It’s unfortunate how little video footage got captured during the first Whee! festival outside Eugene, Oregon. The entire adventure had begun as my plot to establish a Weed Woodstock. (Although, in truth, the original was funded almost entirely by weed money, and the event helped cement Woodstock as a weed distribution center.)
I remember taking the trustees to lunch at some five-star restaurant and saying, “You have to be committed to a new event for five years, because that’s how long it may take to break even.” But I assured them after five years, my Whee! fest would be as big if not bigger than Woodstock. And I believed this because the event was promoted as a prayer for world peace, a serious non-denominational ceremony recognizing cannabis as the sacrament of peace culture.
Of course, Whee! exploded immediately, drawing 20,000 to the event, most of whom got in for free and were fed free by a non-stop crew kitchen, and anyone could volunteer to be crew.
After the OM circle, someone handed a bottle of whiskey to Felipe and said he was done with this. Felipe and I did a bunch of powerful ceremonies together, and that was certainly one of the best.
But the day after the event ended, we invited the Pranksters to our motel room to celebrate and eat pizza. Only Ken Babbs showed up, and this is what transpired. The next day, we went to see Kesey, and he introduced me to non-linear video editing, just going prosumer. I had been a devoted follower of improvisational ritual theater as practiced by the Pranksters, and took this direction very seriously, devoting the rest of my life to capturing video of the ceremonies I was staging. Sure glad I kept these memories, and if you want to know what Hager ceremonies look and feel like, this will clue you in.
As soon as I got back to New York, the trustees informed me that Whee! had been a financial failure. Although I knew that was a lie. Through immense efforts I manage to resurrect one more Whee! at the same site the next year before my precious Whee! ceremony was cast to the winds, and thus ended my longstanding campaign for the recognition of spiritual rights for cannabis users.
I’m trying to think of where it was that I first met Bobby Faust. It must have been at a party with the 6th Street crew down in the East Village somewhere, probably at Terry and Dave’s apartment. He was part of the Rainbow Family when I joined up and came over to the 8th Cannabis Cup to play the role of the caterpillar in the Alice in Wonderland On Weed fantasy that Garrick Beck had written just for the event.
When I started planning the first World Hemp Expo Extravaganja (Whee!), Bobby quickly made himself an essential part of that operation, in effect becoming one of the original founding members of the Temple Dragon Crew. I didn’t realize at the time Bobby had a very strong connection with the Merry Pranksters, apparently having first met up with that crew at Woodstock.
Funny how many of us were actually at that first Woodstock festival, including me, Bobby and Fantuzzi. The whole reason I planned for Whee! to happen in Eugene, Oregon, was so we could pull the Pranksters into the movie, which was to re-start the non-violent hippie counterculture by uniting all the greatest shamans we could find, a list that included the Gaskins, the Pranksters, John Trudell, John Sinclair, Paul Krassner and a few others. I assembled an army of over 200 volunteers to build hippie disneyland on a shoestring in an empty field. I thought we were well on our way to healing the sickness infecting America with our positive vibrations.
Bobby was my right-hand man at the second Whee. For some reason, I’d decided I didn’t want to sit at Mission Control this time and supervise the stage for a second year. Instead, I wanted to prowl around and check on all the problems and issues everywhere on site and make sure grifters and hoodwinkers weren’t running amok. I spent most of my time checking for wristbands because the venue didn’t have a proper fence and anyone could easily sneak in. My objective was to give away wristbands to anyone who actually couldn’t afford one, but also collect admission from those that could.
Because of his short stature, Bobby often had trouble getting around, but once I gave him a golf cart he could drive with no problems, he became one of the hardest working members of the crew, buzzing around the venue solving all sorts of problems all day and night.
Later on, when the Pranksters invited me onto the Grandfurther Tour, which was their historic second trip across America and into Canada, Bobby joined me and Andre and 622 on that incredible adventure. The Pranksters were happy to see me, but overjoyed to see Bobby. In fact, Kesey considered Bobby one of the most magical people he’d ever met and he told me so.
When it came time to visit a Phish show, we found out where the lines were because the Pranksters and Bobby got in free and became part of the improvisational show Kesey put on, his way of telling Phish they were the new Dead Tour. Meanwhile, Andre, 622 and I had to buy tickets into the show and then sneak backstage, where we climbed up to the top of Further and just hung out there for most of the show.
Unfortunately, Bobby had a stroke and passed over at 11 am on February 3, 2014. This news comes two days after I learn Rene Ricard also unexpectedly died from a brain tumor. What can I say, this is shaping up to be a somewhat painful year.
The first real-life shaman I met was a kid my age named James Wilson, who became an activist for peace while in high school. Jim was inspired by music and had filled his bedroom with Jimi Hendrix posters long before he discovered psychedelics. He liked the new styles that were coming out and his biggest influence and role model soon became Fred Hampton, who was still alive when Jim made his transformation, but sadly was assassinated by the Chicago police some months later. Fred had recently been named Chairman of the Black Panther Party after ending the gang wars in Chicago, and was steering the organization towards non-violence when Jim suddenly began looking like a Black Panther. Jim went on a mission to single-handedly heal our school’s considerable racial divides and largely accomplished the mission by becoming Senior Class President (the first black in our school’s history to achieve this honor), and by organizing education and harmonization ceremonies. Back then, nobody realized Jim was doing magic. We didn’t know he was a natural shaman. Later he would transform into the Great Chef Ra and it would become obvious.
In 1969, Jim and I both ended up at Woodstock, and he was the first person I knew who I ran into. He was standing at the gates, watching people stream in with a huge glowing smile. I’d never seen Jim so happy. We all felt the vibes of arriving in New Jerusalem. And, of course, we’d get to study some of the grandmasters of our culture up close, like Wavy Gravy, Abbie Hoffman and Paul Krassner. The Pranksters arrived with the magic bus, but not with Kesey, who was certainly my biggest role model at the time. Kesey was hiding out in Mexico as he wished to avoid the fate of Timothy Leary, who’d been railroaded into a lengthy prison sentence for possession of a few seeds of cannabis on the floor of his vehicle. At Woodstock, I came into contact with Wavy’s style, as he seemed to have a handle on the type of magic I wanted to manifest. He’d been studying improvisation under Viola Spolin. Wavy, like Jim, understood the importance of costumes in ceremonies.
A couple years after Woodstock, I got introduced to Jasper Grootveld of Amsterdam and became utterly fascinated, especially since Jasper had started the Happenings, of which I was a great student (and especially since John Cage did his biggest Happenings in my humble town of Champaign-Urbana, Illinois). John Cage was into monster displays of energy and media, similar to the Pranksters, while Jasper dressed like an African medicine man and used zero technology in his rituals. Jasper claimed his ceremonies were self-promotional, but they often carried a political message. Most of the time he railed against the tobacco companies and encouraged cannabis consumption as a more healthy alternative. He’d been a journalist briefly and sent by his editor to interview a New Age cult leader who claimed to be god. While Grootveld was interrogating him, the cult leader asked, “what do you believe in?” This stumped Grootveld for a minute, and finally he came up with, “I believe in Sinterklaas [Santa Claus].”
Many decades later, I’d discover Santa is really the Scythian father god that inspired Zoroastrianism, which in turn influenced Judaism, Christianity and Islam. It replaced the pagan pantheons with a dialectical balance between two divine forces, one creator, one destroyer. In earlier times, Santa had a scary sidekick who punished the wicked. In Holland, this devil figure morphed into an African toddler named Zwarte Piet (Black Peter), while in America the sidekick morphed into magic elves. But in the earliest Scythian versions, the sidekick role may have started as a large bird. The Scythians were famous for domesticating birds and animals.
Grootveld began promoting “Klaas is coming!,” while dressed as Zwarte Piet and wearing blackface. Gradually, this ceremony took on his anti-tobacco message. When he began holding public exorcisms at a small statue erected by the Dutch tobacco industry, teens from all over Amsterdam began attending. Eventually, this would manifest the Dutch Provo movement, certainly one of the most enlightened emanations of our time.
I also learned a lot about magic from Ina May and Stephen Gaskin, who I knew about from Sunday Morning Services in Golden Gate Park back in the late sixties. Stephen had studied most of the major spiritual texts from the East, and could translate difficult concepts into easy-to-understand English. Both had interesting upbringings as their fathers were Masons of the 33rd degree. At age twelve, Stephen was inducted in DeMolay, but would soon reject Masonry for a synthesis of various cultures centered on non-violence. He was a former Marine, however, and believed unruly teens sometimes required a trip to the woodshed to straighten out their path. Ina May inspired the global midwife movement, sharing long forgotten insights on the importance of telepathic vibrations, some of which had been learned after helping deliver home births while tripping.
While I never met John Griggs, founder of the Brotherhood of Eternal Love, I now believe he may have been the nearest thing to a true hippie avatar, and like many avatars, he had died young, at the zenith of his creative powers, certainly a tragic loss for the world. John’s heart was immense. James put me on the path of political action, the Pranksters put me on the path of fun, Stephen put me on the path of philosophy, but Griggs put me on the path of unconditional love. It’s strange how some of the most important figures in the history of the counterculture remain unknown and uncelebrated, and John Griggs would be the prime example.
Which is why I think it’s so incredible that I discovered yet another aspiring hippie messiah: Father Yod, founder of the Source Family. Who knows, I may have even run into some of them at a Rainbow Gathering over the last 20 years, but had no idea the manifestations of this hippie saint and his flock. Yod was doing improvisational ritual theater pretty much non-stop and he mixed up many spiritual styles, similar to what I was doing for 25 years in my own humble fashion, organizing ceremonies like the original Cannabis Cups and Whee! festivals. You can watch the amazing documentary on the Source Family on Netflix. Once when the family needed funds, he successfully robbed a few banks, crimes that were not uncovered until after his death.
The biggest problem with attempts to forge a hippie religion was the tremendous pressure put on the leaders. The more spiritual the group became, the more pressure. Many commune founders went off the deep end with egomania or they began taking advantage of people because they had too much power over their flocks. Or the communes went on a ‘kill the guru” phase like what happened to Stephen.
My ceremonies are always improvisational, and everyone is equal, although some are naturally more creatively talented, we can all crank the ceremonial vibes (or try to bring those vibes down).
One day Father Yod began telling his flock he was God. Soon, he woke up, called the family together, and said, “I lied. I am not God. We are all God.” Then he decided to take flight on a hand-glider with no training, crashed and was carried into the house. Although the injuries did not seem life-threatening, he passed over to the beyond nine hours later. There is an important parable in this story.
The greatest thing about Ra is even though he never lost his counterculture flamboyance, he always retained his humility, and refused to surround himself with sycophants like Old Carlo and so many other self-styled counterculture gurus.
It was only late in the quest that I uncovered an important insight: the true avatars reveal themselves through their creative powers, which is when I decided Bob Marley was the true hippie avatar, as well as Bob Dylan and John Lennon.
Moral of the story: Don’t follow leaders, watch the parking meters. I can’t really recommend LSD or any other synthetics as I have seen the devastation they caused to a few, and because you never know what is really in pills or powders. I advise people to stick with plants in their most natural forms and remember, very often the less you do, the higher you get.
I will have to avoid the TV news for a few days. I have kids in my house and I certainly don’t want them seeing the endless replays of the grisly facts. Like everyone, I feel tremendous sorrow for the victims and their families, but I also wonder why it takes an event like this for people to even address why violence so prevalent in our society today.
I have some positive suggestions for how to move forward.
First, I don’t think these shootings should be covered on national TV for days on end to the extent that they are. In fact, I think they should barely be mentioned at all, and the shooters should remain as anonymous as possible. Some of them undoubtedly are seeking fame and publicity and the way our media reacts to these tragedies makes that dream come true. I’m interested primarily in one fact: was the shooter taking prescription medication? I realize many popular medications have bizarre side effects that some pill companies may seek to conceal. I know these shootings never happened until we put half the country on pills. So is there a cause and effect? This is a health study we desperately need right now.
The gun lovers are never going to give up their guns and I wouldn’t be so stupid as to ask them. It’s a right they will defend to the death. I get that, but can we make a few changes, like closing the gun show loophole, and restricting mental patients with a history of violence from obtaining weapons? I’d also like to see taxes on some weapons greatly increased so a national fund can be created, a fund that would compensate the families of the victims. Not that any amount of money could replace the life of a single child, but simply that all these gun lovers and violence worshipers should contribute to easing their suffering. I also think violence pornography needs to be better identified and taxed as well. Sponsors of violence pornography should be forced to pay into the fund. And so should consumers. So we need a special tax on violence pornography video games and violence pornography TV shows.
Ken Kesey had a novel idea, inspired by his grand-daughter. Ban the bullet. Make it very hard to get anything but rubber bullets and paint pellets, which are perfect for target practice, which is the only thing most people do with their guns. Lead builets, on the other hand, should be much more closely controlled.
Of course, the gun lovers need guns to protect themselves against the government. As if a civilian population in this country could engage the government in open warfare in the streets? Those days are over. The only revolution that will succeed from here on is a non-violent one. We really need much more respect for the grandmasters of peace, people like Gandhi and Bob Marley, and we need more celebrations of peace, and more respect for peaceful cultures, especially the counterculture, which is as American as rock’n’roll and apple pie.
At the second Whee! festival in Oregon, the Merry Pranksters unveiled plans to take on the gun lobby in the usual Prankster fashion (by tricking the bozos). Check out the video:
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.
Every now and then, something really heavy goes down in the telepathic energy fields we call spirituality or magic, since they’re both the same thing. I noticed that in the mid-1960s. Although I’d been raised in the Lutheran faith, I rejected Christianity at the age of 14 and never looked back. In my quest to uncover the real meaning of life, I began experimenting with cannabis and LSD, after which I was never the same, as these substances helped deprogram me. Soon, I had a whole new field of sigils cooking in my psyche, one of the most important of which was the Prankster Magic Bus Furthur.
Since these sacraments had a profoundly positive effect, helping to strip away years of brainwashing, I could see why they were so prohibited. Something heavy went down in California in the 1960s, and a lot of the New Age cults (like Scientology) got their start off that energy, yet broke the cannabis connection almost immediately. I remember reading Tom Wolfe’s account of the Merry Pranksters. Wolfe was a Yale grad, a real oligarchy insider who could never connect with a scene so steeped in new telepathic energies, so he just made fun of hippie spirituality because those energies never reached his soul. But there was something real and heavy going on, even if Wolfe couldn’t make contact. Just like something heavy went down in old Jerusalem.
Did you ever consider cannabis was the spark of both spiritual revolutions? I remember when I first met Jack Herer. He was obsessed with decoding the Bible, a trick he’d recently learned from reading John Allegro’s work. Jack would read a verse from the Old Testament, and then explain how it was really just a code for an old priest about to sodomize a young initiate. I never got into this research because I view the Bible as science fiction anyway, so why would I pay much attention to any of its possible underlying meanings?
I wonder, though, why haven’t some Muslim activists taken Allegro’s work and made a YouTube video about the potential spiritual corruption embedded in Judaism and Christianity?
Funny thing about the spiritual revolutions of both Jesus and Johnny Griggs: one took place 2,000 years ago, and the other took place nearly 50 years ago, but they both could have easily been ignited by cannabis. And somewhere along the line, the corrupt priesthoods (because all power centers start corrupt or corrupt over time) broke this link between cannabis and this great spiritual awakening and the two sides have been at war ever since. And it wasn’t until my generation that massive amounts of young people began slipping off the mind control orchestrated by that corrupt priesthood. And it all started with cannabis, rock’n’roll and Jack Kerouac.
I didn’t plan to take over High Times, in fact, I was a sporadic user of recreational drugs most of my life. It wasn’t until I moved to New York City in 1979 that I got really tempted. But a funny thing happened on the way to the forum; I got empowered and began manifesting ceremony and ritual like crazy.
My initial vision was constructed around hemp being essential when this country was founded, yet the symbols (or sigils) of our founding fathers were under the control of the radical right wing, unfair and inaccurate to say the least.
So I launched a campaign to create a wave of awareness that George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were devoted hemp farmers, and that hemp could save the world by replacing oil, a concept recently introduced to me by Jack Herer. I flew out to Jack’s home in the Valley and laid out a plan to create a national group called the Freedom Fighters, based around the Boston Minute Men, who would attend rallies across the country. The rally movement had basically died out and I felt between us, we might be able to rebuild that movement, with Jack as the leader, of course. “And I want you to come to the Rainbow Gathering with me,” I told Jack. You see, both Rainbow and the Dead scene had considerable overlap, but I knew Rainbow was the center of energy on the real spirituality, while the Dead scene was tainted around the edges. Probably, I also wanted to pull Jack out of hard drugs and bad food, only one of which I was successful at.
The first year I hit the rally circuit I was dressed in a psychedelic shirt and tri-corner hat and carried a snare drum, but by the time the next season came around, I was wearing a brain-tanned leather outfit made by Agatha, and, on my head was a huge top hat with a pink psychedelic peace sign painted on the front. (Later, Agatha became the seamstress of choice of the local Hell’s Angels, but the original leather jacket she created was a replica of the double-breasted black leather jacket I wore throughout the sixties.) I was wearing Agatha’s Native American warrior outfit and beating a round Native American drum with a peace sigil painted in psychedelic paint and chanting some Native American-type chant to Mother Earth (yes, I guess I was trying to move the energy from a father sigil to a mother sigil) and I was leading this immense parade down the main drag of campus-town in Madison, Wisconsin, one afternoon, when some student jutted up and asked, “Are you a shaman?”
See, a lot of us magicians are into magic long before we even realize what we’re doing. These energies move through us naturally, so as I stood there for a few extra beats, I was thinking, am I a shaman, political activist, or guerrilla street theater performer, or what they hell am I? Pretty soon, I decided if I was a shaman it was time for something really bold, something with even more immense vibe than this 30,000 person rally. If I could just reassemble the greatest magicians of the sixties revolution, you know, the Gaskins, the Pranksters, the Hog Farm, Paul Krassner, John Trudell, John Sinclair, and what if we called that ceremony Whee!?
People are bugging me. They want to hear stories about Whee! I dunno, I might, or I might move in new directions. Stay tuned for my next unexpected episode because I don’t know which way I’m going. Funny thing about the Freedom Fighters, though, we made a Tri-corner hat for Jack right away, and that very hat sits on my altar. And that, my friends, is what my magic is all about. Planting positive sigils in your orbit.
Many people make the mistake of thinking religion is something handed down from God, manifested on earth by a chosen prophet. By design, that sort of thinking turns every other religion into a false culture, making jihad not only possible, but transforming jihad into an honorable ceremony of death. In fact, spirituality can be found in all things, good and bad, and one man’s noble cause is another man’s holocaust.
All these systems run on magic, no matter what they tell you, or what side of the fence you’re on, and magic works under basic principles, most of which are obscured to keep mud in the water and keep their magic working on you without you realizing it. Magic is the original form of mind control, and once you understand that concept, you can slip off the leash. The first step to enlightenment is realizing all religious services are, in fact, magic ceremonies, and although ceremonies can have many forms, the most common form are ceremonies of harmonization, designed to create a group telepathic mind to focus energy on an idea, icon or symbol. The tools used in these ceremonies take on telepathic power as a result of the meditations. But that power only works on those who believe in the ceremonies. If you don’t believe, there’s no magic. It’s basically the same whether you’re sitting in church or going to a live concert to hear your favorite band. Both are magical ceremonies.
One of my satori moments came while visiting one of my primary spiritual teachers, Stephen Gaskin, when he said: “You know, Steve, enlightenment is not like climbing a mountain or ringing a bell. It comes and goes. Sometimes you’re enlightened and can stone people with your presence, and sometimes not.”
The idea of an individual retreating to a high mountain cave, meditating for years, finding enlightenment and returning to civilization is a false myth, although such meditation may be necessary to quiet a manic mind. One thing about spirituality, there will always be scores more fakers and frauds than real messiahs. We found that out the hard way in the 1960s, a decade that brought out the craziest of New Age cults. I ended up sticking with just a handful of elders: Stephen and Ina May Gaskin, Ken Kesey and the Pranksters, Wavy Gravy, Chef Ra, these titans emerged as my spiritual teachers.
The secret is realizing you have the power to invent your own ceremonies, and the more you hybridize and raid from other cultures, the deeper your ceremonies will project across the astral plain. The real avatars are people like Bob Marley and John Lennon and not the ones wearing big hats in big cathedrals and temples. Creativity and spirituality are the same thing. Through ceremonies, you can discover magic. Just ditch the dogma because there’s really only one rule: don’t hurt anybody.
1) Congo Square, New Orleans. This is the actual birthplace of the counterculture, where Native Americans, African slaves, and a wide mixture of European whites first gathered to create an improvisational culture, blending elements of all their histories to create the popular, non-violent, hybrid-vigor culture we know today as the counterculture.
2) Hippie Hill, San Francisco. Located at the base of Haight Street, just steps from the corner of Haight/Ashbury, Hippie Hill was the ceremonial gathering place for the birth of the hippie movement.
3) Laguna Beach, California. Just as important as Hippie Hill was the influence of John Griggs and the Brotherhood of Eternal Love. There is a little-known surfer-hippie connection that has not been fully explored yet. Surfers who took LSD early in the sixties were among the first people to reach true enlightenment. The real center of energy may have been the auditorium on Newport Beach, but unfortunately that temple of surf rock was torn down.
4) Woodstock Festival, Bethel, New York. The first Woodstock was a true gathering of the tribe, and a place where the counterculture first realized itself in enormous numbers. It was our hippie version of the Sermon on the Mount. Also worth mentioning is Magic Meadow, Woodstock, New York. Located near the start of the trail to Overlook Mountain, Magic Meadow is the main ceremonial location selected by early beatniks and hippies who flocked to Woodstock as a haven for counterculture spirituality. Overlook Mountain also had a long history of use by Native cultures as a primary site for vision questing.
5) Strawberry Lake, Colorado. Located on the continental divide, Strawberry Lake was the site of the original Rainbow Family Gathering. The authorities tried to close all access to the site when they learned ten thousand hippies planned on camping there over the week of July 4th, but despite the roadblocks and police presence, all the hippies managed to sneak into the site via the back trails.
6) Camp Winnarainbow, Laytonville, CA. Wavy Gravy is the foremost master of ceremonies of the counterculture and he built the second most successful counterculture community in America. Wavy is the master of improv energy and channeling the fun vibe. His camp is the perfect place to send your kids to learn about counterculture spirituality.
7) Ken Kesey’s farm, outside Eugene, Oregon. The original bus, Further (or Furthur) is parked here. Kesey is our counterculture version of Odysseus, and his magic bus ride was a seminal moment in counterculture history. Wherever that bus resides will always be a most sacred spot in counterculture history.
8) Mount Tamalpias, CA. The birthplace of 420 and the site of the original April 20th ceremonies. Since cannabis is the primary sacrament of the counterculture (and has been used since its birth in Congo Square), the birthplace of 420 will always be a most sacred location for the counterculture.
9) Owl Farm, Colorado. Located a short drive from Aspen, the home of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson radiates with intense vibrations from all the ceremonies held on the site.
10) National Rainbow Family Gathering. Every July 1-7, the gathering is held in a different National Forest so this is a mobile sacred spot that moves around every year. The Rainbow Family is the heart and soul of the counterculture. Everyone needs to make a pilgrimage to this event at least once in their life to see what a world without violence and bigotry actually feels like.
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.