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From The Archives NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES VOICE OF THE AGES

James Ridgeway’s Reporting Warned Us That Trump Was Coming — Half a Century Ago

For all those thinking that Donald Trump somehow hijacked a respectable Republican party and turned it into an authoritarian, Big Lie machine, we give you Exhibit A: James Ridgeway’s decades of Village Voice reporting. Starting way back in the 1970s, Ridgeway (who passed away on Saturday) exposed a rogue’s gallery of racists, religious hypocrites, conspiracy mongers, and other stalwarts of the GOP.

Think Trump’s cozying up to despots like Vladimir Putin and Mohammed bin Salman is something new? Read Ridgeway and other Voice muckrakers on the charms of the Shah of Iran, a torturer with exquisite taste.

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Oh, and wack-job conspiracy theories? How about this Ridgeway snippet from 1995: “Gingrich continues to indulge the anarchists, just last week weighing in on the favorite wacko topic of who killed Vince Foster. Meanwhile, Helen Chenoweth in the House and Larry Craig in the Senate continue to run wild, attacking the effrontery of federal agents and invoking the specter of the dreaded black helicopters.”

As usual, Ridgeway was reading the tea (soon to be tea-party) leaves to warn us about insurrection back then — reporting that remains on-target today.

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Scandals involving independent counsels? The Mueller report implied Trump’s collusion with Russia but didn’t nail down the case. Here’s another trip to the GOP corruption rodeo.

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Perverting religion for electoral gain? Yep. Just another chestnut from the GOP playbook that Ridgeway explicated back in the day.

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Decades ago, Ridgeway surveyed the fault lines of American Democracy and sent in clear-eyed reports about the dangers ahead. It’s past time we paid heed to his warnings.

James Ridgeway, 1936 – 2021   ❖

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CULTURE ARCHIVES From The Archives NYC ARCHIVES VOICE OF THE AGES

LD Beghtol — One-Man-Band of Music and Design

It was 2004, and LD Beghtol (1964–2020) was on the Voice masthead as an art director. The visual/sonic/informational overload of the internet was well on its way to turning us all into lab rats for Big Tech, but LD took it in stride. By the late ’90s he’d already been half of the duo Flare Acoustic Arts League, and he would later sing lead on roughly a tenth of The Magnetic Fields 69 Love Songs. (LD would go on to write the 33 1/3 book series’ entry on the album: 69 Love Songs, A Field Guide.)

During the controlled chaos of closing a 160-page paper on a Monday night, you might have found LD making last-minute tweaks to a page layout, discussing the length of a headline with an editor, or questioning the copy chief on whether or not “abstract expressionism” should be capitalized. In fact, he was most likely doing all three of those tasks — and more — on “Tear Sheet,” the full-page graphics bomb he edited and designed (and often wrote for), packing together whatever was hot that week in music, art, literature, pop culture, and hearsay. Right-click on the page below and peruse it just like you used to in the days of getting ink on your fingers — and remember the Renaissance guy who left his mark with a mic, a mouse, and an X-Acto blade.

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Quickly: A Column for Slow Readers

Many years ago I remember reading a piece in the newspapers by Ernest Hemingway and thinking: “What windy writing.” That is the penalty for having a reputation as a writer. Any signed paragraph which appears in print is examined by the usual sadistic literary standards, rather than with the easy tolerance of a newspaper reader pleased to get an added fillip for his nickel.

But this is a fact of life which any professional writer soon learns to put up with, and I know that I will have to put up with it since I doubt very much of this column is going to be particularly well written. That would take too much time, and it would be time spent in what is certainly a lost cause. Greenwich Village is one of the bitter provinces — it abounds in snobs and critics. That many of you are frustrated in your ambitions, and undernourished in your pleasures, only makes me more venomous. Quite rightly. If I ever found myself in your position, I would not be charitable either. Nevertheless, given your general animus to those more talented than yourselves, the only way I see myself becoming one of the cherished traditions of the Village is to be actively disliked each week.

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At this point it can fairly asked: “Is this your only reason for writing a column?” And the next best answer I suppose is: “Egotism. My search to discover in public how much of me is sheer egotism.” I find a desire to inflict my casual opinions on a half-captive audience. If I did not, there would always be the danger of putting these casual opinions into a new novel, and we all know that a terrible thing that is to do.

I also feel tempted to say that novelists are the only group of people who should write a column. Their interests are large, if shallow, their habits are sufficiently unreliable for them to find something new to say quite often, and in most other respects they are more columnistic than the columnists. Most of us novelists who are any good are invariably half-educated; inaccurate, albeit brilliant upon occasion; insufferably vain of course; and — the indispensable requirement for a good newspaperman — as eager to tell a lie as the truth. (Saying the truth makes us burn with the desire to convince our audience, whereas telling a lie affords ample leisure to study the result.)

We good novelists also have the most unnewspaperly virtue of never praising fatherland and flag unless we are sick, tired, generally defeated, and want to turn a quick dishonest buck. Nobody but novelists would be asked to write columns if it were not for the sad fact that newspaper editors are professionally and obligatorially patriotic, and so never care to meet us. Indeed, even The Village Voice, which is remarkably conservative for so young a paper, and deeply patriotic about all community affairs, etc., etc, would not want me writing either if they were not so financially eager for free writing, and a successful name to go along with it, that they are ready to put up with almost anything, and I, as a minority stockholder in the Voice corporation, must agree that this paper does need something added to its general languor and whimsy.

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At any rate, dear reader, we begin a collaboration, which may go on for three weeks, three months, or, Lord forbid, for three-and-thirty years. I have only one prayer — that I weary of you before you tire of me. And therefore, so soon as I learn to write columnese in a quarter of an hour instead of the unprofitable fifty-two minutes this has taken, we will all know better if our trifling business is going to continue. If it does, there is one chance in a hundred — make it a hundred thousand — that I will become a habitual assassin-and-lover columnist who will have something superficial or vicious or inaccurate to say about many of the things under the sun, and who knows but what some of the night. ❖

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Milton Glaser at the Voice – Short Time, Big Impact

First appearing on the masthead as Vice-Chairman in the October 10, 1974, issue of the Voice, graphic designer Milton Glaser was determined to bring to newsprint some of the same graphic verve he and the Voice’s new chairman, Clay Felker, had brought to the glossy New York magazine the previous decade. While the Voice already had the street-wise photographer Fred W. McDarrah and multi-media cartoonist Jules Feiffer enlivening its pages, the editorial look of the paper was hamstrung by the limited color capacity of that era’s newspaper presses, which left the columns of dense type too often outshone by the ads — especially the full-page extravaganzas for music that was already on its way to becoming “classic rock.”

Article on Milton Glaser, design director of the Village Voice 1974-1976
October 10, 1974 masthead

In fact, a 1967 psychedelic poster of Bob Dylan is one of Glaser’s most famous works.

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In late 1974, when Glaser cast his eye over the Voice, one of the first things he probably noticed was its highly informative, if staid, front and back pages, such as this “what’s on” back-page bulletin board from October 3, 1974, and the front page that appeared the following week. (All of the images in this article are raw scans taken from the Voice’s ongoing digital archive project.)

Article on Milton Glaser, design director of the Village Voice 1974-1976
Back page of the October 3, 1974 issue, front page of the October 10, 1974 issue

Within a few months, Glaser had jettisoned his formal title in favor of the more descriptive “Design Director,” and the covers and back pages were the proof in the pudding.

Article on Milton Glaser, design director of the Village Voice 1974-1977
Back page of the March 3, 1975 issue, front page of the March 10, 1975 issue
Article on Milton Glaser, design director of the Village Voice 1974-1977
First masthead with Glaser as Design Director

In one notable case, Glaser not only did the design but also the cover illustration, depicting a famously devilish “man of wealth and taste.”

Article on Milton Glaser, design director of the Village Voice 1974-1977
Back page of the June 16, 1975 issue, front page of the June 23, 1975 issue
Article on Milton Glaser, design director of the Village Voice 1974-1977
Back page of the July 21, 1975, issue; front page of the July 28, 1975, issue

Whether politicians, film stars, rock gods, or literary luminaries, Glaser made sure the Voice did “show” every bit as much as “tell.”

Article on Milton Glaser, design director of the Village Voice 1974-1977
Back page of the August 25, 1975 issue, front page of the September 1, 1975 issue
Article on Milton Glaser, design director of the Village Voice 1974-1977
Back page of the November 3, 1975 issue, front page of the November 10, 1975 issue
Article on Milton Glaser, design director of the Village Voice 1974-1977
Back page of the November 24, 1975 issue, front page of the December 1, 1975 issue
Article on Milton Glaser, design director of the Village Voice 1974-1977
Back page of the March 22, 1976 issue, front page of the March 29, 1976 issue
Article on Milton Glaser, design director of the Village Voice 1974-1977
Back page of the May 24, 1976 issue, front page of the May 31, 1976 issue
Article on Milton Glaser, design director of the Village Voice 1974-1977
Back page of the July 12, 1976 issue, front page of the July 19, 1976 issue
Article on Milton Glaser, design director of the Village Voice 1974-1977
Back page of the October 25 1976 issue, front page of the November 1, 1976 issue
Article on Milton Glaser, design director of the Village Voice 1974-1977
Back page of the November 22, 1976 issue, front page of the November 29, 1976 issue

But all good things come to an end — as with so many sad tales, this one had something to do with Rupert Murdoch, a story we’ll get to another time — and Glaser’s last appearance on the Voice masthead was in January 1977. He exited with a bang, turning readers into viewers with some Hollywood squares on his penultimate back-page layout and a Robert Mapplethorpe portrait of a Village goddess on the cover of the January 17, 1977, issue. Not bad for a trip that lasted less than three years.

Article on Milton Glaser, design director of the Village Voice 1974-1977
Back page of the January 10, 1977 issue, front page of the January 17, 1977 issue

Milton Glaser: June 26, 1929 – June 26, 2020.

 

 

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Ward Harkavy, 1947–2020

Ward Harkavy, a Voice stalwart who left the paper before he had the opportunity to aim his editorial scalpel at the Trump regime, died from Covid-19 this morning, at age 72.

Below, we resurrect a classic Harkavy essay, surveying the departing George W. Bush administration — a hit parade of an inept commander-in-chief’s aggressive, unilateral wars; economic chicanery; and world-class propensity for gaffes. Ward didn’t find it necessary to specifically remind his readers of the ways in which earlier Republican POTUSes — Ford, Reagan, and George H. W. Bush — had carried on their party’s grand old tradition of comforting the comfortable while afflicting the afflicted. He did, however, write a headline that specifically recalled a whiny Richard Nixon declaiming to the press, after losing the California governor’s race in 1962, “But as I leave you, I want you to know: just think how much you’re going to be missing. You don’t have Nixon to kick around anymore.”

A true journalist, Ward had no favorites — he would call bullshit on anyone and everyone (including himself). But he would also deliver the hardest of facts with humorous insights — although in this particular case, W made it easy by providing the writer with such quotes as “Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we.”

In every sentence Ward wrote (along with the untold thousands he edited for the Voice and other papers over the decades), he never forgot that “our people” were his readers, and that they deserved the truth.

And a laugh. —R.C. Baker

 

Ward Harkavy writes about the failures of George W Bush

Don’t Leave, George!
January 20, 2009
By Ward Harkavy

The Constitution says George W. Bush can’t remain in the White House past next week, but as we’ve learned during the past eight years, the Constitution is just a piece of paper. So it’s not too late to make a final plea: Bush, don’t leave us journalists hanging.

Don’t pardon our behavior during the past eight years. Don’t make us commute our sentences. Bail us out. Don’t leave.

George W. Bush has set a standard that’s unmatched in the history of the U.S. presidency.  And now, with the bar he’s set, he’s leaving us in limbo?

That’s low.

Bush is abandoning reporters when we need him the most. The newspaper industry is in the tank, and no other bailouts are in the offing. Survival depends on a sense of humor, and what will journalists do without Bush?

He’s been the problem. He’ll never be the solution. And that’s why he needs to stick around.

It’s a selfish argument, but what’s more American than selfishness, or haven’t you been following the Bernie Madoff saga?

For journalists accustomed to feeling dumbstruck, this goes beyond selfishness to true double-pronged satisfaction: self-expression and a strong sense of duty to lick the roadkill clean so the public doesn’t step in it.

Face it: Reporters are vultures, and Bush is the carcass that never stops putrefying.

Carry on without Bush? Can’t imagine how journalists will do it.

Barack Obama may be the first black person elected president, but compared with Bush, he’s colorless. Reporters certainly won’t be catching Obama frequently flub-a-dubbing at press conferences or getting stumped on the stump.

The days are over when drooling reporters will get to pick at such presidential bone mots as “Fool me once, shame on—shame on you. Fool me—you can’t get fooled again” or the more recent “Let’s make sure that there is certainty during uncertain times in our economy.”

So the question is not whether “the human being and fish can coexist peacefully,” as Bush once philosophized, but whether reporters can live without Bush as life drags on.

Fun and excitement make time pass so quickly. Where have the past eight years gone? They’ve just flown by, except maybe for the families of the thousands of U.S. soldiers killed, maimed, or shell-shocked in Iraq since Bush declared, “Mission accomplished!”

The shoe. My Pet Goat.
Yellowcake. The flight suit. Curveball.
Katrina. Brownie.

OK, so it’s not strict haiku, just a few “symbols of Bush’s reign” that The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank threw out there recently that I tried to convert to a metric system.

Poetry doesn’t usually put food on the table, but poetry editors sometimes do well, and Slate’s Jacob Weisberg elbowed his way to the front row at the parade of politics and words with his meticulously collected Bushisms archive. Somehow, I don’t see Weisberg gaffing similar gaffes from Obama, who never seems to be in over his head as a communicator.

Which gives journalists a serious problem: The new president is as eloquent as Bush isn’t, but how many different ways can reporters note that for their readers? That’ll get old quickly.

And if Obama’s not the man of peace lefties hope he is (don’t worry, he isn’t, if he’s installed Hillary Clinton and Dennis Ross as his Middle East peacemakers), you can bet that he’s not going to start many, if any, wars.

That’s right, no more unilateral invasions. That means rough times ahead for writers. As Thomas Hardy—a serious writer, not a journalist—once noted, “War makes rattling good history, but peace is poor reading.”

There have been no worries on that score while Bush has been president. Just a few months (or minutes) after 9/11, the Bush-Cheney regime abandoned the hunt for Osama bin Laden and started plotting how to justify an invasion of Iraq.

Only now have Afghanistan and Pakistan resumed their rightful places as the prime battleground for U.S. troops into the frightening future.

Maybe it doesn’t matter where the politicians send a generation or two to die. If the Iraq invasion was built on lies, well, politicians will always lie; it’s just that some lies are bigger than others, and when they are, reporters have more to gnaw on.

But it was when Bush accidentally spoke the truth that he truly took our breath away. Like when he said in August 2004, while signing a gigantic Department of Defense bill, “Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we.”

Hold that thought, Bush. And good luck to reporters who are waiting for the next president to say something like that. In fact, covering Obama will be tor­ture for the traveling White House press corps. Instead of going to Crawford, Texas, where there were no distractions and they had to focus on work, they’ll have to tag along with the Obamas to Hawaii during presidential respites from D.C.

Waterboarding’s out; surfboarding’s in. Boring.

The liberal media and lefty activists have already abandoned their carping at Bush for the even more futile flurry of “suggestions” to Obama about how he can “change” things.

A suggestion box. Boring. In any case, the early returns indicate that Obama is not a conservative Democrat, like the Clintons, but he may not be a lefty, either. So far, he seems to be just to the center of center.

Boring.

As for the incoming vice president, Joe Biden has no chance of filling the vacuum, the black hole, that is Dick Cheney. Biden is so unexciting that he’s likely to be re­membered mainly for his charter mem­bership in the Hair Club for Senators.

Reporters will have a whole lot less fun traipsing off to Delaware with Biden than bird-dogging Cheney while he hunted for his next victims.

Will Biden tour the country, as Cheney did only a few short years ago, trying to hoodwink Americans into letting Wall Street handle their Social Security accounts? I don’t think so.

That’s fortunate for the public, but style is more important to reporters than substance. Biden’s weird little smile can’t compare with Cheney’s lip-curling sneer.

Biden as the imperial vice president, the Rasputin, the man behind the throne, the puppet master, the bender of the Constitution to his will?

No, that dog won’t hunt — with or with­out the Chief Justice of the United States. Here’s $100 that says Biden will never shoot a hunting partner. And another $100 that says Biden will never mutter, “Fuck yourself,” as he brushes past a senior senator from the other party.

On the sanctimonious end of the scale, there were Bush’s Jesus freaks. You may have already forgotten that his first attorney general, John Ashcroft, ordered a modesty shroud for a naked ­lady statue in the Justice Department. But in the 9 /11 aftermath, he rounded up thousands of Muslims on American streets who were wearing their own modesty shrouds.

Forget that nonsense. No more hillbilly evangelists or Pat Robertson law-school grads making important decisions at Justice. Just take my word for that.

Deep in its bowels, the Obama White House may move with much the same rhythm as the Bush White House. But no matter how much of a shark-like en­forcer Rahm Emanuel is sure to be, it’s hard to imagine that Obama will give him a nickname like the one that Bush lov­ingly gave Karl Rove: “Turd Blossom.”

Or that Emanuel will have to continually hiss in Obama’s ear, as Rove did with Bush, “Stick to principle! Stick to principle!”

One of Bush’s Farewell Tour ’08 speeches last month did hold out a glim­mer of hope that there would continue to be 24/7 excitement for political reporters. He told his American Enterprise Institute friends at a Mayflower Hotel banquet in D.C., “Under ordinary circumstances, failed entities — failing entities should be allowed to fail. I have concluded these are not ordi­nary circumstances for a lot of reasons.”

Bush was referring to Detroit’s automak­ers, but he could have been hinting that he himself was one of those failed entities who should be saved — at least for four more years. Of failing. One bad term deserved another. Why not another after that?

Yet it seems clear that Bush is going to back up the Mayflower to the White House.

Mike Bloomberg abolished term limits so he could run for mayor again and continue walking the beat on Wall Street, making his business pals keep their market stalls clean and orderly. The mayor took his failure to do so in his own hands and decided he wanted to keep failing.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s situation was different, but he did flout tradition by grabbing an unprecedented third term after pulling the country out of a depression. Why can’t Bush have a third term, even though he’s driving us into one?

And he’s jumping out just as we’re going over the cliff? It’s not fair.

Not that life should be fair. We know the public’s not going to be rescued. But if Cheney doesn’t mount a coup to keep Bush in office, who’s going to bail out America’s journalists?

After eight years of a president who couldn’t keep his dick in his pants, followed by eight years of a president who couldn’t keep his foot out of his mouth, reporters are spoiled.

Now, after 200 years of toiling for highly profitable, ad-rich media outlets, the working press, gravy stains on its cheap ties, is rapidly being displaced by bloggers in bathrobes.

Tough luck for journalists still intent on getting paid for their work. At least Bush’s presence has provided enough of a distraction to take their minds off the industry’s collapse.

Now, journalists face at least one unavoidable change: Obama will screw up some things, but he doesn’t seem like a screw-up who can’t control himself He seems like … an adult.

And adults are so boring.

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ART ARCHIVES CULTURE ARCHIVES From The Archives From The Archives NYC ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES VOICE OF THE AGES

The First Contact Sheet of the Counterculture

It was a typical Village Voice front page from 1967: Over the left two columns, a street portrait of the “dean of American pacifists,” A.J. Muste; over the right two, an action shot of police arresting Charlotte Moorman, the Juilliard-trained cellist who was a must-see on the downtown art and music scene — not least because she sometimes performed nude.

Both photographs were snapped by the Voice’s always-on-the-scene Fred W. McDarrah.

The Voice of the Village: Fred W. McDarrah Photographs,” featuring many of the Voice staffer’s up-close-and-personal shots of the cultural and political luminaries of the 1960s and ’70s, opens today at the Museum of the City of New York.

As we wrote in an earlier Voice archive piece, “If reporters are charged with providing ‘the first rough draft of history,’ the ground-level, street-smart photojournalist McDarrah gave us some of the first contact sheets of the counterculture.”

It is hard to open one of the green-bound Voice archive volumes from those tumultuous decades and not see, after a few turns of the pages, a “Voice: Fred W. McDarrah” credit line. Born in Brooklyn in 1926, McDarrah served in the Army with the occupation forces in Japan after World War II. When he returned to New York, he began photographing the downtown demimonde, which he termed, “The most colorful community of interesting people, fascinating places, and dynamic ideas.”

In the August 23, 1962, issue of the paper, it was official. Fred W. McDarrah had become the Village Voice’s staff photographer. The announcement appeared on page 2 of that issue, surrounded by ads for galleries, bookshops, bars, and health-food stores.

McDarrah’s name now appeared on the masthead, which was on page 4, surrounded by letters to the editor about the Voice’s coverage of the suicide of Marilyn Monroe and the trial of the murderous Nazi bureaucrat Adolph [sic] Eichmann.

McDarrah, the native New Yorker, could be found on the spot, all over the city.

His main subject, however, remained the creative vanguard of downtown, including a compelling 1966 portrait of LeRoi Jones, the poet, theater director, and activist later known as Amiri Baraka.

The tenor of the times McDarrah was capturing can also be felt on these pages in ads for jazz innovators Ornette Coleman and Albert Ayler, as well as in calls to redeem war bonds as a way to protest war in Vietnam.

McDarrah also had entrée to studios, galleries, and museums all over town, capturing the avant-garde as it came into being.

McDarrah’s photos document the changes in the gender makeup of the moment — even if the accompanying captions weren’t yet up to speed. As his striking portrait of the seminal feminist sculptor Eva Hesse made clear, she was not having her first “one-man” show at the Fischbach gallery.

Although McDarrah started working for the Voice after the heyday of the abstract expressionists, he knew many of the artists who had made post-war New York the cultural capital of the world. When the painter Franz Kline died from heart failure at the age of 51, McDarrah had only to dig through his extensive archives to create a visual tribute that included Kline at work in his studio, as well as at play with some of his friends, including fellow artists Willem de Kooning and Alex Katz.

McDarrah also tracked the most powerful politicians of the day with his camera. In the spring of 1967, he was along as Robert F. Kennedy toured tenements on the Lower East Side. When McDarrah framed New York’s junior senator in his lens, something in the foreground cast a blur across the bottom of the frame, while a crooked portrait of Jesus crowned with thorns provided perfect compositional counterpoint to Kennedy’s downcast gaze. It is an astonishingly powerful photo in its own right, but a little more than a year later it became an elegiac cultural icon when it was printed on the Voice’s front page shortly after RFK’s assassination.

The first Voice issue of 1969 commemorated both the tragedies and triumphs of the year just past, with McDarrah photos of murdered leaders Martin Luther King Jr. and Kennedy, along with a straightforward shot of copies of The New York Times, each featuring a defining headline, including a report of American astronauts flying “around the moon only 70 miles from surface; see ‘vast, forbidding place.’ ”

Inside, a double-page spread of McDarrah images offered a look back at the movers and shakers of 1968, including Andy Warhol, who had been shot and almost killed in June of that year. The caption reads “Warhol found out it was for real,” a reference no doubt to a headline in the September 12 issue of the Voice that quoted the pop maestro after his recovery: “I thought everyone was kidding.”

Another McDarrah shot captured a Republican power broker in mid-spiel above the caption, “Roy Cohn denies everything.” Whichever Voice editor came up with that phrase half a century ago could never have imagined that one of Cohn’s most slavish disciples, Donald Trump, would one day be president of the United States.

In those years McDarrah’s photos were also used for Voice promotional purposes. The publisher no doubt figured that an exclusive picture of the Fab Four might be one way to get New Yorkers to subscribe to the paper.

 

By 1976 McDarrah appeared on the masthead as the Voice’s picture editor. In the November 22 issue, a reader wrote in complaining that the photographs in the paper were not sexy enough.

Also that year, McDarrah was one of five jurors for a Village Voice photography contest that drew more than 2,000 “generally strong submissions.”

A few years later, Amiri Baraka was arrested on 8th Street amid disputed circumstances. It was apparently no problem for McDarrah to dive into his archive and find a wholehearted portrait of the poet/provocateur by press time. (In 1980 Baraka turned to the pages of the Voice to pen a front-page feature headlined “Confessions of a Former Anti-Semite.” McDarrah’s collection was again plumbed for photos of the literary demimonde — watch this space for a full reposting of that article in the near future).

At any given moment New York City is at the center of a constellation of universes. Fred McDarrah was fortunate to be on the scene during an era when the downtown cosmos was burning exceptionally bright.

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A Young Reporter’s Dazzling (and Tragically Short) Career at the Village Voice

I got a hot tip when I read an Esquire magazine interview with the accomplished writer Ron Rosenbaum, known for his insightful and compulsively readable long-form pieces. In 1971 he had published “Secrets of the Little Blue Box,” about a group of kids known as “phone phreaks” who were hacking the long-distance telephone system. The article was so exhilarating that a 21-year-old Steve Wozniak called his 16-year-old friend Steve Jobs to rave about all the revelations he was finding on Esquire’s pages. Rosenbaum’s prescient investigation has been cited as a “‘foundation event’ for the creation of Apple Computer.”

But what really caught my attention in the 2017 Rosenbaum interview were these lines, where he talks about applying for a job at the Village Voice after working at the Fire Island News, in the summer of 1968: “At the end of the summer I went in for an interview and to my surprise got hired on the spot because they had a slot for counterculture reporting. I don’t know if the name Don McNeill means anything to you but he was the early era of counterculture reporting. He was very talented, famous for having his bloody visage blown up on the front page of the Voice. Anyway, McNeill was involved with a bunch of people in a commune in Massachusetts and that summer he walked into a pond and didn’t come out. And there’s still controversy whether it was a suicide or an accident. There was a replacement for him that didn’t work out so there was an opening.”

From the Village Voice card catalog.

The name Don McNeill didn’t ring any bells with me, but the picture Rosenbaum mentioned did. I knew I had seen it at some point during my years of flipping through the yellowed pages of the Voice’s archive volumes.

First I checked the card catalog we keep in the archive room, an incomplete but invaluable resource of Voice — and, therefore, postwar American — history. Among maybe two dozen entries I found the ones above, which give a clear indication of McNeill’s counterculture beat. One article we will definitely have to resurface one of these days is the piece on LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka), in which the poet-playwright-thinker was being tried for “possession of weapons and poetry.”

But I wanted to find the photo and story Rosenbaum remembered, and I had to go a little further into that year of 1968. I found it in March.

McNeill had gone to cover a “Yip-In” at Grand Central: “All the brass was watching and the cops were having a ball. ‘It was the most extraordinary display of unprovoked police brutality I’ve seen outside of Mississippi,’ Alan Levine, staff counsel for the New York Civil Liberties Union, said at a press conference on Saturday. ‘The police reacted enthusiastically to the prospect of being unleashed.’” The piece goes on to describe a police riot: “Cops hit women and kicked demonstrators who had fallen while trying to escape the flailing nightsticks. It was like a fire in a theatre.” Obviously, from the picture — which both Rosenbaum and I remembered — McNeill had been in the middle of the mêlée. But when I turned to the jump page, it was gone. Aaarrrgghh. An occasional occurrence — some cretin tears pages out sometime over the past half-century.

But then, a few months further on, I found the bad news. In the August 15, 1968, issue, film critic Leticia Kent writes a heartfelt remembrance of McNeill, who had drowned in a pond in Monroe, New York. (Rosenbaum remembered it as Massachusetts, but the distinction doesn’t really matter. McNeill was 23. Rosenbaum has other memories — possible suicide, for example — that I couldn’t find anything about.)

In her article, Kent notes that both of McNeill’s parents were reporters and that he “vowed not to become a newsman. But he joined The Voice as a staff writer in the summer of 1966. No contradictions. The Village Voice, he insisted, was not a newspaper.” Kent adds, “As a writer, he was older than himself at 23. He was an illuminator, humble before his own illuminations…” Indeed, McNeill wrote about police brutality partly because he experienced it firsthand. But Kent also quotes passages that, from the brief encounters with McNeill in the archives, ring as true as we can know someone from newsprint.

Here’s one example, from a piece about a “Be-In” in Central Park’s Sheep Meadow: “People climbed into trees and made animal calls, and were answered by calls from other trees. Two men stripped naked and were gently persuaded to re-clothe as the police appeared. Herds of people rushed together from encampments on the hills to converge en masse on the great mud of the meadow. They joined hands to form great circles, hundreds of yards in diameter, and broke to hurtle to the center in a joyous, crushing, multi-embracing pigpile. Chains of people careened through the crowds at full run. Their energy seemed inexhaustible.

“The password was ‘LOVE’ and it was sung, chanted, painted across foreheads…”

In a 1970 archive volume, I discover that a collection of McNeill’s writing was published that year. A New York Times review from that summer reports that “the book hangs together, which it does better than most any collection of short pieces I have read, [and] is a tribute to the pure line of McNeill’s preoccupations. His preoccupations were those of his friends; often, in fact, he wrote about his friends, and it seemed almost accidental that in chronicling the lives of this collection of Buddhists, Diggers, street‐people, runaways, speedfreaks and acid‐heads, he was also chronicling one of the most radical cultures to have emerged in 20th-century America.”

Plus, we get the missing jump page about that police beating. But it seems beside the point now, in the larger scheme of what McNeill — a reluctant reporter who found a home with a paper that understood — accomplished in two very brief years. His book may be out of print, but over time his stories will be back in print, such as it is, here at From the Archives.

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Robin Holland, 1957–2018

When I began writing for the Voice, in the 1990s, I was relegated to the spot on the art page under the main review, by Peter Schjeldahl and then by Jerry Saltz. But often my 300-or-so-word critique would be enlivened by one of Robin Holland’s installation shots, of necessity a small photograph but always nimbly composed. When I heard a few hours ago that Robin had died, at age sixty after a brief illness, I thought of a great photo that had accompanied my review of a David Smith exhibition. I tracked it down in a 2004 issue of the Voice and saw that, sure enough, my memory had served. Through her framing of contrasting light and form in a photo printed at maybe three inches across, Robin had conveyed the wonderful sense of volume and exuberance a viewer felt among those particular sculptures in that specific space.

By that time I had graduated to an occasional full-page feature of my own, and after conducting an interview with Alfred Leslie, I was thrilled when Robin’s color portrait of the balding but still muscular seventy-seven-year-old painter arrived in the art department. In her composition Leslie is seated, but he seems to thrust out of the suite of larger-than-life-size nudes set in a wedge behind him, an accurate evocation of the piss ’n’ vinegar personality that came across in our interview.

[gallery_in_post post_id=”571255″ post_title=”Robin Holland, 1957–2018″ /]

A couple of years later, while writing multiple short reviews for the “Best in Show” column, I covered a 2006 survey of Robin’s portraits at Lincoln Center. My review, in full, reads:

“In a color shot, Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar yanks at the neck of his sweater, as if even clothes are too confining. Radiant but clearly in an existential funk, Isabelle Huppert clutches her head, cascades of hair flowing through her fingers. These 72 images (several were cover photos for this newspaper) zero in on the off-screen faces of some of the silver screen’s biggest mavericks.” 

Whether she was capturing a Hollywood star, an abstract sculpture, or everyday folk chatting with a subway musician, Robin aimed for the core of her subjects. My wife and I saw her at a gallery dinner on Long Island this past June, and as always she was bluntly direct when we discussed her photos of the beautiful people. “They’re not like the rest of us,” she said of her encounters with the likes of Huppert and George Clooney and Halle Berry. “They’re better looking than us and they work at it — that’s their job. Mine is to capture something deeper about them.”

Whether in color, black and white, large format, or small, Robin got well beyond the facades of this world.

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Remembering One of the Voice’s Most ‘Out There’ Writers

I first met Richard Kopperdahl when he was no longer crazy. It was the late 1980s, and he was the Village Voice’s designated driver, which — for anyone who knew he’d spent years as a drugged-out, drunken Bowery bum — was both humorous and a tad unsettling. But he’d driven cabs and parked cars in previous chapters of his life, and he drove with a rangy élan, his left elbow jutting out the window, his right hand smoothly bringing a cigarette to his mouth at regular intervals. Around 3 a.m. on Tuesday mornings, after we’d put yet another edition of the paper to bed, roughly a dozen of us — mostly production staffers and a couple of diehard editors — would pile into one of those big vans that small churches use to gather congregants, and Richard would bounce us over potholed bridges to the outer boroughs, which, even then, were the only parts of the city most of us could afford. Like a number of writers at this venerable paper (myself included), Richard started out in a utilitarian job and eventually ended up with a byline on the cover.

Richard passed away on Sunday, August 21. In thinking of him, I remembered an amazing feature he wrote for the Voice in 1995, an unsparing, laugh-out-loud funny tale of his mad years in the mid-1970s, when he did six spells in Bellevue’s psychiatric warrens. He writes about clocks on the walls with no hands, of bending soda straws in such a way that he could transcend gravity, and of his certainty that God had put him on Earth to guide all of us down a more harmonious path.

Richard’s divinity never came to pass, but at heart his basic idea was sound: Everyone deserves a hand when they are down, an uplift that doesn’t defy gravity but does define our humanity.

That said, he was adamantly opposed to giving change to panhandlers, impatient with stupidity, and angered by arrogance. Once, as mobile phones were making their first intrusive forays into our lives, he was annoyed by two Masters of the Universe sitting at an outdoor café table and barking into their bulky handsets, oblivious (or not) to how much they were disturbing other diners. Richard picked up the heavy glass sugar dispenser on his own table and started yelling into it about the inconsiderate people sitting nearby. The pair looked at all six-feet-five of him and decided that they could make their calls at another time. Richard was sober and sane, but they prudently assumed otherwise.

By then he’d been working at the Voice for more than a decade, driving the company van all over Gotham and writing reviews of stereo components for our “Fast Forward” section, as well as the occasional feature about his former lives on the Bowery and inside Bellevue.

A couple of years ago I was visiting another Voice writer who had landed in Bellevue’s psych wards. We had a far-ranging chat in the visitors’ room, and as I was leaving I noticed that a picture had been removed, the void made obvious because the wall had been repainted while the piece still hung there. In a serendipitous touch, the label remained: “ ‘Changing Hearts,’ watercolor and pastel.”

I thought of Richard at that moment, knowing how much time he had spent inside those walls, surrounded by clocks with no hands. —R.C. Baker

A viewing will be held at the Peter Jarema Funeral Home, 129 East 7th Street, on Friday, August 26, from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Richard Kopperdahl’s “Bettervue Hospital: A Lucid Story About Being Out There” appeared in the October 3, 1995, issue of the Village Voice.