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.
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.
November 10, 2008
Let’s Spend The Night Together
Pamela Des Barres
Review by R.E. Prindle
Des Barres, Pamela, Let’s Spend The Night Together, 2008 Chicago Review Press
You make my heart sing.
You make everything,
Gather ye rosebuds while ye may
For tomorrow brings but sorrow,
The girls that are so sweet today
Will be mothers-in-law tomorrow.
Pamela Des Barres having apparently exhausted what appeared to be an inexhaustible fund of rock n’ roll memories returns to the publishing fold with a whole book full of other groupies’ memories. She introduces some twenty-four supergroupies to tell their back stage secrets of rock gods.
If you’re into titillating sexual stuff you’ve just found the Dutchman’s lost gold mne. For those into this stuff Cynthia Plaster Caster is pictured fondling the immortalized member of Jimi Hendrix. At least we know that one’s true. However some of the memories recorded seem to be sort of stretchers to me. Making a good story better is OK but pure invention is something else.
I did catch one of the girls, women, mothers-in-law, almost all grandmothers, in a fabrication or, shall I say, a delusion. I don’t want to be unkind because the lady in question, Catherine James, did time in the orphanage while having one of those mothers from hell. I can sympathize, a double whammy like that can do things to you. I had a number of issues with my mother, who has now gone to her greater reward wherever that may be, while she too put me in the orphanage. So, as I say, I can sympathize.
Well, Miss James says she quit the groupie game in 1971 at the age of nineteen while she began at age thirteen. That would have made her beginning in 1965. As she tells it those six years were eventful enough for any busload of wayward girls.
As I read my eyebrows kept going up. This was too amazing, it seemed, to be true. After reading her chapter I put the book down while my eyes were spinning around in my head. Then I began going over the details looking for that fatal flaw. As there was no way I could contradict her stories based on her revelatory details, I would have to examine dates and when I did I found that flaw. Not gentlemanly, but I do have that inquisitive mind that just won’t be satisfied. As it happened the flaw involved the ‘spokesman of his generation’ Bob Dylan.
Miss James says that she met Bob, as I gather he was the first, at thirteen. As she tells it Bob gave her some good soul saving advice about her mother; otherwise she might have been driven mad. I can dig that, too.
But there was a problem with that. Miss James lived in the LA area. She says she met Bob in California between the recording of Bob Dylan and The Free Wheelin’. That would probably have been about the time Bob was heavy with Suze Rotolo in NYC. At any rate in ’62 Miss James would have been about ten years old not thirteen.
Miss James who has extraordinary faith in the art of cosmetology believes that at thirteen she could make herself up successfully enough to fool a guy into thinking she was minimally legal. That alone seems like a mega stretcher to me. But what are cosmetics going to do for a ten year old?
Quite clearly Miss James could not have met Bob when she was thirteen in LA. She would like to have met Bob and gotten that good advice but she couldn’t have.
Making a good story better she compounds the delusion by saying that still at thirteen she made the pilgrimage to Greenwich Village to be with Bob. In an interesting dream sequence she describes arriving in NYC broke, not unlike Bob, with no place to stay. Talking to some young people in the Village she told them she was there to visit Bob. Naturally this admission was greeted with snickers. But, lo and behold, who should drive up to the street corner at that instant but Bob himself. She ran over to greet him. He rolled down the window to say he was off to a concert and drove away.
As I say I don’t wish to cause Miss James distress and I’m sure she ins’t any less truthful than any of these girls, women, mothers-in-law, but much of this stuff requires that extra grain of salt.
The opening chapter concerning the adventures of someone called Tura Satana and Elvis requires some documentation. But, why go into it. As Samuel Johnson said who but a blockhead wouldn’t write for money. I presume that Miss Pamela would like to see a nice fat royalty check. Lord knows Frank Zappa left Miss Pamela short when she was a member of the GTOs, so buy a copy if you like this stort of thing and make that ageing Wild Thing’s heart sing. She’s got it coming, believe me.
June 28, 2008
Exhuming Bob IX
Pensee 6: Bob And Dave
Dave Van Ronk: The Mayor Of Macdougal Street
Dylan, Bob Chronicles Volume One Simon And Schuster 2004
Thompson, Toby Positively Main Street U. Minnesota 2008, reprint of 1971 text.
Van Ronk, Dave The Mayor Of MacDougal Street: A Memoir Da Capo Press 2006
Van Ronk’s memoir published in 2006 becomes part of the ongoing Bob Dylan debate. A part of the Greenwich Village folk scene of the early sixties Van Ronk little knew how his life would be affected, destroyed, by the arrival of Bob Dylan from out of the West in 1961.
At the time of Dylan’s arrival Van Ronk was one of the most important, if not the most important, folk singer in the Village. Thus Bob set his sights to suck out Dave’s substance and cast the empty husk aside.
On page 211 of the paperback Dylan is quoted at the beginning of Chaper 15:
I once thought the biggest I could ever hope to get was like Van Ronk. And it’s bigger than that now, ain’t it? Yeah, man, it’s bigger than that.
-Bob Dylan c. 1964
Once Dylan learned of Van Ronk on his arrival, it is doubtful that he had heard of him in Minneapolis, he made it his goal to insinuate himself into Van Ronk’s life. Dylan tells how he began his assault on page 21 of his Chronicles. The scene takes place in the Folklore Center:
One winter day a big burly guy stepped in off the street. He looked like he’d come from the Russian Embassy, shook the snow off his sleeves, took off his gloves and put them on the counter, asked to see a Gibson guitar that was hanging up on the brick wall. It was Dave Van Ronk. He was gruff, a mass of bristling hair, don’t give a damn attitude, a confident hunter. My mind went into a rush. (My italics.) There was nothing between him and me. Izzy took the guitar down and gave it to him. Dave fingered the strings and played some kind of jazzy waltz, put the guitar back on the counter. As he put the guitar down, I stepped over and put my hands on it and asked him at the same time how does someone get to work down at the gaslight, who do you have to know? It’s not like I was trying to get buddy-buddy with him, I just wanted to know.
Van Ronk looked at me curiously, was snippy and surly, asked if I did janitor work.
I told him, no, I didn’t and he could perish the thought, but could I play something for him? He said, “Sure.”
I played him “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out.” Dave then said I could come down about eight or nine in the evening and play a couple songs in his set. That was how I met Dave Van Ronk.
Possibly. But one learns to take Dylan’s stories with a shaker full of salt. Bob has a difficult time separating fact from fancy. The way Van Ronk tells it he was hanging around with a bunch of the boys when someone burst in and said ‘New guy, come on, you got to hear this.’ and it was Bob. So Van Ronk would have had an idea who Bob was not that he necessarily would have acknowledged him. There are some interesting points in Dylan’s narrative which I believe is Bob at his most fanciful. That he marked Van Ronk for destruction is apparent when he says he looked like he came from the Russian Embassy. Maybe. But Bob was a Jew and the Russians were the enemies of the Jews throughout the last two hundred years so Bob was casting him in the role of the enemy. Then he identifies Van Ronk as a ‘confident hunter.’ Jews usually associate hunting with goys while traditionally despising the practice so Bob is saying that the hunter didn’t know he was being hunted. And then Bob placed his hands on the guitar as he spoke to Van Ronk indicating that he was appropriating the man’s tool or emasculating him. Very significant action.
Bob says Van Ronk was snippy and surly. Well, maybe but since I think he’s making this up he is casting a character on Van Ronk to make you dislike him. Besides who wouldn’t appear surly if you placed your hands on the musician’s guitar. The exchange after that when Dave asked if Bob did janitor’s work was a particular Jewish insult that gave Bob his excuse for hurting Van Ronk.
Then like a parasite or lamphrey eel Bob latches onto Van Ronk slowly ‘stealing everything that he could steal.’
When the process was complete and Bob was way bigger than Dave could hope to be Bob then disses Van Ronk off. As Van Ronk tells it p. 217: Van Ronk:
For myself I consider it fortunate that Bobby and I reached our parting of the ways fairly early. Shortly after his third or fourth record had come out had gone diamond or whatever, he was holding court in the Kettle of Fish and he got on my case and started giving me all of this advice about how to manage my career, how to go about becoming a star. It was complete garbage, but by that point he had gotten used to everybody hanging on his every word and applauding any idea that came into his head. So I sat and listened for a while, and while I was polite and even asked him a couple of questions, but it became obvious that he was simply prodding and testing me. He was saying things like “Why don’t you give up the blues? You do that, and I”ll produce an album on you, you can make a fortune.” He wasn’t making a lick of sense, and I finally pushed back my chair and said, “Dylan, if you’re so rich, how come you ain’t smart?’ And I walked out.
So within three years Bob met and surpassed his mentor then trashed him like he trashed everyone and everything else in his life. Beware of Bob. To a very large extent MacDougal Street is the story of Bob Dylan within the folk scene of Greenwich Village although within that context Van Ronk tells a rich and rewarding story of the emergence of Folk from 1940 to c. 1970. A fabulous book with a generous dollop of belly laughs. I loved the book.
Van Ronk himself never made it. I first heard of him in 1967 and listened to the Prestige Folksinger album. There was nothing there. Van Ronk rasped out all his vocals in a monotonous fashion in that same gargling hoarse voice with nary a variation from song to song. At that age and time I found the songs uninteresting. The arrangments didn’t grab me. The music was about as exciting as the New Lost City Ramblers which is to say a stone bore.
Van Ronk may have prided himself on his musicianship and it may have been pretty good, I couldn’t care less. I know few people who listen to records for musicianship and I don’t care to listen to records with those who do. So Dave was concentrating on all the wrong things.
There were people running around saying how great he was but I was in the record business and nobody bought his records. you can foget the Hudson Dusters. Over the years his legend grew with that of the vanished Folk Scene and I guess twenty-five years or so after the fact he was able to cash in on that basis.
There is one really great song Van Ronk did though called Don’t Leave Me Here. I have it on The Folk Box, Elektra EKL 9001. That’s a really fine four record collection compiled and annotated by THE Robert Shelton. It has selections from nearly all the folkies of the Greenwich Village scene excluding Dylan. A terrific collection and a perfect representation of the scene. Hard to find though; I couldn’t find any copies on a quick search of the internet.
However the story of Dave’s learning process is vastly interesting. His history of the folk era, especially the late fifties and the people and personalities make the book a best buy. But then we get back to Dylan.
Bob not only wheedled his way onto Van Ronk’s stage but he wheedled his way into his very household appropriating Dave’s couch for his living quarters. Now comes an interesting conjecture. In Chronicles Bob says that he met a Ray Gooch and Chloe Kiel with whom he stayed for some time. Now, Bob arrived in New York in January of ’61 and he rented his apartment with Suze Rotolo in the Fall of that year becoming financially independent thereafter never going back to anyone’s couch.
So that gives him a maximum of nine months to sleep on all those peoples’s couches. He says in Chronicles that he first met Van Ronk and through Van Ronk Paul Clayton. These are two colorful characters. He then says that through Clayton he met Ray Gooch. So far, so good. But then he gives a fairly minute description of the street the Gooches lived on, the building, the apartment and significantly the church across the street.
Before w go on let us consider an incident from Van Ronk on page 4:
…Bob Dylan heard me fooling around with one of my grandmother’s favorites, “The Chimes Of Trinity,” a sentimental ballad about Trinity Church that went something like:
Tolling for the outcast, tolling for the gay,
Tolling for the (something, something), long passed away,
As we whiled away the hours, down on old Broadway,
And we listened to the chimes of Trinity.
He made me sing it for him a few times until he had the gist of it, then reworked it into the “Chimes Of Freedom.” Her version was better.
Now let’s check into a passage from Toby Thompson’s ‘Positively Main Street’ pp. 210-211:
But the larger portraits of Ray Gooch and Chloe Kiel are complex and layered with mystery. Why haven’t we seen them before? Correct me if I’m wrong, but their names appear in no biography of Bob. Could they be projectionsof his own divided psyche. Ray, the competent man of the world, the toolsmith, the gun collector, the would be warrior, and Chloe, the dreamy, slightly stoned performance oriented homebody? Bob’s not certain whether they are siblings or lovers. I’m not certain they are real. Chloe was the heroine of Longus’s second century novel Daphnis and Chloe. She was an orphan, nurtured by sheep, and is described as ‘a naive lily-white girl” who falls for the youth, Daphnis. Echo is mentioned in the story. In my case the apartment Ray and Chloe inhabit on Vestry is a boho Eden, Every hipster’s wettest dream of Manhattan digs.
The Sunday after reading Chronicles, a blustery afternoon in New York I took a subway to Franklin Street and walked north then west along Vestry, looking for the building that might have housed it. Bob describes it precisely, Federal style, facing a Roman Catholic church with a bell tower, on the same block as the Bull’s Head Tavern, below Canal Street, not far from the Hudson River. The neighborhood hasn’t changed much since the early sixties, but I could find no building that resembled it. Not the church, not the Bull’s Head Tavern. Houses disappear, but churches aren’t often torn down. I wanted to locate that apartment, only because he described it so beautifully.
So I think it safe to say the whole dozen pages or so in Chronicles is a fabrication. Bob dreamed it a few times and wrote it down as fact. A clue lies in the progression Van Ronk>Clayton>Gooch. Gooch has a made up quality to it so Gooch is probably a conflation of the personalities of Van Ronk and Clayton. And possibly the pair are also a sentimental portrait of Abe and Beattie, the mother and father. Not as they were but wouldn’t it have been loverly if they had been. Ray’s background also coincides with Bob’s studies of the pre-Civil War era in the South in the New York Library.
The church across the street reflects Trinity Cathedral in Dublin as in Dave’s song the Bells Of Trinity so that places the story after his stay with Van Ronk. Note the specified bell tower on the church. Bob’s not there and neither is most of his early reported life. I’ll say again anything he says is untrustworthy. As they say in Hollywood: Based on a true story.
The last couple chapters of MacDougal tell of the changes in the Village and performance after 1960 to 1967 when drugs took the scene down. These are relevant and important chapters as he describes how Dylan’s success caused the failure of the scene. ‘There’s no success like failure and failure is no success at all.’
Altogether I give Van Ronk’s Mayor Of MacDougal Street exceptionally high marks, worth a second reading and retention as a reference work. Positively Fourth Street by Toby Thompson has a place on your shelf also. I’ll review that after a second reading. It is well worthy of study, picking up the stray hint and fact here and there.
Chronicles of course is important to understand what Dave called the convoluted workings of Bob’s mind. Bob’s an interesting study because he has managed to fool a lot of people all the time and another pack of us for a time. I tell ya folks if I could live my life over I’d do some serious homework before I began but then even that probably wouldn’t help.
June 25, 2008
Exhuming Bob X:
There’s something happening here
But you don’t know what it is,
Do you, Mr. Jones?
In 1979 Bob publicly embraced Jesus as his personal savior. This was widely seen as a conversion to Christianity because Bob went to the Vineyard Fellowship of Tarzana for indoctrination into the Christian mysteries. He could hardly have learned Christianity from Jewish circles although the Jewish group of Jews For Jesus was already active. Pharasaic Jews have always despised Jews For Jesus so that may not have been a viable option for Bob.
While non-Jews may be scandalized by the concept of Jews embracing Jesus there is no reason for them to be astounded. After all Jesus was a Jew, preaching to Jews in the Jewish tradition. The early Christian movement was entirely Jewish. They were Jews of the Jews who had accepted Jesus as the Jewish Messiah. Christianity became a universal religion only after Paul reconstructed it shedding the practices most repellent to gentiles while the Hellennic or Greek religion and philosophy was grafted onto the religion which gave it substance and intellectual vigor displacing Semitic stultification.
There should be little wonder then that Jewish Christianity should resurface two thousand years later with Bob as its Messiah.
Bob was uniquely trained for the role. He grew up in a Christian community dominated by the Hillbilly music on the radio with a large and active Jewish congregation. His father thought of himself as a Jewish scholar while heading the local chapter of B’nai B’rith and ADL. His father was covertly ultra-orthodox.
In 1990 Bob wrote a letter to the editor of a publication called Sister2Sister. (Bob’s Unshakeable Monotheism, Part IV, Scott Marshall http://www.jewsweek.com/ ) in which he said:
…until the entire world believes and obeys the same God, there can be no truth or justice or peace for anyone.
What that means in the age old Jewish notion that as God’s chosen people they are destined to bring their vision of God to all the peoples of the Earth at which time they will become a nation of priests, the rulers and overseers of all others. The Supreme People placed between God and humanity as demi-gods.
The notion did not necessarily occur to Bob in 1990 but was placed in his mind at a much earlier date. It would always have been present in the synagogue. Anyone who has ever attended Jewish services will be be struck by the insistence that Jews are to rule the world and all the peoples. It is the duty of every Jew to further that work.
Whether Bob had the Messianic impulse before his Bar Mitzvah is the question. It may have been there in embryo. In 1954 as Bob was about to turn thirteen his father, Abraham, who obviously believed the proper religious education was lacking in Hibbing sent for a Lubavitcher Rebbe from Brooklyn to come to Hibbing specifically to indoctrinate Bob in the more recondite lore of the ultra-orthodox. The intensity of the instruction would be virtual hypnosis. It was at this point, I believe, that the Messianic impulse was fixed in Bob’s mind.
The indoctrination had devastating results for the young boy’s character and personality. He went off the rails becoming wild and dissolute. In searching for a means to spread the message he had received he hit on music and from there it led into folk music. Folk music had a special appeal because it was a pure expression of the dominant culture. If one subverted folk music one subverted the culture.
Thus after being initiated into folk at Dinkytown near the University of Minnesota Bob left for the Big Apple, New York City. The Folk scene of Greenwhich Village in New York was a virtual Jewish enclave or colony. A great many Jews were already doing what Bob set out to do. Disoriented by his conflicts between his Jewish and Christian education Bob nevertheless set about changing Folk music, discarding the content for Jewish themes while retaining the outer forms. The Jewish world organization realizing they had something in Bob gave him maximum publicity actually turning him into a messianic figure through television and magazines.
The stresses of intense fame to his personality and character were terrific almost destroying him. Bob retreated at the height of his fame in 1966 after having established himself with three terrifically influential record albums. His mind was now focused and somewhat cleared. Placing a large Bible in the middle of his living room for easy reference Bob and his band worked and experimented with the Folk and old timey oeuvre of the White Christian hill people. Once again retaining the forms while stripping the material of the content, he infused Jewish Biblical content which was familiar to the Christian culture into the material. The immediate result was John Wesley Harding which is a Jewish religious album in tradtional White Christian dress.
The result is quite remarkable and on that basis is an astounding work of Jewish genius. Unaware of what was being done to them White Americans could offer no defense except rejection. There were quite a few of us who walked away from Bob at that point. I can’t say that I understood what Bob had done but I felt the insult to my sensibilities.
Thus, in retrospect, Bob’s so-called Christian period became inevitable as his strategy slowly unfolded in his mind. There is no conflict with Bob’s intense Jewishness in his combined religious entities, or reclaiming the Jewish Jesus for Judaism. Nothing could be more natural.
The preemption of the goi culture for Judaism is the astonishing achievement of little Bobby Zimmerman. Long after the fact there are still few who get it.
Note: The old Jewsweek format has been discontinuted. The text is no longer available on that site.
June 20, 2008
Slum Goddess From The Lower East Side
Some Thoughts On The Autobiography Of Suze Rotolo:
A Freewheelin’ Time
Sandoz The Great
In 1938 Albert Hofman, a Swiss chemist working for Sandoz isolated LSD-25. In 1938 young Tim Leary was 18 years old. It was in 1943 that Albert Hofman discovered the effects of LSD. Seventeen years after that LSD burt onto the world through the agency of the now, Dr., Timothy Leary, a psychologist with Harvard University.
LSD was adopted by the Bohemian society and all its offshoots as the appearance of the new chemical Messiah: Better living through chemistry as the slogan was. Its use quickly spread through the folk music community of Greenwich Village in New York City.
In 1923 a fellow by the name of Tuli Kupferberg was born and his partner Ed Sanders came along in 1939 a year after I did. Kupferberg and Sanders were poets who became influenced by the folk scene forming a band sometime in 1964 originally called the Village Fugs, later the Village was dropped and they became simply the Fugs. In 1965 they released their first LP on Folkways. Now, cut one, side one was little number entitled Slum Goddess From The Lower East Side. Sort of OK as a song, funny, as were a lot of Fugs songs. Like Dylan they searched for social significance rather than write trite love songs. Unlike Dylan you could easily understand the meaning of the lyrics. Slum Goddess was one and then there was a song that many of us thought significant in the social sense back in those days entitled: Boobs A Lot. ‘Do you like boobs a lot? Gotta like boobs a lot.’ As I said deep and intense meaning. This was followed by a song eulogizing jock straps. ‘Do you wear your jock strap? Gotta wear your jock strap.’ So the Fugs were with it.
At some point after 1965 the Village Voice decided to run a feature depicting some East Village lovely as the Slum Goddess From The Lower East Side. Suze Rotolo had the dubious honor of being selected as the very first Slum Goddess.
To what did she owe this honor? Well, she was famous on the Lower East Side for being featured on the album cover of Bob Dylan’s second LP, The Free Wheelin’ Bob Dylan. She was at that time, 1962, I believe, Bob’s girl friend or, at least, one of them, perhaps the principle one but one can’t be sure as Bob had others as ‘part time’ girl friends.
Thus one has to go back to the summer of 1961 to discover how Suze Rotolo began her odyssey to become the very first Slum Goddess. Suze tells her story in her autobiography issued in May of 2008 called A Freewheelin’ Time. It is a bitter sweet story not lacking in charm. Bob was born in 1941 while Suze was born three years later. All the disparate elements in our story born at separate times were slowly moving to a central focal point in New York City from 1961 to 1965 or so.
Suze and Bob were of that age when freewheelin’ seemed possible while the psychological social moment was about to congeal and then vanish before it could be realized as psychological moments do. Some catch the golden ring as it come around, some don’t. Bob did, Suze didn’t.
Suze was born in Queens, over there on Long Island, as a red diaper baby. In other words in the romanticized Communist parlance her parents were Communists when she was born. She was brought up in the faith.
Bob described her as a libertine dream or some such epithet. I’m not sure Suze saw herself in the same way. I think she expected a little more of Bob than to be his sex toy. As a Communist she should have had a more freewheelin’ attitude.
Suze seems to have been brought up completely within the Red religion much as a Christian might be a Catholic, Methodist, Lutheran or as Jew in whatever stripe of Judaism it might be.
She edged into race agitation at a young age. She met Bob when she was seventeen while she had been working for CORE (Congress Of Racial Equality) for a couple years before that. She would have been fifteen or sixteen. Whether she had sexual experiences with the Africans she doesn’t tell us. In her search for a raison d’ etre for her life she found herself in Greenwich Village in the Summer of ’61 where she met the twenty year old Bob Dylan just in from the Iron Range of Minnesota. They were mutually attracted, quickly forming a sexual relationship.
Bob as everyone knows was and is Jewish. He came not only from a Jewish background but from an orthodox background. Hibbing, Minnesota, his hometown, had a Jewish population of about three hundred families with their own Jewish establishment and synagogue.
According to Beattie Zimmerman, Bob’s mother, Bob was a good boy who attended services regularly while investigating the nature of the various Christian churches. As a mother Beattie’s version of things must be interpreted through the eyes of mother love.
Father Abe was not only a practising Jew but the President of the Hibbing chapter of B’nai B’rith and its terrorist arm the Anti-Defamation League. In addition Beattie, Bob’s mother, was the President of the Women’s auxiliary, Hadassah. So Bob isn’t just Jewish but comes from a very committed Jewish background.
As the President of the Hibbing chapter, Father Abe would have attended statewide gatherings in Minneapolis, regional meetings wherever they were held and possibly if not probably national meetings in NYC and elsewhere. Now, within the international Jewish organizations heavy hitters attend various levels of meetings where they meet and learn something of the various local and regional people. Thus, it may be assumed that Abe Zimmerman as a name at least was known on the national Jewish level. Kind of the Jewish Who’s Who, you know. Bob says that he had contacts to help him when he got to New York. Those contacts would have come through Father Abe while being part of B’nai B’rith and ADL. Bob wasn’t entirely alone out there.
Bob’s Jewish name is Sabtai after the last acknowledged Jewish Messiah, Sabbatai Zevi. There have been many that filled a Messianic role since Zevi not least of which was Sigmund Freud and possibly Albert Einstein. Bob may have been encouraged to take the role for himself.
At any rate when Bob approached thirteen and Bar Mitzvah time Abe brought in a special Rabbi from Brooklyn to instruct Bob. Now this is really signficant. He was probably a Lubavitcher or ultra-orthodox Jew. When Bob publicly expressed his Judaism after his Christian stint he chose to do so as a Lubavitcher. Very likely that was no coincidence. Having received his crash course in orthodoz Judaism Father Abe next sent his son to a Zionist summer camp for ‘several ‘ weeks for each of four successive summers ending at the age of seventeen. This would have the effect of introducing him to young Jews not only of the region but from around the world while at the same time estranging him from his fellow Hibbingites giving him his strange cast of character.
Camp Herzl was named after the originator of Zionism, Theodore Herzl. the camp with a spacious hundred and twenty acres is located on a lake near Webster, Wisconsin. Herzl is not your basic summer church camp but a national and international gathering place where young Jews from around the US and the world can meet and get known to each other somewhat.
The camp is conducted exclusively for Jews along Jewish lines eliminating as many goyish influences as is possible. At least when he was seventeen Bob was playing the Wild One showing up in a mini biker cavalcade. One may assume that many national and international Jewish figures made appearances over the four years to both instruct, encourage and look over the upcoming generation.
The post-war years were very traumatic for the Jewish people. The death camps of the Nazis dominated their minds. They were psychologically devastated and unbalanced looking for Nazis under their beds before they went to sleep at night. One may safely assume that Bob and his fellow campers had to watch extermination movies over and over lest they forget.
The State of Israel was founded in 1948 while the first of Israel’s successful wars occurred in 1956. The ’56 war was a seminal event bolstering the spirits of the Jews turning them aggressive as they now believed they could fight. After ’56 they began to come out of themselves.
For whatever reasons as Bob entered high school his personality began to disintegrate. Perhaps he had to cease being Bobby Zimmerman to become what his people expected of him which was a probable religious leader who then became Bob Dylan. As always Bob would combine two cultures, Jewish and Goyish.
After an extremely rocky year in Minneapolis where Bob shed the remnants of his goody goody image of Hibbing he became the dirty unkempt Bob Dylan of his rush to fame of the Folk years.
Thus as Bob and Suze met in the Summer of ’61 they were both searching for something to be.
Why Do Fools Fall In Love?
The question now that Suze and Bob have gotten together is to sort out the various accounts of what happened. Bob says everyone has gotten it wrong. However his own account in Chronicles I is no more factual than the accounts of his biographers and commentators. Suze doesn’t provide us with much more clarity. While Bob tells it like he wanted it to have been Suze on the the one hand protects her memory of what she wants to keep as a beautiful memory while glossing over her own actions at the time to keep it so.
Bob goes through the romantic notion of constructing their bed with saw, hammer and nails. This is a charming story and I’m embarrassed to say I took him at his word. You simply can’t. Chronicles came out four years ago so Suze has had plenty of time to read it and mull over Bob’s ruminations. Thus she must be aware of Bob’s story of the bed. She says it was an old bed the landlord left from another tenant. Another beautiful tale of Bob’s down the tubes.
Suze rather unflatteringly depicts Bob as a rouster and fairly heavy drinker. She was offended that Bob, who was posing as Bob Dylan, not yet having officially changed his name, didn’t level with her and confide that Dylan was a pseudonym that looked better on a marquee while his real name was Zimmerman and that he came from Minnesota rather than being an orphan from New Mexico. Coming home one night, as Suze tells it, Bob, stumblingly drunk, dropped his ID and she discovered the truth as she picked it up. Even then she had to drag the truth out of Bob.
These problems mounted up. There was immediate hostility between Bob, Suze’s mother and her sister Carla. The mother seems to have instinctively seen through Bob, while I’m sure Carla soon learned that Bob was doing her sister wrong.
As we know from Chronicles Bob had other ‘part-time’ girl friends, pick ups and whatever. As the folk crowd was a fairly tight knit group even if Suze didn’t want to hear the obvious Carla who was employed by the Folklorist, Alan Lomax, could hardly have been unaware that Bob had a laissez faire attitude toward romancing the girls.
Indeed, Bob’s understanding of Suze was that she was his Libertine belle. As a libertine therefore he could hardly have believed fidelity was a necessary condition. I don’t know if Suze considered herself a Libertine but as a Communist both fidelity and jealousy were forbidden by the dogma so speaking consistently with the belief system neither mother, Suze nor Carla had grounds for complaint. Nevertheless both mother and Carla wished to separate Bob and Suze.
Bob records his side of the conflict in his song Ballad in Plain D. In his usual high flown language Bob says in his song:
“The tragic figure!” her sister did shout,
“Leave her alone, goddamn you, get out.”
All is gone, all is gone, admit it, take flight.
I gagged twice, doubled, tears blinding my sight.
My mind it was mangled, I ran into the night
Leaving all of love’s ashes behind me.
Within a few months he was married to Sara who he kept waiting in the wings. Subsequently he tried to keep Sara and his growing family in Woodstock and the Slum Goddess Of The Lower East Side out on the side. Suze, apparently not quite as Libertine as Bob supposed, declined the honor.
Just as Bob blithely romanticizes his early NY years in some sappy Happy Talk that belies his songs and what nearly everyone has written about him so Suze adopts a near virginal girlish pose. Her story of how she left for Italy and her true blue yearning for the perfect love of Bob who sent those charming letters purloined from old country songs is also belied by the various biographers. To hear Suze talk she never looked at a boy in Italy and certainly never dated one let alone kissed or petted. Yet by her religious Communist ideology that would have been no sin, even would have been a virtue. In fact she did have an Italian boyfriend who was apparently dropped down the memory hole at autobiography time.
When she did return the road of romance was much more rocky than she lets on. Carla who stayed home where she could watch Bob was privy to his doings which were much more libertine than anything he accused Suze of. He had to have slept with Liam Clancy’s live in somewhere in there. He’s accused of being a womanizer and you can’t be a womanizer without a lot of women. So whatever Carla knew it was somewhat more than an earful and I’m sure that between Carla and her mother Suze heard it all.
Suze out of respect for this young love which, after all, must still occupy a sacred spot in her life never expresses but the mildest resentment of Bob but letting her sister speak for her she says that ‘she (Carla) felt I was better off without the lyin’ cheatin’ manipulative bastard.’ Right on all counts I’m sure except for the last although as Bob claimed to have no parents Carla could justly so surmise.
At any rate if Suze couldn’t make up her mind her mother and Carla could.
Ballad In Plain D again:
Beneath a bare light bulb the plaster did pound
Her sister and I in a screaming battleground,
And she in between, the victim of sound,
Soon shattered the child ‘neath her shadows.
The wind knocks my window, the room it is is wet.
The words to say I’m sorry, I haven’t found yet.
I think of her often and hope whoever she’s met
Will be fully aware of how precious she is.
And then Bob married Sara and ruined her life.
While Suze and Bob talked marriage there is no reason to take that seriously; he talked marriage with Echo too. I don’t think Bob had any notion of marrying aouside his faith. The mother is the culture carrier; Bob is firmly within the Jewish culture so there could have been no chance that he would have taken other than a Jewish wife. Even then he may have married only to fulfill the commandment to be fruitful and multiply. Once he had fulfilled that duty he broke the marriage apart.
The Slum Goddess
Suze was now a young woman of twenty or twenty-one alone adrift in New York City. While she and Bob were having their tempestuous romance the times they were a changin’.
Tim Leary, up in harvard, had embraced psychedelics. Once in love with LSD he wanted to share his love with everyone. He became the High Priest of his psychedelic religion. I can recommend both his autobiography and his volume of reminiscences: High Priest. The latter is a spectacularly well written book if tending toward tediousness.
Leary’s experiments attracted the dark angel of the Hippie years, Allen Ginsberg. Ginsberg also attached himself to Dylan tying the Beat and Hippie decades together. Vile man.
Bob had introduced Suze to Marijuana and what else I don’t know, perhaps LSD. He himself was into the pharmacopeia also undoubtedly dabbling in heroin although if he did he is still an addict or was successful in kicking the habit after his retreat from fame in ’66. That whole thing about the motorcycle accident may have been just rehab. He sure needed it.
As Bob notes the effect of LSD on the Greenwich Village folk scene was to turn people inward destroying any sense of community. Suze then was attempting to navigate this terra nova. Along with turning people inward, LSD, the drug scene, turned the scene sexually rasty in ways even the Communists couldn’t have imagined. The Pill coming along at this time certainly was as influential as LSD in changing sexual mores.
Suze, if aware of this, makes no mention of it in her auto. The Fugs released Slum Goddess in 1965 although they may possibly have been playing it around the Village for a year or two earlier. The Slum Goddess is not a savory woman.
That Suze was selected as the first Slum Goddess strikes my sensibilities as a negative compliment. Her presentation of it implies a souring experience. Shortly after her selection she chose to withdraw from Village life. She gives as the reason that her earlier relations with Bob caused upleasant curiosity and that was certainly true.
The scene turned absolutely rotten after 1968 when between drugs, profound negativity and the progressing degradation of the Hippie movement anyone with any sense of dignity was driven out.
Suze must have been one of us for she left the scene behind. There are few today who choose to remember it. As for me, life is life, there it was and there was I. I was who I was; je ne regret rien. I hope Suze doesn’t either. Bob? He just stays on the bus and doesn’t get off. Reality can be such a drag.