Reggae and Comic Books

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Long before Chuck D called rap music “black America’s CNN”, reggae served the same purpose in Jamaica, albeit in an amplified fashion. There is no limit to subject matter in Jamaican music. Song topics can include the sweetest hymn to true love (or God, or marijuana), gross scatological forays, musings about current events (or political doings, or pop culture), and graphic threats towards one’s enemies; often with all of the above coming from the same artist.

The last few months have given us Mr. Vegas singing about Pokemon Go and Vybz Kartel celebrating Usain Bolt’s Olympic success:

The Jamaican music industry is essentially a summation of Jamaican culture and cultural interests as a whole. And of course, like much of the world, a good share of those interests reflect the influence of the 900 pound gorilla to the north, those cultural imperialists, the United States of America.  American movie stars, athletes, and TV characters are just as famous in Jamaica as they are on their home turf. Witness the namecheck of Clint Eastwood’s new movie Dirty Harry in the intro of Big Youth’s classic “Screaming Target”


A great reflection of American influence is the way American comic book characters show up in reggae music.

The Marvel Universe was birthed in late 1961, when the first issue of the Fantastic Four came out. The Jamaica music industry also began about that time, with the first big label, future Prime Minister Edward Seaga’s WIRL (West Indian Records Limited), starting in 1958.

But, Jamaican music really came into its own in the early 60’s, with homegrown ska music overtaking copycat r&b records in popularity, and when Jamaica declared independence from Britain in 1962, music was a showpiece of their new identity on the world stage (1962 was coincidentally also the year that saw the first appearances of The Hulk, Spider Man, and Thor).


There are many reggae labels that reference comic characters, but let’s begin with ones that reference the Fantastic Four, specifically their crudest member, seen in the bottom left on the cover above: The Thing.

I’ll start with Grimm Ben, a label I have a soft spot for, as what could be nerdier than naming a label using the The Thing’s real name?



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The artwork is not the best on this, but again serious nerd points are given for calling Ma Grimm’s blue-eyed boy by his birth name.  The label was run by Jah Thomas, a successful DJ who also had a good run as a producer/label owner.


The Thing’s strength, eerie visage, and true rudeboy attitude made him a fan favorite in Jamaica, as there was second label with his mug on it: Lloyd Campbell’s “The Thing”, which had much better art.

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Funnily enough, this Lloyd Campbell was not the only Lloyd Campbell in the Jamaican music industry with a love for comics; witness Lloyd “Spiderman” Campbell’s self-named Spiderman label, which he ran from the early 70’s up into the near present (with many different label designs), with records ranging from roots singers like Culture and The Tamlins to DJs like Yellowman and the Lone Ranger.  Lloyd Campbell passed away recently of cancer in Miami, and was active in music up until the time of his death.



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Spiderman was created by Stan Lee and  Steve Ditko in 1962.  Unlike the Fantastic Four, whose superhero identities were public and whose faces were visible, Spiderman was completely masked (an anomaly for heroes of that time: even Batman showed his mouth and jaw). Unlike the Fantastic Four, who were portrayed as being celebrated in public parades, Spiderman was an outlaw: hunted and hated.


 jimmy-cliff_1Badman like Ivanhoe know the leg pose (Jimmy Cliff in The Harder They Come)

I’m not sure whether it was his popularity, 60’s cartoon series, or rebel vibe, but like The Thing, ol’ Spidey also lent his name and visage to more than one record label, with the second being dancehall label Spiderman Records International, run by engineer Delroy Thompson, who confusingly enough, also called himself Spiderman.  He may win the award for most stripped down depiction of a comic character.  I think my school notebook doodles from 4th grade contained more detail and weblines on Spiderman’s face.


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The wall crawler makes an appearance in a few other reggae records. Firstly as a name check in the dub b-side of “Squatter’s Connection” by Massive Dread, entitled “Spiderman Skank.”



And then more notably as a protagonist in the form of the third man in Jamaican music to name himself Spiderman, and his partner Superman (not kidding).




From early 80’s onward, DJ combinations were a hot thing in Jamaican music, as seen by the success of artists like Michigan and Smiley:



Spiderman and Superman were not quite operating on that level, but they did release a handful over of tunes spread out over a decade:



This makes me recall the first and most famous example of Spiderman and Superman collaborating, their oversized and historic comic book from 1976:



Two dollars for a comic book back when they cost 30 cents? Clearly, this was something historic. This was the first time that a character from the Marvel Universe (Spiderman) had appeared with one from DC comics (Superman), so it was A REALLY BIG DEAL.  Not sure how the battle of the century took place between a demigod who could reverse time by spinning the Earth backwards and a dude who got taken out by a guy called the Kangaroo, but OK.




If only comic fans had waited 10 years, they could have got the same thing from a reggae album:



Well, that’s pretty underwhelming.

I can’t speak on the record itself. But, it does bring up a valid point: all of my examples have focused on the Marvel side of comics, but their Distinguished Competition makes some reggae appearances as well.

Noted eccentric/producer/owner of many labels Lee Perry’s comic connection is DC based: his label Justice League is named for the superpowered organization in the DC comics universe that, at the time, contained the combined might of Superman, Batman,  The Flash, and Green Lantern. Certainly a power worth harnessing and directing in the direction of dope roots reggae.



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Batman and Superman made many solo appearances in reggae music, but none on label art as far as I know.



The above track by Joe Tex and Hugh Black is particularly awesome, as they pretend they are Batman and Robin in the intro to the tune, and there are lots of spacey dub effects.

I admit, I am more of a Marvel guy, so I am going to close out this post out with the most dumbshit of all the Marvel heroes: the Hulk.

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But, yo if the Hulk lights up, maybe there is a Jamaican connection… Oh wait, there is:



Mad respect to this label because it was founded back when he was just another dude in the Marvel Universe and before the Hulk live action series in the late 70’s, which I must mention for having the best closing music of any TV show ever, and what a way to close out a post.  Goodnight.

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Merle Haggard: Love In or Leave It (or: “Someone Call Wes Anderson Now!”)

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Merle Haggard was an American music legend.  And yes, he wrote “Okie From Muskogee,” “Fightin’ Side Of Me,” and other anti-hippie songs. Those are fine songs. And a lot of people I like them. I don’t particularly because, although I don’t like hippies, I see nothing wrong with burning your draft card or saying bad things about America. But reducing Haggard to those songs is pure foolishness.  Haggard was a rare talent in country music: someone who could sing incredibly well, was an accomplished songwriter, and was also a solid instrumentalist, playing lead guitar and fiddle.

Firstly, he was a superb singer, with great range and an uncanny ability to wring emotion from lyrics with his phrasing, without being saccharine.  Accordingly, his first success as a singer was as an interpreter of other people’s music.

His first hit record “Sing A Sad Song” from 1963, was very much a Countrypolitan pop record that was much slicker and lusher than his later sound, and his vocal leans towards the mid-range of his voice, highlighting his ability to effortlessly slide up into a high yodel like his idol Jimmie Rodgers.

On his first LP from 1965, Haggard wrote or co-wrote 5 of the 12 songs, mostly the filler material, with none of his own songs being hits.

In fact, Haggard didn’t have any big hits until his breakthrough in 1967, “I’m a Lonesome Fugitive” written by country singer Lynn Anderson’s mother, Liz:

That Haggard had spent 2 years in San Quentin prison made it an appropriate match for him, although Liz Anderson had no idea when she played Haggard the song. The song became Haggard’s first No. 1 record on the country charts, and provided his career with a direction and a persona. He wrote and performed similar songs (which became similarly big hits) for the next few years, notably “Branded Man” (which addressed the theme of a convict who served his time still feeling like an outlaw in society) and “Mama Tried” (containing the immortal line “I turned 21 in prison doing life without parole”, which Haggard later admitted included the untrue last half because “it filled out the line”).

Haggard’s albums from this era began to feature more and more self-written material, which seemed inevitable, as he is as good a songwriter as anyone in country music. “Sing Me Back Home,” a song inspired from Haggard’s experiences in prison, is probably my favorite song of his, drawing on his memories of being in solitary confinement next to Death Row inmate and author Caryl Chessman (who was executed during Haggard’s stay at San Quentin) as well as the execution of his friend Jimmy “Rabbit” Hendricks. It’s one of those songs that has such a timeless quality that it’s almost hard to imagine it being written by any one person; if it hadn’t existed forever, perhaps it just emerged one day fully formed from the ether.

Haggard was born and raised outside Bakersfield, California in a converted boxcar, the son of two Dust Bowl refugees from Oklahoma, who joined many emigrants from their home state in California during the Great Depression. As a youth, he had started running away and jumping freight trains at a young age. This begun a streak of juvenile delinquency that graduated into adult criminality when he was convicted of burglary and sentenced to a lengthy term at San Quentin at age 20 (interestingly, Haggard was born in April 1937 and, according to his autobiography, began his San Quentin term in March 1958, enabling him to indeed “turn 21 in prison”).

Despite this string of modern sounding hits celebrating (and lamenting) his hard man life, Haggard was, perhaps more so than any other country singer of his status, a traditionalist with the utmost reverence for country music’s history.  At the height of his fame in 1969, he released a tribute record to 1920’s country singer Jimmie Rodgers. Then a year later, he taught himself fiddle basically from scratch (although he had some childhood violin lessons) in order to record a tribute record to Western Swing star Bob Wills.

In addition to the Bob Wills album, Haggard began to record more instrumental material featuring his band, the Strangers. Although Haggard was a facile lead guitar player, he deferred to his guitarist Roy Nichols, a nimble and inventive guitar player whose clean clear runs were an integral part of the electric Bakersfield Country sound of the 1960’s, and a direct precursor to country-flavored rock players like Jerry Garcia.

Haggard’s band was one of the best in the business, featuring players equally adept with almost any 20th century American music ranging from jazz to honky tonk to pop, including fiddle player Jim Belken, formerly a violin player with the Dallas Symphony (“I quit when I realized I didn’t want to find myself fifty years old and gettin’ cussed out by some Hungarian”).

It was fitting that such a formidable band would record a few albums of their own, most notably 1973’s “Totally Instrumental with One Exception.”  It’s an amazingly varied album, with material ranging from throwback ragtime tunes to incredibly melodic and evocative pieces that seamlessly mix elements of country and jazz. Funnily enough for music from a such a tough dude, the album sounds to me like it was made to score a film by sensitive fop Wes Anderson:

Haggard’s story, going from the most famous prison in the nation to the top of the charts in a just a few years, is one that will probably never happen again, for a large variety of sociological and economical reasons. Haggard himself recognized this, observing in his autobiography:

“Can you imagine what would happen today if I was twenty-four, just out of prison, and trying to get a record deal in Nashville? When I got my deal, the labels were looking for artists who had their own style. Today’s sanitized country music is produced by a bunch of artists who sound like each other.”

I would argue that the cultural and economic stratification would probably prevent a 24 year old Merle Haggard from getting a deal fresh out of prison more so than musical issues. But, Haggard does have a point than yesterday’s country artists were much more distinctive, and his mimicry is just another one of his talents:




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Brooklyn Anthem- Team Shadetek featuring Jah Dan and 77Klash

Here are we now, a few years into the great grime revival.  Stormzy took a 10 year old instrumental into the Top 10 (and spawned a hoard of parodies and memes) and people from all around the globe are fervently tuning in to Rinse, Sub FM, and Boiler Room and chopping up their own edits of grime classics from back in the day. Grime has been established as an international music, with a producer like Rabit from Houston, Texas at the forefront of the music.


But, this wasn’t always the case.  Back in 2004, grime was a proudly provincial music, with both its artists and its fan base basically limited to London, and with established strongholds in the East.  Most of the bigger groups of the time were based around people who grew up or went to school together in East London.

Roll Deep were all from East London, as were most of the other leading crews like Ruff Sqwad, N.A.S.T.Y. Crew, East Connection, and Boyz in da Hood. Some exceptions to the primacy of the East were Meridian Crew (featuring Skepta) from North London or, slightly later, the OGz from South London.  Songs proudly proclaimed neighborhood origins, usually with groups NOT from East London most eager to let people know that there was more to grime than just postcodes that began with the letter “E.”

(The importance of East London in early grime can’t be fully explained without writing a sociology book, but certainly the fact the grime’s premier record store, Rhythm Division was in East London as were leading pirate stations Rinse FM and Deja Vu, helped make producing grime music a part of growing up in the area)

The fan base was equally localized.  Although people like Dizzee Rascal and Lethal B became nationally known in the UK at that time, grime was still a niche music even within London itself (and you weren’t likely to hear any grime if you went to cities outside of London).

Grime primarily existed only in a London network of record stores, raves, and anyone who lived within the broadcasting range of a pirate radio station. There were no reliable streams for Rinse, not much of the music was on Youtube or even on music torrent sites. The only place grime really lived on the Internet was the RWD forum, which was a wonderfully insular group of people that would openly mock anyone who was middle class or not from London, as this post from Dubstep forum in 2007 illustrates:

 im starting to get into (grime) music but need some help in finding aritsts/labels of a specefic sound. Basically, does anyone know a decent forum? not one thats full of 12 year olds typing ‘GoNa BanG YoU Up BlUd’ and who know sweet FA about the music (which unfortuantly seems to be common place).


To which someone replies:

just go to rwd forum anyway. so what if someone threatens to shank you in the eye.. it’s only the internet, nothing’s really gonna happen to you!

Everyone on RWD forum did indeed talk like a roadman from the ends, but there were bits of genuine insight and knowledge mixed in with the aggro. The best thing that happened on RWD forum was when Wiley himself registered and went on a binge, posting constantly and getting into petty online battles with everyone there and saying things like: “Bruv pick up your grandma she was doing a wheelie down Roman Road” and  “ive got volkumes of instumental albums come on i make beats in my sleep wake up and then really make the same tunes i heard in my sleep im a wizard.”


So, in 2006 when New York producers Team Shadetek released a grime record, it was not well received in England. I remember it was stocked at leading grime store Independance Records in Lewisham and touted highly on their website. Within a few months, it was listed at drastically reduced price, not the sign of a hot seller.

On RWD forum, people were dismissive. In retrospect, it’s hard to see why. Sonically, the track sounds like a mix between Roll Deep’s Shank Riddim (aka When I’m Ere) and the Forward Riddim (aka Pow!).  Vocally, the song relies on solid ragga inflected vocals by 77Klash and a nice hook by Jah Dan lifted from Courtney Melody. Anyway you slice it, it’s an energetic grime tune that has aged better than many tracks that came out around that time.

In New York City, the record got a great response when I played it in grime sets. Of course, this was helped by the constant shout outs to Brooklyn, which encouraged sing-alongs, even from people who had moved to Brooklyn the previous week.  One might presume that the same localism that made the record popular in New York City, might have prevented it breaking through to the insular London grime scene.

Oddly enough a couple years after its release, it caught a second life in Brooklyn, as it became a favorite among a certain subset of young BK kids who liked to use a sped up version of it as an accompaniment to their juke-style dance routines.

What’s oddly fascinating is that the shouts of “Brooklyn” that may have doomed the record to get dismissed in the UK were NOT what made this song appealing to these Brooklyn kids. If you watch the clips, they are dancing to the instrumental, and it’s the propulsiveness of the 808 claps that seems to have won them over.

Team Shadetek continued producing grimey music, in 2007 coming out with a 10″ featuring songs vocaled Jammer and Skepta (probably recorded when Skepta played his first NYC show at Rothko in January 2006 (damn, was that really 10 years ago?), but I could be wrong).

Team Shadetek split up soon after the release of this record. Matt Shadetek continues to produce music, appearing on Grime 2.0 compilation on Ninja Tune a few years back.





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David Bowie: Father Of The Sleng Teng Riddim



David Bowie has died, and the Internet is awash with praise for the man and his music, and rightfully so. Bowie cast a shadow over late 20th century music and pop culture so large, that’s hard to put it properly in perspective.  Of course, there are one or two wingnuts and sourpusses that want to transgressively call the man’s status into question or say his music wasn’t that good anyway.

Since arguing with trolls is a surefire waste of time, I won’t bother to make some laundry list of the man’s accomplishments. Instead I’ll just use one small example as a way to show the extent of his influence on 20th century music.

For fans of Jamaican music, the song “Under Mi Sleng Teng” by Wayne Smith, which came out in 1985, was a line in the sand: the end of the roots reggae era and the beginning of the primarily digital-based music known as dancehall reggae.


The song was based on a rhythm track preset on the Casiotone MT-40 keyboard called “rock.”  Essentially keyboardist Noel Davey just hit play on the rhythm preset and then comped some chords on top of it.

The song was an immediate smash and prompted a flurry of songs with either a new vocalist on the same rhythm track (phonetically known as a “riddim”) or on a recut version of the riddim by other musicians. There are hundreds and hundreds of versions of songs on the Sleng Teng riddim, and as a whole they make up some of the more beloved songs in the last 30 years of Jamaican music history.


In addition, the song changed the entire course of the Jamaican music industry, with one or two keyboard savvy musicians building riddims from scratch replacing entire bands. Live musicians would never be phased out of reggae completely, they would just no longer be the primary component (it’s worth watching live footage from the early 90’s, like Bounty Killer and Beenie Man at Sting in 1993, after the digital era has been firmly established, and watch how the live bands function is now to mimic these digital keyboard riddims).

Ok ok, you say, but what does this have to do with David Bowie?

Well, in the last few years, there has been a reexamination of that era of reggae and specifically the Sleng Teng riddim, notably starting with Wayne Smith’s death in 2014. Last month, there was a very good article on Sleng Teng that featured quotes from the creator of the Castiotone MT-40 “rock” preset, Casio’s Product Development and Music Engineer Hiroko Okuda.

In the article, Okuda disabuses the myth that the track was based on “Something Else” by 50s rocker Eddie Cochran (a rumor that has been repeated so many times it has become canonical) or on “Anarchy in the UK” by the Sex Pistols:


Despite revealing to Engadget that the Eddie Cochran and Sex Pistol rumors are false, she did admit the preset was based on a rock track. A British rock record from the 70s is all she would confirm. “You would immediately notice it once you hear the song.”

I don’t have contact information for Hiroko Okuda, but I am positive that the track she is referring to is “Hang Onto Yourself” by David Bowie.


If there’s another “British rock record from the 70s” that sounds more like Sleng Teng, I’d like to hear it.

So, the history of the song that started a new era in Jamaican music can be traced back to David Bowie. I’m not saying this is anything more than an accident of circumstance, but I have a feeling that the more one examine’s Bowie’s career, the more such accidents one will find.


I have no doubt that Bowie intended that riff to be a 50s homage and most likely DID lift it from Eddie Cochran. At the time, Bowie was developing his Ziggy Stardust character, which was essentially a 50s rock and roller transported into a sci-fi milieu, and one of his main reference points was 50s rocker Vince Taylor.  Perhaps not coincidentally, the first demo Bowie recorded of the song was done the night he met rocker Gene Vincent in Los Angeles.  

Interested parties can get at me on twitter @pgunnNYC.


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New York History pt 5: Steal This Book


I first read Abbie Hoffman’s “Steal This Book” when I was 15, in a reissued collection of his books that coincided with early 90’s Woodstock nostalgia. Reading Hoffman’s self-styled streetwise revolutionary patter was perfect for a high school freshman, because I was young enough not to find it all totally ridiculous.

Don’t get me wrong, I have a lot of respect for Abbie Hoffman and his type of sixties radical. Societies tend to get the heroes they deserve, and so while France had the May 1968 student revolts that almost toppled de Gaulle’s government and Germany had the Baader-Meinhof gang whose demise resulted in plane hijackings and prison suicides,  it makes sense that America would have a showbiz savvy activist whose tongue was always in cheek, even if his heart was sincere. It’s hard to think what Hoffman is best known for now (besides appearing in Forest Gump). Was it temporarily stopping trading on the New York Stock Exchange by throwing a wad of money onto the trading floor from the observation level? Or when he and his fellow Yippies attempted to nominate a pig for President at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago? Or attempting to levitate the Pentagon during an anti-Vietnam war march? Regardless, there is a commonality of both theater and a healthy sense of the ridiculous in all of these actions.

But, writing Steal This Book might be Hoffman’s most famous action. A best seller and (according to Hoffman) bootlegged by the Mafia, Steal This Book is a wonderful artifact of the late 1960’s/early 1970’s.  It’s a guide to scamming and getting over on “straight society” in a more trustworthy and analogue era.  It’s very much a relic of a bilateral “us versus them” time, when the hip community of hippies was at odds with the rest of Amerika (the spelling used throughout the book) and maybe, just maybe, revolution was an actual possibility (and if not, then we could get a big place in the country and just get our heads together).

Strictly speaking, it is a guide to the hustles involved in getting free or cheap food, housing, transportation, medical care, phone service, and more. There are sections on drugs, combat techniques, and perhaps most interesting now, ones on pirate radio and phone phreaking that are a rare look into a pre-Internet hacking mindset.  Although Hoffman was from Massachusetts, and went to college there and in California, it was in New York City where he first became a nationally known figure, so it is fitting enough there is a chapter on NYC as well.


Here are my favorite bits that due to changes either in laws, attitudes, or technology make me realize how long ago 1970 was:

Soda machines with bottles

When hitching, it’s a good idea to carry a bottle opener and a straw. You take the caps off soda bottles while they’re still in the machine and drink them dry without ever touching the bottle.

Air travel

One gutsy way to hitch a free ride is to board the plane without a ticket. This is how it works. Locate the flight you want and rummage through a wastebasket until you find an envelope for that particular airline. Shuffle by the counter men (which is fairly easy if it’s busy). When the boarding call is made, stand in line and get on the plane. Flash the empty envelope at the stewardess as you board the plane. Carry a number of packages as a decoy, so the stewardess won’t ask you to open the envelope. If she does, which is rare, and sees you have no ticket, act surprised. “Oh my gosh, it must have fallen out in the wash room,” will do fine. Run back down the ramp as if you’re going to retrieve the ticket. Disappear and try later on a different airline. Nine out of ten revolutionaries say it’s the only way to fly.

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The best way to find out about abortions is to contact your local woman’s liberation organization through your underground newspaper or radio station. Some Family Planning Clinics and even some liberal churches set up abortions, but these might run as high as $700. Underground newspapers often have ads that read “Any girl in trouble call – -,” or something similar. The usual rate for an abortion is about $500 and it’s awful hard to bargain when you need one badly. 


You can make a local 10 cent call for 2 cents by spitting on the pennies and dropping them in the nickel slot. As soon as they are about to hit the trigger mechanism, bang the coin-return button. Another way is to spin the pennies counter-clockwise into the nickel slot. Hold the penny in the slot with your finger and snap it spinning with a key or other flat object. Both systems take a certain knack, but once you’ve perfected the technique, you’ll always have it in your survival kit.

Subways / Slugs

DANISH 25 ORE PIECE works in 95% of all subway turnstiles. A very safe coin to use since it will not jam the turnstile. It is 5/l000th of an inch bigger than a token.

Marijuana prices

A rough scale, say, for pot is $20 an ounce, $125 a pound and $230 a kilo (2.2 pounds).

Social networking 

A good way to quickly communicate what’s coming down in the community is to build a telephone tree. It works on a pyramid system. A small core of people are responsible for placing five calls each. Each person on the line in turn calls five people and so on. If the system is prearranged correctly with adjustments made if some people don’t answer the phone, you can have info transmitted to about a thousand people in less than an hour. A slower but more permanent method is to start a Switchboard. Basically, a Switchboard is a central telephone number or numbers that anybody can call night or day to get information. It can be as sophisticated as the community can support. The people that agree to answer the phone should have a complete knowledge of places, services and events happening in the community. Keep a complete updated file. The San Francisco Switchboard (see below) puts out an operator’s manual explaining the organization and operation of a successful switchboard. They will send it out for 12¢ postage. San Francisco has the longest and most extensive Switchboard operation. From time to time there are national conferences with local switchboards sending a rep.

Fake I.D.s

Almost all I.D. cards use one or another IBM Selectric type to fill in the individual’s papers. You can buy the exact model used by federal and state agencies for less than $20.00 and install the ball in 5 seconds on any Selectric machine. When you finish the typing operation, sign your new name and trim the card to the size you want. Rub some dirt on the card and bend it a little to eliminate its newness.


There are also parts in the book where I question how serious Hoffman was:

Stealing gasoline

Another way is to park in a service station over their filler hole. Lift off one lid (like a small manhole cover), run down twenty feet of rubber tubing thru the hole you’ve cut in your floorboard, then turn on the electric pump which you have installed to feed into your gas tank. All they ever see is a parked car. This technique is especially rewarding when you have a bus.

Using boomerangs for streetfighting

The boomerang is a neat weapon for street fighting and is as easy to master as the Frisbee. There is a great psychological effect in using exotic weapons such as this. You can buy one at large hobby stores.

Spraying people with made up drugs

LACE (Lysergic Acid Crypto-Ethelene) can be made by mixing LSD with DMSO, a high penetrating agent, and water. Sprayed from an atomizer or squirted from a water pistol, the purple liquid will send any pig twirling into the Never-Never Land of chromosome damage. It produces an involuntary pelvic action in cops that resembles fucking. Remember when Mace runs out, turn to Lace.

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The above passage should have raised the eyebrows of anyone with a modicum of common sense, even those whose LSD experience is limited to having seen The Trip. In fact, the LACE section is almost proof that much of the other parts of the book were bullshit, as Hoffman later admitted LACE was in an 1986 interview with writer Andrea Juno for a book on pranks:

We held a Press Conference and demonstrated this with live hippies who fucked in front of all the press. It was a good put-on. People who knew, knew that LACE was tongue-in-cheek. It made a lot of statements- about Mace, about the Pentagon, etc.


Hoffman’s antics in the name of left wing activism may have made him both an FBI target and a boogieman in the hearts of Nixon’s silent majority, but Steal This Book also made him some enemies in the underground, specifically members of San Francisco’s Diggers, a group that pioneered the mixing of performance art tactics and community activism.  The Diggers saw Hoffman as someone who put his personal media profile above the needs of the movement.  As Digger Peter Coyote explained in multiple interviews taken from the archive:

Abbie, who was a friend of mine, was always a media junky. We explained everything to those guys, and they violated everything we taught them. Abbie went back, and the first thing he did was publish a book, with his picture on it, that blew the hustle of every poor person on the Lower East Side by describing every free scam then current in New York — which were then sucked dry by disaffected kids from Scarsdale.

Digger founder Emmett Grogan put across a similar sentiment in a 1971 interview with Tom Fitzpatrick of the Chicago Sun-Times:

 “Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin have never done anything for the people,” Grogan was saying now. “He got all that stuff he put in Steal This Book from us and the only thing it did was to reveal the way poor people steal to exist.

This point is most obviously demonstrated in the section where Hoffman tells the locations of every free soup kitchen in New York. In light of the Digger criticisms, you can perfectly picture weekend hippies lining up next to Bowery bums strictly for the thrill of it:

Other free meals can be gotten at the various missions.

Bowery Mission – 227 Bowery (674-3456). Pray and eat from 4:00 to 6:00 PM only. Heavy religious orientation.
Catholic Worker – 36 E. First St. Soup line from 10:00 to 11:00 AM. Clothes for women on Thursday from 12:00 to 2:00 PM. Clothes for men after 2:00 PM weekdays. Sometimes lodging.
Holy Name Center for Homeless Men – 18 Bleeker St. (CA 6-5848 or CA 6-2338) Clothes and morning showers from 7:00 to 11:00 AM.
Macauley Mission – 90 Lafayette St. (CA 6-6214) Free room and board. Free food Saturdays at 5:00 PM. Sometimes free clothes.
Moravian Church – 154 Lexington Ave. (MU 3-4219 or 533-3737) Free spaghetti dinner on Tuesday at 1:00 PM.
Quakers – 328 E. 15th St. Meals at 6:00 PM Tuesdays.
Wayward – 287 Mercer St. Free meals nightly.



At the time of Steal This Book‘s publication, criticisms were not coming from many other corners. Hoffman was a star in the underground, occupying a rare space in the American social landscape, mixing with artists, poets, writers, musicians, and political activists (and somehow having a foot in all of the above camps). He recorded an album, palled around with John Lennon, had his vasectomy filmed by Larry Rivers, and appeared on the cover of the National Lampoon.

But, there was something about the mixing of earnest (and naive) revolutionary messages and vaudeville hucksterism that began to rub people other than the Diggers the wrong way.  More criticisms coming from within the counterculture appeared a few years later when National Lampoon parodied Steal This Book in a multi-page article called Borrow This Book in their May 1973 issue.  The humor is cutting; parodying both the look of the book and Hoffman’s streetwise-dude-on-the-corner writing voice, and painting the 60’s generation as spoiled and childish.

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This idea of attacking both the establishment and the underground has all the hallmarks of Michael O’Donoghue, the Lampoon writer most responsible for pushing the magazine away from a 60’s mindset and into something much more nihilistic and cynical. To O’Donoghue, John Lennon was just as legitimate a target as Richard Nixon, as he explained in a 1983 interview, “At the time, humanity was split into two groups: hippies and pigs. We could just stand in the middle and snipe.” However, the piece was not written by O’Donoghue, but by future conservative P.J. O’Rourke. Considering O’Rourke went from writing for a hippie underground newspaper in Baltimore to reviewing luxury sedans for Car & Driver in about 10 years, we can perhaps see this moment as a turning point when the younger brothers of the 60’s generation turned on their elders.

So, it took two years for Steal This Book to go from cutting edge to cornball, and by Internet-era standards that’s a lifetime.   At the time Steal This Book was written, it was rejected by countless publishers: who would want to publish a book that’s a guide to getting over and criminality?  But, every scam-centric piece of media, from the articles I read on some listserv in 1992 about getting free sodas from vending machines, to youtube videos on how to crack Photoshop, to even the dopiest list of hotel room hacks on Buzzfeed is directly descended from Steal This Book.  We have become a culture dedicated to knowing the ins and outs of every situation and getting that hidden edge (even if it’s something as mundane as the menu at In-N-Out Burger) and it can all be traced back to Steal This Book.  It opened the doors on the ideas that secret knowledge can only be secret for so long (and thus anyone can buy into the underground) and that the people who have the money and the power (aka “the establishment, man”) will always be playing a game of catch-up with the masses.


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“Best” Bar To Watch The Mets in NYC / Worst Article in the Village Voice

Screen Shot 2015-11-02 at 3.31.15 PMBrowsing the Village Voice website and seeing a headline that promised that “This Bar Is the Best Place to Watch the Mets in New York City” I clicked, thinking I’d see a piece on some firefighter bar in Brooklyn or an Irish pub in Woodside. Nope! According to the Village Voice, McFadden’s at Citi Field is the best place to watch the Mets in New York City.

This perhaps needs a little backstory for non-New York sports fans. The bar they’re referring to is not some old time neighborhood baseball joint located next to the stadium like the Cask ‘n Flagon by Fenway Park or Stan’s by Yankee Stadium, but a bar inside the stadium itself built in 2009. So, apparently, the best thing for a Mets fan to do during an away game is leave the actual neighborhood they’re in and drive or take the train to an empty stadium, walk across the vast derelict parking lot, and then drink at the bar located inside.

To make things even more exciting, the Mets’ stadium sits in Willets Point, a no man’s land, surrounded by decrepit auto body shops in an area that has neither sidewalks or a sewer system (and thus floods). Look at the screencap below, Citi Field is enclosed by train tracks, highways, and on the right side of the screen, the aforementioned tire shops and scrap yards.


It’s hard to explain if you haven’t been there, but there are few places in New York City where you could stand and be farther from a deli, drugstore, an actual bar, or civilization than in the parking lot of Citi Field. If you don’t believe me, here’s a photo taken from Citi Field, giving you essentially the same view if you stepped outside of McFadden’s for a smoke.


And here’s a contrasting view from Willets Point, with Citi Field in the distance:


Looks like a lovely place for a pint and some nachos, eh? Now, imagine these same sights at midnight as you straggle across the expanse of a deserted parking lot towards the subway station, hearing the howl of junkyard dogs and the scuttling of swamp rats…  YES OUT OF ALL THE PLACES IN NYC (A CITY OF OVER 8 MILLION PEOPLE) THAT IS EXACTLY WHERE I’D LIKE TO BE… AN AREA WITH A POPULATION OF ONE

I’m not trying to put down auto body shops and the areas they’re in. I think it sucks the city is kicking them out and apparently welching on the deal.  I just think that trying to turn an area that is remote and industrial into a hotspot in order for the Mets to bleed every last dollar they can out of their fans is a terrible idea.  And if they do indeed build some bars and restaurants on the spot, God knows how much oil, antifreeze, and other chemicals have seeped into the ground for the last 70 years…

I’ve been to McFadden’s before Mets games and it sucks even then. It’s a cornball Epcot Center version of a NYC Irish bar, with 8 dollar beers and terrible food. Honestly, the only attraction I could imagine is OMG THE CHANCE TO BE ON TV.


The article in question lies below, with my annotations…

The site of the TBS Network’s Mets “fan cam” for the duration of the National League Championship Series, McFadden’s has in recent days become one of the most popular locations in New York City to watch the team as they chase their first championship title since 1986.

“I guess the best word to describe it would be magical,” Amani Mousa, the manager of McFadden’s, tells the Voice. “I mean, people were lining up. They would arrive early just so they could make sure that they were sitting on the side of the bar that was being taped. Everyone got so into it.”


Though McFadden’s flagship location on 42nd Street has long existed as a near-inescapable midtown watering hole, for many New Yorkers this postseason has represented a coming-out party for the bar’s second location, at Citi Field. The saloon typically only operates when there’s a home game or special event at the stadium, but as the Mets traveled to the Windy City to challenge the Cubs, McFadden’s opened its doors so that diehard fans could root their team on from home.

“The McFadden’s location at Citi Field was chosen to showcase the excitement of the fan base during key moments of the game,” a TBS spokesperson told the Voice in an email. But as the Mets inched closer and closer to the pennant — and as second baseman Daniel Murphy set an MLB record with home runs in six consecutive postseason games — excitement turned to pandemonium and “key moments” became any excuse to show the crowd’s reaction at McFadden’s following a big play. In a city where Irish pubs can be found on nearly every street corner, you couldn’t ask for better publicity.

Better publicity for what? Anyone going to a Mets game is still going to drink there, it’s the only bar for literally miles in any direction… And anyone who is not going to a Mets game will never ever drink there…

“I think that it’s definitely assisted in people recognizing that we even exist,” Mousa says. The Mets recommended TBS use McFadden’s as the location for its fan cam, and the network first reached out to the bar before the division series earlier this month. “People all week long were coming in and saying that they were here to be a part of the experience because of what they saw on TV.”

Wait, so TBS called the Mets and asked where there was a good bar to put the fan cam, and the Mets said “The bar inside the stadium that we own!” and TBS went “Sounds good!”? And a journalist listened to someone tell him this, nodded his head, smiled and wrote it down? 

At this point, I had to double check that this article wasn’t labeled as a “SPECIAL ADVERTISING SECTION” like those weird advertorials in the Travel section for seeing the wonders of Suriname… I realize at this point the Village Voice is a glorified supermarket circular advertising specials on Halloween costumes and dad blues bars, but c’mon…

Still, thanks to the bar’s prime location and strong relationship with the team, for six years McFadden’s has been a mainstay of Mets fandom at Citi Field, even if the bandwagon is only just catching on now. During the regular season, the bar hosts autograph signings and meet-and-greets with ex-players, and patrons are able to hear the cheers of 45,000 fans from the comfort of their barstools.

I mean, Jesus… “prime location”? It’s main attraction is that it’s the last place you can be in the building before they take your ticket and security pats you down…

“Pretty much every bar in New York City tried to capitalize on this conference series and the division series and put on their happy hour specials to draw in a crowd,” Mousa says. “But people already associate McFadden’s Citi Field with the Mets, and they know that we’re the place to be before, after, and during the game.”

Drinking at McFadden’s after midnight sounds like the initiation into some sinister secret society: “The Brotherhood of the Empty Parking Lot.” Do you chase your ceremonial shot with a glass of polio water from the standing pools 100 yards away?

Next Tuesday, when Fox broadcasts Game 1 of the World Series into millions of American homes, it remains to be seen whether McFadden’s will once again be chosen to serve as the Mets’ de facto clubhouse.

“We’re the true home to Mets fans — any other bar would be like a duplicate,” Mousa says. “No disrespect to them, but you really can’t compete with us.”

DEAD. A piece of shit fake Irish bar is calling out the copycats!

I had planned to go watch Game 6 at McFadden’s on Tuesday to see for myself what kind of freaks of nature would, as supposed grown adults, go out to the hinterlands and wait on line to drink 8 dollar Bud Lights, just for a chance to possibly be seeing waving your arms and screaming at the extremely small chance that the Mets won.

But, of course the Mets fucking tanked, so I was denied that oppurtunity. Wait til next year. Let’s go Mets!

Posted in NYC History, Sports | 1 Comment

Black Mass


I saw Black Mass yesterday and while I don’t have time for a full review, here are some quick observations.


First, it has to be mentioned that having Benedict Cumberbatch play William Bulger is one of most egregious miscastings I have ever seen.  Billy Bulger couldn’t possibly look more Irish, he’s essentially a living leprechaun: a round faced, sawed off runt with a twinkle in his eye.  Benedict Cumberbatch, on the hand, resembles a science experiment involving grey aliens and 500 years of good WASP inbreeding.  I would love to have seen the look on Billy Bulger’s face when he sees the toffee nosed Englishman who is meant to be him, Billy Bulger, a man who spent every St. Patrick’s Day year after year singing Irish fighting songs at his televised breakfasts in South Boston (in between jibes at other politicians and saying things like “my wife, she’s really a great kid”).  Also, Cumberbatch has to literally be a foot taller than Bulger, a man frequently referred to by Boston Herald columnist Howie Carr as “the corrupt midget.”   If you remove the Napoleon complex from Bulger, you are basically left with a blank slate.


There’s a later scene in the movie where we see Bulger in his  office at the State House in Boston, a room full of burnished leather furniture, old paintings, elaborate woodwork, and a large antique desk. The frisson that should be implied by what Morley Safer called “the little Irishman from Southie holding court in what was once the preserve of the Protestant Brahmin” in a 1992 60 Minutes piece is completely lost with Cumberbatch’s aristocratic head sitting behind the desk.  Instead of looking like the scrappy project rat who crawled his way to the top, Cumberbatch looks like the bit player in some Masterpiece Theater period piece who’s about to pick up the phone and tell his servant to bring him some fresh scones.

In addition, Cumberbach’s accent is particularly confusing as he sounds a bit like someone from the North of Ireland with a little FDR and W.C. Fields thrown in. It’s possibly the worst Boston accent on film, maybe even worse than Martin Sheen’s in The Departed (similar to the way that the voice of Chewbacca was made by mixing the sound of roaring bears with barking sea lions, the voice of Martin Sheen in the Departed was made by mixing John F. Kennedy with a braying donkey).


On the bright side, Joel Edgerton is great as Whitey’s FBI handler John Connolly. Edgerton claimed that “rather than try to master a generic Boston accent, he studied footage and recordings of John Connolly” and clearly that work paid off. He captures Connolly’s backslapping bonhomie and swagger, perfectly encapsulating a certain type of Bostonian.  Just as places have accents, they also have mannerisms. To portray someone from Southern California requires more than just a dudeish accent, it also requires laid back body language. When you play someone from New York, you should look and move as if you’ve ate thousands of slices of pizza, hailed hundreds of late night cabs, and jumped a turnstile or two.  Playing someone from Boston is harder to put into neat cliches, but whatever it requires, Edgerton captures it. There are very few actors not from Boston who can portray someone from Boston believably (Jeremy Renner’s work in both The Town and Louie are wonderful examples) and Edgerton can be added to that short list.

Edgerton’s performance aside, the movie never really feels like Boston. Certainly the locations are there, everyone aside from Cumberbatch and Corey Stoll (as federal prosecuter Fred Wyshak) seem to doing their best at talking Boston, but mentions of Red Sox tickets and Joe DiNucci aside, it sort of feels like it could be anywhere.  It feels like ANY sort of crime docudrama grafted onto Boston.

1.18.00 The bad guys (bulger and flemmi). DO NOT GIVE OUT. Saved in wednesday, photo6, and library.

Ultimately though, that’s not what dooms this movie. The problem is, it’s too milquetoast; it’s not really any particular type of movie and doesn’t take any moral stance. Despite how it appeared in the trailer, it’s not an energetic Scorsese crime flick. Although the systematic corruption in the FBI is touched upon, it doesn’t fully condemn it, like say All the President’s Men. Despite claims of accuracy, it’s not a document of what REALLY happened, either. For example, the portrayal of Stevie Flemmi was particularly terrible. Stevie Flemmi plead guilty to ten murders and was in every way Whitey Bulger’s match in psychopathy, but the movie portrays him as some moody, chubby, sad sack who’s just going along with Whitey, in both becoming an FBI informant and murdering women. The irony is rich because in both points, Flemmi was the leader. Flemmi had a informant relationship with the FBI that was almost a decade old before Whitey became an informer, so showing him as being surprised by Whitey’s reveal is dumb. Also, although the movie shows Whitey and Flemmi murder Flemmi’s stepdaughter/girlfriend Deborah Hussey, it also again shows Whitey to be the initiator. What the movie neglects to mention is this is the second of Flemmi’s girlfriends to be murdered by the pair in a span of a few years. From that info alone, one could concur that it was Flemmi who was the issue there, not Whitey. So, the note of having Flemmi seem remorseful over that murder rings false to me. On a similar note, the idea of showing Whitey pushed over the edge after the death of his son, when at that point Whitey already had many murders under his belt (as that death occurred at the height of the South Boston gang wars between Whitey’s Killeen gang and the Mullen gang) seems farfetched as well.

I just wish that instead of doing a standard 70’s period piece, they had played a little looser with it. Show us Whitey growing up in the first housing project in Boston during the Great Depression, raised by a father who lost an arm working on the docks. Or show Whitey running off to join the circus during the dawn of World War 2. Show us teenage Whitey’s first petty crimes. Indulge in some hokey special effects to portray Whitey’s 50 or so LSD trips taken at Alcatraz as part of the MKUltra program. Shit, show Whitey canoodling in prison with his rumored Native American lover, the Choctaw Kid.  Anything but another retread 70’s gangster movie.


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