Monday, November 3, 2008

Interview with Peter Gorman-Mister High Time

I don’t know why I started doing what our society leeringly call’s “drugs.” Smoking pot was totally frowned upon in Suburbia, but in 1976, the “hip” dad’s were doing blow and the unhappy housewives were fuzzed out on the big V, Valium. Pot seemed nondescript and innocuous compared to what the adults were doing. On the East Coast, in the Metropolitan area, green bud was a rumored whisper. What us 15 year olds were able to find was QP’s of Oaxacan Red and Acapulco Gold. These bricks of stick, stems, rocks, seeds and marijuana, cost about $400 and were easily divided up between the Valedictorian, Football, Track, and Soccer stars (and me, the loser).
Every now and then we would get some sort of green looking weed that was tied around a stick and was supposedly from Thailand, but who knows? Looking back on it, it was probably from Newark. My boss at the bagel shop, would allow me to cash my paychecks and trade them to him for vacuum sealed bags of Thai weed. It was a novelty along with the opiumated Nepalese hashballs and Hash oil. At the time, it didn’t matter what it was as long as it was accompanied by the promise that it would get you high. The hash oil was interesting because this was before anyone had even heard of Crack, so there was no smoking apparatus available for it. We would just strike a flame under the aluminum foil it came in, and when it started to smoke,, 7 heads would rush forward, knocking each others noggin, like the stooges, and sucking at the air like tracheotomy patients.
Good Old Jimmy Carter gave the thumbs up to spraying pot fields with the chemical Paraquat. So us kids got the thrill of harshing our lungs out for a season there in the 70’s. But even government sprayings couldn’t stop us from trying to get high. We would smoke banana peels, eat nutmeg, swallow ounces of morning glory seeds and chew on Hawaiian Baby Woodrose Seeds. Whatever it took, we would try it, at least once.
A lot of my High School buddies were into popping pills. Ludes (real 714’s), placidils, Phenobarbital’s and other assorted vials would often go around the circle. I hated pills they made me gag. I think it was genetic because my dad couldn’t take pills either. To this day, taking an aspirin for me is a traumatic experience, accompanied by voluminous retching noises.
Even within the drug culture, I was an oddball. I wasn’t into it for the kicks. I thought there was something more to it all. I thought that changing consciousness was somehow very important to humanity and me in general. Of course, any weak attempts I made to express those deeper sentiments, were instantly mocked and ridiculed. God, how I miss those days and wish I was back in High School. Not.
Amidst my adventures and deals came a magazine that was considered the scourge of our generation, High Times. True, the adrenaline kick out of seeing dripping wet buds was a big reason to buy the mag, but it often offered more information than was available anywhere else. There was even a High Times Encyclopedia that had pictures of 100 types of bud to compare and contrast with. And there were stories and articles about Psychedelics as healing tools, Hemp as a crop that could save the world and the Drug War as being evil. Finally, I found a voice of reason. And at the helm of that majestic ship was Peter Gorman.
Gorman was recently featured on the Art Bell Show and his wit and sincerity came through like a charm. So what’s it like running the forerunner magazine of the subculture? Well let’s find out as we HUMP for victory with High Times own Peter Gorman…………………

Hey Peter, this is HUMP. Whaddya doing?

Just waiting for the Giants game, looking at some kayaks.

You going to the game?

Forget about it. This is NYC, it would cost you $50 just to get to the stadium. I’d have to rent a car just to get there.

Were you the managing editor of High Times?

I’m currently the editor-and-chief, and Steve Hagan is the editorial director. But he’s bigger than me. In terms of the day to day of the magazine, at the moment, I’m the guy running the magazine. Steve was the editor-and-chief for twelve years and for the last several, I’ve been his executive director, beneath him. So if he goes on a trip, then I substitute for him. That’s the technical chain of command at the mag. Steve has stepped up to editorial director, which means, that he’s doing so many outside projects, publishing books, putting on weed festivals, Cannabis Cups, making videos that he can’t do it all and run the magazine. So he is set up at home and doesn’t come in to open letters and the everyday humdrum stuff. So I’m the one who has to ask for six more pages, because we sold too many ads, and trying to get the mag to spend another $15,000. Since Steve had so many outside projects, they moved him upstairs and said “you have the input, but you don’t have the day to day responsibilities.”

When I used to get High Times as a kid, my mother thought it was the foulest piece of trash. It seems that society has matured enough to realize High Times just might be a source for information. Do you feel that mainstream America is finally catching up with the message of High Times?

When I look back at the first issue of High Times ever published by Tom Forsad, it was intended as a one shot legitimate mock of Playboy. Our centerfold was going to be some beautiful marijuana. You can tell by the contents of the first issue, that Tom had some amazing visionary qualities. He had a piece on Hemp paper revisited, he had a piece on medical marijuana, he had a piece by Tim Leary on the spiritual use of cannabis and he included three or four articles on the recreational use. So whether he understood it or not, those are the same issues we’ve been harping on since 1973. I don’t think that society has caught up with High Times. There were years where we felt like we were trapped in an empty oilcan banging at the sides wondering if anybody was hearing anything that we said. While we didn’t invent medical marijuana or Hemp or resisting the drug war, I don’t think it would have ever become an issue if it weren’t for the magazine. When we write about forfeiture, then mainstream journalists use us as a source. I would say that every mainstream Drug War story written in the last ten years had the writer coming to High Times saying “give me the background I need.” We rarely get credited though, because who would want to be associated with us. From the New York Times, to Peter Jennings, to the Atlantic Monthly, to Bill Buckly, we’re the place where people come for this type of information. Our credibility among reporters around the country is accepted. They know by and large that we are using government figures, we’re rooting them out, we’re getting the original documentation of materials. I’m glad to say that we are no longer the only source. NORMAL, which was in disarray and impoverished to the point where it couldn’t keep up with the demand, is back in full swing. The Drug Policy Foundation, seven or eight years ago was just an idea. Well it became a real solid place for people to get information. Ethan Nattleman who was a antidrug crusader when he first went to Princeton and was working for the US Government has become the national spokesman for the foundation. He’s the one with the PHD. We always felt it was worth it to get this information out there. But has society caught up? No, we’re still left out of the New York Time stories. We’ll get thank you letters from Atlantic Monthly, but that’s all the credit we’ll get.

Dr. Lester Grinspoon wrote “Marijuana Reconsidered” back in the mid-sixties. In it he predicted prohibition being lifted in twenty years. Obviously it hasn’t happened yet. Do you see change coming anytime soon?

Ya know, here’s the thing. It would be nice and optimistic to say yes. But I don’t really think so. I think there was a chance of it throughout the sixties and most of the seventies. But everyone in the goddam movement back then fell in love with cocaine in 1973. We didn’t realize it was going to cost us so much in the court of public opinion. We didn’t realize how powerful it was. So by the eighties, the public was ripe for a real movement against marijuana. Along with Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” movement in 1984 there was laws of such severity against marijuana, that Drug War machine really grew. At this point we need more than public opinion to dismantle it. The Feds spend 14 billion dollars on the War on Drugs. Marijuana is more than a percentage of that budget. Marijuana allows the Feds to keep that wall between us and Mexico. You’ve got to have a border to check for bulky products. The prison system is so huge that it must continually grow. If we yanked a 100,000 people out, they would have to stop building more prisons. What would the police around the country and the DEA do if there were 640,000 less arrest’s each year. To dismantle a self-perpetuating machine, you have to ask grown men and women to give up their jobs for the good of the people. Grown men and women who are raising kids do not give up their jobs, they will fight for tooth and nail. Even if their jobs are harming other people, they will continue to believe what they need to believe in order to continue to do their work. The DEA guy doesn’t have another job. He doesn’t get absorbed in the FBI or the police department. If he really is effective wiping out drugs, or if the drug war ends, he’s out on the street begging nickels. So with that kind of entrenchment, whether it’s the building of prisons, the privatization of prisons or local law enforcement, there are people up and down the ladder of society who are involved in perpetuating the War on Drugs. Public sentiment will have to reach a critical mass for things to change. It will have to reach the same point as things were during the Vietnam War. In ’67, ’68, when we went to Washington and marched against Vietnam, the TV cameras showed 200,000 scruffy dope-smoking hippies. The public would say “see their all cowards they don’t want to go fight the war.” By 1973 the TV cameras showed scruffy hippies and a whole lot of grandmas and nurses and nuns that it began to impossible to call anyone cowards. One grandma standing up against the War on Drugs has the value of about 10,000 copies of High Times at the newsstand’s. She’s got credibility. That’s who has to get involved if we want to end this thing. That’s the kind of critical mass I’m talking about.

How’s the market for pot these days?

If your paying more than $300 an ounce for High Times Cover quality bud, you’re an Okie from Muskogee and you don’t know enough people. Most commercial growers these days are doing what is called ‘futures.’ They have a top-notch product and when they plant it, they take their orders, so it is sold before it goes out of vegetative stage. You pay $200 and you take the chance that if he gets busted you lose your $200. Most commercial growers give their leaf to Cannabis Clubs, personally, I prefer trim to bud.

Do you the standard of $50 an 1/8 is too much money?

I understand that the grower is risking going to jail for a long time. I’m not going to fault somebody saying “I want X amount of money for the chance that I’m taking.” Now the California grower may think he’s not risking as much these days, but the FEDS can step in. Take the case of Osborne in Sounthern California. He’s facing 13 years for being busted on a Marijuana Buyers Club grow. The problem is that he was giving his stuff away and now he doesn’t have any money for a lawyer. He was driving an old car, living in an old rented house and some snitch drops a dime. If had charged money, he might have been able to afford a good lawyer that could get the whole case dropped. But by being Mr. Nice Guy, he faces going to jail. Whether a grower is nice or not nice, they’re all taking a chance to give us what we want, or to give some people what they need.

In your Bud Stock Market page, do you ever not print peoples reports of prices from around the country?

Sure. Those pages are frequently brought into court to show what the value of a particular person’s crop, or what they were busted with, would be. If some ass of a reader spends $800 on an ounce and we printed it, it would affect the subculture greatly for the next 20 pot trials. That’s the only thing I would tamper with. It’s the same way someone will show us a bushy plant and say I got 12 pounds out of it. Bullshit. You couldn’t twelve pounds out of an Oak tree in a year. A pound, two pounds from an outdoor plant that’s allowed to be tied down. There is one legendary plant in Humboldt that actually yielded nine pounds. No ones ever come forward and said that they smoked it, but they’ve all heard about it. Sometimes readers just like to show off, but we know better than that.

What about the importance of Psychedelics?

I’ve written most of the Psychedelic stuff in the magazine for the last ten years. If I didn’t write it, I commissioned it and edited it. So I’ve had my finger on it. Psychedelics are an invaluable tool for the human mind and spirit. The first time you do LSD in the right place, at the right time, with the right person that can hold your hand and walk you through it, your life is changed forever. You come out the other side and you are not the same, and you will never be the same. Good rich psychedelic experiences always involve temporary disillusion of the ego. It’s hard to see yourself as a tiny part of the universe. Now some people just don’t need that experience. But for most of us, certainly for me, the first time I did 1000 mics and saw myself as a speck of the Universe, it was difficult. I realized I am nothing, I don’t affect change, I am zero. That’s where most people lose it because they haven’t taken care to be with the right person, in the right place, at the right time. Now the ego rebuilds itself, but when it does, you’re not quite the same. The experience allows you understand that there is life in everything. You don’t think the wall is alive, you see it breathing. You do it through yoga and meditation. You reach an awareness of self in a living world. But the right dose with the right person etc.. can get you there in eight hours, instead of twenty years. The experience won’t solve any problems, but it will give you a place to work towards. The important thing is to take what you learn and learn to live it. If I were king, the whole world, once a year would dose. But I’m not king. But if I had my druthers, I think the world would be a better place for it. If we all took three deep breathes and ingested a healthy dose of psychedelics, the Drug War would end tonight. Racism and Apartheid would cease. The Serbs and the Bosnians would be embracing and saying “Oh my god, man, you’re glowing. I realize your not just some skunk, you’re me and I’m you.” We’ll never get to that point without the LSD and that is the tragedy of the human race. One of the solutions is here and available.

Tell me about your experiences in Peru and specifically with the Ayahausca Vine.

The indigenous people that I’ve associated with are primarily the Mochas Indians. When I met them in 1985, they were in the midst of change. Now they’ve changed so much that they wear better clothes than I do. Unfortunately, I feel that the change is not for the better. They were fully aware of the world outside them when we first met. But when you have missionaries coming in, archeologists from the Peruvian government and just a lot of outsiders, it’s easy to get burnt down. The culture has undergone radical change in a rate that is not normal for it. 1500 years of change in 5 years. None the less, a lot of these people are going to be tattooed people in a non-tattooed world. I’m sure a lot of the kids will be embarrassed that their dads are walking around with tattoos on their face. The Mochas, Ahinas and the Boras use substances to aid in hunting, relaxing and to communicate with the spirit world. At least the elders do, not the youth. None of those groups use Ayahausca. The ones who I know that do are the Mestizos. Generally river communities, or people who within the last generation lived on the river. Generally, fishers, hunters and a large part of the population of the Amazon. For them Ayhausca is a very simple clean medicine. It’s called Apurga, it makes you vomit. Anyplace where you have the potential for bacteria in your food supply, you’re going to occasionally need something that will clean out your intestines. Boom. So physically it helps enormously. It is also a curative on other levels. Many people who live in the Amazon region believe that not only are things imbued with spirit, but the spirits can cross over to the this world. So if a guy is having bad luck on his farm, but the guy next to him has good vegetables growing, it wouldn’t be seen in the sense of “maybe my soil’s too acidic.” It would be seen as someone has given me the evil eye. The farmer would go to a curandero and the curandero would take the ayahauscu. He would then, while in the spirit world, see who made the attack and who provoked the attack and how to undo the attack. It’s also used in a very traditional way, although the traditional people are very reluctant to talk about this. My mother-in-law I’ve known for years, and she scoffed at anything I said until I married her daughter. And then I found out she knows 45 house painters and cab drivers who are really curanderos in and around curitos. It is a part of their life, but it’s a part that’s very difficult to access. The traditional Peruvians use Ayahauscu to talk to their dead relatives. It is a channel to the world of the dead. They also use it to visit people in other cities instead of a phone. So, Ayahusca is very important, but not as a hallucinogen, is used very specifically. The curanderos who make it are treated with high regard. They are real healers and that is their job in the village in which they live. There are Ayahusceros who just treat the tourist trade, but it’s because it’s so easy to make the damn thing.

I read a story you wrote about a vision you had of a pack of wild boar. The tribe excited by your vision woke you up early the next morning and had you lead them to the spot in your vision. And sure enough a pack of wild pigs came running through. My question is this, in indigenous cultures, visions appear as places to gather food or other resources, what would a modern man, in modern society see that would benefit him?

In our civilization, we would have visions that we’re supposed to have a house. You would have a vision of a job that pays you enough so that you can save some money. I think that when I say that the Indians are not better off now because their becoming more integrated, it’s precisely for the same reasons the Irish, from where I come, are not better off for being integrated. When we lived in a more stable community, our safety nets were a lot higher. We’ve reduced ourselves to tawdry visions of “If I work harder, I can have a car.” We never envision what we want, so visions no longer come to us. In a more communal society, I would get together with my brothers and we would envision things together. One of the things the indigenous people used to say very openly is that there is genuine accessible life force, which they call, A spirit, in everything, from an empty Coca-Cola bottle, to the Coca-Cola within that bottle. It’s like when Tim Leary would say “take acid and you’ll see God.” Within an accepting community that might hold true, but outside that group you’re seen as crazy and a weirdo. Certainly Timothy Leary suffered from being considered an oddball, of course he was embraced b all the other oddballs, so he got through it all right. Of course when Leary laid that message on us we had already gone through three generations in America, where we thought a white picket fence was the best goddam thing you could come up with. And I don’t want to put that down, but it may not be the only thing worth coming up with.

How long have you been taking people to Peru?

I’ve been going to Peru since 1984, sometimes annually, sometimes twice. Always for a couple of months a year. I’ve done writing about my trips and ended up collecting things for the Museum of Natural History in New York. I’ve collected herpetological specimens, particularly some frogs and a few years ago I was asked to collect some medicinal plants for a small experimental pharmaceutical company on the West Coast. Last year the Indians turned us onto bone fossils that are 15,000,000 years old and “of interest.” Every one of these aspects has been a gift from the Indians. I’ve always, till know, not gone out with other people. People who come on my trip will see Peru like no other trip will show them. We’ll go shopping at the Market that all the cops say stay away from, it’s a crazy Market. Not only that but we’re going to have beers as we watch the sunset on the Amazon. Those are the kinds of things that I like to do. Since I’m taking a leave of absence form High Times, I have a certain fear that I won’t be able to feed my family. So suddenly, economically, the idea of taking people on trips made sense. I’m only going to do three trips and I’ll see if it’s something that’s enjoyable. Our first trips in March and then one in April. Anyone who goes with me will find a trip like no other. If you want to be whisked away from the airport and put on a boat sipping champagne form the comfort of your own room, that’s lovely, but that’s not what I’m offering. If you’re willing to get slightly dirty, slightly scared, occasionally terrified and never actually in danger of dying, then my trips for you. I want to take people night fishing, which doesn’t mean you have to fish, you don’t have to kill anything. It means getting into a very unstable dug-out canoe and scooting along the edge of a river bank for a couple of hours, a couple of times, and looking at the marine life, by holding a flashlight at the banks. I’m not taking people to protected ponds, we’ll be on the real river. I’ll be real disappointed if we don’t see several crocodiles, and you’re supposed to be terrified, we’re in an unstable boat for God’s sake. I want to expose people to the real color and culture of the region. When we get on a riverboat, we won’t get on my river boat, we’ll get on a real river boat. 120 feet long, 30 foot wide and packed to the gills. Two floors of hammocks and spider webbed insanely. I could get a nice boat, but other tours already do it that way. I want people to see things that they will never forget. And by seeing it with me, their seeing it with someone who has enough friends in the region to make it safe. People are going to come back with the smell of jungle in their noses and their going to have a gas and a half.

Strange as this sounds, if it weren’t for High Times, I probably might never have gotten to Graduate School. Growing up, High Times was the only source for the strange ideas I had. Any hopeful vision you’d like to say to your fans out there.

No. Not really. I think each individual makes choices and they start every morning when you get up. You make the choice if you’re going to get drunk at night or stay sober, you’re going to write that letter to your friend or you will choose not to. For those of us who have been touched by something as awful as the Drug War, you wake up every morning with a choice, do we fight again today? That choice is often a difficult one. You get laughed at more than you get patted on the back and there’s no financial remuneration in teaching people. Even in public schools, teachers don’t make very much, so forget making a living off teaching people tat the drug war is evil. I think that the hope is in each one of us being willing to take a little more of the burden than we are given. But when you do fight the good fight, your sleep, if you can sleep is a very rich sleep. We all don’t have to have a heavy cause, but these are things we live with, and you either contribute and become vocal, or you remain silent. If there’s any hope at all for the drug war or any of the other terrible things that humans inflict on each other, that hope lies in the heart of each individual human. Wake up and say, “Today I will affect change, somehow, and I will make the effort.” That’s the hope. I have no hope that someone will come down and fix it all, it’s up to us. It’s a hopeful sign when you say that High Times affected you in a positive way. That means in 1979 someone was writing an article and was going to sluff off and write a second rate one and instead said, “shit, let me give it another rewrite.” He or she didn’t know that was actually going to touch somebody and maybe that was the one that got ya. So there was hope created in your response, but it started with that person saying, “I’ll do the extra two steps.”

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