October 31, 2013
A Review: Ed Sanders:
An Informal History Of The Counterculture
In The Lower East Side
R. E. Prindle
Sanders, Ed: Fug You, An Informal History Of The Peace Eye Bookstore, the Fuck You Press, The Fugs, And Counterculture In The Lower East Side, 2011, The Da Capo Press, 424 pages.
Ed Sanders? How few out of a hundred have even heard of him? Yet, Ed had an effect on the society of the Sixties not inferior to Andy Warhol. Perhaps a few more have heard of his recording group The Fugs. Originally the Village Fugs, and aptly named.
While never much of a success out of the East Side Bohemia of NYC Ed nevertheless merits attention. Ed was born in 1939 making him a graduate of the high school class of ‘57. I was class of ‘56 making Ed one year younger than me. But, what a difference a year makes. Let us do a little demographic study.
The swing years between Greil Marcus’ ‘old weird America’ and the new even ‘weirder America’ were the years of 1955, 1956 and 1957 with ‘56, my year, being the transition year between old and new. The key events of the turn was the effect of television and the destruction of network radio that resulted in teen oriented all music Top Forty radio. The class of ‘55 was the last year of ‘old weird’ America while ‘56 was maybe 70-30 the old and new with the old part the largest. Fifty-seven began the ‘new’ weirder America. Thus while Ed and I are only a year apart we still come from two different social outlooks as do all who followed after.
Demographics are important. By 1955 older teachers were fifty-five or sixty years old so they were born in say, 1890-95 to 1910. Not quite frontier but in the transition from horse and buggy to automobiles and airplanes. They were born into an America of the introduction of new technological wonders that actually went well beyond their imaginations. I mean, the fantasy of men flying came true. They saw Victoriana die and the modern world born. I mean, they saw biplanes turn into jet planes. They lived through two world wars witnessing the incredible changes succeeding those two wars. They were teens or in their twenties during the New Era of the Twenties. They were in their thirties in the Depression and Dust Bowl of the thirties. After enduring WWII they were hit by the Korean War and the struggles between the Communists and Honest people that ended in the defeat of their champion Joseph McCarthy. The three years in question were lived at the beginning of the on-going Negro revolution following the Brown vs. The Board Of Education decision that led to the unimaginable fact of Army troops invading Little Rock to cancel the rights of the majority in favor of a minority. Full lives to say the least.
They had some strongly held opinions about life and America they passed on to us or attempted to do so. It was a clumsy attempt. The chaos of the Sixties and subsequent decades stemmed from that teaching. Most of them were rooted in pre-1920 attitudes as was to be expected. No matter how hip we are to the NOW our outlook is always conditioned on the past, near or far.
Teddy Roosevelt’s politics seem to have been the basis of their outlook. The twin themes of freedom and revolution were uppermost in their minds. Freedom was always ill defined if defined at all while revolution was held up to us as the highest ideal especially the American Revolution which was sort of the apex of history although Simon Bolivar who rode throughout Spanish South America bringing revolution to every colony on his way was a very close second. Of course the success of the countries he established failed to measure up that of the US. The French and Bolshevic Revolutions were never mentioned and were disregarded as they didn’t fit the fantasy. As these teachers were in place post-war through the fifties whole cadres of students were indoctrinated in this nonsense.
Basking in the fairly incredible triumph of the US in a two front war against very formidable enemies the teachers fairly glowed with the glory. Perhaps influenced by that achievement they made the incredible statement that each and every one of us could be whatever we wanted to be. That idea perhaps astonished us more than any other. It was obvious that some were smarter than others, all were of different physical stature, some had social disadvantages that meant denial by those that had them. Some had already made decisions that closed off vast areas of achievement and there was room for only so many at the top. Still, I suppose, that if we had the proper attitude there was a modicum of truth in the statement. Really, if you don’t try you don’t get anywhere. However rooted in a past now thirty or more years distant all the teachers were not dealing with current realities. The were not living in the NOW enough as we were in the Sixties.
There was a basic insecurity with Americans, even though we were taught to believe we were the greatest. A silly novel by Eugene Burdick of 1958, The Ugly American, turned that idea on its head. The idea of the novel was that in their foreign relations Americans were clumsy and inept compared to the smooth Communists of Russia, we antagonized the Third World despite sending wads of money and tons of food for free. I do suppose it’s true that you can’t buy love and Burdick seemed to revel at the thought.
As a result of Burdick’s novel Americans high and low embraced the notion that he or she was an Ugly American thus becoming inferior in their minds to every other people of the world. Just as the American South condemned a portion of their people to be White Trash, so Americans became the White Trash of the world. It was something to witness. Forty years or so on some nitwit rocker sang: ‘I’ll be your Ugly American if you’ll be my Asian Rose.’ Is that a deal or not? Blows your mind, doesn’t it? Blew mine.
I’m sure that most of us in the fifties had never heard of the CIA and if we had the initials conveyed little meaning. By the early sixties after the incident of the Bay Of Pigs not to mention the Kennedy assassination we had all heard of it but with little comprehension. Ed Sanders as well as the whole Left would fixate on the CIA as the epitome of evil. Of course they were either Communists or Communist sympatizers, Ed claimed to be a socialist, and hence were trying to divert attention away from the KGB and Communist activities. The James Bond movies beginning to appear in 1962 were metaphors of the cold war between the ‘Free World’ and the captive nations.
With some variation of this indoctrination under his belt Ed graduated HS, spent a couple semesters at UMissouri-KC then headed East to attend NYU. He say his intent was to become a rocket scientist but once in NYC he gravitated down to the Village which gradually enchanted him so that he abandoned solid propellants and took up ancient Greek, Latin and Egyptian because his mother told him the classical languages were the accoutrements of a gentleman. Perhaps so but there was no danger of a Village Fug ever being mistaken for a gentleman. Ed never was.
Once settled in the Village Ed involved himself with Village politics as he sought a place for himself under that black sun as a poet. The late fifties and early sixties were a time of the Beatnik poet. Coffee houses sprang up where the ‘poets’ could read to an eager audience, mostly of other would be poets. I was in the Bay Area of San Francisco at the time and while I wouldn’t call myself an habitué of North Beach I did attend a couple readings in 1964 where Ferlinghetti and a couple others read. Apparently it was the Coffee and Confusion Coffee House as I see from the web, but I don’t remember the name of the place. By 1964 things were pretty commercial and, at least, in SF the house was packed with employed weekend wannabe Beats.
Ed himself writes a humorous piece about a poetry reading in his Tales Of Beatnik Glory. While fiction the tales accurately portray the life. I have never been a big poetry fan and my expectations were not disappointed. Ed is an accurate barometer of his time and life on the Set.
On his quote page at the beginning of the book he quotes Maxim Gorky who said: ‘I was typing with all my might to make myself “a potent social force.” That pretty much sums up Ed’s career in ‘Beatnik heaven’ on the Lower East Side. His approach as he puts it was ‘A Total Assault On The Culture.’
Which culture isn’t exactly clear. Ed was a Catholic boy and he acquired and exhibited all the neuroses that the Catholic confession induces especially the rebellion against sexual repression, hence he turns to the pornography peculiar to Catholics. While there are some maybe many who were or are in full sympathy with Ed’s sexual neuroses I find them repellant while at the same time liking Ed.
Ed gives no indication that he himself indulged in licentiousness preferring the role of voyeur. He was a heavy drinker while going on dope binges. While sympathetic to homosexuality he says he passed on a night with his great hero Allen Ginsberg while he married young to his wife of fifty years now, Miriam. He had a couple kids and approximated a normal sexual life.
He did become a voyeur par excellence. In the enthusiasm of the time he became an underground film maker (read pornographer) with his hand held Bolex camera. He took up filming at the same time as Andy Warhol. He and Andy became acquaintances.
At the time that Andy began to create his Factory populated by an assortment of criminal amphetamine heads Ed did the same. During the late fifties and early sixties New York City was awash in amphetamines at all levels of society. One Dr. Max Jacobson otherwise known as Dr. Feelgood was busy administering massive doses of his amphetamine and vitamin cocktails, himself freely using it nearly on 24/7 basis. At one point he is said to have gone sleepless for thirty straight days.
While amphetamine used on that scale is destruction Max said and people believed that the vitamins destroyed the destructive qualities of the drug. Maybe so but within a few years there were burned out cases walking all over NYC.
Ed had his own reasons. I make an extensive quote interspersed with commentary. As Ed says the hips called the Village ‘the Set’ as in movie set. As would develop during the decade the notion that one was a mere performer in your own movie became prevalent if not endemic. Anyone’s life was a role. One could do anything without the loss of self-respect. The notion was that when your movie role was over you could revert to your former condition. People went to prison without any idea they were affecting their psychology and subsequent social position. I watched slack jawed.
In this passage Ed seems to see himself as a sociologist, pp. 54-55:
Another of my projects I called Amphetamine Head…Since 1959 I had been studying a group of artists and bohemians known around the Lower East Side as “A-heads,” amphetamine heads.
In those days people were called ‘heads’ as in he was a good head. A-heads means full time amphetamine freaks, vitamins or no vitamins.
They shot up amphetamine and often stayed up on A for days. Warhol said that he never slept more than two hours a day for years. There were plentiful supplies of amphetamines, sold fairly cheaply, in powder form on the set.
Amphetamine was legal at the time.
That fall I began filming Amphetamine Head. I decided to focus on the A-head artists, mainly painters, but there were some poets and jazz musicians as well who could be put under the banner of A. Anyone who lived on the Lower East Side and spent much time mixing with the street culture encountered A-heads. They roamed the streets, bistros, and pads compulsively shooting, or gobbling unearthly amounts of amphetamine, methidrine, dysoxin, bennies, cocaine, procaine- all of this burning for the flash that would to FLASH! It was almost neo-Platonic, as beneath the galactic FLASH! Were subsumed the dime flashes all urging toward FLASH!
Everybody from Washington Square to Tompkins Square called the street “the set”- “I’ve been looking for you all over the set, man. Where’s my amphetamine?” With a generation of folks readily present who viewed their lives as taking place on a set, there was no need to hunt afar for actors and actresses. What a cast of characters roamed the Village streets of 1963!
So there we have a set of fully blown minds. People who were out of it, insane for all practical purposes, Ginsberg’s ‘best minds of his generation,” running from fix to fix. These were us who back in ‘56 were billed as the hope and future or America with a capital A- no pun intended.
I’d heard rumors about a doctor [Max Jacobson- Dr. Feelgood] giving President Kennedy shots. Uppers. It turned out…that the rumors had a basis in truth. So there was plenty of gossip at the time that the President used amphetamines and that his doctors [actually only Max] injected him every morning. There were further speculations that the generals who met in the Pentagon war room every day planning atomic snuffs were a bit A-bombed themselves.
Possibly true. When I was in the Navy in ‘58-’59 bennies were commonly used while the Marine Camp Pendleton was awash with everything heard and unheard of.
I was fascinated with an amph-artist named Jim Kolb…I had observed the violence of the amphetamine heads and the raw power grabs that occurred in their glassy eyed universe after a few months of sleeping just twice a week.
One can compare this to Dylan’s Desolation Row in which he portrays Dr. Filth, that is Andy Warhol, and says:
Now at midnight all the agents
And the superhuman crew
Come out and round up everyone
That knows more than they do
Then they bring them to the Factory
Where the heart attack machine
Is strapped across their shoulders…
It was true that Warhol’s A-heads who were strung out on A would emerge from the Factory at midnight and predate on the streets. Dylan who was strung out on A himself would encounter them on the streets where there were undoubtedly stand offs between them and Dylan’s own crew.
While at the time we were attributing all kinds of fantastic interpretations to Dylan’s lyrics they can all be explained by what was going on in the Village. As the years progressed the clubs would become more vicious and violent until the apex of club land Studio 54 opened in 1977 giving the diamond glitz to that movie set of violence.
It was also commonly accepted on the set that the Germans had invented amphetamines and that the Nazis had shot up amphetamine during campaigns in WWII inspiring tales on the Lower East Side of futuristic battles involving fierce-breathing amphetamine humanoids, babbling shrilly like rewinding tapes, in frays of total blood.
It is true that a German did first synthesize A but at the end of the nineteenth century. A was further developed by a Japanese in 1919. In the early thirties Dr. Feelgood, Max Jacobson a Jewish German put together amphetamine and newly discovered vitamins to make his potent cocktail that he brought to the US in1936. Actually all combatants in WWII hopped up their troops on A, most notably the US and British pilots flying long bombing raids over Germany,
The heads also seemed proud that A-use destroyed brain cells. One of the A-heads might shout, “I lose trillions of cells every day, man, grooo-vy!”
Amphetamine altered sex. Some under A’s spell waxed unable in eros or sublimated their desire beneath a frenzy of endless conversation or art projects. Others with strong natural urges experienced this: that the erogenous areas became extended under A to include every inch of bodily skin. Men could not easily come, and women loved it forever. The image of amphetamine driven Paolos and Francescas writing for hours on a tattered mattress was humorous but true.
The Village has been described as the independent Republic of Bohemia. Certainly within the boundaries of the Set a certain hot house atmosphere prevailed. Ed is representative of that ethos of film makers, artists, musicians and hangers on. Ed was quite famous on the Set developing an opinion of himself quite at variance to what his influence was off the Set.
Ed’s attitude toward the A-heads while couched in sociological terms was also somewhat sadistic and perverted. He observed that may of the A-heads became compulsive drawers covering their apartment walls with drawings. Combining the art with his prurient sexual needs Ed conceived the idea of buying four ounces of A for about thirty dollars, renting an apartment then allowing A-heads to shoot up freely on the condition that he be allowed to film them at lovemaking and other activities. Through this approach at what must be considered pornography Ed amassed a couple thousand reels.
Unfortunately they were confiscated by the authorities during a raid and never returned. Maybe the CIA studied them in their search for a mind control drug.
Time flows along while Ed’s brain was hyper active. The idea of being a poet was paramount at the time. People who thought that they were poets were everywhere. Of course, that meant denying that anyone else was a poet. Heck I even flirted with the notion but realized that I much preferred prose. Ed developed a fair reputation as a poet. He can be seen reciting on videos on the internet. I would say he was a cut above the ordinary however I have little use for poetry.
Combining his interests in sex and poetry Ed decided to start a poetry magazine. For whatever reason he may have had he decided to name the magazine Fuck You- A Magazine Of The Arts. Had Ed consulted those with a little market savvy he might have reconsidered. While Fuck You is certainly an attention getter it makes buying it without a brown paper sack or even displaying it in your home a chancy affair. In fact, Ed gave most of them away. A non-Bohemian could go down to Soho for a laugh.
Ed was industrious and applied himself. He canvassed the big NYC poetic names and compiled an impressive list of contributors beginning with the arch freak, best mind of his generation, Allen Ginsberg. So, if you’re into poetry especially the sex obsessed Boho kind you would probably like Fuck You. Ed should have started a second magazine titled Fuck You Two.
Rapidly moving into retail Ed found a space in the center of things and opened his Peace Eye book store modeled on City Lights in San Francisco that Ed had not yet seen. I was familiar with City Lights and personally I wouldn’t have modeled anything on it. I can’t believe they actually sold enough to pay the rent. Who the hell buys poetry?
Ed aggressively promoted his sexual agenda in his Assault On the Culture drawing unwonted attention to himself from the authorities. Time was moving along. The hand on the dial was pointing to 1964. That year was the year of the World’s Fair. As should be obvious the social life on the Set had become fairly raucous and actually offensive to those not on the Set. Mayor Wagner determined it was time to tone things down on the Set lest tourists be offended. On the other hand maybe they would have come downtown to sample the outrageousness.
The hounds were on Ed’s trail. He experienced some difficulty as his ‘secret location on the Lower East Side’ was raided, the authorities illegally removing Ed’s precious porn flicks and anything else suspicious looking, naturally that included everything in their eyes. No receipts, no returns. Well! Who wouldn’t be offended? There was little Ed could do about it except try to stay out of jail. That became a struggle. After harassing the bejesus out of him the authorities declined to press charges. All those dirty movies were probably prize enough.
For Ed though his Total Assault On The Culture was going swimmingly. The great so-called Free Speech Movement began its course in 1964 on the campus of UC Berkeley in California. This was the turning point of the US group of revolutions. Trained from childhood to believe in revolution, any revolution, was good, Ed and several age cohorts enthusiastically applauded all revolution.
As part of the revolution a thing so small as a possible minute change in a detergent was described as a revolutionary new product. The idea of revolution as a positive thing was everywhere. It filled people’s minds. After the revolution, so to speak, occurring in the sixties commercial products shifted from revolutionary to ‘new and improved.’ The revolution was over; no new ones were to be entertained. Today detergents are just detergents, no need even for anything new and improved.
Ed’s description of his own revolutionary program was ‘a total assault on the culture.’ The Negro revolution well in progress of which Ed was part was a total assault on the culture; the Jewish revolution to which Ed was sympathetic was brought into focus by the so-called Free Speech Movement of which it was the leading edge. The sexual revolution encompassed both the Homosexual revo and women’s lib both of which fit into Ed’s total assault and he backed the Yobbo revo.
None of these revolutions could have taken place as they did without the US constitutionally guaranteed freedom of speech, assembly etc.. Indeed Ed ingenuously celebrates that freedom, without which all other freedoms are meaningless, explaining that he was making unlimited use of it.
That he and the Negroes, Jews and others were able to do so was because all Americans believed in freedom of speech. Sharing that belief was to cause me all sorts of problems. Even though the concept was being stretched to the breaking point, that is turned against itself, the mantra at the time was ‘ I may disagree with what you say but I’ll fight to the death for your right to say it! You don’t hear that mantra anymore; now you hear ‘Words can kill’ or hurtful things should be censored as they are so offensive. We are post-revolutions.
Ed himself began to become bitter when it slowly dawned on the government that indeed a violent assault on the government was taking place. At that point security agencies such as the FBI and CIA began serious surveillance. After all at the same time all these revolutions were taking place domestically we were becoming totally committed to the war against Communist Viet Nam. Ed claims to have been a socialist so that the backed that subversion too.
Since he vocally proclaimed his position in Fuck You Magazine, the name itself was intended to enrage, it can easily be understood why the authorities placed him on their list of desperadoes. It just seemed like fun at the time but it was more serious than we thought.
Obviously freedom of speech was no more threatened in 1964 than it ever had been, perhaps less. The lines between the various thems and us had just been drawn. The revolutionaries meant to deny freedom speech to the other, or bury it, as in these latter days has been nearly done.
Indeed in 1960 when I was attending Oakland (Calif.) City College anti-free speech limitations were in use by Liberals. We were forbidden to even mention let alone discuss what have become ‘protected’ minorities today. Crimes were committed in the name of what is now called diversity. In one class I had the misfortune to be sitting next to a Negro. A test paper came back on which I got a C while I noticed the Negro got a B. Then I noticed my score was a 78 while the Negroe’s was a 64. I objected saying I didn’t care if he got a B or not no matter what his score but since I had a higher score I should have an A or at the very least a B.
In full arrogance the teacher said he had only so many Bs to give out and since I had been the recipient of White Skin Privilege it was the Negroes turn and I would have to pay the debt. So obviously the revolution was prepared to lie, cheat and steal to succeed no matter who or how many get hurt.
Ed may have bought into that revolution and freedom crap as taught in schools but I obviously would have to be a counterrevolutionary.
So while Ed, absent from the scene, applauded the Berkeley Free Speech Movement I was on the spot viewing things somewhat differently. As I said the Free Speech Movement was part of the Jewish Revolution. There was no denial of free speech at UC before 1964 but by 1966 when the dust had settled the Jews were in control of the university and free speech was definitely curtailed.
As I entered the campus at Sather Gate in the summer of ‘66 a Jewish commissar sat at a table just inside the gate where we were to be vetted as to our politics which meant were we philo-semitic or not. Obviously one was not welcome if it was determined that one was ‘reactionary.’
Whatever Ed believed he was doing it was neither revolutionary in a positive sense nor was it furthering freedom of speech.
Into The Music
Busying himself with his poetry, at which he was very successful as poetry goes, and running his Peace Eye bookstore, Ed conceived the idea of forming a musical group and why not? Musical groups were the generation’s mode of expression. This one he would give the most offensive name he could think of, The Fugs. The Fugs! Everyone in the world knew that fug was a euphemism for fuck. The ’comedian’ Redd Foxx had a punch line that went ’if you can’t fugg your can sugg it.’ So Ed calls his group the Village Fucks. Alright. So we know where that’s at. Nevertheless this low level pornography would get him national exposure. It even got his picture on the cover of Life Magazine in 1967 as part of the world wide cultural revolution. The Total Assault was working. He came to my attention out on the West Coast.
Ed thought of forming the Fugs interestingly enough at the same time that Andy Warhol had the idea and adopted the Velvet Underground as his house band. Both were influenced by Albert Grossman’s success in promoting Peter Paul And Mary and Bob Dylan. PP&M were already a big success in 1964 making barrels of money so why not go for the golden ring?
From 1964 to ’67 Ed and his Fugs scored a major success within the Set. After a fashion the Fugs became a sort of cabaret or burlesque act somewhat after the fashion of the theatre in the French movie The Children of Paradise. That movie served as the East Village model. The Great Boogie Woogie Dylan himself would imitate it in his film ’Masked And Anonymous’. A slight redundancy as to be masked is to make oneself anonymous. Bob was a poet.
As a sort of off Broadway act at the Players Theatre on the heart of Bleecker Street the Fugs may have appeared to be giving Dylan and the whole folk scene a run for their money. Café Society that was finding its way to Warhol’s Factory midtown also called on the Fugs at their theatre dropping back stage to pay their regards. Heady stuff, and I’m not being sarcastic.
At the same time Ed was negotiating with major labels Atlantic and Reprise. He was already on the local label ESP but that was run by a less than astute businessman. Terrific catalog of records though, perhaps the most interesting label in existence on many levels. The two major labels were soon to be subsumed under the Warner Bros umbrella. Atlantic fearing that Ed’s content might block its chance to be acquired by Warner’s dropped the group but they were picked up by Reprise. Reprise was owned by Frank Sinatra. When label Pres. Mo Ostin presented the deal for Sinatra’s approval Frank remarked sarcastically “I guess you know what you’re doing.” Frank hopped on the wave of the future as he rode the rock surf board into shore. Mo didn’t know that much as the Fugs were much less than a stellar act for them.
As 1967 ended then Ed and his band seemed poised for the major break through. However the year 1967 was unfortunate in being followed by the year 1968; the year of the Big Change. Ed’s total assault on the culture would be a success but he would be left behind.
It was a long way from 1960 when the decade began to 1968 just a year before the whole decade crashed at Altamont. The Snark the 60s pursued was a boojum you see.
Nineteen sixty eight was the year China stepped center stage with its and the world’s Cultural Revolution. Didn’t seem terrifying on this side of the Pacific but it sure was in retrospect. Ed might have thought that his Total Assault On The Culture was a success but he seems to have missed the year’s impact. The ethos that had carried he and his Fugs from ’62 to ’68 was exhausted. The year would see the shootings of Andy Warhol, M.L. King and Bobby Kennedy. Only Warhol would survive and that only through the miracle of modern medicine. Andy was actually brought back from the dead living on borrowed time for another twenty years.
The death of Bobby Kennedy killed Ed’s spirit while the course of events had grown far beyond his ability to deal with.
The Fugs had done well in the hothouse atmosphere of the Lower East Side but Ed was to find that that success couldn’t be exported from Bohemia. Even if the group succeeded in playing a venue they were frequently advised that it would be dangerous for them to try again.
Perhaps this was nowhere more obvious than when the Fugs were booked into the college town of Eugene, Oregon on May 4th of 1968. That was the day the revos went over the top in Paris. Nineteen sixty-eight was the year Mao kicked off the worldwide Cultural Revolution. The Chinese even financed the revolution in the small college town of Eugene, the home of the UofO. The Hippie invasion that Ed also represented had erupted, in the Eugenians’ eyes leaving then on a sharp knife edge of anxiety when the Maoists arrived. Wait, we’re not finished yet. In addition to those irritants there was the invasion of the SDSers, Students For A Democratic Society led by New York City Jews in denims who hit town like a small tsunami adding to the disruption.
As if the phony Free Speech Movement hadn’t been enough, the arrival of the phony Students for a Democratic Society added insult to injury. We all, at least myself, believed we had freedom of speech in a democratic society but then along came these freaks redefining terms. Got away with it too.
Eugene’s home grown hippie ’cancer’ that wouldn’t go away was a record store by the name of Chrystalship. You are free to guess who owned it. That’s right, me. I am not now ever was a revolutionary or even a Liberal, discontented but no revo, card holding or not. I just wanted to get to Paris in some style. As it was the town fathers determined that I was behind everything. I almost had my own personal FBI agent. I was followed, my mail was opened, phone tapped and had my shipments illegally searched with no attempt to conceal what they were doing and no recourse. Some democracy.
Even they couldn’t stop the Cultural Revolution or keep the SDSers out of town but they sure as hell weren’t going to let some pornographic group with the name of Fugs, short for Fucks, play in town. Mao was one thing, Ed Sanders was another.
On May 2nd the door was slammed shut in Eugene, the venue denied. Acting quickly the promoters found a spot twenty miles out of town in the still smaller village of Creswell. A phone call scuttled that plan. At that we ticket holders thought the jig was up but, not so. A secret location on the east side of town was found that was so secret I’m sure that half the ticket holders couldn’t find it and gave up.
Ed’s memory is fairly clear on this. I’m comparing his notes with mine to reconstruct the scene as accurately as possible. About ten miles to the South of Eugene, maybe a few miles further, was a new motel, fairly glitzy for Eugene, maybe built by drug money, named The Lemon Tree. Obviously the owners were Peter Paul and Mary fans because there were no lemon trees in Oregon. Ed remembers playing at the motel but I respectfully disagree with him. He stayed there but he didn’t play there.
I honestly can’t say where the place he played was except that it was out in the country turn right here turn left there and when you got there you couldn’t be sure that was it plus there was only a fifty-fifty chance you could find your way back to the highway in the dark. Once arrived you drove over a cow pasture out to this largish barn and parked in the high grass.
There were no lights in the barn except for a couple spots jury rigged over the stage, if there was a stage, hard to see in the dark. For some reason there were actual bleachers three or four tiers high arranged against the back wall. All fifteen attendees strung out on the benches in the dark. We could barely see each other. I held on tight to my wife so that we didn’t separated and have to stumble around trying to find each other. ’Hello, over there, over here.’
Way across the barn on the opposite wall was this stage faintly illuminated on which the band would and did stand. Thus, unless we made some noise the Fugs had no way of knowing that they were not playing to an empty barn. We were forbidden to get any closer, nor did we know whose hands we were in. Could have been plain clothes cops for all we knew.
So, away over there the Fugs stepped up to the microphone. They were a mangy looking group, voluntary poverty was in evidence. As a child were asked to pray for the poor heathen Chinese before dinner but we should have been praying for our poor heathen selves. The Chinese are doing OK. But Ed and the boys could sing joyfully in their rags. At the time we thought they were trying to be as far out as possible. They weren’t doing a bad job. Tuli Kupferberg, the absolute weirdest of the lot, Tuli had mastered weird, and remember we in the audience had nothing to brag about, was playing an eight foot long staff. It had six or seven clatter devices on it so he could keep a semblance of a beat. He lifted it up and slammed it into the ground to some effect. Beyond that I can’t even remember if they played Ah, Sunflower Weary Of Time or Boobs A Lot, Slum Goddess Of The Lower East Side which is what I came for. I may have been the only one of the Eugene Fifteen who had ever heard the Fugs on record. I sure as hell hadn’t been able to sell any.
When the concert ended we tripped and stumbled out of the barn, hopped in our cars and hoped the hell we could find our way back to I5. The concert was the high point of my concert going career. It was what one calls an adventure. I have relived it over in my imagination many times over the years. An evergreen if there ever was one. Ed recalled it in his pages with good reason. It was a turning point in his career.
Ed tells it this way, page 312:
We flew up to Portland, Oregon, May 3 after our fun in LA for a gig there and the next day drove to Eugene, the very day protesting students were occupying the streets of Paris. We played a club called the Lemon Tree next to a beaver pond. Before the performance I walked out to the water’s edge, where I experienced a great transmission of peace. I had to go back in my mind to the lakes of my Missouri youth or Elvis Presley’s rendition of “Peace In The Valley”, which helped me through the grief from my mother’s death in ‘57, to find much consolation as I had during those moments. The beaver pond by the Lemon Tree was the best time for me in ‘68.
That wasn’t a beaver pond Ed. That was an artificial pond the owners dug to glitz up their motel. It was situated between the motel and I5. There hadn’t been a beaver in those parts since John Jacob Astor founded Astoria at the mouth of the Columbia. If there had been it would have been killed as a nuisance. Beaver’s chew down saplings Of course saplings spring up all by themselves by the millions but we don’t want no beaver felling even one.
My memory could be wavering but I think that on the way out from the barn I saw Ed after the concert squatting beside the pond. I’m sure he must have been crushed by that bizarre performance to a seemingly empty barn. It had to have been hard after four years of very hard work. It appears that he did have an epiphany of some kind. If he had known he was going to be playing to fifteen people he couldn’t see in a dilapidated barn I’m sure he would have thought of retiring and he did then. As his mind was made up to end the Fugs at the beginning of ‘69 I suspect that that dismal concert set his mind on the track.
Well, Ed, I really enjoyed the show.
It Is Impossible To See Where You Are
When You’re There
While Ed was living his life time was passing and circumstances were changing. When Ed began the Fugs in 1964 what he was doing was fitted to the time and was possible. By the end of 1968 when he determined to end the group he was still acting on his 1964 impulse while by 1969 he would have had to adjust to new conditions. Led Zeppelin, the Moody Blues and a host of other bands were more contemporary than the Fugs. The Fugs were old hat.
Even Ed’s solo album, Sander’s Truck Stop, of ‘69 was a stale joke. I thought it was OK myself and I liked his second effort Beer Cans On The Moon but they also were out of time. Ed and his Fugs were part and parcel of the Sixties. A very few if any of the Sixties groups made it into the seventies and those that did reinvented themselves. The Jefferson Airplane became the Starship. Other split off and went solo. Donovan just evaporated although he was as talented in the seventies as before.
The Rolling Stones adapted despite themselves. When their manager, Andrew Loog Oldham sold them out to Allen Klein it may have been their saving. With Klein in control of their outdated sixties output the Stones were forced to change. Jagger found a financial manager in Rupert Loewenstein who turned them into a prosperous stage act, sort of performance art, cabaret or burlesque, along the lines of Yoko On or Andy Warhol or even the Fugs. Jagger certainly saw the Fugs on Bleecker and may have picked up an idea or two. They were able to successfully adapt their musical style to the seventies.
As a Sixties group Ed and the Fugs were finished. You can never go home again; when they left the East Side to assault the culture of the entire United States their East Side base was destroyed.
Out in the real world what were record stores supposed to do with a band called the Fugs and a record titled It Crawled Into My Hand Honest? Ed was a vaudeville act, soft porn, how could a store recommend stuff like that to the underage person who formed a large part of the business? Who wanted to bring the law down on themselves. Couldn’t be done. Hell, The Rolling Stones nearly got me clubbed down with their sado-masochistic cover for their record Black And Blue, as in welts and bruises. It got ugly in the seventies, post Stonewall.
Ed closed up shop and returned to civilian life. Civilian life had changed a great deal too. A lot social errors were accruing. The generation hadn’t done such a great job. The influx of Puerto Ricans and Negroes into the Bronx combined with the efflorescence of hard drugs, heroin, was turning the Bronx into a hell hole or worse; even an abandoned hell hole as the turmoil drove peaceable citizens out. And then they burned it down. Ed even left to move to the Lower East Side. Even there things were turning violent. The streets were no longer safe. Near Ed’s apartment a well known Hippie couple around the Set were murdered in a basement, the girl after being raped repeatedly. The perp was a Negro living upstairs from them. He felt obligated to commit the crime because of his religion which was described as the Yoruba religion.
Probably not one in a thousand knew who the Yorubas were and that they migrated from Nigeria in Africa and that their so-called Yoruba religion was actually a form of Voodoo called Santeria. Santeria was popular with Negroes and some Whites along the entire Eastern Seaboard yet few knew of it then and few do today.
Ed had moved from the Bronx to the Lower East Side and from there to the West Village where he was greeted with another double murder outside his front door. Where next? Where any reasonable person would go. Ed moved to the country and painted his mailbox blue, up in Woodstock, the feudal estate of Bob Dylan’s manager Albert Grossman. And then the Tate-La Bianca murders occurred out West in LA. Ed decided to investigate Charlie Manson and his Family. Write a book.
Actually the murder of the Hippie couple by the Voodoo killer on Ed’s former block was as horrific as the Tate-La Bianca killings but no one had ever heard of the dead Hippies on the Set and if they had they wouldn’t have cared.
So Ed went West where he stayed a couple years pretty thoroughly investigating Charlie’s shenanigans. He did a good job of it too. Of course he had to pull his punches somewhat to avoid lawsuits but he apparently lowered his guard at the wrong time. Some Satanist group called the Process Church Of The Final Judgment, these were apocalyptic times, not wishing the truth of their organization to surface threatened legal action on the publisher. They gutted Ed’s book. It was probably a publicity stunt as the Process made no objection to the English edition.
At this point in Ed’s memoir he folded his tent and quietly slipped away remarking only that all his Fugs tapes and artefacts lay neglected in boxes for the next fifteen years until the Hippie romantic revival began.
Ed had created a legacy of sorts, intellectual properties, that he could exploit after 1985. So he was restored to some significance in the aftermath.
Ed does not let grass grow under his feet however. When he wearied of running a rock group he returned to his scholarly roots as so many of us did when the Sixties vanished into thin air. He did have a solid education in the Classics. Since then he has written extensively although with the same level of popularity as the Fugs.
However no matter how audacious a nine volume history of the United States in verse- in verse!- may be, epic poetry of that kind has a very low threshhold of sales. I’m sorry Ed, I’d like to but I’m just not going to do it, I’m not going to read American history in verse, especially not a socialist interpretation.
Social Redemption And The Fugs
So forty years on Ed tells all. I’ve read the book twice now while I’ll read it at least a third time. Many of the nuances pass over one’s head the first and even the second time. Ed has a direct style as though one on one and as an document explaining a part of the Sixties the book is essential. Presented in a chronological form probably patterned after Andy Warhol’s Popism: The Warhol Sixties Ed avoids any intellectual pretensions laying things out as they were street level. Deceptively simple as they say. Well worth picking up if you have a love affair with the Sixties going, or are a student of the times. An essential document as I said.
But what were the results of Ed’s ‘total assault on the culture?’ Of course Ed was only part of the assault which was endemic to the time. Everyone had been reared on the notion of romanticized revolution and unrestricted freedom. Warhol was a key figure on the Lower East Side, although midtown and uptown himself, as was Jonas Mekas of the underground cinematheque. The filmmakers impact would have been nil without Mekas. I can only tolerate underground stuff because I’m a dedicated scholar. Kenneth Anger may have been the best of the lot and that is not saying much. Still, there are believers and so much of the corpus is stored at MOMA.
Drugs have turned into a way of life a la Brave New World although others than Ed were responsible for that. Today it’s not do you use drugs but which drugs do you use. Ed’s fixation on sex has developed as he would have liked. There are few mainstream Hollywood films produced today without an obligatory fuck scene within the first ten minutes, full frontal nudity female and male with fellatio and cunnilingus scattered here and there. Homosexual and Lesbian movies are readily available for the interested and show on TV. On that level Ed’s assault was a total success.
Plus there are forty or fifty thousand reported female rapes a year. Gangs of youths roam the streets practicing their game of knockout king; that is sucker punching pedestrians seriously injuring many and killing not a few. Huge riots take place at fair grounds where wild youths exercise their freedom by assaulting fair goers. The police make little effort to curtail their activities. So some people are exercising their total freedom at the cost of others.
We have a socialist redistributor of wealth, also a Negro, as our president so all that marching down South Ed participated in paid off handsomely.
In addition his oppressed Negroes are now in control of some pretty impressive real estate where they are so oppressive that White people run screaming for the suburbs Detroit, Chicago, Memphis, Montgomery, Atlanta, Philly, half of New Jersey and beginning November 5, 2013 New York City are Negro towns as well as many many more not to exclude the capitol of the Confederacy itself, Richmond, Virginia. So, Ed gets an A+ for his efforts there.
And of course homosexuality is a ‘protected’ activity in which they have obtained the right to teach pederasty to kindergartners in public schools. Also any girl a virgin past fourteen or sixteen at the latest is considered a freak who had better get promiscuous or else.
Over all, I would say Ed’s total assault on the culture has been a roaring success. There are some though, myself included, who consider Ed’s success a crime against humanity. Illiteracy is on the rise, diseases once though eradicated are returning with a vengeance. Bedbugs, once thought eradicated have returned with a thump infesting half the country with solid prospects of infesting the rest.
Well, nobody’s perfect. I’m sure Ed sits back, Guiness in hand, smiling to himself and thinking job well done. Well, handsome is as handsome does as my old high school teacher used to say.
And then that other guy said: If you can’t fugg it, sugg it.
November 30, 2010
A week or so after Philadelphia I got a real lesson in show business and Pop style. Just when you think you’re getting famous, somebody comes along and makes you look like a warm up act for amateur night. Pope Paul VI, talk about advance PR- I mean, for centuries.Definitely the most Pop public appearance tour of the sixties was that visit of the Pope to New York City. He did it all in one day- October, 15, 1965. It was the most well-planned media covered personal appearance in religious (and probably show business) history. “Never Before in This Country! One Day Only! The Pope in New York City!”The funny thing for us, of course, was that Ondine was known in our crowd as “the Pope,” and one of his most famous routines was “giving the papal bull.”The (real) Pope and his entourage of aides, press and photographers left Rome early that morning on an Alitalia DC-8. Eight hours and twenty minutes later, they got off the plane at Kennedy with the Pope’s shiny robes blowing in the wind. They drove in a motorcade through Queens- the streets were lined with people- through Harlem crowds, and then down to the jammed- for blocks St. Patrick’s Cathedral area in the Fifties- where the Pope seemed to want to go out in “the audience” but you could see his aides talking him out of it. After all the stuff in the cathedral he ran down the street to the Waldorf-Astoria where President Johnson was waiting. They exchanged gifts and talked for a little under an hour about world troubles. Then it was over to address the UN General Assembly (essentially he said, “Peace, disarmament and no birth control”) out to Yankee Stadium to say Mass in front of ninety thousand people, over to the closing World’s Fair to see Michelangelo’s Pieta in its Pop context before it went back to the Vatican, and back out to Kennedy and onto a TWA plane, saying, when the reporters asked him what he liked best about New York, “Tutti Buoni” (Everything is good”) which was the Pop philosophy exactly. He was back in Rome that same night. To do that much in that short a time with that kind of style- I can’t imagine anything more Pop than that.
I’d dreamt about Billy Name, that he was living under the stairs of my house and doing sommersaults and everything was very colorful. It was so weird, because his friends sort of invaded my house and were acting crazy in colorful costumes and jumping up and down having so much fun and they took over, they took over my life. It was so weird. It was like clowns.Everybody was a clown in a funny way, and they were just living there without letting me know, they’d come out in the morning when I wasn’t there and they’d have a lot of fun and then they’d go back and live in the closet.
I was invited to speak at the annual banquet of the New York Society For Clinical Psychiatry by the doctor who was chairman of the event. I told him I’d be glad to ‘speak’ if I could do it though movies, that I’d show Harlot and Henry Geldzahler and he said fine. Then when I met the Velvets I decided that I wanted to speak with them instead, and he said fine to that too.So one evening in the middle of January everybody in the Factory went over to the Delmonico Hotel where the banquet was taking place. We got there just as it just was starting. There were about three hundred pychiatrists and their mates and dates- and all they’d been told was that they were going to see movies after dinner. The second the main course was served, the Velvets started to blast and Nico started to wail. Gerard and Edie jumped up on the stage and started dancing, and the doors flew open and Jonas Mekas and Barbara Rudin with her crew of people with cameras and bright lights came storming into the room and rushing over to the psychiatrists asking them questions like:‘What does her vagina feel like?’‘Is his penis big enough?’‘Do you eat her out? Why are you getting embarrassed? You’re a psychiatrist; you’re not supposed to get embarrassed!Edie had come with Bobby Neuwirth. While the crews filmed and Nico sang her Dylan song, (I’ll Keep It With Mine) Gerard noticed (and he told me this later) that Edie was trying to sing, too, but even in that incredible din, it was obvious she didn’t have a voice. He always looked back to that night as the last she ever went out with us in public, except for a party here and there. He thought she’d felt upstaged that night, that she’d realized that Nico was the new girl in town.Edie and Nico were so different, there was no good reason to compare them, really. Nico was so cool, and Edie was so bubbly. But the sad thing was, Edie was taking a lot of heavy drugs, and she was getting vaguer and vaguer. Her society lady attitude toward pills had changed to an addict attitude. Some of her good friends tried to help her, but she couldn’t listen to them. She said she wanted a “career” and that she’d get one since Grossman was managing her. But how can you have a career when you don’t have the discipline to work at anything?Gerard had noticed how lost Edie looked at that psychiatrists’ banquet, but I can’t say I noticed; I was too busy watching the psychiatrists. They were really upset and some of them started to leave, the ladies in their long dresses and the men in their black ties. As if the music- the feedback actually- that the Velvets were playing wasn’t enough to drive them out, the movie lights were blinding them and the questions were making them turn red and stutter because the kids wouldn’t let up, they just kept asking for more. And Gerard did his notorious whip dance. I loved it all.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iNwp4nNTeJg Clip of performance.
The Last Days Of John Lennon
Review by R.E. Prindle
How The Fifties Became The Sixties
The sixties seem to have erupted by some process of autogenesis. They seem to be a decade unrelated to the fifties but nothing could be further from the truth. The sixties were very carefully structured in the fifties, that supposedly somnolent decade. The fifties themselves evolved from the fantasy notion of The United States Of America- the American Dream. In truth there had never been a united America and an American Dream only in the mind of certain immigrants who believed they had reached the Promised Land of their dreams. The country has always been one of conflict with conflicting peoples. There was no mythological age as in distant times so no mythopoeic era preceded the scientific one. America was born in science.
The warfare against the aboriginal peoples to clear the land for the European invaders created the first layer of conflict. The second layer of conflict was the importation of Africans as slave labor. This created a second irreconcilable conflict that erupted in 1954 when the Black revolution began in earnest and began to accelerate in the sixties. This was what Eric Foner described as America’s unfinished revolution in his writings.
Each succeeding group of immigrants created its own friction but assimilation did go on with most peoples. In the fifties the sort of ethnic identities in song and humor that makes the talkies of the thirties now seem quaint was coun
teracted. While visibly subdued ethnicism simmered below the surface until the sixties when it burst out again in a new form and triumphed.
I am unable to tell the education received in schools of the twenties and thirties but by the time I was in high school from 1953-56 the whole concept of revolutiuon was romanticized and this continued through my college years in the sixties. It was iterated over and over again that revolution was an absolute virtue. To be revolutionary was to be a person in full. Kids in the walls ran around saying are you revolutionary, I’m revolutionary. Thus they embraced any idea that was the opposite of the status quo. This notion of revolution was combined with the notion of the absolute virtue of being an American. This would result in Kennedy’s idiotic Peace Corps begun in the sixties. Raw American youths were supposed to be able to tell the less favored peoples how to run their lives. The war in Europe was treated as a crusade against Germans, a war of absolute black and white, no shades of grey. I truly believed that no American in either the European or Pacific war ever committed an act of wanton brutality no matter what the provocation. I would have dismissed out of hand that as a matter of policy millions of Germans were exposed to Winter weather in the years following the war unprotected while being denied any kind of nourishment and, yet, it was so. In subsequent years this would have been described as ‘American’ brutality while in fact it was instigated by revolutionary American Jews seeking vengeance. Americanism was not involved.
At the same time the new medium of television exposed us to unprecedented doses of propaganda disguised as the truth, doses far in excess of anything the hated Nazis devised. Chief among those TV shows was a cartoon called Crusader Rabbit. Now, Crusader Rabbit in reality is a vigilante dispensing vigilante justice. He acted on his own ‘righting’ what he perceived as wrongs. Of course those of us who read comic books in the late forties had already been exposed to vigilantism in the form of comic book heroes like the Blackhawks. Or, for that matter Batman and Robin and Superman among many others, Plastic Man. I sort of thought of myself as Plastic Man.
So this whole age cadre was stoked up on revolution and vigilantism with no venues to express it. The sixties then was a god send as the existing revolutions- the Undermen, the Jews, the Blacks, the Homosexuals, the Feminists, the Communists had merely to whisper the word REVOLUTION to get a positive response for their ideologies. The generation was primed for revolution of any sort- a revolution in bubble gum for instance.
Thus at Berkeley in ’64’s so-called Free Speech Movement you had the spectacle of the most advantaged members of the generation participating in what was a part of the Jewish Revolution in the guise of voluntary Undermen.
Thus as the sixties dawned the way was cleared of any resistance to revolutionary schemes as hordes of self-righteous vigilantes confident that their perception and judgment was received from god himself began to act on their assumptions taken from their misguided elders.
The center of this maelstrom in the sixties was New York City. The Bohemian life style stewing in Lower Manhattan since the Armory Show of 1913 was about to conquer the mind of the country. Perhaps the leader of the sixties Bohos was Andy Warhol. Certainly with a kind of genius he made himself the center of the storm.
This most influential Bohemian attitude toward life was both stratified and diverse. The first out of the box were the uptown Beats. These men seized the attention of the country in the mid-fifties when Allen Ginsberg, a leader of the Jewish, Homosexual and Underman revolutions, gained prominence with his so-called poem, Howl. He then dragged Jack Kerouac through with his On The Road and William S. Burroughs with his Naked Lunch. All three works have been incredibly influential in creating a new Underclass of Undermen, in thought if not in fact.
The Beats hung out in upper Manhattan around Kerouac’s alma mater, Columbia, although Ginsberg gravitated downtown in an effort to pair up with the Beat musical epigone, Bob Dylan. As Ginsberg represented four revolutions it could be said of him- Il est partout, a very important if disgusting figure. Burroughs also gravitated to lower Manhattan before departing for the corn fields of Kansas.
The well-to-do or rich Bohos, to which John and Yoko would belong, sometimes known as Cafe Society, were the upper crust of Bohemia. And then there was the middle Bohemia and it Lower Depths.
Running through all was the old avant garde which excluded the Beats who were not avant garde.
Warhol, John Cage, La Monte Young and a host of artists and writers including Yoko Ono were part of the old garde. Yoko dragged Lennon in but he was not constitutionally avant garde and probably not even a real Boho. Fred Seaman seems to have had no affinity for Bohemia or revolution.
As the sixties dawned Lennon coming from then obscure Liverpool was of the lower middle class but of the English art school background. He spent a couple years in the German underworld before skyrocketing to super world fame with the Beatles so that while he and the Beatles were instrumental in forming the sixties and subsuming the avant garde they were not actually of it. Thus when Lennon came to earth around 1970 he was virtually a Rip Van Winkle who had slept through the decade. The new reolutionary world he and Yoko entered in New York could have been barely understood by them. It wasn’t even really understood by those in the thick of it. Dylan’s ‘Something’s happening here but you don’t know what it is do you Mr. Jones’ could have applied to himself and everyone else.
Yoko Ono was a committed Feminist and key member of that revolution. In a world of eccentric and unusual characters she was a standout. Her career as an avant gardist began as a ‘performance artist’. Essentially a stunt man. Back in the twenties and thirties would be celebrities used their bodies to gain fame performing stunts. One going by the name of The Mighty Atom attached ropes to his hair holding back an airplane. This is essentially what Yoko was doing as a ‘performance artist.’ Her ‘Cut Piece’ urged viewers to come up on stage and cut away a piece of her clothing. She and Tony Cox crawling into a black bag? Whew!
But she was thereby connected to the avant garde. She knew John Cage, Andy Warhol, Sam Green and the lot as early as 1960. The friendships remained enduring as she maintained them throughout the seventies and eighties.
As a performing artist Yoko was a sort of chameleon forming her art to suit the circumstances. Having once captured John Lennon she first became a peacenik as peace was the prevailing notion- love and peace- returning to New York amid the wreckage of the peace, love and happiness bit she got up from her bed of peace and strapped a fully loaded bandolier of bullets around her hips and became a sullen revolutionary a la Bernardine Dorhn. It all art and art is holy, isn’t it?
The Ono-Lennon’s very serious looking revolutionary activities quite naturally brought the Heat down on them. It should be clear that these were not lightweight posturings but she and John were financing the disruption of the Republican National Convention forcing a move of the site from San Diego to Miami. There is small wonder the elected Nixon administration sought to deport them. Neither John nor Yoko were American citizens but essentially part of an international conspiracy, she being a Japanese and he an English national. Thus in addition to being a leader in the Feminist and Sexual revolutions she lent herself to the Judaeo-Communist revolution. Nearly all her revolutionary associates were of the Jewish revolution. Plus John essentially represented the Undermen. Thus Fred Seaman was employed by not only a celebrity household but a notorious one. Nor was Fred an American but a German national. No Americans involved.
Warhol And Bob Dylan
Down below the subway’s screamin’
As I lay here halfway dreamin’
And face the long evenin’
Layin’ close beside my radio
Imaginin’ the kisses of the girl who sings the song
Lookin’ at the ceiling
Wonderin’ where the dream went wrong.
Last Morning- Shel Silverstein
As sung by Ray Sawyer and Dr. Hook.
New York City was indeed a tough cold city. It was enough to make you crazy as you ‘fought the crowds, avoided the traffic and watched the world turn grey.’ Coming from Pittsburgh Andy Warhol had no trouble with the skies turning grey, he was used to much worse. For Dylan coming from Hibbing, Minnesota way, way out on the edge of civilization the change must have been traumatic. Both men, however, were uniquely equipped to succeed in such a tough environment although it turned both crazy, cruel and mean. Both became paragons of the revolutions.
Warhol, the older of the two, forged the revolution of the Undermen and the Homosexuals while acquiring great wealth. Dylan, too, made his appeal to the undermen (the confused, abused, strung out ones and worse) basing his career on the misfits and malcontents. At the same time he was a key player in fundamental Jewish revolution. Both men affected innocent harmless personas so as to deflect attention from what they were really up to. As both had complementary strategies it is quite possible that each saw through the other. Warhol certainly saw through Dylan but I’m not sure if the reverse was true. Both were heavily into drugs which altered their perceptions.
Warhol preceded Dylan on the scene by a decade arriving in NYC in 1950. His homosexual agenda was clear to him from the start even if its implementation wasn’t. He was immediately successful upon his arrival easily gaining entry into the commerical art field. Dylan too would have no trouble gaining both entry and prominence within a year, phenomenal success in two and preeminence in three.
Warhol commanded a large perhaps even great income within a matter of four or five years. He spent madly but invested wisely.
He was always interested in mass production techniques where the original was merely a prototype like a car model. His original drawings were mass replicated by the newspaper ads. Amazingly, new in New York, he sent a letter to CBS asking if he could design record covers and received assignments by return mail. While his record covers are not among his best known works he did design at least fifty while perhaps more remain to be discovered. While his designs were for very low selling jazz and classical records they are obviously the work of a homosexual or, as they are described- fey.
Thus they advance the Homosexual revolution. True, they are tiny drops but by the time he designed the Sticky Fingers cover for the Rolling Stones his design, it can be confidently asserted, was seen by every single member of two generations while selling in the millions. The title and cover are an ode to masturbation, one of the favorite thems of both the Homosexual and Sexual revolutions. The illustration was of a male crotch clothed in blue jeans with a workable zipper. It was a retailing nightmare but effective in sexually conditioning the minds of his audience. The zipper was irresistible to record fans who broke the plastic on every single cover making them nearly unsaleable. Success actually unimaginable to Warhol in 1950.
In addition Warhol designed ‘fey’ book covers, frequently for homosexually oriented titles thus adding a few additional drops, pushing toward 9cc. Andy had his sticky fingers in everywhere- stationery, wrapping paper…all with his fey designs.
While he gained great success as a commercial artist he had his eye on the fine arts; about 1960 he made his move into ‘serious’ art- painting. He called his style Pop Art. Pop Art had its antecedents in the fifties of which Warhol would have been aware. Here are a couple examples by Ray Johnson from the mid-fifties. Johnson is described as proto-Pop.
Having made his splash in Pop Art, becoming a major celebrity, Warhol was ready to move into his next phase in the subversion of art and society. In 1964 he established his famous atelier known as the Factory. There he continued his paintings while beginning an influential if unremunerative secondary career as a film auteur.
There seem to be revolutionary motives in the founding of the Factory. Warhol gathered about him a collection of the Undermen. These were all Homosexuals, druggies, hustlers and prostitutes.
There is an interesting passage in the Weathermen founder’s autobiography Fugitive Days where the author, Bill Ayers, says:
…the most interesting alliance to me was struck in the first months underground, and it was with a kind of eccentric shadowy group that would become fast and reliable friends for decades to come.
The group was without a name, contained hundreds of members in half a dozen cities, and was organized by a charismatic leader and psychologist who called himself Kaz. They were all former heroin addicts, former beatniks, former hustlers, and prostitutes, five, ten, twenty years older than us, now living in luxury and working downtown but thinking of themselves primarily as deep, deep underground, a kind of fifth column waiting patiently for the revolution.
What Ayers appears to be describing is the Haut Boheme Cafe Society of New York. Now, Warhol with the Factory created a place where all Bohemia, high and low, could gather under the reasonable pretext of partying which is what happened. Many attendees would be innocents of course providing even better cover for the revos. To get some idea of what the scene was like review the lyrics to Shel Silverstein’s Freakin’ At The Freakers Ball appended. Silverstein seems to be describing the Factory exactly.
The police had the Factory under surveillance as well as one supposes, the FBI. The deep underground wasn’t deep enough to conceal these characters. The Factory would be forced out by ’68 giving it a four year run. Bereft of a gathering place Bohemia would have to wait until 1977 for another when Rubell and Schrager put together Studio 54. 54 was better than the Factory because attendance could be monitored allowing only the Haut Boheme and other chosen in; the undesirables could be left out. 54 was run in contempt of all existing laws and moral codes. Suspicious from the beginning it took the Feds only eighteen months to shut it down. Like The Factory however Studio 54 had its revolutionary effect especially along sexual lines- unisex toilets for instance.
The multi-talented Warhol, a perfect Prince of Bohemia added authorship to his achievements with his novel ‘a’ while moving into publishing in the seventies when he established the successful magazine Interview.
He added several notable record covers, while forming in ’66 the immensely influential Exploding Plastic Inevitable centered around ‘his’ rock band The Velvet Underground.
So, in promoting several different revolutions- the Undermen, the drug culture, the so-called sexual revolution and undoubtedly many others Warhol was one of the most successful and important revolutionary figures of the decade.
Along the way he formed a close relationship with the Feminist revolutionary, the Japanese citizen, Yoko Ono. As a bona fide member of the avant garde she tried to enter Warhol’s entourage before she left for England in ’66. However at the time she was outspokenly antipathetic to homosexuality which probably necessitated her retreating to London to think things over before returning in 1971.
She returned in grand style leading the founder of the Beatles, John Lennon, as though by a rope around the neck. She and Lennon immediately threw themselves into the revolutionary movement associating themselves with various members of the Jewish revolution. they apparently gave large sums of money while lending their personas and prestige to raise much larger sums. It was the fear of their popularity being used to rouse young Americans in this first election in which eighteen year olds could participate that put him under surveillance, quite justifiably so, by the FBI and the Nixon White House. Thus for the next several years they were harassed by deportation threats as undesirable aliens.
Having achieved her goal of reentry into New York avant garde society even becoming an intimate of Andy Warhol Yoko lost interest in Lennon. The two split up for eighteen months or so from 1973 to 1975 then reuniting. Yoko had employed her Tarot reader John Green in 1974 while Fred Seaman was added to the entourage as Lennon’s personal assistant in 1979.
While the memoirs of Green and Seaman have been disparaged by the faithful I see little reason to do so on an objective basis although Yoko Ono may find them offensive for personal reasons.
Part III follows
Freakin’ At The Freaker’s Ball
As Performed By Dr. Hook & The Medicine Show
Well, there’s gonna be a freaker’s ball
Tonight at the Freaker’s Hall
And you know you’re invited one and all.
Come on Babys grease your lips
And don’t forget to bring your whips
We’re goin’ to the Freaker’s Ball.
Blow your whistle and bang your gong
Roll up something to take along
It feels so good it must be wrong
We’re freakin’ at the freaker’s ball.
Well, all the fags and dykes they’re boogie’n together
The leather freaks dressed in all kinds of leather
The greatest of the sadists and the masochists too
Screamin’ please hit me and I’ll hit you
The FBI dancin’ with the junkies
All the straights swingin’ with the funkies
Across the floor and up the wall
We’re freakin’ at the freaker’s ball y’all
We’re freakin’ at the freaker’s ball.
Everybody’s kissing each other
Brother with sister, son with mother
Smear my body up with butter
And take me to the freaker’s ball.
Pass that roach please and pour the wine
I’ll kiss yours if you kiss mine
I’m gonna boogie ’til I’m cold blind
Freakin’ at the freaker’s ball.
White ones, black ones, yellow ones, red ones
Necrophiliacs lookin’ for dead ones
The greatest of the sadists and the masochists too
Screamin’ please hit me and I’ll hit you.
Everybody ballin’ in batches
Pyromaniacs strikin’ matches
Freakin’ at the freaker’s ball, y’all
We’re freakin’ at the freaker’s ball.
May 8, 2009
The Novels Of George Du Maurier
Peter Ibbetson, Trilby, The Martian
Singers and Dancers and Fine Romancers
What do they know?
What do they know?
Review by R.E. Prindle
Table of Contents
II Review of Trilby
III. Review of The Martian
IV. Review of Peter Ibbetson
Peter Ibbetson is the first of the three novels of George Du Maurier. As elements of the later two novels are contained in embryo in Ibbetson it would seem that Du Maurier had the three novels at least crudely plotted while a fourth dealing with politics but never realized is hinted at. Actually Du Maurier has Ibbetson who writes this ‘autobiography’ write several world changing novels from inside the insane asylum to which he had been committed. In the Martian Barty Josselin wrote several world changing books while ‘possessed’ by an alien intelligence, in a way, not too dissimilar to the situation of Ibbetson. Du Maurier himself comes across, as I have said, as either a half demented lunatic or a stone genius.
He has Ibbetson and the heroine, The Duchess of Towers write in code while they read encrypted books. Du Maurier says that Ibbetson and hence the two following books deal with weighty subjects but in a coded manner that requires attention to understand.
On page 362 of the Modern Library edition he says:
…but more expecially in order to impress you, oh reader, with the full significance of this apocalyptic and somewhat minatory utterance (that may haunt your fever sense during your midnight hours of introspective self-communion), I have done my best, my very best to couch it in the obscurest and most unitelligible phraseology, I could invent. If I have failed to do this, if I have unintentionally made any part of my meaning clear, if I have once deviated by mistake into what might almost appear like sense, mere common-sense- it is the fault of my half French and wholly imperfect education.
So, as Bob Dylan said of the audiences of his Christian tour: Those who were meant to get it, got it, for all others the story is merely a pretty story or perhaps fairy tale. The fairy tale motif is prominent in the form of the fee Tarapatapoum and Prince Charming of the story. Mary, the Duchess of Towers is Tarapatapoum and Peter is Prince Charming. It might be appropriate here to mention that Du Maurier was highly influenced by Charles Nodier the teller of fairy tales of the Romantic period. Interestingly Nodier wrote a story called Trilby. Du Maurier borrowed the name for his novel Trilby while he took the name Little Billee from a poem by Thackeray. A little background that makes that story a little more intelligible.
Those that watch for certain phobias such as anti-Semitism and Eugenics will find this story of Du Maurier’s spolied for them as was Trilby and probably The Martian. One is forced to concede that Du Maurier deals with those problems in a coded way. Whether his meaning is derogatory or not lies with your perception of the problems not with his.
Thus on page 361 just above the previous quote Du Maurier steps from concealment to deliver a fairly open mention of Eugenics. After warning those with qualities and attributes to perpetuate those qualities by marrying wisely, i.e. eugenically, he breaks out with this:
Wherefore, also, beware and be warned in time, ye tenth transmitters of a foolish face, ye reckless begetters of diseased or puny bodies, with hearts and brains to match! Far down the corridors of time shall clubfooted retribution follow in your footsteps, and overtake you at every turn.
Here we have a premonition of Lothrop Stoddards Overman and Underman. The best multiply slowly while the worst rear large families. Why anyone would find fault with the natural inclination to marry well if one’s handsome and intelligent with a similar person is beyond me. Not only is this natural it has little to do with the Eugenics Movement. Where Eugenics falls foul, and rightly so, is in the laws passed to castrate those someone/whoever deemed unworthy to reproduce. This is where the fault of the Eugenics Movement lies. Who is worthy to pass such judgment? Certainly there are obvious cases where neutering would be appropriate and beneficial for society but in my home town, for instance, no different than yours I’m sure, the elite given the opportunity would have had people neutered out of enmity and vindictiveness. that is where the danger lies. There is nothing wrong with handsome and intelligent marrying handsome and intelligent. How may people want a stupid, ugly partner?
Du Maurier had other opinions that have proved more dangerous to society. One was his belief in the virtues of Bohemians, that is say, singers and dancers and fine romancers. On page 284 he says:
There is another society in London and elsewhere, a freemasonry of intellect and culture and hard work- la haute Ashene du talent- men and women whose names are or ought to be household words all over the world; many of them are good friends of ine, both here and abroad; and that society, which was good enough for my mother and father, is quite good enough for me.
Of course, the upper Bohemia of proven talent. But still singers and dancers and fine romancers. And what do they know? Trilby was of the upper Bohemia as was Svengali but Trilby was hypnotized and Svengali but a talented criminal. What can a painter contribute but a pretty picture, what can a singer do but sing his song, I can’t think of the dancing Isadora Duncan or the woman without breaking into laughter. And as for fine romancers, what evil hath Jack Kerouac wrought.
I passed part of my younger years in Bohemia, Beat or Hippie circles, and sincerely regret that Bohemian attitudes have been accepted as the norm for society. Bohemia is fine for Bohemians but fatal for society which requires more discipline and stability. Singers and dancers and fine romancers, wonderful people in their own way, but not builders of empires.
In that sense, the promotion of Bohemianism, Du Maurier was subversive.
But the rules of romancing are in the romance and we’re talking about Du Maurier’s romance of Peter Ibbetson.
Many of the reasons for criticizing Du Maurier are political. The man whether opposed to C0mmunist doctrine or not adimired the Bourgeois State. He admired Louis-Philippe as the Beourgeois king of France. This may sound odd as he also considered himself a Bohemian but then Bohemians are called into existence by a reaction to the Bourgeoisie. Perhaps not so odd. He was able to reconcile such contradictions. Indeed he is accused of having a split personality although I think this is false. Having grown up in both France and England he developed a dual national identity and his problem seems to be reconciling his French identity with his English identity thus his concentration on memory.
In this novel he carefully builds up a set of sacred memories of his childhood. He very carefully introduces us to the people of his childhood. Mimsy Seraskier his little childhood sweetheart. All the sights and sounds and smells. In light of the quote I used telling how he disguises his deeper meaning one has to believe that he is giving us serious theories he has worked out from science and philosophy.
Having recreated his French life for us Peter’s parents die and Ibbetson’s Uncle Ibbetson from England adopts him and takes him back to the Sceptered Isle. Thus he ceases to be the French child Pasquier and becomes the English child Peter Ibbetson. A rather clean and complete break. From this point on his childhood expectations are disappointed with the usual psychological results. He develops a depressed psychology. The cultural displacement prevents him from making friends easily or at all. His Uncle who has a difficult boorish personality is unable to relate to a sensitive boy with a Bohemian artistic temperament. Hence he constantly demeans the boy for not being like himself and has no use for him.
This is all very skillfully handled. We have intimations that bode no good for Peter. The spectre is prison. The hint of a crime enters into the story without anything actually being said. But the sense of foreboding enters Peter’s mind and hence the reader’s. This is done extremely well. It’s a shame the Communists are in control of the media so that they can successfully denigrate any work of art that contradicts or ignores their beliefs. For instance the term bourgeois itself. The word is used universally as a contemptuous epithet even though the Bourgeois State was one of the finest created. Why then contempt? Simply because the Communists must destroy or denigrate any success that they canot hope to surpass. I was raised believing that what was Bourgeois was contemptible without ever knowing what Bourgeois actually meant. It is only through Du Maurier at this late stage in life that I begin to realize what the argument really was and how I came to accept the Communist characterization. I’m ashamed of myself.
Hence all Du Maurier criticism is unjust being simply because it is the antithesis of Communist beliefs. The man as a writer is very skillful, as I have said, a genius. If I were read these novels another couple of times who knows what riches might float up from the pages.
Colonel Ibbetson apprentices Peter to an architect, a Mr Lintot, which, while not unhappy, is well below Peter’s expectations for his fairy Prince Charming self. As a lowly architect he is placed in a position of designing huts for the workers of the very wealthy. The contrast depresses him even further. He has been disappointed in love and friendship and then he is compelled by business exigencies to attend a ball given by a wealthy client. He definitely feels out of place. Psychologically incapable of mixing he stands in a corner.
At this ball the most beautiful woman he has ever seen, The Duchess of Towers, is in attendance. From across the room she seems to give him an interested glance. Peter can only hope, hopelessly. As a reader we have an intimation that something will happen but we can’t be sure how. I couldn’t see. Then he sees her in her carriage parading Rotten Row in Hyde Park. She sees him and once again it seems that she gives him a questioning look.
Then he takes a vacation in France where he encounter her again. After talking for a while he discovers that she is a grown up Mimsey Seraskier, his childhood sweetheart. Thus his French childhood and English adulthood are reunited in her. Wow! There was a surprise the reader should have seen coming. I didn’t. I had no trouble recognizing her from childhood in France but Du Maurier has handled this so skillfully that I am as surprised as was Peter. I tipped my imaginary hat to Du Maurier here.
Perhaps I entered into Du Maurier’s dream world here but now I began to have flashbacks, a notion that I had read this long ago, most likely in high school or some other phantasy existence. I can’t shake the notion but I can’t remember reading the book then at all. Don’t know where I might have come across it. Of course that doesn’t mean an awful lot. If asked if I had ever read a Charles King novel I would have said no but when George McWhorter loaned me a couple to read that he had in Louisville I realized I had read one of them before. Eighth grade. I could put a handle on that but not Peter Ibbetson. Perhaps Du Marurier has hypnotized me. Anyway certain images seem to stick in my mind from a distant past.
It was at this time that Mary, the Duchess if Towers, formerly Mimsy, enters Peter’s dream, in an actual real life way. This is all well done, Peter dreamt he was walking toward an arch when two gnomish people tried to herd him into prison. Mary appears and orders the gnomes to vanish which they do. ‘That’s how you have to handle that.’ She says. And that is very good advice for dreams that Du Maurier gives. As we’ll see Du Maurier has some pretensions to be a psychologist.
She then instructs Peter in the process of ‘dreaming true.’ In such a manner they can actually be together for real in a shared dream. Now, Trilby, while seemingly frivolous, actually displays a good knowledge of hypnotism. More than that it puts Du Maurier in the van of certain psychological knowledge. Hypnotism and psychology go together. Without an understanding of hypnotism one can’t be a good psychologist. If he wasn’t ahead of Freud at this time he was certainly even with him. Remember this is 1891 while Freud didnt’ surface until 1895 and then few would have learned of him. He wrote in German anyway.
Freud was never too developed on auto-suggestion. Emile Coue is usually attributed to be the originator of auto-suggestion yet the technique that Mary gives to Peter is the exact idea of auto-suggestion that Coue is said to have developed twenty or twenty-five years on.
Du Maurier speaks of the sub-conscious which is more correct than the unconscious. He misunderstands the nature of the subconscious giving it almost divine powers but in many ways he is ahead of the game. Now, Ibbetson was published in 1891 which means that Du Maurier was in possession of his knowledge no later than say 1889 while working on it from perhaps 1880 or so on. It will be remembered that Lou Sweetser, Edgar Rice Burroughs mentor in Idaho, was also knowledgable in psychology in 1891 but having just graduated a couple of years earlier from Yale. So Freud is very probably given too much credit for originating what was actually going around. This earlier development of which Du Maurier was part has either been suppressed in Freud’s favor or has been passed over by all psychological historians.
So, Mary gives Peter psychologically accurate information on auto-suggestion so that he can ‘dream true.’ I don’t mean to say that anyone can share another’s dreams which is just about a step too far but by auto-suggestion one can direct and control one’s dreams. Auto-suggestion goes way back anyway. The Poimandre of Hermes c. 300 AD is an actual course in auto-suggestion.
Peter is becoming more mentally disturbed now that his denied expectations have returned to haunt him in the person of Tarapatapoum/Mimsey/Mary. Once again this is masterfully done. The clouding of his mind is almost visible. Over the years he has generated a deep seated hatred for Colonel Ibbetson even though the Colonel, given his lights, has done relatively well by him. Much of Peter’s discontent is internally generated by his disappointed expectations. The Colonel has hinted that he might be Peter’s father rather than his Uncle. This completely outrages Peter’s cherished understanding of his mother and father. The Colonel according to Peter was one of those guys who claimed to have made every woman he’d ever met. One must bear in mind that Peter is telling the story while the reader is seeing him become increasingly unstable.
While Peter doesn’t admit it to himself he confronts the Colonel with the intention of murdering him. He claims self-defense but the court doesn’t believe it nor does the reader. It’s quite clear the guy was psycho but, once again, Du Maurier handles this so skillfully that one still wonders. Given the death penalty his friends and supporters, the influential Duchess of Towers, get the sentence commuted to life imprisonment.
Then begins Peter’s double life in prison that goes on for twenty years. By day a convict, at night Peter projects hemself into a luxurious dream existence with his love, Mary, the Duchess of Towers. Quite insane but he has now realized his expections if only in fantasy. Now, this novel as well as Du Maurier’s other novels is textually rich. The style is dense while as Du Maurier tells us it is written in more than one key, has encoded messages, so I’m concentrating on only the main thread here. That concerns memory.
While it is possible to subconsciously manage one’s dreams, I do it to a minor extent, of course it is impossible for two people to dream toether and share that dream. This is to venture into the supernatural. Spiritualism and Theosophy both dealing with the supernatural as does all religion including Christianity, were at their peak at this time. Du Maurier has obviously studied them. Just because one utilizes one’s knowledge in certain ways to tell a story doesn’t mean one believes what one writes. Ibbetson is written so well that the writer seems to have fused himself with the character. If I say Du Maurier believes that may not be true but as the same themes are carried through all his novels without a demurrer it seems likely.
Du Maurier seems to be pleading a certain understanding of the subconscious giving it as many or more supernatural powers as Freud himself will later. This might be the appropriate place to speculate on Du Maurier’s influence on Mark Twain. We know Twain was an influence on Burroughs so perhaps both were.
Before he died Twain wrote a book titled the Mysterious Stranger. This was twenty-five years after Peter Ibbetson. Operator 44, the Mysterious Stranger, is a time time traveler who has some sort of backstair connecting years as a sort of memory monitor. Peter and Mary over the years work out a system that allows them to travel back through times even to prehistoric times. Thus Peter is able to sketch from life stone age man hunting mastodons, or Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo. They are present at these events but as sort of ghost presences without substance. they have no substance hence cannot affect reality.
This would be a major them in fifties science fiction in which, for instance, a time traveler steps on a grub, then comes back to his present time finding everyone talking a different language. Change one item and you change all others. Du Maurier avoids this problem that he very likely thought of in this clever way.
We can clearly see the future of twentieth century imaginiative writing taking form here. One can probably trace several twentieth century sci-fi themes back to Du Maurier.
Peter and Mary have a magic window through they can call up any scene within their memories. In their dream existence they are dependent on memory they can only re-experience, they cannot generate new experiences. The memory extends back genetically although Du Maurier speaks in terms of reincarnation. Peter hears Mary humming a tune he has never heard before. Mary explains that the tune is a family melody written by an ancestress hundreds of years before. Thus one has this genetic memory persisting through generations. This gives Du Maurier room to expatiate on the persistence of memory through past, present and future.
Du Maurier has worked out an elaborate scheme in which memory unites past, present and future, into a form of immortality. This is actually a religious concept but a very beautiful concept, very attractive in its way.
Peter and Mary had elected to stay at one age- twenty-six to twenty-eight- so for twenty years they retained their youthful form and beauty. Then one night Peter enters the mansion of his dreams through a lumber room to find the way blocked. He knows immediately that Mary has died. He then learns that in attempting to save a child from a train she was herself killed.
Peter goes into an insane rage attacking the prison guards while calling each Colonel Ibbetson. Clearly insane and that’s where the send him. The mad house. Originally he continues to rage so they put him in a straight jacket where he remains until his mind calms enough to allow him to dream. In his dream he returns to a stream in France. Here he believes he can commit suicide in his dream which should be shock enough to stop his heart in real life. Something worth thinking about. Filling his pockets with stones he means to walk in over his head. Then, just ahead he spies the back of a woman sitting on a log. Who else but Mary. She has done what has never been done before, what even Houdini hasn’t been able to do, make it to back to this side.
Now outside their mansion, they are no longer young, but show their age. This is nicely done stuff. Of course I can’t replicate the atmosphere and feel but the Du Maurier feeling is ethereal. As I say I thought he was talking to me and I entered his fantasy without reserve.
Here’s a lot of chat about the happiness on the otherside. When Peter awakes back in the asylum he is calm and sane. He convinces the doctors and is restored to full inmate rights. Once himself again he begins to write those wonderful books that right the world.
One gets the impression that Du Maurier believes he himself is writing those immortal books that will change the world. Time and fashions change. Today he is thought a semi-evil anti- Semite, right wing Bourgeois writer. I don’t know if he’s banned from college reading lists but I’m sure his works are not used in the curriculum. I think he’s probably considered oneof those Dead White Men. Thus a great writer becomes irrelevant.
It’s a pity because from Peter Ibbetson through Trilby to The Martian he has a lot to offer. The Three States of Mind he records are thrilling in themselves, as Burroughs would say, as pure entertainment while on a more thoughtful read there is plenty of nourishment. Taken to another level his psychology is very penetrating. His thought is part of the mind of the times. Rider Haggard shares some of the mystical qualities. The World’s Desire is comparable which can be complemented by his Heart Of The World. The latter may turn out to be prophetic shortly. H.G. Wells’ In The Days Of The Comet fits into this genre also. Another very good book. Of course Burroughs’ The Eternal Lover and Kipling and Haggard’s collaboration of Love Eternal. Kipling’s Finest Story In The World might also fit in as well, I’m sure there are many others of the period of which I’m not aware. I haven’t read Marie Corelli but she is often mentioned in this context. You can actually slip Conan Doyle in their also.
Well, heck, you can slip the whole Wold Newton Universe, French and Farmerian in there. While there is small chance any Wold Newton meteor had anything to do with it yet as Farmer notes at about that time a style of writing arose concerned with a certain outlook that was worked by many writers each contributing his bit while feeding off the others as time went by.
I don’t know that Du Maurier is included in the Wold Newton Universe (actually I know he isn’t) but he should be. He was as influential on the group as any other or more so. He originated many of the themes.
Was Burroughs influenced by him? I think so. There was no way ERB could have missed Trilby. No possible way. If he read Trilby and the other two only once which is probable any influence was probably subliminable. ERB was not of the opinion that a book could change the world, so he disguised his more serious thoughts just as Du Maurier did his. He liked to talk about things though.
Singers and dancers. What do they know? What do they know? In the end does it really matter what they know. Time moves on, generations change, as they change the same ideas come around expressed in a different manner. They have their day then are replaced. The footprint in the concrete does remain. Genius will out.
April 29, 2009
George Du Maurier
Review by R.E. Prindle
Du Maurier is interesting as a possible influence on Burroughs. Du Maurier not only borrows from authors he admires but tells the reader he’s borrowing. Burroughs borrows without creditation. The great literature of the nineteenth century was written during Du Maurier’s lifetime. Thus Alexandre Dumas’ Three Musketeers of 1845 was a new book. It was also a book that overwhelmed Du Maurier’s imagination while having a later profound effect on Burroughs. Thus Du Maurier tells the reader his plot is based on The Three Musketeers. Like Burroughs Du Maurier incorporates several sources in an obvious manner. He was apparently fascinated by Henry Murger’s Scenes De La Vie Boheme of 1851. I haven’t read the book as yet but other reviewers say the influence is there. I pick up an influence from La Dame Aux Camellias by Dumas fils also. Du Maurier refers to many poets and writers whose writing left him helpless but as I am not that well grounded in many aspects of early nineteenth century literature I can’t identify the influences myself but they are as plentiful and obvious as with Burroughs himself.
In his own life Du Maurier had aspirations to be an opera singer but lacked the powerful voice. He then aspired to be an artist but lacked that talent becoming one of the premier illustrators of the century instead. And then as he felt death approaching he turned to writing. Thus a failure as a singer, a failure as an artist but success as an illustrator he became a huge success as a novelist. The careers of his protagonists generally follow the same course.
He is also a nostalgic writer as he lovingly recreates the scenes of his youth and life. He always retained the impress of La Boheme living his life in a genteel bohemian style. I suppose today he would be like an old hippy walking around in a gray pony tail, sandals and the garb of the sixties while making a fortune as a stock broker.
Thus Trilby opens in an artist’s atelier on the Left Bank of Paris in the Latin Quarter. The Latin Quarter of his time may be compared to New York’s Greenwich Village or San Francisco’s North Beach of the fifties and sixties. Du Maurier himself lived such an existence for a couple years at the end of the eighteen fifties.
We are thus introduced to his three musketeers- Taffy, the Laird and Little Billee. They are fine comrades living the Bohemian life style much as some upper middle class hippies took to a bohemian life style with torn jeans and the pose of the impoverished in the nineteen-sixties.
The whole ensemble is gathered thogether in the atelier for the opening section. Taffy, The Laird and Billy are letting the studio. As Du Maurier says on the title page this is a love story. Trilby O’ Farrell the love interest turns up immediately. She and Billy love each other but Trilby is classed as a grisette which was apparently the equivalent of a hippy chick who was somewhat free living. Trilby declassed herself completely by posing as an artist’s model in the altogether or, in another word, nude. This was no small thing to all concerned although the bohos tended to be a little tolerant.
After Trilby arrives come Svengali and his sidekick Gecko. They are musicians. Svengali is billed as an incomparable musician which is to say performer. He was a great pianist. He taught Gecko his violinist everything he knew.
We are discussing the nineteenth century and nineteenth century views in context. The story can’t be told any other way. If the attitudes and opinions of other times and other people offend y0u be forewarned and proceed at you own risk. I will bowlderize history to suit no one’s whims. As Walter Duranty facetiously said: I write as I please. Du Maurier, the gentlest of men, nevertheless had well formed opinions. Svengali is a Jew and pretty much a stereotype of the Jew at the time. He appears to be a beteljew from the Pale actually although he is said to be German but the accent Du Maurier gives him could just as well be Yiddish as German. It is important to bear all this in mind because in the contest for the possession of Trilby between Billy and Svengali the latter is going to obtain her.
There’s an interesting contrast here the meaning of which isn’t exactly clear to me. Trilby has a beautiful foot, the kind that drives fetichists wild. After this first encounter Billy, the consummate artist, sketches the foot on the wall to perfection. All the others are amazed at the likeness. This sketch occupies as central place in the story as does Svengali’s hypnotism of Trilby. Svengali on the other hand demands that Trilby open her mouth wide so he can look in. Raises your eyebrows when you read this. Not only does Trilby have a beautiful foot but she has a cavernous mouth that made for an amazing sound chamber, the kind that comes along apparently once in ever.
The problem is that Trilby can’t put two notes together nor can she even find the note while finding the key is bothersome. Much is made of her inability to sing as she screeches ludicrously through Sweet Alice, Ben Bolt. (Ben Bolt was one of the most popular songs of the century on both sides of the Atlantic. Due to the wonders of the internet if you’ve never heard Ben Bolt you can get a good performance on the net. I’d heard of the song but never heard it until I checked it out on the net. Just amazing.)
Her rendition was a cause of great merriment. So you have the European sketching the foundation of the girl while the Jew is inspecting the intellectual possibilities. The Jew will win because he’s at the right end. As I say the mystery of these images float over my head. I’m merely making a stab at the meaning. I know there’s a contest and what it’s about but the symbolism is shaky to me.
And so the introduction ends with everyone agreeing that Svengali is a cad after he left and all three musketeers falling in love with Trilby.
There is much description of the fine times the musketeers have. One gets the impression that Du Maurier was living the life in the sixties in Paris but such was not the case. He signed on at Punch in 1860 and thus was working as an illustrtor for them from that date until his death. He seems to have been familiar with the Pre-Raphaelite painters of London of whom he speaks highly most especially of Millais. He seems to have been friends with a Fred Walker who he thought was a great artist but who seems to have been lost in the mists of time. I’d never heard of him anyway but one can find his pictures on the internet. Du Maurier loved the artist’s life.
Much of this book as well as the other is a loving recreation of the times and his memory of the times is one of wonderful things. Very refreshing against the unremitting negativity of modern literature. The book is set mainly in the sixties but the ‘horrible’ year of 1871 and the French Commune obtrudes. Du Maurier while recognizing its ugliness nevertheless passes over it quickly with a shrug and back to the good times. He introduces some additional charming characters but then come the crisis.
Billy had asked the declassed Trilby to marry him nineteen times and she had always refused because she knew she wasn’t in his class. After an amazingly wonderful Christmas feast in the atelier Billy asks again. Trilby, as she says, in a moment of weakness accepts. When the news reaches Billy’s mother, Mrs. Bagot, she scurries over to Paris from London to check Trilby out. When she learns that Trilby had posed in the altogether she persuades Trilby to give up her son.
Trilby leaves town without a goodbye. When Billy finds out he has his brain fever or a nervous breakdown that prostrates him for weeks. There was a chance he wouldn’t make it. He does but with psychological consequences. He can no longer love while he lives in a deep melancholia. There are some who know where that’s at. After he recovers he returns to England. the wonderful Bohemian rhapsody is over.
Trilby had left Paris to go to the provinces. She had a little brother who she was supporting and bringing up who she took with her and who then dies of a fever. This devastates Trilby who cuts her hair, dresses as a man and walks back to Paris. Her old haunts have disappeared in the interim so she shows up on the doorstep of Svengali who is but too happy to take her in. The hypnotized Trilby is a small part of the book. The next hundred pages or so describe Billy’s wonderful success as a painter and the loss of camaraderie as the young idealists of the Latin Quarter age and lose their affinity for each other. Charmingly told with just the right touch of heartache.
In the meantime and off stage, as it were, Svengali accompanied by Gecko keeps Trilby in a hypnotic trance as he
teaches her to use her tremendous oral cavity to sing. While she has the exact equipment to be a great singer she lacks the musical sense and can’t learn it sober. Svengali instills the musical sense through hypnosis but as Gecko later explains Trilby is merely providing the instrument while Svengali is actually singing through her. For three years they labor in the salt mines, as they say, performing on street corners or wherever. Then Trilby is properly trained becoming the rage of Europe as La Svengali becoming bigger and better than such stars as Adelina Patti or Jenny Lind, two real life divas.
Thus while Billy has lost Trilby’s foot or body, Svengali has captured her soul or oral cavity. That’s about the only way I can make sense of foot and cavity.
Now, in real terms the Jews had been emancipated beginning in 1789 by the French Revolution although occuring at different localities in Europe at different times. With the emanicipation a contest began for the soil and soul of Europe. Europeans owned the soil but the Jews while originating nothing became the cultural virtuosi of Europe. Not only in the performing arts but in finance, science and as entrepreneurs. The soil temporarily remained European but the culture was becoming Judaized. It was then that Freud made his assault on European concepts of morality. So Du Maurier has portrayed the situation poetically in a magnificent manner.
Thus the Jews while offering no Beethovens, Bachs or Mozarts became virtuoso interpreters of the music as performers. As Svengali says: Piff, what is the composition compared to my ability to render it. There you have the exploiter’s motto. The Allen Kleins and Albert Grossmans of the world suck the talent, as it were, out of their performers or, boys, as they call them, as agents taking nearly everything leaving the actual talent a pittance.
Nothing changes, this is what Svengali was doing with Trilby or, in another word, Europe. He was making a fortune while Trilby in her hypnotized state was wasting away. Oh, Svengali dressed her well but for the sake of his appearance not hers. When she died, of the fortune that she had made for Svengali none was left to her. Except for presents she had received in appreaciation of her singing she had nothing. They were supposed to be man and wife but, in fact, Svengali never married her. Here I think we have the real import of the story; the competition for Europe between the Jew and the European. Having given up the soul of Europe Europeans were losing their very substanc, the soil, or Trilby’s foot.
Du Maurier is also describing the rise of the artist from a despised menial to the central position in society that they have attained today, especially movie, TV and musical stars. One only has to look at the position Bob Dylan has attained to see the result today. Here is a man with no qualities revered as if he was the savior while poised to begin a tour of stadiums at 67.50 a head that will sell out earning him a fortune within a couple months. Thus as with Svengali he has conquered the soul and wealth of virtually the world. This is truly astonishing.
So Svengali is on top of the world. Despised as a beteljew in the atelier a short five years ago he now has Trilby/Europe and the fortune that goes with her. Alas, he is sucking the life’s blood from her to do this and she is within weeks of death when the Three Musketeers hearing of La Svengali’s fame travel back to Paris to see her perform.
Of course they are so astonished at seeing someone who looks like Trilby singing that they can’t believe it is indeed her. Svengali harbors ill will toward Billy because Billy is always in her heart while her relationship with Svengali is strictly professional.
The Musketeers and the Svengalis are staying at the same hotel where Svengali meeting Billy can’t resist spitting in his face. Billy, who is actually known in the story as Little Billee is much smaller than the six foot Svengali but he nevertheless goes after him getting the worst of the fight until Taffy, a giant body builder type, shows up grabbing Svengali’s ‘huge Hebrew nose’ between his first two fingers leading him around by the nose. Oh, those unintended consequences. The humiliation is too much for Svengali, he becomes vicious toward Trilby in revenge. Readying for their London debut he bullies Trilby in front of Gecko, now his first violinist, who stabs Svengali in the neck with a small knife.
Svengali while wounded is not hurt that bad but his physicians advise him not to conduct the opening performance. This creates a problem because Svengali must make eye contact to sing through Trilby.
He takes a box directly in front of Trilby. But he spots Billy and the other two musketeers in the pit in front of him. The malice and venom he has toward Billy makes his heart fail. His face freezes into a risus sardonicus as he sits lifelessly leering at the Three Musketeers, triumphant in death. Of course Trilby can’t sing a note on her own so that ends a fine career. Now begins the denouement. While seemingly superfluous this is a very important part of the story giving it its secondary meaning.
The Musketeers take Trilby in charge. No one is aware she had been hypnotized while she has no memory of performing and little of the lost five years. The situation between she and Mrs. Bagot, Billy’s mother, are now reversed. Trilby is the great lady while Mrs. Bagot is merely a middle class hausfrau. One might say Svengali has created the real Trilby. Mrs. Bagot still hadn’t posed in the altogether however. Where was Hugh Heffner when you needed him.
On the surface it looks as though Mrs. Bagot has gotten her comeuppance but as Trilby is the creation of Svengali she would have remained the simple little grisette that Billy loved without him. She would have remained the foot without realizing the potential of her oral cavity. Nevertheless this Trilby was Trilby as she should have been.
The woman was fading fast. Svengali had drawn the vital energy from her in his exploitation of her. Mysteriously, just before she dies, a life sized portrait of Svengali is delivered. The contest between he and Billy is still in effect. Gazing in the painted eyes of the hypnotist Trilby breaks into song as a final effort in her best manner.
Billy is grasping desperately for Trilby’s love. On her death bed he leans close to hear her breath out- Svengali, Svengali, Svengali. Thus he believes she loved Svengali more than he. His brain fever is reactivated, he dies. In grand operatic style the love story ends. All because Mrs. Bagot was a snob. But, I think a correct one. Although, what the heck, Billy was just a boho painter.
As an anti-climax in a final chapter titled Twenty Year After as tribute to Dumas whose sequel to The Three Musketeers was title Twenty Years After, Taffy takes a trip to Paris where he finds Gecko playing fiddle in a music hall. He sends a note that Gecko accepts requesting a meeting at his hotel. There Gecko resolves the mystery filling Taffy in on Trilby’s missing five years. He reveals that Trilby had always loved Little Billee and never Svengali.
The reading public then and now has concentrated on the Svengali-Trilby hypnotism aspect of the novel ignoring the rest. That aspect is actually a very small part of the novel but without it I suppose the story woud have fallen flat. Even today a manager like Colonel Tom Parker is thought of as a Svengali to Elvis Presley, so the name has come into common usage for someone’s inexplicable control of someone else.
Edgar Rice Burroughs who had a fascination with hypnotism was probably charmed by that aspect of the story. In his most detailed reference to hypnotism in Thuvia, Maid Of Mars he seems most influenced by stage hypnotism in which the audience is induced to see what is not there rather than the Svengali type. Still, Thuvia-Trilby and the relationship between Jav and Thuvia and Thuvia and Tario has some resonances. I dout that ERB would have been conscious of his borrowing imagining rather that he was creating the story from whole cloth.
End of Part Two, Go to Part Three the Review of The Martian.