If you threw a party, invited everyone you knew, you might want to consider hosting it here.
DNAInfo reported Monday that Michael J. LaRue, a longtime friend of actress Rue McClanahan (or as any fan knows her, Blanche Devereaux), plans to open a “Golden Girls”-themed café in the Washington Heights area of Manhattan alongside McClanahan’s son.
LaRue, who told the site he’s been planning to open a restaurant since McClanahan’s death in 2010, promises live music from McClanahan’s piano, “Golden Girls” memorabilia and even outdoor seating. A lanai, if you will!
LaRue even told DNAInfo he’s arranged for Betty White to attend the ribbon-cutting ceremony when the restaurant opens, which Entertainment Weekly reports will be in August.
Aside from the obvious cheesecake, dishes on the menu will include “Bea Arthur’s pasta salad, Estelle Getty’s chocolate chip cookies, and Rue’s orange poppy seed cake. Of course we’ll have Sophia’s lasagna al forno and goodies from St. Olaf by Rose,” LaRue told EW.
But as loyal “Golden Girls” fans ourselves, we couldn’t help but dream up a few suggested menu items of our own. Picture it:
1. Devereaux-ni and cheese: a Blanche-worthy mac-and-cheese dish made with extra cayenne pepper for a spicy, sassy punch.
2. Soph-ijitas: Fajitas that you love even though they sometimes make you feel bad about yourself.
3. Eggs Lanai: eggs any style, but served only outdoors.
4. Shady Pines-wich: A sandwich no one ever orders but simply exists to haunt customers about what they could be eating if they don’t behave.
5. The St. Olaf Special: A dish that doesn’t really make any sense, but for some reason, you keep ordering it episode after episode visit after visit.
So, yeah. You might want to consider being a friend and canceling whatever plans you might have made for August that aren’t this.
A staged photo of U.S. Marshals protecting a witness. Photo credit: U.S. Department of Justice, Wikipedia
Gerald Shur was struggling to convince his witness to testify. The year was 1961, and Shur, an attorney focused on organized crime at the Department of Justice, was talking to the owner of a New York trucking company who claimed that Johnny “Sonny” Franzese demanded half the profits of his business. Franzese’s men had vandalized his trucks and beaten him unconscious with baseball bats until he complied, and now the owner hoped that Shur could offer him a way out. But when Shur suggested testifying against Franzese, the witnessresponded, “Testify?”
He had good reason to be incredulous. For Franzese, a member of one of the “Five Families” of the New York mafia, extorting a small business owner represented low-level crime. An associate wearing a wire would later record Franzese discussing the best way to commit murder: he would cover his fingertips with nail polish, wear a hairnet, and dismember the body so that he could run it through the garbage disposal.
Shur suggested that the owner “did not really have a choice.” Only by testifying could he protect his business. But the owner did have a choice, and not crossing a high-ranking mafia member seemed the wiser course.
While frustrated, Shur could understand the decision. His own father, a worker in the garment industry and a trade group leader, had learned to accept the mob’s presence; several gangsters attended Shur’s bar mitzvah. Shur’s office also contained gruesome photos of some of the 25 government informants killed over the past five years.
As Shur and his colleagues drove away after failing to gain the business owner’s cooperation, Shur said, “There’s got to be a way to get witnesses to testify against the mob.” Another agent replied, “Would you?”
Witsec: Inside the Federal Witness Protection Program is a rare insider’s account of the Witness Protection Program, and the book begins with this story of Gerald Shur’s unsuccessful attempt to charge Sonny Franzese with extortion. Shur would go on to found the Witness Protection Program, also known as WITSEC for “witness security,” and earn the title “father of WITSEC.” Shur, who is now retired, is a co-author of the book, but it is not a memoir. Co-author Pete Earley, the author of several books on crime and espionage, casts Shur as a central character.
One can’t help but wonder whether Earley’s positive take is shaped by his access to Shur and, in turn, to insider information. Yet Earley makes clear that he approached the subject with a critical eye, sharing criticism of Shur like the witness who called him a “small man with a small mind and a God complex” as well as controversy surrounding a relocated witness who went on a crime spree. So while the book may not be perfectly objective, it is not the typical, self-congratulatory memoir penned by most politicians and government officials.
Despite the occasional detour to give a full account of Shur’s career, the book admirably recounts the story of the Witness Protection Program. It is filled with details one might expect, like the time U.S. Marshals snuck a turncoat mobster into a courthouse three days before a trial to avoid hitmen. Equally interesting, however, is the human side of WITSEC. As Shur and his colleagues discovered, keeping the peace between a mobster and his wife proved almost as important to jailing criminals as security details.
No one in the program would label it as such, but the Witness Protection Program provides one of the more compelling social experiments imaginable. Would law enforcement consent to helping criminals? Can lifelong lawbreakers earn a living legally when given a fresh start? How does a mobster or gang member maintain self-respect when he becomes a rat? And what is it like to indefinitely live a double life?
Control Alt Delete
When a witness decides to enter WITSEC, U.S. Marshals immediately arrive at his or her home to whisk the witness away. Even when the witness is already in custody, agents come for the family. Early in WITSEC’s history, Shur expanded the program to protect family members as the mob reacted to testimony by killing witnesses’ families. Parents, spouses, children, siblings and even mistresses are all taken to an orientation center in a Washington suburb. Some are prepared and wait for the Marshals with small bags; other surprised families leave pasta sauce still simmering on the stove.
The center near Washington is a safe spot for witnesses while they testify; it is also compared to Ellis Island as it is where informants prepare for their new life. Families don’t choose where to live as they may have told friends that they’d like to live there, but witnesses may get to choose one of several prepared options. Only around four government officials will know where they choose.
Families also practice their back story, from learning about the part of America that they are now “from” to signing their new name. Witnesses often keep their first name or at least first initial to make the transition easier. One couple told the New York Times that coming up with a new family name “was like naming a baby.” It’s when you start being called by your new name, the couple said, that it starts to feel surreal. By the time they left, according to the mother, she “felt like a new person.”
At the same time, administrators work to make that new person exist. Whereas in WITSEC’s ad-hoc early days, marshals would sometimes forge documents themselves, witnesses and their families now get (legally sealed) name changes and receive new social security cards, birth certificates, and drivers licenses. (The relevant government agencies often produce the documents grudgingly.) The program also works with doctors and school administrators to transfer medical records and report cards; Shur recounts that he refused several requests to improve a child’s grades.
U.S. Marshals provide security to make sure that witnesses survive the witness stand, but once testimony is over, witness protection is essentially a glorified plane ride or bus ticket. When designing the program, Shur decided against a constant presence of guards. Cost was a factor, but with the assassination of President Kennedy a recent memory, anonymity seemed the safer bet. “We weren’t dealing with sophisticated KGB spies,” Shur tells Earley, “we were dealing mainly with New York metropolitan area mobsters, and many of them had never stepped outside the city.” Some of America’s most notorious criminals currently commute to work from small houses in Anytown, USA, that the U.S. government helped them afford.
As some 95% of WITSEC witnesses are criminals, according to Shur, the Witness Protection Program also has a parallel system for prisoners. Many criminals serve no time in return for their cooperation, but others serve reduced sentences. Since putting witnesses in the general prison population could easily allow criminal organizations to reach them, select prisons contain isolated prison cells for protected witnesses.
Earley met many felons who swore that protected witnesses gave false testimony against them for lobster dinners and “sweetheart deals.” It’s not a charge without merit; before WITSEC was formalized by the Organized Crime Act in 1970 and another act in 1984, witnesses’ handlers often kept them happy by sneaking them to Italian restaurants or bringing them, say, a pair of boxing gloves. Shur and his colleagues established a standard deal for witnesses under the auspices of the U.S. Marshals to avoid charges of buying testimony, although some witnesses, like former LA crime boss “Jimmy the Weasel” Fratianno, manipulated program administrators into paying for luxuries — including a facelift and breast implants for his wife — to the point that one agent quipped that Fratianno “made more money milking WITSEC than he ever did committing crimes.”
Nevertheless, witnesses receive a fairly spartan deal. Shur notes that imprisoned witnesses have slightly larger cells, but otherwise live in more austere conditions than normal prisoners due to the social isolation that guarantees their safety. Relocated families receive a stipend (perhaps a few thousand dollars a month for a family) that is phased out after witnesses have time to look for a job. They also get funding to pay for housing and other basic expenses, but except in the case of witnesses like Fratianno, it is enough for a basic apartment and used car. Since the government refuses to provide a fake credit history, witnesses also struggle to secure products and services when companies demand financial information.
What was once a risky experiment — placing hardened criminals in small, American communities with complete anonymity — has now completed full life cycles. Paul Rigo, one of the earliest witnesses, died peacefully in 1980. And as one WITSEC employee reflected, “I know witnesses who had children, and now they’re grandparents. I doubt their grandchildren have a clue about their grandparents’ past.”
Cops and Robbers
In 1966, an imprisoned mobster told the FBI he wanted to testify against his crime boss, who was proving cheap in fulfilling the traditional obligation of taking care of an incarcerated member’s family. He asked that he and his family be protected and relocated, and the FBI turned him down. Soon after, another high profile mobster offered to talk, and the FBI passed on the job to the U.S. Marshals, who, as Earley writes, have “a history of being stuck with jobs that no one else in the government wants.” The marshal assigned to the witness protection case reflected that the FBI agents probably “didn’t want to be bothered baby-sitting a mobster’s family.”
In the 1960s, even as Shur was helping to relocate witnesses, the Witness Protection Program did not yet formally exist and no law authorized the government to relocate witnesses. Shur used Department of Justice funds usually spent on expert witnesses and travel. More importantly, it was unclear whether law enforcement’s apathy about helping criminals would doom the initiative.
Although he agreed to take it on, U.S. Marshals director James Colburn told a deputy, “‘I think this whole protection program is a mistake and I don’t want to do it.” At the time, the Marshals were an unprofessional force composed of political appointees who received no additional money, manpower, or training for protecting witnesses. One marshal who led relocation efforts recalled that marshals often ignored his requests to establish means for getting witnesses drivers licenses and jobs because “They didn’t want any mobsters put into their districts.” Or as Shur adds in WITSEC:
“Most deputies had joined the Marshals Service because they wanted to catch criminals, and now we were sending them out to buy groceries for the crooks.”
But like a crime drama where proximity leads cops and lawbreakers to find common ground, marshals who embraced their assignment came to play an intimate role in witnesses’ lives. One time, law enforcement passed around a hat to raise money to help a witness relocate. When Shur got one witness a newspaper subscription so that he could follow horse races, the mobster reciprocated by sharing a spaghetti recipe.
John Partington, a deputy who protected many early witnesses and receives much praise from Shur, gave witnesses his home phone number. While protecting one early witness, a Boston mob hitman named Joseph Barboza, Partington took Barboza’s lonely wife out dancing, came to be called “Uncle John” by his daughter, and both fought with and respected Barboza — all while he and other marshals protected the family on a tiny island off the coast of Gloucester, Massachusetts, and deterred two attempts by the mob to attack by boat. Partington called in special favors for the crook, had a long conversation with Barboza about life paths, and recognized another side of Barboza as he “wrote poetry and adored his daughter.”
Coddling criminals was not popular with everyone. But Shur would respond that every witness entered the program with innocent family members. For his part, Partington defended his actions by saying that as they testified, witnesses had to be kept happy as well as safe. He also added, “Most people don’t have a clue about the emotional shit a guy like Barboza goes through once he decides to testify.”
Shur noted this as well. After a life of crime and loyalty to criminals, becoming a despised rat stole witnesses’ self worth. One mobster-turned-informant asked Shur over and over, “What I did was right for America, wasn’t it? Didn’t I do a lot for America?” In the search for a new role, some witnesses even began to identify with law enforcement. One surprised wife of a former criminal recounts in WITSEC how she was surprised to hear her husband describe himself and the agents interrogating him as we, as if he were a cop.
Fighting the Mob
The focus of WITSEC, and law enforcement from the 1960s to 1980s, was fighting the mob. Shur hoped that the promise of safety in the WITSEC would be enough to get members of the mob to turn against their own. At the time, it was far from obvious that it would succeed.
Today, everyone who has watched The Sopranos knows how the mob works. When Shur began his career, FBI director J. Edgar Hoover claimed that the mafia did not exist. The mob’s code of loyalty and refusal to speak to law enforcement, known as “Omertà,” kept its ranks in line and its dealings in the shadows. Threats of violence enforced Omertà. Reflecting back on speaking to Shur about his ideas for a witness protection program, one law professor said, “Everyone else seemed to assume that witnesses who testified against organized crime were going to be whacked.”
The number of men and women who entered WITSEC speaks to the success of the idea. Shur originally estimated that 10 individuals would enter witness protection each year. By 1970, a gangster asked for protection every week. The U.S. Marshals have relocated 8,500 witnessessince the program formally began in 1971. The main reason for this is that the marshals succeeded in keeping witnesses safe. Although a number of people were killed after they voluntarily left WITSEC, either by going home or otherwise breaking its rules, the service says that no one who has stayed in the program has ever been killed.
Mob boss Frank Costello voluntarity testifying before Congress in 1951. Before the introduction of the Witness Protection Program, even the existence of the mafia as a national organization was in dispute. Photo credit: Library of Congress
When the first mobster informant testified before Congress on the methods of the mafia in 1963, it provoked a sensation. Law enforcement’s efforts culminated in the 1985 Mafia Commission Trial that incarcerated the heads of New York’s five major mafia families and several other mob figures. Today the mob is generally considered a shadow of what it once was.
In WITSEC, Earley notes that experts credit three factors for allowing law enforcement to bring down the mob: the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, which allowed mob bosses to be charged with leading criminal enterprises despite not committing crimes themselves, the use of wiretaps to gather evidence, and the utility of the Witness Protection Program in getting informants to testify against mob leaders. In Five Families, an exhaustive history of the mob, author Selwyn Raab notes that the mafia could withstand determined federal prosecutors, but not the defection of its own members who cut deals and entered the Witness Protection Program.
The Witness Protection Program Today
WITSEC was not retired after the mafia’s demise. It continues to be used in cases involving drug cartels, various gangs, and even international terrorism. Several former drug kingpins have joined WITSEC after putting rivals and allies in prison. An Egyptian-American who told his story to the Kansas City Star testified against several perpetrators of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing after one asked to rent one of his vans for the attack; his story came to light when the witness became a fan fixture known as Helmet Man at Kansas City Chiefs football games.
Less information is available on the utility of the Witness Protection Program against modern crime. Certainly we no longer see high profile testimony from witnesses going into the program like America did in the 1960s-1980s. For his part, Earley writes in WITSEC, “It is difficult to find a major criminal case, whether it be the Watergate scandal or the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, where WITSEC witnesses have not played a pivotal role.” Perhaps the best evidence for the continued role of the Witness Protection Program is that since the 1980s, dozens of countries have come to the United States to learn from its WITSEC program.
The Witness Protection Program does face new challenges since its mob heyday and the period described in WITSEC (Shur retired in the 1990s). The first that most consider is the impact of the Internet. Even if it still seems ordinary for an adult in a small town not to use social networks, risk is amplified by the increasing number of digital traces our lives create. In addition, companies and organizations now have much higher expectations for finding a paper trail (or digital record) for any individual, making it harder to create a credible new identity. But if the U.S. Marshals Service is struggling to keep identities hidden in the Internet age, it’s not a problem the agency is discussing publicly.
Witness protection’s success in bringing down organized crime also appears to have made it more difficult to protect future witnesses. Whereas the mafia consisted of large, hierarchical organizations that followed clearly defined rules, the gangs that law enforcement target today are less predictable and consist of a larger number of dispersed organizations. The challenge is not to protect a few witnesses who can finger a few powerful mob bosses, but to protect a large number of witnesses who can testify against the many, many gangsters that wield much less power than the head of an old mafia family.
So, law enforcement has established a number of witness protection programs on the county and city level. Lacking the resources and expertise of the federal program, however, they usually do little more than get a witness out of town until the defendant goes to prison. They do not provide new identities and rarely offer enough assistance for witnesses to restart their lives in another location. As a result, the new programs have been criticized for leading to witnesses’ deaths.
A Last Resort
Life for relocated witnesses has proven remarkably safe. Despite making headlines while testifying, several former gangsters have died of natural causes, unrecognized, with multimillion dollar bounties on their head. Nicky Barnes, a black drug lord who infuriated law enforcement and even President Carter by appearing on the cover of New York Times Magazine as if he were invulnerable to prosecution — and later joined the Witness Protection Program — recently revealed that he lives in a small, mostly white neighborhood. His biggest problem is making rent.
Many witnesses still live in fear of being discovered and worry about a child letting slip their identity. Yet the hardest part of witness relocation, and the reason Shur refers to WITSEC as a “program of last resort,” is the way it seems to permanently alienate witnesses from both the rest of the world and themselves.
In a personal account published in WITSEC, one witness reveals that she “used to feel there was a deputy following me with a broom sweeping up any evidence I was here.” (Marshals will re-relocate witnesses whose cover is blown.) When witnesses enter the program, stern administrators keep them from taking anything that reveals their identity: family albums, diaries, even pictures and notes drawn by kindergarteners for witnesses’ kids. Worse, witnesses’ memories seem equally off limits in their new life.
One relocated family, speaking to the New York Times in 1996, describe getting coaching from a WITSEC employee on how best to change the topic when people ask about their past. Unable to share anything honestly, witnesses struggle to make friends. The witness’s spouse profiled by the Times made one friend in a year and a half in the program who she didn’t call because she feared being asked about her life. “I can’t really get close to anyone,” she relates, “be really personal with them.” A number of witnesses describe talking with family, who know their full identity, and the rest of the world, which does not, as switching between two different worlds. Some talk about themselves under their prior name in the third person.
When Shur and his wife had to go into hiding briefly due to a threat on his life, he too experienced the burden of constant lying and missing family events. The Marshals Service facilitates communication between relocated families and some of the friends and family they left behind, but only in exceptional circumstances do people in the Witness Protection Program ever see them. Nor can they ever return home. Several witnesses have left the program and its protection — and even been murdered as a result — simply out of a desire to return to the place they used to live.
A Fresh Start
In 1981, Charles Pearson, a resident of Rio Rancho, New Mexico, killed his wife and then went on a crime spree. He robbed banks and convenience stores, and he took hostages and killed them. When law enforcement discovered Pearson’s past, they were furious. Pearson was an alias for Marion Pruett, and he had entered the Witness Protection Program after testifying against a high ranking criminal about the murder of his cellmate. (Pearson had served time for a bank robbery.) Following standard policy, officials at WITSEC did not alert law enforcement to the presence of a former criminal and protected witness, nor did they reveal Pruett’s identity to local sheriffs after the discovery of Pruett’s wife’s body.
In defending the program, leaders of WITSEC pointed out, among other exonerating factors, that Pruett would have been paroled even without entering the program and that knowing his identity likely could not have prevented the murders. But the Pruett situation always represented a potential outcome of what can easily be seen as an insane idea: placing former criminals, many of them feared mob bosses, drug lords, or hitmen whose testimony allowed them to avoid prison, anonymously in small towns across the country.
Yet the program survives because situations like the Pruett tragedy appear to be rare. Earley cites a recent study from the Department of Justice that found that 82% of relocated witnesses do not commit another crime. In contrast, data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics finds that as many as 75% of American prisoners are arrested within 5 years of being released. As Earley notes, “That makes WITSEC one of the most successful rehabilitation programs in the country.”
It’s not hard to understand why. When members of America’s nearly 2.5 million strong prison population finish their sentence, a number of obstacles stand between them and a normal life. With deteriorated skills and the scarlet letter of a prison sentence, finding employment can be impossible. Many prisoners also leave prison hundreds or thousands of dollars in debt to the state for court fees and the expense of being supervised by the state. A criminal record can also keep individuals from receiving public housing or assistance like food stamps. And returning to an old environment can make it easy to fall back into crime.
Shur and his colleagues, however, recognized that helping witnesses achieve a stable living would help keep them safe. It is also a responsibility WITSEC promises witnesses in exchange for their testimony. So, government employees devote themselves to rehabilitating people who (95% of the time) are former criminals, often with very ugly pasts. The program provides living stipends for the transition and helps pay for housing. A WITSEC inspector checks in regularly with families, often talking every week, teaching former mobsters or gang members basic financial literacy and other skills. Some even become an uncle type figure to the witness’s family, especially as the inspectors alone know their past. Sometimes inspectors can even invest in the family, like one inspector who secured funding for a used car for a family that needed one to get to a new job.
A new identity, which so many relocated families struggle with, also has the benefit of giving witnesses a truly fresh start. The aforementioned New York Times profile relates one success story. The witness’s wife, Devera, describes how powerful it was choose furniture for their new home. Away from the environment in which he sold drugs, the witness, Brewster, excels at saving part of his paycheck from the job the relocation officer helped him find until the two can afford a 3 bedroom home. As of the article’s publication, the couple were both members of the parent-teacher association, and Brewster coached young kids on the dangers of drug abuse.
The Witness Protection Program is an imperfect data point as a rehabilitation program. The Marshals Service reserves the right to throw witnesses out of the program if they commit a crime, so witnesses have a strong incentive to play by the rules. It would also be difficult to defend the government treating every released prisoner this way given that so many Americans without a criminal record struggle against poverty every day. But given the success of WITSEC at helping some of America’s most notorious criminals achieve financial independence without committing crimes, which often can mean crime kingpins accepting manual labor jobs, one can’t help but wonder what a difference it would make if the federal government, say, ended the war on drugs and spent that money on prisoner rehabilitation.
In popular culture, the Witness Protection Program has an aura of mystery. In laying out its full history in Inside the Federal Witness Protection Program, Earley and Shur share plenty of stories — about creative assassination attempts, mob parties, and the smuggling of drug cartel leaders across the Mexican border — of the type that have long captured Hollywood’s imagination. But the real surprises are aspects like the program’s low recidivism rate: the Witness Protection Program as an example of what vigorous government-led rehabilitation could look like, the Witness Protection Program as an example of how our past weighs on our present, the Witness Protection Program as an example of both the salience and liminality of identity.
When protected witnesses commit crimes after their relocation, WITSEC officials and employees often ask if they could have foreseen and prevented it. But despite all the interviews and screening every witness and his or her family undergoes before relocation, it seems impossible to know.
In WITSEC, one inspector for the Witness Protection Program recalls working with a former motorcycle gang member who murdered a woman and then “cut her open and put charcoal inside her to use as a grill.” Nevertheless, he worked hard at finding a job when the federal government relocated him. When Gerald Shur asked staff psychologists if they could predict whether a relocated witness would resume violent behavior, they responded as follows: “There remains no consistent, reliable means by which to accurately predict an individual’s future behavior.”
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This post was written by Alex Mayyasi. Follow him on Twitter here or Google Plus. To get occasional notifications when we write blog posts, sign up for our email list. Unless otherwise indicated, all quotes and details come from the book WITSEC: Inside the Federal Witness Protection Program by Pete Earley and Gerald Shur.
May 10, 2016
Wavy Gravy will forever be associated with Woodstock, but from the moment you start talking with the clown prince of the counterculture, the former Hugh Romney makes it clear he isn’t a relic from the ’60s. “Did you like my haiku?” he asks, referring to one he’s just penned in honor of Prince: “A sexy God weeps/Soft wet tears fall on St. Paul/A purple rainbow.” “I enjoyed Prince,” Wavy says. “I like all good music, I bounce around.” Then he adds, with just a hint of solemnity, “It’s something in my geezer-ness, that, as people expire, I create haikus.”‘
Although he’ll turn 80 on May 15, Wavy Gravy works hard at avoiding his own geezer-ness. He continues his work with Camp Winnarainbow, a performing arts camp for kids in Laytonville, California, and the Seva Foundation, the nonprofit group dedicated to curing blindness for people around the world. In honor of Wavy’s milestone birthday, Steve Earle, Blues Traveler’s John Popper, the New Riders of the Purple Sage (still led by singer-guitarist David Nelson), and other acts will join forces on May 22 at the Somo Village Event Center, the solar-powered outdoor venue in Rohnert Park, California. Proceeds from the event (along with those raised by another Wavy tribute in Mill Valley on May 15) will benefit Seva. Those on the East Coast can honor Wavy’s 80th as well at “Unlimited Devotion: An Evening of Goodness,” which will feature an appearance by Wavy and a collection of rare Grateful Dead posters, all at the Main Line Art Center in Haverford, Pennsylvania on June 10 and 11. (A portion of proceeds will go toward the Rex Foundation, the charitable non-profit spun off from Wavy’s longtime friends, the Grateful Dead.)
Given all this activity, it felt high time to catch up with Wavy, a one-man tour of American counterculture over the last five decades.
How do you feel about turning 80?
All I got to do is keep breathing. In 20 years, I’ll be 100.
How did you come to be involved with Seva?
The [first] benefit was a Grateful Dead show. [Co-founder] Dr. Larry Brilliant’s boss came to him: “Larry, we must do something about this blindness.” And in Larry’s Rolodex were me and my wife Jahanara. I was given the task to get the Dead to do some music. I went to Detroit and who was on the airplane? The Grateful Dead, and they didn’t have parachutes. I sided with the drummers. I got Mickey and Billy to concur and then Jerry was a pushover. He always said, “Might as well.” It’s his exact quote. I used to talk to Jerry mostly about art. The last discussion I had with him was about a conceptual artist named Andy Goldsworthy who makes stuff out of logs and trees and bushes. That was ’93, ’94. Jerry was bubbling. But it was a hard ride for him.
You were there for some of the early Acid Tests, of course.
I was there in the beginning with the Merry Pranksters and I spent the better part of the early evening at one saying, “The Kool-Aid on the right is the electric Kool-Aid. The Kool-Aid on the left is for the children.” Two giant galvanized ash cans, brand new, one with acid and one not. Tom Wolfe got the information that I put the acid in the Kool-Aid at Watts. I didn’t. Fucking Owsley [Stanley] did. I still have mothers hit me with umbrellas, because they think that probably 50 people committed themselves that night.
What do you get out of being involved with Seva?
We’ve been at it for 40 years and 3.5 million sight-saving surgeries. So it was all about making a little music in the free world and then causing somebody on the other side of the world to not bump into shit anymore. How could you not jump at it? Standing next to cataract surgery performed on the poorest of the poor was one of the highest moments of my life. It’s a high that is not achieved in that pharmaceutical cabinet.
How did you round up the musicians for this show?
I’ve watched Yonder Mountain String band rise over the last five years and they keep going up, up, up and getting better and better. They take bluegrass into the stratosphere. Steve Earle has been with Seva for at least five years; it’s his second main cause, along with being against people being executed. John Popper, from Blues Traveler – we’ve been great friends over the years. Of course, the New Riders, we go back to the ancient times. I thought David Nelson would have been the most logical person to step into Jerry’s vacant shoes. I don’t know why that didn’t happen – because I was not in charge, obviously.
Ben and Jerry are also attending the 80th birthday event in Sonoma, giving out free ice cream. Bu they don’t make the Wavy Gravy flavor anymore, do they?
No. I was a flavor for eight years and then they went public stock and all. They sold it to people who immediately sold out to this big Dutch corporation, who immediately dumped me for not being cost effective. But some day, I’m trying to resurface as a rainbow sorbet. I used to get $30,000 a year when I was a flavor. I donated all that money to Camp Winnarainbow.
Do you have a stash of it somewhere?
I wish. I’ve been offered hundreds of dollars.
Did you ever think the legalization of weed would happen?
I thought it would happen about 30 or 40 years ago. Lenny Bruce was my manager at one point, and he convinced me: “Look, it’s going to happen. Everybody knows a lawyer that smokes pot or a law student. They’re going to carry it through and it’ll be legal in five years.” He was really, really off about that. But it’s happening now – “An eternity, now!” I always say. That’s a line of mine, by the way, that I began with the Nobody for President presidential campaign. We ran nobody from 1976 up until Obama with cross-country tours. When nobody did speeches, we used these windup clicking teeth. It was pretty hilarious.
Are you reviving Nobody this year?
No. This time, I’m supporting anything but Trump. And people should make their vote count. I suspect that if we do, and if people realize the horror of that possibility, that people that never voted before will rise in mass numbers and blow him out of the water. And I suspect we’ll have a woman president.
I hope you’re right.
Trust me on this. The alternative is so horrific. I don’t know anybody that I ever talked to that would support that fucker. He’s got the right-wing crazies and the disillusioned ones. But we’re so much more. I think you’d be stunned to discover how many we are. They always say to me, “Wavy Gravy, you were at Woodstock. How many people do you think are here at this event?” Well, count their feet and divide by two and hope there aren’t any pirates.
Woodstock still follows you around.
I was a teenage beatnik, turned into a standup comedian who became a hippie icon at Woodstock. “Good morning. What we have in mind is breakfast in bed, for 400,000.” It just flew out of my head at the moment. It was without thinking. I maintain that thinking gets in the way of thought.
And you were at Woodstock 3 in 1999, which got pretty gnarly.
Let me tell you – it was fine. I was all the way back to my hotel. I was exhausted. And what happened was, Limp Bizkit was the band that ignited it and this asshole, Fred Durst, says, “Go out and destroy something, it’s good for you.” So they set a semi on fire. People were screaming about the high price of water, but what about the free water that came out of the taps? That was never brought up. I got very steamed by a lot of that. I’m a very dear friend of [Woodstock promoter] Michael Lang and I think he’s always trying to do right. If anyone was to blame, it was Fred Durst igniting the crowd of Limp Bizkit fans.
How is your health—your longstanding back issues, for instance?
Oh God. I got beat up a lot by the police and the National Guard. I spent months in body casts. In fact, the picture of me in the first Rolling Stone that I appeared in, which was a huge article, had a picture of my all-star cast. It went from my knees to my nipples. We painted it blue and put stars all over it. They would bring me on stage to Grateful Dead shows and put me under the piano. I believe I was under Keith [Godchaux]. The second cast I had, we covered with money from all over the world and I called that one the cast of thousands. I try and use humor with hard stuff.
What’s left on your bucket list at this point in life?
Well, I’d like to see more and more blind people not bump into shit. Ken Kesey said to me, “Always put your good where it will do the most.” I’ve underlined that one in my heart, in my mind and everything in between.
60 Dumbest Celebrity Quotes
Published on 5/4/2007
Famous funny, dumb and stupid celebrity quotes:
Phallological…what a nice big word for something that will illicit snickers even from the most mature or sophisticated. If you ever find yourself in Husavik, Iceland, you should drop by this museum. This museum is your ticket to a world where nothing else exists but penises. Once you enter, you will be met by 272 specimens from 92 species of animals. The specimens are preserved in different ways and there are even exhibitions of penis-themed art. For a bit of fantasy, you can also check out specimens of creatures from folklore. Yes, this museum is the only way for you to see what a troll penis may look like.
As if we need more reminders on how cruel human beings can be. But if you find yourself in Amsterdam and you have time to kill (pun intended), The Tortue Museum is one educational way to do it. This is located at the Munt Square by the Singel canal. The whole place is small and badly lit in many areas. These aspects, of course, add to the “authenticity” of the museum. There is nothing like viewing a rusty guillotine almost engulfed in shadows to send shivers down your spine. Not that the whole place is creepy. In fact, you may find the whole tour oddly comedic.
Of course, there is a museum of toilets! If there is a museum for smaller and less significant things, a museum for toilets is not that far-fetched. But as far as museums go, this place in New Delhi is surely one of the strangest. You might think that the location is strange for such a museum but its founder, Dr. Bindeshwar, has visions about spreading the good word of sanitation. This is a good place to start if you want to know about the evolution of toilets and how their design and materials changed through the years. From gilded in gold to pieces from the modern world, this is a museum one is not bound to forget for a long time
When you visit Paris for the first time, you make sure that you drop by the Louvre. Perhaps you also find time to visit the high-end shops and the little cafes that are just too picture perfect. If you are the adventurous kind, you may want to do the Sewers Museum tour. Why? Who knows why! You fancied a strange stop in your Paris tour and this is what you’re going to get. This place is located in the sewers beneath Quai d’Orsay. It houses mannequins as sewer workers in full gear. You will also get to know sewer-cleaning equipment that were used in the past and today. Yes, there is a gift shop.
Housed in Leeds Castle, this weird museum actually delights half a million visitors every year. There are only nearly a hundred dog collars on display but they represent designs that span five centuries. The oldest of the collars date from the 15th and 16th centuries. On display from this era are mostly dog collars that protected dogs from wolves, wild boars, and bears. The most popular, though, are the elaborately designed collars from the 17th and 18th centuries. From this era, the collars on display are made of metal and velvet, with German and Austrian baroque designs.
This is a free museum located in the basement of the office building of Barcelona’s Municipal Funeral Services. It has a collection of funeral carriages and hearses. This collection is said to be one of the best in the world. Most of the exhibits are from the 19th and 20th century, giving you a glimpse at magnificently constructed hearses and carriages. There are life-sized horses and drivers as well but the whole place does not have that creepy atmosphere. Perhaps one would be too busy admiring the details of the vehicles inside the museum to feel strange.
Amsterdam sure has a collection of weird museums. This particular place will be a delight to those who are pushing for the legalization of marijuana. This place is not just a haven for these people but for everyone interested in the history of hemp and cannabis use. Inside this museum, one will be able to observe how dozens of varieties of marijuana are cultivated. If inspiration hits, you can drop by the shop next door. It sells everything you need to smoke (and grow) marijuana.
A museum dedicated to food should always be a top priority when you visit a place. When you find yourself in Yokohama, drop by the Ramen Museum and fill your brain with all the ramen information you can handle. Don’t worry, a trip to this museum will also be a culinary delight since there are cooking utensils and ramen packages that you can buy. On top of the ramen goodness that you can experience, you will also love the interior of this museum. It features a recreation of Tokyo in 1958. This was the year that instant noodles were invented.
This is another food amusement park that is dedicated to the favorite dish of Berlin. For those who are not familiar with currywurst, it is simply bratwurst with curry sauce. And since around 800 million currywurst servings are consumed every year in Germany, it was only fitting that a museum for this dish was opened. This is a museum that will engage all senses; you can sniff secret spieces and eat currywurst in a cup during the tour. The dish is included in the admission price.
This museum wants you to “try to think about parasites without a feeling of fear, and take the time to learn about their wonderful world of the Parasites.” Many people will be inclined to say “No, thank you,” but if you are in the mood for a strange tour stop, this museum should be at the top of your holiday schedule. This places houses 45,000 specimens. Interestingly, the museum is a popular date spot in Tokyo.
Around the time of the sessions for the Yardbird’s next album — a self-titled set of all-original material — Samwell-Smith left his role as bassist and moved behind the scenes as producer. Page officially joined the band as bassist until Dreja mastered the instrument, after which he and Beck paired up as one of the most influential guitar duos of the period. Future Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones also appeared on some songs, including the experimental “Happenings Ten Years Time Ago,” which features a twin-lead guitar attack from Beck and Page that provided a blueprint for subsequent heavy metal bands. The album, popularly known as Roger the Engineer and widely considered the Yardbirds’ masterpiece, includes influences of Indian and Middle Eastern music as well as avant-garde techniques; it spawned the singles “Happenings” (Number 30, 1966) and “Over Under Sideways Down” (Number 13, 1966). The latter song was also the title of the U.S. version of the album. In 1966, the band also released its earliest live recordings, with Sonny Boy Williamson, as Sonny Boy Williamson & the Yardbirds.
With both Page and Beck, whom the British music magazine Beat Instrumental voted the Number One lead guitarist of 1966, the Yardbirds’ live performances became a huge draw and the band earned a slot opening for the Rolling Stones. The Beck-Page version of the Yardbirds, however, was short-lived, as Beck was fired from the band during a U.S. tour. With Page now the sole lead guitarist, the Yardbirds’ sound became heavier than the band’s earlier incarnations. Page continued some of the avant-garde tendencies of the Beck-era Yardbirds, such as running a violin bow over the strings of his guitar to produce eerie scraping sounds; he would later employ the technique with Led Zeppelin. The experimentation didn’t help the band’s chart success; none of the three singles from Little Games, the Yardbirds’ final studio album in 1967, charted well. During their 1967 and 1968 concerts, the Yardbirds eschewed their singles in favor of darker, beefier music such as the menacing blues-rock song “Dazed and Confused,” which Page would take to Zeppelin.
The version of the Yardbirds with the core membership of Relf, McCarty and Dreja performed its last show on July 7, 1968. Page, with outstanding touring obligations for the Yardbirds, assembled a new line-up: his old bassist friend John Paul Jones, singer Robert Plant and drummer John Bonham. The New Yardbirds, of course, would become Led Zeppelin, one of the most successful bands in the history of rock, pioneering the dark and heavy blues sound and fanciful lyrics that constitute the basis of heavy metal. After Zeppelin proved itself a powerhouse with its first three albums, Clive Davis of Epic Records twice released a 1968 Yardbirds performance as Live Yardbirds: Featuring Jimmy Page. The set, which Page’s lawyers forced out of circulation both times, includes an embryonic version “Dazed and Confused” and remains a much-sought-after rarity.
The other Yardbirds took different paths. Dreja became a professional photographer. Relf, McCarty and producer Samwell-Smith formed the progressive rock band Renaissance, although they left after the band’s second album, and Renaissance continued producing music throughout into the Eighties. Samwell-Smith wound up producing Cat Stevens’ successful career, and the other two moved from one folk-prog band to the next during the early Seventies. Relf died in an electrical accident in 1976. In the 1980s, the core Yardbirds — McCarty, Dreja and Samwell-Smith — reunited as Box of Frogs, with Page or Beck sitting in from time to time.
In 1992, the Yardbirds were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. All surviving musicians, including Clapton, Beck and Page, appeared the ceremony. Around that time, McCarty and Dreja reformed the Yardbirds with singer and bassist John Idan. The band has continued to tour as the Yardbirds with a revolving-door cast of lead guitarists. In 2003, the group released a new Yardbirds album, Birdland, with guest appearances from a string of guitar players including Slash, Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, Brian May and even Beck on the song “My Blind Life.” The group released a performance album four years later, Live At B.B. King Blues Club.
The Wild West is well known for its colorful history, and it’s often portrayed as a place that was replete with saloons, gambling and gunfights. And whether lawmen or outlaws – nobody was anyone in the Old West unless they knew how to handle a gun. Some applied their skills as gunslingers to robbing trains, others combined quick-draw shooting with fiery tempers or a seemingly psychotic need to kill, and yet others used their abilities to enforce the law – even though their conduct was often questionable. Still, while we may not admire them for their exploits, we can certainly appreciate the skill of these renowned gunfighters. Here’s a look at 10 of the deadliest Wild West gunslingers.
Legend has it that famous outlaw Billy the Kid had killed as many as 26 men by the time he died, aged just 21 years old, although the total seems more likely to have been under 10. While there’s conflicting information about Billy the Kid’s true name and origins, he is widely reported to have been excellent with a gun. It seems most likely that he was born in an Irish district of New York City on November 23, 1859 and then settled in New Mexico in 1873, after being moved around the country by his mother.
In 1877 – following his engagement in criminal activity such as livestock rustling – Billy the Kid was hired by a wealthy English cattle rancher named John Tunstall in Lincoln County, New Mexico. The Kid’s job was to protect Tunstall and watch over his animals. And he was known for his lightning-fast draw, his lithe frame, and his readiness to fight with his fists if necessary. The Kid is said to have thought highly of his boss, and the two had a mutual respect. So when Tunstall was murdered in cold blood, Billy vowed to exact revenge on the killers.
Billy the Kid’s favorite gun is believed to have been a .44 caliber Colt “Peacemaker,” and he became notorious due to his involvement in the Lincoln County War. Much violence and many escapades ensued, and on July 14, 1881, he was shot and killed by Sheriff Pat Garrett.
James “Killin’ Jim” Miller was born in Van Buren, Arkansas on October 25, 1866, but his family moved to Texas when he was a baby. Miller’s parents died when he was young, and he moved in with his grandparents. Yet he was orphaned for a second time when his grandparents were murdered, with Miller himself arrested for the crime, even though he was only eight years old. In the end, he wasn’t charged, and he went to live with his sister and her husband. Later, as a teenager, Miller blasted his sister’s husband in the head with a shotgun after a quarrel. He was handed a life sentence for the murder but escaped justice owing to a technicality.
Next, Miller was implicated in another shotgun attack, this time on Ballinger City lawman Joe Townsend. Following this incident, “Killin’ Jim” spent time traveling and ran a saloon. He then turned lawman himself, eventually becoming the marshal of Pecos. In 1894, an ongoing feud between Miller and Pecos sheriff George A. “Bud” Frazer led to Frazer shooting Miller in the arm, groin and chest – but thanks to a steel plate under his shirt, Miller survived.
“Killin’ Jim” went on to become a Texas Ranger as well as a professional assassin. However, on April 19, 1909, following the murder of former Deputy US Marshal Allen “Gus” Bobbitt, Miller was hanged. Apparently, he screamed, “Let ‘er rip,” before stepping off the box. This outlaw once claimed that he’d killed 51 men; other sources say he dispatched with 12 in gunfights.
According to an article in True West magazine, a contemporary of John Wesley Hardin’s claimed that Hardin “could get out a six-shooter and use it quicker than a frog could eat a fly.” And describing Hardin’s skills, Texas Ranger James B. Gillett said, “The quick draw, the spin, the rolls, pinwheeling, border shift – he did them all with magical precision.” Hardin is also said to have been a crack shot from horseback, able to unload his ammo into the knot of a tree trunk while galloping past.
Hardin favored cap-and-ball six-shooters and, on at least one occasion, a double-barreled shotgun. Unfortunately, he used his skills for ill. Born on May 26, 1853, this Texan desperado and gunfighter shot and killed his first victim in 1868, when he was just 15 years old. Publications of the period say that he dispatched with 27 men during his lifetime. However, he got his comeuppance on August 19, 1895 when he was shot and killed at the age of 42 by outlaw-cum-constable John Selman.
Interestingly, whilst he was a teenager going by the alias Wesley Clemmons, Hardin encountered another individual covered in this article, “Wild Bill” Hickok. Hardin was captivated by Hickok
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