According to the evidence, HIGH TIMES was actually supposed to be a joke.
The first thing you have to know about Tom Forçade is that he wasn’t only a liberating force – he was also a prisoner of romance.
At the Revolutionary Media Conference in Ann Arbor, MI, in 1969, Forçade predicted that there would be “a daily underground paper in every city, and a weekly in every town.” But when he became the director of the Underground Press Syndicate (UPS), he starting issuing “repression reports,” highlighting information like the fact that 60 percent of the papers loosely grouped as “underground” were experiencing major repression, and many failed to survive. Also, UPS reported that the percentage of underground-press staffers involved in drug arrests was 100 times that of the general population.
In college, Forçade had majored in business administration and minored in hot-rodding. Now he morphed himself into a mysterious character who wore all-black clothes and drove a black Cadillac with a Plexiglas bubbletop. In the summer of 1971, he had this advice for a gathering of underround-press editors in Oyster River, CO: “You’re going to have to identify some sort of base that the straight press can’t co-opt – either sex, drugs or politics.” In 1974, Forçade followed his own advice and launched HIGH TIMES out of the UPS office.
Flash back to Miami Beach in 1972, where the Republican National Convention was being held. And so was a counter-convention, opposed to the Vietnam War and hoping to defeat Richard Nixon. The Yippies were there, as was Tom Forçade, hopelessly in love with the female half of a Yippie couple. He could be found yearning for her as he sat in the back of a taxicab for hours with the meter running while it was parked outside the place where the Yippies were staying.
I remained in California, preparing and promoting an issue of The Realist, which featured an article by conspiracy researcher Mae Brussell tracing the linear connections between the assassination of John F. Kennedy and the Watergate break-in. We foolishly believed that this story could prevent Nixon’s reelection. Although I didn’t go to Miami Beach, Yippie friends kept me posted on what was happening there. In the next issue, I would publish a report from “Kathy Yippie.”
“There was a lot of internal fighting between the Yippies and the Zippies,” she wrote, “and that hurt our credibility more than anything. Tom Forçade, who made up and financed the management of the Zippies, served as chief provocateur – with events like ‘Free Arthur Bremer Day’ [Bremer was the attempted assassin of George Wallace, Nixon’s competitor in the primaries] – and, by the end of summer, there wasn’t a single person in the park who didn’t suspect he was a police agent.”
It seemed as if Forçade had been thrust into some kind of modern Shakespearean drama, seeking revenge on all the Yippies because of an unrequited love for one of them. In any case, although he and I were adversaries, I invited him to respond to Kathy’s report, which he did. “I realize that it is perhaps the one article The Realist dare not run,” he warned. “Not only does it step on a lot of toes, the implications of the article are dangerous to the cherished beliefs of the ‘counterculture.’ So, if you don’t run it, I will understand.” Naturally, I published his article, in which he named a few actual police provocateurs. One of them smoked pot but later claimed that it was “simulated smoking.”
In 1978, Forçade asked me if I wanted to edit HIGH TIMES. I declined his invitation, but was pleased that we had come such a long way. The magazine was originally supposed to be a joke – a one-shot lampoon of Playboy, substituting dope for sex – but it turned out to be a unique publication that has lasted 35 years. HIGH TIMES is about much more than getting stoned, though. Marijuana is a metaphor for civil liberties, and smoking a joint still serves as a gateway to outlaw consciousness.
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