New York Avatar No. 5,
June 1, 1968, p 3

LAST WEEK

Brian Keating

John began this last week, now I continue it, the journal of the latest caper in the bizarre history of Avatar. Future moles of grad students will be, I'm sure, everlastingly grateful. Think nothing of it, guys.

Last week or so, at about four o'clock on Saturday morning, I confiscated 45,000 copies of a newspaper. Or, as some sticklers for semantics would have, I stole the 45,000 copies. All that I know is that I took them and locked them in the tower on Fort Hill in Roxbury (the home of Avatar in Boston). And I also know I was perfectly right in doing so.

The newspaper in question was without a name and was the product of a couple of weeks of utter confusion during which the creators of the Boston Avatar, the Fort Hill community, more or less decided that it was no longer interested in publishing a general newspaper. Instead, the Hill wanted to return strictly to a publication for and of the family. For those who may not be acquainted with Boston Avatar, the paper had for some time been published in two sections, one given to news, the other to Fort Hill and to Mel Lyman in particular. Suddenly, and out of circumstances too complex and dreary to recount, that seemed no longer possible. Mel himself was getting out of the magazine and into movies, Wayne Hansen the editor, was tired of trying to cope with the barbarians, and the immediate solution was Boston Avatar number 24, an issue virtually bare of copy except a little of Mel's and otherwise filled with uncaptioned photographs of Alison Peper. It sold for fifty cents and was, to say the least, something of a surprise to Avatar readers used to the huge and varied previous editions.

It also raised a storm among those who had worked on the newspaper section. They felt that all their effort would be for nought if this sort of thing was to be Avatar. Besides that, they argued that a greater community of the Boston area was entitled to representation in Avatar as it had had previously. On the other hand, the Hill people didn't trust the newspaper people (the Valley people, as John called them last issue) to put out a paper which would be worthy of the name Avatar: in other words, a paper reflecting the spirit of Mel Lyman which, on this level at least, is nothing more or less than spirit, a rare element in any time.

What to do. One thing was to get me back to Boston. Although I had been spending most of my time in New York getting this thing going, I was still the editor of the Boston paper (but in name only, since Wayne had effectively been the editor). Nothing much tangible happened on that first trip except that I got clobbered on stage at the Club 47. I spent much of the following week trying to sort that out, but before I returned to New York an agreement was reached with the Valley people about the immediate future of the paper. Even at the time, it seemed pretty ridiculous, yet it was, after all, something of a solution to end the chaos: I agreed with Charlie Guiliano that he should go ahead and publish a newspaper with Wayne and others which might or might not be considered an Avatar, depending on its quality and spirit. To cover the possibility that the paper might be a disgrace to Avatar, it was agreed that it would not carry the Avatar logo on the front page or on the masthead. While it was understood that some elements of Avatar would be present, as well as undoubtably desireable, in both copy and graphics, the agreement was that in no way would the paper be presented as a legitimate Avatar.

I returned then to New York where the family was anxiously awaiting me. But I never really got back that time. I knew the business in Boston was unfinished, and no sooner had we neared the end of the production of the last New York Avatar when a call came from Eben in Boston. He asked me to return for an important meeting: there was much more in his voice.

Again I went to Boston, knowing very well that it was expected that I would be returning to resume the editorship of that paper and doubting at the same time the wisdom of that — whatever had happened in Boston could demand my presence for a time, but my responsibility to the New York edition could not be denied. I knew that either I had to settle the matter so that someone else edited the Boston Avatar or to find an arrangement where I could split my time between the two cities. The first is what I really wanted. I didn't want to have to be in a position that would mean I would be constantly be sweeping in midway in the creation of the paper: the creators should always rule from beginning to end. Besides, I wanted to follow my heart and that meant New York with journeys to Boston not out of necessity, but out of desire. Yet a difference often exists between what I want and what I feel I have to do. So I had no idea of what would happen next. Perhaps I would get clobbered again.

I found the situation basically the same, only Wayne had for reasons obscure to me been made to feel the whole mess was his fault, so much so that he had severed all connections with the paper and had, as a result, left it in the hands of the Valley people. A meeting was held that night, the upshot of which was that Charlie Giuliano was to proceed as before with his no-name newspaper. A look later that night at the production mats showed me that his paper wasn't too bad, although inconsistent in style. And so things stood until a few days later when I received a phone call in New York (where I had returned for a day). It was the printer and he wanted to know whether the paper was an Avatar or not. I said no. He then asked why Avatar was on the second page. I replied that Avatar was not supposed to appear in the paper and if it did, then he should pull it. Following that call, I telephoned Charlie Giuliano and asked what the hell was happening. Charlie claimed innocence.

I should explain that I genuinely wanted Charlie to be the editor of the newspaper, be it Avatar or not. Since I certainly didn't want the job, he seemed to me the only person left who was strong enough to do the often thankless work. He did have, I thought, some pretty silly notions about what Avatar should be, but none which would not have disappeared soon in the heat of creating the paper. I believed he would discover that Avatar as art must win over Avatar as journalism, that inspiration and improvisation make a far more vital publication than any receipe, no matter how well conceived. In any case, Charlie was clearly the man who cared and cared deeply about Avatar.

Anyhow, somewhere along the line someone fucked up, and the paper was printed without deletions. Then late that night, back in Boston, a copy of the no-name paper was brought to me. I glanced through it and dropped it on the floor. All rational statements became immediately and absolutely meaningless. I was revulsed. For nearly two hours I sat almost catatonic until David Gude and Eben came in. Eben asked me how I felt about the paper. Sick, I replied. Eben said that it wasn't supposed to be identified as Avatar and there was Avatar all over it. That was true: although Avatar was not on the front page, it was on the second page, flipped backwards so that when held up to the light, the logo showed through on the front page. More than that, the second page was a front page, carrying the date, the issue number, as well as Avatar Incorporated. That might have been only a violation of spirit of the agreement but on page three there was a direct violation of the letter of the agreement — the masthead stated that the paper was Avatar. I had never seen these two pages. The rest of the paper was, well, it was a mess, something different from the one I saw in production. Someone had clearly crept in behind Charlie and had put a flourish here, a do-dad there, until the thing was little more than a melange of lousy taste.

David asked me what I planned to do. I said I was too frozen to think much at the moment, then added that I had thought of ordering an extra run of the New York paper to sell in Boston. David said he had a better idea. He said he thought we should seize the paper. I said wow, now there's a move!

Once again I was on the brink of another crazy adventure with my Avatar family, the Fort Hill mob, the very bunch who a few weeks before had staged an entire evening at the Club 47 so that a guy could come up out of the audience and belt me with all his force, the same people who had more or less instigated this whole mess by failing to act when action was possible, who instead had been spending most of their time either sucking their thumbs or hunting for the next scapegoat to blame for all their woes. And now they were calling on me to take the most quixotic of actions to redress all the previous fumbling. That was all right though, they were my brothers and there's always magic there, despite the occasional lapse from charity. Whatever the outcome, at least we were together again. Eben's eyes were burning, and David for the first time in weeks had life in his dour face. We got all the men up and went to the office where the papers were stored. Although I had not yet decided to take the papers, we went with a small fleet of vehicles.

It was crazy and it got crazier still. In the office was someone who had lent both energy and money to the new paper. He was disappointed with the product. As I talked to him, I sorted out my own feelings about the move, while he became increasingly disgusted with the new paper. Just about simultaneously we reached the same point, so that when I said I wasn't going to allow the paper to be distributed, that I was going to act as the legal editor of Avatar and confiscate the imposter, he in a rush independent of me found his feelings the same. We moved in the dawn and took the 45,000 copies (an enormous number by the way, more than possibly could ever have been sold and probably the result of someone's reefer optimism). The proceedings were filmed by Brian Kelly, one of the Valley people who worked on the paper, a total blockhead at times, but always a ballsy guy whom I esteem for his consistency of opposition.

A few hours later I told Charlie Giuliano about what had happened. Needless to say, he was floored at seeing weeks of hard work locked up in the tower. He said that I was worse than a police censor, that I was a fascist and so on. Of course he was right, using the conventional terms. But we all know about the existential decision, don't we, that sometimes you have to act outside ordinary morality — all that bullshit which I could have summoned to justify my action. As a matter of fact, there was nothing illegal in what I did: I am the duly chosen editor of Avatar and am responsible for any publication bearing that name. Yet, if I didn't have that power, I might have done the same. What I couldn't adequately explain to Charlie or to the ranting gang of Valley people the next day was that the paper was purely an aesthetic insult which had to be demolished. Charlie said, you're breaking my heart, Brian. I said, I know, Charlie. I did know.

I could go on, adding choice bits of gossip here and there. But the only note I'll add is that Charlie found himself fired as editor of the paper by the very people for whom he had broke his ass, and if his truly hard work had not counted for me, who made a judgement after a year of such heartache, it should have been recognized by nearly any old ingrate or cretin.

I feel to comment further upon specifics would be at this point gratuitous. Whatever happens now will happen. I do know that much of the debate is meaningless to me. Many say the crisis occurred because Avatar did this or didn't do this or it should do that. I don't for a moment agree that Avatar has to do anything except be itself and that is to create itself. Avatar is for those who do create it. If it works out that factual information is part of Avatar, that's fine with me. But first, Avatar is art, a document of the spirit of those who are Avatar and is not an any sense a mere chronicle of dreary events.

Once I dreamed of Nobel Prizes and similar crap. That was before I realized, Charlie, that great art comes only from great men, that Proust in his cork-lined room only reached that room through the most profound of human experience. And that's the why of my action. Whatever else it was, it was real and out of a spontaneous reaction. Pain of course was involved. But what matters pain today if we fathom a further dimension of ourselves and tomorrow we create an art greater for it? No other way will do. We are not artificers, we are artists, and we are artists because we accept both the aches and raptures of our personal existence as necessary to our art. Mel knows this: he knows to hate him for his jackel's laugh or to love him for the beauty of his smile are simultaneous steps toward a realization of the self. The danger for the artist is to shy from this because it hurts. What pain did Michaelangelo suffer before and on the scaffolding? Out of a love for Beatrice came The Inferno.

As for me and Avatar — I am an Aquarian and whether you accept the causality or not, the metaphor is there. I am a winter's child, born in the desolation of January, on the day all the thermometers agree was a dark, cold day. For that, others must bring me the breath of spring, the heat of summer, the loveliness of autumn before the return of winter. For that, in return, I know the need of another spring.

[see: Charles Giuliano's Letter of response in the following issue.]