On January 1, 1976, Tinseltown’s iconic sign read “Hollyweed” after art student Danny Finegood and 3 of his college pals used $50 worth of dark fabric to transform the famous Hollywood landmark temporarily. They had practiced it first on a scale model Finegood had crafted.
It was more than a simple practical joke, Finegood considered it a statement on the relaxed California marijuana law that went into effect that day.
He also turned it in as a school assignment which earned him an “A.”
If you’re thinking of attempting a stunt like this, think again. On top of being illegal, it’s also quite difficult to get near the sign these days.
Two years after the intial alteration, in 1978, the Hollywood Sign Trust was established as a way of protecting the sign and the fragile hillside surrounding it. They’re serious about it too. In addition to a razor-wired fence, there’s 24-hour surveillance, infrared cameras, motion sensors, regular helicopter patrol visits by the authorities, and other high-security measures.
A folk song was written in 1976 about the sign-changing incident, by a man named David Batterson, with such lyrics as follows:
Now it’s finally safe
to take a little toke
In 1987, Dr. Timothy Leary paid a visit to MTV to be a guest VJ. He had a few more IQ points than some of their regular contributors. It’s a treat to hear him set up the video for Bowie’s “Let’s Dance”:
Now this is a real heavy one—I don’t know what this means. It has something to do with the third world and the exploitation by the first world and our hopes that the third world will get behind the camera and start becoming part of the cybernetic age. I don’t know. Watch it and make up your own mind. It’s a good tune.
Leary also talks about playing percussion on “Give Peace A Chance,” shows off some early CGI in the video for “Hard Woman” from Mick Jagger’s unloved She’s the Boss, and shares his thoughts on Nancy Reagan’s drug policy. It ends with a spectacular Ike and Tina Turner rendition of “Proud Mary” that’s worth sticking around for.
Keeping pace with our laughably inefficient abstinence-only sex “education” program, the drug education at my school was incredibly patronizing, to say the least. For chastity, we ripped pieces of Scotch tape off of one another; the metaphor became clear as the adhesive wore off—the more you sleep around, the less likely you will ever be able to romantically bond with another human being. For the drugs though, we had a more old-fashioned scare tactics—photos of black lungs, testimonials from former addicts and alcoholics (on video of course, can’t have the kids around anyone who has ever done drugs of any kind), statistics that were obviously skewed to make a joint appear as dangerous as black tar heroin and, etc.
Obviously it was disingenuous propaganda, but it wasn’t nearly as insulting to our intelligence as Smokey Sue Smokes for Two, the fetus in a jar with a doll head that smokes. It’s apparently supposed to teach you something about fetal distress? From a health teaching tools site that sells this abomination (for $163!):
Sue’s motherly instincts are questionable at best. There she sits passively smoking cigarette after cigarette, ignorant of how her vile habit is affecting her baby. Tragically Sue personifies many real-life mothers who don’t see that their choices influence the health of their babies. As Sue smokes each cigarette tar builds up around the gaunt fetal model and gradually tints the clear fetal environment a sickly shade of amber. Sue may not be able to think for herself but she prompts others to do plenty of thinking.
Seeing as even the youngest child understands the body is more complex—and pregnancy more involved—than a plastic fetus in a jar, I can safely say I don’t see this creepy fear-doll working. (And isn’t it kind of insulting to portray a woman as a literal baby-jar?)
A life-size statue of Hollywood’s real golden boy Oscar, bent down on his hands and knees huffing lines of cocaine, was installed Thursday morning. The guerrilla art piece, dubbed “Hollywood’s Best Party,” is the velvet-roped handiwork of Los Angeles street artist Plastic Jesus. It was installed at the intersection of Hollywood Blvd and La Brea Avenue in Los Angeles (next to Elvis Presley’s Hollywood Walk of Fame star, no less) and was timed to appear just prior to the big Academy Awards ceremony on Sunday.
The Tumblr for Plastic Jesus states he is “inspired by world news events, society, the urban environment, culture and politics,” and that his “work combines humour, irony, criticism and unique opinion to create art that engages on many levels.”
This particular piece is a statement on drug abuse and addiction in Hollywood. On Twitter, the artist points to a Los Angeles Times article about the (apparent) fatal drug overdose of Parks and Recreation producer Harris Wittels:
Looking closely at the piece, it appears that the artist gave Oscar use of his custom black “American Excess” credit card to cut his lines of blow.
Of course, the real blow here is that the piece has already been removed. Huffington Post reports that the art was up for just a few short hours before it was ordered out by the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. The Plastic Jesus team quickly disassembled the golden partier and got him out of there before authorities could. If you’re hoping to catch a glimpse of the art in real life, according to an interview with the artist in Huffington Post, he’s planning to be place it outside of Urban Outfitters (at Melrose and Stanley) on Saturday.
A graduation is something to be proud of, a milestone, and the sometimes very expensive piece of paper you get in return for graduating, while clearly not the one-way ticket to paid employment that everyone told you it would be, is at least a tangible reminder of all that effort you put in and the money you spent. Rarely, however, does the signifying document itself hold any actual monetary value, unless of course your diploma stands as testament to your Acid Test graduation. Something to be proud of, indeed!
In 2012, a rare diploma granted to “Mountain Girl” went up for auction in San Francisco and ultimately took in $24,255. The diploma was of interest to collectors for two reasons. For one thing Mountain Girl, born Carolyn Adams, was a one-time Merry Prankster and significant other to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest author Ken Kesey. She had a daughter with Kesey and later married Jerry Garcia with whom she had two more girls. The diplomas, illustrated by fellow Merry Prankster and cartoonist Paul Foster were also a rarity, having been given out to only a handful of people by beat hero Neal Cassady himself at what turned out to be an unintentionally small gathering of heads. According to the auction house that sold the artifact, they have almost never shown up for sale for obvious reasons.
Mountain Girl and Jerry Garcia
Anybody familiar with Tom Wolfe’s book The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (or basically anybody who knows anything at all about the history of United States counterculture) knows that the Acid Tests were wild LSD-fueled parties thrown at Ken Kesey’s LaHonda ranch in the mid 60’s and I’m not going to get into any more description here. If you don’t already know about the whole trippy phenomena, use whatever device you’re currently on and look it up.
The graduation ceremony was originally scheduled to be held on Halloween night, 1966 at Bill Graham’s Winterland in San Francisco with the Grateful Dead headlining, but the event was canceled when Graham caught wind of Kesey’s supposed plan to covertly dose every single person who showed up, either through the water supply or by coating all the surfaces in the building with LSD. The Dead took another gig at California Hall, which trumped the actual Acid Test Graduation that ended up taking place in a San Francisco warehouse with no running water. Mountain Girl was at the California Hall gig with the Dead and crew when the diplomas were handed out and she unceremoniously received hers after the fact.
Here it is in all its glory. Click on the image to see it close up.
Mountain Girl’s Acid Test Diploma
Below, you’ll find footage of the Acid Test Graduation Ceremony from 1966. You can see the diplomas being handed out by Neal Cassady towards the beginning.
Pope Leo XIII’s longevity as Pontiff of the Catholic Church (the third longest in church history) may have been down to his favourite tipple Vin Mariani. Pope Leo was so enamoured by this French tonic wine it is claimed he kept a hip flask hidden under his cassock, so he could enjoy the occasional snifter to perk up his spirits—which it undoubtedly did, as Vin Mariani was a heady mix of Bordeaux wine and coca leaves. The original drink had 6mg of cocaine per fluid ounce, which went up to 7.2mg per fluid ounce for the export market—mainly to compete with similar coke-filled tonics—such as Coca-Cola—sold in the USA.
It was claimed that Mariani wine could quickly restore “health, strength, energy and vitality,” and hastened convalescence (“especially after influenza”). In one of their ads, His Holiness the Spokesmodel decreed:
...that he has fully appreciated the benefit of this Tonic Wine, and has forwarded to Mr. Mariani as a token of his gratitude a gold medal bearing his august effigy.
Talk about a celebrity endorsement, eh? If God’s representative on Earth approved of the coca-infused tipple, that would have been quite a boon in marketing terms.
Cocaine enhanced drinks were common in the late 1800s, and there is an academic paper to be written on the influence of cocaine and the rise of the British Empire—how else to explain the sound of grinding teeth among all those overworked lower classes whose labor put the Great into Britain?
But it wasn’t just adults who benefited from the restorative powers of cocaine, it was added to pastilles for teething children, throat lozenges for flu and colds, and as a cure for hay fever.
If you intend to go out drinking beer with friends tonight or over the weekend, then you are engaging in “the highest form of art,” according to California-based conceptual artist Tom Marioni. If you do it with Tom Marioni, you’ll be taking part in a piece of ongoing conceptual art that has been happening at specified times and places since 1970. He can do it anyplace he likes; all he has to do is let a gallery know that he intends to host a night of beer and art—“I send plans and they build a bar,” he says. He’s done it in places like Vienna, Paris, and Bristol, England.
Often, at these events, he draws a large circle on a blank wall, in front of which he tells a few jokes, similar to like the famous brick wall at the Improv, while his guests quaff bottles of Pacifico, which he favors “because I like the yellow label.” The full title of this expansive work of art—the events, the drinking, the conviviality, the comedy—is “The Act of Drinking Beer With Friends Is the Highest Form of Art.” It also sometimes bears the name “FREE BEER.”
He has turned half of his studio into a piano bar, and has designated the shade of yellow, probably related to the label used by Pacifico, he likes to use “Marioni Yellow.” He first used the alcoholic beverage in his art in 1970, when he staged a beery event at the Oakland Museum of California. He invited sixteen friends to join him at the museum after hours; the curator supplied the beer, and everyone “drank and had a good time.” The empty beer bottles and the tables and chairs were left in place for the duration of the exhibition. That was a one-time thing, but since 1973 Marioni has been hosting a weekly salon, making “The Act of Drinking Beer With Friends Is the Highest Form of Art” an ongoing artwork that is still not complete.
Marioni’s ongoing art salon/beerfest represent just a beginning of his forays into hops-fueled expression. One work, Golden Rectangle Beer, consists of seven shelves of Marioni’s beloved Pacifico beer bottles arranged in a rectangle with the “golden” 1:1.6 ratio (approximately) widely believed to represent an innately pleasing proportion for visual forms. Such was the name given to the 2000 artwork featured at the Hammer Museum at UCLA, but according to the video embedded below, that is the name he also gave to a similar artwork of a Samsung TV screen tilted on its side and displaying slushy footage of a golden, frothy substance immediately identifiable as beer. In 2004 Marioni published a manifesto of sorts bearing the insouciant title of Beer, Art, and Philosophy. In addition to everything else he is the founder of San Francisco’s Museum of Conceptual Art.
Basically, the affable Marioni has found a way to turn his life’s work, art, into an easygoing and enjoyable pursuit not without its share of high pedigree. It may be accessible and frivolous art, but that doesn’t make it not conceptual art.
Here’s an entertaining look at a typical Marioni salon event:
Bela Lugosi was perhaps the first Hollywood star to openly admit to his drug addiction. Lugosi had become dependent on drugs after being prescribed opiates for relief of painful sciatica in the late 1940s. As his habit grew, his career slid into shitsville Z-list movies and his dope fiend reputation kept producers from hiring the legendary actor. Lugosi was forced into making his money through repertory tours in the US and England and special guest appearances on late-nite TV and double bills at the local movie theater.
Living the junkie life in direst poverty, Lugosi was given the chance of a comeback by the infamous Ed Wood, who offered the actor work on Glen or Glenda and Bride of the Monster. Grateful for the chance to turn his life around, Lugosi checked himself into a rehab clinic, before moving onto the local hospital. Lugosi went “cold turkey” and spent three months (90 days was the state minimum) getting straight. When he left the hospital in 1955, he gave what is thought to be his last filmed interview, where he talked about his drug treatment, his plans for a new film with Ed Wood and how he felt like a million dollars. The feeling wasn’t to last, by August 1956, the legendary Bela Lugosi was dead.
During the mid-1970s David Bowie entered his “Thin White Duke” phase, and this period has uniquely added to the Bowie mystique as well as become an object of special fascination to Bowie fans. (Among other things it produced my own favorite Bowie album, Station to Station.) It’s especially fascinating to us, I think, because Bowie seems to have lost track of himself a little bit in a way that was never true in any other period, in his phantastical ruminations about Nazis, Manson, cocaine, and his own bodily essences. Just a couple of weeks ago, DM featured a comic book about this period called “The Side Effects of the Cocaine,” the title of which comes from a line in Bowie’s song “Station to Station.”
When he arrived in 1975, Bowie was staying at the Los Feliz house of Glenn Hughes, bassist for Deep Purple, who lived just down the road from “the LaBianca house,” as Hughes recalls, being the site of one of the Manson murders in 1969, specifically the killing of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca two days after the murder of Sharon Tate and several other people in Benedict Canyon. As 1975 progressed and faded into 1976, Bowie would suffer from powerful forebodings right out of another connection to Roman Polanski, Rosemary’s Baby.
Bowie in his “Thin White Duke” phase, here during a 1976 concert in Toronto
The artistic and sensitive Bowie clearly perceived a malign influence from the Manson connection to Hughes’ home. He was using huge amounts of cocaine. According to Marc Spitz’s 2010 Bowie: A Biography, Bowie was “obsessed with using occult magic to attain success and protect himself from demonic forces.”
(A brief note on Spitz. Spitz is not a careful writer, and his book is riddled with annoying typos and mistaken facts. However, on the general subject of whether he is a reliable source, he does appear to have gotten his interviewees on the record. Peter Bebergal, author of the recent Season of the Witch: How the Occult Saved Rock and Roll, appears to regard him as a reliable source.)
According to Hughes, “David had a fear of heights and wouldn’t go into an elevator. ... He never used to go above the third floor. Ever. If I got him into an elevator, it was frightening. He was paranoid and so I became paranoid. We partied in private.” Bowie himself has stated the effect that the cocaine was having on his paranoia: “Cocaine severs any link you have with another human being. … Around late 1975 everything was starting to break up.”
Quoting Spitz again: “Bowie would sit in the house with a pile of high-quality cocaine atop the glass coffee table.” Bowie became obsessed with the book Psychic Self-Defense by Dion Fortune (Bebergal confirms this bit), which describes itself as a “safeguard for protecting yourself against paranormal malevolence.” Among other things, “Bowie began drawing protective pentagrams on every surface.”
As Hughes says, “He felt inclined to go on very bizarre tangents about Aleister Crowley or the Nazis or numerals a lot. … He was completely wired. Maniacally wired. I could not keep up with him. He was on the edge all the time of paranoia, and also going on about things I had no friggin’ idea of what he was talking about. He’d go into a rap on it and I wouldn’t know what he was talking about.” As Bowie himself remembered, “My other fascination was with the Nazis and their search for the Holy Grail. ... I paid with the worst manic depression of my life. … My psyche went through the roof, it just fractured into pieces. I was hallucinating twenty- four hours a day. ... I felt like I’d fallen into the bowels of the earth.”
At his wit’s end, Bowie reached out to Cherry Vanilla, a former employee of Bowie’s management company MainMan, who witnessed much of this paranoid, debauched phase. Cherry Vanilla verified the connection between Bowie and a “white witch”—racial connotations aside, and those are by no means absent from this story either, but the term is intended to distinguish witches whose effects are “good” and “evil”—who would purify his living premises. “He had this whole thing about these black girls who were trying to get him to impregnate them to make a devil baby,” says Vanilla. “He asked me to get him a white witch to take this curse off of him. He was serious, you know. And I actually knew somebody in New York who claimed she was a white witch. She was the only white witch I ever met. So I put him in touch with her. I don’t know what ever happened to her. And I don’t know if she removed the curse. I guess she did.”
This comic by Vaughn Bodē from July 1973 is one of the few surviving visual depictions of the self-professed “white witch” Walli Elmlark.
That “white witch” was one Walli Elmlark, who had taught some classes in magic at the New York School of Occult Arts and Sciences on Fourteenth Street in New York. She wrote a gossip column in the rock magazine Circus and had known Jimi Hendrix and was also friendly with Marc Bolan. A couple years earlier, Elmlark had recorded a spoken-word album with King Crimson’s Robert Fripp named The Cosmic Children; it has never been released. According to Sid Smith’s book In The Court Of King Crimson,
In June 1972, Fripp finished recording an album with a Wiccan journalist, called Walli Elmlark. The album was called The Cosmic Children. Side one consists of Fripp and Elmlark in conversation where she outlines her experiences and commitment to Wicca. On side two, she talks to DJ Jeff Dexter about cosmic children—spirits from other places who take physical forms such as Hendrix, Bolan, Bowie and Mike Gibbons, drummer with Badfinger. Talking to NME’s Simon Stable, Fripp stated: “The function of the album is to reach out to the children like the drummer from Badfinger, I want to say; ‘You’re not nutty, you’re not a freak because you can’t relate to what’s around you.’”
Elmlark had also published (per Spitz) “a cosmic paperback full of collages, poetry, personal confessions and observations,” which bore the title Rock Raps of the 70’s. It was co-written with occultist Timothy Green Beckley. According to that book, Elmlark was fond of wearing a “floor length clingy high necked long sleeved black jersey, and a floor length chiffon over dress that floats around me like a mysterious mist of motion.”
Summoned to Bowie’s residence, she quickly and apparently successfully exorcised the pool. This next bit is confirmed in Backstage Passes: Life on the Wild Side with David Bowie the memoir by Angie Bowie, David’s wife during this period who was also living there at the time: “At a certain point in the ritual, the pool began to bubble. It bubbled vigorously—perhaps ‘thrashed’ is a better term—in a manner inconsistent with any explanation involving filters and the like.” As Spitz wrote: “Elmlark wrote a series of spells and incantations out for Bowie, in case the demons return for a dip, and remained on call for Bowie as he continued to wrestle with the forces of darkness.”
Of all the people in this narrative, the one who knew Elmlark the best was Beckley, by far. Beckley was the director of the New York School of Occult Arts and Sciences where Elmlark taught and also co-wrote the Rock Raps book with her. In the Conspiracy Journal, issue #549, Beckley describes her as follows:
Wallie was known widely as the White Witch Of New York. Because of her contacts in the music industry, she had established quite an eclectic clientele for whom she would offer spiritual guidance, and occasional good luck or love spells, but always of a positive nature. She didn’t dabble in black magick or even gris gris (a New Orleans form of “gray magick” that incorporates poppets and the use of talismans kept in a personal mojo bag). Walli was lively, imaginative, energetic, well spoken, and quite attractive in her flowing white garments complete with fashionable silver moon adornments. Oh did I forget to mention long black hair, complete with dyed green streak highlights? Indeed, Walli made a very bold fashion and occult statement wherever she went.
There is surprisingly little about Walli on the Internet, for someone who “made a very bold fashion statement,” introduced Robert Fripp to the occult, and exorcised David Bowie’s house, you would think her name would be a staple in rock and roll lore—but it doesn’t appear to be the case. I couldn’t find a picture of her, aside from the Bodē cartoon above, and the main thing she is known for on the Internet is her authorship of the Rock Raps book. I was unable to find Walli’s obituary.
Spitz says that “Elmlark departed from this plane of existence in 1991.” Based on a few ramblings I saw on a message board I don’t take too seriously, it’s possible that she overdosed on barbiturates. Beckley, overly addicted to euphemism, says, “Several years went by and Walli met an untimely passing as she could not remove the demons in her own life, even though she had a dramatic impact on almost everyone she came in contact with,” before recounting a lot of incidents from the 1970s like the Fripp album and so on. His final words on Walli are, “Somehow I can’t exclude the fact that Walli looks down from time to time and perhaps sings along with David Bowie as he performs all over the world in concert.”
I don’t know about you, but after all that, I could stand to hear “Station to Station”:
I have heard—on very good account—that David Bowie is meant to be a total eBay addict and that having a conversation with him might often see his attention divided between what you’re saying and him furiously bidding on something. Apparently eBay is a great way for the thin white duke to discover all of the various ways people made money off him during his long career, that he was never previously aware of. If I were him, I’d do the exact same thing!
Well, an unusual Bowie item is currently on offer on eBay with four days to go, and although the price has dropped 25%—or $5000—it’s still got a starting bid of twenty grand. Perhaps Bowie himself is the only one who could afford this, but what a weird little memento it is: an original vintage photograph taken precisely at the moment when undercover cops in Rochester, NY slapped the cuffs on when Bowie and Iggy Pop were arrested for someone else smoking pot in Bowie’s hotel room in 1976.
The story is told in greater detail in this post I put together previously of the local news reporting of the Bowie bust.
For offer, a very rare photograph. Fresh from a prominent estate in Upstate NY. Never offered on the market until now. Vintage, Old, Original, Antique, NOT a Reproduction - Guaranteed !! This photos came from a man who was present when Bowie and Pop were arrested in Rochester, NY, March 25, 1976. Most people have seen the famous mug shot. But this is a “behind the scenes” photo taken with undercover officers. Officer on left putting the cuffs on Bowie. Kodak paper. In excellent condition. Please see photo for details. If you collect 20th century American Rock history, Americana crime photography, pop culture, etc. this is a treasure you will not see again! Add this to your image or paper / ephemera collection.
Worth mentioning is that the Rocester mugshot was not taken when Bowie was processed at the station that night, but rather when he showed up for his court date, hence the change of clothes.