High Times for the Underground Press

Tom King Forçade

where did it all go wrong?

John Sinclair died the week that I finished reading Agents of Chaos by Sean Howe. Sinclair was a minor character in that book, along with many of the rabble rousing alternative press figures of the late 1960s and early 70s. The main character of the book – who is more of a tragic anti-hero than anything else - is Tom King Forçade, the freaked out Godfather of the Underground Press.

In Howe’s book, the escapades of Forçade are told in a meandering story that mirrors the random cross-country drives and planes full of dope that he navigated through the Nixon years. Eventually, with his dope-dealing earnings, he launched the magazine, High Times, in New York, attempting to serve the audience of pot-smoking Americans without any pretence to acceptability.

Along the way, Forçade (the adopted name of Gary Goodson) was a player in many of the alternative press struggles that included the Liberation News Service, and his own Underground Press Syndicate. He teamed up with the Yippies for Woodstock to promote the alternative newspapers of the day, and managed to establish himself in several nefarious Manhattan offices where editing and dope dealing took place at all hours, and Forçade camped out in makeshift bedrolls among the file cabinets.

There’s a tragic sense of doom and high strung nerves throughout Agents of Chaos propelled by the non-stop frenzies of Forçade and his seemingly endless series of arrests, mistrials, and entrepreneurial extravagances. If there was some kind of extremist anti-establishment event in the works, Forçade was somewhere in the mix, with a farmhouse full of weed and packing weapons, ammo, pills, and fistfuls of radical zines.

At the behest of the US Air National Guard in Phoenix, his condition in 1970 was appraised by a psychiatrist who concluded:

Mr. Goodson has been arrested in New York on an LSD charge and is awaiting the outcome of that charge. He feels too that the police in New York have been hassling him for some time and that they were out to get him.…
Diagnosis: Schizophrenia, Paranoid Type

Reading Howe’s account of what happened at High Times painted a dark picture of Forçade’s condition. He was a deteriorating, paranoid, and reckless individual; and yet, for all that, Forçade’s enigmatic rebelliousness in all things created a weird charm. It’s hard not to be intrigued by the wild man’s life, and at the same time take an interest in the cohort of writers and editors in the underground.

By comparison, John Sinclair, the big fuzzy-headed bear who was immortalized in song by John Lennon seemed to be quite stable.

“It ain’t fair, John Sinclair … In the stir for breathing air … Won’t you care for John Sinclair?”

Sinclair had his own radical inclinations. He was band member of MC5, was a co-founder of Detroit’s White Panthers (those “psychedelic clowns” as the Black Panthers called them), and participated in very loud pro-cannibas activism.

RIP John Sinclair and the whole wave of alternative journalists who took the bull by the horns and reported what they saw, and how they saw it. As our own media systems swirl down the drain of their own demented ideologies, we can only hope for a new generation of these pioneers. Report what you see. Record what you think. There is no “mainstream” and there is no sponsor who will cancel your mind if they don’t approve of what’s going on in there!

If Truth Social can exist – as a pathetic money-laundering trap door for villains to bail out their p8wns – then our own gonzo networks can multiply and weave a new reality. Let’s do it. In memory of the heores who paved the way, and in honor of those who might survive. Pay it forward, agents! Whose times? Our times! What times? High times!

John Sinclair, 1968(photo: Leni Sinclair)

John Sinclair, Poet, MC5 Manager, and Activist, Dead at 82