August 1967, p. 83
The Underground Press
by Jacob Brackman
"NEWSPAPERS create and feed the illusions we live by. Instead of instructing us, instead of telling us what's wrong with the country, they stuff our vanity."
Poet Allan Katzman lifted one foot onto a desktop in his claustrophobic city room and stroked his beard reflectively. "The press is losing its power to report spontaneous events," he went on. "But it's gaining a new power - to create events; to turn news gathering into news making. The papers of pseudo events, news leaks and press releases offend no one; they take no moral stand. They are just... neutral. They furnish our boring and repetitive lives with boring and repetitive 'news.' "
Katzman is cofounder of a biweekly newspaper in Lower Manhattan called The East Village Other. The Other doesn't separate fact from opinion. Its journalism is unabashedly, militantly interpretive: pro pot, peace, sex, psychedelics and subversion; anti most of what remains in switched-off American society. Since 1964, some two dozen similar "underground" papers have sprung up across the country. A few died fast. The rest are now growing at an astonishing clip - to a collective circulation pushing 270,000 in three years, with no sign of slowing down.
Katzman's dismissal of the establishment press sounds mild next to the gripes of other underground proprietors. Their charges run from "bland" or "ignorant" all the way to "fascist," "hypocritical" and "brainwashery." Paul Krassner, head man at The Realist, talks about an "escalation of bullshit," and John Wilcock, nationally syndicated underground columnist, insists that "big-city dailies are a corrupt advertising medium; they've forfeited their right to be called newspapers."
"They've let the people down and they've lost the people's confidence," Wilcock says. Like his fellow workers, he believes the demands of modern capitalism have proved inimical to a free exchange of information and ideas. "Most papers - even the holy Times - are up to their necks in old money and official connections. Their job is to keep certain blocs and certain ideas in power. Like, they'll write about pot 'dope fiends' like the Daily News did 30 years ago. But pot's part of your scene... how can you believe a paper when you know it's feeding you lies?" From the vantage point of hip, the establishment media have only three reactions to a groovy scene: Ignore it, put it down or exploit it.
"So where can people who want to bust out of monolithic culture discover one another?" rhetorically asks Ed Sanders, editor of a subunderground magazine. "Assembly places and media are controlled by the creeps. Establishment papers are demented; like a diplomatic mission in a foreign country - you have to ass-kiss your way in. And who can they speak for? They've no idea what it means to live in a slum on the edge of a city. A paper and its audience need a living relationship, like an organism, a tree. And you can get that now, because cultural migrations are happening in the country and pockets of protesting people are filling up the vacuums. A cat from the Village, say, can plug into a similar underground in cities all over."
Ranting about the establishment press, underground spokesmen may well come on like A. J. Liebling might have after an acid freak trip. But their vision of a "new life out there," no longer able to stomach that old press, is undeniable. Hippies, anarchists, New Leftists, teeny boppers, artists, gypsies, groupies, pacifists, nihilists and heads - they comprise a new audience, eager to subscribe to a new journalistic product. Next to the mass readership (25,000,000 for Reader's Digest, 6,700,000 for Life, 2,000,000 for the New York Daily News), the underground seems a pitifully small, impotent phenomenon. Yet its press has taken root in a climate unhealthy for entrepreneurial journalism - more than 400 papers have folded in the last 20 years. And as a cultural fifth column pressing a covert war of infiltration, it may have something to say about the directions of mass society. Psychedelic drugs, disbelief in the Warren Commission, nouveau poster art, interracial sex, Happenings and militant protest were accepted aspects of the underground scene, after all, long before they received attention from Henry Luce.
The underground newspapers have not come into being to amplify establishment coverage. They wish to supply an antidote - a frontal assault on all morale boosting in conventional media. Thus, a full-page East Village Other cover photo recently grafted L.B.J.'s head onto the body of a Nazi storm trooper.
This sort of opening for a lead story is not unusual:
Sometime in March, in Paris, in a courtroom of the world, the dead will speak; burned flesh will ooze upon the witness chair; the wounds of the tortured will reopen and missing fingers point as America the Beautiful stands accused of war crimes, and there is no one willing to defend her...
Ultraradical rhetoric however, is but a portion of the underground staple. On the lighter side, EVO has run a regular housewifey column, "High on the Range" ("stimulating" recipes calling for marijuana or hash); a reader correspondence section called "tripstripstrips" (a psychedelic show and tell); Timothy Leary's column, "Turn On/Tune In/ Drop Out" (Norman Vincent Peale to the generation of mutants); irregular cartoon strips (such as Sunshine Girl); "Where It's At" (the hipster's calendar of events); a photo feature dubbed "Slum Goddess" (a Poverty Playmate from the tenement next door); and some editorial rumblings, aptly entitled "Poor Paranoid's Almanac."
These are just the mainstays. Recent 20-odd-page issues have featured articles covering germ warfare in Vietnam, the antibrassiere movement, Cardinal ("Hawk") Spellman, the abortion circuit, an impeach-Johnson campaign, trepanation (drilling a hole in the cranium for "permanent turn-on"), a "desert call" to U.S. troops, mass skinny-dipping, apocalyptic tattooing and Nelson Rockefeller ("Pickpocket Robber Baron"), as well as occasional fiction and poetry. Also, the "Personal" columns of EVO reveal more of the life style of the underground than do the articles, whether offering lessons on the sitar or happily promiscuous sexual relationships.
A newspaper, finally, is a vision of the world. The young underground press is struggling to counter with its own vision - now loving, now wildly messianic, now passionate and venomous, now withdrawn in disgust - against what it claims to be the repressive, monolithic vision of the "establishment blats." Most often, the new rebel papers might be writing about another planet altogether. Where the establishment press has L.B.J., Romney, Reagan and Bobby Kennedy, the underground papers have Staughton Lynd, Mario Savio, Tom Hayden and Louis Abolafia. The establishment makes folk heroes of Bob Hope, Natalie Wood, Sinatra, Twiggy, Jackie, the Beatles, Doris Day, Pat Boone, Truman Capote and Johnny Carson. The underground does the same of Ken Kesey, the Grateful Dead, USCO, Madalyn Murray, William Burroughs, Albert Ellis, Alan Watts, Meher Baba, Che Guevara, Ravi Shankar and the Kuchar brothers. The establishment is haunted by the ghosts of Lincoln, Jefferson, John Kennedy, Churchill, Pope John and Eleanor Roosevelt; the underground, by the ghosts of Jesus, Aldous Huxley, Lenny Bruce, Charlie Parker, Malcolm X and A.J. Muste. E.P. critics write political analyses of literature. U.P. pundits pour out literary analyses of politicians. Establishment papers go to weddings, banquets, Broadway shows and testimonials; underground papers, to acid tests, love-ins, light works and free-beaching. The E.P. spies on Liz and Dick, Pat and Luci; the U.P., on Mick Jagger and Marianne Faithfull, Ginsberg and Orlovsky. The E.P. learns from Dr. Spock, Admiral Rickover, John W. Gardner; the U.P., from Wilhelm Reich, A.S. Neill and Maria Montessori. The establishment battles narcotics, homosexuals, subversives, free love and extremism, and fosters Medicare, the Peace Corps and the transit authorities. The underground battles HUAC, the Pentagon, the CIA, corporations, university administrations, and seeks legalization of abortion, marijuana and miscegenation. Every now and then, the San Francisco Examiner, say, and the two-year-old Berkeley Barb cover the same story. The Examiner says "bearded leftists"; the Barb says "dissident elements." The Examiner says "a local rightwing organization"; the Barb says "a local hate group." The Examiner says "the civil rights situation in Oakland"; the Barb says "brutality and segregation in Oakland." The Examiner says "protest march"; the Barb says "pilgrimage." The Examiner says "riot"; the Barb says "confrontation." The Examiner says "police officers re-established order"; the Barb says "fuzz suppressed."
* * *
One spring in Eisenhower America, just halfway through the torpor of the 1950s, Norman Mailer helped launch a weekly newspaper in New York City, which he named The Village Voice. From Dan Wolf (still editor) came the idea for the paper; from Ed Fancher (still publisher) came most of the initial capital; and from Mailer - not a little disheartened at the critical attacks on his third published novel - came some fitful work around the newsroom and - in the fourth month of the Voice's infancy - a column, filled with his special brand of brave, tormented narcissism.
* * *
"At heart, I wanted a war," Mailer mused later, "and the Village was already glimpsed as the field for battle." His guerrilla attacks on the "tight sphincter" of the Village community lasted through 18 issues. When he began, the Voice, almost unknown, was losing a thousand dollars a week. It took the paper eight years to climb out of the red. But when Mailer quit, complaining to readers of "grievous errors" in the setting of his prose, it was already a conversation piece throughout the city.
Mailer admitted even then that the friction between himself and the editors ran deeper than typography. Some years later, he wrote of their dashing dreams for the paper: "They wanted it to be successful; I wanted it to be outrageous. They wanted a newspaper that could satisfy the conservative community - church news, meeting of political organizations, so forth. I believed we could grow only if we tried to reach an audience in which no newspaper had yet been interested. I had the feeling of an underground revolution on its way, and I do not know that I was wrong."
From this early dialectic of editorial hip and square emerged an inevitable compromise: an inveterately liberal, often courageous, occasionally capricious journal, not yet hipster, not yet radical, not yet reaching out into the caves on the edge of the city, but stoutly declining the "snow jobs" of the establishment press. Mailer's success formula (the defiant rejection of all success formulas) was outvoted. It was, as ever, the sad destiny of his intelligence to be ready for revolution before the troops were ready; and it is doubtful that the hip paper he envisioned could have survived as handsomely as did the Voice. His premonition of underground stirring, however, was far from mistaken.
The Voice grew and by its side, if never quite encompassed by it, hip grew. Then, in the mid-Fifties, repelled by the vacuous complacency of Ike society, the folklore of Beat spread over the highways, along the rails, from New York, through Mexico, to San Francisco and back East across the campuses. Kerouac and Ginsberg were its prophets and Madison Avenue provided free promotion. As yet, the communities of dissent were insufficient to support an actual newspaper. But underground publications, some mimeographed almost on the run, a few persisting staunchly into the Sixties, began to spring up in large cities: Combustion in Toronto (perhaps the first high-class, large-scale mimeo network), Beatitude in San Francisco, Magazine, My Own Magazine, C, Mother, Entrails, Intercourse. In the past 15 years, many hundreds - no one knows precisely how many - of different fringe publications have been privately distributed, sold over the counter at disreputable bookstores or hawked on the streets of New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Detroit, Montreal and Toronto. While the Voice constructed its civilizing bridge between the most gifted of the underground the establishment's legitimate frontier, the mimeographed magazines supplied the meat to the caves. Leaning heavily toward unrevised poetry, sex (especially homosexuality and fetishism), scatology, mysticism and exhibitionism, they printed stuff that would turn most Voice readers bluish green. The legitimate frontier never read them; the establishment never heard of them.
Then, in 1958, a 26-year-old flop comedian named Paul Krassner founded The Realist, a hippie-dippie urban marriage of I.F. Stone's Weekly, Confidential and Mad. Almost from the beginning, the Magazine of Irreverence, Applied Paranoia, Rural Naïveté, Neuter Gender, Criminal Negligence, Egghead Junkies (Krassner kept changing his mind on the masthead) abounded in wit and style. Krassner demonstrated that literacy was not tantamount to squareness. "The Realist," commented one New York writer with considerable glee, "is the Village Voice with its fly open."
The magazine had its predecessors, of course, a sort of eternal political underground: Lyle Stuart's ongoing The Independent, with 15,000 monthly subscribers, forever lambasting censorship and the Church; George Seldes' In Fact, attacking establishment politics and its press; M.S. Arnoni's Minority of One; and half a dozen other serious, independent journals of dissent. Similarly, another half-dozen more lighthearted sheets made appearances around the country: Victor Navasky's Monocle, in the late Fifties (which continues to publish sporadic special issues); a West Coast paper called The Idiot; Aardvark out of Chicago; and a self-proclaimed debunker named Horseshit, published by California's "Scum Press."
But Krassner, once he shed a disproportionate anticlericalism, covered the total scene. No subject - spouse swapping, abortion, famous junkies, Walter Jenkins, Stevenson's "assassination," Luci's wedding night, J.F.K.'s "body snatchers'' or his "first wife" - was as too hot for him. And no one had given the press as hard a time since Liebling. He was dissident, abstract, topical, personal, scatological, crusading, hip and funny all at once. He persuaded you on one page and put you on in the next. He refused to be restricted, he refused to be predicted, he refused advertising and, with it, most of America's social mythology. Circulation rose from 600 to 150,000 - and Krassner estimates his current readership at a quarter of a million.
Yet if the underground had found an iconoclastic voice, The Realist was no newspaper. Perhaps the times were still not sufficiently ripe for the ballsy press that Mailer had envisioned a few years earlier: perhaps the community of hip had not yet so solidified as to sustain a real journalism of its own.
But as the country rounded the corner of the Sixties, she seemed to imbibe some rejuvenating potion. Suddenly, spiritual senility was out and even the hucksters were thinking young again. With Eisenhower's exit from the international scene, the great leaders - Mao, Chiang, Khrushchev, Franco, De Gaulle, Adenauer and Macmillan - were confronted with an American entry some 30 years their junior; and, a bit to the south, a bearded hell-raiser, Fidel Castro, became another symbol of the new youth. On the home front, it wasn't long before the scruffy underbelly of the Pepsi generation let forth some embarrassing growls. Sahl, Bruce, Gregory, Rickles and others helped Krassner bury the notion that there were still cows too sacred for roasting. Beat, a trifle weary of the open road, settled into urban coffeehouses and campus common rooms for marathon talk. As rallying places were found, young dissidents began to discover one another and the concerns that united them.
Kerouac faded off to Long Island and Florida; Ginsberg went abroad for a time - to India and eastern Europe; others of their ranks turned paunchy with success or failure. The old underground of Eisenhower America yielded to a series of new coalescent movements. Female contraception - widespread precocious use of diaphragms and, more dramatically, the pill - did more to actualize a moral and sexual revolution than had endless libertine talk. The suburbs scarcely finished clucking over the college sex scandals of the early Sixties before the college drug scandals made headlines. No sooner was marijuana ubiquitous on large campuses than psychedelics mushroomed, and undergraduates could get hold of treated sugar cubes as easily as pot. Jazz - the cool and bitter background to beat conversation - gave way to a frenetic, funky, exultant sound, ultimately to a visceral marriage of folk and rock. Improvisational communal dancing declared open war on decorum and inhibition.
But youth would not be bought off with the freedom to fornicate, bugaloo and get high. The Berkeley uprising, analyzed to distraction in print, reputable and otherwise, demonstrated that an organized youth underground could win impressive support and shake up conventional institutions if not blast them to pieces. More openly now, disaffiliates shot society the finger; militants mobilized for action. As the old peace movement flickered with the atomic-testing ban and Kennedy's ostensible triumph in the Cuban missile crisis, its remains enlisted in the cause of civil rights. The marches, the sit-ins, the Mississippi project helped undermine the assumption that long-stagnant conditions could not be changed. As SNCC and CORE accelerated their campaigns in the South, SDS launched community organization projects in Roxbury, Newark, the District of Columbia, Oakland, Chicago and Cleveland. The poverty program stirred potential ghetto leadership to a consciousness of fraud and deprivation. In the face of rampant domestic rot, the escalating Vietnamese war became a double outrage. Rarely had the tranquilizing words of the establishment seemed so foreign to its deeds, and the growing community of hip developed a deep cynicism.
Whether asocial or passionately social in his vision, the hipster came to resent what he regarded as mass culture's attempts to trick him in every sphere. Holden Caulfield, an emblem of sensitive youth in the Eisenhower years, experienced dismay at well-intentioned "phonies." But Holden never realized how dangerous the phonies could become The new generation emerged with an obsessive wariness, a loathing of hypocrisy
Given a new youth, a new bohemia, a new iconoclastic humor, a new sexuality, a new sound, a new turn-oil, a new abolitionism, a new left, a new hope and a new cynicism, a new press was inevitable.
Meanwhile, a few of "the littles," which used to steer wide of politics and sociology altogether, started editorializing. The Floating Bear, a semimonthly sheet edited by LeRoi Jones and Diane Di Prima, called itself a newsletter and printed some reviews and comment to back up its experimental poets. Ed Sanders' Fuck You /A Magazine of the Arts declared itself dedicated to - among other things - "pacifism, national defense through nonviolent resistance, unilateral disarmament, multilateral indiscriminate apertural conjugation, anarchism, world federalism, civil disobedience, obstructors and submarine boarders, peace eye, the gleaming crotch lake of the universe, the witness of the flaming ra-cock... mystical bands of peace-walk stompers, total-assault guerrilla ejaculators, the Lower East Side meshuganas, vaginal zapping, the LSD communarium, God through cannabis, hashish forever, and all those groped by J. Edgar Hoover in the silent halls of Congress."
Sanders also penned occasional editorials, inverse parodies of the reasoned, moderate tones used in establishment papers. One, urging repeal of marijuana laws, called for "fringe attacks: pot-ins at Governmental headquarters, public forums and squawking, poster walks, hemp-farm disobedience. In New York: with a number too large and prestigious to ignore, a multithousand joint light-up on the steps of city hall - FORWARD! THIS IS OPERATION GRASS! Another political "position paper" began:
It makes us puke green monkey shit to contemplate Johnson's war in Vietnam. Lyndon Baines is squirting the best blood of America into a creep scene. Kids are "gook-bricking" in Asia without thought, without reason, without law .
This editorial concluded with a call for "a demonstration of peace by tender fornicating love-bodies... a group screw zapped around the world." (A relatively new sheet, Gargoyle, has promised to print "what Ed Sanders rejects"; and back numbers of earlier Sanders editions are already premature collector's items, going for ten dollars a copy.)
If some of the mimeo mags oozed only occasionally into political territory, others planted their tents on that enemy ground. Resurgence, one of the farthest out, was established as the literary organ of the Resurgence Youth Movement ("a new anarchist movement based on the world revolution of youth and the birth of a new psychedelic Afrasian-American soul"). Founded in the summer of 1964, blatantly, hysterically subversive, Resurgence reads like the rantings of a soapbox poet-zealot:
surrealysics : : pataphism : : panultraneo : : underdogma : : negativentropy : : Resurgence has not yet defined any limits. We may be three billion persons, we may be a negative universe reaching out across the void... Revolution is the total destruction and creation of society... All science and art is crap. We will not submit and we will not coexist.
The magazine envisions a planet on the very brink of apocalypse (the epithet ''burnbabyburn'' is etched here and there in its margins; grotesque dragons glower over its text). "Logic and metaphysics to the torch," it cries. "Turn our culture upside down and cut its head off. Go wild. Go naked." But there is some intelligence behind its mystical, venomous ravings, and to call its authors and audience "out of touch" would not serve any purpose. Their delusions are evident enough from the vantage point of the mainstream. But in London, members of the Industrial Workers of the World have joined with the Resurgence Youth Movement to start a similar magazine for revolution called Heatwave; in Amsterdam, anarchist publications are issued by Provo; in Brussels, by Revo. This fall, R.Y.M. began a new bulletin called New Man, to feature "regular columns and reports from the intergalactic struggle," which it plans to "build into a newspaper to reach tens of thousands of young people, students, workers, dropouts, all over the world."
What is the Provotariat? Provos, beatniks, pleiners, nozems, teddy boys, rockers, blousons noirs, hooligans, mangupi, stiljagi, students, artists, misfits, anarchists, ban the bombers... those who don't want a career and who lead irregular lives... THE PROVOTARIAT IS A GROUPING OF SUBVERSIVE ELEMENTS... It exists in a society based on the cult of "getting on." The example of millions of elbow-bargers and unscrupulous go-getters can only serve to anger the Provotariat. We live in a monolithic sickly society in which the creative individual is the exception. Big bosses, capitalists, Communists impose on us, tell us what we should do, what we should consume... They will make themselves more and more unpopular and the popular conscience will ripen for anarchy... THE CRISIS WILL COME.
The "Provotariat," of course, lives in the throes of a sort of lunacy. So alienated from the cultural mainstream, so robbed of influence, the woolliest imagine themselves preparing the barricades for massive hostilities. But even those less trapped by the helpless fantasy of systemicide continue to believe, in the vaguest of terms, that America is destined to crumble by virtue of her own malignancy. They foresee some contemporary parallel to the fall of ancient Rome - the rise of African or Asian nations, perhaps, the isolation of the United States in a Communist world, a right-wing takeover followed by popular uprising, an inevitable erosion of corrupt institutions. The apocalyptic delusion takes many forms: religious, moral, sociological, international, racial; all help sustain an underground that feels itself vilely repressed. Until two years ago, no newspaper had ever expressed such frustrations, or such dreams.
* * *
By avoiding the peculiar preoccupations of the true underground, The Village Voice's circulation rose from 20,000 to 75,000 in the past three years - with one quarter of its papers sold outside the metropolitan area. When the Voice, not even bar mitzvahed yet, dumps on Bobby Kennedy, his office phones up the next clay. It is still decidedly a community newspaper - embroiled in local skirmishes for reform Democrats, schools, zoning laws - but it judged early in the game that Greenwich Village was not a community like any other. Rather, it billeted, in remarkably close quarters, much of the vanguard of American fashion, art, politics and theater and was, therefore, worthy of representation to the world "out there." Establishment papers sent reporters on forays into the world of the Village, of course, but they came as aliens, ogling the natives, scooping titillating items that might amuse the uptown folks and give them something to cluck about over their breakfast coffee. Voice reporters lived their beats; covering civil rights, off-Broadway, the Pop scene or a neighborhood campaign, they wrote, essentially, about themselves and about their friends. When they broadened their sights, they tended - where The Nation, Commonweal or New Leader sounded faintly old, tired and square - to be in touch with what was happening. And so the Voice, bolstered by almost weekly gains in advertising, shows signs of becoming the first national organ for insurgency in politics and the arts.
The Voice opened up the territory. The papers that moved in to occupy it were, in one sense, children of the radical mimeo sheets and, in another, children of the Voice. Some were promising, some were mentally defective. But all reacted against the conservatism of their Voice parent; they swore at birth enmity to compromise.
Modeled quite frankly after the Voice, the Los Angeles Free Press was the first organ of the new underground. The idea for the paper, and an initial investment of $15, came from Art Kunkin, a 39-year-old tool-and-die man from Brooklyn. When Kunkin asked permission to promote plans for a liberal-bohemian weekly at the 1964 Renaissance Pleasure Faire, a friend suggested he put out a dummy issue for the Faire, and in two frenetic weeks he collected enough money and material for a 5000-edition, eight-page tabloid. Dressed as Robin Hoods and 15th Century peasant girls, Kunkin and a merry band of college students gave their papers away as wandering peddlers, attracted a lot of sympathy and a little financial support and, on a fairly hand-to-mouth basis, built the Free Press to a paid circulation of 50,000 in three years.
In New York, Walter Bowart, a painter, and Alan Katzman founded The East Village Other, a 16-page tabloid that made the Voice read like The Wall Street Journal. They were quickly joined by John Wilcock, who'd done a weekly Voice column for nearly 11 years.
"Wolf and Fancher run their paper with an iron hand,'' Wilcock says. "I'd discover new things, the Voice would sit on them for a while and then promote them when they became fashionable. I was on to hallucinogens seven or eight years ago. They discouraged my writing about Albert Ellis, Lenny Bruce and nudist camps. You know where they advertise? The New York Times Book Review. It's clear where they stand. Their average reader is 30-odd years old. He's not interested in changing society. EVO's average reader is ten years younger. We have no taboos. We'll publish anything people write or draw." EVO reacts to the relative stodginess of the Voice much as the Voice began to a garden-club/sewing-circle weekly called Villager, which had been ''Reflecting the Treasured Traditions of This Cherished Community" with a New Englandy town-crier flavor since early in 1933.
"We're no community paper," insists Katzman, now managing editor of EVO. "We're a world-wide movement for art, peace, civil rights, morality in politics. There's a new population under 34 - economically powerful, with the weight of numbers as well as of ideas reacting to what they aren't getting from the press. They're not getting interpretation; they aren't even getting the facts. 'Kennedy was killed by a crazy man,' they're told. 'Only crazy people kill Presidents of the United States. No one has anything to gain.' If the media don't get a tighter grip on what's happening, they're going to lose a lot of these people to us."
"Us" does not refer simply to EVO itself but to a whole new spectrum of underground newspapers, united in their editorial war on what they call "the new oppression." Each publication, at bottom, represents an extension of the personalities of its editor and cronies. EVO seems to reflect the vision of second-generation hip, still believing in the Good and True and Real, but no longer surprised at new instances of corruption. It is most aware of an international brotherhood of dissent, and underscores kinship with subterraneans in Paris, London, Bulgaria, Japan, India and elsewhere: it prints "dirtier" cartoons and photo montages; and, while some of its colleagues are still talking Zen, EVO is into witchcraft, cannibalism, macrobiotics, astrology, aphrodisiacs, electric-charge machines, theocracia, existential psychotherapy and political independence (secession, emigration) for the underground. The editors, to be sure, sneer at the charge that their paper is "far out." "We're creative artists," Wilcock says. "We represent our milieu, people pushing the boundaries - and exploring beyond them. We're not interested in shocking anyone, just in reaching the guys who don't think automatically, who feel like US, dig us. We give them a forum and ammunition." Possibly because EVO is confident and familiar with its audience, its tone is more clipped than hysterical.
Until quite recently, the West Coast papers had an even more frantic sound, the scruffily wholesome quality of a single generations remove from the middle class. (A front-page lead in the Free Press refers to "such greats as Freud and Dr. Kinsey"; nutty little marginalia and subscription plugs, reminiscent of Mad, fill out short columns.) Whereas EVO's orientation is decidedly psychedelic, the Free Press is urban political, in the Voice tradition. (Its layout, also, is borrowed directly from the Voice.) Where EVO tends to cop out on Manhattan problems, the Free Press is thick in the L.A. fray, especially on race (Kunkin ran an extended series on Watts after the riots) and poverty. The Free Press has been joined recently by three more L.A. papers: The Provo, a little tabloid; The Oracle of Southern California; and the full-size, Free Press-like Los Angeles Underground.
Max Scherr, a 51-year-old New Leftist who, before founding the Berkeley Barb, ran a local bar called Steppenwolfe, takes a more global slant than Kunkin. Scherr tends to trap himself in the simplicities of radical rhetoric and, mixing up the Big Issues into a sexintegration-peacehighl bundle, commits the fatal error of unintentional humor. The Barb is a "cause" paper (backing, for instance, the Committee to Fight Exclusion of Homosexuals from the Armed Forces), but its tenor is almost pastoral - Scherr is obviously more interested in grape pickers than in the Negro ghetto.
During the school year, an anti-bureaucratic weekly called The Paper has been coming out of Michigan State in East Lansing, despite "harassment" from a "puritan" president and university administration (who've had their hands otherwise full, explaining CIA involvement in MSU's Vietnam-aid project). Michael Kindman, the 22-year-old Merit Scholar who founded The Paper, rallied several full-scale campus protests on its behalf.
And with no credential beyond a high school diploma, a 19-year-old refugee from the Free Press named Harvey Ovshinsky returned to his home town, Detroit, last year to start his own "organ for hippies, liberals and anarchists." The Fifth Estate, so far, isn't much more than a hick cut-and-paste job of pilfered material: the evil-eye motif, Tim Leary's column from EVO, cartoons and "unclassifieds" from the Free Press, etc. The Fifth Estate is one of the shortest, most derivative and least professional-looking of the papers, replete with unreadable gray type, spelling mistakes and malapropisms. One recent issue contained an uninspired arts column (Kulchur list plus pep talk), endorsement of a local peace candidate, a SNCC press release, protest against Dow Chemical Company and religious Christmas stamps, and three articles on Bob Dylan. Another covered its back page with a mock WANTED poster for an undercover narcotics agent, offering a reward of "one pound, U.S. grass to anyone who can drop 1000 micrograms of LSD into this man's misdirected body." Ovshinsky is devoted to The Fifth Estate, however; it is reaching a heretofore ignored audience and is improving.
Previously, such frayed-shoestring ventures scrounged desperately for money and copy. The Newspaper in Boston, The Journal in Santa Barbara and others all tried to hop on the underground express after Kunkin's success, but each of them failed.
About a year ago, however, a half-dozen such papers formed a loose alliance, the Underground Press Syndicate, with grandiose plans. Since then, 20 additional papers - weeklies, fortnightlies and monthlies - have joined their ranks and the syndicate expects to pick up others by the end of the year. Some already exist - The Kansas Free Press, the Lake Shore Gazette in Chicago (aimed, actually, at enlightened bourgeoisie) and The Fire Island News. A Time-style newsmagazine of the underground from Manhattan is currently in the works. Negotiations with college papers are under way; and even high school students are beginning to issue unauthorized and uncensored extracurricular publications, such as Detroit's South Hampton Illustrated Times (known to the student body as SHIT).
The Underground Press Syndicate, like a jazz combo, offers a framework for improvisation. Any member paper (membership costs $25 annually) is free to pick up features, cartoons, news or whatnot from any other member paper, without remuneration. A single national agency solicits ads for all of them. All revenue goes back into the common fund. If and when nonmember papers want to run U.P.S. articles, they pay for them; that money goes into a fund earmarked for setting up a telex, teletype and telephoto wire service between San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, London, etc. "That we may all together become well informed and in turn inform the public on a larger scale bothers those who would want us to remain ununited,'' declares an EVO editorial. "Let us then bother everyone; irk them, poke them, tickle them, sway them till they understand that what bothers us bothers everyone."
"This system will make it three times as hard for the middle-class press to suppress the things we're talking about," Katzman predicts. The syndicate envisions a growing demand for its brand of coverage - from AP, UPI, college papers and TV-radio networks which the establishment press will be unable to satisfy. In turn, more attention will be focused on the syndicate papers themselves. From there, the sky is the limit. Wilcock, for example, foresees a network of short-range pirate radio stations, outside FCC jurisdiction - a sort of Radio Free America - broadcasting underground gospel to the fettered, yearning masses. Katzman dreams of a giant Consumer's Union paper, which would undermine the dichotomy between employers and workers, uniting all in consumerhood, a living entity independent of state and producers. ("We will eat the food! We will wear the clothes! We will drive the cars!" Katzman rhapsodizes.)
Many such quixotic notions are predicated upon a fierce sense of us against them. ("They" are alternately known as "the enemy," "the evil forces," "the shadow" and "the world of up-tight fear.") But while EVO rants about "fascist narcos," while the Barb and the Free Press bewail the excesses of "slug-happy fuzz" or "Gestapo storm troopers," a newer West Coast entry, The Oracle, sends emissaries to the local police chief "to test the power of love." Finding him "intelligent, amiable and receptive," they are now dickering for a plan by which police may use the words and mystique of an ancient Indian mantra to disperse the hippie multitudes.
This sweet-tempered scheme is typical of The Oracle, a handsomely designed bimonthly ("approximately") from the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco. The Oracle is the gentlest and loveliest of the underground papers. Decorated with multicolored collages, woodcuts and psychedelic paintings; filled with quasi-religious Hindu myths, hymns to nature, spiritual introspections, astrological charts; sponsoring movements out of the city, into the surrounding woods and farmlands (such as "Seedpower," a transcendentalist new youth kibbutz); The Oracle seems often to be moving beyond resentment - toward mellow, joyful resignation. Now hyper-intellectual (it calls teeny boppers "preinitiate tribal groups... in evident and nostalgic response to technological and population pressures"), now lyrical (half of its letters to the editor are "LOVE-HAIGHT" poems), it laughs at the absurdity of the straight scene without any aggression at all.
soothes its "Gossiping Guru," who expresses the hope that Berkeley's "campus radicals will get the message and start singing... by entering the political arena against the establishment one only succeeds in lowering his level of consciousness to that of his opponent." Already, in the few short months that it has spread its gospel, The Oracle has changed the face of the underground press, bringing love messages to hard-hippie EVO and psychedelic illustrations to drier, issue-oriented papers such as the Barb.
Meditation is action,
The Oracle's meager "news coverage" is supplemented, at the Haight, on an almost hourly basis by an auxiliary hippie group that calls itself The Communication Company. This mimeograph operation forms the benevolent propaganda arm of The Diggers, originally a handful of generous local poets who provided free highs, food, lodging and spiritual guidance to impoverished visitors, but by now expanded to include large numbers of roving "flower people" and denizens of communal pads - "the invisible government" of Haight-Ashbury. The Communication Company produces topical leaflets within 30 minutes, day or night, and circulates them throughout the district in another 30. So far, it has distributed close to 1000 different, multicolored "publications" - ranging from poetry to position papers for the sharing gospel ("Freedom means everything free," "If you're not a Digger, you're property"), to where-and-when announcements for the next "spontaneous demonstration of joy," to warnings of impending busts.
On the Haight, hippies virtually control the scene. They feel, therefore, less persecuted, less paranoid, more relaxed - and their press reflects this sense of communal well-being in "waves of cellular trans love energy vectors." But elsewhere in the country, too, the rash of be-ins, fly-ins, love-ins, sweep-ins and megapolitan peace-pipe powwows has been bringing the new youth together with the promise of a great "gathering of the tribes" into viable communities. Public areas (such as Provo Park in San Francisco and Tompkins Square in Manhattan) have been appropriated for "freaking freely." Diggerlike cadres have sprung up in various cities (New York alone now boasts the Drop-Ins, The Real Great Society and The Jade Companions). And new underground papers give voice to the communal dream.
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Readers of establishment papers may express themselves most genuinely in lovelorn letters; underground readers appeal to each other directly through classifieds. Not surprisingly, personal ads tend to be as freewheeling as the publication in which they appear. The Voice has always screened notices carefully. Its "Village Bulletin Board" rejects explicit appeals for sexual companionship, although more than a dozen presumably sophisticated dating services, mostly computer, advertise in the paper. Their Bulletin Board, typically, is encrusted with notices for avant-garde films, theater events, social get-togethers, publications and objets d'art.
Classifieds in the underground press fall between extremes of licentiousness, with West Coast ads leaning more toward tribal scenes (nude beach parties, Lonely Genitals Club, Sexual Freedom League functions, group acid tests) and East Coast ads, toward individual setups ("Keep me high and I'll ball you forever. Samantha''); drugs ("Attention new potheads, jippies, A-heads, junkies and thieves. 'Goody' Cardinelli will con you if possible. Bill Healy is a fingerman. I'm serious. Fight burn artists and finks by publishing names of known rats."); oddball cults ( GOURMETS: Delicious Recipes for Preparing Human Flesh"); and cryptic personals ("Wrote your number on a Sarno cream puff again and ate it. I'll call my analyst tomorrow."). Midwest ads are tamer. Share-my-pad propositions ("Desirous of meeting buxom, beddable, stacked, sophisticated swinger"), perhaps the most prevalent form of personal, read like souped-up, adolescent refugees from The National Enquirer. (The Enquirer's editor, who considers EVO "in bad taste," claims their ads "must meet certain high standards.") But subterraneans are quick to insist that hippie advertisers are a different breed of cat entirely.
"Once I saw an ad in the Enquirer that said, 'I'd like to meet a girl who doesn't read this sort of paper,'" Paul Krassner recalls. "Most of these people would probably rather advertise in The New York Times." (The Times rejected a help-wanted ad for an EVO salesman.) Krassner himself experimented with a "Department of Personal Propaganda" and then expressed some journalistic embarrassment at phrases like "Open-minded attractive females only" and "Will answer every letter" and "Photo (optional) returned." Rather than risk an integrity crisis over the question of censorship, he dropped the feature after a single issue. That was sad, for even though, as Krassner admits laughingly, "Realist readers were just as horny as anybody else," they offered more imaginative self-interpretations than most lonelyhearts, e.g.:
Divorcee and kids: 25; attractive; I.Q. 135; intuitive-correlative and abstract-objective thinking-wise; can and do recondition self at will; extreme (and controlled) emotional range; culture-free to great extent. Like: s-f, horsing, sensual music, learning, individuals, sex, creating, existence. Dislike: cold, literature, past and present history, people en masse, boundaries. Want mate sans legality, equal or superior in sanity, freedom, potential.
"These people aren't necessarily hard up," Krassner insists. "I've got friends who use classifieds. It's a screening device. And if, say, you want to plug into a couple-swapping underground, where else can you go?"
"We're used to thinking a guy who advertises for a chick has to be a loser," says the girlfriend of an EVO columnist. "But that's where it's at now. Frontal. Direct. He may be really groovy. Look, if I had dressed this way five years ago - tank top, bright colors, spider stockings, huge earrings - you'd have thought I was a whore. But now I'm acceptable. Society picks things up from its fringes - and changes."
Underground proprietors, too, hope to shift the center of social gravity leftward. Ed Sanders, who also edits the Marijuana Newsletter (which quotes prices on the grass exchange), and whose successful shock-rock Fugs may be clearing the way for a new sort of top-40 sound, appeared on the cover of Life. He's an important prophet for freaking with a purpose.
"Anyone can go live in an ashram somewhere," he says. "But once you pick up the telephone, once you accept the existence of the A & P. you've got to get involved. Otherwise you're a psychopath. The social game is just a matter of energy sources. Now we pretend a benign political life at home and go wreaking violence all over the world. The underground tries to dull the impulse toward violence and redirect the energy into sexual and creative channels. Take pot; a highly sophisticated substance, a miracle drug. Tied in with sex, not violence. A sexual and philosophical union of people who turn on and have radical economic views can become a power bloc - libertarian socialism - but you've got to pound your idea into the culture... . You may be 'weird' and 'far out,' but you're effecting change. Once they understand you're not violent, they can't use violence against you. These newspapermen are gentle people. No fists. So you're a freak for five years, and then a radical for another ten, and then you're conservative and some other Turks are howling at the gates. We'll devote our whole lives to this campaign, because what's freaky today will be frazzled tomorrow. If you can affect just one generation of young people, you save the world for 30 or 40 years; you get people to take LSD, make love with their eyes open. For every protester, there are ten secret supporters. Get them out in the open and you cool the whole scene."
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To learn what is happening, to form a personal judgment of America, we must rely heavily upon the testimony of the press. We know the defense briefs by heart. In the face of overwhelming economic and sociopolitical impotence, the underground press seeks to prepare a case for the prosecution. Its witnesses are mostly a strident, frowzy lot, bitter for all their talk of love, unruly, perhaps even a bit mad. But they are, at last, demanding to take the stand. And they have quite another story to tell.
Playboy's letter to Mel and Mel's response