Five new paperbacks

4booksholidaysI’d been hoping my fans would switch to reading books on tablets so we could save some trees, which is why I’ve been releasing nothing but ebooks for the past two years, and sales have been slow but steady, although some fans keep clamoring for print books, so I unleashed five today.

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The Chain Whipping Incident

Did you know the world’s only hippie memorial is located along the Illinois Central train tracks in Arcola, Illinois? The town I grew up in was actually a hotbed of radical activity in the 1960s. The fledgling Students for Democratic Society (SDS) picked Urbana, Illinois, in fact, as the site for their 1965 conference, and hundreds of members arrived from all around the country. Soon, we had the state’s best garage band, The Finchley Boys, as well as the country’s greatest experimental artist, John Cage, both performing in our little community 120 miles south of Chicago. We also had the first landmark performance of a masterpiece called “MacBird!” which theorized JFK had been murdered and President Johnson was an accomplice in the crime.

Jim “Chef Ra” Wilson was my high school senior class president, the first black elected to that position. He organized the first black appreciation celebration in the history of Urbana High. It was held late at night and included free soul food and a series of performances by notable black musicians who were also students at the school.

My best friend Larry Green, recently arrived from Baltimore, somehow became one of the star attractions of the evening by commanding a gaggle of black girls around him at all times, all constantly cracking up at his improv performances. The alpha chick among them was also the girlfriend of the star of the show, who played keyboards and sang, among many other talents. I remember him from the stage suddenly stopping the show to ask his girl what she was doing with her arm around Larry Green’s neck? Somehow, Larry turned that all around into a big belly laugh and the performance went on. I don’t know if any long-term inter-racial relationships were born that night, but it certainly was a wonderfully healing ceremony for all who attended and I hope we left many of our fellow black students with a sense of our appreciation for their culture, despite the institutionalized racism that had afflicted the school up until then and the fact few of us would actually try the chitlins.

Jim’s ceremonies would continue to evolve and mature as he grew up. One of his best was his annual appearance in the July 4th parade, which wound its way through much of the town before culminating at the football stadium, where the state’s largest fireworks display would be set off come darkness. Jim could often be found in some wild, colorful outfit, roller-skating through the entire parade route and doing circles and stunts the whole way. He was well over 6 foot tall, and had placed third in the state high jump his senior year so his athletic abilities were unparalleled.

In 1968, someone applied for a permit for anti-Vietnam war demonstrators to march in the annual parade and the permit was duly granted on grounds of free speech after a brief court battle even though members of the town councils wanted it denied as un-American and inappropriate. We happened to be driving past Green Street when the protestors were attacked by a gang of men wearing hard-hats, some of whom wielded clubs and chains. Jim Cole, leader of the Finchley Boys, was one of the protestors and would later describe grabbing a fist aimed at his face and then realizing it belonged to someone he knew quite well. I really felt I’d missed out on something exciting, but I wasn’t much of a street fighter anyway. My time, however, was soon coming.

Later that day, I was hitchhiking with Larry and Carole. Carole, at this point, had become Larry’s girl friend.  I’d already read “The Sun Also Rises” so the part of discarded ex-lover who hangs on for dear life had already been portrayed as a noble cause. Whenever I saw films like “Butch Cassady and the Sundance Kid,” I immediately recognized my role.

Anyway, a white car slowed to a stop. “We’ll take the girl, but we won’t take you,” said a dude in the backseat, whose mouth seemed full of marbles. He had a southern, redneck accent and was barely understandable. I looked inside the car and noticed some guys in uniform and thought I saw a hardhat on one of the seats.

“Would you like to ride with these guys?” I asked Carole, who, of course, said, “No.”

As I was explaining the situation, the dude in the shotgun seat reached down on the floor and produced a steel chain. He opened the car door and I began backing away from the car, while holding Larry and Carole behind me. But we couldn’t back up fast enough for the dude swung that four-foot chain and it whipped around my side while he began yelling about his contempt for long-haired hippies like me. At this point, my only thought was to get Carole out of there before the other three dudes got out of the car and tried to abduct her. She seemed to be the real center of interest in all situations, so I grabbed her arm and yelled, “Run!”

Meanwhile, Larry, stepped around me and confronted this dude. Larry had the supreme confidence he could talk his way out of any situation as well as being somewhat fearless. Larry probably began with some comment like: “Hey, now wait a minute, this doesn’t call for violence…” Meanwhile I was already halfway around the house wondering why Larry hadn’t taken off running with us when I yelled “Run!.” Although I couldn’t see what was happening, I soon surmised that Larry had been pushed into a large bush and beaten on his back a couple times with the chain.

Some guardian angel appeared out of no where, claiming to be a Vietnam War Vet. The dude beating on Larry was talking about the war while he was beating on him. And this Vet wanted him to know that all Vets didn’t feel like him and that he should leave Larry alone and let him go. Carole, meanwhile, refused to stay hidden on the other side of the house with me since she was delirious with concern over Larry.

Eventually the three of us re-united and the car drove off. Back at her house, Carole scolded me pretty harshly for running away from the scene and abandoning Larry like that after he tried to stick up for me. But we got over it pretty quick and headed back to Campus-town, where everyone was hanging out in front of Turk’s Head. Larry showed off his chain marks for all to see while we recounted the story of our adventures. Much later than night, while I was alone in the bathroom, I would finally notice the chain welts across my own back.

http://www.amazon.com/Magic-Chakra-Candles/dp/B00BVMZ8U8/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1414952468&sr=8-1&keywords=candles+steven+hager

MacBird!: little-known masterpiece of counterculture literature

After JFK was assassinated, the country went into deep shock. Very few people wanted to dwell on the event, or even consider evidence of CIA involvement. In fact, the mood of the country was similar to the post 9/11 environment, which left many people unable and unwilling to consider alternative conspiracy theories other than Osama bin Laden did it.

In any major crime, however, the key is to examine who benefited, and nobody benefited more from the JFK assassination than Lyndon Baines Johnson, an intensely corrupt politician who knew about the event in advance, although he certainly lacked sufficient power to pull it off on his own. In fact, had JFK not been assassinated, Johnson would likely have been jailed due to an ongoing investigation into bribes he’d accepted, a story that wouldn’t fully surface until after his death.

Barbara Garson was a leader in the Berkeley Free Speech Movement. In August of 1965, she was speaking at an anti-war rally in Berkeley, when she called the new First Lady: “Lady MacBird Johnson.” This slip-of-the-tongue inspired Garson to write a Shakespearean parody based around the Kennedy assassination and the first staged reading of this masterpiece of counterculture literature actually occurred at the Channing-Murray Foundation run by the Unitarian Church in Urbana, Illinois, an event that cemented that church as the beachhead for the blossoming anti-war movement in central Illinois.

The lead character of MacBird was played by none other than my cohort at the time, Brian Ravlin, who I’d first met when he appeared in A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Urbana Junior High with my brother, Paul.  Brian had dropped out of high school and gone to San Francisco in search of Bugsy’s brother Don. When he reappeared in Urbana a year later, he seemed an entirely new person. A few days before the show opened, Brian dropped by the high school to visit me and a cheerleader girl squirted him in the face with a squirt gun as a joke. Brian had a huge Afro-like haircut and immense, shaggy sideburns at the time (see picture below). In fact, he was probably the most wildly-flamboyant counterculture character in Champaign-Urbana at the time, although Carl Ellis (Old Carlo) would soon surpass Brian in that regard. Anyway, Brian laughed and gave that girl a little spank on her rear with a spiral notebook he was holding, either his latest poetry or notes for his script. Smitty’s son might have been the girl’s boyfriend, they certainly ran with the same crowd, for when he saw Brian slap her butt, he just reared back and blindsided Brian with a sucker punch to the face that knocked Brian off his feet and landed him flat on his back. The teacher quickly rushed Smitty’s son into the classroom and started class as if nothing had happened. I don’t remember much of what followed, other than I went into a slow-boiling rage because nothing was being done since Smitty (the football coach) was the most powerful figure in school. Brian went home and his mom took him to the hospital to get him checked out.

Like most people at the time, I was also having trouble thinking about CIA involvement in the Kennedy assassination. A few others around me were already deep into the citizen research movement (which is the real reason we know the truth today; the government has done nothing but cover-up the trails). But I was stunned by this staged reading, and immediately accepted the transparent truth that life is a giant wheel and the same stories go round and round. Suddenly it was clear the Macbeth tragedy was obviously being played out with new characters in our own time. After watching the show, it became difficult not to become a citizen researcher and I started reading everything I could find on the assassination.

And who do you think played the character of Ken O’Dunc? Why, none other than Eric Swenson, founder of the Finchley Boys, who helped spark the local garage rock movement and then had drifted into acting. In fact, Eric was probably the best actor in the production and was playing the Kennedy role because he could do a perfect JFK imitation, Boston accent and all. Eric had always worshiped Kennedy and no one was more depressed about the assassination than he. Eric even had a portrait of JFK on the wall in his house. I’d already started my own underground newspaper after getting kicked out of the Knight Riders for taking LSD (only a few months later, my former band members turned into huge pot-heads and acid freaks…they even offered to let me back into the band, but I’d already moved on).

I recently went back to take a look at MacBird and rediscovered its brilliance. I think it’d be a popular play today if not for the ending: Bobby Kennedy avenges his brother’s death. In the script, Ted Kennedy appears with a cast on his arm and Garson makes it clear the Kennedy’s believe Johnson is trying to have them killed as well. Little did we know Bobby would go down within a few years.

For the most part, the script is written in Shakespearean couplets and many of the longer speeches are modern adaptations of Shakespeare’s most famous soliloquies. The characters dress in modern suits, except for a colorful plume in their fedoras and tiny toy swords affixed to their waists. Eventually, MacBird became a huge hit on Broadway, launching the career of Stacy Keach.

I kinda wish Garson would revisit this project and update the script with the latest revelations. Certainly the trio of James Angleton, Bill Harvey and Johnny Roselli would make a wonderful addition as primary instigators and eventual assassins. The trio should be forced to keep killing more and more people, and eventually even Roselli, to keep a lid on the conspiracy.

Allen Dulles and J Edgar Hoover would be the masters of the coverup. Kennedy’s conflict with the Texas oil cowboys as well as the Eastern Federal Reserve need to be spelled out. And, of course, Johnson must voluntarily give up the throne (and then watch Bobby Kennedy get killed by a Dulles-Angleton goon anyway). In the end, MacBird goes back to the ranch in a deep depression and dies relatively young while tremendously unhappy.

Our local production of MacBird was a transforming event in central Illinois and one I still think about. We already had John Cage producing his greatest happenings in our town, I was running the biggest counterculture publication in downstate Illinois at the age of 17, and the Finchley Boys were rapidly becoming one of the most famous garage bands in the State. But we also had some leaders on the other side of the fence, including the mysterious Professor Revilo P. Oliver, whose name spells the same both ways, and who was the leading pundit of the John Birch Society at the time, the first person to announce a conspiracy coverup in the JFK assassination within days of the event, and a person who probably should have been fired from the University for anti-Jewish rantings, but never was. In Revilo’s world view, the Jews were behind the Communists, who were behind everything else, including the shadow government. Today, I view the John Birch Society as an intelligence operation, not a legitimate citizen’s group, just based on their controversial history and heavy involvement in obvious disinfo. Revilo would eventually split from the Birch Society and join the violent White Power movement, undoubtedly another intelligence op. In another weird twist, Johnny Roselli, one of JFK’s assassins, was passing through town frequently at the time to visit his lover, owner of the Champaign-Urbana News Gazette, a newspaper I worked for on week-ends to make pocket money.

I just wish Garson (or someone else) would come up with a play like MacBird only about 9/11 because we sure need something to break down the walls of resistance to truth that have been erected to protect the guilty.

(This is an excerpt from my book Magic, Religion and Cannabis, link to order below video.)

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 Geron. 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.

If you like these stories, please check out my eBooks. Just follow the links at the top-right of this page. And thanks for stopping by.

The Monks of Mayhem

I already told you about how Iving Azoff—the most powerful person in the music industry—got his start as Bob Nutt’s associate at Blytham, Ltd., in Urbana, Illinois, in 1967.  (And thanks to an original Blytham business card sent-in by Guy Maynard, we now know Irv had a short-lived predecessor in that role.)

Gary Pini is another important character in this story, and he too would eventually rise to great heights in the record industry, producing dance music singles and early rap records. Here’s Gary (left) on the Quad at the University of Illinois. In the background you can see the round building we used to sneak into via the Steam Tunnels that ran underneath the entire University campus (see my book, 1966). Gary is the one who took me to see the John Cage installation at the Stock Pavilion.

Gary was going out with Caroline, who lived in a house at 1003 South Third Street with three other girls (Paula, Elke and Claudia), one of whom was an occasional lover of Jim Cole’s, which is why Cole spent a lot of time at that house.

Cole’s brother had an immaculate used Cadillac with minor issues parked in the driveway. After a few beers, Cole’d go into Destructo-Mania and jump out the second floor window onto the hood or roof or trunk, inflicting as much damage as possible with his booted feet. A sledge hammer often played a role in this game and the car was soon transformed into a worthless pile of junk. Bob Brandel (left) removed the dashboard for use in an art class but flunked that project. “Why are you in school?” asked his professor. John McNaughton had a similar art class and the moldy mattress he pulled out of the boneyard creek so disgusted his professor that McNaughton flunked his assignment. But those two practically unknown masterpieces now constitute perhaps the finest examples of the short-lived Destructo-Mania Art Movement and would probably sells for millions at Sotheby’s if anyone could find them.

John McNaughton

Destructo-Mania had to end, however, since that particular lifestyle is not really sustainable. But it sure went out in a blaze of glory. A bunch of people were tripping and drinking beer late one night when Tony Byrnes sat in a chair and it broke accidentally, spilling him onto the floor. Everyone froze for a second and then broke into laughter and couldn’t stop. This accident had a somewhat inspirational impact on Cole, who pretty soon smashed the nearest object with his foot. Of course, this produced gales more laughter and it sort of escalated out-of-control from there. In order to keep the laughter going, objects were ceremoniously brought into the center of the room and ritualistically sacrificed. This was Destructo-Mania of the highest and most spiritual power. No object was spared by these Destructo Monks. The girls ran around in a frenzy, moving their sacred pieces into rooms under their control, trying to save whatever they could. Small things like cups and dishes went quickly, obviously, but then even the largest pieces of furniture were eventually stomped into submission by the Monks of mayhem. And before you knew it, virtually everything in the house was turned into a broken pile of junk on the living room carpet! At this point the Grandmaster of Mayhem himself, Jim Cole stood atop this glorious pile of destruction, armed with a jack-knife and matches delivering the final coup-de-grace, some by sword, others by fire. By this time, however, dawn was breaking and the girls were teary-eyed, so weary were they from trying to hold back the Monks. No longer could they feed this sacred fire of destruction, as there was nothing left to destroy. So they decided to help clean-up the mess they’d created and dragged the carpet with all the junk out the kitchen door and into the backyard.

This house was surrounded on all sides by the most clean-cut fraternities and sororities. In fact, the backyard was really a huge park used by fraternities for touch football games and frisbee throwing. The carpet was dragged to the center of this immaculate field where Cole set the mess on fire. I don’t know if the Fire Department ever arrived, but I’m sure the neighbors must have wondered where that huge smouldering pile of junk came from when they woke up hours later. The next weekend, I’d kick an empty beer bottle, trying to set off another round of Destructo-Mania, but the girls threw me up against the wall, threatened to punch me out, and announced the next person who tried to break anything was getting tossed out permanently. It was the end of Destructo-Mania.

Another detail completely missing in all ’60s films and docs: many of us were riding the new super-cheap Jap bikes. You could get a used 50cc model for $50. Here’s Cole (left) with his chopper. Larry and I had similar bikes, as did a few others in our scene.

Excerpted from Magic, Religion and Cannabis. Photos courtesy John McNaughton.

 

Birth of Destructo-Mania

Bob Nutt threw a famous New Year’s eve party in 1967, sort of a celebration of the fantastic success Blytham Ltd. was experiencing with their two main acts, The Finchley Boys and the Seeds of Doubt. There were cases and cases of Champagne available, a real rock’n’roll blow-out. Guy got into a discussion about “hangups” and decided to take off his clothes as a political statement. He walked around the party naked encouraging others to cast off their mental slavery and join his nudity. Everyone assumed he was drunk out-of-mind, but within a few months some of those same dudes wouid be streaking through campus while high on LSD as a political statement. Like I said, Guy was always ahead of the rest of us.

Meanwhile, down in the basement, Cole (left) has discovered a hammer and spots a bunch of empty glass bottles. He turns into a robot machine and starts saying the words “destructo-mania.” But everytime he says the words, he robotically smashes a glass bottle with his hammer. Eventually, the host, Bob Nutt comes downstairs, sees what’s going on, starts laughing and is soon joining Cole in this new game called Destructo-Mania.

It was the birth of the Destructo-Mania craze that overtook the twin cities for a few months, at least in our scene, but the apex of Destructo-Mania would not take place for over a year, and then it would be at the infamous house on Third Street where almost all the greatest parties of the decade took place.

Battle of the Bands

Even better than seeing a Finchley Boys’ concert was seeing the Finchley’s battle the one other famous garage band in town, the Seeds of Doubt, fronted by Urbana High senior Guy Maynard, a very influential figure in the twin cities in the late ’60s. I really need a higher resolution jpeg of this flyer for their first public encounter. Even at this resolution, however, I can tell this picture is priceless, revealing a very young Jim Cole, and somewhat more mature-looking Guy Maynard facing off, with their bands behind them. Within a few months Cole would have his growth spurt and morph into the local version of Bob Dylan/Mick Jagger rolled into one.

Guy was way ahead of most of us on a lot of fronts. He deplored the whole jock/longhair terminology, for example, as he knew the words contributed to the polarization taking place, a polarization that would erupt in violence in the fall of 1967, and grow worse the next semester following the Martin Luther King, Jr. assassination.

Funny, though, Guy had been a known conservative,and stanch supporter of Barry Goldwater his last year in Junior High, but when he moved to High School, he suddenly started looking and acting a lot like Brian Jones! Guy was following the first garage band in the twin cities, most, if not all of whom, were from Champaign Central High School. They were doing a version of “Gloria” before the Shadows of Knight, and Guy was their biggest fan. Eventually the band decided they wanted Guy to be their lead singer, and that’s when they came up with the name “Seeds of Doubt.”

Guy Maynard

If you like these stories why not check out my band, the Soul Assassins, or my free eBooks, links at top-right column of this page. Please subscribe so you don’t miss out on future posts, and thanks for stopping by. Blytham Card courtesy Guy Marnard.