High Times founder Tom Forçade would have been 74 today. To pay tribute, we’re bringing you this story, written by John Holmstrom and originally published in the October, 1989 issue of High Times.
Tom Forçade was born on September 11th, 1945, in Hayward, California. His father, Kenneth, is remembered as the toughest guy who ever lived.
Even though he weighed only 170 pounds, he was an outstanding college football player. Lining up in the backfield, in the now-defunct position of running guard, he was a ferocious blocker and a formidable ballcarrier. According to the “Forçade Legend,” Kenneth was never knocked off his feet on the playing field. True or not, this statement underlines a family belief that Tom Forçade lived by: by force of will, you can do anything.
For fun, Tom’s father was in the habit of visiting the toughest saloon he could find, and announcing in a loud voice that he could whip anyone in the bar. As each eager opponent left his barstool to take their turn at the smaller man, he’d knock them silly, one by one.
This unyielding intensity drove him to great accomplishments in his chosen field, engineering. After serving in World War II as a civil engineer on the Alaskan highway, he traveled the world, planning and building massive construction projects, from airports to factories.
In 1957, when Tom was only 11, his father died in a car crash. This sudden, tragic event forced Tom’s mother to take a job and find a permanent home. After a lifetime of moving, the family (Tom, his mother and sister) returned to their roots and settled down in Phoenix, Arizona.
Tom’s mother remembers her son as a model child, “very sensitive, shy and patriotic—a good Boy Scout and Explorer. He hated controversy of any kind.”
Although Tom’s father was gone, he was never forgotten. At school, when friends would talk about their parents, Tom would talk about his dad as if he were still alive. Friends of the family would often remind Tom how wonderful his father was—and how difficult it would be for Tom to live up to his father’s accomplishments.
Between 1959 and 1963, he went to West High School, which he nicknamed “Waste High.” After graduating with high marks, Tom entered the University of Utah at Salt Lake City in 1963. A friend, who remembered him as “Junior,” described him as a shy but friendly hot rod freak whose favorite pastime was racing his black ’40s-era buggy on the Bonneville Salt Flats, outracing police cars that would try to catch him speeding.
His rebellion soon shifted from fast cars to drugs. “He walked into the dorm and guys were smoking marijuana,” a close friend recalled. “Everybody was doing it and he just did it.” Although Tom liked to smoke pot and experiment with psychedelics, drug use didn’t seem to interfere with his studies. In 1966, taking only three years, he graduated with honors and received a degree in business administration. He then tried to settle down. He got a regular job and married his college sweetheart. To avoid the draft, he entered the Air Guard, the air force equivalent of the National Guard.
But it didn’t work. Tom’s interests in drugs and the emerging counterculture estranged him from his wife, resulting in an amicable divorce. He got out of his military commitment as well, by convincing the Air Guard he was totally, legally insane.
Tom began a new life, devoting himself to the anti-war effort and the counterculture. He changed his first and last names, adopting his grandmother’s maiden name, Forçade, as his own. He wanted to protect his family from the controversy he knew he would be involved in.
Perhaps if the Vietnam War had never happened, Tom Forçade would have never existed. The person who named himself Tom Forçade would have settled down in Phoenix and raced cars for kicks. “The war was the overriding thing,” Ed Rosenthal recalls. “You could listen to music, and you could get high, and have a good time, but the war was going on. While we were having a good time, somebody in Vietnam or Cambodia was getting killed. That we were having a psychedelic revolution while the war was going on was not a pretty thought when you were tripping.”
Free LSD With Every Issue
In 1966, John Wilcock, Walter Bowart and Alan Katzman, started the Underground Press Syndicate, while editing and publishing the East Village Other (EVO), one of the flagship newspapers of the Movement. Ironically, UPS began when a Congressman warned the country about a “syndicate of underground newspapers.” Wilcock, Bowart, and Katzman figured, “Why not?” They mentioned the idea during a Time magazine interview. As soon as the other newspaper editors saw the idea, they called each other up and it was off and running. At first, it was run as a loose confederation, allowing members to reprint each other’s articles, a way to keep in touch with each other. The five original members of UPS were EVO, the Los Angeles Free Press, Berkeley Barb, Fifth Estate, San Francisco Oracle and The Paper. The UPS offices, located in the Fillmore East, served as a magnet for radical activity. Dana Beal shared office space there, running the New York Provos and organizing the first smoke-in in 1967. The term “underground press” came from World War II, when existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre edited Combat for the French Underground—the resistance movement against Nazi occupation. The ’60s underground “counterculture” attempted to unite many disparate elements—radical students, left-over beatniks, apolitical hippies, “street people” (the homeless), civil rights activists and rebellious adolescents—into an alternative society that was “counter,” or against, everything that white, middle-class society had stood for (especially America’s version of apartheid, “segregation,” and the “undeclared” Vietnam War).
Having moved into a new hippie abode, Tom now set out to publish an underground magazine of his own. But after a few phone calls to UPS, he decided to offer his assistance to them instead. Understaffed and underfunded, UPS gladly accepted. As national coordinator, he formed a legal corporation; arranged for a national advertising representative who sold ads for all the papers; compiled an underground press directory; collected a permanent library of underground periodicals, books and films; struck a microfilm deal with Bell and Howell that distributed member newspapers to libraries all over the world (and paid royalties); and started a clipping service, which scanned the underground press for mentions of their clients, one of whom was the Beatles.
UPS helped set up the “event of the century”—Woodstock. Mike Forman’s Concert Hall in Philadelphia served as national ad rep for UPS and did media buying and program books for Woodstock. Forgotten in the recent nostalgia over Woodstock was the reason it became so successful—Woodstock was promoted almost exclusively through the underground press and FM radio (dubbed “underground” radio back then). Woodstock’s promoters also “gave at the office”—Tom Forçade and Mike Forman were members of the group, led by Abbie Hoffman and the Yippies, that successfully “leaned on” the promoters of Woodstock in a “shakedown” that netted $10,000 for various counterculture groups.
Coordinating the syndicate was just one of Tom’s endeavors. The floating psychedelic periodical Orpheus was his pet project—the forerunner to HIGH TIMES.
Six to twelve people roamed the country in a 1946-vintage school-bus, putting out the bi-monthly anthology of articles, columns and cartoons from UPS. One issue featured a bullethole in the middle of a peace sign on the cover—a real bullethole. Forçade took each bundle of magazines and shot them with a Colt .45 automatic. He designed the entire magazine so the bullethole became an integral part of each page layout. The magazine’s radical style led police to believe Forçade was capable of anything.
Things came to a head when police raided the UPS offices in the summer of 1969. The police suspected that Orpheus had been distributing LSD by printing windowpane acid on the cover of the magazine. Although dismissed on November 20, 1969 for lack of evidence, the charges made it difficult for Forçade to continue running his businesses. Forçade complained bitterly about how the police smashed a stereo, dumped files and ransacked the UPS library.
When a local newspaper interviewed Forçade later that year, the reporter described his house as an armed camp, barbed wire covering the windows. “Did you notice the charred marks on the house when you came in?” Forçade asked. “Two weeks ago, someone threw a bomb on the porch. We found another bomb that didn’t go off.”
Shortly before leaving for New York, a cousin confronted him about his life-style, asking, “Why, when you have been given every opportunity, are you living on a subsistence level in an old house and playing around with a bunch of hippies?”
Tom answered in very serious tones. When he had first become a hippie, he went into a small cowboy town with some of his friends. The police decided to have some “fun” with the hippie freaks, beating the living hell out of them. One was disfigured for life, while the other nearly died from his injuries.
“If you knew Tom,” remembers his cousin, “that was it. There was no going back. He opposed the police, government officials, and anyone else who showed a tendency towards oppression.”
Whether this story was part of the “Forçade Legend” or the absolute truth, by the time he exited Phoenix, Tom had become so paranoid and obsessed with police brutality that he dressed in black robes and a parson’s hat and called himself “Reverend Forçade.” When the Orpheus bus ran into trouble with the police, the Reverend Forçade began preaching about God while everyone in his congregation sang hymns.
Because New York City was one of the counterculture’s biggest breeding grounds, when Tom moved there, it was easy for him to set up operations. His new organization, called the Free Ranger Tribe, promoted New York City rock concerts, while Tom oversaw the operation of, traveled on behalf of, and wrote for UPS.
Although he had escaped Phoenix, the police still hounded him. In November 1969, Forçade was arrested and thrown in jail at the El Cortez Hotel in San Diego for desecrating the American flag—he was wearing a small flag in his hat band. In town for the Sigma Delta Chi press convention (a meeting of the national fraternity of newspaper editors, reporters and publishers), the group’s president spent four hours getting Forçade out of jail. Upon his release Tom stalked into the panel discussion on the underground press, threw a glass at the press table, accused Sigma Delta Chi of causing his arrest and the delegates of being hypocrites, and asked everyone who had tried marijuana to raise their hands. Afterwards, he apologized for throwing the glass and passed a hat to collect bail money.
On May 13, 1970, Forçade catapulted to national prominence when he appeared before the United States Commission on Obscenity and Pornography in Washington, DC. Reading a 1,000 word statement, dotted with four-letter words, he called the commission “unconstitutional, unlawful, prehistoric, obscene, absurd” and pronounced it “political repression in the thin but transparent guise of obscenity.”
When Otto Larsen, professor of sociology from the University of Washington, asked, “Would you mind explaining to me how we have engaged in ‘McCarthyesque witch hunts and inquisitional hearings’?” Tom answered, “I think I have the material in my box to explain that.”
Walking over to Larsen, Forçade placed a large cardboard box on the rostrum, uncovered a cream pie hidden under some papers and smacked Larsen in the face with it. As cream pie dripped down his face, Larsen, apparently unperturbed, persisted, “Don’t bug me. I’m asking you a question. Is that what you had in mind? How did we do that?”
“You’re violating the Constitution,” Forçade answered calmly, as Capitol police stood by, open-mouthed.
The commission chairman then announced, “Mr. Forçade, I guess we’ve had enough from you.” Tom calmly gathered up his box, and the pie plate, and left.
Months later, at an underground press conference, Forçade urged his fellow journalists to become outlaws. “If people had real courage,” he told a reporter, “they wouldn’t even think twice about becoming outlaws. They already would be.”
“People talk about peace. I’m into love. I’m not into peace. I don’t want peace, I want life. I associate peace with graveyards. I associate peace with stagnation.”
One of the biggest roadblocks for the underground press was accreditation. The system did not recognize the validity of the underground press as a credible, viable news organization. Without proper credentials, underground news-gatherers were denied access to important events, and reporting news was almost impossible. Backed by the ACLU, Tom sued to win the right to a White House press pass.
In May, he came to Washington with the express purpose of setting up a three-member news bureau for UPS, which now claimed 600 different newspapers and 100 radio stations. After a long court battle, topped off by a week of debate among newsmen, he was admitted to the Senate and House press galleries in September 1971—over the protest of some members of the gallery and in spite of the fact that he had called the Standing Committee of Correspondents, who had admitted him by a vote of 3 to 2, a “group of puppet journalists.” However, he continued to be denied access to the White House. John W. Warner, Jr., the Secret Service public relations director at the time (and now the Republican Senator from Virginia, best known for marrying Liz Taylor), barred him for security reasons, on grounds that he posed a threat to President Nixon’s safety.
Tom noted that he was only 5’7″ and 120 pounds, and asked reporters, “Do I look like a dangerous man?”, before adding, “They just don’t want me in there asking embarrassing questions at the President’s press conferences”—words that became prophetic. He continued his lawsuit for his rights as a reporter, which eventually allowed him to become the first American citizen to gain access to his FBI files.
Sex and Drugs and Rock ‘N’ Roll
In the spring of 1970, Forçade became involved with Winter’s End, one of the more bizarre post-Woodstock rock festivals. His old friend Michael Forman had put up the front money for the festival, which was promoted and handled by most of the Woodstock crew. It was hoped that the Woodstock connection would deliver a rerun of the previous summer’s magic. Instead, a postal strike killed ticket sales, an air-traffic controller’s strike prevented name bands from playing, a new law was passed specifically outlawing rock festivals, and police secured an injunction to shut it down. The promoters couldn’t find a site until three days before the event. Once they did, they gave up on the event. But sixty thousand hippies didn’t. They invaded the concert area, and waited for the festival to begin.
Then they organized it. An army of bikers and hippie communes known as The Family took over security. Five hundred volunteers helped build the stage, aided by technicians who were now working for nothing. Tom Forçade took over the management. He convinced police to open the roads, organized security, and assembled a small staff of errand runners. When state troopers arrived to close the show, “festival security” met them with chains, clubs, and a few Thompson submachine guns.
In terms of fun, Winter’s End was one of the most successful rock festivals ever. Johnny Winter, playing three times, stole the show, while the Allman Brothers, Santana and Mountain (with Leslie West) appeared, along with an assortment of local groups. What made it unforgettable was an abundance of MDA, the “love drug.” “As a result, there was probably more fucking at Winter’s End than any festival before or since,” Forçade wrote in an unpublished memoir. “It was sex, dope and rock and roll versus law and order all the way.”
A few months later, in July 1970, Forçade was involved in the mirror-image of Winter’s End, the “Randall’s Island People’s Pop Festival.”
Among Forçade’s many political affiliations was a group known as the White Panthers, who believed, as Tom put it, that “rock promoters were sucking money out of the hip culture.” Forçade led the Panthers against the promoters of the “New York Pop Festival” which was to be held on Randall’s Island, a small island off of Manhattan. The White Panthers were soon joined by the Rip-Off Collective, set up specifically to shake down capitalist exploiters of hip culture. At first, the radicals’ demands were ignored. Then the Young Lords, the Puerto Rican equivalent of the Black Panthers, took their turn, demanding a percentage of the profits, cash up front, and speakers and bands on the program.
By now, Woodstock had set a precedent. Because Abbie Hoffman, the Yippies and UPS had successfully shaken down Woodstock promoters for a piece of the pie, it was now expected that all concert promoters would give money to the Movement. Worse for concert promoters, audiences now expected, and demanded, that all outdoor music festivals be just like Woodstock—FREE. Who needed a ticket anymore?
Harassment and threats from radicals, as well as slow ticket sales, soon wore down the promoters, who turned the show over to the Panthers, Young Lords, and Rip-Off Collective. The concert became the “New York People’s Pop Festival,” the first festival co-sponsored and promoted by The Movement.
The debacle that followed heaped ridicule and criticism on the event, and the new promoters took the blame. The White Panthers tried to sell tickets, but the Rip-Off Collective turned against them and helped mobs of gate-crashers by wiping out padlocked fences with bolt-cutters. The crowds were typically New York—unruly and obnoxious—and booed the Panthers, Lords and Rip-Off Collective as they gave speeches and fought amongst themselves for control of the show. Forçade got injured, breaking his ankle while jumping off the stage. Randall’s Island is now mainly remembered for Jimi Hendrix’s performance (preserved on the 2-record set, The Jimi Hendrix Concerts, and the film, Free).
Two weeks later, in August of 1970, Forçade was invited to join another debacle of sorts, the Medicine Ball Caravan.
The Medicine Ball Caravan meets the Caravan of Pirates (left to right): Chan Laughlin (in floppy hat), Tom Forçade (with drumsticks), Ron Rosenbaum (in sunglasses and beard) David Peel (in sunglasses and cheap vest), The Star Car (under Peel and Forçade)/ High Times
The Caravan of Greed and Money
Warner Brothers, flushed with the success of the Woodstock movie, now planned an event that would cash in on the youth culture, in a big way—a movie built around the hippie fantasy of a psychedelic bus caravan. This “Caravan of Love” would leave from San Francisco, travel across the country, playing concerts on the way, and end up in England for the Isle of Wight rock festival. Warner Brothers hired Mike Forman to help promote it, and one of the first people he called upon was old pal Tom Forçade. He was hoping Tom would write about the caravan for UPS, and provide some excitement along with a bit of much-needed political perspective.
Forçade was only too happy to oblige, and immediately went about creating a “counter-caravan.” He “liberated” a late-model Cadillac limousine, painted it olive drab with large white army stars on each side, built a platform which served as a stage on top of the roof, and mounted two gigantic speakers on it. The speakers, each of which had a range of five miles, had somehow been obtained from a Minute Man missile site (they had originally been intended for use by Civil Defense to warn the public of an enemy attack). Forçade armed the car with firecrackers, skyrockets, smoke bombs, flares, picket signs, squirt guns, cap pistols, marking pens, paint, brushes, White Panther leaflets, a megaphone, a movie-scene clapboard, two bootleg telephones, a typewriter, underground newspapers, a 16-mm Bolex camera, a gasoline generator, amplifiers, microphones, bubble machine and several spare tires.
Caravan insiders, aware of his distaste for what they were doing, nicknamed him “Captain Bad Vibes,” his Cadillac “The Star Car,” and kept him at arm’s length throughout the show, but Tom stole their thunder anyhow. The highlight of the film, as well as two books written about the event, was the knife fight.
It all started when Tom arranged for David Peel to join his “Caravan of Pirates.” The Medicine Ball Caravan turned wacko in Ohio, when David Peel was attacked by a caravan heavy with a knife.
Tom had driven the Star Car onto the Antioch College campus, and David Peel began singing through the Minute Man speakers, when students poured out of the classrooms to boo and jeer. They thought Peel was pulling off a promotional stunt for the Caravan. (Thanks to the underground press, they’d been alerted to what a cultural rip-off it was.) One campus radical screamed at Tom Forçade, Minister of Information for the White Panther Party, “If the White Panthers were here, they’d rip this off!”
Tom found the whole scene quite hilarious. His counter-caravan was being confused with the real one, and he was being victimized by his own politics.
David Peel stopped singing to denounce Warner Brothers, while angry students surrounded Forçade to attack the film. When the film crew arrived, Forçade attacked one of them, pushing the lens away from the action, but the cameraman got up and kept filming. Chan Laughlin, the caravan “camp boss” and resident heavyweight, attempted to take charge, denouncing David Peel as a troublemaker. Peel answered that Chan was a flunky for Warner Bros. They argued for several minutes.
“You’re all sitting around here on your asses doing nothing and whining about a movie rip-off,” Chan shouted, “when you don’t have the balls to go out into the world and do something worth filming. What we’re doing is ripping off Warner Brothers. They’re letting us make our movie with their money.”
As Peel recalls, “I saw a silver Nazi emblem on the guy’s hat. So he yelled, ‘Who do you think you are giving orders?’ ‘Who am I? I’m JEWISH and you’re HITLER for Warner Brothers!’”
Chan went ape-shit. He grabbed Peel by the vest, which immediately ripped to shreds. “It was a very old, cheap vest which I got from a hand-out store in the Village,” David says, “and it was so cheap, it ripped right apart. It saved my life.”
While Chan stared at the vest in his hands, Peel took off. Chan then dropped the vest, went for the knife in his hip pocket sheath, jumped on top of the car, pulled out the knife and snarled at Peel, “No motherfucker calls me Hitler!”
Before Chan could slice Peel, Forçade and Billy White, a member of Peel’s entourage, tackled him, wrestling the knife away.
Medicine Ball Caravan bombed upon its release in early ’71. Warner Brothers, unhappy with the rough cut that director Francois Reichenbach delivered, called in Martin Scorsese, whose previous credits included editing most of the performance footage of Woodstock, to save it. He improved it, but nothing could save this turkey. Warner Brothers attempted to recoup their investment by promoting the “live soundtrack,” which featured a studio track by Alice Cooper with canned applause added.
On caravan’s end, at the Isle of Wight in England, Tom went to Paris to cover the Viet Cong delegation during the peace talks and opened negotiations to put on a rock festival in North Vietnam.
The Klein Swine Demonstration
A few months later, George Harrison’s Bangladesh benefit concert (the Live-Aid of its day), and the resultant Concert for Bangladesh triple-record set (which featured Harrison, Bob Dylan, Ringo Starr, Ravi Shankar, Billy Preston, Leon Russell and friends) were the rock events of the year. But questions soon arose about how much of the money was actually going to feed the starving people of Bangladesh. Forçade, A.J. Weberman, and several other radicals, all members of the recently formed Rock Liberation Front (RLF), decided to take matters into their own hands.
Twenty sign-carrying members of the RLF showed up at the offices of Allen Klein (who managed both the Rolling Stones and the Beatles), carrying bushel baskets of rotten apples, tomatoes and lettuce for the ironically titled “Free Food Program for Starving Music Execs.” Phil Spector, who produced the Bangladesh benefit album (pocketing 20 cents a platter), provided a lot of fireworks when he defended Klein. “It’s only been four fucking months since we’ve been doing the fucking album! What about four months ago? Why didn’t ya ask George Harrison? He was in New York for three fucking weeks and for three months in fucking Los Angeles mixing the album…Aw, the truth is a big waste of time.”
Spector then challenged a reporter to a fist fight. Someone broke it up just as the reporter was about to slug him. Spector then grabbed a woman by the throat, held her up against a wall, threatening, “Call your man off or I’ll karate chop you in the throat.”
When Spector turned to A.J. Weberman to toss him out, Weberman grabbed him by the collar and smacked his face, screaming, “The next time I hit you, capitalist scumbag, it’ll be a punch in the nose AND YOU’LL NEVER BE ABLE TO SNORT COKE AGAIN!”.
The RLF members were soon escorted out of the offices by security forces, but came back a few days later. Demanding the three million dollars that Allen Klein’s company, ABKco, owed the Bangladesh relief funds from record sales, Tom Forçade fought past Klein, entered the corporate offices, and the Rock Liberation Front began throwing rotten fruit and vegetables all over the room. NBC-TV News taped and later broadcast the incident.
Although most people defended Harrison, Spector and Klein (after all, a Beatle was involved!), the Klein Swine demonstration was successful guerrilla theater, broadcast into the homes of millions of people, boldly revealing the inner workings of a big-name, charity rock event as eerily similar to the backroom of a Las Vegas casino.
After the trial, Tom refused to shake Abbie’s hand. (The judge, Meyer Vishner, sits in the middle.)/ AP/Wide World
The Movement on Trial
In November, 1970, Abbie Hoffman met with Forçade, forming a partnership, Pirate Editions, to arrange for publication of Steal This Book. Despite his contributions to the Movement, because of best-sellers, Revolution For The Hell Of It! and Woodstock Nation, people were giving Abbie flack for “selling out.” In response, he wanted to do a revolutionary handbook so outrageous that only the underground could handle it. Starting with the best of intentions, the idea ultimately led to a dispute over authorship. The bitter fallout that resulted tore apart what was left of the now-dwindling Woodstock Nation.
By January 1971, Forçade had rewritten, copy-edited, proofread, and pasted up Steal This Book at the UPS offices. Occupied with the Chicago Seven trial, Hoffman was unable to come to a financial agreement with Forçade or Izak Haber, the young Yippie who wrote the original manuscript. Some charged that Abbie had pulled a fast one—hired one guy to write the book and another guy to rewrite, edit and get it ready for the printer—then put his own name on it.
Tom and Abbie agreed to have the dispute settled by a “Movement Court,” presided over by respected counterculture figures. For three weeks, the court heard testimony and deliberated on Forçade’s claim. Abbie argued that Tom’s work had been worth $500, and that his own mere presence at the Movement Court proved his innocence of the charges. When he discovered that the judges were close friends of Abbie’s, Tom felt he’d lost already.
In his testimony, Tom explained that people mistrusted him because of all the UPS money that went through his hands. He frequently had to fend off charges of being a hippie capitalist. “All our books are checked,” he complained, “and still, people have this image in their mind that anyone handling a quarter of a million dollars must have something shady going on.”
“Historically,” Tom stated regretfully, “anybody who works in business or with money is considered a rip-off, and it’s been a drag for me.”
The judges’ decision was that the case could best be settled by a “Karma Alignment,” a compromise aimed at ending the hostilities: a $1,000 judgment for Forçade, plus 10,000 books, at cost (17 cents apiece). Tom had sought $5,000.
Both men claimed victory, but felt they’d lost. Tom seethed when he encountered difficulties collecting the $1,000 judgment from Abbie. Abbie, on the other hand, felt his credibility had been forever damaged. The rift between them grew, and split the Yippies into two different camps—the Pro-Abbie and the Pro-Tom factions.
The dissension continued. In January 1972, four years after the Yippies had formed for the sole purpose of disrupting the Chicago Democratic convention, big disagreements arose over what tactics to use at the upcoming conventions. Tom was among the few who argued that violent anti-war demonstrations should continue. Many others in the anti-war movement believed this played right into enemy hands. Forçade came to the conclusion that the Yippies had become fossilized. He decided to split off from the Yippies and start his own organization, the Zippies (ZIP: Zeitgeist International Party).
This new move outraged Hoffman. In May, at a meeting called to iron out their differences, Abbie and the Yippies orchestrated an attack on Forçade, expelling him from YIP and accusing him of being a “police provocateur and/or a maniac.” The stage was set for a monumental confrontation.
Riot in Miami Beach
A year before the 1972 presidential conventions in Miami, Tom Forçade met Gabrielle Schang through mutual friend, John Wilcock. They started dating a few months later, but Gabrielle became suspicious of his frequent, mysterious disappearances. When Tom neglected to tell her about the Zippies after forming his new group, she became very angry. Shortly after, her friends Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin began their campaign against Forçade, and convinced her that he was a government agent. “They knew he was going to start Zippie,” Gabrielle recalls, “and that they were over the hill, in Tom’s view. They were scared of what he was gonna do.” Today, Gabrielle says she felt “brainwashed” by the Yippie faction into thinking that Tom was a government agent—a rumor that would haunt him the rest of his life, and eventually spread to HIGH TIMES. “I honestly believed that,” she says. “I was very naive.”
Tom tried to change Gabrielle’s mind, to no avail. Tripping on acid and very upset, he took a New York City cab all the way down to Miami and drove to the dorm the Yippies were staying at. He tried to convince her to leave the Yippies and join the Zippies. She thought he was deranged, and refused to meet with him. She didn’t think of his behavior as a romantic act at the time.
John Wilcock figures, “A lot of the animosity with the Zippies and the Yippies was directly attributable to Tom’s jealousy over Gabrielle leaving him and going out with Ed Sanders.” Sanders, the ex-Fug who, at the time had just written The Family, a best-seller about the Charles Manson cult, has refused to speak about Forçade with HIGH TIMES. Apparently, he has not forgotten the old days—like the time he and Gabrielle found the “unbreakable” windshield of his new Land Rover smashed to pieces.
According to Aron Kay (the Yippie “Pie Man” who, taking his cue from Tom, became infamous for throwing pies in the faces of anyone he deemed politically incorrect), Tom wouldn’t have smashed the windshield, or even asked someone to do it for him. Strange things just happened, because of the old “Yippie curse”—hurt one of us and you hurt all of us.
Although a virtual “tent city” of radical protesters and demonstrators camped out at the Miami conventions in greater numbers than in 1968, crowds of radical youth were on the wane after the 1971 May Day march on Washington. D.C., which resulted in 12,000 arrests. The increasing violence and likelihood of arrest at political protests in the early ’70s began keeping people away. In Miami, 2,000 local and state police officers were in attendance. 5,000 federal troops and National Guardsmen were on standby, and countless undercover and FBI agents were busily infiltrating every radical political group. The Yippies had even bigger problems—dozens of organizers from around the country had been arrested.
The Democratic convention was fairly mild. On July 9th, a smoke-in was held, featuring six gallons of spiked lemonade, which attracted the biggest crowds at the convention. During a Wheelchairs for Wallace March on July 11, the Zippies pushed a wheelchair with an effigy of George Wallace, the prosegregationist, “law and order” candidate, into the ocean. The highlight of the convention was when Tom and girlfriend, Cindy Ornsteen, managed to get two police agents to help them steal Lyndon Baines Johnson’s official portrait from the convention hall. The painting was later torched at an anti-war rally.
The Republican convention in August was a different story altogether. In one incident, a bus carrying the entire South Carolina delegation was captured by protesters, who slashed their tires, jumped up and down on the roof, and threw water underneath, telling delegates it was gasoline. The demonstrators’ biggest coup was their infiltration of the area near air-conditioning intakes for the convention hall. When police flooded the area with tear gas, there was hardly a dry eye inside the convention, and delegates were seen on live TV dabbing their eyes with handkerchiefs.
Yip/Zip infighting reached its height as the Yippies distributed a flyer that read:
WANTED TOM FORCADE
Tom Forcade dealt hard drugs and strung out a local organizer for the VVAW. This Vietnam Veteran under heavy drug influence talked with the police five hours conjuring up false tales about the veterans.
This man uses his ample money and drugs to control people. His actions have been disruptive and suspicious. It is wise to avoid him.
IS THE PRICE OF LIBERTY
ANTI HEROIN AND
HARD DRUGS COMMITTEE
Freedom of Information Act files later revealed that the flyer had been provided by FBI agents who infiltrated the Yippies, manipulating them into discrediting Tom Forçade. The false rumors would follow him for the rest of his life.
On August 23, while Nixon was giving his acceptance speech, Tom and the Zippies set up an anti-war rock opera, Eat the Rich, performed by The Gooks. Before the show, police searched the flatbed truck rented for the show, and found gasoline and “other items suitable for assembling fire bombs” in the truck. Besides one five-gallon can of All-State oil, was a can with “wax-like material in it with a wick coming out” was found, a candle Cindy Ornsteen was using as an ashtray. After the truck was searched and several items removed, it was permitted to go on to the convention site. Tom, however, was kept in custody for reckless driving.
Before the show could begin, police tear-gassed the stage, forcing The Gooks off the stage, but not before 15 seconds of fame on live international TV.
On February 8, 1973, a federal grand jury for the Southern District of Florida handed down sealed indictments of Tom Forçade and Cindy Ornsteen. The arrests were an obvious smokescreen to draw media attention away from the recently disclosed Watergate burglary—the firebombs were The Gooks’ smokepots. The trial, held a month later, took all of two days to complete, and featured testimony by undercover agents who had infiltrated the conventions and bomb manufacture experts, who confirmed that the candles were not firebombs. Federal Judge Faye, a friend of Nixon’s former campaign manager, acquitted Tom and Cindy.
In the meantime, Tom developed plans for a new project, one more outrageous than any of his other adventures—a drug magazine. Cindy Ornsteen remembers discussing the idea while she and Tom were hiding out in Florida after the Miami conventions. “The purpose of the magazine,” she says, “was to make recreational drug use acceptable, and if it made money, to use the money toward the legalization of marijuana, and to change the consciousness of America about drugs as an accepted life style.”
The Wheelchairs for Wallace March/ UPI/Bettman Newsphotos
The Origin of High Times
Ed Rosenthal was in New York the first time the idea of a drug magazine was brought up at the UPS office. “We were thinking of putting out a drugs news service,” says Ed, “that would go to all of the newspapers and magazines. So I took some government statistics and figured out there were 20 million pot smokers. It came to us that there were the numbers for a magazine here.”
To launch the new publication, Tom rented a ballroom at the National Boutique Show in 1973, which featured about 100 drug paraphernalia dealers. A promotional flyer, with a long list of article ideas, was published. “We were the hit of the Boutique Show,” recalls Ed Dwyer, HIGH TIMES’ first editor-in-chief, “because, at the time, it was filled with a lot of paraphernalia companies. It should have been called the National Paraphernalia Show. Joints were dispensed, gas was dispensed, the line outside was incredible. This is how we made an awful lot of good contacts, and did a lot of good public relations—by keeping people high.”
The first issue was put together in early 1974. Several editorial meetings were held, which included Tom’s circle of friends, like Ed Rosenthal, Dana Beal, Cindy Ornsteen and John Wilcock. Some of the first ideas batted around were a Highwitness News section (lifted from Rex Weiner’s now-defunct New York Ace which published Tom’s UPS columns from Washington) and Trans-High Market Quotations. Once the concept came together, the work was completed in a very short time. After considering titles like Tilt and National Weed, they decided the magazine would be called HIGH TIMES. The first cover featured a woman eating a mushroom, a nonpsychedelic variety they bought at a supermarket. “We wanted it to come off as an unthreatening, upbeat presentation of the act of getting high.” Ed Dwyer remembers. A modest print run of 10,000 copies sold out immediately.
Andy Kowl, whose only previous experience had been a small Long Island newspaper called The Express, worked as business manager and publisher of the new venture. As he recalls, “Tom would contact friends of his who were major pot distributors, and they would buy a thousand or two thousand copies at a buck apiece, and give them away.”
The magazine sold briskly from any bookstores, newsstands, or head shops brave enough to stock it. “The stories we got, consistently,” Andy says, “were that twenty copies would go into a record store, and a guy would walk in and buy all twenty. It was happening all over the country. It was wild.”
Since HIGH TIMES was a quarterly, there was a long, three-month wait between issues. In the meantime, they printed another 10,000 issues, which also sold out immediately, then another 15,000. They upped the print run for the second issue to 25,000 issues. When that sold out, they printed another 25,000 issues. For the third issue, they printed 50,000 copies, the fourth, 100,000 issues, then 150,000 for the fifth. By now, HIGH TIMES was a national phenomenon.
“HIGH TIMES was the greatest publishing success story of the ’70s,” recalls Craig Copetas, who worked as news editor, and chief correspondent for UPS, by now renamed the Alternative Press Syndicate. “HIGH TIMES went far beyond its mandate to just report on drugs. We were a viable news operation. We had over 200 radio stations linked to us, and we were feeding daily reports into radio stations.”
According to Craig, the news operation was competitive with any magazine, newswire service, or newspaper of the time. HIGH TIMES became the embodiment of Tom’s vision of a true alternative press syndicate. There were AP, UPI, and Agence France-Presse wires in the office. HIGH TIMES and UPS set up foreign bureaus, funding reporters in southeast Asia, South America, Europe, India and behind the Iron Curtain. Many writers from establishment papers, from the Wall Street Journal to the Los Angeles Times, wrote for HIGH TIMES under pseudonyms. Perhaps no other story describes the impact HIGH TIMES had on society than its relationship with Jimmy Carter.
“In the fall of 1975,” Craig Copetas relates, “Tom said to me, ‘Choose a candidate and go follow him. Who do you think is going to be president?’ And I just said, ‘Maybe this guy Carter.’” HIGH TIMES became one of the first publications aboard the Carter press bus. By the time Carter was elected, HIGH TIMES knew many of the key people in his administration.
Although Carter had supported decriminalization of marijuana during his campaign, his administration continued Nixon’s “War On Drugs,” spraying paraquat on marijuana and poppy fields in Mexico. “We spent a fortune traveling through Mexico finding paraquat fields,” Copetas recalls. “Paraquat and 2-4D were being sprayed on vegetables instead of fields. They weren’t sprayed on the marijuana and opium poppies. Moreover, they were mixing 2-4D and and 2-4T, creating Agent Orange.”
No one had heard of Agent Orange, but once its use as a defoliant in Vietnam was exposed in HIGH TIMES, Vietnam veterans initiated ultimately successful suits against the government. “There were people down there who were drinking this stuff,” Copetas continued. “The way we played it was not as a smokers’ issue, but as an environmental issue, which was very very important, because it added legitimacy to what we were doing.”
Shortly after his election, Carter returned from Germany for his first prime-time press conference. As Copetas describes, “Jimmy made the great mistake of calling on me that night on national television. And I hit him with the paraquat question.”
Carter dodged the issue, but questions about paraquat continued to be raised throughout his presidency. And Tom’s long, bitter fight for press credentials resulted, as predicted, in embarrassing questions for the president.
Forçade never took a salary from HIGH TIMES—he was a rich man. His drug activities were going even better than his publishing business. All HIGH TIMES profits went to fund other projects.
One of the first was the National Weed. “He wanted to do a National Enquirer for the hippie set,” recalls Craig Copetas. Printed on color newsprint, it folded after three or four issues, and was incorporated into HIGH TIMES as a magazine within a magazine. Forçade also started Dealer magazine, the first “alternative economics magazine” in the country, geared towards head shops and the underground economy.
Once Hoffman and Rubin deserted the party, Tom resumed his support of the Yippies, working on the Yipster Times late at night at the YIP offices. “I remember him doing the pasteups, doing headlines, writing up articles,” recalls Aron Kay.
Tom continued to support his old friends in the music business, especially those from his Medicine Ball Caravan days, David Peel, and the Lower East Side members Billy Joe White and Tommy Doyle.
One of his favorite projects was the New Morning Bookstore, a large bookstore well-stocked with out-of-the-way publications and periodicals, located in New York’s Soho district. To run it, Tom hired Jim Drougas, who he met through Gabrielle Schang.
All had been forgiven between the two. Tom had renewed their affair by inviting her to a HIGH TIMES party he threw in Berkeley, California, when Gabrielle was working for the Berkeley Barb. She was covering a big story—the Patty Hearst kidnapping.
In 1974, Patty Hearst, daughter of the Hearst publishing dynasty, was kidnapped by a radical political group who called themselves the Symbionese Liberation Army. One of the major news stories of the ’70s, Patty Hearst joined forces with the SLA to rob a bank, and the video of the robbery was shown on national TV. Gabrielle got pulled into the story—she reported receiving communiques from underground, copycat SLA groups. When she wouldn’t turn the messages over to the FBI, she was called before a grand jury. “I think Tom saw all this in the papers and it gave him some new respect for me.”
Gabrielle eventually moved to New York City. Although she occasionally dated Tom, she dated many other guys. Then, one day, he sent her a passionate love letter—it caused her to fall in love with him. Tom stole her away from the apartment she was sharing with her lover at the time, who worked at HIGH TIMES as an editor. They eloped, flying to Las Vegas and Phoenix for the wedding.
The Day Tom Killed High Times
When Tom Forçade received his FBI files on January 16, 1975, he now had tangible proof that his most paranoid fears were true—the government had been keeping track of his activities since he was working in Phoenix on Orpheus, way back in 1968. The discovery at about the same time that an undercover police officer was working in the office also unsettled him. So did the visit to the HIGH TIMES offices by the DEA. When they threatened to arrest him unless he revealed his sources, Tom merely put out his wrists, and dared them to take him away. They left, but the message they delivered remained.
There was a dark side to Tom Forçade. He suffered from a manic-depressive disorder, and from severe seasonal mood swings usually in the late fall and winter. After, and during every wild adventure he went on, the roller-coaster ride would come crashing down.
In the autumn of 1976, after an absence of four months, Tom returned to the HIGH TIMES office. He ordered all of the art boards for the latest issue (January 1977) immediately delivered to his office before they went to the printer. Upon inspection, he threatened to rip the whole magazine into shreds and force the staff to create a new one, from scratch. Then Tom called the office. As Andy Kowl recalls, Tom commanded, “I want you to close the magazine. Your job is terminated. Everybody’s job is terminated. Fire everybody on the staff.”
Tom stormed into the office, ripping the telephone intercom system out of the reception room. Then he headed for the newsroom. Craig Copetas stopped him. “Everyone was running around scared to death,” Craig relates, “and I jacked him up against the wall and said, “Tom, go home and calm down. We’re putting out a magazine.’”
Tom then decided that if he couldn’t kill it, he’d sell it. Papers were drawn up and a few days later Andy and HIGH TIMES business manager Paul Tornetta met with Tom. At the meeting, Tom asked Jack Coombs, his best friend and fellow White Panther, for a gun. Jack handed over a pistol. Tom gave it to Andy.
Tom told him, “If I have ever misled you or lied to you about this magazine, I want you to kill me.”
The gun was put away, and Tom signed the papers, selling all rights. Kowl and Tornetta were walking out the door, when Tom said. “That’ll never stand up in court! I’m out of my mind. I’m not in my right state of mind.” Andy said, “Tom! That’s fine! It’s your magazine! So we gave him back the paper and he gave us back the money,” Andy says.
Shortly after that, Tom set up a nonprofit trust fund, and restructured the company, making it more democratic. Jack Coombs, worried about Tom’s health, contacted Forçade’s family. Tom flew back to Phoenix for a physical examination.
Although his family accepted Tom as he was, they’d always believed that eventually, he’d change. “We thought this was just a publicity stunt,” his cousin remembers, “being the ultimate hippie to get publicity, national power, and fame and everything. Then he’d sell the whole thing out, come back to Arizona and be a normal businessman again.”
“His father had been a rebel,” he continues, “It was a trait of the family that the men, up until they were about thirty, were just wild as hell and mean as hell, but then after that, they would be extremely conservative and excellent citizens.”
Aside from the one time, Tom steadfastly refused to sell the magazine. “We were making an awful lot of money,” says Craig Copetas. “I remember at one point we could have sold the magazine in 1977 for about eight million dollars.”
“Tom would say that he’d walk through the offices of HIGH TIMES,” recalls Shelley Levitt, managing editor back then, “and he felt as if he were walking through the midway at a carnival—there was a sort of lunacy going on.”
Staff insurrections broke out over the cover policy, committees were formed to make sure no sexist ads were run, and wild parties were thrown every few weeks. Then there was a lot of “research”—when you work at a drug magazine, researching your subject can become a very “high” priority. Tom experimented with everything you could think of, from vanilla extract to airplane glue to alcohol to tobacco. His research went way beyond tasting everything once. He even brewed his own absinthe. But his favorite activity was smuggling. The combination of committing the ultimate act of civil disobedience along with the thrill of flying a plane—as well as making great amounts of cash—made him higher than any drug. Smuggling was in harmony with his principles—he compared the drug smugglers in Florida to the blockade runners of the Revolutionary War.
Once, on one of his mysterious “disappearances,” he was in the swamps of Florida, dropping off a delivery for payment, when agents and police arrived. While the other participants froze, Tom grabbed the proceeds of the deal and took off into the swampy woods. His getaway turned into a brutal ordeal that taxed the limits of his endurance. To elude the police, he had to cling to the cross-structure under a small bridge for several hours, while police with bloodhounds patrolled on top of it. Tom hung under that bridge almost the entire night.
After having buried the money deep in the swamp, Tom fought his way out, a grueling trek that took hours. Later, when the coast was clear, he made his way back into the jungle, and somehow found the money. Once he dug through the muck and mire, found the briefcase, and opened it, the money was sopping wet.
“Tom came to me with a suitcase full of what looked like mud,” explains Michael Kennedy, Tom’s attorney at the time, “but when you began to look at the thing, it was several hundred thousand dollars. He said, ‘We’ve got a serious money-laundering problem here.’ It was the dirtiest money I’d ever seen—caked in mud and scum and grime and alligator-shit and everything else. It was unbelievable.”
The Great Rock ‘N’ Roll Swindle
Tom had always been fascinated by the movies. As early as 1970 he had tried to break into the movie business with a short film treatment called The Dealer, a story seeped in drugs, rock ‘n’ roll, and revolution. His experiences on the Medicine Ball Caravan led him to believe that he could make an authentic outlaw movie. All he lacked was the resources and the right situation. By 1978, he believed he had both.
Tom had made his first plunge into the film business in 1977, investing $50,000 into The Polk County Pot Plane, which he renamed The Smugglers. Ed Dwyer says, “I remember being in the screening room to see that. About halfway through I just got up and left. It was so dreadful.” As he was leaving, Ed met Tom in the hallway. Tom asked him where he was going, and Ed answered, “Tom, if you keep putting your money into this, I’d better get home and print up some cash.” Tom laughed and walked back into the theater.
As stupid as his staff thought the movie was, they were horrified when, the first week of January 1977, Tom decided to expand his fledgling movie studio by making a documentary of the Sex Pistols’ American tour. Lech Kowalski, a young director with one feature film called Sex Stars under his belt, came up to Tom’s office to discuss the idea, and after just a few hours of typical Forçadian negotiations, they took a taxi to a heliport, flew a helicopter to the airport, and set out to make one of the wildest guerrilla films of all time.
Tom had always been into punk-rock. He was a big fan of seminal punk band the MC5, and all loud, hard rock music. As soon as the punk-rock scene re-emerged in New York in early 1976, he checked it out. He secretly funded Punk magazine, putting up the money to print several issues. He predicted that the punk scene would dominate the culture within a few years. After he put Johnny Rotten on the cover of HIGH TIMES (over the strenuous objections of many people on the staff), he became convinced that they’d be the most important band in the world.
In Tom’s mind, it was the Medicine Ball Caravan all over again. After all, he figured, The Caravan of Pirates was the first punk-rock band. David Peel was the first punk rocker, and he himself was the original punk. The Sex Pistols were signed to Warner Brothers, his old nemesis, and Forçade was convinced that the Pistols, who had managed to get every other record company to kick them off the label, would find a way to piss off Warner Brothers as well. Tom figured he was their natural ally, but his first clumsy contacts during the Sex Pistols tour turned the band against him, and when Noel Monk, the Warner Brothers tour manager, conjured up the old rumor that Tom was a government agent, the Sex Pistols became convinced that the CIA was following the tour and that, ironically, Tom Forçade was a narc.
In Dallas, a week after he began his adventure, and after thousands and thousands of bills flew into the HIGH TIMES offices, Tom called the office and ordered six blank checks be delivered to his limousine. The HIGH TIMES financial officers refused. They cut him off, right in the middle of the film. “Tornetta and Place thought it was draining money away from them. They had contracts that let them do it,” Craig Copetas recalls.
“He could have bankrupted the company,” Andy Kowl says. HIGH TIMES had just gotten a $100,000 line of credit at the bank, and the financial officers were afraid he’d use it all up. They knew from experience that Tom was capable of killing the magazine, and they were a bit worried that he’d lost his mind again. Aside from the bills, frantic calls from Warner Brothers were jamming the phones, accusing Tom of everything from kidnapping Sid Vicious, the Sex Pistols’ bass player, to bribing the road crew into helping make the movie. The situation got crazier by the minute.
“The fucking president of Warner Brothers knew Tom!” Andy recalls. To know Tom was not always to love Tom, however. “They were making threats to us.”
His staff should have known better than to mistrust his judgement, Tom figured. He was not going to let anyone, not Warner Brothers, not the Sex Pistols, not the police, and last of all, not his own magazine staff, stop him from making this movie. It was too important a social document. He just spent twice as much money as he would have had his staff sent the checks. He hired chauffeured limousines to drive the film crew, himself, and his guests around Texas. He chartered private planes to travel between cities when he couldn’t charge tickets. And he rented the entire top floor of the most expensive hotel in Dallas for his evening stay. He finished the filming.
Once Tom returned from the tour, HIGH TIMES was thrown into a state of siege. Tom and Jack Coombs took over the top floor of the office building, flashing guns. In defense, Paul Tornetta packed a gun. During one meeting, they hired a bodyguard to keep Jack from busting in.
Mysterious memos containing revolutionary Chinese proverbs appeared all over the HIGH TIMES office bulletin boards. Tom began to circulate little Red Books with the Quotations from Chairman Mao and Communist red stars to the employees. A month after his return from the tour, Tom rented a hotel ballroom, gave a masterful speech about power to the people, and fired Andy Kowl and Paul Tometta.
Meanwhile, in the wake of their American tour, the Sex Pistols broke up. Rumors that “punk is dead” followed. Tom spent hundreds of thousands on a film about a group that no longer existed, and that movie business people considered box office poison. Worse yet, Warner Brothers sued to prevent the movie from being released, and Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren refused to allow Forçade the song rights. Tom tried everything to help get the film out. He even offered to pay Johnny Rotten $1000 to attend a screening of the film, but Rotten refused. Sadly, Tom didn’t live to see the day of its release.
Paranoia Strikes Deep
In March of 1978, Larry Flynt, publisher of Hustler magazine, was shot after leaving an obscenity trial in Lawrenceville, Georgia. Forçade had recently signed on with Flynt’s alternative distribution company. Like Forçade, Larry Flynt had built a fortune publishing an outrageous magazine, and bucking the system. Even their enemies lists were similar—Flynt had taken out full-page ads in several major newspapers offering $1 million to help “solve JFK’s murder.” Aside from gangsters and the CIA, there were many who wanted to see Flynt dead, from Christian fundamentalists to the Ku Klux Klan. Newsweek observed that “Flynt had offended mobsters, who now control much of the distribution of pornographic newspapers and magazines in the U S;” by setting up his own distribution network. The assassination attempt threw HIGH TIMES’ financial situation into chaos, as distribution payments lagged behind.
Things went from bad to worse. In May, best friend, Jack Coombs, died in a plane crash. He had been attempting to land a plane, loaded with contraband, when it hit a tree. Tom had encouraged and helped Jack get his pilot’s license, and was even on the ground, watching it as it happened.
“Tom felt that he caused it,” recalls Tom’s cousin. “Whether he did or he didn’t, he felt that he had caused it.”
Jack had always been the person who helped Tom through his manic-depressive episodes. It was a terribly tragic irony. Not only was his best friend dead, and not there to help him, but Tom blamed himself for what had happened. Facing Jack’s family was almost more than he could bear.
Still, he tried to ignore the tragedy and keep everything going. He visited Hollywood in an attempt to start a HIGH TIMES film company. Besides The Smugglers and the Sex Pistols movie, he was involved in Cocaine Cowboys, a film starring Tom Sullivan, a smuggler friend of Tom’s, Andy Warhol, and Jack Palance, in one of the most bizarre performances in screen history.
Forçade was turned down by everyone in Hollywood. Indifferent to any of his projects, film producers showed interest in only one thing that Tom had to offer—Forçade wheeled and dealed with the finest cocaine they had ever snorted. Tom was interested in becoming a Hollywood producer, not a Hollywood dealer. The Los Angeles experience just depressed him even more.
“He was starting to disintegrate,” says Andy Kowl. “He wanted desperately to take this money that he had and put it into a big entertainment venture. He felt that the magazine was no longer big enough for his vision.”
“Things were bad for him,” Gabrielle says, “He was in money trouble. The plane must have cost a lot of money, the movie was a disaster, and he was very disillusioned by going out to Hollywood.”
Laws against HIGH TIMES and drug paraphernalia were being passed. He launched Stone Age, an imitation HIGH TIMES that Forçade hoped would take the outlaw element out of HIGH TIMES. He felt the only way to save the magazine was to go mainstream.
Lacking the sophistication of its parent magazine, Stone Age did the same thing all the other HIGH TIMES imitators did—it failed miserably.
Although HIGH TIMES was still selling well, Tom’s outside projects were not. Although it’s not clear how he lost control, in the weeks and days before Tom’s death, the HIGH TIMES financial managers pulled the plug on all of his outside interests—Stone Age, the fledgling Alternative Distribution Network, Punk magazine, the Sex Pistols documentary, and, worst of all to Tom, the New Morning Bookstore.
“These were decisions that Tom was not happy with,” Craig Copetas recalls. “The people who controlled the money at HIGH TIMES were not friends of Tom’s. They were what I would call ‘management people from hell.’ They were not very sophisticated, I would dub them sleazy. At that point in his life he was getting very frustrated with everything that he had created. Mentally, I think he wanted out, which is what I think really led to his suicide.”
“They were all banding together and giving him ultimatums,” Jim Drougas, New Morning’s manager, recalls, “I had a meeting with them the same day that he died, and they were getting pretty severe. They were saying things like ‘The book store’s going to be sold; we’re going to get rid of it; we can’t be bothered with it; it’s not worth our trouble; and some heavy things are coming down.”’
Tom had even more serious problems. According to Dana Beal, who remained one of Forçade’s closest friends up until the end, informers and federal agents “were just breathing down Tom’s neck. His smoke-selling loft was busted. His hotel rooms at the Fifth Avenue Hotel were busted.” There were rumors that the feds were preparing an indictment. chic eder, who wrote for HIGH TIMES and was involved in several smuggling adventures with Tom, was unmasked as an informer by Tom’s lawyer, Michael Kennedy.
Tom fell into a dark mood. It was late autumn, when his seasonal depression hit hardest. He began to speak in paranoid tones about everyone in his life—they were all cheating him, or were out to get him. He wrote an editorial for the Yipster Times calling for the formation of the sequel to the YIP and the ZIP parties, the RIP party. Finally, he isolated himself in his apartment, refusing to see anyone.
On November 19, 1978, Craig Copetas called Tom and urged him to fly to Los Angeles. Craig, NORML director Keith Stroup, and Hunter Thompson were all going out to the Playboy mansion for a party—Hugh Hefner’s NORML fundraiser party. When Craig called, Tom told him not to go. There were some things Craig would have to take care of. Craig answered, “What are you talking about? We have to go out to this party in LA.”
Tom said, “Be available. Be available.”
When Craig called him back at 3:00, Tom started mumbling on the phone, “Craig, take care of the magazine and make sure we get good lawyers. You’re going to need them. Take care of business. Take care of the magazine.”
Craig shrugged it off, and promised to call him that weekend and tell him how the conference was.
Jim Drougas stopped by Tom and Gabrielle’s that day for lunch. He brought the receipts from the bookstore. Tom refused Gabrielle’s offer to join them. She asked, “Can I get you something to drink?”
He replied, “Nothing.”
She said “Okay, I’m right there in the other room if you want anything.”
He said, “Okay, you’ll hear from me.”
“What I heard,” Gabrielle recalls, “was a gunshot.”
She found the body, and started crying. They called for an ambulance, which got there very quickly. He was kept alive for a short time.
“The following day,” says John Wilcock, “when the Guyana mass suicide took place, I thought to myself, ‘If Tom had waited one more day, he would definitely not have killed himself. It was much too big a story for him not to have been interested in. He would have been so absorbed in that story, he probably would have gone down there.’”
After his death, some of the things Tom had worked on died. Punk magazine folded a short time later. Stone Age went under, and AMACS, the Alternative Media Empire, never even got off the ground. The Sex Pistols documentary, D.O.A., was eventually completed, released to theaters, and is now available on videotape. After several bitter struggles for power, HIGH TIMES rescued itself from the brink of bankruptcy several times and is still around, selling better than ever. The Underground Press Syndicate, AKA the Alternative Press Syndicate, is currently in limbo.
Tom Forçade was a galvanizing force, a media genius, an organizational wizard who made things happen. It’s no coincidence that the marijuana legalization movement has fallen on hard times since he passed away. A man like Tom Forçade doesn’t come along very often.
Some theorize that he killed himself because he felt there was nowhere left to go. “He decided to blow himself away because that is the way to be remembered,” says Michael Kennedy. “That is the way to make your statement. That was Tom. That was Tom’s brilliance, also, because at the time he blew himself away, he was at the peak of his powers.”
Ed Dwyer notes, “The ’80s would have killed Tom if he didn’t kill himself.”
It is difficult to imagine Tom living through the yuppie decade. Although he liked to think he was the original punk, he was really “the ultimate hippie.”