The Tin Whistle

counterculture history and conspiracy theory

My First Shaman Outfit

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The clothes you wear at a ceremony are a big part of the ceremony, which is why my Shaman Shop is going to have some really nice ceremonial outfits for sale.

I still have the double-breasted black leather jacket, psychedelic t-shirt and purple scarf I wore to Woodstock in 1969, as well as all my correspondence from the era. (I even went back to my friends and collected the letters I wrote them just so I’d have both sides of the conversation.)

Later on, when I began covering the East Village art scene, I was able to dredge up an old Fantasia shirt from San Francisco, circa 1970, retrieved from my parent’s basement like a precious golden nugget. (I’d picked up the shirt out of a goodwill box in the mid-1970s, while living in Frisco.) I remember I blew Keith Haring’s mind when I showed up at a party wearing that shirt. It was cooler than anything Disney was issuing in the 1980s and Keith was a huge Disney fan. My ceremonial jacket at that time, however, was a Levi jean jacket with an Ellen Birkenblit punk pony on black leather on the back. Madonna recognized the artist and told me she liked the jacket.

But after I attended my first Rainbow Gathering, I knew I needed something different. Although I’d perfected the late ’60s garage rocker look, I felt the sudden urge to morph again into something much more primal and tribal. The Native American circle drum, by the way, came from a company in Arizona, although I painted on it. I also painted the top hat. The central image on both is a spiral, a symbol I have been using for a long time, inspired from conversations with Kenny Scharf.

But the shirt, pants and medicine bag were all custom made for me by Agatha, who is now a very famous leather designer. I wonder what she’d charge for this outfit today? Thousands. I got it very cheap as she was just launching her business at the time. And now I am trying to launch mine.

I actually only wore this complete outfit once. For the parade at the Midwest Harvest Festival in Madison, Wisconsin. The Freedom Fighters got to lead that parade, and I usually took the head with my high school buddy Chef Ra by my side. Talk about ceremonial outfits! Nobody ever out-shown the great Chef Ra in that category! Anyway, I was beating on my circle drum and calling the Freedom Fighters to assemble to start the parade when this college age dude near me asked in a quiet voice: “Are you a shaman?”

I’m pretty sure I laughed and said “no.” See, I thought I was just doing Improvisational Ritual Theater, an art form I learned from John Cage, Jasper Grootveld, Julian Beck & Judith Malina, Ken Kesey & the Merry Pranksters, and Wavy Gravy. But then pretty quickly I thought it over and decided, “yes, I guess I am a shaman.”

Who knows, maybe this outfit will make it to the Smithsonian some day. But then, if any rock stars out there want to make me an offer I can’t refuse, an offer so big I could launch my first Shaman Shop, I would gladly part with this highly charged ceremonial outfit. The pants are size 30-32, the shirt size 15-16 with adjustable neck. The lighter leather on the shirt is brain-tanned and feels silky smooth to the touch.

Written by Steven Hager

May 8, 2013 at 11:09 am

Posted in Autobiographical

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