzrow had the audacity to marry a black woman at a time when it was illegal in most states for whites and blacks to mix. Mezzrow goes into great detail on the use of sacramental substances for enhancing ceremonies (jam sessions), and concludes that marijuana is the best and safest. Mezz was one of the first three inductees into the High Times Counterculture Hall of Fame and his only child (Milton) attended the ceremony and accepted a Cup on his father’s behalf.

Fat City by Leonard Gardner

You may be familiar with the John Huston film of the same name (also scripted by Gardner), but the book is even more powerful. Set at the crossroads of harsh migrant labor versus even harsher boxing realities, this short, tightly-constructed novel is impossible to put down once started. It also takes the reader on a voyage to some of the deeper parts of the human soul. Born in Stockton, CA, (where the book is set) Gardner now lives in Marin and has become something of a recluse. In my opinion, his masterpiece is a far more mature artistic statement than say, the more popular The Catcher in the Rye.

Big Sur by Jack Kerouac

Although On the Road kick-started the hippie movement, and was a deeply spiritual prose-poem that took the improvisational energy of jazz and transformed it into literature, unfortunately, it doesn’t hold much appeal for millennial minds. So I recommend starting with Big Sur, Kerouac’s darkest book, and then move on to Dharma Bums, and then maybe you’ll be ready to digest On the Road .

It Looks Like Up to Me by Richard Farina

Farina and Bob Dylan were two titans of the early folk scene. They collaborated at first and eventually battled it out for supremacy at one point. But Farina certainly took the crown on fiction. After On the Road, this was probably the most influential book for intelligent teens in the sixties and it really opened some major doors revealing secrets, including the hidden hand of intelligence agents in the worlds of drugs and revolutions, and the dark side of unrestricted behaviors.

Angels by Denis Johnson

It’s ok this was written under the influence of Fat City (I know because Denis told me) because everybody has to be influenced by somebody and you might as well pick the best. This amazing novel, however, goes to even darker dimensions than Gardner’s masterpiece and is truly a walk on the wild side of life where morality becomes distorted almost beyond recognition. Just writing this book may have helped Denis get off junk forever and should serve as a warning to anyone wanting to travel down that road. And yes, I have a signed original edition.

Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs

And speaking of traveling down that junky road, no one ever put more people on that path than Burroughs, who remains, after all, “The Man,” as Hunter S. Thompson always referred to him. Burroughs was simply the greatest literary stylist and most original thinker of all counterculture literary icons. You probably need to read this book several times during the course of a lifetime just to fully absorb the contents.

Journey to the End of the Night by Celine

In a way, this book got it all started in the first place. Written in 1932, Louis-Ferdinand Celine’s Bardamu was the original counterculture hero, dripping with cynicism and black humor. Naturally, it took years for anyone to recognize the genius of this book, and Celine never achieved anything close to the respect he deserved, mostly because of his unfortunate support for the Nazis. Politics, however, were really never an important issue in his work, since he viewed the world as a corrupt place run by idiots.

The Risk of Being Ridiculous by Guy Maynard

Maynard grew up in Urbana, Illinois, a year ahead of me, and was one of the leading figures in the garage-band movement that started around 1966. His book takes place in 1969 and really captures the intensity of the times. I gave it a rave review in High Times and it inspired me to dig up my own archives.

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre by B. Traven

Is there a more mysterious figure in the history of counterculture literature than B. Traven, whose history and background have long been in dispute? Most of Traven’s books are set in Mexico and involve the conflicts between the Native population and the Spanish invaders who took over their lands. This book exposes the darkness of human greed better than any book in history. The film was great, but the book is even better.

The Manchurian Candidate by Richard Condon

I promised to keep this list to ten, so I have to sign off on this one, even though there are lots of little-known masterpieces left to discuss. This book revealed many secrets from the intelligence community regarding brainwashing, only instead of ascribing the nasty business to our own CIA’s MK/ULTRA program, it placed all the blame on the North Koreans, Chinese and Russians. The world will never be the same after you read this book and you’ll suddenly know why F. Scott Fitzgerald said the rich were nothing like the rest of us.

Special shout-outs to: The Ginger Man by J.P. Dunleavy, The Rachel Papers by Martin Amis, and Dog Soldiers by Robert Stone.

Two Books Worth Checking Out

The Risk of Being Ridiculous by Guy Maynard got me interested in blogging about the 1960s. Maynard grew up in Urbana, Illinois, a year ahead of me, and was one of the leading figures in the garage-band movement that started around 1966. His book takes place in 1969 and really captures the intensity of the times. I gave it a rave review in High Times and it inspired me to dig up my own archives from the 1960s, especially a short story I wrote called “The Steam Tunnels.” I was surprised at how well my story had held up over the years. I’d forgotten most of the trauma I went through in the mid-’60s. People called it a “Generation Gap” but it was really a “Generation War.”

Well, there’s another novelist from my home town who wrote extensively about Carpenter and Cole, who (along with Guy and George Faber) had led the garage-rock movement in Central Illinois. Mandy Moores was actually one of my sister’s best friends in high school, and she ended up briefly married to Carp, and lived with him down in New Orleans when he and Cole were both deep-sea diving off oil platforms around the world. It was incredibly dangerous work, although the pay was pretty good.

Mandy’s book, Dream Palace, came out many years ago, but I just got around to reading it recently. Mandy’s brother, Brian, was the original drummer for my band, the Soul Assassins, as well as one of the drummers for a later incarnation of The Finchley Boys, the greatest garage band to emerge from Central Illinois. I’ve lost touch with both Brian and Mandy, so maybe this blog will bring them back into my orbits.

You can pick up a copy of Dream Palace for around a buck on Amazon. I kinda wish I could have helped Mandy edit this project, because she’s clearly a very talented writer. This first novel could have been something spectacular, on a similar level as Maynard’s book, but it has some flaws. For one, Mandy was a little too close to the subject when she wrote this, and had a lot of issues she was working out. Carp had a well-known anger-management problem, and we all knew you didn’t push his buttons unless you were looking for serious trouble. But Carp could also be a heroic figure, and this side of him is mostly missing. I also would have loved to have gotten more details on his garage band origins in Urbana, as well as more details on the dangers of deep-sea diving. For example, When Doug Blair got beat-up for making fun of the football coach (Smitty),  it was Carp who went after Frank Sowers to take revenge. Reading the book, I couldn’t believe how tough Mandy was, pushing Carp’s buttons big-time, forcing confrontations with him, and basically not taking any shit at all. Unfortunately, their marriage was doomed because they were headed in completely different directions. Mandy had a fairy-tale view on life when in high school. I remember her many paintings that evoked this magical dream life. The book does a good job of capturing this side of her personality, but her fairy tale turned bad when Carp started getting violent.

Bugsy’s not in the book far as I could tell, although he was also part of that New Orleans crew, working as a deep sea diver. Carp always had some major schemes going on. Mandy goes into great detail on his 50-foot sailboat that he overhauled and eventually took to Jamaica for a load of pot. Unfortunately, this trip coincided with an anti-smuggling campaign supervised by then-Vice President George Bush. On their way back to the Florida Keys with a boatload of ganja, Carp and Bugsy were unexpectedly intercepted by a fleet of warships that had been deployed to root out drug smugglers. With the Coast Guard bearing down on him, Carp went into action-mode, and tried to dump all the bales before they were intercepted. Unfortunately, he wasn’t fast enough and the Coast Guard was able to pull a bunch of the bales out of the water.

In a most amazing coincidence, the head prosecutor in Florida handling their case was none other than Ralph Hersey, who’d been a columnist for my underground paper, The Tin Whistle. I tried to recruit all the best writers in my high school and Ralph had been suggested by one of the English teachers. Ralph was a good counterpoint to Charlie Gerron. They were both black, but Charlie was angry and confrontational, while Ralph was the model of common sense and morality. We also had a great poet in our class, Jim Guthrie, and I remember going to Jim’s house and trying to recruit him. Jim took one look at the first issue of The Tin Whistle, however, and decided it wasn’t for him. His work was considerably more mature than what most of us were doing at the time and Jim would go on to win many poetry awards in the 1970s.

Madonna’s Illuminati Moment

A few years ago, immediately after a Super Bowl, Alex Jones’ Info Wars claimed Madonna’s halftime performance was an Illuminati ceremony worshiping the devil. This report was preceded by an update on chemtrails, another valuable barometer for disinfo op in progress.

“Baphomet is an idol used by Satanists to worship the devil,” says the British lad who does most of the broadcasts for Info Wars, while showing the incriminating evidence (left).

Like chemtrails, illuminati is a certified mind-control buzz-word fostered by a well-funded disinfo industry to hype fear, confusion and misdirection. The Illuminati was a secret society that plotted European domination from a base in Bavaria, but they employed science not satanism. The world has always been peppered with such secret societies fighting for a bigger piece of the skim, because powerful people love to plot, they love skim, and they really are running the world!

What is unusual about the Illuminati is they were uncovered, supposedly thanks to a bolt of lightening killing one of their couriers. They were a Jesuit nest inside Freemasonry, which for centuries remained the most powerful secret society, and many of those lodges may have been assets for British intelligence the entire time. Secret societies in Bavaria were banned after the Illuminati plot was exposed, but isn’t it obvious that ban had little impact?

The Illuminati were recruiting among the noble classes. They were supposed to be devoted to overthrowing the monarchies, but seemed more interested in the pursuit of power and influence. The Enlightenment was spreading across Europe, (just like hippies spread from the West Coast to the East several centuries later). The Enlightenment was attracting insiders in the royal families, some of whom may have been serious about democracy and others who were probably just acting as spooks. If the Vatican didn’t create the society, its spies would have penetrated it fairly quickly. The genius of the Illuminati was constructing cell structures that allowed it to grow without compromising members, most of whom never knew each other. The Communists inherited many of the techniques, which is why some consider Communism an Illuminati op.

Power is an evolution passed through the generations, and every generation has the ability to make its mark. Religion is a tool used by those in power to manage the population. The state religion is easily adjusted when necessary, changes guided through the machinations of secret societies. The vast majority of these societies will never see the light of day. The only known chapter of the Illuminati is Yale University’s Order of Skull & Bones.

Baphomet was invented by the King of France as a device to take down the Templars, who he was deeply indebted to. It was a bastardization of Muhammad. Much later Eliphas Levy resurrected the concept by creating Baphomet as a pagan deity representing the unification of male and female, heaven and hell, above and below. The same thing as a yin-yang symbol or a star of David, both of which are also ancient male-female unification symbols. Levi was about to become a Catholic priest when he changed direction and took on a Jewish name and created the modern Tarot cards. He had a deep impact on the history of magic, influencing Aleister Crowley among many others, who, we know now, was a sometime agent of British Intelligence. Ian Fleming, who created James Bond, was Crowley’s handler during WWII, although he was most active as a spy during WWI. You want a conspiracy? How about the evolution of a British assassin into the biggest role model in America?

That Vulcan hand signal, by the way, is an ancient Judaic priestly mudra designed to infer long life and blessing, and can be found on many tombstones (left). Leonard Nimoy saw it used in his synagogue and introduced it to mainstream culture.

Anytime anyone attacks an entire spiritual cultural, whether it be Christians, Jews, or even Satanists, they are spreading hate speech and playing into the hands of the sorcerers who manipulate religion to manifest war for profit. There are good and bad people in all cultures, and when it comes to investigating black ops it’s important to stay focused on real people, with real names. I’d just as soon watch a halftime show with pagan symbols rather than Christian symbols, but I respect all cultures and seek to unify them all as they are rivers flowing to the same sea. And in a land with freedom of religion, all religions that do no harm are tolerated.

But I know nothing I say will stop the manipulated Tin Foil Hat Patrol from having a knee-jerk reaction and believing that Madonna is an agent of the devil, when, in fact, the real message of her show was: World Peace. See the real Illuminati, they create wars for profit, which is why all potential peace messiahs die young. So spreading peace really isn’t what the Illuminati are all about. They foster racism, hatred and war. But the Illuminati are very clever and being a wolf-in-sheep’s clothing is their practiced art, and their campaigns are always well-hidden behind some great charity or worthy cause, or appeal to your inner goodness, or disinfo campaign like Alex Jones. It’s called the “hoodwink” and Alex has a role in the game.

Foreword: The Steam Tunnels

This is a painful entry in the journals of youth—a direct, autobiographical transcription of a familial and generational war, recorded in the penultimate year of 1967, when the forces on both sides of the generation gap assembled for a great face-off. It is perhaps difficult for anyone who did not live through that period to understand just how high the emotions were running on both sides (Get a God-damn haircut!) America was a land of a thousand contradictions (and dances!) whose myths were being put to the test.
Blake Moore is a young man on fire: in love with books and ideas, and he has the great electric current of the 1960’s running through him at full voltage. His mentor is a slightly older classmate named Wesly Pinter, a rebellious semi-delinquent who functions as Huckleberry Finn to Blake’s Tom Sawyer. Pinter introduces Blake to some of the usual ways of teenage rebellion, but he also tells his intrigued and impressionable young friend about a mysterious secret: the existence of the steam tunnels that run underground beneath the entire town, offering an irresistible lure waiting to be discovered, and they are soon exploring the tunnels together. You couldn’t ask for a more perfect metaphor: the tunnels are a labyrinth—a great seething subconscious—affording a clandestine access to key places and buildings throughout the town—as the forces of the underground break through the thin crust of a complacent America, and literally through the cracks of academia as the forces of the burgeoning youth culture swell like lava through the crumbling monuments of the old society.
My favorite moment of the story is when Blake’s father catches him late one night in bed, hiding under the covers surreptitiously reading something with a flashlight. The father bursts into the room in a rage and tears back the blankets, perhaps expecting to find his son reading pornography or some other typical teenage interest: he grabs the book out of his son’s hands and is taken aback for a brief instant: the book is Moby Dick—our greatest American novel. This is a telling moment—the father onslaught is halted momentarily by this discovery—it wasn’t what he expected. His murderous rampage is slowed for a moment—but only for a moment—as he perhaps realizes that his son’s world is deeper and more complex than he assumed.
This very brief little story—its almost a book proposal, really—begs to be expanded and fleshed out into a full length novel. I want more: I want to read about Blake/Hager and his cronies in full battle mode—propelled through the tunnels by mad counter-cultural fuel—rising up from the underground (yes, like steam!) and breaking through into the consciousness of America in 1967. I want to explore the steam tunnels along with Blake—following all the twists and turns, and secret chambers, and I want to be with them as they break into the university!
We can hope that Hager may someday want to revisit this little sketch and turn it into something bigger. This story captures the pressures and violence—both physical and emotional—of a not too atypical family caught up in the turmoil of a radically changing America in the indelible year of 1967. Peace, man!

~Brian Spaeth

Kenny Scharf’s Fun Factory

I sensed there was something important Kenny wanted to tell me. After all, that’s what Min, his assistant, told me when she let me in. But it’s taking Kenny an unusually long time to get around to the subject at hand.

Finally, he pulls out a proof of my Art After Midnight cover that I’d delivered the previous day and waves his hands around, searching for words to express his feelings.

“Don’t you think a different painting would work better?” he gently says finally.

Art After Midnight is primarily about Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring and Kenny Scharf, but it’s clearly centered on Scharf, and I’d picked his painting, “When World’s Collide,” as the Guernica of the East Village art movement, which is why I wanted it on the cover. Flick Ford had sized the painting to its maximum for the page, but that still left a huge blank space, which Flick had filled with his own art piece, creating an illustration in place of a typeface and customizing it with his own esthetic. I thought the two pieces worked together, but I suddenly wondered if the lettering wasn’t overwhelming the painting a bit, which is obviously what was bothering Kenny. But when I called the printer, I discovered it was too late to change, which spared me any further aggravation or having to confront Flick. Fortunately, this faux pax didn’t cost my relationship with Kenny, but I sometimes wonder if he cringes whenever he sees it.

You see, The Merry Pranksters had been my primary role models from the age of 15 (1966), and it was from them I first learned about magic. After an explosive blow-up with my family (detailed in my just-released ebook, The Steam Tunnels), I moved into the empty basement of our home. Very quickly, I painted the white walls with a bucket of battleship grey I’d found, painting huge, swirling faces with the ease of a zen master, even though I’d never done anything like that before (or since). All these ghostly blobs were positive, with happy faces, except one, which unexpectedly turned out very scary-looking.That face was so scary I had to avoid it when I was tripping. I had one step in the darkside at the time, still seeking my eventual path in life. But the Pranksters had redirected me solidly on the path of the Fun Vibe. I hung blankets and bedspreads to divide the room into three sections, and built my art and music studio in the largest one. I began studying the bass guitar in earnest so I could join a garage band, my principle ambition since my friend John Hayes said I could join The Knight Riders if I learned bass, even though Donnie Perino, their current bass player, was probably the best musician in central Illinois.

Many years later, I was passing through town and discovered my parent’s were in the process of covering up my basement murals with sheet-rock. Most of the room was already done, but I did manage to go down with my friend Maarten and get a photo of the spooky face before it was covered up. For some reason, I felt it important to document. Imagine my surprise, when I found myself in New York, 15 years later, confronted by this young Kenny Scharf, who had just usurped the entire Prankster movie by taking it to another level. It was like having my whole life’s journey vindicated in some strange way.

By customizing your existence you create a magically-charged environment. The altar plays an obvious focal point in many ceremonies, and helps focus and center whatever vibration you’re channeling, but the Pranksters and Kenny learned that when you crawl inside your altar, you can spiritually charge everything around you, and open portals to other dimensions if you’re lucky. And when this happens, a tremendous burst of creative energy is released. That is magic. Of course, you can scout any trail you want, energy comes in many flavors, but Kenny was hip to the Fun Vibe, and helped me understand and process a lot of what I’d been through in the ’60s and point me in the right direction again at a time when it was hard to stay centered. It was so weird because the entire art establishment was trying to write Kenny off as “lightweight”, while I found him to be one of the most spiritually enlightened people I’d ever encountered.

Anyway, what I really want to tell you is that Art After Midnight, long out-of-print, can be found on Amazon, Smashwords and iTunes.

Art After Midnight: The East Village Scene

I was super disappointed with the layout and production of my first book, Hip Hop, so I brought in my own personal art director (Flick Ford) to lay out my second book, Art After Midnight: The East Village Scene.

Hip Hop was about the South Bronx in the 1970s, but my second book was going to be about how the punk movement and the hip hop movements collided in the East Village in the 1980s. The book has been out-of-print for decades and copies in good condition sell for over $100, so it’s about time it was released as an ebook at an affordable price. When it came out, a lot of critics thought it was a bit lightweight because it concentrated more on nightlife than art criticism, but many artists, including Kenny Scharf and Ann Magnuson, have recently told me it remains the definitive document of the Mudd Club and Club 57 era. The book is now available at Amazon, Smashwords and iTunes.

The first history of Hip Hop

Long out-of-print and with copies selling for upwards of $500, the original hip hop history written by the first journalist to document the scene is now available. When the book first appeared in 1984, here’s what some of the press had to say:

“…extremely well-written…”

Rock&Roll Confidential, #16/September 1984: HOME XEROXING PROSPECTS…Hip Hop by Steven Hager is an intelligent, vividly illustrated and extremely well-written account of the rise of hiphop culture. It begins at the beginning, that is to say, with James Brown and details the destructive policies of New York planner Robert Moses that created the South Bronx in the first place. By the end of the book you’ll feel close enough to many of the graffiti writers, breakers, djs and rappers that they’ll seem like old friends. —Dave Marsh

“…sets the record straight…sorted out fact from fiction…”

Paper Magazine: Steven Hager’s Hip Hop attempts to set the record straight on the endlessly argued questions of who did what first where. On the case for years, interviewing anyone and everyone, Hager (who also came up with the idea of Beat Street) has sorted out fact from fiction and written as “true” a story as we’re likely to get. — David Hershkovits

“…the best and most reliable history…”

Penthouse October 1984: Within a few months time the Hollywood films Breakin’ and Beat Street were huge summer hits. A half-dozen books on break dancing are on the market, not to mention more movies and instructional aids. In Hip Hop,  the best and most reliable history of the break-rap-graffiti subculture, author Steven Hager reveals that break dancing actually started around 1973 amid the urban devastation of New York’s South Bronx and had all but disappeared by 1978, supplanted by newer dances like the “freak” (ritualized dry-humping) and robotic “electric boogie,” What saved breaking from disappearing into the limbo of great lost dances? Mostly the growing popularity of disk jockeys like Kool Herc, Afrika Bambaataa, and Grandmaster Flash, who encouraged competitive dancers at club and community-center functions.—Robert Palmer

“…thrilling intricate story…”

Artforum: Did Keith Haring’s use of found frames make his work something other than graffiti, which defines its own field? Did the Funky Four + 1s “That’s the joint” and Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five’s “The Message” speak separate languages? Such questions don’t come up in this fine book; Hager is stronger on sociology than art, more acute on the secret history of the scene than on its spectacular emergence. The prehistory was really secret: budding graffiti writers seeking the new Bronx Kilroys, would-be DJs looking for the right party to crash, cops chasing guerrilla artists, turntable wizards stripping the labels from their records to out-fox the competition. Hager makes it all a thrilling, intricate story, all set against the heroic opposition between master-builder Robert Moses, destroyer of the Bronx, and Afrika Bambaataa, tribune of a new culture built on the ruins of the old. But Hager loses his tale once it becomes public, as perhaps it has lost itself. His claim that hip hop “has the potential to infiltrate and subvert the mass media, energizing them with a fresh supply of symbols, myths, and values” doesn’t define hip hop: it defines America’s ability to recuperate the idea of subversion itself. Still, Hager talked to the right people—better yet, they talked to him.—Greil Marcus

“…thorough job of research…”

Pulse: New York City always seems to be at the cutting edge of trends in pop culture. Recently, breakdancing, hip-hop and rap records, and, to a lesser degree graffiti art have broken out of their Gotham origins, gotten picked up by the media and—as a result—have become important movements in ’80s pop culture. Steven Hager’s Hip Hop is a fast reading history of how these movements started—and developed —that focuses on the many personalities that made it happen. Hugo Martinez and Keith Haring, Afrika Bambaataa and Grandmaster Flash—from street-gang origins to recognition by serious art and music critics—they all come alive here in Hip Hop. This is a quick read—you can knock it off in an evening—but don’t get the idea that Hip Hop is one of those quickie exploitation jobs cranked out to cash in on current fads. Hager—whose original newspaper article inspired the film Beat Street—has done a thorough job of research, tracked down many obscure artists, breakers, and DJs for some cool interviews, and tied everything together in beautiful style.

“…Hager is an ace reporter…”

Village Voice  January 14, 1986: Hager offers a good helping of relevant data, bringing us through the two phases of graffiti’s art world acceptance, pinpointing crucial journalistic moments (though not his own Voice profile of Afrika Bambaataa, which is where Beat Street began), and devoting an epilogue to the fallout from the biggest of all hip hop’s breakthroughs—the crassly out-of-context  appearance of the Rock Steady breakers in the crassly pop-populist Flashdance. But Hager is an ace reporter, not a critic or social historian. —Robert Christgau

“…for those who wonder how it all started…”

The Palm Beach Post October 26, 1984: Most of us have probably seen enough break dancing to last us several lifetimes. For those who still wonder how it all started, a new book has come out called Hip Hop by Steven Hager, who tells us, among other things, that the graffiti sprouted on subways and walls were started by a young Greek named Taki, who put his first tag on an ice-cream truck in 1970.

“…formidable job of reporting…”

Knight-Ridder News Service March 30, 1985: Hip Hop takes its title from the street term for the entire urban subculture of rap music, break dancing, and graffiti art. The book comes packaged as if it were a bit of fluff intended to capitalize on the break dancing craze. The text, however, is a formidable job of reporting. Hager, a former reporter for the New York Daily News, tracked down many of rap’s most elusive figures, like the South Bronx disk jockeys who played the first rap records on turntables set up on street corners, and the earliest rappers, whose performances were given a parties and on inner-city playgrounds. The result is a description of a vibrant subculture.—Ken Tucker

“…fine investigative report…”

Voice of Youth Advocates: New York journalist Hager, who followed the hip hop scene for years before mass appeal set in, does a fine investigative report here. His sources: the horse’s mouth. The book is full of quotes of original New York hip hoppers he has interviewed: graffiti artists such as Futura 2000 who began “writing” on subway trains and now commands thousands of dollars in commissions, deejays such as Grandmixer DST who reveals here the secrets of his “scratchin'” technique, rappers who record their staccato rhymes now but whose tradition extends back to prisoners composing rhyming fables called toasts, and break dancers in hit films who began as street gang warriors. Their voices give Hager’s account authenticity.—Cathi Edgerton

“…explains how hip hop happened…”

The Boston Herald December 9, 1984: Hip Hop was written by Steven Hager, a longtime reporter on the musical and artistic subculture that’s rocked the world after busting out of New York’s slums. This serious but not heavy-handed guide explains how hip hop happened and what it’s all about.

“…it’s impressive…”

New York Daily News: Steven Hager’s Hip Hop isn’t a definitive study but, considering how hard it is to get information on the street culture of the South Bronx (few written sources, many reluctant or self-serving informants), it’s impressive.—David Hinckley

“…hits home with little-known facts…”

Billboard Sept. 15, 1984: Hager hits home with some little-known facts: that blacks were performing a form of break dancing in the mid-70s and at some point abandoned it, to be revived by Latin males, that graffiti artists often collect in “gangs” to study each other’s technique and avoid police while utilizing their favorite canvasses, New York City subway cars, and that a Bronx DJ named Kool Herc played a crucial role in the development of hip-hop music. —Nelson George

“…excellent book…”

KLIAT January 1985: This fascinating book is not a how-to manual, but a discussion of the evolution of Hip Hop, that subculture of dance, art and music that started in the South Bronx. He doesn’t romanticize Hip Hop, but he doesn’t treat it condescendingly either. An excellent book Hip Hop is worth owning. —F.L.

“…the best read on the subject…”

East Village Eye: Steven Hager’s new book Hip Hop is certainly the best read to be found on the subject. Hager was the first major writer to pick up on the movement, and he remains the best. His book encompasses the entire spectrum. —James Marshall

“…messy, ego-obsessed scrawls…”

New Musical Express September 22, 1984: There seems to be an inability to ridicule the more ridiculous aspects (like the graffiti artist who arrived at a rival’s house with a shooter threatening to use it unless he changed his pen-name). He also shares the age-old white critic’s fallibility of reading more importance than is necessary into black man’s art—most of the illustrations herein show street graffiti to be messy ego-obsessed scrawls. —Gavin Martin

“…obsolete as last month’s Magic Marker….”

Heavy Metal Feb/March, 1985: The walk from the South Bronx to the Lower East Side is long, and Hip Hop is like the view from a Greyhound bus. Encompassing break dancing, rapping, scratching, and street fashion, spanning from the present day New York back into the beyond, Hip Hop is a lot to digest. Even worse, the bleached-out black-and-white pages lack the visual beauty of their subject. Writer Steven Hager has renovated his Soho News and Village Voice articles to dissertation length, and even tacked on a glossary and bibliography that will, if we know Hip Hop, be obsolete as last month’s Magic Marker. —SM

“…formidable job of reporting…”

Joseph Heller and Louis-Ferdinand Celine

In 1970, I attended a lecture by Joseph Heller at Valparaiso University. Heller’s best-selling novel (Catch-22) was about to be released as a major motion picture.

During the lecture, Heller mentioned the inspiration for his main character came from a French novelist. I made a mental note to check out that novelist, but by the time I got home, I’d already forgotten his name. So I wrote a letter to Heller.

Much to my surprise, I got a quick response providing the answer as well as recommendations for other writers to check out. I immediately read Journey to the End of the Night and afterwards, Catch-22 seemed like a pale imitation (sorry Joe). I couldn’t understand how a book that created the modern anti-hero and revolutionized stream-of-consciousness writing remained so obscure. I considered myself an authority on counterculture literature, and had been reading everything I could find for over five years, and yet, didn’t discover Celine until I was 19 years old.

The reason seemed to be Celine had become a rabid anti Semite after the lack of success of his first novel. Maybe his first publisher was Jewish and that got the ball rolling. But our two most famous American novelists, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Earnest Hemingway were both notorious anti Semites, and The Sun Also Rises positively drips with hatred of Jews and gays, yet it didn’t seem to hold back Hemingway’s career at all.

Celine wasn’t the only man of letters to conclude that a conspiracy existed between British intelligence and some dynastic banking families of Jewish heritage. Didn’t Ezra Pound come to similar conclusions?

Journey to the End of the Night is a masterpiece and should have been recognized as such. The fact that Celine later in life wrote essays suggesting Jews should be expelled from France really should have no impact on his previous work as an artist, especially since there are no traces of antisemitism in his first novel.

Of course, Heller was Jewish himself, and Catch-22 never would have existed without Celine’s inspiration. If critics are going to insist on rejecting Celine’s considerable artistic accomplishments based on views he later expressed in essays, then I’m afraid there is very long line of racists whose work ought be treated with equal disdain. Celine was a huge influence on William S. Burroughs and many other groundbreaking novelists. Bukowski called him “the greatest writer of 2,000 years.”

Within a few months, I would write “The Stockholm Manifesto,” a rant heavily influenced by Celine. You can read the short story in my fiction collection titled 1966.

 

The strange death of Robert Maxwell

I love spy movies, especially when they reveal true facts and trade-craft. For a long time, my favorite in the genre was The Manchurian Candidate, which introduced both martial arts and mind control to America. Unfortunately, Hollywood did a terrible remake a few years ago. (The book by Richard Condon, however, is a masterpiece, just like the original film.)

A few years ago, Roman Polanski did an excellent job with The Ghost Writer, capturing the fog of paranoia surrounding a deep political event. (Such fog can be manufactured to conceal controllers of a managed confrontation.) Carlos, about Ilich Sanchez, is another great spy miniseries that could have been better if the director had been allowed to keep his original soundtrack (by The Feelies), but unfortunately, the band didn’t want their music identified so closely with a terrorist.

One of my all-time favorites, however, is Munich, directed by Steven Spielberg, based on the life of  Juval Aviv, an Israeli soldier put in charge of an assassination squad to avenge the deaths of Israeli athletes killed by the Black September terrorists during the 1972 Summer Olympics. There were probably three such squads actually created and for years they remained one of Israel’s most closely guarded secrets.

As the story unravels, however, the assassination team begins to suspect they are eliminating moderate leaders of the Palestinian movement to make way for more violent extremists to take their place. Meanwhile, the real instigator of the bloody Munich operation was being hidden and protected by the CIA.

The most revealing detail from the film is the existence of a network in Europe that provides weapons, fake ID’s and safe houses to terrorists (for a fee). This network can also clean up any mess left behind after an assassination. Although the network works with any terrorist, left or right-wing, they refuse to deal directly with any government agency of any country.

After watching the movie and reading the book, I could not help but surmise this network was, in fact, Operation Gladio, the “stay-behind” secret army set-up by NATO in the event that socialism might spread throughout Europe. Apparently, Gladio financed false flag terror operations all around Europe to discredit the left-wing. Gladio was revealed by the Italian Prime Minister in 1990 in an attempt to do damage control on the Propaganda Due scandal.

When I discovered Aviv’s security company (Interfor) was based in New York City, I called his office to see if I could arrange an interview. Aside from the crucial Gladio question, I also planned to query him regarding Michael Harari, who had led a team just like Aviv’s. Harari later surfaced in the Iran-Contra scandal and I thought Aviv might have some interesting background on Harari’s alleged involvement in money laundering with Manuel Noriega.

Much to my surprise, Aviv agreed to do a one-hour interview. After High Times expressed no interest, I posted the highlights on Youtube. The first episode was titled: “Juval Aviv is the Real Zohan.” Aviv would neither confirm nor deny that Operation Gladio was the identity of the terror network. He admitted that contrary to the impression left by the movie, he remains a dedicated supporter of Israel who would fly to its defense if necessary. He admitted explosives probably contributed to the fall of the Twin Towers, but stated they could have been illegally stockpiled in a federal office, which would require a cover-up of their existence. He didn’t want to discuss the Israeli Art Students but admitted the Mossad was watching most of the 9/11 terrorists and they provided information on them to the CIA and FBI. He feels that info was not acted upon out of neglect, but also admits there could have been a deeper motivation. He cringed when asked if Harari was “the greatest Mossad agent of all time,” and I got the impression he and Harari might be contesting for that honor. After I turned off the camera and got ready to leave, he dropped a number of bombshells, first telling me he was one of the last people to speak with Danny Casolaro.

“Danny was talking to Lester Coleman and investigating Pan Am 103,” said Aviv, who then added: “I tried to talk about the JFK assassination with Bill Clinton, but he didn’t want to discuss it.” It felt like Aviv was letting me know he had not given up the store in my one-hour grilling, and still had plenty of juicy conspiracy stories left in reserve.

Later, I discovered Aviv had been hired by Ghislaine Maxwell to find out what had happened to her father, certainly an expensive investigation that may have been at partially funded by her child-abusing sugar daddy, Jeffrey Epstein.

Using is contacts in the Mossad, Aviv was able to piece the story together. After Maxwell’s financial house of cards began collapsing, he lost all contact with reality and began ordering Israel to give him a few billion to bail him out. Maxwell’s judgment was growing so increasingly erratic, he was labeled a threat to Israel’s national security, especially since he’d worked on so many intel ops and had connections into British, Soviet and American intelligence.

Among his more important ops was the sale of a pirated software called Promis, which had been the earliest attempt to merge artificial intelligence and data collection. Promis transformed tracking of terrorists by connecting every possible online platform. Sneakily, a backdoor had been secretly installed so the Mossad could follow along with any investigations. Imagine their delight when dozens of countries installed Promis, including Iraq, and when Operation Desert Storm began, the Mossad assisted the Pentagon greatly through their backdoor surveillance.

Once Maxwell began making demands he might embarrass Israel if not treated properly, a 4-man hit team began assembling. Maxwell was told he would get the bailout, but needed to motor his mega-yacht, the Lady Ghislaine, to the Canary Islands and await further instructions. Maxwell might have believed his bail-out would arrive in the form of gold he’d help transfer out of the Russia immediately after the fall of Communism.

Meanwhile, a hit team flew in posing as tourists with fishing poles, rented a boat and began shadowing the Lady Ghislaine. One night two frogmen slipped on board the Lady Ghislaine, injected Maxwell with an air bubble, and tossed him overboard.  He was not immediately missed and the body not found for days, and cause of death listed as “accidental drowning” after a member of the crew explained Maxwell liked to urinate over the side at night and must have fallen overboard while doing do.