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From The Archives NYC ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES Uncategorized

The Birthday Boy: Roy Cohn is 52 at 54

The cake was a two-foot version of his face. The confectionary eyes were clear of the bloodshot coarseness that normally colors them, but the small, balding head still had the shape of a bullet. His jaw was locked in a smile — the frosting face of a birthday boy. To mark 52 years of infamy, Roy Cohn gave himself a party Friday night at Studio 54, and invited 200 friends and clients. There wasn’t a striking schoolbus driver among them, though the guys threatening hand­icapped kids with icepicks last week are col­lectively Cohn clients. Not a single black went to the dinner; nor did any of the guests arrive in station wagons or sedans. For three hours, while we stood in the rain watching and asking for names, the guests arrived in limo after limo.

Each guest had received a telegram and was ordered to bring it. The first 200 were on the “A” list, asked to arrive at 8:30 p.m. for drinks and food. A few hundred more got “B” list telegrams which entitled them to post-dinner partying at 11. The time on your telegram was a measure of your importance to the man who symbolizes evil to many in this city — the redbaiter turned Mafia broker, indicted three times, reprimanded in half a dozen courts around the country for uneth­ical tactics like tricking a senile, dying 84-year-old client into changing his will to make Cohn executor. But his own most successful client in the end, he’s been convicted of noth­ing. Roy Cohn is now New York’s incandes­cent legal star — the choice of its crassest deal­ers (in all wares), the strategist for a new Tammany in Manhattan, already the shadow boss of the Bronx. In short, a one-man scan­dal show staged daily.

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Early arrivals included Brooklyn boss Meade Esposito and former Manhattan lead­er Carmine DeSapio, who arrived together — ­ two generations of the clubhouse rape of this city in the same dark limo. Not far behind was Bronx Democratic boss Stanley Fried­man, a partner in Cohn’s law firm; Manhat­tan Republican leader Vince Albano; and state Conservative Party leader David Ma­honey.

A Board of Estimate quorum was on hand — with Deputy Mayor Herman Badillo and borough presidents Donald Manes (Queens) and Howard Golden (Brooklyn) ar­riving in city-owned limos, and Andrew Stein (Manhattan) pulling up in a cab. (After Manes went in, his city civil-service driver joined us on the curb. When someone said what a great guy Manes was, the driver de­clared: “He’s a scumbag,” then turned to me and added, “You can quote me on that. He dragged me outta my house on a Friday night to drive him to a place like this. He coulda driven himself.”)

Other politicos included former mayor Abe Beame, whose driver is a city cop; Congressman Mario Biaggi; supreme court judge Manuel Gomez; Chief Judge of the U.S. Dis­trict Court David Edelstein; appellate judge Vito Titone; and a surprise — newcomer Chuck Schumer, a “reform” assemblyman from Brooklyn who insisted he was just the date of a gossip columnist.

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Media types like the Post‘s Steve Dun­leavy, Claudia Cohen, and Murray Kemp­ton, New York magazine’s John Berendt, Sid Zion, TV’s Stanley Siegel and Bill Boggs, gossip columnists Earl Wilson, Neal Travis, and Virginia Graham, WINS director Cecil Foster, publisher Si Newhouse, Jr., and the Times‘s William Safire and Tom Goldstein all arrived to pay homage to the man whose me­dia debut was at the side of Joe McCarthy. The Times‘s executive editor Abe Rosenthal and companion Katherine Balfour lunched with Cohen at “21” earlier on Friday.

Real-estate and business barons included Lawrence Fischer of Fischer Bros. (office buildings), Lewis Rudin of Rudin Management and the Association for a Better New York, Francis Barry of Circle Lines, Victor Potamkin (Cadillacs), Bill Fugazy (travel and limos), Warren Avis (rent-a-car), Peter Wid­ener (Philadelphia coal, oil, and racetrack), Bernard Lange (a lawyer whose combination of city receiverships and reputed Las Ve­gas junkets for judges has attracted prosecu­tors), the Baron and Baroness di Portanova (Acapulco-based, inherited wealth), Del Coleman (Las Vegas wheeler dealer), and Jerry Finkelstein. Insiders noted that Cohn was getting a little lean on his real-estate pull — Harry Helmsley and Sam Lefrak didn’t make it this time.

The crowd from my recent Voice series was there: 32-year-old developer of the Com­modore Hotel and the convention center Donald Trump; his aide and the governor’s chief fund-raiser, Louise Sunshine; and attorney Tom Baer, whose firm is handling both the Commodore and the convention center for the state’s Urban Development Corp. It was the first time I’d seen Trump since the series began. When he recognized me, he pumped my hand and said three times he was doing fine.

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For color, Cohn had Andy Warhol, steam­-pressed face and body tied together by a tux, and comedian Joey Adams, who emceed. Judge Edelstein and columnist Safire made the speeches.

Studio 54 bouncers and doormen tried to claim the sidewalk as an appendage to the disco and force the Voice photographer and myself into the street (where one limo driver ran into me from behind). I spent the night jockeying for position, trying to get people to identify themselves: Some leapt from their cars and ran full speed into the place to avoid questions or pictures; some lingered to spell out their names; some thought I was with the disco and mistook my pad for a guest list, coughing up their names to get in. We never saw the host, though we had both entrances covered. They slipped him past us through some secret passage.

The 54 doormen also saw to it that no one with 11 p.m. telegrams tried to crash the din­ner. People with late invites were told to go away and come back when their invite said they could come. One frustrated early arriv­al — the only black we saw all night — was Bill Todd, whom Joe Conason described in the Voice as a Friedman political operative who was dismissed from the Manhattan borough president’s payroll when he was exposed as a welfare cheat. Todd came in a shirt that blinked on and off. Not even that could get him in until 11 p.m.

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Badillo and the rest of the respectable crowd didn’t seem to mind that the disco seems to attract federal agents, or the coke indictment of its co-owner and Cohn client, Ian Schrager. One insider explained Badil­lo’s surprise attendance to me this way: “Cohn and Herman got friendly when Badil­lo agreed t0 support Stanley Friedman for Bronx county leader. Since then, Cohn took Herman around the circuit and introducd him to a lot of money people when it looked like Badillo was going to make a run for city comptroller.” Badillo confirmed much of this, except he said that he already knew the people Cohn introduced him to and added that he and Cohn/Friedman are now at odds over the Bronx borough presidency. Badillo explained his use of a city car and driver by saying that “in a sense” Cohn’s party “was official city business” because of the people he “came into contact with there.”

The joke of the night was Howard Gold­en’s presentation to Cohn of a Voice subscrip­tion. Cohn showed it around to people. The only class moment of the night. ■

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BOOKS ARCHIVES CULTURE ARCHIVES From The Archives

Beat Streets: The War Between the Prophets and the Profs

Kerouac & Friends assembles Fred McDarrah’s famous hipster photographs with 30 prose pieces of the time by various beats, journalists, and critics. It’s a splendid memoir-montage, not so much about Kerouac as about the Village beat milieu. Ker­ouac had a strong New York presence even when he wasn’t in town; one of the most evocative essays here, “The Roaming Beat­niks,” is his ramble through beat Manhat­tan after dark, an ode to simple postwar urban pleasures. But he wasn’t an integral part of everyday New York beat life, at least after On the Road was finally pub­lished in 1957. Young McDarrah, a self-­confessed beatnik groupie, mainly recorded that late-’50s Village scene — drinks at the Cedar, openings at the Hansa Gallery and the Living Theater, quiet times in Allen Ginsberg’s kitchen.

The book offers some long glimpses at Kerouac; the most striking appear in How­ard Smith’s and Dan Wakefield’s separate accounts of Christmas, 1957, at the Village Vanguard, with a sweaty, juiced-up Kerou­ac reading to the jazz buffs and his faithful flock. But these snippets reveal little that isn’t familiar from Joyce Johnson’s Minor Characters or from McDarrah’s contribu­tions to The Beat Scene (1960; edited by my father, Eli Wilentz of 8th Street Book­shop fame). The real treat is getting to rub elbows with an enormous cavalcade of oth­ers, some long gone, some now well-estab­lished (William Styron!), and some, like McDarrah himself, who still figure mightily at places like The Voice (my favorite: Joel Oppenheimer looking dapper in his 1959 crewcut).

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The only disappointment is the uneven quality of the photo reproductions. McDar­rah was a beginner in the late 1950s, shoot­ing with an old Rolleicord and a beat-up Nikon. His pictures had none of the sharp­-edged contrasts and meticulous composi­tion of his present work. Still, despite the occasional gaffe, he took some wonderful photographs, and Morrow doesn’t do them justice. Some of the best — a beat party un­der a scrawled graffito, “Le Sang des Poetes”; Tuli Kupferberg grinning outside the Gaslight — look muddy and overexposed compared to other versions I’ve seen. One picture, of Ginsberg and Corso at the Art­ist’s Club, looks murky enough to have been shot in a mine shaft. McDarrah deserves better; luckily, enough of the pictures are clear, and enough of McDarrah’s style shows through, that the clinkers are at worst an annoyance.

The book’s mood is nostalgic in the proper sense, a longing for home, for a Vil­lage half-remembered and half-invented. Its sense of place is rhapsodic, recalling the lost landmarks of youthful fantasy, the San Remo (sigh!), the 8th Street Deli (ditto!), the original 8th Street Bookshop on Mac­Dougal Street (mixed feelings, personally, about that one). Even more touching is the human congeries, the writers, artists, and hangers-on, populating a world where cheap rents, greasy spoons, and literary enterprise brought people together, to bohemia. It’s remarkable how many of McDarrah’s pho­tographs are of crowds — in cafés and bars, in galleries, in Washington Square on weekend. “The night people,” Jean Shepherd used to call them, those who forswore the 9 to 5 grind, spent afternoons and evenings in palatable jobs or solitary artistic work, and then came out at night for barroom conviviality and incessant party-going. Manhattan still has crowds; pockets of bohemia survive here and there. But nothing quite like the beat demimonde exists anymore, not with the same literary élan, the same desperate vitality. Being a poor New York writer or painter has become too expensive — or too crushing — to permit such animated congregation.

And animated it was. Long before anyone thought up a happening or a be-in, the beats mastered public showmanship, blur­ring the lines between art and the everyday, playing tricks with their own personae and the mythic “beatnik” invented by Time. Some beats called their hijinks a way to get attention and make some bread: Ted Joans, the Afro-surrealist painter, poet, and impresario, once remarked of his show-off stunts, “Well hell, that’s just part of the job of making a living.” But the beats’ irreverent aesthetic made even their wildest ploys more than a job. Joans himself took part in one caper, the Rent-a-Beatnik business that McDarrah started in 1959. Time had just publicized the Village scene as an abomina­tion, a titillating but unholy world of beard­ed sex perverts in berets and their emaciat­ed chicks. McDarrah, seizing on the stereotype, decided to give the suburban public the real thing. In the first beatnik rental, Joans, replete with beret and torn sweater, traveled to a Scarsdale party, McDarrah in tow, and mingled with the gentry. The photograph from that party is hilarious. Joans is earnest; his audience, decked out in its own weird idea of beat garb, looks just as well-meaning. The host had a great time (“People in Westchester are still talking about it,” he later enthused to a reporter); we can imagine Joans and McDarrah’s rollicking trip home.

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The scene flourished only a short time, from about 1957 to about 1961 (the year some leading Village lights met at director Robert Cordier’s flat to contemplate the beat generation’s funeral). Kerouac & Friends offers several explanations why — ­the publicity was too much, one critic writes; the folk song crowd pushed the beats aside, another suggests. But even if the beats had stuck it out, beatdom could never have survived the politics of the ’60s. A personal recollection brings that home. Ex­actly 20 years ago, my family moved the bookshop across the street from its old spot on MacDougal. Some of the remaining beats in town helped with the lifting and unpacking (I especially remember Peter Or­lovsky, with his mottled tam o’shanter, and how he was so physically strong for one so skinny). When it was done, there was a grand party, a gathering of old friends, writ­ers, and beats. All went swimmingly until midday, when news arrived from Harlem that Malcolm X had just been murdered. Bewilderment, then tension, hit the room. My clearest memory is of LeRoi Jones im­mediately leaving the proceedings. I sensed that the Village would never be the same. The next time I saw Jones in the shop, his name was Baraka.

Despite its evanescence, the beat scene marked an important cultural and literary break, one that still affects those who passed through it and those of us born a bit too late. A great deal has been written about the beats’ long-term cultural signifi­cance; much of it has focused on their sexu­al style, on what Barbara Ehrenreich appre­ciates as their pre-feminist flight from gray-flanneled manhood and what Norman Podhoretz despises as their portentous re­nunciation of middle-class norms. Kerouac & Friends touches on these matters, with opinions from all sides, Podhoretz included. But its photos and reviews also place the New York beats more exactly in their liter­ary context. The beats’ disaffiliation from ’50s mainstream America was in large mea­sure a revolt against the prevailing arbiters of literary taste and manners — specifically, the New York intellectuals of Partisan Re­view and Commentary and their provincial admirers and imitators. From the start, the beats took the intellectuals — those Kenneth Rexroth called “the general staff of the En­emy” — as their chief objects of negative ref­erence. Thereafter, the passionate, ambivalent argument between Beat and Intellectual helped sharpen their respective identities, in creative and destructive ways. American literary culture hasn’t been the same since.

It began at Columbia in the late ’40s­ — years before anyone talked of a beat genera­tion — when Allen Ginsberg sought out his literature professors, especially Lionel Trill­ing. “In the early years, I tried to be open with him,” Ginsberg tells Al Aronowitz in a 1960 piece included here, “and laid on him my understanding of Burroughs and Jack­ — stories about them, hoping he would be in­terested or see some freshness or light, but all he or the others at Columbia could see was me searching for a father or pushing myself or bucking for an instructorship, or whatever they have been conditioned to think in terms of.” Diana Trilling’s notori­ous, motherly “The Other Night at Colum­bia” (also in the book) shows that this was exactly what the Morningside Lions thought then and continued to think later: she recalls that when pressed about why he didn’t correct his young pupil, Lionel Trill­ing would exclaim, “I’m not his father.” From these testy, stumbling encounters came the first clues that Ginsberg’s struggle with his teacher-critics ran far deeper than literary disagreement; the young trouble­maker and his oddball friends had hit a nerve in some of the most Olympian New York critics, and vice versa. Once the New York beats expanded their number, hooked up with the San Francisco Renaissance, and took to mocking the uptown eminences, the wrangling began to turn nasty.

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The antagonism was mutually reinforc­ing, establishing Intellectual and Beat as opposites in their own minds. There were, to be sure, a few powerful critics — very few — who greeted the beats with bemused curiosity. William Phillips recalls in his memoirs how he listened to Ginsberg hold forth persuasively one day at the Partisan Review office; poetry by Ginsberg and Corso actually made it into PR. Far more typical was the response of Phillips’s coedi­tor, Philip Rahv: “I have looked over the stuff and it seems pretty vacuous to me.” To be an intellectual, especially on the Up­per West Side, meant cultivating a world-­weary, epigrammatic civility, even (espe­cially?) when cutting your rivals to ribbons. To be a beat meant finding sweetness, freshness, and light in elegiac, angelic bar­barism. The intellectuals, most of them products of the radical ’30s, had for the most part retreated from serious criticism of American capitalism, but they still saw literature politically, as the proving ground of the liberal imagination. The beats, chil­dren of the ’40s and Cold War stalemate, abhorred capitalism and communism, and retained at least some sense of political commitment — “America I’m putting my queer shoulder to the wheel,” Ginsberg declared — but their poetry always vaunted the personal, the existential, the religious above politics. The intellectuals were al­most exclusively critics and essayists who devoted the better part of every day to tak­ing positions. The beats wrote poems and novels and very little criticism; they thought position-taking was absurd. The in­tellectuals cherished complexity, ambiguity, and Niebuhrian paradox. The beats sought simplicity, ecstasy, and Blakean transcen­dence. And yet, irreconcilable as they were, Intellectual and Beat shared an ambiva­lence about each other, born of an often unacknowledged awareness that they had each other’s number.

The beats’ ambivalence concerned fame: though they rejected the intellectuals, they still wanted to be known as the great artists of their time, the best minds of their gener­ation — laurels the intellectuals weren’t about to bestow. Ginsberg’s touching “Ego Confession” speaks to the beats’ anxiety about literary success; so, in a sadder, more destructive sense, does an anecdote Podhoretz tells in Al Aronowitz’s piece about Gins­berg, about an occasion McDarrah must have kicked himself for missing. One night, Podhoretz (then a Trilling protégé and pre­eminent aspiring New York Intellectual) got a phone call from his old Columbia ac­quaintance, Ginsberg, inviting him to a downtown party. Podhoretz went, only to discover that the party consisted of Gins­berg, Kerouac, and Peter Orlovsky, sitting in wait. Kerouac’s fury at Podhoretz crept through his charming wisecracks: “Why is it,” he fumed, “that all the biggest young critics… Why are you against us? Why aren’t you for the best talent of your generation?” Podhoretz replied that he didn’t think them the best talent; Kerouac became indignant. The indignation grew over the coming years — the years when Podhoretz really “made it” — as Kerouac fell apart and wound up an embittered paranoid, holed up in St. Petersburg (Florida), knocking back the boilermakers that finally killed him. At the very end, he declaimed against the Communists and the Jews, and especially against the Jewish literary mafia he swore had done him in.

The intellectuals’ ambivalence had to do with a nagging sense of vacancy about their own decorous, well-heeled academic lives. This was the nerve the beats hit. In characteristic form, the intellectuals responded by taking a position, but this time some of them lost their cool; Kerouac & Friends, with its reprints of reviews of the beats, invites us to contrast beat realities with the critics’ caricatures and see just how over­heated some of the intellectuals became. The beats, here, look genial enough — ­scruffy by ’50s standards, certainly frivo­lous, at times wild-eyed, but hardly menac­ing. They speak plainly of their basically religious faith, well summarized by Ted Joans: “We’re the richest people in the world and yet we don’t have truth and love. It’s not what’s up front that counts, it’s what’s in your heart and brain. There’s nothing wrong with material possessions. But you should use them and not let them use you.”

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Yet to the intellectuals — many of them immigrant offspring who had won the re­spect of the goyim — the beat scene was both a cultural blasphemy and a kind of personal affront, an abandonment of cultur­al obligations and the hard-won refine­ments of Claremont Avenue, a regression to a confused and dangerous state of self-in­dulgent juvenile delinquency. The beats­ — bright students many of them — had refused the only world that mattered. With their rumpled clothes and zany non sequiturs, they challenged the intellectuals’ victory as a sellout. Worse than that, they got atten­tion with their ravings about transcen­dence; they had followers (“so many young girls, so few of them pretty,” Diana Trilling harrumphed about the audience at a Co­lumbia beat poetry reading). No problem taking a position on these miscreants.

Kerouac & Friends provides a survey of the critics’ escalating rage. Thus Trilling, commenting on the Columbia reading: “Maybe Ginsberg says he doesn’t bathe or shave… But for this occasion, at any rate, Ginsberg, Corso, and Orlovsky were all beautifully clean and shaven… Certainly there’s nothing dirty about a checked shirt or a lumberjacket and blue jeans; they’re standard uniform in the best nursery schools. Ginsberg has his price, as do his friends, however much they may dissem­ble.” Thus Podhoretz: “Isn’t the beat gener­ation a conspiracy to overthrow civilization (which is created by men, not boys) and to replace it not by the State of Nature where we can all romp around in a free-and-easy nakedness, but by the world of the adoles­cent street gang?” Thus Boston’s John Ciardi in the Saturday Review: “I hope the next time the young go out for an intellectu­al rebellion, they will think to try the li­brary. It’s still the most subversive building in town, and it’s still human headquarters. And even rebels can find it useful to know something, if only to learn to sit still with a book in hand.”

Beneath all this bluster, rumbling like a runaway Broadway local below ground, was the intellectuals’ suspicion that maybe the mannered academia of the age of anxiety wasn’t all they cracked it up to be. For the older heads, there was the creeping sensa­tion that they had lost something valuable in their adaptation, that their well-wrought existence demanded they suppress the unorthodoxy and high spirits of the rip-roar­ing ’30s: nights of debate and spritzing in Stewart’s Cafeteria, days in the left-wing alcoves and meeting halls, singing their lungs out, “A SOCialist union is a NO good union, is a COM-pan-y union of the bosses.” For the young men, like Podhoretz, there was an eerie feeling that they had grown prematurely stodgy and safe, apolo­gists for caution.

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Not that the intellectuals were entirely wrong about the beats, their criticisms mere angry projection. When it came to self-­promotion — making it — there was method to the beats’ craziness; the intellectuals knew it. With their memories of Hitler and Stalin, they were entitled to be nervous about those beats who dipped into Céline and Gide and Hesse and celebrated the cult of experience. And there’s no denying that some of the prose and poetry written in the spontaneous bop mode was quite simply godawful.

But what made the beats so compelling — ­and, in retrospect, makes them even more so — was that they had their antagonists figured out so well, and so early on. A decade and more before the intellectuals suffered through the late ’60s and early ’70s, the beats smelled the staleness of an existence consecrated entirely to criticism, urbanity, and infighting, without much hope of transcendence, personal or political. A glance through the recent spate of New York Intellectuals’ memoirs exposes, with gloomy regularity, the phenomenon of lives unlived (or at least unremembered) outside the suffocating trenches of intellectual combat. These were lives of scholarship — ideally among the highest forms of spiritual endeavor — blighted by an unending search for correctness, a corrupting form of liberal anticommunism, and the conventions of a West Side literary career. Their self-importance bred a profound sadness and a paranoia as crippling in its way as Kerouac’s. The great crack-up really hit about ’67 or ’68. The CIA-Congress for Cultural Freedom exposé and the Columbia upheaval were especially upsetting episodes; the intellectuals’ imagination was slow to grasp that the liberal academy had shamelessly debased its honor and then lied about it. But the first shock was the sight of the beats chucking Matthew Arnold and lighting out for North Beach and the Village when they should have been knotting their ties, getting on with their dissertations, and earning their instructorships.

Nowadays the beats, with their wild dreams and ecstatic chatter, seem part of a distant pre-’60s past. Most of them made it through the storm and live on; Ginsberg, for one, having tamed his anguish in Buddha, is regarded in some circles as our national poet. But the beat scene itself is dead, its leaders scattered, its supposed armies of legatees lost to law school, the academy, the day-people’s world. Many of the surviving intellectuals, meanwhile, have grown smug­ger, plumper than ever with success. Since lurching into neoconservatism in the 1970s, they’ve banished any doubts they might have had about the wholesomeness of middle-class stolidity, and are now in the pro­cess of regaining their authority. Though they hold little political power — Jeane Kirkpatrick aside, the Reaganites couldn’t care less for the Commentary crowd — they are in charge of some important cultural precincts all down the line. And from their squad rooms they are doing their best to police American arts and letters and revive their own sort of intellectual as culture hero.

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All of which makes Kerouac & Friends — ­and more generally the literary history of the beats and the ’50s — enormously instructive. The neocons certainly haven’t forgotten the beat scene. In their revisions of history, the beats were the advance guard of the 1960s cultural vandals; accordingly, the police actions of the 1980s are an at­tempt to restore all that was good and true about American culture before Ginsberg, Kerouac, and friends unleashed their beast­ly barrage. It’s a dreary moment indeed these neocons are sponsoring, less a reprise of their earlier anti-bohemian outbursts than a desecration of history — their own included — to justify their subsequent odys­sey and their current project. Bad enough they should have to repeat their by-now ritualistic slandering of the beats, with so little self-examination or reflection. Even worse that they do so under the pretext of bringing back the good old days. Whatever their mistakes and tragedies, the most thoughtful of the ’50s intellectuals would have recoiled in disgust at the notion that 30 years later some of their associates would flirt with the Radical Right while mouthing euphemisms about cultural excellence: imagine Lionel Trilling sharing anything with Jerry Falwell, much less a common discourse. Yet such are the lessons and bur­dens of history, as some of our angrier ex­-liberals see it.

If the neocons’ ascendancy marks their betrayal of liberalism, it also helps us un­derstand the ’50s in a very different way. In this version, the beats appear not as vandals but as something closer to prophets. Long before anyone else, they saw it all coming. They sensed the deadliness of obsessive ci­vility, of irony as a creed and manly liberal criticism as a way of life — and they sensed where it could lead. They understood that somewhere in the Intellectual’s soul — in the part closed to transcendence — stirred the spirit of what Ginsberg called Moloch. In these flat, discouraging neocon times, the beats’ prophecies ring true enough. And their protests sound as urgent as ever. ❖

KEROUAC & FRIENDS: A Beat Generation Album by Fred W. McDarrah Morrow, $17.95

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From The Archives From The Archives NEW YORK CITY ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES Uncategorized

Taxi Driver — A Trip To 1970

“Taxi Driving Man: Hail and Farewell”

Ninth Avenue at 6 a. m. is a surrealistic study in flaming trash cans and steaming manhole covers. In the pre-dawn gloom, the streets are dimly lit by fruit and vegetable merchants preparing to display their wares on the sidewalk. From inside the cab, all is still, but unnaturally still, and since it is New York, the stillness only heightens your anticipation of an approaching cataclysm. It is an exceedingly ugly street, even for New York. But in its monumental ugliness it commands that special morbid fascination that all New Yorkers feel toward their city, despise it as they may. 

Driving down toward Port Authority, the feeling is more that of crossing the River Styx than one of Manhattan’s commercial arteries. You have the road practically to yourself, yet there is a restraining force which causes you to drive along slowly, at a steady pace. You are in a phantasmagorical place, and you better not disturb the unholy balance of things, lest you be spotted as an outsider. 

It was in that frame of mind that I decided my career as a cabby was to come to an end. It was a decision I turned over in my mind throughout the day, and although the circumstances hardly warranted it, toward turning-in time, I began feeling a little cheerful, mostly because I couldn’t see any footing beneath me to which to sink from here. There was, I thought, cause for optimism. Leave the job, I assured myself, something worthier is bound to come through. (It seems that one side effect of a middle-class adolescence is that in the pinch, you are taught to rely on everything and everybody but yourself. Just when you are at the peak of your desperation — if you have been weaned on Hollywood westerns — is when you most expect your salvation to come galloping across the plain and smash that redskin to smithereens before he detaches your scalp. What entirely eludes the realm of possibilities is his one day making off with it — consequently, you grow up totally unfit to face reality.)

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My last passenger of the day was a decrepit old woman with bony, heavily rouged cheeks, whose accent might have originated anywhere from the east bank of the Danube to the Urals. I mentally took a bet on Hungarian refugee and, as it turned out, I wasn’t far off the mark. We headed down Seventh Avenue. 

“You not have rrahdio?” she asked, rolling about four extra Rs onto each syllable. 

“No.” 

“Too bad. It must be lonely, young man like you, no rrahdio.” 

“It’s not too lonely.” To settle my mental bet, I asked her where she hailed from. 

“Oh, I have been born Rrussia, but now here 45 yearrs.” 

I supposed that if it had been 145 years her syntax would never have improved. After a spell, she tapped on the plastic divider the company throws into their cars as a bone to the driver’s peace of mind. 

“Tell me, this glass bullet-proof?” she asked. 

“No, I don’t think so.” 

“Ah, too bad. You better have bullet-proof, no?” 

“Yes.”

Another silence. Then, as we passed through Times Square: 

“You like pretty girls?” 

“Yes, they ‘re okay.” 

“Yes? You like young pretty girls?”

“Sure, young ones.” We waved our way between the hand trucks in the garment center. 

“Maybe you like meet young pretty girls? Yes?” 

We turned east on 15th Street to Sixth Avenue and got held up behind some trucks. I cursed at the trucks so as to avoid following the bait. She came at me again, this time in a more determined tone.

“No, I don’t think I want to meet any just now,” I answered. 

She feigned shock. 

“No? You not want meet pretty girls?” There was a brief pause. “You like meet young boys, maybe?” 

Her voice didn’t betray any sign of facetiousness; it was very routine. I pulled over at 16th Street and threw up the flag, trying to avoid her glance and remain aloof. She took the hint, I guess, and paid and got out. 

There was no reason to take her seriously, but when you drive a cab, you run such a daily gamut of these two-bit desperadoes that it soon ceases to be a laughing matter. I started back to the garage very pissed off. 

At 17th Street, I turned west and saw a car pulling in on my left. He had the right of way, so I went to slam on my brake to let him pass. I slammed on the accelerator instead. 

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It was over in about two seconds: I scraped the car, veered right to get loose, ran straight for a pedestrian sitting on a fire hydrant, he jumped up, I knocked him back down, jerked the car left to avoid the hydrant — not far enough — and came to rest half on the hydrant and half on the back of a parked truck. At last, just before pushing all of 17th Street in to the Hudson River, I remembered the brake pedal. 

“Shit!” I said aloud, disgustedly, and threw the car into Park. That was all. My victim knelt on the ground, nursing a battered leg. He moaned some, and coincidentally enough, also said “shit!” Good. At least there would be no manslaughter charge, I thought to myself. 

The only damage, aside from the leg, was a touch of shock, so with the help of a few bystanders, we stretched him out on the front seat of the cab. Suddenly, my thoughts turned to my brand new 60-cent cigar which I carried in my shirt pocket. As I looked down at my victim’s leg, I vaguely remember hoping that the cigar didn’t get smashed in the impact. All in all, my indifference to everything except the cigar should have appalled me, but it didn’t. 

There was one regrettable moment, when I realized that I had left the cab’s motor running and that in the collision I had inadvertently knocked down the flag. The meter was ticking away, and I dashed into the cab practically having to climb over my victim’s prostrate body, to turn off the ignition. This, just to save myself a few pennies. I admit it was a disgusting thing to haw done, but at the time it seemed quite logical and proper. 

The truth is, there was really nothing else to do. The driver of the other car got out and we chatted a bit and whiled away the time explaining to the bloodthirsty spectators that the fellow on the seat wasn’t dead. 

One woman shouted from the opposite corner to her friend. “Tell me if he’s dead. I can’t go over, I just can’t look.” 

“It’s all right,” she shouted back, “he’s alive,” and her friend crept over to join the crowd. 

The police came by too and had a look. They took everybody’s papers and went back to the patrol car to sort them out. By now, I began to feel like a fool. Every now and then I’d lean into the car to ask my victim how he was getting along. He mumbled that he didn’t know, he was very cold, and when would the ambulance arrive, please? The police called three times for the ambulance, meanwhile jotting down more important data. The spectators bunched up around the cab, three or four deep, to have a look. 

The ambulance eventually arrived, and after several attempts to jerk my victim off the seat, they decided to go through the bother of rolling out the stretcher. 

I quietly backed away from the crowd and called the garage. The police departed, then the ambulance. The driver of the other car stayed around for a while, hoping for a quick settlement with the company’s inspector. Finally, he too moved off with the rest of the crowd, and I waited alone with the cab, in the darkness, for the tow truck. 

After making out a preliminary report at the garage, I walked up West 46th Street toward the subway, counting my day’s take. It was a Friday, supposedly the best day for hacking. Forty-five dollars and 90 cents in bookings, half, or more correctly 51 per cent, of which belongs to the garage, and about $10 in tips. Thirty-two dollars for 10 hours’ work, and on the best day. 

Halfway up the block, I stopped to look at some new pushcarts standing outside a sort or garage-warehouse arrangement. They were the type you see in front of the Museum of Modern Art or up near Central Park, loaded down with pretzels and chestnuts. I stood for a minute, dumbly examining the crude workmanship, when an enormous hulk approached me from behind and dribbled out in old-time Newyorkese: “So, tell me sumpin’.”

I looked back, not sure of what the come-on required for an answer.

“You buying or selling?” he asked.

“Selling,” I said instinctively, since my situation wouldn’t have allowed me to take the other alternative much further. Then he wanted to know what I was doing now. I said nothing, but he insisted and playfully ran down a list of down-and-outer possibilities. We settled on part-time actor.

“Here you make 50 bucks a day. Fifty, 60, 70 — whatever you want. You lose nothing. I give you the pretzels at four cents apiece and the chestnuts for 20 cents a pound. You sell them for whatever you can get. You interested?”

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I was just desperate enough to get suckered in, so I let him hustle me into this dark cavernous hole on the West Side, and when my eyes became accustomed to the shadows and I had a look around all I could think of was Dickens. Off to one side was a group of old people (women, I believe) crouched over a mountain of chestnuts. Some were splitting the shells, others passed them on to still others who were doing the roasting. I say “women” hesitantly, because at about 10 yards and in the darkness , it was difficult to make out what those grubby specimens really were, wrapped in about six layers of tattered cloth. Some amateur carpenters were putting together new carts or patching up old ones. And some more of those ogres were off in a corner doing something to the pretzels I won’t describe (I will never eat another).

My friendly giant took me closer to them and said in a loud, obviously theatrical tone; “Here our motto is ‘Fuck the People!’ ” There were a few assenting grunts from the old men-women of “Yeah, fuck the people!” It warmed my heart to see that there are thieves left in New York who are still only after your money.

He went on to enumerate a few more highlights of the profession and wound up with a cheery “and remember, here you don’t pay taxes to no one.”

Again, the grizzly chorus: “Yeah, no taxes!” accompanied by a few chuckles. 

He told me to come in the following day, Saturday, which, along with Sunday is the most lucrative in this business, provided it’s good and cold. I left feeling like I had stepped out of a primitive picaresque novel, complete with beggars, harlots, and assorted outlaws and outcasts.

So I was to sell pretzels. That was something worth considering very carefully.

The train was delayed at the Times Square station. After that day’s experience, I had little desire to get on a subway, so I loafed around a hot dog counter, sipping an orangeade and looking at the hordes of commuters running every which way like animals trapped in a forest fire.

Above the tumult and the screeching of the trains, I slowly became aware of a sharp tapping on the pavement outside the lunch counter. It was as audible as tapping on a glass with a fork in a crowded restaurant and I don’t think I would have caught it had my nerves not been so keyed up. The tapping, I soon saw, came from the canes of two blind people — a man and a woman — slowly moving toward each other along the platform. Maybe you’ve seen them. They usually ride the Brighton line, though not together. They are beggars who play the accordion and, if I’m not mistaken, she sings. He is undistinguished, much like any other shabby, middle-aged beggar. She, on the other hand, has an enormous shock of frizzy red hair and resembles a relic from the worst days of the 1940s. Anyhow, I was impressed by their calm, steady manner, how they seemed to head for each other like homing pigeons, following the tapping of their canes, apparently oblivious to the shrieking and shoving of the other million or so blind beggars around them.

The tapping of the canes was enough for them to find each other, and when they finally did — my God — I have never seen such an embrace in my entire quarter century in this god-awful place. They flung their accordions over their shoulders and held on to one another — brilliantly smiling, mind you — with a passion that could only be observed with a trembling lip.

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For a moment, I was taken back to my senior year in college. I remembered standing in the hall one morning between classes, trying to recruit a friend for the NYU Fascist Club which I had formed out of sheer maliciousness or boredom or both. He said he hadn’t the time to hear about it, he was expecting his girl from Philadelphia whom he hadn’t seen in months. After a while she showed up, freshly scrubbed and in madras, and when he spotted her, my friend dropped his books on the ground next to him and they ran for each other. He gave her a big kiss and hug and threw her into the air and then, just for a second, out of the corner of his eye, I saw him look back at the books he had so heroically thrown to the ground. There was something in the look he gave those books, while holding his girl, that explained everything. At once, all the disgusting repressions, fears, anxieties, and miseries that have turned this country into the grandest shithouse on the face of the earth gushed in torrents out of my poor friend’s eyes. 

Back at the BMT station, I stood watching these two blind beggars. The longer I watched, the more I felt a strange sensation coming on: one of being totally washed out, limp from physical and nervous exhaustion, yet somehow cleansed, like after a day at the gym and steam room. And as I watched, gradually all the sentiments and pointless words made into mush and emptied of meaning by the hippie-flower-beautiful people crowd — sentiments like compassion for a pathetic humanity, words like happiness, charity, and love — began to come to life and, to my own amazement, acquire a freshness and meaning l had long given up for lost within myself. 

This, I thought, would be a good time to take the next train downtown. So I went home, thinking about pretzels and chestnuts and two blind lovers, and not feeling bad at all. 

[Editor’s note, January 1, 2020: This essay originally appeared in the Voice’s Personal Testament section, “a department open to contributions from our readers. They may write on any subject and in any style they choose, with the editors selecting manuscripts for publication on the basis of literacy and interest.”]

 

“THE SIXTIES: Remembrance of things past — and present”

January 1, 1970

IT BEGAN with the beats: Tuli Kupferberg, in front of the Gaslight on MacDougal Street (top left); at the end of the ’60s there were the militants: Jerry Rubin, Abbie Hoffman, and David Dellinger; in between, and throughout there was Allen Ginsberg and a school strike that ripped New York apart (left); and finally — nudity: its first intimation was brought to the big stage, at Hunter College, by the Anne Halprin dancers. (Photographs by Fred W. McDarrah)

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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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This Fall, the Eyes of the Voice Are Everywhere

This fall, whether in the East Village, in Chelsea, or in print, Fred W. McDarrah is everywhere, and so we’ve gone back half a century to remind readers and viewers why we still care.

1968 had been a tumultuous year, and McDarrah zeroed in on the politicians, activists, artists, performers, and con men who had made it so. In the January 2, 1969, issue, the Voice ran a spread of McDarrah shots accompanied by succinct captions that prove intriguing fifty years on. For instance, one reads, “Warhol found out it was for real.” Perhaps, since Andy had survived an assassination attempt six months earlier, the Voice was implying that his world of silvery artifice had crashed down upon him. If that was the case, Andy wasn’t buying it since six years later, in his book The Philosophy of Andy Warhol (From A to B and Back Again), he opined, “Before I was shot, I always thought that I was more half-there than all-there — I always suspected that I was watching TV instead of living life. People sometimes say that the way things happen in movies is unreal, but actually it’s the way things happen to you in life that’s unreal. The movies make emotions look so strong and real, whereas when things really do happen to you, it’s like watching television — you don’t feel anything.” And to take one more example: “Roy Cohn Denies Everything.” Indeed, by 1969 the take-no-prisoners Republican fixer Cohn had been long known as a major-league prevaricator and stonewaller. All the better to mentor a young Donald Trump in the Seventies and Eighties.

See below for information on McDarrah events around the city.

From October 5 to 7 the Howl! Happening space in the East Village will showcase McDarrah photos along with work by dozens of other Voice photographers in an homage to McDarrah’s many years as a mentor to younger photographers and as the newspaper’s picture editor.

A McPhoto Family: Photography From the Village Voice
Howl! Happening
6 East 1st Street
917-475-1294
howlarts.org
October 5–7

 

The book Fred W. McDarrah: New York Scenes was published this week. Many vintage prints from the book are on view at the Steven Kasher Gallery in Chelsea. 

Fred W. McDarrah: New York Scenes
Steven Kasher Gallery

515 West 26th Street
212-966-3978
stevenkasher.com
Through November 3

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HIS TOWN

Whether photographing Robert Rauschenberg amid the street detritus he transformed into his “Combine” paintings; Norman Mailer grimacing pugnaciously in Village Voice editor Dan Wolf’s office; or Senator Bobby Kennedy touring a slum apartment a year before his murder, head bowed as he passes a portrait of Jesus crowned with thorns, Fred W. McDarrah (1926–2007) documented New York’s cultural and political heavyweights with wide-open eyes. “Don’t ever turn down an assignment,” the ex-Army paratrooper once told an art director at the Voice, where he worked for five decades. “If you don’t want to do it, tell ’em it’ll cost $10,000.” In grainy black-and-white, McDarrah combined noir contrast with zesty compositions — check out a declaiming Jack Kerouac, seemingly crucified in plaid — to go beyond photojournalism and discover a postwar New York that still inspires.

Tuesdays-Saturdays, 11 a.m. Starts: Feb. 5. Continues through March 8, 2014

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Remembering Fred W. McDarrah, 1926–2007

For many years, Fred W. McDarrah was a key and vivid element that differentiated the Voice from other publications. Often, when I’d call him for a photograph to go with my column, he had anticipated the request and, more often than not, had it in his files. He had an omnivorous knowledge and curiosity about New York, and when he shot a subject or a scene, it was “the decisive moment.”

On hearing of Fred’s death, I remembered how, at Birdland, emcee Pee Wee Marquette would invent distinctive ways of introducing the musicians about to take the stand. For instance, when the utterly singular Thelonious Monk would move toward the piano, Pee Wee would herald him as “The Onliest Monk.”

The onliest McDarrah was utterly tenacious on an assignment. No one could intimidate him—and, in any context, he had no compunction telling you exactly what he thought and intended. Also, his interest in a wide range of art and artists made him an expert on the city’s museums, about which he often wrote and always was illuminating.

And being a character himself, Fred was drawn to uncategorizable individualists. Future historians of the Beat scene, for example, will have to turn to Fred’s coverage of that movement, which emerged from the earlier “bohemian” phenomenon in New York and elsewhere.

Whatever or whomever he focused on, Fred always managed to imbue the picture with what musicians came to call “soul.” I treasure the photograph that he took of me and my younger daughter, Miranda, as I was wheeling her in her carriage in Washington Square Park. Years later, when I saw it in one of his books, I sent it to Mandy. Both of us have turned to it to remember who we were then.

Although the Voice changed owners, editors, and staff several times during Fred’s storied time here, he remained a fixed star—uncompromisingly McDarrah. Next year will be my 50th year here. In the years that Fred and I were colleagues, he embodied the embattled independence of this place.

And during his time at the Voice, he was a mentor to many on our photography staff—including the present resourceful photo editor, Staci Schwartz, who told me:

“Fred invented the photography department of The Village Voice. The breadth of the subject matter and the iconography of his photographs have an unparalleled intimacy and poignancy that are uniquely his own.”

Within the Voice, and far outside, Fred has left a living legacy.

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Fred W. McDarrah, 1926-2007

Veteran Village Voice photographer Fred W. McDarrah died in his sleep at home in Greenwich Village early Tuesday morning. He was 81.

Over a 50-year span, McDarrah documented the rise of the Beat Generation, the city’s postmodern art movement, its off-off-Broadway actors, troubadours, politicians, agitators and social protests.

Fred captured Jack Kerouac frolicking with women at a New Year’s bash in 1958, Andy Warhol adjusting a movie-camera lens in his silver-covered factory, and Bob Dylan offering a salute of recognition outside Sheridan Square near the Voice’s old office.

Not just a social chronicler, McDarrah was a great photo-journalist. He photographed the still-smoldering ruins of the Weather Underground bomb factory on W. 12th Street. His unerring eye for gesture and detail caught lawyer Roy Cohn whispering what appeared to be tough orders in the ear of a young Donald Trump.

For years, McDarrah was the Voice‘s only photographer and, for decades, he ran the Voice’s photo department, where he helped train dozens of young photographers, including James Hamilton, Sylvia Plachy, Robin Holland and Marc Asnin. His mailbox was simply marked “McPhoto.”

An exhibit of McDarrah’s photos of artists presented last year by the Steven Kasher Gallery in Chelsea was hailed by The New York Times as “a visual encyclopedia of the era’s cultural scene.” It included candid shots of Janis Joplin, artist Jasper Johns, and avant-garde artist Charlotte Moorman.

Wayne Barrett Remembers McDarrah

In the days when politicians routinely let reporters and photographers inside their fundraising extravaganzas, Fred McDarrah never missed a fat cat with a fork or a knife in his hand. He got his camera right under their double chins. If they waved him away in anger, he took an extra shot. He circled the world of New York politics with me for two decades, responding to every brusque rejection with an irresistible charm and a grin wider than his lens. It wasn’t just that Fred loved to photo the New York predator class and their political prey, he understood who they were and what they wanted. He collected names and public price tags as well as pictures. I remember standing with him in the rain outside Studio 54 for the birthday party of that infamous fixer Roy Cohn as we rushed toward every opening limo door, squeezing the story out of the street. I remember stakeouts that dragged on for hours and his edgy exuberance, a kid-like quality he carried with his camera into his 70s. Fred loved his town and his craft and his era and his family, and he has left a legacy of prints unparalleled in our time.

J. Hoberman Remembers McDarrah

Like anyone who ever looked at the Village Voice during the ‘60s, I was familiar with Fred McDarrah’s world—long before I met him. Fred spent that decade (and three more) documenting the city’s be-ins, demonstrations, peace marches, happenings, free concerts, coffee-house readings, loft performances, jazz bars, and underground movie emporia, not to mention the flotsam and jetsam of Sheridan Square, Bleecker Street, Avenue C, St Marks Place, and the Bowery. He was a real newspaper guy and a genuine historian of his times. His street and studio portraits of downtown artists, avant-garde luminaries, local pols and boho celebs were often definitive.

Fred was a feisty, wiry Son of Brooklyn who knew how to get to the front of a crowd, hold onto his light, and make the most of any given situation. In 1960, he invented a sort of human catering service called Rent-a-Beatnik. Did I say he was feisty? Fred wrote irate letters to the Voice editor both before and after he became the paper’s staff photographer. (A proud populist, he always took regular issue with film critic Andrew Sarris’s annual ten best lists.) Fred was free with friendly counsel and fiercely protective of his work, as I learned when I, as Village Voice greenhorn, I asked him on behalf of an avant-garde filmmaker friend, if she could use one of his best known photographs in her movie. Fred lost his smile and gave me an earful. (I considered it career advice.) And he was right, the work he furnished the Voice for pennies was only going to grow more valuable. Fred may have been a terrific journalist but, as he’d have been the first to tell you, he wasn’t a hippie.

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Speak, Memory

“Everything happens to me too early or too late,” laments the hero of Memories of Underdevelopment (1968), Cuban director Tomás Gutiérrez Alea’s masterpiece about a bourgeois playboy with intellectual aspirations, who chooses to stay behind in Havana when his estranged wife and family fled Castro’s revolution for Miami. Inconsolable Memories, Canadian artist Stan Douglas’s brilliantly seductive film installation at the Studio Museum in Harlem, imagines a future for Alea’s hero up to the controversial 1980 Mariel boat lift, which sent a new procession of Cuban exiles to the shores of Florida.

This time our hero, Sergio, a black architect, is 38 years old in 1980; years earlier, he had watched as his wife Laura and best friend Pablo (both white) abandoned the country for points north. Pablo, upon leaving, gave Sergio his 1956 Cadillac Eldorado; Laura left him her family’s penthouse apartment, a mid-century modernist palace where he spends time brooding over his failed relationships with women and gazing through a telescope at downtown Havana. We witness these assorted departures and ruminations (shot in velvety black-and-white) through fragmentary flashbacks, whose sequence keeps changing as the loops on two synchronized 16mm projectors switch on and off. The result: existentialist characters compelled to relive moments whose meanings are continually shifting.

At one point, Sergio lands in prison; it took multiple viewings before I understood the reason. (The sometimes-blurry sound didn’t help; it seemed both the result of a technical glitch and part of an artistic strategy to frustrate comprehension.) Later (or is it earlier?), Sergio gets himself invited into his old apartment by its current inhabitant, a comely woman wearing a polka-dotdress Laura mistakenly left behind.

This installation is accompanied by a series of beautiful, large-scale color photographs Douglas has taken on recent trips to Cuba. Many focus on the “adaptive reuse” of buildings whose original purposes have been sacrificed to more pressing needs. Bank lobbies have become parking lots; movie theaters are carpentry workshops; one corner of a private home sells sandwiches and drinks; an elegant villa now houses a refrigerator-repairshop. Numerous contemporary photographers have found inspiration in Havana’s picturesque ruins, where a variety of temporalities intersect: the remnants of a former colonial playground, the utopian hopes of mid-century, and the present-day austerities that threaten to reduce it all to rubble. Devoid of nostalgia, Douglas’s deeply sober pictures reward the patient examination that teases out these multiple perspectives.

In relation to his film, they also pose the question: Is the adaptive re-use of human beings and their emotions possible? Freud—and Proust, who would appear to be Douglas’s muse—would say that’s what we do whenever we fall in love: We harness that old feeling and bring our memories of past affections to bear upon the person standing before us. (One beautiful woman in a polka-dot dress is as good as another.) The revolution promised an eternal present, but people like Sergio had trouble adjusting—they were glad to see the old order go, but unwilling (or unable) to marry the moment. And everything in Inconsolable Memories—from its patently faked cinematic backgrounds to its characters trapped in time, to its own status as a kind of cinematic remake—agrees with them.

When was it exactly that living with perfect attention to the present moment became impossible? I’d like to blame it on certain late-capitalist phenomena: cell phones, iPods, pagers, and BlackBerries. But reel-to-reel tape recorders work just as well in Douglas’s film as devices of alienation. And really, you’d need to go much further back—to a time before the first photographs were taken, or even before the first words (those signifiers of absence) were spoken.

Speaking of quasi-utopian pasts, it would seem truly churlish not to mention my esteemed colleague Fred W. McDarrah’s wonderfully absorbing show, “Artists and Writers of the 60’s and 70’s,” at Steven Kasher Gallery (521 West 23rd Street) through January 6. McDarrah was the primary photographer at this paper during its first 30 years. Over 100 vintage prints from his archives show assorted scene makers—from a boyish Bob Dylan to a wizened old Marcel Duchamp—getting down, getting arrested, getting naked, and making art. Where is the downtown of yesteryear? Will it come again?

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The Birth of the ‘Voice’: 1955–1965

Quickly: A column for slow readers

By Norman Mailer

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 you more venomous. Quite rightly. If 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.



No Contest. Miss Beatnik 1958, Merle Molofsky (June 1959)
photo: Fred W. McDarrah

January 3, 1956

The Hip and The Square

By Norman Mailer
May 2, 1956

Errors in type-setting and proof-reading fall into two categories—those which are obvious mis-spellings, and those (more serious and more interesting psychologically) where a word is left our or changed into another, and the meaning of the sentence thereby becomes altered. Yet the reader never knows that an error was made.

Last week a classic of this sort occurred. Writing about Hip, part of my final sentence was supposed to read:

. . . because Hip is not totally negative, and has a view of life which is predicated on growth and the nuances of growth, I intend to continue writing about it . . .

As it appeared in The Voice, it read:

. . . because Hip is not totally negative, and has a view of life which is predicated on growth and the nuisances of growth, I intend to continue writing about it . . .

In the four months I have been writing this column, similar (for me) grievous errors have cropped up in all but two of the pieces I have written, and these errors have made for steadily increasing friction between the Editor, an Associate Editor, and myself. . . .

At any rate, we all had some words, some fairly sharp words, certain things were said which can hardly be unsaid, and the result is that this is to be my last column for The Voice—at least under its present policy.


Theatre: Two Gentlemen of Verona

The comedy by William Shakespeare, presented outdoors and free in Central Park by Joseph Papp and the New York Summer Shakespeare Festival

By Jerry Tallmer
July 31, 1957

see full text

Burlesque came back to New York with a bang last week when “Two Gentlemen of Verona” opened in Central Park. This makes for the happiest news of the summer.

There’s everything—crude comedians, dirty jokes, flower pots, jugglers, dancing bears, a funny dog, pretty girls dolled up like trees, pretty girls necking around with handsome young men, ice-cream hawkers in the background—everything except the naked nipple, and to make up for that there’s even a belly-dancer with the wondrous name of Chrysoula Frangos. “Hey,” said an honest townsman crouched next to me on the greensward, “dis Shakespeare wrote good slapstick, huh?” It seemed to have shook him to the chops.

Producer [Joseph] Papp and director [Stuart] Vaughan of the New York Summer Shakespeare Festival have thrown all caution to the winds. I did not expect it and I am delighted. If this is Shakespeare for the masses all I can say is that I am one of them on evenings like these.
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Hipniks: Where Do They Bed-Down When the Sun Comes Up

August 13, 1958

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When dawn comes, where does Young Bohemia bed-down? This seemed like a reasonable question to ask. So, the paper put two operatives into the field. Our off-beat survey was interested only in geography, other material was noted but strained out.

Years ago the Bohemian Village was a compact network of streets running west from MacDougal. Today it is a vast, spread-out playground for the cool. But . . . Is it home? That was what we wanted to know. Where do the young people brew their instant coffee, brush their teeth (everyone in America brushes his teeth, even the Bohemians, our surveyors discovered), and have friends over to midnight lunch?

Our men talked to 27 young hipniks (hipnik: a folksy variant of hipster). To strain out the inevitable interloper, who appears during evening hours, they toured the coffee houses in late afternoon while the young people were having breakfast. The accommodations of those questioned, which ranged from an elevator apartment to non-fixed-abodes, were found in such exotic sites as Desbrosses Street (lower West Side), Orange Street (Brooklyn Heights), and a dead-end called Bond Street.

[

Four said they lived on the Lower East Side. “It’s real groovy over there,” one striking 19-year-old redhead asserted, but admitted that she never spent more than 10 waking minutes in her apartment. Most of the Eastsiders were vaguely looking for Village diggings. Few of them had paid last month’s rent.

While the eight who lived in the South Village (below Bleecker Street), generally, did better on rent, one rotund exception (dark glasses, jeans, and bow tie) explained that he spent at least half his time in a friend’s Hudson Street loft until the check arrived from home (Gary, Indiana). He seemed troubled by the whole process.

Rents proved to be no higher in the South Village than on the Lower East Side, but apartments were somewhat harder to get, though not impossible. Sullivan, Thompson, MacDougal, Bleecker were the prime favorites.

The West Village, which is true Greenwich Village, is the most expensive of all. The seven respondents who live there feared their days were numbered. From Charlton to 14th Street the word is “improvement,” which means inside johns, heat, and paint. Sometimes this doubles the rent ($20 to $40 is common), but often it quadruples it.

Those with no-fixed-abode gravitate from one friend’s floor to another. “It’s like a game,” said a tall, thin M.A. in Lit; ” ‘Who’s going to get me tonight?’ It’s cheap, but it’s tiresome—I guess I’m too old.” He was 26.
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Preserving the Village

Reason, Emotion, Pressure: There is No Other Recipe
By Jane Jacobs
May 22, 1957

The best you can say for redevelopment is that, in certain cases, it is the lesser evil. As practiced in New York, it is very painful. It causes catastrophic dislocation and hardship to tens of thousands of citizens. There is growing evidence that it shoots up juvenile-delinquency figures and spreads or intensifies slums in the areas taking the dislocation impact. It destroys, more surely than floods or tornados, immense numbers of small businesses. It is expensive to the taxpayers, federal and local. It is not fulfilling the hope that it would boost the city’s tax returns. Quite the contrary.

Furthermore, the results of all this expense and travail look dull and are dull. The great virtue of the city, the thing that helps make up for all its disadvantages, is that it is interesting. It isn’t easy to make a chunk of New York boring, but redevelopment does it.

On the other hand here is the Village —an area of the city with the power to attract and hold a real cross-section of the population, including a lot of middle-income families. An area with demonstrated potential for extending and upgrading its fringes. An area that pays more in taxes than it gets back in services. An area that grows theaters all by itself . . .

Wouldn’t you think the city fathers would want to understand what makes our area successful and learn from it? Or failing such creative curiosity that they would at least cherish it?


‘Sense of Dignity Outraged’ By Discriminatory Housing

By Michael Harrington
September 24, 1958

The cherished dogma that renting to Negroes will panic whites and send property values plunging down received a sharp blow from Villagers last week.

Whitney North Seymour, Jr., local Republican candidate for the Assembly, broke the story that Edmond Martin, Village realtor, had placed a sign in his office saying that he would not show apartments to Negroes because of his opposition to the Sharkey-Brown-Isaacs law. Within three days 30 of Mr. Martin’s tenants signed a statement of fundamental opposition to his stand . . .

“As tenants of Edmond Martin, we wish to state that we are opposed to such flouting of the law and to the principle of placing supposed property rights over human rights. Our sense of dignity is not injured by living in the same building with our fellow-men of whatever race, creed, or color, for we welcome that. On the contrary, our sense of dignity is outraged by being forced to live in discriminatory housing.”

Perhaps the most impressive thing about the tenant response was its wide support. In the short period that the statement was circulating, some 38 tenants were asked to sign. Only eight turned it down, and of these, only one said that it was because he was actually against Negroes moving in (the others were against signing on principle, or else indifferent).


Whose Festival?

By Nat Hentoff
June 24, 1959

If you’re Negro and are planning to go to the Newport Jazz Festival for the first time over the Fourth-of-July week-end, you had better be very sure of your room reservations. Again this year, applicants for rooms have received letters from Newporters saying they’d be welcome—unless they’re Negro. Sometimes, however, that specification hasn’t been made clear in advance arrangements, and Negroes have been turned away from lodging houses and hotels, particularly the Munchinger King, one of the town’s two principal hostelries.

[

To my knowledge, however, the Newport Jazz Festival has yet to make a public announcement to the townspeople exhorting them not to discriminate. It’s a disgusting situation, and as Negroes continue to be insulted there each year, the reason for holding this largest of all jazz festivals in Newport becomes less and less tenable. “But,” I’ve heard a Festival official say, “all cities have some prejudice.” Newport, however, is small and limited in its lodging facilities, and a Negro who goes all the way there to hear music that came from the Negro may easily find himself without a place to sleep. If the Festival can’t straighten out the town at least over the July 4 week-end—and it could if it tried, because the natives have come to depend on the bread that jazz brings—then it ought to take the Festival elsewhere.


Movie Journal

By Jonas Mekas
August 4, 1959

see full text

The other day Robert Frank was threatening me. He went to see “Anatomy of a Murder,” and the movie was so boring that he had to walk out of it. “Why did you go see it?” I said. “I gave it a very bad review.” “So, your review wasn’t bad enough,” said Frank.

There I am. My next review of a big Hollywood movie will consist of adjectives only, such as bad, horrible, boring, disgusting, stupid, ridiculous, etc., etc., interspersed with a few four-letter words. Our old generation of film-makers is so boringly bad and so outdated that all their current films, all unanimously acclaimed by New York reviewers, could be perfectly described by such a collection of adjectives.

The two most modern and most intelligent American films, John Cassavetes’ “SHADOWS” and Robert Frank’s and Alfred Leslie’s “BEAT GENERATION,” are still not released, and my praising them here wouldn’t amount to much, since you cannot see them. But these two movies are so far ahead of all Hollywood and independent films that once you’ve seen them you can no longer look at the official cinema: you know that American cinema can be more sensitive and intelligent.

Let us be frank: if Hollywood films are boring and outdated, it is not because our “geniuses” are being kept away from the cinema; not because the scripts are being ruined by the producers; the truth is more simple: the horrible fruits we eat through our eyes and ears are just what their makers are capable of; what we see is their finest work at the top of their intelligence. And the sensitivity? Allen Ginsberg: “These media are exactly the places where the deepest and most personal sensitivities and confessions of reality are most prohibited, mocked, suppressed.”
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Hipper than thou. Ted Joans, Village bard, at Café Bizarre. (July 1959)
photo: Fred W. McDarrah

‘Run, Beatniks, Run!’ To Mecca, 1960

By J.R. Goddard
June 30, 1960

see full text

On a warm, cloudy afternoon recently, the young flocked like lemmings to the fountain in Washington Square. They made the usual scene: sloppy blue jeans and occult amulets dangling from open shirt fronts; a bongo drum thumping and reverberating through the trees. But always on the outskirts of the crowd, where once a single police officer walked his beat, three or four now strolled.

Suddenly, great raindrops flashed down. A girl yelped and the crowd ran for cover. As disheveled figures flew by, the officers laughed and beat the iron park fences with their sticks, yelling: “Run Beatniks!” They were delighted. The tensions of the Square, scene of many a fight, beating, and arrest in the past years, had been relieved courtesy of God.

Most of the rain-outs wound up on MacDougal Street. There, in its coffee houses and bars, they became more definable. Most were in late ‘teens or 20’s. From other parts of the city and New Jersey, or from districts adjacent to but not of the Village, they had come to their spiritual home. For MacDougal Street is much more to them than a place to get out of the rain. It symbolized their non-conformity, their adventures amorous or otherwise. MacDougal is Mecca—1960 style.
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Daddios. A reading, at the Artist’s Studio, an informal poetry center run by George Nelson Preston, 48 East 3rd Street. Kerouac, arms out like a Christ figure, on ladder reading from “On the Road.” Left to right: poets Ted Joans, Jose Garcia Villa, Allen Ginsberg, Edward Marshall, Gregory Corso, Leroi Jones. (Feb. 1959)
photo: Fred W. McDarrah

The Dharma Bums

A novel by Jack Kerouac. Viking Press, $3.95
By Allen Ginsberg
November 12, 1958

[

It’s all gibberish, everything that has been said. There’s not many competent explainers. I’m speaking of the Beat Generation, which after all is quite an Angelic Idea. As to what non-writers, journalists, etc., have made of it, as usual—well, it’s their bad poetry not Kerouac’s.

Be that as it may, “The Subterraneans” (1953) and “The Dharma Bums” (1958) are sketchy evidence of the prose pilgrimage he’s made.

The virtue of “The Subterraneans” was that it was, at last, published, completely his own prose, no changes . . .

Spontaneous Bop Prosody, a nickname one might give to this kind of writing—that is to say, read aloud and notice how the motion of the sentence corresponds to the motion of actual excited talk.

It takes enormous art (being a genius and writing a lot) to get to that point in prose. (And trusting God.)

Bop because, partly, in listening to the new improvisatory freedoms of progressive musicians, one develops an ear for one’s own actual sounds. One does not force them into the old rhythm. Unless one wishes to protect one’s old emotions by falsifying the new ones and making them fit the forms of the old.

Jack is very concerned with the rhythm of his sentences, he enjoys that like he enjoys jazz, Bach, Buddhism, or the rhythm in Shakespeare, apropos of whom he oft remarks: “Genius is funny.” The combinations of words and the rhythmic variations make masters laugh together (much as the two dopey sages giggling over a Chinese parchment—a picture in the Freer Gallery). All this ties in with the half-century-old struggle for the development of an American prosody to match our own speech and thinking rhythm. It’s all quite traditional actually you see. Thus W.C. Williams has preached the tradition of “invention.”

All this is quite obvious except to those who are not involved with the radical problems of artistic form.



Coffee-house Cassius. In one of the most bizarre triumphs since P.T. Barnum had two of his midgets ceremonially married at Greenwich Village’s Grace Episcopal Church, in the middle of the 19th century, the fight game’s answer to Cyrano de Bergerac held forth last Thursday in an improbable high-noon poetry reading at the Bitter End coffee house on Bleecker. The reading was in preparation for his bout with Doug Jones this week. Here, Mr. Clay produces a mob scene upon leaving the event. (March 1963)
photo: Fred W. McDarrah

Peace Strike Under Way—No Violence, Police Tactful

by Michael Smith
February 1, 1962

see full text

Hundreds of Villagers and other New Yorkers are putting most of their energies this week into protests against nuclear testing and the “war economy.” The Worldwide General Strike for Peace began on Monday at points all around town with high enthusiasm if relatively few participants. The elaborate schedule of activities comes to a first round conclusion on Sunday evening, February 4, with a rally at the Village Gate and a torchlight parade up Sixth Avenue to Times Square.

Following last week’s refusal by the New York Times of the ad for the General Strike, the New York Committee submitted the ad to the Herald Tribune and the Post. Both rejected it. According to Julian Beck, an initiator of the strike concept, the Herald Tribune gave no reason for this rejection. The Post, he said, demanded deletion of the words “strike,” “work-stoppage,” and “boycott,” and required that the ad not announce picketing at the U.S. Army recruiting station in Times Square or at the New York Stock Exchange. The Post has recently initiated a stock-market report section.

On Friday a group of about 20 advocates of the strike picketed the Times, wearing placards explaining the aims and planned activities of strike week. Retreating from the rain into Cobb’s Corner Coffee Shop, on the corner of 43rd Street and Eighth Avenue, the picketers held a brief press conference, at which the Times, the Tribune, and The Voice were represented.

On Monday a group of strikers estimated at more than 300 marched down Fifth Avenue from 59th Street to Washington Square. In a kick-off speech in front of the Plaza Hotel, David McReynolds, of the War Resisters League, said: “We declare peace against all the governments of the world.”

[

The mood of the occasion was festive despite the 26-degree cold and the apparent indifference of most passers-by. A large group of the walkers, centered on folk-singers Pete Seeger and Gil Turner, sang “I Ain’t Gonna Study War No More,” “You Can Dig Your Grave in Your Own Backyard,” and other songs of protest. Arriving at Washington Square, the group was diverted by good-natured police to the sidewalk along Sixth Avenue south of Waverly Place. There Julian Beck spoke briefly, telling the demonstrators: “It is beautiful to see you here today. You are the hope of the future.” “Peace torches” were then lighted and carried to points where vigils will be maintained throughout the week of the strike.
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The View From the Front of the Bus: The Civil Rights March on Washington

By Marlene Nadle

“There’s no place for Uncle Tom on this bus, man.” The voice of the Negro echoed down the neon-bathed Harlem street as he mounted the steps of Bus 10 ready to start for Washington.

It was 2 a.m. on the morning of August 28. Anticipation hovered quietly over the 24 buses that lined both sides of 125th Street. Cars and cabs stopped more and more frequently to pour forth bundle-laden, sleepy Marchers. Black, white, old, young zigzagged back and forth across the street trying to find their assigned buses. Bus captains marked by yellow ribbons and rumpled passenger lists stood guard at the bus doors. Small groups huddled around them.

Voices arose above the general din.

“You’ve got to switch me to Bus 10. It’s a swingin’ bus. There’s nothin’ but old ladies on this crate.”

“Hey, is this bus air-conditioned?”

“Where can I get seat reservations?”

“Hey, chick, are you on this bus?”

“Yeah.”

“Is your husband on this bus?”

“Yeah.”

“That’s all right. I’ll make love to both of you. I’m compatible.”

“Who the hell is on this bus?” cried George Johnson, the exasperated 30-year-old Negro captain of Bus 10 and organizer of New York CORE’s 24-bus caravan. “People shouldn’t be swapping buses, especially CORE members. It only adds to the confusion. Now everybody get in a seat and stay there. You can’t save seats. This isn’t a cocktail party.”

The reaction to George’s gruffness was a tongue-in-cheek parody of the Mr. Charlie routine. “Yassir, anything you say, sir.” “Don’t you fret now, Mr. George.” “Don’t you go upsetting yourself, boss.” “You knows I always listen to you captain sir.”

There was a general shuffling of bundles on the bus. Index cards with emergency Washington phone numbers were filled out and kept by everyone. “Sit-In Song Books” were passed back.

Outside the window of Bus 10 an old Negro was standing with outstretched arms reciting an impromptu ode to the Black Woman. “Black Woman, you are the queen of the universe. I would give my life for you.” This was less comic than symptomatic. It was just one of many signs of the racial pride which is now surging through the Negro people.

A young Negro in the seat behind me, when asked why he was going on this March, replied, “Because it’s like your sweater. It’s Black. It’s for the cause. If my people are in it, I am going to be in it fighting, even if I get killed.”

Outside the window of Bus 10 was also a more extreme reminder of this racial pride. Young members of the Black Muslims, neatly dressed in suits and ties, were hawking copies of “Muhammad Speaks.” This paper is the official statement of the Black Muslim philosophy: Black is beautiful; Black is best; Black must be separate from white.

I swing off the bus to ask the young Muslim if he was going to Washington. With a faint trace of a smile on his lips, he answered, “No, ma’am, I have to sell papers. You people go to Washington.” The implication was clear: he was too busy working for his own cause—separation—to be bothered working for integration.

An older man, converted to a Muslim later in life, was not so emotionally untouched by the March and what it stood for. When I asked him why the Muslims were not participating in the March, he gave all the proper answers. He said: “The Messenger has not spoken. If he says nothing, we sit still. If he says go, we go.” But then, asked if as an individual rather than a Muslim he would have gone, he replied: “I would have gone.”

Moving through the crowd, I encountered a Negro I knew to be a fence-sitter between the Muslim and integrationist philosophies. I asked him why he had decided to come on the March. He said, “It’s like St. Patrick’s Day to the Irish. I came out of respect for what my people are doing, not because I believe it will do any good. I thought it would do some good at the beginning, but when the March started to get all the official approval from Mastah Kennedy, Mastah Wagner, and Mastah Spellman, and they started setting limits on how we had to march peacefully, I knew that the March was going to be a mockery. That they were giving us something again. They were letting the niggers have their day to get all this nonsense out of their system, and then planning to go back to things as usual. Well, if the white man continues to sleep, continues to ignore the intensity of the black man’s feelings and desires, all hell is going to break loose.”


Films

By Andrew Sarris
April 4, 1963

[

The Birds” is here (at the Palace and Sutton), and what a joy to behold a self-contained movie which does not feed parasitically on outside cultural references—Chekhov, Synge, O’Neill, Genet, Behan, Melville, or what have you. Drawing from the relatively invisible literary talents of Daphne DuMaurier and Evan Hunter, Alfred Hitchcock has fashioned a major work of cinematic art, and “cinematic” is the operative term here, not “literary” or “sociological.” There is one sequence, for example, where the heroine is in an outboard motor boat churning across the bay while the hero’s car is racing around the shore road to intercept her on the other side. This race, in itself pure cinema, is seen entirely from the girl’s point of view. We see only what she can see from the rowboat. Suddenly, near shore, the camera picks up a sea gull swooping down on our heroine. For just a second, the point of view is shifted, and we are permitted to see the bird before its victim does. The director has apparently broken an aesthetic rule for the sake of a shock effect—gull pecks girl. Yet this momentary incursion of the objective on the subjective is remarkably consistent with the meaning of the film.

The theme, after all, is complacency, as the director has stated on innumerable occasions . . . As in “Psycho,” Hitchcock succeeds in implicating his audience to such an extent that the much-criticized, apparently anticlimactic ending of the film finds the audience more blood-thirsty than the birds.


Lenny Bruce’s Fear: He Will Run Out of Fare to The Supreme Court

by Stephanie Gervis Harrington
April 9, 1964

see full text

[The Voice interviewed comedian Lenny Bruce shortly after he was arrested on an obscenity charge at the Cafe Au Go Go.]

A couple of hours spent with Bruce . . . can be a pretty incongruous couple of hours. First, tagging along with him and his private-detective sidekick to the Fifth Avenue apartment of a prominent civil libertarian, for whom they play the tapes of the shows for which Bruce was arrested. Sitting in a comfortable chair surrounded by wall-to-wall carpeting watching Bruce, in his light blue pants and white shoes and tan suede jacket, sitting stiffly in another comfortable chair, deadpan, listening to himself on the machine. And then watching him get fidgety, though always attentive and polite, as the liberal lectures him on the history of the good fight against censorship in this country and explains that Bruce’s language stems from an anal fixation, when all he really came for was some specific advice on his own case.

Later, in his room at one of the Village’s less elegant hotels, where there is no carpeting, just blankets and miscellaneous junk on the floor, Bruce kind of nervously jumps around, occasionally flopping down on the messed-up bed with a law book, all his attention focused on working out the legal strategy to get him out from under the latest charge against him. His steadily mounting experience in cases like this has made him somewhat of a specialist on the subject. The whole scene is reminiscent of poet Allen Ginsberg spouting the expertise he accumulated in his recent battle with the City License Department for the right of poets to read their work in coffee houses. Here too the authorities are, if nothing else, succeeding in distracting an artist from his work and turning him into a legalist.

But when Bruce is finally lured out of his law book and into a more general discussion of his problems, there is no display of bitterness—against neither the police nor the law itself. In fact, Bruce displays more compassion for the police than just about anyone around the Village these days. “They die for less than $400 a month,” he points out. “And they’re ashamed of being cops. It’s a shitty gig.” He feels it isn’t fair to treat individual policemen as symbols. Newspapers, he says, depend too much on symbols. “When they talk about Alec Guinness they say he’s Chaplinesque. And when they talk about Peter Sellers they say he’s Guinness-like,” Bruce complained, shoulders hunched, hands in pockets, rolling his eyes toward the ceiling and looking exactly like James Dean.

[

As for the obscenity law, he says he thinks it’s “correct.” “The whole issue,” says Bruce, “is not that the state should keep its dirty hands off,” as the liberal he visited had insisted. For Bruce “the key word is ‘prurient.’ Don’t get people horny.” And he says, insisting he is serious, that there should be a law against getting people aroused because “it’s bad for marriages.” He says he’s not for the repeal of obscenity laws because “most laws have been defined and tested under Constitutional law by men like Judge Black and some other pretty wise old cats . . . Here’s how wonderful the law is,” he goes on, getting enthusiastic. “Even if (what you say) gets people horny, if it has some social importance it’s not obscene.”

Bruce’s quarrel is not with the law as written. He feels that the obscenity law as written and correctly defined does not inhibit his freedom of speech. He is confident that, as has happened in California, if his case has to go to a higher court, the words he has been hauled in on will not be judged obscene. The only fear Lenny Bruce has is “of running out of carfare to the Supreme Court.”
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Surf and Turf. Carolee Schneeman’s “happening” titled “Meat Joy” at the Judson Church was one of its recent sensational events that was overshadowed only by a concert of two nude dancers. In this happening the players got swatted with raw fish and plucked limp chickens. (Nov. 1964)
photo: Fred W. McDarrah

Marching to Montgomery: The Cradle Did Rock

by Jack Newfield
April 1, 1965

see full text

It was the Ecumenical Council, a hootenanny, a happening, and a revolution all rolled into one. And it happened in Montgomery, “Cradle of the Confederacy.”

A broken-down hipster, the Realist sticking out of his dungarees, marched alongside an Episcopal bishop clutching the Holy Bible. There were the kamikazes of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee—SNCC—in their blue-denim overalls, mud-caked boots, and rash helmets, next to middle-class housewives who won’t ride the subways after dark. There were nuns in flowing black habits arm in arm with jowly labor leaders who discriminate in their unions.

There were rabbis, junkies, schoolboys, actors, sharecroppers, intellectuals, maids, novelists, folk-singers, and politicians—40,000 motives and 40,000 people marching to Montgomery behind James Forman who hates the oppressor and Martin Luther King who loves the oppressed.

There were hundreds of high school and college youngsters—that new breed of revolutionary that has somehow grown up inside the bowels of prosperous America. There were kids who rioted against HUAC, vigiled against the Bomb, invaded Mississippi last summer, and turned Berkeley upside down. They are a new generation of insurgents, nourished not by Marx or Trotsky, but by Camus, Lenny Bruce, Bob Dylan, and SNCC. Their revolution is not against capitalism, but against what they deem to be the values of an enlightened America—Brotherhood Weeks, factories called colleges, desperation called success, and sex twice a week.

And there were thousands of clergymen symbolizing the revolution within a revolution—the nun with suntan cream on her face who marched all the way from Selma, priests, ministers, rabbis with yarmulkes. There was a huge sign: “Lutherans are Here Because Christ Cared.” Another read: “Kansas Mennonites Support Civil Rights.” And another: “SMU Marches for Freedom.”

On the streets of the Confederacy’s cradle that “coalition of conscience” Bayard Rustin and Michael Harrington have tried to will into existence materialized spontaneously. A line of marchers, strung out as far as the eye could see, sang “America the Beautiful” and made it sound like a revolutionary anthem . . .

A white minister from Martin Luther King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) greeted new arrivals, urged them to leave the city “as soon as the rally is over because it will be dangerous,” and directed them to shuttle buses to the City of St. Jude, a Roman Catholic complex where the marchers had camped the night before. On the SCLC minister’s lapel was a button that said “GROW.” He explained it stood for “Get Rid of Wallace.”

[

At St. Jude the predominant mood was gaiety, as thousands upon thousands of visitors swelled the great serpentine line of march that coiled around the vast, muddy athletic field.

Small clusters sang freedom songs during the two hours it took for the whole line to unwind onto the streets towards the capitol, four miles away. The visitors sang off-key versions of better-known freedom songs, while local Negroes, led by either SNCC or SCLC staff members, sang raucous, sassy, taunting songs that came out of the Movement in Alabama’s Black Belt. A group of about 500 from St. Louis stood in a large circle, one small, Negro woman calling out chorus after chorus of “We Shall Overcome.”

Other demonstrators milled around the staging area like conventioneers, wearing name tags and introducing themselves to strangers, pronouncing their home towns with accents of pride—Montreal, Berkeley, Boston, Detroit—and their association with equal pride—ADA, the United Auto Workers, NAACP, the University of Virginia, the American Legion (Gramercy Park chapter).

At noon, under one of the day’s brief showers, the procession began to move out, with the bloody-shoed 300 who had marched all the way in the vanguard. With them were barefoot Joan Baez; James Baldwin, nervously smiling, just back from Scandinavia; the angelic looking Montgomery seamstress Rosa Parks, who ignited the mythic bus boycott a decade ago; and SNCC’s John Lewis, who walked the whole way from Selma and who had suffered head injuries on “Bloody Sunday” at the Alabama River Bridge. And there was Martin Luther King, to whom Negroes of the Black Belt now sing “Glory, Glory Hallelujah” and then kiss his hand.

The streets in the Negro slums of Montgomery were of mud and clay. There were row upon row of run-down shacks, with the very old, the very young, the unemployed sitting on porches.

At first the non-marchers were timid and shy. It was as if shame made them look down rather than at the masses that surged past them. But slowly, they looked up, to wave, and when the marchers began to shout, “Join us, come on,” many accepted the invitation and probably protested their plight for the first time in their lives. Marching through the slum was like taking LSD for the soul.
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WBAI: Mastering the Art of Eking Out a Living

By Susan Brownmiller
July 15, 1965

They had a marvelous time, those plucky non-conforming radio kids over at WBAI. They suspended regular programming with the evening news, flipped the switch for the incoming calls, and staged a marathon 55-hour appeal for funds to tide them over what they called their worst crisis in five years of broadcasting.

Syrupy-voiced staff announcer Bob Fass pierced ears for the cause in the window of Conrad’s, a village jeweler. Comic Henry Morgan came up to the station to tape some plugs and actor Tony Randall gave a fast 200 in cash. Artist Elaine De Kooning provided some of her minor Kennedy paintings for auction, and other lesser known artistic lights offered their services as plumbers and carpenters. A piano company hauled over the floor model for the critical stretch and jazz pianist Randy Weston fell by to play it. Big Joe Williams sang the blues and three teenagers hitchhiked in from Nyack to make sandwiches for the tired and hungry crew.

It was a gasser, and when they totaled the receipts they found they had garnered over $25,000—enough to keep the turntables spinning and the commentators questioning until mid-August.



Play Time. Edward Albee, left, with Jerry Tallmer at the Obie awards. (May 1960)
photo: Fred W. McDarrah

Theatre

By Edward Albee
November 25, 1965

ICARUS’S MOTHER
A play by Sam Shepard, presented through Sunday by and at the Caffe Cino, 31 Cornelia Street. Directed by Michael Smith.

For those of you who are busy people, facts first, implications later. (And by facts I mean, of course, nothing closer to the truth than my opinions.) Sam Shepard is one of the youngest and most gifted of the new playwrights working off-Broadway these days. The signature of his work is its unencumbered spontaneity—the impression Shepard gives of inventing drama as a form each time he writes a play. His new theatre piece, “Icarus’s Mother,” is presently on view at the Caffe Cino. Sad to say, it gives the impression of being a mess . . .

The value of off-Broadway and its café adjuncts lies not only in its enthusiasm for sustaining plays without which the uptown theatre is unreal and preposterous—the work of Beckett, Genet, Pinter, Claudel, deGhelderode, for example—but, as well, in offering new, experimental playwrights (such as Sam Shepard) a proper ambiance in which to try things out, over-reach, fail and, if they have the stuff, finally succeed.

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If Shepard’s new theatre piece, “Icarus’s Mother,” fails to please, by which I mean fails to engage one, the failure is of no importance so long as the piece is merely one random experiment, one spontaneous throw-off, one way-stone on the path toward the creation and recreation of theatre. If, on the other hand, this play signals, as I have the disquieting suspicion it does, the beginnings of a premature crystallization of Shepard’s theatre aesthetic, then the failure of the play is a good deal more serious.



Fabulous 15 minutes. Andy Warhol with Mr. America and Gerard Malanga at Filmmaker’s Cinematheque (Dec. 1965)
photo: Fred W. McDarrah

The Detached Cool of Andy Warhol

By John Wilcock
May 6, 1965

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Andy Warhol makes movies with the same unruffled objectivity that he looks at life. His usual procedure is to set up the action—often a group of people interacting—point the camera at them, turn it on, and step back. The camera makes the movie: whatever happens, planned or not, is the film. Sometimes in the studio (which he refers to as “the factory”) there will be interruptions: telephone calls, people going up or down in the elevator, somebody dropping something or walking inadvertently in front of the camera. All is recorded. No trace of surprise or annoyance registers on Warhol’s face.

He is totally cool or very uptight, depending on your point of view. The latter school says: “Andy’s been trained in Madison Avenue. He’s like a high-powered executive who doesn’t show his feelings, but he’s seething inside.” Personally, I think it the height of coolness to regard everything with a detached eye and rely on intuition to make instant decisions. Warhol’s intuition is usually correct.

He is the subject of intense curiosity and heated discussions. What does he DO, people ask, that gives him such a reputation? His public work is more a subject for humor and wisecracks than for serious study: representations of soup cans, silkscreen reproductions of famous faces, multi-colored lithographs of flowers, murky six-hour movies of a man asleep or Henry Geldzahler smoking a cigar. Maybe his true talent lies in provoking so much argument about whether he’s an artist without doing any of the recognizable things that the public accepts as “art.” Warhol is an artist, a catalyst, a perceptive observer of contemporary life whose comments are sometimes astute by being no comments at all.

There are very few words wasted around the Andy Warhol milieu, little idle conversation. Andy himself sizes up situations instantly, and his instructions or comments are brief. Most of his closest friends are as laconic as himself, their thoughts presumably having taken them beyond trite responses. Andy is cordial and willing to converse but wary of cross-examination. He sometimes seems slightly surprised that you have not reached the same conclusions as himself. I have never seem him “rude,” but people who believe that artists must justify themselves in words (if an artist could explain his point of view by words alone, why would he need to do anything but talk or write?) sometimes choose to put him down because he doesn’t always respond according to the accepted canons.

He is a provocateur by his mere presence—the silvered hair, the dark shades (lately he has not been wearing them much), the slightly enigmatic and faintly expectant look of an amiable polar bear. “I didn’t expect him to look like such a twerp,” said a girl at one gallery opening. She was provoked by just the sight of him as many people are provoked. “I bet he’s wearing a wig; I’m going to pull his hair and find out,” she said. Andy smiled, with nervous embarrassment, and ducked into the other room to escape. Does he wear a wig? Does it matter?
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