‘Streets were his stage’; Friends, fans fittingly honor Peel with park jam

Jamming on songs by David Peel and his Lower East Side band in Tompkins Square. Steven Hager, holding the microphone, helped organize the musical memorial for the “Have a Marijuana” and “Die Yuppie Scum” singer. Photos by Bob Krasner

BY BOB KRASNER | David Peel, the late East Village punk singer, street performer and noted cannabis promoter, had his fans. The most famous of whom, John Lennon — who signed Peel to Apple Records — said of him, “He can’t sing. He can’t really play. Picasso spent 40 years trying to get as simple as that.”

Simplicity reigned supreme on Saturday, when Peel’s memorial service at Peter Jarema Funeral Home on E. Seventh St. was followed by a raucous sing-along in Tompkins Square Park that epitomized Peel’s D.I.Y. aesthetic.

Peel died at age 74 on April 6.

Steven Hager, an author/musician/activist, brought the necessary equipment and led an ad hoc crew, inviting anyone within earshot to come up and sing and play.

“Come on, we’ve got the words right here — it’s just like karaoke,” he exhorted the crowd.

Jerry The Peddler “has a marijuana” in honor of his friend David Peel.

It started small, just Hager and Gordon Ramsey at the microphone, but grew to a sizable crowd as the sun went down. The constantly changing group — many of whom were in Peel’s various bands — covered all the “hits” (pun possibly intended), including “I  Like Marijuana,” “The Pope Smokes Dope,” “Up Against The Wall, Motherf—er,” “Everybody’s Smoking Marijuana” and “Die Yuppie Scum,” raggedly repeating several of the favorites more than once. Hager, a former High Times editor, was a friend of Peel’s for more than 30 years.

“The streets were his stage. This was a great way to celebrate his legacy,” he said of the singing memorial.

Music journalist Charley Crespo was also there, recalling the early days.


“I’ve been to thousands of concerts and people always want to know what my first one was,” he reflected. “Well, when I was 15 years old, I discovered David Peel in Washington Square Park. My first 20 concerts were by David Peel.”

Harold C. Black, a friend for 53 years, was an original member of Peel’s Lower East Side band. Having spoken at the memorial at Peter Jarema — which he paid for, as well as the funeral on Monday — Black made his way over to the park. Surveying the scene, he said, “David would have been honored and proud,” adding, “If he could, he’d be up there hogging the mic.”peel-park-memorial-2017-04-20-v02,VIL,PRINT_WEB,WEBpeel-park-memorial-2017-04-20-v05,VIL,PRINT_WEB,WEBpeel-park-memorial-2017-04-20-v04,VIL,PRINT_WEB,WEB