I moved to New York City at the end of 1978, having just spent six years obtaining a couple of college degrees. Even though I started publishing my own underground newspaper in 1968 and hitchhiked across North America as a teen, I’d lost all contact with my counterculture roots by the time I arrived in the Big Apple. In fact, HIGH TIMES was a magazine that my younger sister read, though I did enjoy some of the stories when I discovered the stash hidden in her bedroom, especially a lengthy treatise on sniffing glue.
I had no idea there was a single person who was the founding genius behind High Times, or that this man had committed suicide, an event that was not covered by the mainstream press.
Later I learned the real story of Tom Forçade, the visionary founder of HIGH TIMES. Tom was the son of pioneers who’d settled the West after a long cattle drive to southern Arizona. He got started running kilos out of Mexico but quickly graduated to planes and boats and bigger adventures. He believed deeply in the counterculture as a spiritual revolution, with marijuana as its sacrament. Tom started a commune and published a review of the best of the underground press, Orpheus, but was soon driving a psychedelic bus to New York so that he could become a player on a bigger stage.
He rode into the city like someone straight out of a Clint Eastwood western, complete with slouch hat and handlebar mustache. At the time, Tom looked to John Sinclair as his primary mentor, but in 1969 Sinclair was sentenced to 10 years in prison for giving away two joints to an undercover cop. Like Sinclair, Tom planned to seize the cultural moment by managing a revolutionary rock band to commercial success. He was always on the lookout for potential superstars in the rough and eventually settled on David Peel.
Tom’s first political act was throwing a pie during a congressional investigation into pornography. (In fact, he launched the whole pie-throwing movement.) He also helped promote Woodstock and went on the road disrupting a Warner Bros. movie starring Wavy Gravy that was being filmed the summer after Woodstock, when Warners made its play to capture the counterculture’s center of energy (an attempt that failed miserably). Tom wrote an obscure book about the whole adventure and dedicated it to Wavy, admitting that he’d grown fond of the latter’s nonviolent style.
Eventually, Tom forced a showdown with the Yippies at the Republican National Convention in Miami in 1972. The FBI had launched a very successful (and very secret) disinfo campaign to brand him as a snitch, and the Feds also arrested him for possession of a pipe bomb. The subsequent trial lingered for months, though in today’s world, Tom would have been taken straight to Guantánamo and had his mind turned inside out with the latest torture techniques.
After launching High Times two years later, in 1974, Tom suddenly captured an important center of energy himself, virtually taking over the entire underground press and transforming himself into a mythic character in the process. High Times was an instant runaway success, and many of Tom’s other ideas were pure genius, including jumping on the punk movement and producing the first documentary about the Sex Pistols’ arrival in the USA.
I’ve spent years researching Tom’s story, and now I’m putting the final touches on an e-book about him titled The Last Great Outlaw, written by myself and Albert Goldman, who was very close to Tom. Unfortunately, Goldman also introduced Tom to Chic Eder, who really was a snitch and worked with the FBI to bring Tom down.
The book will be available through Smashwords.com, but you can also find it easily in the iTunes bookstore or the Nook store. I plan to release a number of e-books this year via Smashwords, so if you haven’t converted to tablet reading yet, now is a good time to start!