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Thread: High Times No Longer A Marijuana Magazine!!!

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    High Times No Longer A Marijuana Magazine!!!

    WHEN Forbes magazine splashed a marijuana leaf on its cover last month, John Buffalo Mailer weighed the propriety of flaunting such images in public. Mr. Mailer, who is just starting out in journalism, said he hoped never to run such a cover. "It's a personal thing, but I don't believe we should be throwing that in people's faces," he said. "I don't think that's our role."

    Mr. Mailer, 25, the son of Norman Mailer and Norris Church Mailer, speaks with the self-assurance of the handsome and intellectually well born. Yet his words begged a little clarification. Looming over him was a blowup of a magazine cover with Snoop Dogg holding a water pipe in each hand, accepting the honor of 2002's Stoner of the Year. Mr. Mailer, you see, is the new executive editor of High Times.



    On a recent afternoon, he sat in his tastefully corporate-looking Madison Square office flanked by what might be called Forbes-like covers on one wall and his dry cleaning on another. He wore neat jeans, a black button-down shirt and what appeared to be a permanent layer of dark stubble. Not to put too fine a point on it, he has also been named one of the sexiest men alive by People magazine. In conversation he is a good sport.

    "The only way I can look at that is, it's making consciousness sexy," he said of the People plug. "It helps. It gets the name out there."

    Mr. Mailer's first issue of High Times, which reached some Manhattan newsstands last week and will be available nationwide on Nov. 25, begins a total makeover of the magazine. The cover has a photograph of the actor Mark Webber, a question about education reform and zero references to marijuana. Inside are a long essay on outlaw politics by the actor Peter Coyote, who was in the 1960's anarchist group the Diggers, and a first-person account by a drug smuggler.

    "We're trying to get away from just being a pot magazine, which is what it's been for the last 15 years," Mr. Mailer said. "It was never supposed to be just that." (Full disclosure: I wrote about music for High Times in the 1980's.)

    In sober and idealistic tones, Mr. Mailer, who smokes marijuana "occasionally," he said, described his plan to wean the magazine off its dependence on "the plant" — not to eliminate coverage, but to make it part of a broader diet of lifestyle articles.

    "With the new High Times we're using it as a metaphor," he said. "So it's not a magazine about pot, it's a magazine about our civil liberties, and our tag line is `Celebrating Freedom.' Our feeling is it's patriotic to be in High Times."

    Norman Mailer, reached by telephone, said he had given his son little advice in the new job, but volunteered that he was not unfamiliar with the subject matter. "I used to be a heavy marijuana smoker in the 50's," he said. "I loved it, but one paid a heavy price for it. It could leave you good for nothing for two days afterwards." Finally, he gave it up, he said. "Not a stick of pot in 10 years."

    Predictably, his son's new job does not come without a good ribbing. "Yeah," John Mailer acknowledged. "Then they see the look in my eye and figure I'm not the best person to have that conversation with. I don't want to say it offends me, but it's just pointless to judge what I'm doing off the old magazine."

    As an institution that will celebrate its 30th anniversary next year, High Times has done what magazines like Smart Set, American Mercury, Lingua Franca, the Evergreen Review, Ramparts, Punk, Spy, Manhattan Inc., Talk, George and numerous others have failed to do: it has kept on keeping on. But over those three decades the magazine's core constituency has moved ever farther from what might be called cultural leadership positions. The alternative culture of 2003 is not that of 1974.

    Mr. Mailer admitted that he has not been the magazine's most devoted reader over the years. "Honestly, I didn't know it was still in publication until Richard and I started talking," he said, referring to Richard Stratton, the publisher and editor in chief.

    The magazine has a circulation of 100,000 copies a month and makes a profit, largely from ads for horticultural supplies, Mr. Stratton said. The Trans-High Corporation, which owns the magazine, is privately held by a group that includes many former employees and the family of Tom Forcade, the founder, who committed suicide in 1978. Mr. Mailer replaces an editor roughly twice his age.

    To reorient the magazine, Mr. Mailer and Mr. Stratton have planned a series of theme issues that they say will go deeper than previous efforts to document, say, the "Girls of Ganja." The February theme will be "celebrating women," and will largely be written by women. March will be a race issue. April is politics, and May, the official relaunch issue, will be about rebirth. With the May issue the editors plan to spin off a quarterly called Grow America to offload the articles, photographs and ads dedicated to growing marijuana.

    "It's going to be a lot easier to talk to mainstream advertisers and newsstands with the new version of the magazine," Mr. Mailer said, "because when you have a picture of someone with a mound of marijuana, not everyone will carry that."

    Mr. Stratton, who produced the movies "Slam" and "Whiteboys" and is an executive producer on a Showtime television series called "Street Time," is an original member of the High Times fold. In 1980, after working with Mr. Forcade in the magazine's early years, Mr. Stratton was convicted of smuggling marijuana and spent eight years in federal prison. Norman Mailer, an old friend, testified on his behalf at trial, as did the historian Doris Kearns Goodwin. On the outside, Mr. Stratton started Prison Life, a magazine for inmates, which published articles on in-cell cooking, long-distance parenting, tattoos and sex advice. The magazine lasted about three years, he said.

    He also wrote for High Times and eventually acted as a consultant to the magazine's board, which includes members of the Forcade family. His idea for the magazine is "an outlaw version of Vanity Fair," with a dash of Wine Spectator and Cigar Aficionado, he said, a magazine for epicurean libertarians who may or may not smoke marijuana.

    Mr. Mailer said, "Even if you don't smoke pot, 90 percent of the articles should be of interest."

    Mr. Mailer comes to the job with a limited journalistic résumé — he once wrote an article for the style magazine Black Book — but lots of ambition. He and Mr. Stratton tried to create a television series called "Hello Herman," from a novella about a journalist and a mass murderer that Mr. Mailer wrote while a student at Wesleyan University. Mr. Mailer eventually turned it into a play. Reviewing the production in The New York Times in 2001, Bruce Weber wrote that its author "seems to have inherited the family hubris; that's a good thing, more or less," but concluded, "Alas, the apple has fallen farther from the tree than one might wish."

    Beneath the talk of bud pictures and outlaw journalism, Mr. Mailer has not given up his theatrical ambitions. Another of his plays, "Crazy Eyes," ran for four days Off Broadway in September, with Mr. Mailer in a leading role; he said he plans to stage a longer run next spring. "I'm still trying to get roles in plays and movies; I'm still writing plays and screenplays," he said. He is currently shopping around a screenplay to his father's novel "The Naked and the Dead."

    Norman Mailer gave the screenplay his blessing. "John writes better dialogue than I do," he said.

    Paul Krassner, who founded the satirical magazine The Realist in 1958 and is often called the father of the alternative press, said he was encouraged by the broadening of the magazine. Mr. Krassner has written for High Times since the 1970's (he called his column Brain Damage Report, on advice from Ken Kesey), and said he would continue to do so under Mr. Mailer. His first assignments are for articles on Wiccans, the musician Steve Earle and the humorist Harry Shearer.

    "It fills a gap," Mr. Krassner said of the new High Times. "There's not a magazine out there that has essentially a countercultural stance, the feeling of being an outlaw because the laws are insane. And that goes beyond marijuana. So before, when it was just about growing, it limited the magazine."

    Mr. Mailer said he wanted to round out the magazine with voices opposed to marijuana use, including people who think pot has ruined their lives. If Forbes is declaring "The Inside Dope" on the economics of "The New Cash Crop," after all, someone has to lead the backlash.

    Though if you said it would come from High Times, people might be forgiven for wondering what you were smoking.

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