John Sinclair is one of my heroes. In my early twenties I regarded myself a revolutionary of sorts, a hippie with an edge who wanted to take over the current government and start over with a more communal, caring, and carefree lifestyle. In the ensuing years, I have done a lot of research and (hopefully) become a little more adult. I’ve done a lot of reading on what I’ve taken to calling “Hippie History”: books on The Beats, Ken Kesey, Timothy Leary’s sect, and more acid-dropping historical figures. I’ve learned a lot from my reading—namely, that I was not meant to lead a revolution.
I do, however, admire those who have tried to make something sensible of this country, those who have actually done things that are stuck in people’s minds sixty years later. The counter-cultural revolution John Sinclair began in the 60s was born out of desire for cultural freedom—sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll, basically. But more than that, The White Panther Party was about busting out of the social norms to exploit the reality of the sociopolitical state of Amerika in the 60s.
Like all recent Amerikan revolutions, the movement was squelched. In the ‘Preview’ of Guitar Army, John basically sums up its downfall: “We lost sight of the larger view… and got caught up to a great extent in the immediacy of our insane demands, we thought the apocalypse was going to come any minute and instead of working with our people to build up an alternative social order which would be the long-range solution, we concentrated on exhorting kids to join us in “making the revolution in the belly of the beast,” which was much too abstract and much too frightening for them to relate to in any way.”
There’s no segue from the movement that you were a part of in the 60s and 70s because I don’t know a whole lot about what you’ve done since then. Gotta keep it a secret cause it’s mostly in the arts. They don’t really discuss the arts anymore unless it’s a movie or a television show. I read the New York Times arts section every day to get to the crossword puzzle… I’m a poet, a performer, a bandleader, and I’ve got my own radio station, on the interweb (laughs).
When did you start that? This is its eighth year. Radio Free Amsterdam. We started with one show of the John Sinclair Radio Show, and I just ran my 431st episode on Monday. Comes out every Monday, my show. And then I built it into an embryonic online radio station. [radiofreeamsterdam.com]
And it’s all you, or do you have people helping? Well, I do it all myself but I have other people’s stuff. I’ve got Scott Barretta every week—Highway 61 out of Oxford, Mississippi. I’ve got my friend Harry Duncan of San Francisco in the Soul Kitchen, I’ve got John Morgan from WWOZ doing the New Orleans music show, Leslie Keros of Chicago, my first female DJ, I just added her last month… so, friends of mine who’ve done like me—making radio shows for obscure public stations, or syndicated like Scott and Cary Wilson. We’ve been doing it for years, you know, once a week. So I’m kind of enshrining these things. So I hear something good that I like, I say, “Send me some shows and I’ll put them on RadioFreeAmsterdam.” But then they’re out there. You can listen to them anytime; it’s not like radio, they don’t disappear. I have a stream; you can play shows from my archives, or listen to new shows. Sometimes I’ll post two or three shows a day. So, this is how I have my fun. In the future they’ll exist, and maybe someday people will discover they need this music. Unlike today—they don’t need it. They need it but they don’t feel that they need it. They think they can get along in this world with the stuff they’ve got today. I do a jazz show once a week, it’s called Jazz From the Hemp Shop.
So, how long have you been in Amsterdam? Since 2003. I’m just based there, you know, I’m not even a resident. I’m just there two or three months out of the year, whenever I can get away with it. Three months is really the legal limit. I don’t have any work there, so I have to go other places to live.
Yeah, I thought fleetingly about squatting in Amsterdam at one time. Squatting has been made illegal now, since last October. They’ve got a religious right-wing government. The leading force from the government right now is the anti-Islam party. They just made the burqa illegal, even though there are only maybe 50 women in Holland who wear ‘em… It’s all nuts, it’s like these idiots here. They just haven’t gone that far yet.
Well, they have gone that far. They’ve just not made that particular law yet. They’re working on it, the anti-Sharia movement. It’s all a bunch of gods. I never in my life thought I’d end up in the 21st century in the middle of a religious crusade against the infidels… in a country owned by rich people.
I love The Occupy Wall Street movement. It’s coming back big-time. They just kicked off last week, the 17th. They’ve got a spring and summer offensive plan. They’ve been meeting and planning all winter. I like it a lot, because for the first time, they’ve found the right target. And they don’t have any leaders, and they aren’t making any demands—they just see that it’s f**ked up. I like that part of it, cause that’s the truth. This society’s just f**ked up, it’s ruined. These rich people ruined it, so that’s a good place to start.
With the richest. I just hope it’s not as disorganized as it looks, and that it’s bigger than it looks and it gets bigger. It’s a war of ideas. You can’t win a war that involves physical resistance, because they’re way bigger than we are. But we’re smarter. Cause they’ve been doing that a long time. But it’s a war of ideas and of culture, and if they stick with that, they might get somewhere, I think.
Inherent in organization is corruption, so maybe a lack of leaders is best. I like it. That’s what we used to say, “Leaders suck.”
It’s been a while since I’ve read this whole thing [Guitar Army], but I seem to remember you priding yourself at the beginning for a lack of leaders. Yeah, I had to move to the forefront as a means of self-defense, you know? To try to stay out, to get out of prison. We had a pretty democratic organization for the time. And anyone who would do something in the line we were in, they were a leader—male, female, dog, cat, whatever. We didn’t want to bind anything; we wanted to open some eyes. Still do, but it’s an uphill battle now. Then you had a whole generation of people who arrived a certain point, feeling kinda the same way… then you had hippies, and it was a great thing. It was so great that they’ve erased them from history.
Yeah, like they didn’t exist? Cause they don’t want anyone ever doing that again. It’s like acid, they didn’t want anybody doing acid again.
Do you still think that acid came along in history exactly when society needed it the most, when the counter-culture needed it the most? I don’t use that term, though. “Hippies” is good enough. “Counter-culture” is what they have now; they buy it over the counter. Now they just have to have a lot of money, for the accoutrements—your tattoos, expensive combat boots, or whatever they’re wearing this year.
In Oxford they’ve taken to calling them “trust-fund hippies.” Aw, yeah. But they’re better than trust-fund squares, aren’t they? I was just doing my crossword puzzle, and I came across a word for “stylish,” and the answer was “hip.” Hip doesn’t mean stylish. Hip means you like jazz and you get high. I won’t budge from that.
So, a little bit about what you’re doing now. My legal address is in Detroit. I work with Trans-Love Energies. You know, we have legal medical marijuana in Michigan, now. We have what we call a compassion club for patients and growers. And the younger people who started it named it in our honor. That was our hippie organization—Trans-Love Energies, as you well know from that crazy book. So, they chose that name for it, and I was quite thrilled and honored. And they embrace the principles, too, which is even more important. They’re trying to embrace the concept. It’s like most of the people into medical marijuana are grubbing money. It’s a huge business in Colorado and California, and it’s gonna be in Michigan. So we’re a little straw in the wind saying, Wait a minute, you know, this is supposed to be about getting high and helping your fellow humans. You can’t win, but if you don’t put it out there, who will? You’ve got to keep putting it out there, that’s what I do. ‘Cause somebody’s gotta do it, but there are not that many who are really qualified because they don’t understand it. I went through this whole thing and I learned a lot. I would like to pass it on. It’s not the most popular or marketable thing that they’re looking for, but… I’m gonna do what I do no matter what they say. They can’t stop me. So far.
Hopefully we’ll see a resurgence of the ideas. I hope so. Geez, I pray for it, for their sake, you know. I’m too old for it to make that much difference. I’ve been through the shit. I may not be here that much longer, so I won’t have to put up with it that much further. I feel bad for the people of today, ‘cause they get such an ugly, terrible f**king world.
That’s kind of what I wanted to end up on, actually…the Occupy Wall Street movement shows that people are fed up with the death culture of today. But, short of starting your own revolution… There you go!
I’d like something to say to the other people who are just as fed up with today’s death culture as the Occupy Wall Street people. Well, you have to coalesce your ideas with the people that share them. You’ve gotta remember that in our day we didn’t have any idea what was coming. There weren’t very many of us when we started out. Then we started getting high, and we started taking acid, and we started getting these visions about the way things should be, and then you wanted to live like that. And that’s the bottom line—you have to live like your ideals. And find the other people—that’s why we coalesced into communes, and lived together and stuff. We were trying to make our shit be bigger, to grow. I talk to young people about this all the time. You’ve got to do what you want to. You don’t have to do what they tell you to do, but you gotta figure out what you want to do and then figure out how to do it. It sounds simple. It’s not really that simple, but it’s the only solution. You can’t ever get what you want by doing what these other people want you to do; it’s not going to work. You’re just going to float along in their river, you know?