The War With the Junkies

Copyright © 1995-1996, Paul De Rienzo, Dana Beal
and Members of the Project

All Rights Reserved

CHAPTER I: The War With the Junkies

It never would have happened if Tom Forcade hadn’t shot himself in the head.

Forcade, who’d built HIGH TIMES up to 4 million readers by being six months ahead on new trends, was the only one who could keep the functions of his sprawling Empire reconciled. But by October 1978, hounded by the DEA and acutely depressed by scheming, ambitious underlings as well as the death of his best friend Jack in a plane crash in Florida, the King was at the end of his tether.

He was also wired on coke, and dependent on valium. Which is a funny thing, since he had attended the opening of Howard Lotsof’s film SMOKE-IN, and Howard always told everyone important about Ibogaine. But Lotsof’s odd factoid about Ibogaine interrupting his heroin/coke addiction in the early ’60s had no tangible application for Tom. Lost in the din, Forcade could no longer pick out the one distant trend that could have saved him from his own bad habits. Tom Forcade had run out of time.

In one weekend, Tom committed suicide; Jim Jones snuffed out himself and a thousand followers; Dan White assassinated Harvey Milk and Mayor Moscone in San Francisco. And the pendulum began to swing back. It was as if the CIA engineered a coup in a Third World country called the Counterculture.

HIGH TIMES’s motivating spark was extinguished. It began to drift. And there was this problem with the junkies in the Art Department.

A few years later John Lombardi would write in ESQUIRE of his wife, Wendy, a talented photographer, strung out on smack. Down on Grand Street around the corner from the SOHO WEEKLY NEWS, Marsha Resnick and Johnny Thunders were living on the couch at Sunset Studios, doing up incredible quantities of smack, which they could afford because she was dealing it out of the back door of the SOHO to a celebrity scene that included John Belushi. Both were often employed by HIGH TIMES art director Tony Brown, who was to end up in 1981 on Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network, denouncing her former employer and thanking Jesus for getting her off drugs.

With HIGH TIMES, Forcade pioneered the true marijuana mass market. Before he died he tried to create the same acceptability for his other favorite drug, cocaine. But he always drew the line at heroin. He and Dana Beal had done the first march against CIA heroin July 4, 1971. He knew, even though the William Burroughs groupies were dogging him the year before his suicide to do it, that this was one line the magazine should not cross.

It wasn’t that we were intolerant of drugs. After all, HIGH TIMES stood for exuberant promotion of marijuana versus alcohol and cigarettes. We were not into turning our friends in to the cops just because they did problem drugs. But the deal was that they didn’t proselytize. ’60’s survivors knew heroin equalled hepatitis and OD’s. Except for coke, HIGH TIMES editorial policy foreshadowed the Dutch “harm reduction” model of market separation of pot and hard drugs.

The trouble, as heroin began to come back at the end of the 70s and the Art Set got strung out, was that they only had two ways to pay their connection on salaries that were minute compared to their prestige. Sell it, which meant turning on new people. Or (since the DEA would not seriously impede the flow of reefer for another five years) they could always set up a pot dealer for a rip.

It worked like this: pot dealers had more marijuana and cash than they knew what to do with. But like all newly rich, they were starved for recognition. So some behind-the-scenes entrepreneur would be drawn to the minor glitterati at the VOICE, SOHO or HIGH TIMES, and find they could gain entry, if they came bearing gifts. They would waive their usual built-in scruples when they discovered their new celebrity friends were dabbling in drugs. Soon their new friends would reveal that they also knew some one in need of a pot connect. After a couple of times, the artist would take a big front and “lose” it. Or report they had been “tied up and ripped off.”

Scenario 2 came when credit was eventually cut off, and the celeb’s bill with their heroin connection got too high. Then that nice harmless photog or writer (now slightly tarnished) would do a Jekyll and Hyde, and “finger” their pot connection to some junkie stickup artists. For enough of the take to erase their bill and maybe keep themselves in smack for a month, they would send the gunman around to tie you up for real, pistol-whip you, and take everything you owned.

Wendy Lombardi had long since blown her credit when, on the night of Forcade’s wake at the Windows of the World, her third old man (the disreputable one with the missing teeth) approached Dana Beal as he was going into his neighbor’s place across Bleecker Street. He followed Dana upstairs, where he tried in vain to persuade the neighbor to throw some business his way. After he was brushed off and shown out, Dana turned to his friend and said: “That guy is setting you up for a rip.”

Sure enough, the slamlock downstairs had been reversed, leaving it unlocked. After locking it, the neighbor decided to miss the wake. Later that evening he heard people fooling around with the door downstairs, went to the window and yelled, and saw some people fleeing west up Bleecker Street.

Now in a heightened state of vigilance, the neighbor was ready the next day when two gunmen broke in next door and tried to get in via the roof. He chased two pistoleros away with his shotgun. The YIPS made sure the story was disseminated throughout the entire HIGH TIMES scene. Wendy Lombardi’s cover was blown.

About a month later, as Dana was knocking on the front door of the YIPster TIMES building at 9 Bleecker, he noticed Wendy and boyfriend bearing down on him from his left. Just as Ben Masel opened the door, a fist blind-sided Dana on his left jaw. But there happened to be almost fifteen people hanging around the ground floor. A tussle ensued, and in a twinkling, the authors of this unprovoked assault were hustled inside, where everything short of major bodily harm was done to get them to give up the identities of the two gunmen and the other gang members.

But such was the underlying non-violence of the YIPS that nothing was done to the two miscreants sufficient to get them to give up anything except a name Wendy blurted out in the beginning– “John.” They were released into the night, minus a shoe.

And then a funny thing happened as the story circulated, especially in the art departments of the VOICE, HIGH TIMES, and the SOHO WEEKLY NEWS. It mutated into its opposite, and the intended victims of the armed robbery became a violent cult (this was right after Jonestown) of YIPPIE breakaways (i.e., not Abbie Hoffman). The seed had been planted.

What it boiled down to was this: Unlike pot, the people’s drug, heroin made people totally absorbed with their own jones. Junkies who considered themselves to be celebrities to begin with, looked down upon and despised the potsmoking masses as sheep who were only fit to be shorn of their cash. They sympathized with their friends and believed in their right to rip off the YIPPIES.

Related to this was another problem: YIPSTER TIMES, although the best underground paper in the country, had never gotten its ad- base on a regular footing. It was a party publication, known to be supported by a network of small and middle-sized contributors around the country. In late ’78, because the YIP’s had just put every cent they could beg or borrow into a “Bring Abbie Home Benefit” at the Felt Forum, (timed for the tenth anniversary of Chicago), the paper was in hiatus. Forcade had not been able to fund it for months before his death. Socially contiguous with HIGH TIMES, it was viewed as a tract instead of a “real” newspaper. When Tom died, the YIPS automatically became outsiders. Wendy depicted her misfortunes as a sinister attack on the journalistic establishment by political fanatics.

Still, 1979, when it came, was year of the fall of the Shah and Somoza. YIPster TIMES resumed publication, better than ever, as OVERTHROW. In May, with great fanfare, the Marijuana Coalition created ROCK AGAINST RACISM to have a concert in Central Park for the end of the pot parade.

In early ’79, the YIPS gathered in all the followers of all the smoke-ins and opened Studio 10 at 10 Bleecker. It was an instant success, with five bands a night for $3, dollar Heinekens, and free pot on the bar. Even the indictment of Beal on specious pot conspiracy charges out of Omaha, Nebraska, was dismissed in the fall without going to trial.

Professor Ansley Hamid of John Jay College has studied the effect of the switchover from pot to crack in Jamaican communities in New York City in the early ’80s, and described how with pot (which builds no significant tolerance in users) enough capital was retained in the community to start secondary businesses, restaurants, etc., while the coming of crack sucked those communities dry, enriching only the few at the top of the pyramid.

By early 1980 the New York pot scene’s inner core was wired on coke and strung out on smack. It was not unusual to see a major dealer (himself coked to the gills) cursing out one of his boys who’d gotten so messed up on schmagoo that they couldn’t pay their pot front off. But if you didn’t dip into the drugs, you found yourself shut out socially. Contributions to the movement dried up.

Up at HIGH TIMES, which had gone through management changes, a far more ambitious solution to heroin’s voracious appetite for money was in the works. D.A. Latimer had come out on top of the latest management shuffle, and his favorite drug after alcohol was always opium. But most of all, that powerhouse in the Art Department wanted to cross the line Forcade wouldn’t: to solve the adverse equation of heroin tolerance versus money by vastly expanding their customer base–by using HIGH TIMES directly to mass market smack, like marijuana before it.

A furious struggle ensued. Tom had packed the editorial side with new left veterans of the underground press, who expended much of their waning influence stopping that story. This left the junkies feeling embittered and discriminated against.

The potheads, although they didn’t yet know exactly how to express it, knew the dispute went directly to the market separation of soft and hard drugs. The junkies got even: Pot-bashing became fashionable at the VOICE for the whole first half of the next decade. Activism fell out of fashion at HIGH TIMES. But the most interesting reaction came a few months later at the SOHO WEEKLY NEWS.

In early May, an article ran trashing the smoke-in and heralding the death of the marijuana movement. The next week this poster went up advertising a new issue, showing a fashionable female snorting smack. Message: the new wave distinguish themselves from hippies by doing dope. And on the newstand, emblazoned with the headline “NOW HEROIN,” was an angelic blond peering from the cover of the SOHO over a mirror with lines of what appeared to be cocaine, but was intended to represent heroin. The lead feature, with the picture on the inside continued of a beautiful male torso injecting heroin, began with the story of Scott, driven, workaholic, trendy gallery owner, cooling out on weekends on smack.

The message was cleverly bracketed with pro forma warnings that heroin, like alcohol and cigarettes, could kill you. But that only added to the romance. The writers clearly felt they had to balance their personal misgivings with the pervasive acceptance of heroin on their immediate scene. The overwhelming thrust was that everyone was doing it. You could do it and not get addicted. They even told you where to cop the best stuff, and how to do up (mix it with lemon juice).

Not a word about clean needles or serum hepatitis. (We didn’t know yet about AIDS, although it’s now clear that this very scene, including Studio 10, was at the epicenter of the early epidemic.) It was the same damnable article we’d axed from HIGH TIMES. We’d kept it from going out across the country; but by putting the physical survival of the local scene at risk, especially by influencing the bands of ROCK AGAINST RACISM and Studio 10, it challenged New York’s traditional role as trend-setter for the country.

Once again, there was a furious brouhaha. The SOHO received numerous complaints, calls, etc. RAR picketed. But the SOHO staff, who considered the article “balanced,” never acknowledged the central objection to its subliminal thrust–especially the graphics. Most people don’t read, they look at pictures. Consequently, the editors refused to print RAR’s letters objecting to putting heroin on the same footing as pot.

Now all the ugly rumors about RAR/YIP came back: that YIPSTER TIMES was not a “real” newspaper deserving of journalistic courtesy; that it was a top-down, violence-prone group; most of all, that we were mere pot advocates with no right to criticize other drugs based on the bitterly learned lessons of our collective experience.

But the nature of YIPPIE! is to thrive on symbiosis with the media. Such was the depth of upset amongst the junkie celebs of the interlocking Art Department, that even though YIP did one of its best-ever rounds of protest during the 1980 Demcon, not a word of it appeared in the VOICE and the SOHO WEEKLY NEWS. (To be fair, this also had something to do with the fact that Abbie–with friends on both papers–was in the process of surfacing from underground. His close partisans always disdained the generation who came after him and succeeded, after the collapse of the Antiwar movement, where he could not: in keeping the revolution alive thorugh the Smoke-Ins. Smoke-ins were never P.C. for them.)

On the neighborhood level most of the best bands playing Studio 10, through their management, were tied into Sunset Studios and the SOHO scene. They were dabbling also, so that the example flowing out to the fans undermined the YIP leadership. And into the scene came those willing to supply heroin together with the cheapest pot prices imaginable–freebooters like Bruce Brown, black sheep son of Liberty and David (producer of “Jaws”) Brown. Bruce had the authority of a degree in Marxist economics, the prestige of a show on WBAI (“Psychomimetic Radio”), and instant access to the dealing world due to the theory (untrue) that his dad would pay off his dealing debts as a last resort. With his bag of tricks, he made the rounds at the VOICE, HIGH TIMES and the SOHO with the greatest of ease.

At first, he seemed a loyal friend. But gradually it became clear that to compen-sate for a feeling he was a mere academic without a genuine background as ’60’s organizer, he tended to disparage the self-discipline necessary for long-term accomplishment. Like all those who undermine freedom in the name of freedom, he instilled not genuine autonomy but self- destructive license, telling the kids the whole point of the revolution was to get as fucked up as possible. (Later he died of AIDS, after sharing needles with almost everyone he turned on to smack.)

The YIP organization at the time was a direct successor of the “new” YOUTH INTERNATIONAL PARTY formed December 1969 to replace SDS, by merging YIPPIE! and the WHITE PANTHERS. The Zippies had taken it over from Abbie and Jerry in ’72-’73 on the strength of the WHITE PANTHER PARTY organizers in New York, Ohio and Wisconsin. As former Field Marshall of the W.P.P., Dana was one of four or five recognized YIP leaders in the ’70’s. Ultimately YIP derived its legiti-macy from the charter granted by the Oakland Black Panthers to John Sinclair.

Complicating matters, YIP (Zippie!) sympathized with the New York Panthers in their split with Oakland. So to the original White Panther dichotomy of life drugs (pot, psychedelics) versus death drugs (addictive white powders), the YIP-ster TIMES had added occasional articles all during the ’70’s on the movement against methadone, the use of accupuncture to treat addiction, and so-on. Pot was the only substance considered acceptable for heroin de-tox. They did not start a smoke-in movement seeking to legalize pot explicitely to separate it from hard drugs–they did not build Studio 10 to give this movement a place to get together weekly instead of semi-annually–to turn kids on to smack.

So when they discovered kids were coming in from all over the country for our Demcon protests, only to be turned on to heroin, they freaked. And in retrospect, introducing heroin (whose dose/tolerance curve, unless you have a $500-a-day, quickly leads from smoking to shooting) into a scene where passing the joint was a ritual (and without info on clean needles!) was the same as handing out smallpox- infected blankets along with the firewater. (This was actually done to the Sioux.)

Yet YIP itself had been fatally weakened when Forcade and Peter Bourne convinced them to make an exception for cocaine. So, a week after Carter’s re-nomination, when a novice writer at the SOHO WEEKLY NEWS wrote a review (actually, positive) of an anti-Reagan comedy skit at Studio 10, instead of it seeming like the first step in breaking the media boycott, what grated was that they got Dana Beal mixed up with Dean Tuckerman. It seemed typical of a process where YIP would always be deliberately consigned to the blurry periphery of the picture instead of the focused foreground, “because they’re only a bunch of publicity seekers.”

Maybe it was the crash from coke done during the preceding week. Maybe it was just too much coffee and sugar. But all the frustration of watching the internal authority of the group ebb away so that he was powerless to stop the infiltration of heroin came to a head. Dana got on the phone to the SOHO, reached Paul Slansky, and demanded a correction.

Slansky said: “Write a letter, ” and slammed the phone in Dana’s right ear, the one with the painful earache.

Flashing on the fate of the never-publicized letter of protest against the “NOW HEROIN” issue, knowing for a fact that half the staff was “dabbling” and that Marsha Resnick was selling smack out of the back-alley door, some of which was reaching Studio 10….Dana picked up a firecracker (not a bomb as later reported by the SOHO WEEKLY NEWS, but a short M-80 called a “M-60”), hopped on his bike, and went peddling over to the SOHO WEEKLY NEWS, three blocks away.

On the way he met David, who offered to accompany him, and Alice Torbush, who told him it was the dumbest idea she’d ever heard. Disregarding her to his own detriment, he alighted on Broadway in front of the SOHO and had David hold his bike. He went inside and told the receptionist he wanted to talk to Paul Slansky. Slansky wouldn’t come out; and sent word for him to get lost.

Dana took out a match, lit it, and held it to the firecracker. “You’re not going to light that in here?!” said the horrified receptionist. “Oh yes, I am,” said he. The fuse caught fire. Dana turned toward the door, and carelessly tossed it back over his shoulder.

As he was passing out through the door cubicle, he glanced back through the intervening glass panel to see the innocent niece of some honcho at TIME magazine (breaking her media teeth at the second most prestigious weekly in Manhattan) walk out from the back, just as the firecracker exploded next to a wastepaper basket.

The staff felt like they’d been bombed. The concussion stopped the clock on the back wall. It shut down production for the day. The niece (or maybe it was the daughter) of the TIME exec was cut by a teeny, tiny bit of paper wrap from the firecracker, giving rise to the canard, later disproved before a jury, that it was a schrapnel-bearing device.

And Dana was plunged into the deepest shit of his life. On the SOHO staff were good friends of Ed Koch. Charges were filed, which seemed especially unfair, coming just a month and a half after another set of junkies connected to the Sunset/Soho heroin scene had blown up the front door of 9 Bleecker with their own M-80, which detonated as Alice T. was anwering their knock. But as a rule Yippies don’t file charges.

Dana bided his time and planned how to turn himself in with maximum public support. The next time that could be was Halloween. The rank-and-file from the smoke-ins was still supportive, but much of the core organization had rotted out, and fell away. In the end, the only crew that would organize a protest on Dana’s behalf was Howard and Norma Lotsof.

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