HERB sat down for an exclusive interview with former High Times editor, and modern counter-culture icon Mike Edison to talk life, cannabis, and his new book.
In cannabis culture, we have our own superstars. The artists, authors, and activists that have helped to shape the world of cannabis today. There are musicians that have crusaded for their love of rolling one up, and growers that have shared their secrets with the world. We have celebrities that endorse the herb and crusaders that push pot into politics. I was blessed with the opportunity to chat with one of those superstars this week, and he opened up about his life of adventure and his hopes for the future. His name is Mike Edison, former publisher of High Times magazine, and so much more.
Mike has left his mark on the world as a writer, editor, musician, social critic, podcast personality, wrestling enthusiast, activist, and spoken word artist. Based out of New York, he has written bios, press releases, and liner notes for famous bands including The Stooges, the Ramones, the New York Dolls, and more, and has contributed to many publications and websites including Spin, The Daily Beast, Huffington Post, and the New York Press, for whom he covered classical music and professional wrestling. He has been a foreign correspondent for Hustler and a high-paid gun-for-hire writing the notorious Penthouse Letters. And, of course, you might recognise him from our video post featuring the Chronic-caster Bong Guitar!
He is the author of numerous books including the celebrated memoir I Have Fun Everywhere I Go, the sprawling social history of sex on the newsstand, Dirty! Dirty! Dirty! and the deliciously filthy political satire Bye, Bye, Miss American Pie, not to mention 28 pornographic novels. His latest book, You Are A Complete Disappointment, has just recently been released, and I caught up with Mike between stops on his promotional tour.
You have managed to carve a niche for yourself in pot, porn, politics, performing music, and it all began with porn and a wrestling match, isn’t that right? Tell us about that unusual first step into the industry of writing.
I suppose it is true – pot, porn, punk rock, and professional wrestling have always been very good to me! But you have to understand first, that it all came very organically, and that the payoff and perquisites were great, especially for a young guy trying to hustle a living in New York City as a working writer, back when such a thing was possible.
And I suppose I should also say that I was never that interested in pornography, no matter how much of it I have created, haha… I mean, I am very pro naked woman, pro naked anyone! But I am anti-stupidity. I am sex positive and consider myself very much a feminist. A lot of younger people won’t get that now, the message of sex has been so torn apart by both the left and the right that it is very confused right now.
As far as the pot goes, I am very pro-marijuana, but I am anti-slacker. I don’t smoke weed too often these days, I pick my spots, so when I do it is really fun and special. I love to get stoned and go to art museums or just get really high and play with my synthesizer and echo machine… I went to see Black Sabbath recently and burned through about fifteen joints, but to get stoned every day, to me, just makes it so less enjoyable. When it is a staple, it ceases to be special.
The story you are talking about is when I became editor in chief of the wrestling mag Wrestling’s Main Event by beating the incumbent editor in chief in a Loser-Leaves’ Town match. No kidding, there were pictures in the magazine of me carving him up. I was the “heel” editor, meaning bad guy, I was an outlaw. He was a Hulk Hogan sycophant and I destroyed him and took his job and his office. I’m a rule breaker, I can’t help myself.
Oddly, the porn thing I just sort of fell into. I knew someone who was writing porn novels – actual novels – and the “publisher” always needed writers. So I gave it a shot and found out I was good at it. The pay was ok, at least they always paid on time. Honor among thieves and all that I suppose… I wrote twenty-eight of them before I burned out. But it led me to other porn jobs, the best. of course, were Screw and Hustler.Being editor of Screw was probably the best job I ever had. We had no rules. It was a POLITICAL fuck fest, not a straight porn mag. If we were doing it now we’d have Hilary Clinton with a strap-on fucking Donald Trump with Bernie Sanders watching – either a cartoon or a really filthy Photoshop job. We were outrageous. We pushed the First Amendment way beyond any precedented level. The shit we did with Tom Cruise… There is and was nothing like it. We went wayyyyyyy too far. I talk about this a lot in my first book,
Being editor of Screw was probably the best job I ever had. We had no rules. It was a POLITICAL fuck fest, not a straight porn mag. If we were doing it now we’d have Hilary Clinton with a strap-on fucking Donald Trump with Bernie Sanders watching – either a cartoon or a really filthy Photoshop job.
We were outrageous. We pushed the First Amendment way beyond any precedented level. The shit we did with Tom Cruise… There is and was nothing like it. We went wayyyyyyy too far. I talk about this a lot in my first book, I Have Fun Everywhere I Go.
You became a fan of cannabis early on. Was writing for High Times always a dream in your mind?
The guys at High Times were friends with the guys at Screw. It was a New York thing. I met John Holmstrom, who was an editor at High Times, at a party in the late 1980’s. He is famous for being the founder of Punk Magazine, and a great cartoonist. He did the Ramones record covers among other things. It turned out he was a huge wrestling fan and had seen me beat up my boss in the magazine, and he loved it and invited me to write for them.
Of course, I ‘d loved High Times since forever. It was a true outlaw magazine. It’s hard to imagine the impact it had in the late 1970’s, but it was real contraband. Even when I knew I was going to become a writer, I never would have guessed I’d end up writing for High Times, nevermind becoming the publisher, it seemed like the magazine was from another world. But it all was very natural once it started happening. That was the beauty of it. It all felt very right. Definitely a New York thing.
What was it like writing for a cannabis magazine before the internet?
Everything seemed far more indelible. Not so instant. Not so disposable. Whether that was true or not, I don’t know. Quality lasts, I suppose history will be the judge. High Times was a strange place. Lots of stoned hangers-on who weren’t all that focused on anything that was farther out of reach than their bongs. It made me very sad, actually.
I don’t think High Times ever reached its true potential after the founder Tom Forcade died. It didn’t start out just being a pot magazine, it had a much wider focus. It had some great moments for sure, but it kept regressing to this state of semi-retarded stoner rag. I threw myself at it as hard as I could – I think being stoned all the time was making people very shortsighted.
Once upon a time, it had a great sense of humor. Somehow that got lost, too. I tried. I failed. It kinda broke my heart.
You have branched out into a career as an accomplished career as an author and musician. What are your plans for the future?
I’m working very hard right now promoting my new book You Are A Complete Disappointment. We have been out touring it. and when I say WE I mean my band and me. I have the world’s greatest piano player Mickey Finn, who once played in the Miracles, as in Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, and my best beatnik, Bob Bert, who is famous among other things for playing in Sonic Youth. They play some groovy jazz while I tell stories.
We are working on bringing the writing to life in a way that has not been done, Psychedelic X-Rated Comedy. I think now, beyond the tour, we are looking at turning it into an off-Broadway type of show. Very funny stuff, some blues, some real heartbreak.
And I am going to get my band the Edison Rocket Train back out on the road, too. We play a very amped-up version of gospel and garage punk, pure exuberant energy. I feel like I am a troubadour for a troubled world.
Tell us about your latest book.
You Are A Complete Disappointment is about my dysfunctional relationship with my dad who was a bully and a narcissist. Ultimately it is about being who you want to be, not who you were told you should be. Great Fathers Day gift, by the way. No kidding. It has a happy ending.
What is your vision for the future of the cannabis plant and the world we live in? Is there hope for us?
There may or may not be hope, we live in troubled times – turn on the TV lately? But I have no idea what that has to do with cannabis. Can hemp save the world? I dunno. I sent Bernie Sanders money every time he mentioned marijuana in a debate. I felt like I had waited my whole life for him to come along and speak the truth.
I would love to see more hemp biofuels and hemp paper, but is the hemp movement going to solve global climate change? I don’t think so. It is going to take a lot more than that. I am happy to think that we are living in a much better world where we don’t bust people for getting stoned when sick people can get medicine that makes them feel better… Freedom is always a better choice over the alternative. But it is still a slow turning of the wheel. There are lots of people still living in fear.
For a lot of our readers, and the world in general, you are one of the modern counter-culture icons. Tell me, as a young man, just getting out in the world, did you have any idea you would become the folk legend you are today?
Aw, now you are just fluffing me… But its ok, I can handle it! Seriously, I’m really humbled and flattered you would say such a thing. Folk legend? I’ll tell you what, my heroes are Bob Dylan and Martin Luther King, Abby Hoffman, Gloria Steinem, Duke Ellington…. And I am not worthy to even shine their shoes. I am grateful that I have inspired some people – I still get emails all the time from people telling me that my books changed their lives – they read I Have Fun Everywhere I Go and then went into their boss’ office and told them to fuck off. There is no better compliment you can pay a writer. I am getting a lot of mail now about You Are A Complete Disappointment. One guy said to me,
I was going to yell at my kid for getting into trouble, but after I read your book I decided to tell him I love him instead.
I get it, I have a resume that looks like a crime scene. I figured out a way to make a living doing what I love, perpetrating my own odyssey of sex and drugs and rock’n’roll, writing books, eating too much, and hopefully not being a dick, and sharing it with everyone, broadcasting a message of love and tolerance and punk rock and rulebreaking. But saving a kid from getting yelled at? I think that is what I am most proud of. If that makes me a folk legend, I’ll take it.
You can follow the hilarious hijinx of this half-crazed hooligan and his rampant writings recalling the rough ride of life’s loose libido in his new book, You Are A Complete Disappointment on sale at Amazon, and wherever else the writings of mad-men prophets are sold. Don’t forget to check out his website, to learn all things Edison.
Some other books you should check out:
Have you had a chance to hear Mike Edison in action? Do you listen to his podcasts? Do you have one of his books on your shelf? Share your excitement on his new book with us on social media or in the comments below.