It's gone, but I saved it.
Over the years I've been involved with a number of small print publications, most of them shortlived. One of them was a Chicopee based paper called The Northern Sun Magazette, for which I wrote a column until the day, about a year after it started, when the Northern Sun headed towards the setting sun. What the hell was a magazette anyhow? Here's a good example of my column.
One of the low points of my otherwise wonderfully misspent youth was the time I got busted on charges of attempting to smuggle drugs across international borders. I was a freshly minted graduate of the High School of Commerce and spending the summer living in a gorgeous little town in northern Vermont called Jeffersonville.
On weekend a buddy and I scooted across the Canadian border and spent some time Montreal, a vibrant but divided city whose problems provide as good an argument against a bilingual society as you'll ever experience in real life. We Americans too often take for granted just how lucky we are to have (for the moment at least) a nation united by one language.
But that's neither here nor there as far as this story goes. What was really intriguing about the Canadians was their incredibly tolerant attitude towards illegal drug use. Marijuana, which is so common here in the USA, is hard to get in Canada, where the lousy climate impedes the homegrown market and the best imported herb usually has to cross two borders to reach that far north.
Therefore most Canadian cannabis based drugs come from Europe, where it arrives condensed and compacted into the form of slightly sticky bricks of hashish. What was amazing was that people in the bars and nightclubs of Montreal were smoking hashish openly without anyone seeming the least bit perturbed. Hashish was technically illegal in Canada, but desptie the unmistakeable aroma of hashish in the air, no one was running to the phone to call the cops, such as you might expect to happen in the good ol' USA. Suffice it to say that my friend and I adopted the old travelers adage about doing what the Romans do, and even went a bit further and tried to bring a chunk of that hashish (called "Brown Gold" as I recall) backe to the USA as a sort of temporary souvenir, if you will, of our Canadian sojourn.
It should have been easy to do, but sometimes things are not as easy as it seems they ought to be. To make a long story short, thruogh a maddening combination of bad luck and cruel fate, the hashish was discovered by the border police, setting in motion a very unpleasant series of events, much of which I would prefer to forget, if I could. Without getting into the details, let me assure you that whatever the carefree attitude of the Canadian people regarding cannibis, the border police have no sense of humor on that subject whatsoever.
Yet despite some tense moments when it appeared that I might be facing a fate that would have required me to write this column from a jail cell, nothing much came of the incident. Apparently I was hardly the first American kid to think of bringing some of that Brown Gold back home, and so the Canadian justice system essentially just scared the heck out of me by threatening but then not following through on prison time, and basically told me to just be on my way back home with the stern admonishment to never darken the door to their fair country ever again!
I'm pretty sure that had this happened to me in today's far more paranoid drug environment, that I could've gotten off so easy. The only lasting consequence is that I cannot legally own firearms in Massachusetts, something of a disappointment since, like all true red-blooded Americans, I have an almost erotic fascination with weapons of all kinds.
Now flash forward some fifteen years to a sunny afternoon in Westfield where I was hosting the late, great Tommy Devine Show on WNNZ radio. It was a beautiful summer day when only a fool would be indoors listening to the radio, and consequently the phone lines were dead. Forced to fill the airwaves with nothing but my own improvisational patter, I lapsed into a kind of stream of conciousness rap about what I would do if I were the Mayor of Springfield. I soon got a little carried away and actually announced that I was actually going to run for mayor against then incumbent Robert Markel. I would have thought no one could have taken my announcement seriously, since I was promoting such notions as erecting a geodesic dome over downtown and putting a memorial on Court Square to the victims of the Springfield Newspapers.
Yet apparently there was someone out there who was listening and taking my radio skit quite seriously, because within a week I received something very strange and ominous in the mail. It came in an envelope postmarked in Springfield, but with no return address. Inside was a single sheet of paper, typed in the old dot-matrix style, which appeared to be a print-out from some law enforcement database. It was about my Canadian drug bust. That and nothing more, no writing no commentary, no clue of any kind as to its point of origin.
Yet there was a very clear, if unstated message just the same, one which if paraphrased might read something like this:
Hey Mr. Wouldbe Mayor!
In case you ever get serious about elective office, be aware that I, Mr. Mysterious Somebody, have access to this little piece of information. So before you go announcing yourself running for any offices, bear in mind the places I could sent this document to.
At first I laughed at this clumsily implied threat, but once I got to thinking about it, that letter gave me the creeps. Who had access to this information? Were some kind of privacy laws violated in obtaining it? Wasn't there something immoral, if not illegal, in blackmailing me this way?
Actually, if I had been serious about runnning for mayor, that particular skeleton falling out of the closet wouldn't have discouraged me. I would have simply held a press conference and dismissed the entire episode as youthful folly. Then I would have argued that even if I were on heroin, I could still think more clearly on municipal matters than anybody in the Markel Administration could do stone cold sober. But since I never intended to run for office in the first place, I simply dismissed the whole thing as just sleazery as usual in Springfield. But I haven't forgotten about it.
I suspect there were probably a number of incidents in Valley politics over the years where so-called confidential records, criminal and otherwise, have found their way into the hands of those who had no business obtaining them. In fact, I'll bet it happens all the time. But that doesn't make it right.
Another failed but fun publication, for which I did not write, was the Northampton based V-Mag. Still, I knew a few of the people involved and got a mention or two in it for various things. To the extent that V-Mag had any focus at all, it was on cartoons, for which it was a pioneering crusader against censorship of any kind:
One time Northampton Mayor M. Clare Higgins denounced V-Mag as "a scummy little magazine" and when you're getting reviews like that from the powers-that-be then you know you're on the right track. An equal opportunity offender, many residents of Holyoke were offended by this issue, although V-Mag was hardly the first to declare Holyoke a horror story. (click to enlarge)
While we're on the subject of cartoons, the old artist from Martian Highway days Steve Lafleur was interviewed recently, and admitted he used marijuana for inspiration. What a shock!
When you connect with the muse, you're at the center of life, there is nothing like it. It frankly can't be put into words right here, with luck it comes through in my comics.
I freely admit I'm part goddamn hippy and I love reefer. Sometimes I take a couple hits and start drawing. You can get some cool surprises. You bounce in this matrix of story and idea. If you overuse weed as a tool, it flattens your stuff, and I suffered from this sometimes with Dog Boy.
To read the whole interview, click here.
Speaking of Martian Higway over 15 years ago I got this letter in the mail.
The envelope had scrawled on the back of it these words to live by:
I knew at once that it could only be from Karl Mayfield, the former lead guitarist for Martian Highway, a popular local psychedelic combo that billed itself as "The Valley's Only Space Band."
This letter reached me after a long period of having had no contact with him, so it was sort of a catching up letter sent to me after Karl discovered a copy of the Baystate Objectivist in the Pine Point Cafe during a brief visit to Springfield. After all these years it is still an interesting and amusing enough missive to be worth sharing. I'll type it for you so that you don't have to try to decipher the unique handwriting of the original:
April 3, 93 2:30 AM
Last night I filled my belly with the flesh of dead animals as I sat at a banquet to honor my induction into Who's Who among students of American colleges. I thin proceeded to my local pub to suck down pints of ale, while listening to young people that don't do drugs play music that has about as much to do wih transcendance as Mr. Murphy's cough echoing through the halls of Balliet.
The beer is stale, the band is lame, the lights come on, I return to my room cluttered with the debris of my journeys . . . . My never ending quest for the Tao. I need to listen to some of that good ole Grateful Dead. One jam in particular is needed to retune my nervous system . . . Dark Star . . . Copenhagen . . . 1972 . . . I've been to Amsterdam . . . Drugs are legal . . . Minds are free. Where the fuck is that tape? Oh yeah . . . My backpack . . ZIIPP Clack Clack.
What is this a band poster from Germany? A menue from the south of France? Some sort of newspaper. Must be something radical. Typical Left/Right/Center/3D wing paranoia? - The Baystate Objectivist - Must have got this in New England but where? Do they actually read this kind of stuff in the Pine Point Cafe . . . St. Paddy's Day . . . Drunk . . . On the phone . . . Stuffed into my pocket. This is weird, I see people in here that are the younger brothers and sisters of people I knew years ago. I turn the page - Tom Devine! . . . Not The Tom Devine? Good work, I enjoyed reading it.
We went through many good times, many weird and twisted times. I was really glad to see your name. Since I last saw you I've traveled all over the planet. I've lived in the forest, did peyote in the desert witht he Indians, fucked Englishwoman, I went in the Army for three years, I'm now a pre-med student in college.
One of the biggest influences on my life was our years of interstellar inquiry . . . Tattered Hot Tuna/Grunt shirt on the body of a wide-eyed youth in search of the next buzz . . . A lot of who I am was initiated by you.
But enough of this babbling spew!
Let's see what else . . . Oh yeah, I've been friends with Paul Kantner for the last few years, his manager is a buddy of mine. I've met Jack Cassady a bunch of times also over the years. He's cool. Jorma is still a friend, I see him all the time down here at this good club that has a lot of the ole good folks. In London I met Roger Waters backstage at Radio Kaos.
I think the best coup was meeting Neel Jung. A friend of mine raises horses in California. I was out west in LA just after the riots. I was invited to my friend's ranch to go riding. He said we should wait before we go because his bud was coming to ride with us. I lost it when it turned out to be Mr. Young himself. The guy was great, he even let me do a little jamming with him.
Oh well, I'm getting tired. I will always love thinking about the past - we were kids then but I tell ya we had some great times.