Acid Heroes: the Legends of LSD

April 14, 2014

“The Big Rifle Bonanza Prairie Valley”

The following story is fiction.  Any resemblance to any person living or half-dead is purely coincidental.


Nevada is the 7th largest state in the country.  So we’re talking a lot of land.  70% of the people in Nevada live in Clark County.  So that’s the valuable land.  Clark County is about 8,000 square miles.

Once upon a time there was an old coot named Rancher Bundy (no relation to Al or Ted).  Rancher Bundy had a ranch in Clark County, coincidentally known as the Bundy Ranch.  His grandpappy — commonly known as Grandpappy Bundy — had claimed several hundred thousand square acres as his own back in 1897. And he paid for the land with beads and wampum and bootleg whiskey. Plus he had it notarized in a court of law.  So it was an official done deal. The Bundy Ranch.

Well sir, things was goin’ fine.  Until one day, the evil one, Harry “Black Bart” Reid —  armed with an army of devious rat lawyers and forged documents —  declared “habeous corpus” and “jurisprudence.”  Reid decided he was gonna’  wrest control of the Bundy Ranch and take the land and cattle for himself.  He was fiendish, that Black Bart Reid!!  So he rounded up his gang of outlaw cattle rustlers, disguised as deputies.  And they rode to the ranch in a cloud of black dust, armed with gatlin guns, assault weapons, stink bombs and whoopee cushions.

The situation looked dire.  Several of the ranch hands even got diarrhea from quakin’ with fear.  All seemed lost.  Harry “Black Bart” Reid was licking his chops and waxing his mustache.  And they even tied a fair damsel down to the railroad tracks and she done got runned over before Mighty Mouse could rescue her.  So all seemed lost.

Until way off on the horizon was spotted a mass of quickly-approaching, horse-ridin’ galoots.  Padner, I’m tellin’ ya, it was none other than Rancher Bundy’s long-lost sons, Hoss Bundy and Little Joe Bundy  and Frank (the odd one).    And they had rounded up a posse with the Rifleman (starring Chuck Connors) and the Lone Ranger, amongst many other guest stars.  And they came ridin’ into the Big Valley with 6-shooters a-blazin’.  And they killed a bunch a people and they hung a few varmints just for kicks.  And before you know it, the outlaws had beat a hasty retreat with tails between their legs.  And Harry “Black Bart” Reid crawled back under the rock from whence he came and was never heard from ever again, aside from an occasional guest appearance on “Meet the Press.”

Needless to say, the west was won.   The outlaws had been defeated and everybody ate home-made apple pie and went back to watch pornography on the internet.   The end.


April 11, 2014

Unrequited Love

Filed under: Backwords from Ace — Ace Backwords @ 7:17 pm
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I remember the first time I “fell in love.”   Beth Shea; 3rd grade.

Beth Shea sat a couple desks across from me.  And every time I looked over at her I would get this funny feeling.  Like the air around her was sprinkled with magic pixie dust or something.  I don’t remember much about Beth Shea except she had light brown Buster Brown bangs, and she wore little white schoolgirl dresses.  And one time during class she raised her hand and said: “Teacher, I think I smell a fire.”  Sure enough, the dumpsters behind the school had caught fire.  And the teacher alerted the custodian who put out the fire before it burned the entire school  to the ground and we all died a horrible death (so she saved my life!).  That’s just how I liked my women:  cute and smart.

Everything about Beth Shea seemed magical.  It was like there were all the other billions of people on the planet.  And then, Beth Shea.  Like she existed as a special species of one.  Even her name seemed magical.  “Beth Shea. ” Years later I would become a big New York Mets fan, and I always wondered if it had something to do with them playing at Shea Stadium.  Such is the mysterious power of love.

The second girl I fell in love with was Charlene Hamilton; 5th and 6th grade.  Charlene was a skinny little thing, with big, saucy cat-eyes and a look of pure mischief on her face.  I was constantly mocking her and making fun of her.  I guess to hide the fact that I liked her, or maybe just as a gambit to get her attention.  One time, the teacher even reprimanded me in front of the whole class and told me to never say that Charlene had cooties ever again.  So it dawned on me that the making-fun-of-her gambit wasn’t working.

After school I’d watch as Charlene Hamilton walked off in the direction of her house.  I was intensely curious about where she lived and who she played with.  I was convinced it was some kind of magical realm where she lived.

The first boy-girl “party” I ever went to was in 6th grade, and I knew Charlene would be there so I really wanted to look sharp.  I wore my favorite shirt — this purple and green paisley shirt (this was the Swingin’ Sixties after all) along with an orange dickie (this fake turtle-neck thing).  My fashion sense hasn’t improved much over the years.  I remember we all stood around in the cafeteria listening to records (singles) on this cheap record player, and drinking Coca Colas out of the bottle.  I remember “Penny Lane” by the Beatles, so it must have been around 1967.  I mostly just stood around in my orange turtle-neck trying to look cool, and nothing much happened.  Which is pretty much how it would go with me and parties for the next 45 years.

The other thing I remember is finding a love note on my desk one day.  I came back to my desk and there it was, hidden under one of my books.  It had been folded many times, and my name was written in pencil on the top.  When I opened it up I was bitterly disappointed to find out it wasn’t from Charlene, but from Ann Catanzeretti — this quiet little Catholic girl who sat two desks behind me.  And that would be a fore-runner of my star-crossed destiny in the game of love, for pretty much the rest of my life.

Every now and then, I’ll still do a Google search on “Charlene Hamilton” to see if she’s still out there.  But so far nothing has come up.  Typical.

April 7, 2014

David Letterman nostalgia

Filed under: Backwords from Ace — Ace Backwords @ 7:24 pm
Letterman nostalgia from 1989.
Photo: Letterman nostalgia from 1989.

They announced the other day that David Letterman would be retiring.  And for me it was another one of those  “MAN I CAN’T BELIEVE HOW FAST THE TIME FLIES BY” moments . . .

And the other guy, Jay Leno, had just retired last month, too.  I remember reading this issue of HUSTLER (for the articles, natch). And it had a big article about the “new and up-and-coming comedians.” And one of the baby-faced, new comedians featured in the article was Jay Leno. And it doesn’t seem like that LONG ago that I was reading that article.
And I remember when Letterman was the fresh-faced new kid on the block, too. And that doesn’t seem like all that long ago, either. And now, all of a sudden, these up-and-comers are already over-and-gone. Sheesh.
For a lot of the years that I was doing my Twisted Image comic strip (1986 to 1995) I had a nightly ritual where I’d sit down at the drawing board and start drinking coffee around midnight, turn on Letterman at 12:30, and draw away all night long with Letterman on as background noise. In retrospect I wonder if any of his humor seeped into my comics by osmosis.   And I always liked Paul Shafer and the band.  I’m sure playing in that band was the dream job for a lot of the rock musicians of my generation.  …..
Anyways, I  pretty much did that every night for about 3 or 4 years.   Until 1991 when I threw my TV set in the garbage and never watched TV ever again. Deciding that alcohol and drugs were a preferable way to ruin my mind.
Photo: Letterman nostalgia from 1990.

Letterman nostalgia from 1990

Photo: Here's where the Letterman show peaked for me.

I still have a copy of the videocassette that Harvey sent me and Duncan from his first appearance. Does anybody have a VCR?



April 4, 2014

“I Failed” by Ace Backwords

Filed under: Backwords from Ace — Ace Backwords @ 9:53 pm
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I had a great idea for my next book!!  “I FAILED” by Ace Backwords.  I certainly won’t have any trouble coming up with material for this one. It could easily run a couple thousand pages.

I could have chapters on all the different facets of life in which I’ve failed at.  I failed with Women.  I failed at Sports.  I failed at a Career.  I failed at finding a Home.  I failed at Friendships.  I failed at Spirituality.  I failed Racially. Of course I was a complete success at Love (kidding:  FAILURE!).   I failed at virtually every way in which a human being can fail.

In fact, I’m virtually an expert on the subject of failure. I’ve been researching it on a daily basis for over 50 years.  It’s a genre I was born to excel at.

And it’s such a universal subject, there’s probably a huge built-in audience just waiting for the thing. The more I think about it, the more I’m convinced that this could make for a great book.  I can hardly wait to start working on it.

But knowing me, I’ll probably fuck this one up, too.



April 1, 2014


Filed under: Backwords from Ace — Ace Backwords @ 8:21 pm
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That “Oh-fuck-what-did-I-say-last-night” feeling

(click on picture to watch video)

I decided to see if I could go a week without drinking.  This might not seem like much, but I probably haven’t gone 2 days in a row without drinking over the last 10 years.  So this could be a challenge . . .   Generally, I’m somewhat of a “controlled” drinker.  I’ll usually start drinking around 6 PM.  And keep drinking until I go to sleep around midnight.  Usually I’ll drink about two 40s of Olde English malt liquor (alcohol content 7.4%).  Or occasionally a half a fifth of bourbon whiskey.  And I’ll sip away at that for about 6 hours.  What can I say.  I prefer doing that to watching TV.   And I’m almost always sober during the daylight hours.  I’m just mentioning this because I don’t want to give the impression that I’ve been on a nonstop, 10-year drunk.
DAY ONE:  It’s 7 PM so I poured myself a big glass of . . .  soda pop! . . .    So now I’m thinking:  Now what do I do?  I’m completely out of my usual rhythm and routine . . .   8PM:  I don’t know if I’m over-compensating but I just ate an entire jar of dill pickles.  The first seven pickles actually tasted pretty darn good.   But now I’m feeling sort of . . . UGHH! . . . .  7AM:  It was a weird feeling to wake up this morning in the same head space I went to bed in.  That’s usually one of the most jarring things about alcoholism:  the dreaded Next Morning.  It’s a very schitzophrenic feeling, because I wake up a completely different person than I had been the night before.  Vaguely remembering all the cocky and insulting things I had said last night when I was on top of the world, feeling no pain, and operating under that alcoholic state of grace (that coveted “I-don’t-give-a-flying-fuck” feeling).  And then reviewing my transgressions the next morning in the fragile hangover state of weakness and self-loathing.  So it’s nice to wake up for once without my first thought being;  “What do I have to immediately delete from my Facebook page now?”
DAY TWO:  Its my second day without drinking and I’ve been giving a lot of thought to exactly what is it that attracts me to alcohol.  It must be something.  Because I’ve been spending about $200 a month over the last 10 years on booze.  And I’m usually pretty tight with a buck.  One thing alcohol does:  It gives me a sense of purpose and direction.  Maybe a stupid sense of purpose and direction.  But purpose and direction nonetheless.  By that I mean:  I start off most evenings wanting to go from Point A (sobriety) to Point B (drunkenness).  So there’s a process that takes place.  A personal transformation even.  Because alcohol transforms me into a different person.  Which is something apparently that I want.  And I do think there’s a certain inherent human need to want to change one’s state of consciousness.  By all sorts of different means.
DAY THREE:  Third day without drinking.  Last night, experiencing this unfamiliar state of sobriety (so-called). . . .   This bland, stable, normal, nothing-happening state.  Occurred to me how drunkenness is often a state of mental derangement.  Not so much the first 2 or 3 hours of drinking.  But by the fourth hour, when my system is thoroughly saturated with alcohol, and the booze is surging through my veins and swirling ’round my brain . . . . . .   I’m also struck by this strange dichotomy about drunkenness.  Its synonymous with mental impairment and derangement.  As well as partying and celebrating life.  You think of the Skid Row alcoholic reduced to complete failure by booze.  And then you think of every sports team celebrating every championship with flowing champagne.  And alcohol is both, I guess.  And everything in between.  Maybe that’s why its so hard to get a handle on precisely what it is.
DAY SEVEN:  Well, I actually went seven days without drinking.  It was actually kind of pleasant.  I enjoyed the bland, mental stability of sobriety.  Made me realize that being drunk is a form of temporary insanity in a way.  There’s the Doctor Jekyll/Mr. Hyde lunacy of alcohol where it turns you into a completely different person.  As the songwriter Randy Newman put it:  “It takes a whole lot of medicine for me to pretend that I’m somebody else.” And some times you’re not pretending . . .  Of course this is part of the appeal of alcohol. I’m a painfully shy person so I drink to be transformed into a sociable person.   And then (unfortunately) there are the ones who with a lot of pent-up anger who use alcohol as an excuse to be transformed into their inner Hulk.  And I’ve known plenty of sexually-repressed people who need alcohol in order to become sexual.  I know this one closet guy gay who couldn’t accept he was gay, and he couldn’t get laid unless he was drunk. Then he could say;  “It wasn’t me, it was the alcohol.”  And maybe he needed that psychological out.  It would be nice if we all had perfectly psychologically integrated personalities.  But most of us don’t. . . . .    At any rate, this sobriety thing was an interesting experiment.  And I might try it again in a decade or two.

Eight days without drinking and I’m starting to get a little green around the gills.


March 31, 2014

A legend in my own mind . . . or what’s left of it


“Often when I read your nostalgic blogs about the good ol’ days of 90s Berkeley I am inclined to regard you with a mixture of pity (because you really seem sad at the loss of better days) and bemused contempt (because of the gap between actuality: street person/fanzine cartoonist and fantasy: “I dominate Telegraph Avenue”)  . . . . . .  As always, your wry self-awareness is your saving grace. And I’m left with the thought that we all need some pond to be a big fish in, we all need a little bit of fame and recognition and the approving eyes of our neighbors.”

– Hardear Pickney

Photo: I admit I'm a one hit wonder.  I had a big hit back in 1999 (the Good Old Days as we used to call it) back when I used to play bass guitar with my band the Jann Wenner Experience.  We has a big hit with our smash single "Have You Experienced John Lennon's Buttocks."  It was considered by many critics as an anthem for a generation yearning to have anal sex.  Unfortunately our follow up single failed to crack the Billboard hot Top 40 (Casey Kasum himself told me I was a piece of shit so how's that for a brush with greatness).

A big butt in a big pond

Interesting observations.  I don’t know if the Good Old Days were really better.  Or if its just that These Days kind of suck for me.  Probably a little of both.   But I’ll admit to having exaggerated impressions about life.  And I often have difficulty distinguishing between “actuality” versus “fantasy.”  Or if there even is a hard-and-fast distinction.  I sort of experience most of life as either heaven or hell.  I think its probably an unfortunate bi-product of all the LSD I took in my youth.  This extreme, and possibly distorted, outlook I have.

And yeah, I’m prone to delusions of grandeur.  And the other way, too.  I’ll have these delusions of wretchedness where I feel like I’m a guilty sinner who’s ruined all these lives because of the incredible affect I may or may not have on other people.  So I guess that bullshit cuts both ways.

But I’ve never quite understood that “big fish in a little pond” thing.

My basic outlook on human life is that every person is the star of their own movie.  And that the movie I may be experiencing in some skuzzy back-alley in the Tenderloin district (a “little pond” if you will) is no less profound or meaningful than what some big and famous Hollywood star is experiencing at some dull Beverly Hill A-list party (the so-called “big pond”).  I mean, if it was my name up in lights —  “The Ace Backwords Story!!” — and it was my ugly face, 30 feet tall up there on the silver screen, would that somehow make a whit of difference on any level?  Considering how crappy most Hollywood movies are, I’d rather be hanging out in a skuzzy back-alley than stuck in a movie theatre watching that garbage.  At least the puke on the back-alleys is real, as opposed to the simulated, special-effects puke that these coked-out Hollywood directors are always vomiting on you (I admit I don’t like movies, so I might be prejudice here).

I remember reading an interview with this big, famous rock star (I forget his name).  He talked about when he was an aspiring musician, and how much he longed to “make it” to the Big Time.  And he strived mightily for a decade until he did in fact become a Famous Rock Star.  He knew he had finally made it when, one day, he was hanging out at this exclusive, ultra-chic Manhattan nightclub.  And the owner of the club ushered him to the back room, the coveted VIP section!!  Where all the other famous and important Big Fish hung out.  He was thrilled beyond words.  He was finally going to enter that magical realm that he had always dreamed of being a part of.  But he quickly became disillusioned when he realized the VIP section was mostly just made up of 10 or 15  hipsters hanging around making dull small-talk , while the guy from Duran Duran ate a boloney sandwich off a paper plate.  And there’s your Big Pond.

And its all just a matter of opinion in the arts anyways, isn’t it?  I mean, the guy that does the “Garfield” comic strip probably has a net worth of $100 million.  R. Crumb has a net worth of about $20 million.  B. N. Duncan died with about 12 cents in his pocket.  So what’s the barometer of these “big fish”?  I think that’s one reason I always preferred sports to art.  I mean, Michael Jordan has 6 rings, Magic has 5, Bird has 3.  So it’s more cut-and-dry (though tune in to any Sports Talk radio show and you’ll find there are plenty of extenuating circumstances to argue about in the sports field, too).

And of course, the great Van Gough (big fish of the art world) famously died “without selling a single painting.”    So any artist can play the Van Gough card (“I must be ahead of my times.  Yeah!  That’s its!!”)

I used to enjoy gassing off on the Comics Journal Message Board. The site was mostly made up of artists and fans-of-artists.  One time I made the mistake of mentioning that I considered myself one of the great artists of our times, right up there with Crumb and Bukowski.   Which I actually believed at the time.  Oh boy!  Did they really let me have it!!  They all called me the worst names you could imagine!  Ha ha.  And I can understand that.  Artists are famous for their big egos.  And artists can be extremely competitive, bitchy and grudging-in-their-praise to their fellow artist (I should know, I’m one of those damn artists myself).  But I just figured:  “It’s all just a matter of opinion.  So I might as well consider that I’m great.  And even if I’m wrong, I’d rather err on that side of the equation than the other side.”  Ha ha.

Getting back to the “actuality” versus “fantasy” thing.  Some people seem to think there’s some kind of objective standard that separates the Great Artists from the lesser fish.  Even though, oddly, you can’t get two people to agree on which is which.   (I tend to agree with what the Hindus say:  That what most people think of as “reality” is mostly just maya — an “illusion.”  It’s mostly just the fleeting, moment-by-moment impressions conjured up from our limited minds, and then we come up with our half-baked opinions about what those impressions mean.)

In fact,  over the years, plenty of people have called me a “genius.”  And plenty of other people have called me a “piece of shit,” too.   So I guess if you accept one, you’ve got to accept the other (perhaps I’m a “genius piece of shit” . . . .  or possibly the other way around).

*                                                                  *                                                                        *

And I’ve experienced this from the other side of the coin, too.  There’s this long-time Telegraph Avenue character who is the classic “coffee shop dilettante.”  Lets call him Monte.   For decades now, you could see Monte at his coffee shop table, working away at his 200-page manuscript.  Or the many, many other artistic projects that he’s worked on over the years that he would  never finish, let alone get published.  But this fact has never deterred Monte for a second as to his belief in himself and in his true artistic greatness.  He is forever making speeches attesting to the sheer brilliance and genius of his never-to-be-completed works of art.  Even Monte himself — a wordsmith of his magnitude — would sometimes have difficulty finding the exact words that would express just how truly great his work was (though he never gave up trying).

One time (and one time only) I made the mistake of getting sucked into Monte’s coffee shop nightmare.  He wanted my “feedback” on his latest work in progress.  “It’s not just going to be a book!”  he excitedly proclaimed.  “Its going to be like the Lord of the Rings trilogy!!  Only more archetypal and cosmic in its scope.  And its not just a trilogy.  Its going to be a 10-book set.  That captures the zeitgeist not just of our times, but of all human history!!”   And etc.

“Is it OK if I read you some of my manuscript?”  he asked.  “Sure,” I said.  Well, he started reading . . . droning on and on . . . and by the time he got to page ten I realized if I didn’t stop him (and I was prepared to do that,  with threats of physical violence if need be) he was perfectly happy to sit there and read me the entire 200 pages.  Because, needless to say, Monte was madly in love with the sound of his own voice (so naturally he assumed that the rest of the world would be equally enamored).

Not only that, Monte would regularly give me advice — “constructive criticism” — on how I could improve my own work.  How I could possibly even achieve  his level of artistic greatness.  I found this annoying.  Because the guy just oozed condescending smugness from every pore.  And I’d sometimes be tempted to say something like:  “Hey Monte.  I’ve had all these books published, and I have this storage locker full of relatively-acclaimed artwork that I’ve produced, as well as about 30 boxes of fan mail.  And you’ve produced, well, nothing. . . .  Shouldn’t I be the one giving the advice to you?”

But I mostly kept my mouth shut.  Because I got a perverse kick out of Monte’s act and didn’t want to tamper with it.

One time, in a rare moment of humility, Monte actually conceded:  “You know, Ace, you might be even more talented than me.”  Talk about high praise!  And what a concession!   But of course Monte had to quickly add this disclaimor:  “Of course that’s only because I already have high self-esteem.  So I don’t feel this compulsive need to validate myself by trying to win the approval of an audience.”  Unlike some of us.  Heh heh. . . .

So I can understand it when other artists sometimes want to knock me down a peg.  I do it myself.   I guess the bottom line is:  I’m a weird fish in a weird pond.  And nobody has ever argued with me on that score.

March 28, 2014


Filed under: Backwords from Ace — Ace Backwords @ 7:12 pm
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I first came to Berkeley in the summer of 1974.  I had just graduated from high school, age 17, so I decided to hitch-hike cross-country from New Jersey to California to visit my older sister and her hippie boyfriend who were living in Berkeley at the time.  They were living on Benvenue Avenue, just a couple blocks from where Patty Hearst was living with her boyfriend right before she was kidnapped by the SLA.

It took me about 5 rides to get to Chicago.  And then this long-haired hick from Kentucky gave me a ride all the rest of the way to Berkeley.  The hick from Kentucky spoke with a deep, southern drawl.  “I’m goin’ to Loz Angel-EEEZ to git’ me a job as a radio disc jockey!” he said, in a voice like Jethro Bodeen from “The Beverly Hillbillies.”  I sounded possible, but unlikely.

I distinctly remember as we were riding through the salt flats of Utah, they announced on the radio that Richard Nixon had just resigned from the Presidency.  Somehow that seemed symbolic.  Like I was taking my first steps into the real world of America, and America as I had known it had just changed into something completely different.

I distinctly remember hitting Telegraph Avenue for the first time.  We were tooling down the Avenue in his station wagon and I was amazed to see all these hippie street vendors lined up on both sides of the street, selling their hippie wares.  In fact, the whole city seemed like wall-to-wall hippies.  A town full of hippies!   Berkeley:  “The town that time had forgotten.”  It was like slipping into a time warp, or an alternate dimension of reality.

The Kentucky  hick stuck his head out the window while he was driving down Telegraph, and his tongue was practically hanging out of his mouth like a cartoon character as he exclaimed:  “HOT DAMN!  Wouldja’ lookit’ all them hippie chicks with no bra-SSEIRES on their TITTIES!!”

I thanked the hick from Kentucky for the ride, grabbed my frame backpack, and plunged into Berkeley for the first time.  This sea of hippies.

Twenty years later, when I, myself, had become a Telegraph street vendor, I’d often think back to those first moments in Berkeley in the summer of 1974.  And I’d see some young kid hitting the Ave for the first time and I’d feel like I was in some kind of stange loop.

I spent about 30 years living in Berkeley.   Near the end it started getting really weird.  Like I could see ghosts  on every single block. I couldn’t go anywhere in the town of Berkeley without remembering some weird scene that I’d gone through  at that spot, years and years ago.  I’d walk by the Amherst Hotel on Shattuck, and I’d remember knocking on the front door in 2006, finding out that my friend Linda had just died. . .   Then I’d look across the street at the movie theatre and remember when Duncan and I had put together a big art exhibit there back in 1994 . . . Every block was like that. Like an endless acid flashback.

In 2010, at age 54, I started working as a bottle-and-can recycler.  It was grueling work, but it kept a wad of bills in my pocket.   One afternoon I was pushing my shopping cart full of cans down University Avenue and I passed the apartment building I had lived in for 13 years.  I had first moved in there in 1982.  As I stared across the street at the front steps of the apartment building, I could almost see my 26 year old self walking in that front door for the first time in 1982. . .    Then I watched my 54 year old reflection in the windows of all the stores as I trudged down University with my shopping cart full of cans. . .

It got to be like that.  Ghosts every where I went.

There was a period of years in the ’90s where I almost felt like I embodied the best of Berkeley.  That I was some kind of Berkeley icon, even.  I had the long, hippie hair, and the neatly-trimmed beard.  And I had these round, dark John Lennon shades that I used to wear.  And when the sun hit the shades just right you could see these rainbow-colored peace signs on the lenses.  I was doing this hip, underground, Berkeley-esque comic strip at the time that was appearing every day in a local Berkeley newspaper.  So it was like I was projecting my aura all across the town.  And I was co-publishing a photo calendar about the Telegraph street characters that was a local hit.  And I was getting interviewed by all these newspapers, and radio stations, and TV stations.  Different art groups were offering me thousands of dollars in grants to produce my latest artistic projects.  And art galleries were displaying my stuff at their exhibits.  So it was a heady period.  Sometimes I would even secretly crow to myself:  “I dominate Telegraph Avenue!”  Even though, in the back of my mind, I always knew that Telegraph — and the streets in general — always dominated you in the end.

The whole Telegraph scene seemed like a magical, bohemian circus back then.  And the town of Berkeley generally seemed proud of it, and celebrated its zany, quirky, eccentric charm.  So it was a bit of a shock to me around 1999, when all the local newspapers  started writing headline articles about; “What’s Wrong With Telegraph Avenue?”  And the same people who had been celebrating me just 10 years ago, now seemed to be blaming me.  Like it was my fault that there were all these “bums” and “street people” that were ruining their nice, little shopping district.  Suddenly, I had come to embody all that was bad about Berkeley.

Life is like that, I guess.  Endless loops and time warps.   And ghosts.  Plenty of those.

Photo: Throwback Thursday (I'm assuming today is Thursday, or at least close to Thursday).  This is the photo that accompanied my big interview in the BERKELEY MONTHLY back in 2001.  Hanging out on the streets sitting on top of a newspaper rack.  Just my luck THAT would be the headline of the day.  Story of my life.  Sheesh!



March 26, 2014

Ace Bookwords

Filed under: Backwords from Ace — Ace Backwords @ 7:19 pm


I suppose I should plug this since this is one of the few things I got out there that’s still making money. Its an ebook put out by Palladon Press.
Surviving On The Streets: How to Go DOWN Without Going OUT
Ace Backwards gives us our first real foray into the daily life of street people. Intended to be written as a how-to for anyone…
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March 24, 2014

Hate Camp, part 2

Filed under: Backwords from Ace — Ace Backwords @ 8:03 pm
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I guess I first started hanging out with Hate Man and his legendary “Hate Camp” scene some time around 1992.  And every year for the next 20 years, it seemed like the scene got bigger, weirder and wilder.

One of the big attractions for me was Hate Man’s drum circle.  Just about every night for 20 years Hate Man set up a big drum circle on Sproul Plaza on the Berkeley campus.  The “drums” were mostly made up of ground-scored buckets, barrels, sticks and scrap metal.  And there’d usually be 20 or 30 of us in a circle, bashing away for hours.  We made one helluva’ racket, I can tell you that.  Hate Man dubbed it “the Chaos Drums.  ” But most people just referred to it as “Hate Man’s drum circle.”

Unlike most normal drum circles, Hate Man encouraged everyone to play whatever beat they felt like.  So some times you’d have 20 people playing 20 different beats.  Which could get a little dischordant, especially if you had a speed-freak in the middle of the circle, maniacally clanking away on the scrap metal (!!).  But there was also a joyous frenzy to the whole thing; this sort of contained madness.  And sometimes it could actually be quite musical, especially if you had a couple guys who could really play the drums.  Usually it was like this monotonous stomp, this sort of rolling thunder that I found soothing and meditative even.  I liked to repeat my mantra under my breath for hours as we drummed.  And I liked the physical, non-verbal aspect of relating to the other drummers — a much-needed respite from my usual hyper-intellectual self.  Some of the guys would some times take their shirts off as they drummed, and hippie chicks and punkettes would sometimes snake-dance in the middle of the circle.  So there was something ancient and tribal about the whole thing.

We usually quit drumming around 10 o’clock.  Then we’d hit the coffee shop on the corner at closing time, and they’d give us all their left-over coffee (usually two big jugs of hot, black coffee), half-and-half, whipped cream and day-old pastries (ham-and-swiss-cheese croissants!).  Then we’d hit the pizza place and they’d give us 20 or 30 left-over hot slices of pizza and whatever other goodies they hadn’t sold that day.  So it was like having a catered party every night at Hate Camp.

Hate Man’s drum circle 1999. (click on picture to play the video)

I still can remember the exact night when the whole Hate Camp scene seemed to peak for me.  It was this one night during the summer of 2001. One of those nights where it stayed light until 9 o’clock.   There must have been a couple hundred people hanging out that night.  During the summer the numbers would swell on the street scene with an influx of  people on the Grateful Dead tour/ Rainbow Gathering circuit. So it was quite a mob of hippies, gutter punks, and street crazies that night.

The drums were still roaring.   But a bunch of us were taking a break from the action,  lounging around on the steps in front of Sproul Hall, smoking, drinking and hanging out.  This blonde hippie boy in his 30s named Biff was at the top of the steps under the pillars, pacing back and forth.  He had showed up about a week ago with a ratty sleepingbag under his arm, and he’d been pacing back and forth all week, angrily shouting and screaming to the heavens this crazy babble, like he was talking to God or something:


Nobody paid it much mind.  Because, frankly, there are so many street-crazies in Berkeley you really got to stand out to get a rise out of anyone.  But I found it a little disturbing.  Biff had been around the Berkeley scene for years and years.  A sort of face-in-the-crowd to me.  Seemed like an OK guy.  I had him pegged as a pampered rich kid.  He’d usually be driving a pretty new-looking car.  And he always had an expensive hand-drum strapped to his back.  For years Biff was a regular at the lower Sproul drum circle where the normal drummers jammed out normal African and Latin rhythms.  You’d see him there drumming away, often shirtless with this smooth, hairless chest, and baggy, silky, colorful hippie pants and sandals.  And he’d often have some kind of cool-looking tribal-type necklace around his neck.  Biff had the air of the eternal high school “cool kid” who always hung out with the “cool crowd.”  And he seemed perfectly normal, at least by Berkeley standards.   Always seemed like one of those privileged guys who was one large step up from the skuzzy lot of the street scene.  So it was somewhat surprising to see that he had fallen down to our level.

I had had a few brief conversations with Biff over the years and I’d never noticed anything particularly odd about him, aside from the fact that when he talked to you he would stare directly into your eyes  and talk in this extremely earnest and humorless tone.  And he’d often spout this sort of pseudo-cosmic talk that never completely made sense.  But I just figured he was a hip, cool type that was trying to be hip and cool.

But now it was as if something had suddenly snapped in Biff’s brain.  And there he was, day after day, pacing back and forth atop the Sproul Hall steps, angrily haranguing God (his “Heavenly Father” as he called Him) at the top of his lungs.  Like Samson, chained to the pillars, appealing to God to release him.

Then this guy Jamey showed up on his bike.  Jamey was another one of those hip, cool guys who worked behind the counter at Wall Berlin, the hip, cool coffee shop where all the other hip, cool people hung out.   Jamey climbed up the top of the steps and confronted Biff in a decidedly unhip and uncool way.

“Listen Biff, I’m telling you for the last time,” shouted Jamey.  “You gotta’ come by my place and get all your stuff you’ve been storing there.  Your drums and all your other stuff.  I don’t have the space to store it any more.  And I’m telling you now, if you don’t get it tonight I’m gonna’ throw it all out tomorrow!!”

Biff made an angry comment to Jamey, imploring God the Father to rain down a plague of locust on this infidel’s head.  And then proceeded to ignore Jamey and continue his pacing and ranting.

So Jamey sort of grabbed Biff by the shoulders, to kind of shake some sense into him, and shouted right in his face:  “Listen, Biff, its not my fault your mother died.  And I feel bad for you.  But I’m not responsible for you.  I’m not your baby-sitter.”

We’re all sitting around on the steps sort of eaves-dropping. Its hard not to when two people are having a loud confrontation a few feet from we’re you’re sitting.  But suddenly it all became clear, what had happened to Biff.  He’d been living with his mother all these years. That’s how he’d been getting over.  But she had died recently and Biff had lost his place.  And now he was on the verge of losing all his stuff.  Biff’s entire trip was in the process of collapsing right in front of our eyes.   And instead of trying to deal with it rationally, Biff had been appealing to God for some kind of miracle to save him.  A  miracle that apparently was not forthcoming.

And then it turned violent.    Biff grabs back at Jamey’s shoulders, and they’re sort of grappling back and forth like they’re sumo-wrestling, and its a very precarious situation because they’re at the top of the marble steps and its a long fall to the bottom with many potentially cracked skulls and bones in between.  So now we’re all trying to intervene, separate them, keep them from killing eachother.  Hank Woodhead — this sort of sour, petulant street person — is enflaming the situation with his caustic remarks:  “Would you two fools fuck off!!  You’re messing with my buzz!!”  Etc.  So now its a three-way fight.

Finally, Jamey has had enough.  He storms back down the steps to the plaza, saying over his shoulder:  “I mean it, Biff.  Get your stuff or its GONE!”

Unfortunately for Jamey, this guy named K.O. is waiting for Jamey on the plaza.   K.O.’s trip, basically, was, he liked to needle people.  Then when they got in his face and challenged him, he’d knock them out with one punch.  I’d seen him do it to three different people already.  K.O. was this stocky half-black, half-white guy with bleached blonde hair and a punch like Joe Frazier.  Anyways, he started needling and mocking Jamey, who was already mad as a hornet and in no mood to be fucked with. So he got in K.O.’s face and — BOOM! — K.O. knocked him out with one punch to the forehead.  Jamey is lying on his back seeing stars.  And there’s like a crowd of hundred people surrounding him. This sort of mob scene.  All the people that had been hanging out at Hate Camp.  Its like live street theatre and we’re all the audience to this weird drama.

Then this street weasel makes a grab for Jamey’s bike. Figures Jamey is out of it so he can get away with stealing it.  The cobwebs are just starting to clear in Jamey’s brain, he sees the weasel grabbing his bike, so Jamey, still lying on the ground, grabs the front end of the bike.  So the two of them are tugging back and forth like a tug-of-war.  Finally, Jamey manages to pull the bike to him, though one of the metal parts of the bike slices into the side of his cheek in the process, so now he’s bleeding.  Jamey, still in a daze, manages to get on his bike and stagger off towards the Avenue.

About 20 minutes later Jamey comes storming back to the campus with about 10 of his friends.  Seeking vengeance.  I’m not sure Jamey even remembered who had knocked him out, it had all happened so fast.  But he spots Hank Woodhead and now they’re jawing back and forth. And by this time I had had enough of all the violent scenes, so I grabbed Hank (who I sort of liked) and steered him off to Kip’s and treated him to a beer at the bar, mostly just to get him off the scene.  “Jesus Christ, every time I open my mouth these days, somebody wants to beat my ass!”  whines Hank.

Anyways, that was the night when the whole scene kind of peaked for me.  The “9-11″ World Trade Center attack would happen about a month later.  And the easy-going, light-hearted Berkeley street scene seemed to get darker and grimmer after that.  It was like the party was over.  And this dark cloud descended on America.  People on the street scene started dying, ODing on drugs, suicides, etc.  Hank would be found passed out in a coma in an Oakland crackhouse and he ended up a vegetable.  Biff finally stopped raving and quietly accepted his fate, sleeping in alley ways off University Ave.  And Hate Man finally retired the drum scene some time around 2006.  The end.



March 22, 2014

Ace Backwords 1994

Filed under: Backwords from Ace — Ace Backwords @ 6:25 am

A seemingly youthful Ace Backwords before the malt liquor kicked in, 1994.

Photo: A seemingly youthful Ace Backwords before the malt liquor kicked in, 1994.

I stumbled across this photo of myself from 1994.  And then I’m doing the math in my head.  “Holy shit, that was 20 years ago!”  And I think:  “How can that be possible?”  Because it seems like just yesterday.  But the math never lies.  20 years.  7,120 days.  Give or take a couple days.  60,880 hours ago. . . .. It doesn’t seem like that long ago.  60,880 hours ago?  Seems like only about 50 thousand hours ago.  But that’s the strange thing about time . . .

Tick tick tick.. . .

And I don’t know if you do this.  But I look back on my Youthful Self … And its like looking back on somebody else.  I barely even remember who I thought I was back then.   Let alone who I actually was.  I have to assume it was me. The Ace Backwords of 1994.  Even though I can barely remember who I was, or who I thought I was, at that particular juncture of history.

Part of me wants to look back on my Youthful Self like I was a cool guy.  Because, well, frankly, it was me.  So I’m sort of rooting for myself.  Even as another part of me looks back at my Youthful Self as a total asshole. Because I was certainly that, too (and I could catalogue all the fucked up shit I did, if you really want the details).

But the strangest thing, re looking back on my Youthful Self, is that it really feels like I’m looking back on somebody else.  I barely even remember who that person was.  The Ace Backwords of 1994.  Even though I have to cop to the fact that it was in fact me.  Same social security number and finger prints and DNA. Even as, I swear to god, its like looking back on somebody else.

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