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Last Refuge of a Rock Critic: A Bicentennial Search for Patriotism

Editors’ note, July 2, 2021: There was so much happening in New York City during the Bicentennial all those years ago that the Village Voice spread its coverage over two issues, spanning June 28 to July 12, 1976. The Big Apple was ready to party: King Kong had just left town and the Democrats were rolling in, preparing for their quadrennial convention two years after a Republican president — a liar, cheat, and bully who attempted to use his office to punish political and personal enemies — had resigned in disgrace. There was some sort of cosmic justice in Richard Nixon flaming out after winning re-election in a landslide but before he could preside over the Bicentennial, that nationwide celebration of American democracy’s survival after one civil war, two world conflicts, and countless cultural battles.

It was in the Spirit of ’76 that Greil Marcus, author of the previous year’s Mystery Train — a monumental collection of essays delving into the heart of rock ’n’ roll to reveal a luminous chunk of America’s soul — undertook a wide-ranging disquisition on the meaning of patriotism in the pages of the Village Voice. (Mark Alan Stamaty’s boisterous, labyrinthine cartoons added to the wild and woolly mood.) As they do in Mystery Train, Marcus’s references, digressions, and footnotes shoot off like fireworks. Radiant as a rocket’s red glare — think of Jimi Hendrix’s version of “The Star-Spangled Banner” aurally transmuting Francis Scott Key’s “bombs bursting in air” into bombs dropping on screaming Vietnam civilians — Marcus’s Voice article asks us to look at America’s full history, both glorious and savage. He finds beauty in “an essential harmony, a recognition of uniquely American things shared,” but also quotes Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, delivered shortly before the Civil War reached its bloody end. The president, who would be assassinated just 42 days later, was acknowledging that the carnage was penance for allowing slavery to have been a part of the nation’s founding. “Fondly do we hope — fervently do we pray — that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bond-men’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said ‘the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.’ ”

Marcus also quotes W.E.B. DuBois from 1897, when America’s freed slaves were still waiting for the forty acres and a mule that had been promised to help them start new lives more than three decades earlier. “One ever feels his two-ness — an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.”

And in typical Marcus fashion, we get a bonus line of dialogue from Claude Rains, in his role as Captain Renault in 1942’s Casablanca: “Well, Rick, you’re not only a sentimentalist, but you’ve become a patriot.” Marcus was in some ways less concerned with whether patriotism is truly “the last refuge of a scoundrel,” as Dr. Johnson so famously put it, than with the divisions that were fracturing the nation into the broken mirror we gaze further into today. “America may be breaking up into separate ‘patrimonies.’ The rise of ethnicity and cultural nationalism on all fronts suggests this; so does the widening split between cities and suburbs, between classes, sexes, races, religions, nationalities.”

In November 1972, shortly after he’d won re-election, Nixon — whose somber Quaker facade in public was belied by the profane conniver heard on the Watergate tapes — discussed cabinet changes with an adviser, noting that he might keep one lawyer on to be the “house Jew” and to “handle the Bicentennial and all that nonsense.” Such nasty cynicism has long permeated the political right — consider Coolidge’s desiccated view, “the business of America is business” — because it cannot reconcile lust for unfettered profit with government’s role of legislating for the common good. Marcus worked on Mystery Train as the Watergate scandal was unfolding. In his author’s note, he points out, “To do one’s most personal work in a time of public crisis is an honest, legitimate, paradoxically democratic act of common faith.” Although this book about the music that bound America together across generational, racial, class, and political divides was not published until 1975, Marcus signed his note with a precise date: “August 9, 1974.”

Certainly not coincidentally, that was the day Nixon resigned the presidency.

So, sometime this week, between helpings of apple pie and baseball games, take a few moments to revisit the 200th birthday of a great, if forever flawed, nation as seen through the typewriter of an ever-thoughtful writer grappling with the meaning of patriotism in these United States. Note how he praises conservative members of the House Judiciary Committee who voted for the impeachment of a conservative president whose lies, capriciousness, self-aggrandizement, and intimidation tactics they could no longer stomach: “They made distinct efforts to trace a line between their particular responsibilities and the founding of the country.”

My, how times have changed. —R.C. Baker

***

In America Even the Humblest Harmony Is an Incredible Dream

By Greil Marcus
July 12, 1976

…In America, the humblest harmony is still an incredible dream.
— Edmund Wilson, “Night Thoughts in Paris,” 1922 (1) 

“Rick, you’re not only a sentimentalist, but you’ve become a patriot!”
— Claude Rains to Humphrey Bogart, at the close of Casablanca, 1942 (2)

To claim patriotism in America, where the thing is so undefined, is to claim a very great deal. It is to claim, in one way or another, to embody the republic. So as I thought about what I might say regarding patriotism, which seemed to me an appropriate subject in a week that falls between the Fourth of July and the opening of the Democratic Convention, one conviction that took shape very early was that one could not claim to be a patriot and that anyone who does should be instantly suspected.

This no doubt sounds familiar — patriotism as “the last refuge of a scoundrel,” (3) as Dr. Johnson put it — but that is not at all what I mean to get at. Rather it is what I mean to get behind me, and to do that it’s necessary to deal at least briefly with the People’s Bicentennial Commission.

The PBC, organized by activist Jeremy Rifkin, presupposes to offer the real, people’s, revolutionary-at-its heart America, as opposed to the official America promulgated for Bicentennial purposes by various hucksters and governmental agencies. The PBC has received some media coverage for its “counterdemonstrations” held alongside various commemorative exercises and dress-up shows.

PBC members are self-described “New Patriots”; you can become a “New Patriot” simply by joining the PBC. According to the PBC line, America is divided into “Patriots” and “Tories” — in fact, all American history, and the American present, can be seen this way. “Patriots” past and present are those the PBC aligns on the side of social and economic justice, defined in the usual radical/liberal manner; Tories are all those who are perceived by the PBC to have resisted such goals. Thus Alexander Hamilton, despite his role in the Revolution, was really a “Tory,” as are Republicans, bankers, factory foremen, and mean high school principals (I’m not making this up).

This approach is indistinguishable from that of the American Legion. There’s nothing troublesome or ambiguous about PBC patriotism; all it takes is a correct stand on the issues, and maybe a membership card. What’s the PBC program? “Patriots” should publicly expose “Tories.” Political candidates should be forced to sign oaths affirming their loyalty to the creed of the revolution.

The PBC makes me think of James Mann of South Carolina, Walter Flowers of Alabama, and Caldwell Butler of Virginia, three conservative members of the House Judiciary Committee who were crucial to the successful impeachment votes against Richard Nixon. In PBC terms they are quite obvious “Tories”; in a PBC America is it irrelevant that in working out their decisions on impeachment they made distinct efforts to trace a line between their particular responsibilities and the founding of the country. (With Mann there was perhaps no “effort” — that line may have always been visible to him, as it clearly has been to, say, Sam Ervin and William O. Douglas.)

Though the PBC is not to be taken seriously (“Have your political club ask that the Declaration of Independence be displayed at the polling place, so that citizens may spend their time thinking about self-evident truths,” they suggest), the PBC mode of thought is to be taken seriously, if only because it is a mode liberals and radicals often fall into. These days especially, we want our political affairs simple, clean and above all pure. Politics may be many things but it is narcissism first and foremost, because there is more safety in the certainties of separation than in the contingencies of wholeness.

The belief that patriotism is a question of the correct stand on vital social and political issues is not only the most hollow but the most invidious version of the concept; it empties the concept of all possible meaning. The truth is that patriotism makes stranger bedfellows than politics.

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Rather than something that can be easily fixed on individuals for the asking or that adheres to issues because of their necessity, and rather than something that can be claimed, awarded, or withheld, patriotism in America is a conundrum. Most who consider themselves sophisticated in their politics think patriotism is something to outgrow, preferably by the age of 12; many more Americans of all sorts, as John Scholar has written, “are simply without patriotism.… They do not think unpatriotic thoughts, but they do not think patriotic thoughts either. The republic for them is a vague and distant thing.” Yet it seems to me that patriotism should be explored, evoked, doubted, acted, and written out. The language of patriotism needs to be retrieved, invented, nurtured, and spoken, but we should not be too quick to decide who is a patriot and who is not, nor be too careful about establishing standards for the virtuous to meet. It isn’t my purpose here to prove my patriotism to you nor to provide guidelines with which you can prove yours to yourself — should you wish to. Instead I simply want to make the idea real; and I will try to do that by focusing on two themes central to an understanding of the possibilities of the patriotic spirit in America: wholeness, or harmony, and division, separateness.

***

Three texts:

One ever feels his two-ness — an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.
— W.E.B. Du Bois (4)

When I think of Greenwich Village, it is almost with tears. For there this battered battalion dress their guns against a whole nation… From the darkest corners of the country they have fled for comfort and asylum. You may think them feeble and ridiculous — but feebleness is always relative. It may require as much force of character and as much independent thought for one of these to leave his Kansas home and espouse the opinions of Freud as for Wagner to achieve new harmonies or Einstein to conceive a finite universe. The thought of them makes me respond with a sharp gust of sympathy, precisely because they are ridiculous and yet stand for something noble. And one is touched by something like reverence when one finds among this strange indifferent people, to whom the rest of the world is a newspaper story, history a tedious legend, and abstract thought a form of insanity, a man who really knows on what stage he is playing, for what drama he has been cast. By his realization he makes us realize, too, for what drama our setting is the setting: for the drama of humanity, in a sense, no setting can be trivial or mean. Gopher Prairie itself, in all its ludicrousness and futility when the human spirit rears itself there, has its importance and its dignity. 

And now that a breach has been made what a flood might sweep off the dam! — what a thundering torrent of energy, of enthusiasm, or life! Things are always beginning in America; we are always on the verge of great adventures. History seems to lie before us instead of behind.
— Edmund Wilson, “Night Thoughts in Paris,” The New Republic, March 12, 1922 (5)

…The patriot is one who is grateful for a legacy and recognizes that the legacy makes him a debtor. There is a whole way of being in the world, captured best by the word reverence, which defines life by its debts: One is what one owes, what one acknowledges as a rightful debt or obligation. The patriot moves within that mentality. The gift of land, people, language, gods, memories, and customs, which is the patrimony of the patriot, defines who he or she is. Patrimony is mixed with person; the two barely separable. The very tone and rhythm of a life, the shapes of perception, the texture of its hopes and fears goes from membership in a territorially rooted group. The conscious patriot is one who feels deeply indebted for these gifts, grateful to the people and places through which they come, and determined to defend the legacy against enemies and pass it unspoiled to those will come after. 

But… we are not taught to define our lives by our debts and legacies, but by our rights and opportunities. 
— John. J. Schaar, “The Case for Patriotism,” American Review 17, May 1973

I suggest that to truly “read” these passages, which is what I will be doing for the remainder of this piece, it’s necessary to pay as close attention to the voice of each writer as to his words. Du Bois, meditating on truths that predated his time and which he does not seem to expect to change, is stymied, perplexed, quietly angry, yet full of a sort of determination that perhaps suggests the bridging of gaps he is telling us cannot be bridged. Schaar, with his eyes on the past (not merely the American past, but the past per se, the past as something that constantly informs the present), speaks in tones of regret; his cadences are measured and restrained, and what is measured out is the pain of loss, the loss of the “way of being in the world” he is describing. All this is evident well before his final disclaimer: that we are not taught the rich and complex values that make patriotism possible but cheaper values that imply the separation of each man and woman from every other as the positive basis for American society.

But Schaar and Du Bois speak as realists; their words communicate an almost tragic refusal to grant a single assumption they do not see as justified by the disappointments and betrayals of the American story. They will not speak a word they cannot prove. But they will whisper. Wilson’s “in America, the humblest harmony is still an incredible dream” — and not harmony as consensus, or lack of crucial disagreement, but an essential harmony, a recognition of uniquely American things shared — is at the heart of what both men are saying. They are saying that whatever the American reality, or even the American fate, the possibilities of such harmony cannot be decently abandoned; that harmony is an absolute necessity if Americans are to keep the promises on which America was founded: the promises that flowed instantly from the original justification of America in 1776 as something new under the sun, and perhaps even the promises as they were reclaimed in 1865, with Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, when he incorporated the truth that the betrayal of those promises in fact preceded the promises themselves into the fabric of official American thought, where it has been officially buried ever since. (See box.)

To turn from the fundamental gloom of Du Bois and Schaar to late-night meditations of a young Edmund Wilson, thinking of America from a distance, where a good deal of the best of such thinking has been done, is a shock. One may have to read what he wrote carefully to appreciate how bizarre it is.

When I first came to Berkeley, in 1963, a campus veteran told me that Berkeley and Greenwich Village were the only places in America where a person could be really free. Wilson begins with this cozily embattled fallacy; a farther shore from the kind of patriotism Schaar speaks of can hardly be imagined. And yet — or perhaps, “and so” — Wilson then drives straight back into the “darkest corners” of the country, to what Fitzgerald called “the dark fields of the republic,” and embraces them with all the restraint of a Fourth of July orator. Suddenly he has delivered himself from the repression of the American present, as only the future is of any consequence. But there is the slightest hint of condescension in Wilson’s “Gopher Prairie itself” — and, perhaps in flight from doubts that not even the most visionary moment can banish, Wilson abandons the fatal pull of specifics for a virtual manifesto of American mysticism. It’s as if he is seeking, against the terrific odds he has been careful to establish in advance, to fix precisely those things Americans can recognize — those attributes by which they can recognize each other — the feeling that “things are always beginning in America,” blown up suddenly with exclamation points into images of a great dam breaking and a flood of — not ideas, not justice, not even freedom (which was what Wilson started with, but which is somehow no longer exactly the question) — “energy, of enthusiasm, of life!” And this is because what Wilson was working out of in Paris was not a “feeling,” but a leap of faith — a leap straight across what were to Lincoln the almost predestined American crimes and divisions, the crimes and divisions that were the source of Du Bois’s torment.

The desperation in Wilson’s voice is as palpable as the joy. A moment later in the essay he will pull back again; America will become a monster of banality. But he can’t quit with this. He returns as an American St. George come not to slay the dragon but magically to transform it. The passage continues: “Our enemy offers huger bulk than the enemy in Europe, but he is much less firmly rooted. Two generations might rout him. To arms then! Let me return; I shall not cease from mental fight nor shall my sword rest in my hand till intolerance has been stricken from the laws, till the time-clock has been beaten to a punch-bowl!”

In the great tradition of John Wesley Harding, who never made a foolish move, Wilson does not choose a foolish word. The struggle he is lining out is a matter of spiritual life or death for him, and — in the sense that a true patriot, one who truly perceives and accepts a patrimony, embodies the republic — for the country equally so. Thus Wilson’s language is overblown, with every pretension undercut by self-parody (“my sword” a seemingly absurd weapon for a “mental fight”; “till intolerance has been stricken from the laws” taken down a peg by “till the time clock has been beaten to a punch bowl”). Only with a frame of the ridiculous can Wilson get away with the absolute and discomforting seriousness of every word he is speaking. He is dedicating — like Lincoln in 1865, rededicating — himself, and his country, to the liberating destiny that his country, like no other before it, set out for itself; he recognizes and affirms that the republic, along with itself, invented a birthright each American would, in a way of his or her own determining, have to accept, as a burden, before he or she could fully claim to be American.

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This overblown way of speaking is the language, or a language, of American patriotism, and its affirmation also a settling of affairs. It sweeps right by Du Bois’s analysis of what cannot be resolved, even though Wilson’s words do not quite leave Du Bois’s statement of the facts out. “How far can love for my oppressed race accord with love for the oppressing country?” Du Bois wrote at another time. “And when these loyalties diverge, where shall my soul find refuge?” (7) Here and above, Du Bois speaks of black people, but the question he insists on contains all Americans who have been, and are, systematically refused America’s promises and excluded form its patrimony. That exclusion has been and is more widespread in terms of class than of race — and it is equally as subtle, as debilitating, and as resistant to fundamental change. As Du Bois would have said, the question of racial oppression is also a question of class. My attempt to follow the meaning of Du Bois’s idea applies, as metaphor, to Americans of all kinds who are excluded — and given that America was once known as “a good poor man’s country,” there are many whites who were included in the past who are excluded now.

Du Bois says that any resolution a black man or woman can make of Wilsons’s contradictions will by necessity be very different from and properly fall far short of, the glorious unity Wilson saw. The black American patrimony is separation and division; not simply because the “American” side is so full of horror and crime, but at least partly because it is so alive with promise. As Theodore Rosengarten’s All God’s Daughters, the life of Ned Cobb, a black Alabama sharecropper, makes clear, a full recognition of “the injustice of the laws” does not preclude the deepest recognition of that promise nor the determination to fulfill it precisely on its original, 200-year-old terms. But the laws refuse to recognize Cobb’s claim to his “American” patrimony, and without that double recognition Du Bois’s words hold.

It is very questionable whether the burden I spoke of Wilson accepting, or the debts and obligations of which Schaar writes, can be set forth by me, or anyone, as a necessary part of the patrimony of a black man or woman in America. Black men and women have made their own history in America, which America ignored or did not even see, and the evidence is strong today that it is in that specific history that black men and women are finding their patrimony — their debts, obligations, promises, possibilities — finding what it is they have to live up to, finding a way of being in the world. In Lincoln’s terms of crime and punishment, it is a measure of the price white Americans of any sort must pay for the forced odyssey of black people in America that a black American patrimony, which grows out of an altogether different kind of heroism and resourcefulness than white Americans draw on — different in kind and in quality — may not only be impossible for whites to connect to, but wrong for them to connect to. With Gayl Jones’s Corregidora, Lucille Clifton’s family memoir Generations (which begins with the story of Clifton’s great-great grandmother, born in Dahomey in 1822, brought to the New Orleans slave markets and made to walk to Virginia at the age of eight, whose message to her family, into this century, was “Get what you want, you from Dahomey, women”), Alice Walker’s The Third Life of Grange Copeland, or the film of The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, a white American may feel that he or she is somehow violating these tales simply by responding to them. To say, this is part of my legacy, my patrimony, too, which is to say that the “American” patrimony is, or should be, that of a black man or woman is to go much farther than any white can decently go.

Because of such history, and because the language of patriotism in America has not flourished — because it is not easily spoken nor easily understood when it is spoken; because the “way of being in the world” of which Schaar writes is foreign to most of us, so foreign as to be hard to imagine clearly — ­America may be breaking up into separate “patrimonies.” The rise of ethnicity and cultural nationalism on all fronts suggests this; so does a widening split between cities and suburbs, between classes, sexes, races, religions, nationalities. I don’t mean such groupings are always in explicit conflict, but that people are locating their primary loyalties away from “America,” as a place, a society, a republic, an idea, a promise, whatever. Historian William Appleman Williams’s recent Bicentennial book, America Confronts a Revolutionary World, takes this movement apart to one conclusion: He argues that America can best be true to its best self by returning to the Articles of Confederation, and fragmenting, by secession (violently if need be; “I will meet you on the barricades,” he says) (8), into regional socialist republics. This is a bad moment in the work of a valuable historian. But there is some truth in the book — as a skewed metaphor for retreats from America that are already well advanced.

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It may be that this is not a problem to “solve” but a reality to accept or struggle against, on an individual level, at least in the beginning. Schaar writes of America, an invented political and moral society, as a place where patriotism is not simply a matter of inheritance or lack of it — in America, patriotism is an earned choice, an earned recognition. Wilson, 51 years earlier, agreed when he spoke as baldly as he dared of a “mental fight,” of a battle he would carry on, in American letters, as a critic and a reporter, to rout the enemy, to make the wisp of American harmony he glimpsed one night in Paris more real.

When we speak of patriotism in America we must recognize an inevitable division of self in the very act of speaking, and in that sense Du Bois’s statement can serve for anyone. America is big, conformist, monolithic, faceless, cruel, and its economic game is rigged. For any sense of freedom the first impulse is to separate oneself, either following the trail of countless American lone-wolfs, solitaries, and Ishmaels, or settling for the homogeneous familiarities and protections of “one’s own”: family, religion, nationality, race, region. Yet America is still astonishing — too big, too complex, and too various for any mind to take in, and in that astonishment, in the realization of an enormous place finally justified and held together by little more than a few phrases from an old document, comes the yearning to make America whole by seeing it clearly; by pursuing that patrimony, discovering it, retrieving it, inventing it, or simply affirming it. What is it that Americans share? In what images, of crime or beauty, do Americans uniquely recognize themselves as no others would, recognize that in an essential way they are linked, that they can carry on certain conversations about certain things that others could not or would not think to enter?

One probably cannot raise such questions without realizing that if they are asked with the utmost seriousness of intent there may be no encouraging answers. But one cannot wear such questions out either. Schaar’s statement, like Wilson’s, points toward a way of being in touch with America; com­bative, suspicious, and yet deeply accepting of something like a common fate, that cannot, and should not be avoided.

***

There are two ideas around which this piece revolves, no mat­ter how erratic the orbit has been.The first is the idea of the patriot as one who embodies the republic. This is not as grand or pretentious as it might seem. A civil rights worker linking people to the re­public by convincing them to vote is embodying the republic, in many ways. Many of those on the House Judiciary Committee, by what they said and the manner in which they said it, embodied the repub­lic, for a time. James Agee, writ­ing Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, embodied the republic, in all of its mystical and factual complexity. Those who honestly and visibly refuse to let the repub­lic stop short of itself embody it.

Visibly — publicly — is the key word. Wilson spoke almost mys­teriously of “a man who really knows on what stage he is playing, for what drama he has been cast,” who “by his realization… makes us realize, too, for what drama our setting is the setting.” To say that this can mean anything is to point to the strength of what Wilson said, not its weakness; Wilson himself took this conviction to its extreme only 21 years after he first set it down. He wrote of Lincoln, in “Eight Essays”: “It was as if he had not only foreseen the drama [of the war] but had seen all around it, with a kind of poetic objectivity, aware of the various points of view the world must take toward its protagonist. In the poem that Lincoln lived, Booth had been prepared for, too, and the tragic conclusion was necessary to justify all the rest. It was dramatically and mortally inevitable that this prophet who had overruled opposition and sent thousands of men to their deaths should finally attest his good faith by laying down his own life with theirs.” The patriot is a man or woman, who, in embodying the possibilities of American life, dramatizes them in view of others. That is both an instinct — the yearning for and affirmation of wholeness — and a role — the act of wholeness.

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The second idea is that of “a whole way of being in the world.” Schaar has defined it in the lines I quoted; I cannot really set it forth more fully without a long, close consideration of how specific indi­viduals, or a group of people, made their choices and lived their lives. It is both the treasure of patriotism and the key to it. It is a constant, renewing sensitivity to questions I asked earlier: What do Americans share, what is essential and unique, in their history, experience, fate? It is a state of mind that Edmund Wilson caught as well as anyone.

In Paris, in 1922, he began his meditation on America thinking of Futurism, “born in Italy, where the weight of the past lies heaviest.” “But I can scarcely adore the locomotive,” he wrote. ” I know it all too well.” He went on to wonder at his dreams of America, to criticize America as brutally as he could manage, to pull away, back and forth, back and forth, the double vision of the American pa­triot at work, searching for at least a night’s truce with itself. Wilson turned back finally to that image of the rails: “Where there is a petu­lance and a sadness in the piping of the French engines, I shall hear in the American ones an eagerness and a zest: They have elbow room here for their racing; they can drive on as far as they like; they have an unknown country to explore, a country that no one has ever heard of — What sort of men are these who live in nameless towns? At a distance, they seem, neither intelligent nor colorful nor fine — scarcely members of the same race as the beings who have built civilization. But I know that in the wide spaces of all that wilder­ness, in the life of that loose abun­dant world, for all the reign of mediocrity and the tyranny of in­tolerance, there is a new freshness and freedom to be brought to the function of mankind — the function which, in the long run, we shall never be able to get out of: staring out in wonder and dismay at the mysterious shapes of the world, either to ask ourselves what laws move them or, combining those shapes anew, to makeshift to create a nobler world in which our souls may find a home.”

Footnotes 

  1. In Keywords, Raymond Williams’s recent book on the etymology of fundamental con­temporary social concepts, the word “patriotism” is missing (so are “roots” and “fraternity”). But because I like Williams’s idea, if not his choices, I have pulled out words from the quotes I refer to that seem to me keys to an Ameri­can language of patriotism — words that in some way signify an aspect or element of “patriotism.” Here, the keywords are “humblest,” “harmony,” and “still.”
  2. Keyword: “sentimentalist.”
  3. Keyword: “refuge.”
  4. Virtually every word in this statement is a keyword. Still: “two-ness,” “souls,” “ideals,” “dogged,” “keeps it from.”
  5. Keywords: “tears,” “against,” “nation,” “corners,” “comfort,” “character,” “inde­pendent,” “home,” “espouse,” “new,” “harmonies,” “finite,” “sympathy,” “stand for,” “noble,” “reverence,” “indiffer­ent,” “history,” “legend,” “drama,” “spirit,” “dignity,” “enthusiasm,” “beginning,” “adventures.”
  6. Again, since essentially Schaar is writing a brief on the keywords of patriotism, only a few of the less obvious: “a whole way of being in the world,” “defines life by,” “one acknowledges,” “men­tality,” “tone,” “rhythm,” “shapes,” “texture,” “taught.” The grace and civility of Schaar’s writing tells one as much about patriotism as any of his words.
  7. Keywords: “how far,” “accord,” “loyalties,”
  8. Keyword: “I will meet you.”     ❖

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From The Archives NEW YORK CITY ARCHIVES NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES Uncategorized

The Mayor Who Didn’t Want To Know

The Mayor Who Didn’t Want To Know — And the Whistleblowers Who Tried To Alert Him 

Perhaps the fairest way to judge the competence, integ­rity, and character of a government is how it responds when credible information about misconduct is brought to its attention. Any adminis­tration can suffer a scandal, because the susceptibility to temptation has been part of human na­ture since the serpent in the Garden of Eden. Any of us can be fooled or betrayed by a subordinate. Even Rudy Giuliani had to prosecute one of his own assistants who had become corrupt.

The fundamental question about the Koch administration is no longer why the mayor gave power to so many crooks, but exactly what happened years ago when whistleblowers, law enforcement investiga­tors, and private citizens first tried to warn him of questionable contracts and commissioners who smelled of graft. Nothing reveals the heart of the Koch administration better than its treatment of these prophetic individuals who discov­ered clues to criminal or unethical prac­tices, spoke out, and were punished or crushed for their idealism and honesty.

Over the past month I have interviewed a dozen people, including a former high city official who was fired while investigat­ing former transportation commissioner Anthony Ameruso; a city contract manag­er who was demoted for trying to audit a suspicious boondoggle; a woman harassed out of the taxi industry after she went on TV to call for an investigation of the Taxi and Limousine Commission chairman Jay Turoff; a cable TV businessman who went bankrupt after refusing to pay a bribe to Donald Manes; and three former prosecu­tors who were prevented from setting up a sting operation to catch Manes in 1982.

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These people provided new evidence of just how serious and broad an effort was made between 1982 and 1985 to warn Mayor Koch of corruption within his ad­ministration. Together, they paint a pic­ture of a mayor and an administration willfully indifferent to vital informa­tion — almost Reaganesque in not want­ing to know.

(These are not the witnesses discov­ered by the Martin Commission, who vol­unteered significant leads in 1982 about corruption in the Parking Violations Bu­reau — and were ignored. Those highly credible whistleblowers included a police officer and James Rose, the PVB comptroller.)

Gordon Haesloop, the former city dep­uty investigations commissioner, was ordered to stop a productive investigation into transportation commissioner Am­eruso in early 1985 and then was fired a few weeks later. Department of Environ­mental Protection whistleblower Edward Nicastro, a contract manager, suffered a demotion, harassment, was almost fired, and then was reassigned to the equivalent of a gulag — a garage in Queens — by a Friedman crony after seeking permission to audit a Friedman client.

To understand more fully the political, bureaucratic, psychological, and moral context of these five stories of rejected early warnings, it is useful to first summarize some recent history. It is helpful to recall all the signals and messages that the highly popular mayor was sending at the time to his commissioners, to the political culture, to the opinion makers, and to those seeking city contracts.

• To become mayor in 1977, Koch reached an accommodation with Brook­lyn Democratic Party leader Meade Esposito. In his second book, Politics, Koch explained that part of his deal was that Esposito, whom Koch knew to be a friend of racketeers, must keep his per­sonal backing a secret. Koch wrote: “We made it clear that one thing we didn’t want him [Esposito] to do was endorse me in any public way … he agreed to pull strings very discreetly … I must say he has always been very helpful to me.”

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In return for this covert institutional and financial backing, Koch gave Espo­sito hundreds of jobs for clubhouse hacks exempt from civil service merit exams. He also gave Esposito at least two com­missioners: Jay Turoff and Anthony Ameruso. The Ameruso appointment was the very first message Koch sent to all of us, even before he was sworn in. Esposito wanted Ameruso, his personal protege, who had been the mediocre highways commissioner in the Beame administra­tion, to be promoted to transportation commissioner by Koch. When an independent screening panel of transit ex­perts, including Sally Goodgold, Joel Harnett, and Theodore Kheel, recom­mended six other people and found Ameruso unqualified, Koch immediately dissolved and denounced the screening panel and named Ameruso, saying, “I be­lieve he will prove that my judgement is right.” (Ameruso is now under indict­ment for perjury by Manhattan district attorney Robert Morgenthau.)

• In 1985, the mayor’s own Depart­ment of Investigations released a report that concluded that Staten Island bor­ough president Ralph Lamberti had vio­lated the conflict-of-interest provisions of the City Charter, and had committed five misdemeanors. The next day Koch held a press conference, endorsed Lamberti for reelection, and called him an “honest man” and “a partner.”

• Koch gave Donald Manes and Stan­ley Friedman control over hundreds of patronage jobs and let them convert low-­visibility city agencies into clubhouse fiefdoms. As a favor to Manes, Koch ap­pointed Geoffrey Lindenauer deputy commissioner of the Parking Violations Bureau in July 1980, despite Linden­auer’s lack of qualifications and sordid past as a phony sex therapist. Koch al­lowed Manes to control the bidding pro­cess for cable television in Queens — an abdication that created backroom deals and an opportunity for extortion.

• Koch gave Friedman the Citisource contract for hand-held computers that was worth $2 million to Friedman. He appointed Friedman’s law partner, Ted Teah, to the City Planning Commission; he named Friedman crony Paul Victor to the Conciliation and Appeals Board; he authorized $15 million in city contracts to groups under the control of poverty blimp Ramon Velez; and he named Fred Carfora deputy commissioner of the De­partment of Environmental Protection, in which position Carfora demoted and then tried to fire whistleblower Edward Nicastro.

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Koch hired Friedman’s wife, Jackie, for a City Hall job exempt from civil service requirements and invited Friedman to be one of a dozen guests at his private swearing-in on’New Year’s Eve of 1985 — a signal of intimacy that city contractors surely noticed.

When publisher/gadfly Jim Smith questioned Koch at the City Club in Oc­tober 1984 about the legalities of Fried­man’s assetless company getting the prof­itable no-bid hand-held computer contract, Koch insulted Smith, defended Friedman, and said: “How dare you say those terrible things about him … It’s so easy to libel people.”

Ambition drove Koch to make a deal with a steep price. The political structure kept its bargain. It gave Koch a working majority on the Board of Estimate and loyalty on election day. And Koch gave the clubhouse system patronage and con­tracts. Koch got what he wanted: power, a stage, celebrity. And the rulers of the system got what they wanted: wealth and power.

For eight years, almost everyone was satisfied — the buyer, the seller, the pub­lic, the media. Just by doing their jobs, the whistleblowers were a threat to this sordid compact against the public interest.

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EDWARD NICASTRO WAS THE DIREC­TOR of procurement and contract manager for the Department of En­vironmental Protection in 1984. He was everything the public, and the mayor, could want a city employee with a responsible job to be. He was a graduate of St. John’s University and the Universi­ty of Bridgeport Law School. He was an expert at modernizing and administering contracts. He had a profound sense of civic virtue, partially rooted in his desire to repay a debt of gratitude fo the city that sheltered his father from Sicily.

Nicastro had been given the highest possible job ratings by his supervisors, and about 30 employees worked under his supervision. His staff had saved the city hundreds of thousands of dollars when it discovered padded bills and underweighted deliveries from asphalt contractors. He was also a true believer in Ed Koch as an honest, independent mayor; Nicastro’s wife had been a full-time worker in Koch’s victorious 1977 campaign for mayor, and she knew Koch personally.

Early in 1984, Nicastro became suspi­cious of waste and bid-rigging in the con­struction of City Water Tunnel Number Three, being built between Manhattan and Queens, which, has now become the focus of a major investigation by U.S. attorney Rudy Giuliani. All Nicastro knew in 1984 was that there were mil­lions of dollars in cost overruns, apparent collusion in the bidding by two consor­tiums, and that no independent audits were being conducted, because his office was being excluded from the review pro­cess. He could see that there was no ac­countability for the bids and contracts on the biggest project ever done by the DEP.

Motivated more by a conscientious concern for cost-effective management than by any dramatic thoughts of a con­spiracy, Nicastro politely expressed his concerns to his two immediate superiors in March 1984. They were deputy com­missioners Jeffrey Sommer and Fred Carfora. He told them his office should be analyzing the water tunnel bidding procedures and billing practices and that the exemption of such contracts from re­view was a direct violation of city rules. He warned Sommer and Carfora that the absence of accountability could lead to corruption.

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Carfora assured Nicastro that he would get his oversight authority by the end of the fiscal year, in June 1984. When this did not occur as promised, Nicastro car­ried his warnings to the Department of Investigations in October 1984, when Patrick McGinley was commissioner.

“DOI was polite, but they never did anything,” Nicastro says now. “Four or five months after I went to them, I called them up to find what was happening with the investigation. That’s when they told me the the case had already been closed.”

Nicastro was aware that Sommer and Carfora were both clubhouse appointees loyal to Bronx Democratic boss Stanley Friedman. He knew Sommer had worked for Friedman when Friedman was deputy mayor, and he had heard that Carfora’s mother had been a Bronx district leader, and that Carfora had gotten his job through the party organization. And as someone experienced in politics himself, Nicastro was aware of Friedman’s power to control jobs and contracts in the Koch administration.

What he did not know until much later was that Friedman was also the lawyer who was being paid a six-figure fee to represent a consortium of companions with 90 per cent of the contracts to build Water Tunnel Number Three. And that one of Friedman’s clients he had wanted to audit had already paid almost $5 mil­lion in fines for bid-rigging outside of New York.

Nicastro is a self-described “tough Si­cilian,” and he did not back off from his position that the water tunnel needed to be audited, since it already had $31 mil­lion in cost overruns, and was 20 years behind schedule.

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That’s when the attempt to crush Ni­castro began. His job performance ratings mysteriously began to decline from “out­standing” to “marginal.” In October 1984, deputy commissioner Carfora tried to fire him, falsely claiming that Nicastro had submitted fraudulent time sheets. At that point, Nicastro told the DOI he was being  fired because he was a “whistleblower,” and Carfora put his request to fire Nicas­tro on hold. In November, Carfora trans­ferred Nicastro to the agency’s gulag — a garage in Maspeth, in a dead-end job as purchasing agent in which he didn’t begin to utilize his skills.

On November 15, 1985, Nicastro sent a registered letter to Koch, with a copy to deputy mayor Stanley Brezenoff, explain­ing in detail what was being done to him, and repeating his “concern about DEP’s contract procedures, which violate City Charter rules as well as controller’s directives.”

Nicastro’s letter to Koch reminded him: “Your Mayoral Memorandum of May 2, 1984, clearly states that all retal­iatory actions [against whistleblowers] are to be investigated.”

On November 22, Nicastro received a reply from Dean Silverberg, then deputy counsel to the mayor, saying: “I have forwarded your materials to the Depart­ment of Investigations for their review of your concerns.”

Nicastro was now in the realm of Kaf­ka, where faceless bureaucrats toyed with his future. On December 2, 1985, he was informed that his salary was being re­duced by $1000 retroactively to the previ­ous August. At the same time, other man­agers in DEP were getting $4000 raises. Nicastro was told that this punishment had been authorized by Joe DeVincenzo, the mayoral assistant officially in charge of “salaries and job classifications” but unofficially the patronage liaison to the Democratic county leaders, including Friedman.

Nicastro was in despair working in the Maspeth garage for less money, and con­stantly trying to explain to his coworkers that he was right and his bosses were wrong.

He went through a trauma that scars many whistleblowers forever. David Durk and Frank Serpico went through the same kind of experience when they were trying to expose police corruption in the late 1960s and no one was listening. In retrospect, people like Durk, Serpico, and Nicastro might look like steadfast heroes. But they pay a large psychic price in fear, anger, and depression before they are ab­solved by history. And sometimes by a movie.

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During 1985, Nicastro was drinking a lot and coming home after his two young children went to sleep. There were severe strains on his marriage.

“I was very unhappy and I felt like my life was coming apart,” he recalls now. “I became a different person. I was in a rage all the time. I thought I was being fol­lowed and I worried about my family’s safety.”

On December 2, 1985 — the day his sal­ary was cut — Nicastro’s wife, Alice Horo­witz, feeling that all other options were exhausted, wrote a personal letter to Koch. It began:

“Back in 1977 during your first mayor­al campaign, if you recall, I was your advance person. I advanced you all over the entire city and became a dedicated follower of yours; I believed in your policies.”

Alice Horowitz-Nicastro’s letter then went on to inform the mayor of her hus­band’s fate as a whistleblower: his de­grading demotion for trying to save the public money and alert his supervisors to potential fraud and bid-rigging. The let­ter ended with a personal appeal to the man she admired and had helped elect:

“Ed, is this the way a man is rewarded for his honesty and dedication? My hus­band loves working for the city. In his years with the Department of Environ­mental Protection he has saved the city hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars, because of his honesty.

“This constant harassment has not only taken a monetary toll on him, but a mental and physical toll on him and the rest of us, including my children, who are too young to understand why their daddy is always so angry.

“Please, Ed, please help me. It has tak­en me a very long time to write this letter. I really hoped it would not get to this, but the survival of my family de­pends on it.

“Thank you for your precious time.”

On December 17, 1985, Alice Horowitz­-Nicastro got an impersonal, one-para­graph letter back from Dean Silverberg. It said:

“Your December 2nd letter has been referred to me. I anticipate that your husband will be contacted shortly by the Department of Investigation.”

On March 24, 1986 — 10 days after the suicide of Donald Manes, with a new moral climate in the media, and in the city — Edward Nicastro’s story was told in Newsday by reporter Leonard Levitt. The article was accompanied by a lengthy, well-documented exposé of the cost overruns and collusive bidding prac­tices on Water Tunnel Number Three.

In July 1986, after a thorough review by a new investigations commissioner­ — Kenneth Conboy — Carfora was demoted for unlawfully harassing and trying to fire Nicastro, and making false charges against him. His salary was cut from $71,000 to $60,000. Carfora resigned rather than accept this mild sanction.

Today Edward Nicastro has a dull job in DEP that has nothing to do with his proven career expertise: monitoring con­tracts, a skill the Koch administration would seem to need.

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GORDON HAESLOOP WENT TO WORK for the city Department of Inves­tigations in 1979 as general coun­sel. From May 1981 until the spring of 1985 he was the depart­ment’s deputy commisioner. Like most able investigators, he has a stubborn, in­dependent temperament. He supervised five or six staff attorneys and several detectives. He had been in charge of the undercover project that led to the convic­tion of Brooklyn city councilman Louis Olmedo.

In February 1985, Haesloop was con­ducting a multifaceted investigation of transportation commissioner Anthony Ameruso. DOI had a sworn deposition from a Transportation Department em­ployee, given in September 1984, charg­ing that Ameruso had taken “envelopes stuffed with cash” and that he had per­formed “special [parking] favors for Ma­fia restaurants.” A city contractor had complained to DOI that Ameruso was harassing his armored car company and showing favoritism in awarding parking meter collection contracts to a competi­tor, which had no gun permits or insur­ance and had organized crime ties. There were also several allegations that Amer­uso was secretly living outside the city, in violation of Section 3 of the Public Offi­cers Law, even though he had given City Hall a Brooklyn phone number at which to reach him in case of emergencies.

Moreover, by the winter of 1985, Haes­loop was convinced that PVB was mis­managed and probably corrupt, and since PVB was part of Ameruso’s responsibility as transportation commissioner, he sus­pected that Ameruso might become part of the PVB inquiry as well. One reason Haesloop felt something was rotten at PVB was quite personal. He had received a dunning letter from Bernard Sandow’s collection agency, demanding $2000 for parking tickets he had paid a long time before.

So, approximately in February 1985, Haesloop assigned DOI detectives to begin a surveillance of Ameruso, primarily to develop evidence of his violation of the residency law. Haesloop recalled:

“Such types of surveillance usually last for about two weeks. With Ameruso, after three or four days of tailing him, we es­tablished that he lived on Roslyn, Long Island. Each morning his son would drive him along the service road to the city line at Queens. At that point Ameruso would get into his waiting city car, and his city driver would take him to work. This fact by itself could have warranted his being fired by the mayor.”

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Haesloop continued:

“Next I wanted to install a pen register on Ameruso’s Brooklyn phone — a device that does not require a court order or a search warrant — that would track phone calls and prove if he had a Call Forward­ing device on the Brooklyn number to his Long Island home. Pen registers were a routine investigative tool in the office. We had installed about 15 of them — some in noncriminal investigations — over five years … [DOI senior staff attorney] Su­san Ross and I together told Commis­sioner McGinley that Ameruso was vio­lating the residency rule and that I wanted to install the pen register. But McGinley ordered me not to use it and ordered me to terminate the surveillance. He never gave me a reason. McGinley fired me about four weeks later.”

(McGinley has denied he was told Ameruso was living outside the city, but Susan Ross has verified that McGinley was informed of that fact. A third former DOI official has also confirmed Haes­loop’s recollections.)

When I asked Haesloop why he didn’t go directly to the mayor when the investi­gation was halted, he replied:

“There was a general perception in city government that Ameruso was favored and protected at City Hall. On top of that, I felt that Koch fired deputies who went to him to complain about their  bosses …

“In June 1985, after I was fired and just before I left the office, I did speak to McGinley. I asked him to tell the mayor that something fundamental was wrong with PVB and the Department of Trans­portation, and that Ameruso was a po­tential embarrassment to the mayor. McGinley didn’t say if he would commu­nicate that message for me …

“The separate PVB investigation was in my mind. I couldn’t understand how the mayor, even at that point, wasn’t doing more to hold Ameruso accountable for all the embarrassing problems at PVB. The city was losing millions of dol­lars on the percentages the collection agencies were keeping on their con­tracts — 40 per cent on some. The place was badly mismanaged. I just sensed that Ameruso was protected, and I would be perceived as disloyal.”

I asked Haesloop, who is now in pri­vate practice, if he had been upset about being dismissed by McGinley.

“No, I was happy to go. I was fed up arresting some poor inspector for taking $100 just before he became eligible for his pension. I felt demoralized that I could only go after the small fish. I was frus­trated I couldn’t investigate a full com­missioner like Ameruso. If I couldn’t pur­sue an Ameruso case, then I didn’t want to work there anymore.”

The mayor’s durable faith in Ameruso was indeed extraordinary. Even when Ameruso resigned in January 1986, after the PVB corruption was becoming known, Koch said at Ameruso’s farewell press conference: “He’s impeccable. I rec­ommend him without reservation.”

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BARBARA MEYERS GREW UP IN THE East New York section of Brook­lyn and graduated from Thomas Jefferson High School in 1959. During the 1960s, she was a nurse and a self-described “hippie antiwar marcher.” By 1975, after working in the shipping industry for a few years, she was contemplating a career change and decid­ed to drive a taxi while doing her thinking.

Meyers found she enjoyed driving a cab. “I loved the variety of experience, the sense of freedom, the interaction with other people, the sense of adventure,” she says. By 1976, she had borrowed money, purchased two taxi medallions for $23,000 each, and started running the Silver Eagle Cab Company. Gradually, Meyers became a reformer within the taxi industry, a vocal defender of her rights, and a critic of the taxi commission.

On April 7, 1982, Barbara Meyers par­ticipated in a taping of the Eyewitness News Conference on ABC-TV, with re­porter Milton Lewis and Richard Smith, who had authored a report for the mayor on the taxi industry. The show was to be aired on Sunday, April 10, 1982.

During the taping, Meyers charged that the taxi commission was “corrupt,” and that the giving out of 100 free taxi medallions for a diesel fuel experiment was “a fraud.” (The number of medal­lions had been frozen at 11,700 since the 1930s.) She also criticized Mayor Koch and Taxi and Limousine Commission chairman Jay Throff in harsh terms.

“I did it because I needed help,” Mey­ers says now. “I was looking for the pow­er of the press to help me clean up the industry. I didn’t have the specific evi­dence to prove a criminal case, but I knew something was rotten, and I knew where to look … I remember when I said the word ‘corruption,’ the moderator [Lewis] interrupted me and asked if I realized what I was saying. I told him I did.”

The day after the taping — two days before the show went on the air — Barbara Meyers was called by Ronald Russo, deputy commissioner of the Department of Investigations.

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“He approached me in a very hostile way,” Meyers says. He tried to intimidate me and make me feel like I was the prob­lem. He said that what I said about Tur­off at the taping was inflamatory. He said I’d better come down to his office, and if I didn’t that he would subpoena me. I felt like I was the criminal and Throff was the whistleblower.”

On April 14, 1982, four days after her criticism of Turoff was on television, Meyers was the victim of Taxi and Lim­ousine Commission harassment.

“Three TLC inspectors stopped my cab, ripped the medallion off my hood, and gave me three tickets for no reason,” Meyers told me. “I won my appeal against the tickets, but I lost a few days of work. I felt it was an obvious reprisal. I also started to get threatening phone calls at home saying I knew what happens to rats.”

On May 6, 1982, Meyers testified for two hours under oath to the Department of Investigations, with a stenographer present. She made a clear case for further investigation of the way the 100 medal­lions were given to a few favored fleets on the basis of the fraudulent diesel experiment.

She said: “There are 100 medallions in the street earning enormous amounts of money, amounting to millions, in a very favored way for the operator of those medallions … I want to know why, why not me? I would be happy to participate in an experiment of that nature … How were they chosen? What arrangements?”

(What Meyers didn’t know at that point was that the 100 medallions were awarded to the Research Cab Corpora­tion, and other companies owned by Donald Sherman and represented by Stanley Friedman as a lawyer-lobbyist.)

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Meyers risked her career by going on television and giving a deposition to the Department of Investigations. As a re­ward, her attorney received a letter from investigations commissioner McGinley, dated August 2, 1982, scolding Meyers. The letter said:

“Ms. Meyers presents herself to the public as a highly responsible taxi-owner operator … In view of this, I consider her deliberate and public use of terms like ‘corruption’ and ‘corrupt’ to have been unhelpful to say the least.”

McGinley now claims he did not write this letter, that it was written for him by his former first deputy commissioner, Ronald Russo. But Russo told me:

“McGinley is not telling the truth. I did not write that letter. I left the Depart­ment of Investigations on July 9, 1982. I opened my private practice on July 12, 1982. I was not there in August. McGinley is looking for scapegoats.” Russo refused to comment on the record about his conversation with Meyers.

On April 10, 1986, the State Investiga­tions Commission (SIC) held a public hearing on corruption at the TLC. It was four years to the day that Barbara Mey­ers had gone on ABC television urging the world to notice the diesel-medallion hoax. The hearing began with SIC chair­man David Trager making a formal statement:

“Our investigation has led us to the firm conclusion that the diesel test pro­gram was, from its inception, a fraud designed to provide medallions worth more than $3.7 million per year to Re­search Cab … Former TLC chairman Jay Turoff played a central role in exe­cuting this scheme … He acted to con­ceal, steal, or destroy records of the TLC relating to medallions issued to Research Cab. He personally directed that 123 me­dallions — 23 more than authorized — be issued to Research Cab.”

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During the April 10 hearing, Robert Mackasek, the inspector general for the TLC, testified. He admitted that after Meyers made her original charges on tele­vision, his entire investigation consisted of asking his boss, Jay Turoff, if they were true. Turoff had said the charges were rubbish. Mackasek also conceded that Turoff helped arrange for him to received a $71,000 loan from the HYFIN credit union — a loan cosigned by Turoff.

Finally, Mackasek admitted that he had gone to Stanley Friedman’s law of­fices, and tipped Friedman that his cli­ent — Research Cab — was under investi­gation by the SIC. Mackasek testified that Turoff — who set up the meeting­ — and Research Cab Corporation president Donald Sherman were also present when he told Friedman everything he knew of the investigation.

One of the last questions the State Investigations Commission asked Macka­sek was whether he was active in politics. He said that in 1985, when he was in private practice, Turoff had called him, and in response he had raised money for Koch from taxi industry companies, and lined up cabs to transport pro-Koch vot­ers to the polls on election day.

Unwittingly, Barbara Meyers had chal­lenged the nexus of power in New York City in 1982. She was shining a light into the eye of the tiger. Jay Turoff owed his job to Meade Esposito. Turoff was per­forming significant money-making favors for Stanley Friedman’s clients. And Tur­off was raising substantial sums of cam­paign money for the mayor from the in­dustry he was supposed to be regulating.

Turoff’s trial on felony bribery and fraud charges begins February 17 in fed­eral court.

Barbara Meyers is now out of the taxi business. She has written a book for children on how to deal with the death of a pet, and runs a car service that trans­ports pets that are sick.

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IN THE LAST FEW MONTHS, THREE Queens power brokers have been in­dicted on charges involving manipula­tion of the cable television franchise in Queens: administrative judge Fran­cis Smith, realtor John Zaccaro, and po­litical consultant Mike Nussbaum. All three were charged with acting in concert with Donald Manes to extort bribes from bidders seeking to wire Queens for cable. In addition, U.S. attorney Rudy Giuliani is now in the final stages of his investiga­tion into the Bronx cable TV franchise, where the targets of the grand jury in­clude Stanley Friedman, Ramon Velez, Frank Lugovinia, and Tod Tuah.

Queens businessman Al Simon had been trying to warn the proper authori­ties since at least 1981 that the way the city was awarding cable TV franchises was a process designed to be corrupt, because it was secretive, immune to mer­it, and controlled by Manes in Queens and Stanley Friedman in the Bronx. But the mayor insisted the system was “fair and open,” and nobody paid much notice to Al Simon, even when his company, Ortho-Vision, went bankrupt in 1983. He was treated as just another civic crank.

Al Simon, now 54, grew up in Wil­liamsburg, dropped out of high school, went into the army, and then attended the NYU School of Commerce at night for six years.

He became a kind of cable television visionary, and first applied to the city for a cable franchise back in 1972. In 1977, Simon’s company submitted a bid for the Queens franchise, but lost out to the Knickerbocker Communications Corpo­ration, a subsidiary of Time Inc. with power broker lawyers, publicists, and consultants. Simon filed a taxpayer’s suit that alleged Knickerbocker’s franchise was illegal because the contract differed materially from its petition for the con­tract. Simon won his lawsuit, and the franchise was withdrawn.

In 1981, the fight was on to wire Queens. Cable was a hot, futuristic indus­try, with everyone thinking gigantic prof­its were inevitable. Simon, viewed as an outsider and maverick entrepreneur, was competing against corporate giants like Warner-Amex, which was paying power­broker lawyer Sid Davidoff more than $150,000 in legal fees. Simon wrote up proposals, went to community planning boards, and convinced several of them to pass resolutions supporting his native Queens company. But Davidoff was Don­ald Manes’s best friend. He could walk into Boro Hall and act like he was co­-borough president. The corporate chair­man of Warner’s was Steve Ross, another friend of the borough president’s.

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In October 1981, Simon says he was visited by Mike Nussbaum, a political consultant who had managed most of Donald Manes’s campaigns and was one of the four or five people closest to Ma­nes. Nussbaum reportedly asked Simon for a $250,000 cash bribe. He said he was relaying a message from Manes through Manes’s deputy, Richard Rubin. He as­sured Simon that if the money was paid, he would get a portion of the Queens market.

“I told him no,” Simon says. “I thought I could win it on my own, on the merits. I never realized that when I wouldn’t pay off, they would freeze me out completely, and force me out of business.

“I was naïve. I never believed Koch would let Manes control the whole deci­sion. There were two years of public hearings, hundreds of meetings, docu­ments, minutes, records, and I never thought Manes by himself could wipe me out because I wouldn’t commit a crime. But Koch let it happen that way.”

(Simon finally told the bribe story to a Queens grand jury last year and Nuss­baum is now under indictment.)

1987 Village Voice by Jack Newfield article on ways Mayor Koch silenced whistle-blowers

In 1982, with the bidding process still going on, and Simon still thinking he would get fair treatment in an open pro­cess, he was asked to fill out a questionnaire by the city’s Department of Investi­gations. In a cover letter accompanying his completed questionnaire, Simon wrote a subtle request for a serious inves­tigation into the bidding process:

“It is interesting to note,” he wrote to commissioner Stanley Lupkin, “that the mandate from the Board of Estimate is limited to a background review of the applicants, and does not request a review of the process by which these applicants were targeted. Especially in light of a number of unanswered questions regard­ing the results to date.”

Simon never received a reply to his letter, which was dated February 12, 1982.

When asked why he didn’t report the Nussbaum-Manes extortion attempt at that point, Simon says: “I was afraid. I was also naïve. I thought I could get the franchise on my own. I lived in Queens. I had been in the cable television business since 1963. A couple of planning boards had voted for me. I had the necessary financial resources. I kept thinking I would get something on the merits … ”

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In 1983, the Board of Estimate, at the direction of Manes, divided the Queens market, with Warner-Amex getting all the best middle-class and and upper-mid­dle-class neighborhoods as part of its prize franchise. And Al Simon’s company went broke. He gave interviews pointing out the conflict of interest between Ma­nes and Davidoff, but few stories were written.

On October 8, 1984, Simon filed a law­suit against Manes, Warner-Amex, and the rest of the Board of Estimate. Al Simon’s legal papers were a cry of, “Stop, Thief.” They said:

“The office of borough president [Ma­nes] was an active participant along with defendant [city franchise director] Mor­ris Tarshis in perpetuating on the public the fraud that the cable franchise selec­tion and negotiation process was based on the merits … Tarshis and the bor­ough president’s office knew that the po­litical process was more important than all the paper and all the promises and all the public hearings. Both acted to pre­serve the political process and to subvert the public hearing and the airing of the contracts. They wanted to reassert politi­cal control over the granting of lucrative franchises in the City of New York …

“Public hearings were held on the irrel­evant proposals, but the contract itself was kept from the local community boards … Defendants Tarshis and the borough president were determined that the only meaningful negotiation process should be the one they personally con­ducted. The office of borough president selected the cable companies that were targeted for negotiations. The decision was rubber-stamped by the mayor, comp­troller, and City Council president.”

When the lawyers at the city corpora­tion counsel’s office, and the lawyers at City Hall, read the blunt claim of civic fraud in Simon’s brief, they did not start an investigation and they did not contact Al Simon. They went into court and op­posed Simon’s lawsuit. Simon wants to reopen the bidding in Queens, and the Koch administration, despite three in­dictments, is opposing that effort in liti­gation now pending before the Appellate Division, First Department.

Steve Kramer, who is representing the city against Simon’s suit, says: “Simon is a disgruntled bidder. This was a com­pletely open process.”

But Al Simon remembers the extortion attempt: “Nussbaum wouldn’t talk in my office. So we walked around the block of my office in Astoria, down Thirty-Sev­enth Avenue and up 32nd Street. Nuss­baum said Donald wanted $250,000 up front. I would have to have it in an at­taché case, or there might be a Swiss bank account involved. He said the mon­ey would guarantee me the franchise. He said the message was coming from Ri­chie, who was speaking for Donald.”

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IN MARCH 1982, HERB RYAN WAS A member of the city’s Taxi and Limou­sine Commission. He had been an aide to Donald Manes and president of Manes’s home political club, named after Adlai Stevenson. He had been appointed to the taxi commission on Ma­nes’s recommendation.

On March 12, 1982, Ryan took a bribe from the legendary undercover detective Eddie Gruskin, who was posing as a crooked car service dealer. The payoff was made in a parked car, and was audiotaped and videotaped by law-enforcement agents. During the transaction with Gruskin, Ryan said: “I want to introduce you to Donald. I want you to get to know Manes because he is running for mayor.”

(At that point Koch was running for governor with Manes’s backing and was the favorite to defeat Mario Cuomo in the primary. If Koch had won, Manes would have run for mayor.)

On March 20, 1982, Ryan took a sec­ond bribe from Gruskin in a meeting that was also recorded. Ryan was a small fish caught in a wide net. The prosecutors wanted the higher-ups.

In late March there was a meeting be­tween United States attorney Edward  Korman (now a federal judge); Stanley Lupkin, the city’s commissioner of inves­tigations; and Tom Puccio, then the chief of the organized crime strike force. All three agreed that Ryan might lead them to Manes in a brief period. Law enforce­ment agencies only had suspicions about Manes at the time, although evidence in­troduced at Stanley Friedman’s trial in New Haven showed that Manes had been extorting bribes since at least 1979 and was a thoroughly corrupt public official in 1982.

Korman, Lupkin, and Puccio agreed that Ryan should either be reappointed by the mayor or kept in a holdover posi­tion for a brief period so that the under­cover agent could get a face-to-face meet­ing with Ryan’s mentor, Donald Manes.

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Lupkin presented this unanimous rec­ommendation by three law enforcement officials to Mayor Koch in early April. He informed the mayor that Manes had been named on the undercover tape. But the mayor terminated the investigation by refusing to allow Ryan to remain in a holdover position, in which he already had been serving since January 31. Koch insisted that Ryan be arrested at once.  (In April 1982, Koch was running for governor against Mario Cuomo and Ma­nes was supporting Koch even though Cuomo was a native son of Queens.)

In February 1986, as the Manes scandal was unraveling, NBC-TV reporter John Miller played on the air a portion of the undercover videotape of Ryan taking the bribe and boasting of his ties to Ma­nes. The next day Lupkin, now a lawyer in private practice, told reporters he was “disappointed” that Koch had refused to permit the sting to proceed. He said he had argued with the major that Ryan should be kept in place.

At first, Koch responded by claiming to reporters that no one had ever told him that Manes’s name had come up, or that Manes was in any way considered a po­tential target of the investigation. The next day he improved his recollection and conceded that he had been informed by Lupkin that Manes’s name had been used by Ryan on the tape.

Herb Ryan never cooperated with prosecutors. He was arrested, pleaded guilty, and served four months of a lenient, six­-month sentence, imposed on him by U.S. district judge Mark Costintino.

After Ryan got out of prison, he re­mained close to Manes. Manes’s phone logs, placed in evidence in New Haven, showed that Ryan left 57 phone messages for Manes during 1984 and 1985.

If Ed Koch had really wanted to know if the immense trust he placed in Donald Manes was justified, he would not have aborted the Herb Ryan sting, and he would not have overruled three law enforcement professionals.

ED KOCH IS THE MAN WHO ACTED naive out of cynicism. He is the man who chose to gaze into a mirror instead of out the window. He is the man who didn’t want to know. ■

 

Categories
From The Archives From The Archives NEW YORK CITY ARCHIVES NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES

The New Anti-Semitism: A Geshrei

The New Anti-Semitism: A Geshrei
October 1, 1991

MY GRANDMOTHER HID IN a bureau drawer for three days while color­ful Christians ram­paged through the shtetl. But that stuff happened in the Old World — we lived in America, the greatest country in the world. I knew about the Holocaust, of course, but all my rela­tives had the luxury of dying from natural causes. We lived in New York, the greatest Jewish city in the world. We didn’t need the promised land — we were Yankees, safe at last.

When I was eight, we took a vacation in Pennsylva­nia, my first trip out of New York. While we stopped for gas on a country road, I went to get a Coke. I noticed a group of men in overalls staring at me, whispering. A boy my age stepped forward and politely asked if I was Jewish. I realized the star of David was dangling out of my T-shirt, and grabbed it instinctively. When I nodded yes, he asked, in a strangely animated voice: “Can we please see your horns?” I shuddered and backed up toward the car. When I told my mother what had happened, she yanked me into the seat beside her and held me tight, while my father paid. Then we sped away.

I stopped wearing the star of David that summer. I had learned an important lesson about the terms of my liberation in America: the less I look Jewish, the safer I will be. Even as an adult, when I tell jokes in dialect I’m always aware of who I am addressing and what their response will be. And I always feel uncomfortable dur­ing the High Holy Days watching people in yarmulkes rushing through the streets, knowing they’ll be swaying and moaning something ancient and indecipherable, even to me.

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I always wear jeans on Yom Kippur. Not just because I’m a secular humanist, but because, on some level, I want to hide. My mother’s terror in Pennsylvania stays with me, along with her unspoken message that history is not over for us. Even in America, we are vulnerable to superstitions and slanders so grotesque there can be no defense against them. And these fairy tales for fanatics linger just be­low the surface of ordinary life, until they’re unleashed by the powers that be. As they were in Crown Heights.

What happened there was the worst out­break of anti-Semitism in New York during my lifetime. Things went down I thought I would never see: people shouting “Heil Hitler.” Windows smashed in dozens of Hasidic homes. A jewelry store torched while other shops were left standing. A Hasid from Aus­tralia stabbed to death — the suspect, a 17- year-old, dubbed JEW-SLAY TEEN by the inde­fatigable New York Post. It seems the boy’s father had bawled him out because the landlord — a fellow named Klein — complained about the noise he was making. In protest, the boy reportedly scrawled a star of David in front of the building, with his nickname inside. “The Jew got me in trou­ble,” he was heard to say.

On the night of the riot, did this boy hear the crowd cry, “Let’s go down to Kingston Avenue and kill the Jews”? And when he saw Yankel Rosenbaum fleeing toward him, baffled and babbling, did the boy see his landlord in that Hasidic face? “I didn’t like his accent,” he told police when they arrested him, his clothes still wet with blood.

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Several days later and miles away, on a train roaring up the West Side of Manhat­tan, an Orthodox Jew was punched by a black man shouting, “That’s for killing chil­dren.” Perhaps this Jew looked just like the teacher who dissed him back in high school, or the Jews who called his mother “the schvartzer” when she came to clean their house. Bad Jews, good Jews; all Jews are the same. And we all risk punishment for daring to assert our Jewishness.

As a child, I was intensely aware of the old men, stooped and scarred, wandering through the neighborhood with long beards and strange fringes hanging out of their pants. They frightened me — and I still re­coil from Hasidim. Their image as kosher Mennonites notwithstanding, to me they are no different from Christian fundamen­talists — just as nasty, narrow-minded, and contemptuous. I remember a group of Hasi­dim picketing in the Village during the ear­ly days of the AIDS epidemic. “A gay syna­gogue is like a whorehouse on Yom Kippur,” their handout read. That night, I had a nightmare in which a Hasid wearing a long black coat strode into the hospital room where I lay in a stark white bed. He reached across me and turned the resuscita­tor off.

These days, when Hasidim cruising the Village in their Mitzvah mobile ask me, “Are you Jewish?” I reply, “Not if you are.” Yet I know my uneasiness in their presence is not just a matter of belief. Sit­ting across from a Hasid in the subway, I feel that old chill in my shoulders. It’s not so different from a closet case eyeing a drag queen. These people are flaming, and they remind me of my vulnerability. To the anti­-Semite all Jews have horns.

I know there is racism in Hasidic hearts­ — and fists. And I’m sure there have been deals struck with politicians and privileges traded for votes. But the riots that followed the death of Gavin Cato cannot be ex­plained solely in terms of class privilege or racial injustice. During that unholy week, the entire mythography of anti-Semitism was unfurled.

Hovering over the rage at a child’s acci­dental death were centuries of belief that Jews prey on Christian children. You can read in Chaucer, that titan of the Western canon, about a schoolboy abducted and ritually murdered by Jews, though his body miraculously emits a hymn of praise. Jews call this the Blood Libel because it stems from the myth that matzoh must be made with the blood of Christian infants. You can give guided tours of matzoh factories till kingdom come, but this idea persists in the subconscious. It allowed a mob to trans­form a reckless driver into the emblem of their oppression. As the false rumor spread that a Jewish-run ambulance had refused to treat the child, you could sense the ancient belief that Jews promote only their own interests, not with the solidarity every com­munity exhibits toward its own, but from some deeper tribal drive.

In Crown Heights, there’s a black Episco­palian priest named Reverend Heron A. Sam who preaches that Jews have appropri­ated the term Semite, which rightfully be­longs to Africans and Arabs as well as “the Hebrew race.” (Although the reverend thinks “the hooked nose popularly associat­ed with Semitic types is actually Hittite.”) From this racialist obsession, it’s easy to assert that “the Jew has managed by consanguinity [interbreeding with Europeans] to affect a skin complexion change that has put him outside the realm of blackness, and so he can appeal to his acquired white brothers and sisters…” This tactic “can only lead such a race of people to become manipulators and anarchists.”

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Imagine the impact of such a sermon on a 17-year-old who is furious at his Jewish landlord. Imagine how easy it would be for that boy to conclude: “The Jew got me in trouble.” And once the belief has been implanted that Jews are an ersatz people who abandoned their natural skin-tone to gain racial advantage, imagine how logical it is to think of the Hasidim as part of an inter­national conspiracy.

“Diamond merchants,” Reverend Al Sharpton called them at Gavin Cato’s fu­neral. “Don’t just talk about the jeweler [whose store was burned] on Utica. Talk about how Oppenheimer in South Africa sends diamonds straight to Tel Aviv and deals with the diamond merchants here in Crown Heights.” There’s a social reality here, but the mob in Crown Heights was invited by its leaders to jack it up with the iconography of anti-Semitism. They were encouraged to see the Hasidim, not as a tight-knit voting bloc with significant polit­ical clout, but as an incarnation of the El­ders of Zion — that invention of the Czarist secret police. Black rage at white power was transformed into anti-Semitism by the myth of the omnipotent Jew.

How could this happen? How could people who have never lived in Europe believe in legends from the mists of Valhalla and the fields of Bessarabia? The answer doesn’t lie in the souls of black folks — they are no more anti-Semitic than whites. It lies in the nature of the prejudice. Fear and loathing of Jews is a pervasive force in Western consciousness, ready to be shaped and di­rected whenever the time is right. Permis­sion to act on it comes from the top down — and typically the ruling strata stand silently by while demagogues whip up the masses. These periodic outbursts are a safe­ty valve for those unable to overcome their oppression, or even comprehend its source. That was the scenario for the pogroms my grandmother dreaded, the Holocaust my parents escaped, and the violence in Crown Heights. The conditions of life for African-Americans — the growing indifference, the worsening poverty, the impending demise of affirmative action and the genteel racism of the governing elites — are a classic matrix for anti-Semitism. Jews have always been a handy target in tough times.

But it’s been clear for some time that among some segments of the black intelligentsia, anti-Semitism is more openly ex­pressed than anywhere else in American life, apart from the far right. Within this milieu, the most primitive ideas have been given an overlay of reason and righteous­ness that harks back to the dregs of Western civ. Talk about the return of the repressed: When Leonard Jeffries asserts that Jewish faculty at City College are organized into a secret cabal that actually calls itself the Ka­ballah, he is piecing together a cosmology the Czar’s henchmen, not to mention Goebbels, would be proud to call their own. Talk about Eurocentrism!

Racialist scholarship might seem arcane, if not loony, to most black folks if it weren’t tethered to the power and glory of hiphop. And this exhuming of ancient stereotypes in music and movies has done much more than the ravings of Louis Farrakhan to make anti-Semitism respectable again. When Public Enemy rap about the “so-called chosen” who “got me like Jesus”; when Professor Griff says “Jews are responsible for the majority of wickedness that goes on across the globe”; when Spike Lee creates Joe and Josh Flatbush, card­board club owners who reduce every hu­man emotion to profiteering — they make the most archaic myths about Jews seem modern and heroic again.

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Why do these artists get away with Jew­-baiting? The answer lies in the racially mixed market for their work. Black culture often performs a surrogate role in Ameri­can society, defining rebellion and delineating the forbidden for a funk-hungry nation. Just as rappers play the sex-outlaw many whiteboys wish they could be, slamming women and gays with all the bile that must be swallowed in bourgeois society, black anti-Semites act out the bigotry other Americans aren’t quite willing to express. And their emergence signals something about American culture as a whole.

For the first time since the Great Depres­sion, Jewish stereotypes are being used to provide a gritty frisson to works of art. The Death of Klinghoffer has a libretto that equates Jews with bourgeois banality and Palestinians with proletarian dignity. Bar­ton Fink has movie moguls who behave like figments of T.S. Eliot’s imagination. (“The rats are underneath the pile/The Jew is un­derneath the lot.”) The Jews in these works are more complex than Spike Lee would allow, mostly because the audience is more genteel. They prefer their anti-Semitism with an edge of irony — but the negativity remains unprecedented in my lifetime. And the fact that Jews played a role in creating these works is itself a sign of profound anxiety. One way for Jews to deal with the horror of anti-Semitism is to deflect it onto an evil Jewish other. But this strategy only fuels the fire.

Last week, the Family Entertainment Network announced it was pulling a series of Bible videos to change the features of certain Jewish characters. The Anti-Defa­mation League had objected to the fact that the moneychangers were hook-nosed and epicene. Network officials were embar­rassed; and they stressed that making the Jews look like normal people would cost a pretty penny (everything is money with these evangelicals). But the question re­mains how anyone in modern America could render Bible characters that so closely resemble the cartoons that once graced Der Stürmer. The only answer is that the image of conniving Jews is so entrenched that it doesn’t seem remarkable, except to Jews.

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By locating anti-Semitism exclusively in the black community, the Post/Commen­tary axis hopes to convince Jews that their interests lie in an alliance with other white ethnics, under the neocon umbrella. But this ambition blinds the Jewish right to the extent of anti-Semitism in American life. Even Jews who agree with George Bush’s position on Israeli loan guarantees must feel a familiar shudder when they hear him complain about being “one little guy” held hostage by 1000 lobbyists. The president apologized for that remark and promptly positioned himself as a defender of Israeli interests in the U.N. By invoking the myth of Jewish omnipotence and then extending the olive branch, Bush demonstrated how easily anti-Semitism can be used in a car­rot-and-stick routine. This is a far more subtle and threatening strategy than any­thing in Al Sharpton’s bag of tricks — and it suits the style of a president who won the White House by invoking Willie Horton. The omnipotent Jew and the rapacious black male are twin spectres in the Western psyche, always available to be played as an instrument of public policy.

It is Bush and the elite he epitomizes that are ultimately empowered by Crown Heights. Now, blacks may be held up to Jews as the real anti-Semites, even as Jews are held up to blacks as the real racists. This spectacle shatters an alliance that has been the fulcrum of progressivism for gen­erations. How fortunate for the enemies of blacks and Jews alike.

What’s a liberal to do in the face of such a crisis? Pretend it’s something else.

For the most part, the media have taken note of Jew-baiting asides in rap music, or crypto-Nazi imagery in a colorful jazz mu­sical, as if it were a sour belch to be quickly swallowed. Some critics spoke up loud and clear, but the mainstream was reluctant to risk it. As a result, the anti-Semitism of Public Enemy and Spike Lee was less than resolutely condemned, sending a signal to the audience that it’s permissible to act on such ideas. Those who overlooked the obvi­ous, for whatever reasons, helped lay the groundwork for Crown Heights. By the time someone fired a bullet through a syna­gogue, it was too late to speak out about the ideology of Mo’ Better Blues.

By now, there’s a consensus that the riot was an act of anti-Semitism. But this judg­ment wasn’t generated by the left. At first, many white progressives focused on the ad­vantages the Hasidim enjoy, as if that enti­tled the crowd to shout, “kill the Jews.” Only gradually did the left confront the truth. It’s painful, indeed, to face the fact that victims of bigotry can be guilty of bigotry — it threatens your image of the oppressed. How much easier to buy the claim that blacks cannot be anti-Se­mitic, or even to convince yourself that what happened in Crown Heights is part of some larger geopolitical struggle — a hiphop intifada.

I’m convinced that some white leftists were silent because, consciously or not, they share the assumptions of the rioters. It’s hip, in certain progressive circles, to speak of Jews as if they’ve lost their le­gitimacy. You could glimpse this reflex in the antiwar protesters who cheered when Scud missles fell on Israel; and you can see it in the lubricious alliance between the New Alliance Party and Farrakhan. There’s nothing contradictory about this pact. Anti­-Semitism of the left has firm roots in popu­lism as well as Marxist ideology. (The term itself was coined in the 19th century by a liberal mayor of Vienna, who used anti-­Semitism — as Ed Koch would later use rac­ism — to secure a populist base.)

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David Dinkins called the murder of Yan­kel Rosenbaum what it was: a lynching. But other black leaders were as prone to euphe­mism as white progressives. Many reiterated the underlying conditions in Crown Heights and demanded a redress of grievances as the price for peace. None spoke of the deadly myths about Jews that had animated this violence, just as few black leaders con­demned the anti-Semitism of Leonard Jef­fries. (Reverend Calvin Butts, the city’s most influential black minister, said he wanted to hear more from Jeffries himself before ad­dressing the question; and he never did.) Solidarity makes truth-telling difficult, and the reality of oppression makes it hard for any black leader to condemn an eruption of black rage. But there are other, less savory, possibilities. The conflation of Jew-baiting with black empowerment is now so evolved that it seems like Tomming, if not treason, to call anti-Semitism what it is. The sight of a phalanx of black men marching through a white neighborhood has achieved the sanctity of a ritual, and hardly anyone on the left questions the context, or the content, of what is being shouted at whom. The likelihood of black — or white — progressives speaking out against icons of resistance is slim indeed.

The silence of humanists had a sickening­ly familiar quality to Jews who remember the world’s response to the Nazis: the reluc­tance to act on, or even acknowledge, the possibility of genocide until it was too late. This sense of abandonment remains an in­delible part of Jewish consciousness. It fos­ters that larger mentality the world so often reads as Jewish paranoia. It animates the comedy of Jewish assimilation, and the Noh drama of Jewish self-hate — both are strategies to hide the dirty secret that can lead to disgrace and even death. And it creates the illusion that the only safety for a Jew is within the tribe. This last tenden­cy — call it psychic Zionism — is the leading beneficiary of what occurred in Crown Heights. In terms of Jewish history, this was another victory for the spirit of Jabo­tinsky over Einstein — another triumph of nationalism over humanism.

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During the height of the violence, the Post ran a front-page photo of a 12-year-old Ha­sidic boy sobbing by the fallen frame of his injured father. It raised goose bumps when I saw it, resonating with the image of chil­dren in the Warsaw Ghetto, surrendering to armed Nazis against a background of flames. The Post was milking my memory of Jewish helplessness, just as Sharpton had milked his constituency by envisioning Gavin Cato sharing “heaven’s playroom” with the three girls killed in the 1962 firebomb­ing of a black church in Birmingham. While readers of The City Sun were invited to regard Aaron Lopez, an 18th century slave­-trader, as the emblem of the Jews, I was invited to regard Sonny Carson and his storm troopers as the vanguard of the black community. “Who speaks for New York’s blacks if not the… riot inciters?” asked Eric Breindel from his perch facing the Post’s editorial page. He compared the events in Crown Heights to Kristallnacht, when thousands of Jewish businesses were destroyed and hundreds lost their lives­ — with the cooperation of the German state. “The pretext in Crown Heights,” Breindel blithely asserted, “was far thinner [than in Nazi Germany].”

Long before Kristallnacht, the German socialist leader August Bebel warned his compatriots against the illusion that bigotry is a source of power. “Anti-Semitism is the Socialism of fools,” Bebel proclaimed. His words have yet to be heeded, as we saw in Crown Heights. The polarization process that followed in the wake of the rioting is now a fact of urban life. The failure of moderate black ministers to articulate an alternative to demagoguery left the door wide open for Sharpton, just as the inability of white progressives to confront anti-Semi­tism gave right-wingers an excuse to come out swinging. As the Post asked disingenu­ously: “Who else speaks for the black com­munity?” It’s a cry that will surely be ech­oed in Commentary and all the house organs of retrenchment. The new excuse for polite white racism will be Crown Heights.

Already Ed Koch brays that he would have unleashed the police much sooner. An editorial writer at The Wall Street Journal blames the minimum wage laws for black rage. And Al D’Amato, desperate to draw attention from the diversion of antipoverty funds to his cousin, tells a crowd — at a synagogue, no less — that Dinkins should go to South Africa “and stay there.” D’Amato crossed party lines to endorse one of the most rabid candidates for City Council, Rabbi Yehuda Levin. “He stands for values you and I share,” the senator said, echoing Levin’s pledge to “seek enactment of a new anti-gang bias law,” which would severely curtail the rights of black militants to march and organize. D’Amato, too, de­manded that the Justice Department “put these racial racketeers out of business.”

So striking is the damage done to black empowerment by Crown Heights that it’s fair to say the men who drove on the mob were either fools or government agents. Those who hope to split the still substantial white liberal vote from the black communi­ty have been handed a powerful weapon. Now, it will be easier than ever for the Kochs and D’Amatos to conflate affirma­tive action, multicultural education, and even the aspirations of black politicians with savagery. David Dinkins now faces the all-but-impossible task of overcoming two equally abhorrent images. The Jewish right paints him as a schlemiel who placates black bigots, while black enragés call him “Dinkinstein.”

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The only way to take back righteousness from the right is for progressives to call this riot what it was: a wannabe pogrom. The O.E.D. defines that word as “an organized massacre… chiefly applied to those directed against Jews.” No one planned this riot, nor did the city of New York tolerate it. You can argue that the police response was too little too late, but their restraint was standard procedure during a racial distur­bance, and nothing directed at Jews. In the end, the system worked to contain the vio­lence, something my grandmother, who lived through a real pogrom, would have found miraculous. But what if the mob had been left to its own devices? Were these people so different from the Jew-haters of other eras? Were the demagogues that spurred them on?

The real lesson of Crown Heights is that Jews must learn to live in a more dangerous world, where hate goes unanswered and primitive passions are stoked as a safety valve for helpless rage. Jewish children in years to come may live much like my par­ents, with a subtle but consuming sense of dread. America could yet turn out to be not so different from the Old World my grand­parents fled. But there’s another possibility: that by confronting anti-Semitism and rac­ism, people of good will can transcend both — or at least keep them dormant.

In Crown Heights last week, the cops were busy keeping blacks and Jews apart. Hundreds of Hasidim coming out of a Yom Kippur service scuffled with police, and menaced a black woman trapped in her car. The next night, a group of blacks showed up at Lubavitcher headquarters, shouting slurs through a megaphone and throwing rocks. In public, the hate persists. In pri­vate, I’m convinced, many blacks and Jews are horrified by what’s occurred. That may explain why, in the recent City Council primary, the worst hatemongers — C. Ver­non Mason, Colin Moore, and Yehuda Lev­in — all went down to defeat. It may be too much to hope for some grand gesture of reconciliation; in the current climate, you take your hope where you can find it — in small courtesies that signal what still can’t be proclaimed.

Last week in Brooklyn, I forgot where my car was parked. Walking down a dark nar­row street, I saw a group of black teenagers hanging out. I felt my body tighten against the desire to draw back. I’ve spent much of my life struggling against that reflex, so I approached the kids and asked directions. They answered politely and we fell into an oddly formal banter — broad smiles and cordial “good nights.” I realized we were acting out an elaborate etiquette of commu­nication in tough times. I wouldn’t call it trust, but at least I didn’t yell for the police, and they didn’t ask to see my horns.

Categories
From The Archives NEW YORK CITY ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES Transit Uncategorized

A Ride on the New York Subway

December 21, 1972The New York subways are, and always have been, a kind of Kafkaesque parallel to the life that is lived above ground on the streets of the most quintessential city in the world. Each working day of their lives, millions of New Yorkers “willingly” descend hundreds of feet, through huge manholes in the street, into a subterranean world of darkness and gloom; there, in the dimness, they crowd mechanically together in astonishing numbers at the edge of a deep pit riven with tracks of steel fatal to the human touch, along which will hurtle with exhausting irregularity an iron monster spitting flame and noise like some pagan construction designed for the express purpose of intimidating the cowering human; when the monster comes to a temporary halt, doors slide open in its sides, and the men and women at the edge of the pit tumble inside, very much like Jonah tumbling into the whale; the doors then lock shut, and the iron creature goes roaring off down the pitch-black tunnel with its cargo of human prisoners — sullen penitents all: confused, silent, passive-aggressives doomed to an hour or more of suffocating companionship; during which time it becomes extremely difficult for anyone aboard the monster to see his own reflection in the closed faces that are relentlessly jammed, eyeball to eyeball, breath to breath, blackhead to blackhead, up against one another…

But there are times when the subway, like the city itself, seems so grotesque that, indeed, one wonders how this entire enterprise can continue to call itself human. Much less continue.

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***

Not too long ago, at 5:30 on a Wednesday afternoon, I found myself for the first time in more than ten years on the Times Square station of the IRT subway, in the midst of the grueling workday rush hour. Although I grew up in the Bronx, working and attending school in Manhattan throughout my adolescent years, trudging on and off the subways twice a day during all that time, it had been a veritable lifetime since I had had to use the subway at this unholy hour. Now, having an odd chance to visit a relative still living in the Bronx of my childhood, I stood here, surveying the scene which, during a decade of absence, had become entirely foreign to me.

I was the only white person on the platform. All around me were New York’s working-class blacks and Puerto Ricans, pouring down onto the wide, gloomy subway platform from the offices and factories that filled the streets above our heads, jamming the uptown trains that, at the end of a weary working day, would release them some sixty or seventy minutes later into the streets of Upper Manhattan and the Bronx. Their numbers seemed extraordinary to me; I seemed to have no recollection of this many people on the trains, even at this hour. The platform was filled to capacity, and still they kept coming: the strongly muscled young black men who push the heavily loaded dress racks through the streets of the garment district; the fat Puerto Rican women who sit at the machines in the dress factories; the Puerto Rican men, thin and wan, who spend forty hours a week tying packages or keeping track of shipping orders; the black and brown girls who bring home fifty-five dollars on Friday after a mindless day of clerk-typing; the gray-haired messenger boys, the round-shouldered bookkeepers, the lunch-counter waitresses; that whole tight, closed, no-way-out world up there seemed bent on pushing its way down here, onto this grimy black metal construction, and now threatened, nearly, to spill over onto the tracks… I looked around in alarm.

The platform was indescribably filthy; the tile walls surrounding the staircases were streaked with years-old dirt and the graffiti of a thousand greasy marker pens: Johnny and Velda, ’69; The Jets Was Here; Lindsay Sucks; Tony and Maureen, ’71; Benny and Concita Forever; Loreen Is A Cunt; The Black Hawks Can Beat The Shit Outta The Silver Eagles Anytime. On and on it went, in an endless abstraction of red, blue, and black that covered the walls, the staircases, parts of the platform itself. The floor was littered with the overflow of the few trash cans that stood vaguely about: candy wrappers, orange peels, leaky milk cartons, prophylactic wrappers, torn nylon stockings, pellets of chewed gum, discarded junk mail, globbets of spit. The lights in the ceiling were crusted over with webs of dirt that threatened, momentarily, to fall onto the heads of the passengers. The ceiling of the tunnel seemed lower, the walls more porous, the floor harder than ever I remembered; the black metal pillar supports were caked with rust; tiles in the walls on the far side of the tracks had been ripped out, and the plaster within hung loose like a set of nerves that have been severed. All in all an atmosphere of total, unutterable abandonment; one in which the people have vanished and the rats have taken over. “Dear God,” I thought in a silent panic, “how can they live this way? How can they live this way?”

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In this insufferable gloom, the men and women all about me seemed to take on some of the darkness emanating from the walls, the ceiling, the floor of the tunnel in which we all stood, causing their own natural darkness to appear almost menacing. Faces were closed, sullen, expressionless; eyes were dead, vacant, staring; limbs folded and inert. A black man in a red shirt and a porkpie hat pushed up onto the back of his head stood beside me, a dead cigar stuck in his mouth, his unregistering eyes fixed on some distant point down in the track pit; a rush of people spilling down from behind made me lurch into the man in the red shirt; he continued to stare, unblinking, out at the tracks. A few feet away, a young Puerto Rican woman, wearing a pink plastic rain slicker and carrying a large black leather handbag, leaned against a black metal pillar; she, too, stared sightlessly as she was flung about by people pushing past her in both directions at once. A heavy-set black woman holding two little children tightly by the hand glared momen­tarily at a man whose elbow had jabbed her; but then she quickly subsided into the somnolence that had previously enveloped her. A brown-skinned couple, incredibly small and thin, she in scuffed plastic wedgies, he in a black imitation-leather jacket, stood with their arms entwined about each other’s matchstick-narrow waists; on their faces, also, a fearful vacancy, an extraordinary submission. People looked as though they dared not see, hear, or respond. A sense of dread began to leak through me: It was as though I found myself in a universe of abdicating intelligence, some hellish vacuum of human refusal… alone, entirely alone; should anything happen, I knew, there would be no help coming. No help at all.

A young black man appeared in the crowd not five feet from where I stood. He was surely no more than eighteen or nineteen, and was dressed in a spotted blue nylon shirt and a pair of shiny black cotton pants. The smile on his face took me by surprise: so unexpected! so reviving! I had not realized the level of tension building in me until I felt welling up in me the relief caused by this single evidence of human friendliness. But then I saw that the smile on the young man’s face was blind, unfocused, turned inward; and that his eyeballs were rolling gently about in his face, his legs were turning to rubber beneath him, his arms were flailing the air in some imaginary prizefighter’s motion. What I had taken for cheerful connectiveness was in fact the solitary and antisocial vision of the drugged; and as the young man’s loosely clenched fists thrust closer and closer toward me, and his blind smile widened, and his legs twisted fearfully about, he became an eerie creature, sinister and unrecognizable to me. I flinched, and moved backward in a panicky effort to protect myself.

A train pulled into the express side of the station. I strained toward it. No hope of boarding it. Fifty people jammed the space between myself and the tracks, forming a single pushing wall I was no longer expert at inserting myself into. As I stood there in confusion, one eye on the addict at my side, the other wildly seeking some way out, three black boys rammed me and everyone around me, and went charging toward the train. They headed not for the doors but for the small open ends of the cars protected by linked chains, bulling their way through the crowd. Despite the presence of a conductor whose head was protruding from the small window at the end of the car nearest them, the three boys wrenched the chains apart, and with a wild war whoop leaped onto the open platform of the linked train cars, nearly knocking two women to the ground as they went. I looked into the faces of those boys, and I grew frightened. Their eyes seemed to glint with a kind of ferocious triumph, their mouths twisted into laughter that was a grimace, fury burned in their flared nostrils, their tensed arms looked, almost, as if they held weapons; for one hallucinating moment I imagined I saw flames licking at their feet. “Dear God,” I thought. “Who are these people? Who are they?” The train jerked itself together, roaring out of the station, and I remained where I stood, my head reeling.

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Abruptly, I looked up and out into the platform crowd, and there, still leaning against the metal pillar, was the young Puerto Rican woman in the pink plastic slicker — staring at me. What’s this? I thought, and looked back at her. Our eyes locked. For a length of time which felt eerily like a slow-motion sequence, that strange mutual stare endured, creating a sudden, curious silence in the midst of all this turmoil. And then — as in a dream that may take only eleven seconds to unfold but gives the illusion of hours passing — I felt the entirety of my immediate experience here on this subway platform tumbling, quickly slowly, through a kaleidoscope of altered meaning, spinning and jerking inside my head, buzzing through the unnatural silence that now surrounded and penetrated me.

For, there in the eyes of the young Puerto Rican woman staring at me, I could see my own face reflected. I could see all of my thoughts and feelings of the last twenty minutes being summed up and appraised. I could see the mixture of mockery and sympathy in her eyes that said so clearly and so honestly what I had not quite been able to say to myself. “We are ‘those people’ to you, aren’t we?” her eyes said, “and all this is happening in another country, isn’t it?” I could see the weary, working-class sophistication with which she “recognized” the entire human scene around her, and the amusement with which she observed middle-class panic. I could see the bitter intelligence that indicated she knew I’d been looking at the people around me as though they were animals in a zoo. But, more than any of these things I could see in her face, I could see me in her face. I could see me at 17 (she was no more than 18 or 19), standing exactly where she now stood, thinking exactly what she was now thinking, drawing the same ironic conclusions she was now drawing… The kaleido­scope stopped spinning and transformed itself into a tunnel of time down which I was quickly transported.

Twenty-five years ago these subways were filled with working-class Jews, and my father was one of them. Twice a day, for a quarter of a century, my father endured this subhuman exhaustion in order to stand eight hours a day at a steam iron in a dress factory on West 38th Street. Twice a day he gathered together with thousands of other Jewish immigrants here in this black gloom to hang from a strap in the final galling hour of a sweat-filled workday, drained of all thought and energy, his glazed mind able to concentrate only on a single fixed point: the moment when he would walk through the door of that railroad flat in the Bronx he called home. At 17, I took my place beside him on the subway (although he was already gone: dead at 51 of a heart attack), entering the ranks of working-class straphangers. But with a single vital difference: I was now a college student, already in that process of cultural absorption that would leave me with a kind of double-vision for the rest of my life. At 17, I knew well enough the difference between “us” and “them”; what’s more, I also knew how “they” saw “us”; I had read Hutchins Hapsgood’s turn-of-the-­century study of Jews in the “ghet-to,” and had thought, as I read his descriptions of small, squat Semites on the Lower East Side jabbering  Yiddish at the tops of their lungs, eating odd-smelling foods like gefilte fish, and wearing the skull caps, beards, and black clothes of the Middle Ages, “My God, that’s us he’s talking about!” And I remembered, now, as though it were yesterday, a day on the subway when I hung from a strap, my City College books under my free arm, surrounded by Jews of all sizes and shapes (mostly short and fat), speaking uneducated Yiddish to one another at the tops of their voices, and a tall slim man with blue eyes and straight blond hair stood at the far end of the car, staring unashamedly at us  — exactly as though we were animals in a zoo.

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The young Puerto Rican woman and I were still staring at each other; I shook my head slightly, and smiled into her face. I wanted to laugh and hug her. I felt free, as though a weight had been lifted from my chest. It wasn’t racism, after all, that I had been experiencing, only a classic instance of “class alienation.” Which, of course, is what New York is all about… How was it possible that in only one short generation I had forgotten who I was, and where I came from? And what I knew of the varieties of human pain experienced behind that annihilating phrase “those people”?

The young black addict at my side began to grow uncontrollable. He staggered around in wheeling circles, his legs buckling dangerously beneath him, a thin trickle of spittle drooling down the side of his mouth, his head down and coming straight at me. Then — and I will always wonder: Could it have happened before I had thought all this? — the black man in the red shirt and the porkpie hat sprang into action. He grabbed my arm and yanked me out of the path of the addict, half ­pushing me behind his own body. Our eyes met for a moment: In his was the same mixture of fear and disgust that undoubtedly flickered in my own. His lips tightened and he shook his head slowly from side to side in agreement, we are on the same side. I nodded at him, and for first time since I had descended into the subway I felt safe, back among my own people, back among people who saw danger where I saw it, and implicit in that single sight were shared assumptions about the value of certain kinds of human behavior. More I could not ask from the strangers all about me.

Another train pulled into the station. The man in the red shirt took firm hold of my upper arm and propelled me through the crowd, into the jaws of the iron monster. After that I was back on my own. Pushed, shoved, jammed, rammed, poked, pulled: That was the ride uptown. Fifty people packed into a space properly occupied by 25; everyone remained silent, and protected the last memory of separate humanness by meeting no one’s eyes. Hot breath poured down our necks and sweat rolled down the sides of our faces. Arms atrophied and legs grew numb. Elbows tried desperately to extricate themselves from ribs. Everywhere a frantic lookout for pickpockets.

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An enormous black woman broke the sucked-in silence. Her huge bosom almost at the level of my eyes, she looked down into my face as the train swayed and jerked along the tracks, shook her head solemnly from side to side, wiped her hand across her sweating eyes, and said, “Oh, honey! Ain’t this somethin’. Some dessert after a day’s work!” She sounded exactly like my mother, who spent years of her life railing against the subway. Only my mother, inevitably, would have ended with “A black year on all politicians! The mayor should be forced to ride the IRT every day for a month.”

At 149th Street and Third Avenue, in the Bronx, the train left the tunnel and emerged into the early evening twilight. Half the people in the car in which I was riding went spilling off onto the first elevated station, which is situated in one of the worst black and Puerto Rican slums in the city. The man in the red shirt was one of the last to leave the train. As he reached the door, he suddenly turned and looked at me. The dead cigar was still stuck in his mouth and his eyes were once more expressionless; but he lifted his porkpie hat to me, and lowered his head slightly in my direction. I nodded back. He disappeared through the door. We had spoken not a single word to each other.

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Jean Shepherd’s Computerized Christmas

[Editor’s note: Already well-known for his free-form radio show, Jean Shepherd (1921–1999) began writing for the Village Voice in the May 9, 1956, issue. His inaugural essay — “How Hi the Good Life of Madison Avenue’s Fi?” — was, appropriately enough, about hi-fidelity stereo systems and the way advertising agencies portrayed them as part of America’s post-war “good life.” Fast forward a few months and Shepherd had his own column in the Voice — titled “Night People,” a nod to his 12:30 to 5:00 AM nightly gig on WOR radio — and was eagerly taking on Christmas hucksters. It was apparently a subject dear to Shepherd’s heart, because decades later we are still enjoying 24-hour TV marathons of A Christmas Story, Shepherd’s comic love letter to all that is cheesy, sweet, and poignant about American Yuletide.]

Merry Christmas From Little Brother
December 19, 1956

I envision the day, and it isn’t too far off, when all a person will have to do to take care of his Christmas-card list is to send along his IBM Special Xmas Address Tape to a department store, and the whole thing will be done. Postage and all will be included in the package price, which also pays for cards, printing and handling.

Perhaps he won’t even have to go to the trouble of sending the tape, for the thing could be kept on file at the store with the cards going out automatically, completely untouched by human hands. He might be called upon to make an occasional deletion or addition to the list, but this too could be done automatically at any time of the year by simply telephoning into the store’s Friendship Department, where the changes would be piped directly into the Christmas Card Circuit, without any possibility of mistake.

His Complete Profile

Even the selection of the card would be automatic, since the customer would have on IBM file in the Taste Department his complete aesthetic profile — carefully geared to grade everyone from Complete Slob to Arid Aesthete — which would electronically select the one card most suited to the customer’s scientifically determined taste. The only thing left for the customer to do would be to shell out the dough. There would probably be some method to make this automatic too, but I refuse to think in that area.

Already one automation firm has put on the market a genuine blight called an “Organization Coordinator” which is an Orwellian dream. It is a smooth-crackle-finished cabinet that comes in numerous decorator colors to match any decor and designed to be a thing of beauty in itself. All it does is watch. It uses no batteries, wires, ink, or lead, and is completely silent in operation, 24 hours a day.

In Black and White

The function of this monster is to record on a chart the comings and goings of anyone who wanders into its field of electronic vision. Placed on a man’s desk, it will put down in black and white the information that the inhabitant went to the john for 16 minutes, 22 seconds, beginning at 3:07 p.m., and then got up for a coffee break 11 minutes later.

Little Brother. I can just see the thing set up next to the Coke machine in order to silently eye the gang as they gather for The Pause That Refreshes. A real Aid to Better Living.

This stuff may sound almost too incredible to be true. But the little horror really is on the market and sells for a measly $59.75, with a six-month money-back guarantee. Oddly enough, the advertising brochure makes the remarkable statement that it is a morale-booster around the office. So it really isn’t too far off for the Christmas-card thing, after all.

Packaged Everything

And think of the advantages. There is a sign in Bloomingdale’s that reads “Personalized Greeting Cards,” which when translated means cards that have the sender’s name mechanically printed upon them. Apparently it never occurs to the sender that by this device he has actually depersonalized his card, in the very act of deleting his hand-written signature. Thus the word “personalize” has really come to mean exactly the opposite. Just another step in the direction of Packaged Everything, which seems to be our current definition of progress.

There is a store in Chicago which for a sum geared to the customer’s budget — as it is always put — will take care of all his Christmas shopping in a lump package that includes wrapping, gay greeting notes, and delivery to the giftee. The giver doesn’t see a single gift or wrap a package during the entire merry holiday season. Ring the welkin! The store took out an ad stressing the theme of “Make this a convenient Christmas,” apparently referring to the old inconvenient Christmases that entailed all that old fashioned loving care that used be lavished upon giving. The very thing that made the gift valuable is thereby progressed out of existence, and the only thing that remains is the antiseptic exchange of department-store merchandise in carload lots.

Whose Home?

In a way, it reminds me of the sign in the window of a nation-wide string of candy stores: “Give Home-Made Fudge This Year.” Whose home did they use for the fudgemaking, and I wonder if they messed up the kitchen? You know how fudgemaking is, especially when the kitchen table is all covered with holiday wrapping stuff. Have a Merry One on Old Gaunt Rockwell here, and be sure to keep your marble bag closed.

Jean Shepherd may be heard from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. every Sunday evening over WOR. An article of his appears in the December edition of Town and Country and in the January issue of Saga there is an excellent piece about Shepherd’s book, “I, Libertine,” and its repercussions radiowise.

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Harvey Milk: Homophobic Homicide

“We know what killed Harvey Milk,” said a young man in a bomber jacket at 18th and Castro, the center of gay San Francisco. “It was just plain, old-fashioned homophobia.”

That was the feeling in the gay community when it learned that the nation’s only openly gay city official had been shot dead, allegedly by the city’s most anti-gay official.

Harvey Milk was no ordinary supervisor to his constituents in the Castro area. During his years as a camera shop owner on Castro Street, the democrat from Woodmere, Long Island, became known as the gay communi­ty’s unofficial mayor. Early races for supervi­sor in 1973 and 1975 proved unsuccessful, but Milk gathered strong grass-roots support among unionists and other minority group members to win a landslide victory last year.

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He was an outspoken leader of the Board of Supervisors’ most liberal members. That made him the political nemesis of the board’s most outspoken conservative, Dan White. Milk was a Jewish, former Wall Street broker, fond of describing himself as a “left winger, a street person.” White represented a heavily blue-collar district and was proud of his background as a member of the San Francisco police and fire departments. In March, White was the only member of the Board of Supervisors to vote against the city’s broad gay civil rights ordinance. In October, he cast the only vote against closing Polk Street for the city’s annual Halloween party.

San Francisco’s gays shed few tears when White resigned from the board for financial reasons on November 10. When he decided to withdraw his resignation days later, Milk was among many liberals who successfully urged Mayor Moscone not to re-appoint White to the seat. Moscone was to announce the new supervisor just minutes after his final meeting with White. After allegedly shooting Moscone in his office, White went to the supervisors’ offices, where he allegedly shot Milk.

Though the acting mayor, Diane Fein­stein, will undoubtedly appoint another gay supervisor from the Castro area, it will be hard to find a politico with the substantial support outside the gay community that Milk had cultivated. Knots of stunned and somber people gathered around sold-out newsstands to look at the extra editions that described the shootings. Said one young man bitterly, “You just can’t do a thing like this without somebody doing something back.” ■

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Soundtrack to Watergate Vol. 2: Pirates, Angels, Dinosaurs, Gas Masks — and Ziggy Again

If Donald Trump gets impeached he’ll leave office to strains of excess and decadence — think of the Jonas Brothers copping to “dancing on top of cars and stumbling out of bars” in “Sucker,” Ariana Grande cavorting amid waterfalls of champagne in “7 Rings,” and Lil Nas X’s genre whiplashing as he makes off with the loot in “Old Town Road,” to name just a very few.

The only time an impeachment forced a U.S. commander in chief from office was after the Watergate scandal, which can be dated roughly from the Watergate burglary in June 1972 until Richard Nixon resigned his office, a little more than two years later.

The ads in our second installment of “Soundtrack to Watergate” are all full-pagers — and mostly right-hand pages at that, because advertisers pay a premium to snag eyeballs on the side of a spread that readers see for a few extra nanoseconds as they flip through a periodical. Back in 1972, the Watergate scandal was simply a police blotter report that Republicans were dismissing as a “third-rate burglary,” even though the perps had ties directly to the White House. A number of the ads here feature a logo with the stars of the American flag replaced by the number 18, signifying the voting age, which had recently been reduced from 21, along with the exhortation “Use the Power — VOTE.”

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Nixon, a buttoned-down Quaker who was the antithesis of the counterculture that most of the albums trumpeted, would win in a landslide in November, which relieved his innate paranoia for a few months until the drip-by-drip revelations of his administration’s SOP corruption, self-dealing, and obstruction of justice became a deluge that even his staunchest supporters could no longer explain away.

We have to admit there’s a lot of music below that, almost half a century on, we had never heard before, even though the record companies back in the day thought they were worth an expensive ad buy. So we’ve plunged down a number of streaming-service rabbit holes to bring ourselves up to speed on the flea-market vinyl below.

Much of the archive scanning work here was done while listening to the Latin-infused rock of Macondo, who, according to various record-collecting sites, were an East L.A. group discovered by Sergio Mendes in the early ’70s. Any album with a T-Rex on the cover deserves a listen, and we were not disappointed by Albert Hernandez’s fire-breathing guitar licks and Fred Ramirez’s rollercoaster organ riffs, especially on “Cayuco.”

Jefferson Airplane recorded their seventh studio album using the time-honored tradition of avoiding personality clashes after years of creative intensity by recording a number of the tracks in separate sessions and then getting the band back together in the final mix. Perhaps the pirate in the ad was drooling over the cigars printed on the album sleeve.

Looking Glass gave the world “Brandy” — “a fine girl” who served whiskey and wine and whose eyes “could steal a sailor from the sea.” Not, however, the one seaman she really wanted, because, “Lord, he was an honest man / and Brandy does her best to understand” when he —most probably in a pillow-talk whisper — informs her, “my life, my love and my lady is the sea / It is, yes it is.” $4.49 for the 8-Track at Sam Goody.

Despite the innocent-looking cherub hawking their new album, Black Oak Arkansas was upfront about delivering “more raunchy rock from the good ol’ country boys.” With songs of nightriders in trucks and on horseback, you might get the impression that these southern boys were into raising some serious hell.

Jack Nitzsche worked with everyone from Phil Spector to Neil Young to the Stones. He also did the soundtrack to the film Performance, which featured Mick Jagger and James Fox as, respectively, a rocker and a gangster who eventually meet on a higher plane. Perhaps writing the choral arrangement for “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” prepared Nitzsche for his collaboration with another breed of “long-haired friends,” when he recorded with the London Symphony Orchestra in an ancient London church with the sonorous name “St. Giles Cripplegate.”

Tina Turner leaps across the ad for Feel Good, and with the exception of a cover of Lennon and McCartney’s “She Came In Through the Bathroom Window,” she also wrote all of the songs for her and then husband Ike’s 17th (!) studio album.

The Hollies had a top-ten hit with “Long Cool Woman,” which pulled their album Distant Light to No. 21 on Billboard magazine’s charts. For fans of the Hipgnosis design studio, the gatefold album cover — featuring Boschlike grotesqueries in the depths of a bucolic pond — made the $3.77 tab go down easier.

According to Billboard, covering the 1972 release of Phoenix, “Grand Funk have by now attained an almost permanent place in rock’s hierarchy. They have legions of devoted, ready followers at every performance and lining up to buy their every album.” However, as the website superseventies.com notes, Lester Bangs, reviewing the album in Rolling Stone, was having none of it: “It’s not that there’s anything wrong with mediocrity or cliché — could you or I have written ‘Sugar, Sugar’? — but when mediocrity loses all its flair, all its panache, becomes this bland and this pompous at the same time . . . it’s time for some Chuck Berry.”

Herbie Mann’s flute (and David “Fathead” Newman’s sax) cover much musical terrain here, beginning with the traditional spiritual “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” and concluding with a rock standard for the ages, “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.” The ad’s illustration reinforces aspirations both high and low.

Take your pick that fall of 1972: Roberta Flack and Quincy Jones in September, The Fifth Dimension hitting the stage near Thanksgiving, with Bowie, Elton, America (of “A Horse With No Name” fame), and other chart toppers in between. Top ticket price was $8.50 for Engelbert Humperdinck (born Arnold George Dorsey), who once told the Hollywood Reporter, “I can hit notes a bank could not cash.”

According to the ad copy, Bonnie Raitt was a balladeering belter who’d been described as “earthy and innocent, winsome and whiskey-headed.” When asked for her own opinion, Raitt told the ad agency that her “batting average for the summer is something over .250.” Considering that this propulsive collection of rocking blues filigreed with New Orleans brass accents landed on Rolling Stone magazine’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time list, we’d say she was swinging an even hotter bat back then.

Tim Buckley (1947–1975), whose music ranged from jazz to all manner of rock into funk, poses with a gas mask in the full-page ad for Greetings from L.A. A postcard of the City of Angels blanketed in smog on the album cover gives an idea of the down and dirty tunes on the vinyl.

Prog rock was ascendant in the early 70s, and it doesn’t get much more proggy than Curved Air’s synthesizer solos accompanying the Renaissance-festival-like vocals of lead singer Sonja Kristina on Phatasmagoria’s “Marie Antoinette.” The ad copy beneath the undulating logo reads “The one group that might be too good for America.” Indeed, these folky Brits hit No. 20 in the UK, but Phantasmagoria didn’t chart in the states.

Spokane, Washington, native Danny O’Keefe, on the other hand, hit it big with his single “Good Time Charlie’s Got the Blues,” which pulled his LP, O’Keefe, up to No. 87 on the album charts. The single has long since been etched into the pop pantheon, having been covered by artists from Waylon Jennings to Mel Torme to the King himself, Elvis Presley. The world-weariness of one particular verse has resonated with different singers; the original, “Ya know my heart keeps tellin’ me / ‘You’re not a kid at thirty-three’ / Ya play around, ya lose your wife / Ya play too long, you lose your life,’ “ gains a decade in Charlie Rich’s telling, the country maestro figuring he’s finally grown up at age 43.

If you had dreams of stardom back in ’72 you could’ve done worse than to head over to the former Fillmore East on Second Avenue and audition for . . . well, since they were seeking not just your standard-issue actors, jugglers, and fire-eaters but also “Dancing Bears,” “Aging Astronauts,” and “Animal Tamers and Big Namers,” we’re just sorry we weren’t around to see what kind of show they were putting together.

If hard rock was your jam, then Ramatam fit the bill. The band featured some established heavyweights, such as drummer Mitch Mitchell, late of the Jimi Hendrix Experience, and former Iron Butterfly guitarist Mike Pinera. The quintet also featured a rarity for that time — a hard-rocking female guitarist. April Lawton (1948–2006) was a Long Island native who some hailed as the female Hendrix, but although Ramatam’s second album sported the enticing, semi-eponymous title In April Came the Dawning of the Red Suns, the band never caught the whirlwind.

If it was sun you were seeking, you could at least get it on vinyl in a two-record set capturing the “Mar y Sol” festival, held earlier that year in Puerto Rico. The eclectic gang had all been there, ranging from B.B. King, the Allman Brothers, Dr. John, and J. Geils to the Mahavishnu Orchestra and Emerson, Lake, and Palmer.

And speaking of the prog gods, ELP was also promoting their own album at the time, Trilogy, which featured, among other virtuosic instrumentals, the trio’s take on an American classic, Aaron Copland’s “Hoedown.” The album hit No. 5 on the Billboard charts, though Voice music critic Robert Christgau bluntly disagreed: “The pomposities of Tarkus and the monstrosities of the Moussorgsky homage clinch it — these guys are as stupid as their most pretentious fans. Really, anybody who buys a record that divides a . . . composition called ‘The Endless Enigma’ into two discrete parts deserves it. C-”

And if you didn’t get enough of the J. Geils Band on the “Sea and Sun” discs, you could buy their live album Full House, which featured a winking Queen to let you know the hand was actually only a three-of-a-kind. More important, the title implied that they could sell out any venue they played.

Geils and crew were indeed bringing their boisterous rock to ever larger audiences, but they still didn’t have the drawing power of Alice Cooper, who was headlining a show at Roosevelt Stadium in Jersey City. The concert was a big deal — Cooper flaunted his sexuality in a solo ad as the big day drew near — but the venue’s greatest claim to fame came on April 18, 1946, when the home team, the Jersey City Giants, a farm club of the New York Giants across the river, hosted the Montreal Royals. The Royals trounced the Giants 14 to 1, but anyone who was there was undoubtedly impressed with the debut of the Brooklyn Dodger’s farm team’s second baseman, Jackie Robinson, who had four hits in five trips to the plate, including a three-run homer.

Another megastar coming to town was less abrasive than Alice Cooper: John Denver was promoting his album (and single) Rocky Mountain High. Carnegie Hall had probably never felt vaster.

Then again, in the same week, that storied music venue would also host Ziggy Stardust. And he’d come all the way from Mars.

Categories
CULTURE ARCHIVES FILM ARCHIVES From The Archives

Who Is That Guy? The Golden Anniversary of the Monkees’ Career Suicide

November 5, 1968, represented a fracture in American history. As the Vietnam War raged, Richard Nixon — promising a secret plan to end the carnage — won the presidency with less than 1 percent of the popular vote. It could be argued that there had never been a starker disconnect between the arc of the popular culture and the politician — in this case, a buttoned-down, uptight Quaker — elected to lead it. Many Americans had grown increasingly skeptical about waging war against such a small and distant country, and about America’s leadership at home. This was reflected in a mushrooming counterculture, which, that same month, saw the publication of the inaugural issue of Screw, a magazine that pushed the boundaries of obscenity laws by publishing photos of sexually frolicking couples, outré cartoons, and bawdy (not to say, openly misogynist) articles.

Another cultural milestone — perhaps millstone would be the more accurate term — premiered in New York City the day after the election: TV producer-director Bob Rafelson brought the band he had created for the fast-paced music sitcom The Monkees to the big screen, in Head. A friend and colleague of Rafelson’s, Jack Nicholson, wrote the script, purportedly under the influence of various illegal substances. The episodic, stream-of-consciousness narrative opens with a suicide leap from a bridge by drummer and vocalist Micky Dolenz, segues into a long take of a young woman kissing each of the Monkees in turn — “even” is her evaluation of their appeal — and then caroms through skits and sketches involving cowboys, Indians, World War II battles, love scenes, fight scenes, food fights, stylish dance numbers, and numerous other Hollywood tropes conjured on Columbia Pictures’ soundstages and backlots.

Early on, the screen is divided into TV-like previews of scenes to come in the film. But then nineteen of the twenty small-screen views switch to the famously wrenching clip of a South Vietnamese official executing a Viet Cong prisoner with a pistol shot to the head. The twentieth screen cuts to the image of a screaming girl, which when enlarged reveals just another pubescent teenybopper jettisoning composure at a Monkees concert. This dissonant vignette alerts viewers that Head is going to move beyond the scope of the weekly half-hour funfest viewers had grown accustomed to watching on television. The scene could have been edited by the French Marxist theorist Guy Debord, author of The Society of the Spectacle (1967), which critiqued modern society as an arena in which physical experience is overwhelmed by a parade of imagery, the more sensational — sex, violence, desirable commodities — the better to distract citizens and keep them socially and politically passive. Debord’s opening aphorism states, “In societies where modern conditions of production prevail, all of life presents itself as an immense accumulation of spectacles. Everything that was directly lived has moved away into a representation,” an observation that has proven as prescient a definition of the internet as Andy Warhol’s 1968 bon mot, “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for fifteen minutes.”

The Monkees were about as famous as you could get, with their More of the Monkees album beating out even the Beatles’ Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band for the number one U.S. slot in 1967.  But the four band members — Dolenz, heartthrob singer Davy Jones, folk musician Mike Nesmith, and multi-instrumentalist Peter Tork — were a fabricated foursome brought together by a want ad seeking “Folk & Roll Musician-Singers for acting roles in new TV series.” The words acting roles hint at the fact that the show’s songs would actually be written by hired tunesmiths and recorded with ace session players. Over time the lads chafed at the restrictions placed on them as performers, and did get some of their own songs onto their albums, but such massive hits as “Last Train to Clarksville” were written and performed by ringers (although Dolenz provided that track’s distinctive lead vocal). Finally, despite one of the main producer’s objections, they began performing live to enthusiastic crowds, who reveled in their nonabrasive, upbeat melodies.

Perhaps the Monkees hoped that Head would have the gravitas to boost them into orbit as creators in their own right. Or maybe they were just sick of their image as poster boys for innocuous, if catchy, pop. The lyrics to Head’s second number, a twist on the weekly TV show’s theme song, leaves no doubt that they were hip to their image of being little more than Beatles knockoffs:

Hey hey we are the Monkees
You know we love to please
A manufactured image
With no philosophies

But if the film debut was meant to be seen as less a Hard Day’s Night rip-off and more a declaration of independence, the band was undermined by agreeing to use songs by outside contributors. With the surfeit of melodies at Lennon and McCartney’s fingertips, one could never imagine the Beatles relying on hired guns, and in fact the Fab Four’s Yellow Submarine was released in the U.S. on November 13 of the same year, the ads prominently trumpeting, “A DOZEN BEATLE SONGS.” In contrast, Head’s beautiful opening track, Porpoise Song, was written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King, while Davy Jones’s showstopping turn as a son deserted by his father, in Daddy’s Song, was penned by Harry Nilsson.

Head was shot while the psychedelic era was in full bloom, and the film is chockablock with garish, solarized colors and vibrant set design. However, unlike the scattershot aesthetics of too many MTV videos in the 1980s, the movie’s spasmodic material was kept firmly in check by Rafelson, who visually stitched the divergent scenes together, as when the mermaids who save the suicidal Dolenz in the first scene morph into fish swimming around an aquarium as the serial kisser begins her rounds. Similarly, editor Michael Pozen kept the dance moves and seizure-inducing light flashes tightly synced to the rhythms of the tunes, even conjuring an aura of conflicted emotions through the lightning cuts in Jones’s poignant dance sequence.

It was obvious that someone at Columbia felt Head had box office potential, because roughly a month out from the premiere, large, mysterious ads began appearing in the pages of the Voice. A thick-lipped young man sporting a dark comb-over and glasses gazes at the reader; in the first two ads to run, the only copy — “HEAD” — acts as a textual dopplegänger to the half-tone image. Other movies advertised on those same pages give a sense of the era’s cultural tumult: Andy Warhol’s Flesh, Jane Fonda exposing much of her own skin in Barbarella, Godard’s visceral Weekend, Steve McQueen’s careening Mustang in Bullitt arriving for an engagement at Radio City Music Hall. But the Monkees couldn’t count on the savvy of New York’s downtown cognoscenti the way Warhol could — the quartet needed to appeal to a broader demographic, including young teens who were certainly not expecting grainy execution footage in a pop-music jaunt. In a recent interview, Nesmith related that one of the film’s producers was insistent on using the violent clip, saying, “It’s anti-war, and it’ll have a big effect on the war.” Needless to say, the film had less impact in that regard than even the extremely oblique lyrics in “Last Train to Clarksville,” in which the male character says over and over to his girlfriend that she must meet him, because “I don’t know if I’m ever coming home.”

The Monkees’ career had been measured in Top 40 sweetness, and they seemed to have wanted Head to crack that sugar coating and lend jagged edges to their madcap charm. America is fighting a put-up job of a war? Fine — let’s deploy cheerleaders and football players to expose those jingoistic absurdities, hence the addition of Green Bay Packer linebacker Ray Nitschke to a roster that also included cameos from Victor Mature, Annette Funicello, Jack Nicholson, Sonny Liston, Frank Zappa, Teri Garr, and a clip of the Rockettes, among what genuinely feels like “a cast of thousands.”

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Liston appears as himself, trading punches with the diminutive Jones. The ex–heavyweight champ predictably decks the crooner, and Dolenz shouts at his colleague to “stay down!” Nesmith, in gangster finery, rumbles, “He better. The money says so,” a line the band probably heard from some producer who’d told the members their careers were better served acting as facades for real songwriters and musicians.

Voice critic Andrew Sarris was not amused, though he first notes that he might be the only critic, young or old, “not enchanted” with the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine. Then he delves into the Monkees’ undertaking: “And anyway, there is ‘Head’ to contend with this week, and what is one to say about an enterprise that flaunts its fakery and unoriginality as comic virtues. The Monkees, in case you haven’t been forewarned by their television series, are synthetic Beatles, actually four electronic insects with little charm and less talent, but with a life-like facility for madcap mimicry.” Decrying what he sees as the film’s unoriginality, he does allow that “the new style in Hollywood is to admit the plagiarism immediately and then look for points of departure. And one of the points of departure for the Monkees is that they are cheerful fakes, and some of this cheerfulness comes through in ‘Head.’ ” That appealing cheerfulness no doubt accounts for Sarris’s strong objection to the Vietnam execution footage — though at a half-century’s remove it seems a jolt of genuine awareness, as if the filmmakers were truly questioning what was worth screaming about. Sometimes a misstep hits the mark. In his conclusion, Sarris clears up one mystery, noting that “the omnipresent head of publicist John Brockman [in the film’s ads] represents the most spectacular advertising gambit in recent memory, and one of the most misleading ads ever. No movie could look THAT depraved!”

According to various sources, Head cost in the neighborhood of $750,000 but scored a decidedly unboffo $16,111 at the box office.

In 1970, Nicholson went on to star in Rafelson’s Five Easy Pieces, which boosted both men’s careers, while the Monkees descended to the nostalgia circuit in various permutations of the band’s lineup. They never again knew the heady stardom they enjoyed in the late Sixties, but they persevered in their music. While we were researching a different story one day in the Voice archives, a classified ad from the June 25, 1985, issue leaped out at us. Sorry we missed the opportunity to study with a master, back in the day.

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Categories
CULTURE ARCHIVES From The Archives MUSIC ARCHIVES

Jethro Tull, 50 Years On. Should We Care?

It all started when I was thirteen years old. I got a job washing dishes at a restaurant in a bedraggled suburb just west of Baltimore. It was the sort of benighted Seventies joint where an uprooted pot plant was once stashed in the dishwasher in a paranoid panic that narcs were going to raid the kitchen. Clueless teetotaler, I turned the machine on to better hide the evidence. I spent four hours after closing time with my stoner best friend rinsing the limp mess in a huge colander and then drying out what was salvageable in the pizza oven.

Despite that fiasco, it was a great job for a kid who loved music. I was a late-night dial-turner, discovering the Stones through a radio show determined to expose the roots of rock by playing 78s of such blues legends as Robert Johnson, Charley Patton, and Bessie Smith. One particular midnight I was thunderstruck by the already broken-up Velvet Underground’s “White Light/White Heat,” courtesy of the same college station’s wide-ranging programming. Problem was, though the Baltimore–D.C. area had a hopping concert scene, I wasn’t old enough to drive. This is where my job provided a huge benefit: The older cooks and waitresses took a shine to me, and whisked me along to all manner of rock concerts like I was some sort of team mascot. How lucky was I to see David Bowie’s “Diamond Dogs” tour? And to witness a maniacal Elton John hurling his piano bench around the stage? Not quite as mind-blowing as clips I’d seen of the dearly departed Jimi torching his axe, but heady stuff for a kid in junior high.

One cook at the restaurant was heavily into an FM station that served up a steady diet of prog rock. Plowing through the bins at the local Korvettes department store, I discovered I liked the genre’s album covers — Roger Dean’s trippy landscapes for Yes, H.R. Giger’s biomechanical temptress on the cover of Brain Salad Surgery — more than the music. Still, there was one supposedly prog (and undoubtedly oddball) outfit that blindsided me with rollicking licks and esoteric sonics: Jethro Tull. (The group is named after the eighteenth-century English agriculturalist who invented the seed drill, among other accomplishments.)

According to the Ministry of Information website, which provides historical tour info, Tull was at the Baltimore Civic Center on March 9, 1975. That’s when the author took these pictures.

I first saw Tull, fronted by multi-instrumentalist — most notably, the flute — and vocalist Ian Anderson, in 1975. I would see them many more times, because they seemed to swing through the area at least once a year during my teens. By then I’d earned enough money washing dishes to score a used 35mm Pentax, and so I became the gang’s documentarian. We could never afford the best seats, so my initial forays into concert photography came through a borrowed telephoto lens.

I have pictures of a zebra onstage with Tull (or, more accurately, someone in a zebra suit), and I’m pretty sure I remember some bouncy dung balls as well. The band’s costumes might be categorized as baroque psychedelic. At one concert, Anderson (born 1947) sported ribbed shoulder pads and a codpiece, like an athlete who’d forgotten to put on the final layer of his uniform. Which was fitting, because the lead singer–flutist-harmonicist practically never stopped gyrating — leaping, hopping, and strutting throughout the shows, using his flute alternately as baton and phallus when he wasn’t actually blowing into it.

Jethro Tull at the Baltimore Civic Center on March 9, 1975.

By this time Tull had already done the album that would assure them a niche in rock’s pantheon, 1971’s Aqualung. But tracks from that monster seller, including the title song and “Locomotive Breath,” were setlist mainstays in every show I saw. Art school and other pursuits put paid to my arena-rock days, but over the decades I have still turned to Tull when riff-riddled energy was required. Just a few years ago I had to rip out a ceiling to make room for recessed lighting in a basement art studio; Aqualung figured heavily in my playlist. The album’s bring-down lyrics about humanity’s sorry destiny as filthy vagabonds wandering the park benches of creation are strikingly countered by roller-coaster guitar breaks, exuberant flute passages, and all manner of melodic ascension. Oh — and Anderson has noted in interviews that the six-note earthquake that opens the title track owes a debt to Beethoven’s Fifth.

Still, I was thoroughly surprised when a high school friend I hadn’t seen in decades Facebooked me about a spare ticket to see the Philadelphia stop of Jethro Tull’s golden anniversary tour. (Ken and I had been on the same baseball team that lost a close Maryland state playoff game to then-pitcher Cal Ripken Jr.) “Hell yeah,” I thought, “why not?” But first I wanted to look in the Voice’s archives. Any band that’s been in existence for half a century and sold tens of millions of albums — and hadn’t it won a Grammy at some point long after I stopped paying attention…? — must have gotten a lot of ink in a paper renowned for its rock ’n’ roll erudition.

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First I did an online search for “Jethro Tull, 1968,” the year their inaugural album, This Was, was released. This led me to January ’69, when Tull, already popular in England, were embarking on a U.S. tour. I was impressed to discover that the band’s first American appearance had been at the Fillmore East, on Second Avenue. Sure enough, I found them in the Voice’s January 23rd issue, listed in one of the Fillmore’s distinctively bordered ads, billed below Blood, Sweat & Tears but above the Savoy Brown Blues Band.

Sharing a gig with Savoy Brown wasn’t surprising, because This Was has a heavy blues edge, inspired in part by the band’s original guitarist and sometime vocalist Mick Abrahams. The tunes had a rumbling vibrancy allied with some cocky lyrics, such as these lines from “My Sunday Feeling”: “Won’t somebody tell me where I laid my head last night?/I really don’t remember/But with one more cigarette I think I might.”

L: from the January 23, 1969 issue. R: from February 13, 1969 – a second tour date in the NYC area.

But Anderson and Abrahams were having “creative differences,” and this would be the first and last Tull album on which anyone other than Anderson would sing lead or write any of the songs. In fact, the liner notes for the album state, “This was how we were playing then — but things change — don’t they?” And indeed, when Tull played their first stateside gig, they had a new guitarist, Martin Barre. They also garnered what might be their first U.S. review, which appeared in the Voice’s Riffs section. Written by Jennifer Gale, it follows a paragraph about headliner Blood, Sweat & Tears, and reads in full:

JETHRO TULL, also at the Fillmore, does nice things for your head. I found myself sitting crosslegged in a dark little corner, really digging them — but I was told that you had to watch them, which I couldn’t because they did some very weird things on stage. Ian Anderson does that flute thing beautifully (also vocals), and drummer Clive Bunker is dynamite. When an audience listens to a drum solo for more than 3½ minutes and applauds wildly when it’s over, you know it’s got to be something else.

Tull’s first review in America?

Did the band see this review? Hopefully, because after this lonely paragraph it was pretty rough sledding for them in the pages of the Voice. It’s worth noting that Gale singled out “some very weird things on stage.” I only wish she had elaborated, as anyone who’s seen Tull will remember how those elaborate costumes and vaudeville-level stage antics add compelling (and often funny) visual layers to their eclectic tunes.

I also checked to see if the record company was doing its job. Sure enough, I found an ad running a month later, to coincide with the U.S. release of This Was, filled with fulsome — if purposefully ironic — praise.

Voice music editor Robert Christgau was having none of it, though. In one of his always sublimely terse Consumer Guide columns, he summed up Tull’s first effort: “Ringleader Ian Anderson has come up with a unique concept that combines the worst of Roland Kirk, Arthur Brown, and your nearest G.O. blues band. I find his success very depressing. C-”

The next two albums, Stand Up and Benefit, both garner grudging B-minuses.

Next I turned to the April 22, 1971, issue, and Tull are on tour again, this time to promote Aqualung, their musings on Man’s creation of God selling well enough to hit No. 7 on the Billboard charts. As is obvious from the sold out banner, the lads from Blackpool were beginning to conquer America.

Touring as “Aqualung” climbed the charts.

And Aqualung was a hit with the voters (if not the editor) of the first Village Voice Pazz & Jop Critics Poll. Competition was tough — the Who, the Stones, Van Morrison, John Lennon, Sly and the Family Stone, Joplin, Bowie — but the bizarre longhairs with a lead flutist landed in the No. 22 spot, ahead of Alice Cooper and Led Zeppelin.

Christgau may not agree, but that other Goliath of rock criticism, the Rolling Stone hive mind, eventually placed Aqualung at No. 337 on its list of the 500 best rock albums.

Early on during this spiral down the memory hole, I checked the Voice’s old-school, in-house card catalog, which, though spotty, was most thoroughly maintained from the late 1960s through the early ’90s. Hmmm…absolutely nothing for “Jethro Tull”? Really?

And no way it’d be under “Tull, Jethro,” right?

Well, I didn’t exactly hit pay dirt, but there was a single entry.

In the October 6, 1987, issue, critic Peter Watrous used Tull as an example of corporate rock at its most smarmy, in contrast to the stripped-down garage rockers Pussy Galore. He quotes a press release: “Chrysalis Records is pleased to be releasing on September 16th the new album from Jethro Tull, Crest of a Knave.” After Watrous rails against such outrages as “the Marshall Crenshaw/Wynton Marsalis axis of mood thieves,” he continues with the Tull promo copy: “Earlier this year, Chrysalis Records and Ian Anderson worked on a number of listening sessions to help determine what it is the Tull fan wants and expects in a Jethro Tull album.”

A bit further on, Watrous claims, “Pussy Galore is rock without the romantic idea of emotions, and it uncovers how sentimentality manipulates, even with the best intentions: emote here, eat now, everything in orderly fashion, control.” He then continues hanging Tull upon their own promotional petard: “Targeting 12 markets around the country where Jethro Tull has been most popular throughout the years, we enlisted the help of the local AOR station to recruit 50 or so listeners in each city to participate in these sessions.” The Chrysalis flacks go on to tell us that people of various ages and professions rated the songs so as to “help in choosing what tracks would be included on the final version.… Crest of a Knave is the result of this very successful project.”

Watrous obviously didn’t like focus groups, which in this case were edging into crowdsourcing. But it’s really not surprising that Ian Anderson, a world-girdling crowd-pleaser, proved a presciently savvy networker back when the internet wasn’t much more than a fantasy in such sci-fi novels as Neuromancer.

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But the saga of Crest of a Knave doesn’t stop there. A little more than a year after it was released, Tull’s audience-tested album unexpectedly won the inaugural Grammy Award for Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance Vocal or Instrumental, from judges who were obviously grappling with the parameters of the expanding genre. Since other nominees included AC/DC, Jane’s Addiction, and the heavily favored Metallica, no member of Jethro Tull was on hand to accept the prize. Perhaps, for a band that has always displayed an almost Monty Python–ish level of absurdity in its members’ stage personas, this out-of-left-field award is appropriate for its one and only gilded gramophone.

So how do Jethro Tull come across in 2018?

Well, at the Mann Center in Philadelphia on Saturday night they cranked out a kicking version of the flute-fest “Bourée,” Anderson’s update of a Bach composition, which appeared on the second Tull album, Stand Up. The single song that made up 1972’s conceptual send-up Thick as a Brick was played somewhat in reverse, eschewing the acoustic buildup and going straight to the time-changing marching song that threads through the album. Brisk and bouncy (and shortened to maybe one-tenth of its original 43-minute-plus length), it ended with sweet guitar strumming, the crowd singing along with the closing lines.

Jethro Tull performing in Philadelphia, September 8, 2018.

At one point Anderson commiserated with the audience about drum solos that go on “for hours [pause] days [pause] weeks,” and then the band dove into “Dharma for One,” which was on the first album and was co-written by then-drummer Clive Bunker — and so of course always includes a showcase for the man with the sticks. Just like at the Fillmore in 1969, the crowd half a century on went wild.

“Farm on the Freeway,” from that groupthink claptrap collection (and Grammy winner) Crest of a Knave, was a revelation, sizzling with melodic reverb. Like all the songs played that night, it was accompanied by quick-cutting graphics on a large screen behind the band — in this case, of tractors and freeways. Certainly the graphics are illustrational, but they’ve also been edited to match the rhythmic steeplechases of the music. And the “Farm” lyrics — “What do I want with a million dollars and a pickup truck?/When I left my farm under the freeway” — proved surprisingly emotional.

Jethro Tull performing in Philadelphia, September 8, 2018.

Anderson has been gamely playing “Too Old to Rock ’n’ Roll: Too Young to Die!” since 1976. In Philly, four decades on, balding and potbellied, he sang before his younger, swaggering self, Hollywood-size behind him. There are those who complain that rockers growing old and still playing is a bad thing. Perhaps they are some of the same people who said, “Never trust anyone over thirty,” before they passed thirty themselves. Rockers, like athletes, lose many of their skills before they give up the ghost. Still, anyone who’s been to an old-timers’ day for their favorite baseball team knows that those living, breathing bodies add immeasurably to the moment.

Jethro Tull performing in Philadelphia, September 8, 2018.

If the knucklebones of saints in a reliquary mean something to one kind of believer, does seeing these performing embodiments of one’s youth — and also of one’s (hopefully) ongoing ideals — offer similar solace before the inevitable?

During the show, various rock luminaries, enlarged on the screen, introduced songs from the Tull catalog. Toward the evening’s conclusion, Slash loomed up to describe “Aqualung” as “one of rock ’n’ roll’s greatest songs.” Indeed, in concert it remains an indomitable force, working on the viscera as much as the ears.

Jethro Tull performing in Philadelphia, September 8, 2018.

Tull will be playing the Beacon tomorrow night. You’ve probably heard tell that, over the years, Ian Anderson has lost the robust range of his youthful singing voice. Maybe those cigarettes he was singing about all the way back on “My Sunday Feeling” took their toll. But if you ask me what I ultimately thought of his performance on Saturday night, wailing away on his flute and harmonica and croaking those familiar songs, I might have to quote Hunter Thompson. Writing about his bias in favor of George McGovern, who was running against Nixon in 1972, the same year Thick as a Brick was released, Thompson said, “So much for Objective Journalism. Don’t bother to look for it here — not under any byline of mine.” So, what can I say — it was a great show.

 

Categories
CRIME ARCHIVES From The Archives THE FRONT ARCHIVES

The Acid Profiteers: Drop-Out, Turn-On, Cash-In

The Story of the Acid Profiteers

San Francisco — One summer day in 1968 three young men pulled a rental truck up to a mushroom shed in the Northern California village of Cupertino. They began carefully loading large metal drums and wooden crates from the shed onto the truck, and were delighted when friendly neighbors offered to lend a hand. The chore didn’t take long, and when, they were finished, the men jumped back in the cab of the truck and took off down the freeway for San Jose, a large industrial city about 45 minutes south of San Fran­cisco. There the crates and drums were unloaded and stored in a rented suburban house.

Several weeks later, the truckload was moved again. This time the men unloaded into a rented house further north in Santa Rosa. When they were at last satisfied that their precious cargo was not being watched, they again drove north, this time to a farmhouse in Windsor, a small com­munity about 65 miles from San Francisco.

Once in Windsor, the men unload­ed and broke into crates and drums full of lysergic acid, ergotamine tar­trate, glass beakers and flasks, high vacuum evaporators, chromatogra­phic columns, bunsen burners, metal chemical stands, glass and rubber tubing, and other complex lab equip­ment. The three men carried it into the farmhouse, and when they were through, they marveled at the array of equipment and chemicals, for they were looking at the largest LSD manufacturing lab ever established in this country.

Eventually the chemicals taken from the mushroom shed in Cuper­tino would be processed and colored orange with organic dye. “Orange Sunshine,” perhaps the most famous brand of acid ever produced, would be moved in huge lots from Windsor to Idyllwild Ranch near Laguna Beach. There the acid would be taken over by the Brotherhood of Eternal Love, an alleged hippie reli­gious organization which, under the leadership of Dr. Timothy Leary, had been set up, corporate-style, to market and distribute Orange Sun­shine.

Once the acid arrived, the hippies living at Idyllwild in teepees were magically transformed into drug sa­lesmen, distributors, smugglers, and walking advertisements for the Orange Sunshine department of the psychedelic movement. For the Brotherhood of Eternal Love was in reality the capitalistic organization behind the largest acid manufactur­ing and distribution ring in history.

***

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Six years later, after acid has been “out” for so long that some think it’s about to enjoy a comeback, a brand new picture of the “psychedelic movement” has emerged. From thousands of pages of transcript of a San Francisco federal court case, from the findings of a Senate hearing on the Brotherhood, and from the wagging tongues of a few good-old-fashioned snitches, there is new evidence that the movement had a corrupt, grubby underside.

The acid craze of the 1960s was created very much the way any other short-lived fad has come into being — by a hierarchical organization backed by big money, marketing a product whose time had come. LSD was a dream product by any business standard. It could be made quickly, at low cost, with little work and the possibility of great profit, despite low per-unit cost. It could, and did, benefit from a Madison Avenue touch, as the massive spate of media attention LSD enjoyed in the late ’60s proves.

In retrospect, part of the appeal of acid was that you weren’t supporting anybody’s mob when you bought it. There was a nation-wide rumor that anybody could make it in his base­ment. Like most rumors, that one had a grain of truth. You could make acid if you had a basement, if you had the raw materials, if you knew the complicated procedure, and, perhaps most importantly, if you were willing to break the law.

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The fact is, relatively few people came by their acid this way. Its low street price made individual man­ufacturing legally and economically ridiculous. Twelve hours of groovy enlightenment for two bucks was, for years, anybody’s idea of a good deal.

But the idea that acid just bubbled up from the hippie underground, with no mob reaping massive profits, was also a myth, a gigantic psyche­delic bubble which is only today being burst. Right from the start the acid culture was fueled by a loosely knit corporation — a kind of counter­culture-conglomerate — that mingled Harvard lawyers, low-level Chicago gangsters, Swiss bankers, New York jet setters, gold smugglers, Wall Street brokers, Bahamian bankers and real estate hustlers, university professors, international financiers, shifty lawyers, brilliant chemists, Hell’s Angels, and young heirs of old WASP money.

There was a world behind the so-called psychedelic movement carefully guarded from public scrutiny, for the same reasons syndicate gangsters don’t want you to know where their money comes from, or where it goes. The world behind acid had many twists and turns, financial nooks and legal crannies, but there was a thread which tied it all together: the classic motive of profit.

In the early ’60s, the raw materials needed to manufacture LSD were still legally available from Sandoz Pharmaceutical Company, head­quartered in Basel, Switzerland. Many of the acid entrepreneurs operating during this time were in­volved in free-lance manufacturing gambits, and though their profits were often large, their labs were small temporary operations.

As the acid rage developed, the raw materials needed for its man­ufacture became more difficult to get — and much more expensive. Free-lance chemists lacked both the connections and the money to obtain lysergic acid and ergotamine tar­trate. At the same time, demand for the drug was increasing so fast that a more sophisticated distribution sys­tem was required.

A vortex emerged in the psychede­lic storm. His name was William Mellon Hitchcock. As scion of the country’s wealthiest family, he had both the capital and international connections needed to transform acid manufacturing from a decen­tralized cottage industry to a big business.

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“Billy,” as he’s called by just about everyone, is tall, handsome, charming, intelligent — and a Mellon heir. Most everyone rather likes the lean 34-year-old, from the maids who call him “Mr. Billy,” to the narcs and government lawyers whose job it was to prosecute him. Billy is the grandson of William Larimer Mel­lon — a founder of Gulf Oil and its chairman until 1945 — and a nephew of Pittsburgh financiers Richard B. and Andrew W. Mellon. His father, Tom Hitchcock, an Army officer, was considered one of the greatest American polo players of all time. He died in a plane crash in 1944 when Billy and his twin brother, Tom, now a race car driver, were small chil­dren. His mother, 73-year-old Mar­garet Mellon Laughlin Hitchcock, lives at 10 Gracie Square, New York, and reportedly holds the purse strings to Hitchcock’s $160 million trust fund. By his own estimates, Hitchcock gets $5 to $7 million a year in interest from the trust. The family continues to control Gulf Oil and other large corporations.

Hitchcock attended both the Uni­versity of Vienna and the University of Texas, but like the illustrious sons of fortune founder Judge Thomas Mellon, who were anxious to get out and make money, he never bothered to get a college degree.

He once had the romantic notion of getting down to the nitty gritty of his money, so he tried working as a “rough-neck” on a Texas oil rig and then as a “tool pusher” or supervi­sor. However romantic that proved to be, he apparently preferred the wheeling and dealing world of high finance.

In 1963, after Harvard University threw Dr. Timothy Leary out because of his experiments with LSD, Leary landed, both Ph.D. and ego intact, in a 55-room mansion in Millbrook, New York — which put him about 44 rooms ahead of where he had been at his academic peak. He did it courtesy of Billy Hitchcock who charged him only nominal rent for the mansion (which Leary didn’t always pay) while Hitchcock relegated himself to the four-bedroom gardener’s cottage with a Japanese bath in the basement. (He kept his jet helicopter in the barn.)

Millbrook soon became an acid information center where intelli­gence on suppliers of chemicals was traded and recipes were given out. Leary and Hitchcock, who claimed to be running “experiments” in the LSD field, were actually hosts to a five-year-long acid-soaked Millbrook melee, a monster party which often filled the mansion with 50 or 60 hippies at a time, their eyeballs full of the latest batch of LSD.

The Voice’s Don McNeil, who vi­sited Millbrook in mid-1968, returned after a weekend to describe an Eastern version of the electric koolaid acid test. Leary, McNeil said, rarely took acid, but preferred to preside over the scene, manipulating peo­ple’s trips, directing sexual liaisons, conducting the whole house like a psychedelic orchestra.

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Most of the people who would later become the movers and shakers in the acid business came to visit. Some of Leary’s “experiments” caused a commotion even on a 2650-acre estate. G. Gordon Liddy, prosecutor for Dutchess County at the time, conducted a grand jury investigation of illegal drugs on the premises of the Hitchcock Cattle Corporation. Hitchcock was arrested for main­taining a nuisance, but was never indicted. Instead, the corporation was indicted and paid a nominal fine.

Leary spent most of his time at Millbrook until 1966, and didn’t actu­ally move out until 1968, two years after the Brotherhood of Eternal Love was established as a tax ex­empt corporation in California. To earn pin money and extend his repu­tation, Leary would occasionally make the 90-mile journey to New York City and put on light shows at the Village Theatre, to the delight of teenagers from Long Island and the New Jersey suburbs. Sometimes, after the show, he would change out of his white pajamas, put on a suit, and venture into the Playboy Club, where he was known to the bunnies as a heavy drinker and ass pincher.

***

Hitchcock met Nick Sand (one of the three men who drove the rental truck full of chemicals to the Wind­sor lab) at Millbrook in late 1966. Sand was a chemist from Brooklyn with a talent for manipulating peo­ple. He had a small acid lab some­where in New York State, and late in 1966 he visited Hitchcock at the young millionaire’s swank New York apartment. They took DET together. By that time, Hitchcock had taken acid about 25 times.

In 1967 Hitchcock met another major figure in the manufacture of psychedelics, Augustus Owsley Stanley III, the grandson of a former governor of Kentucky and U.S. senator. Even then, Stanley was nicknamed “the King of LSD.” He is thought to have made $1 million as an acid entrepreneur before LSD was made illegal, and sizable sums later on. Traveling with Owsley at the time he visited Hitchcock’s New York apartment was Robert “Tim” Scully, who would later become the young millionaire’s best friend.

Dr. Richard Alpert (now known as Baba Ram Dass) had set up the meeting because Owsley had a problem. He had been arrested for a traffic violation on the way to the city, was caught with some pot, and was taken into custody. Although he had posted bail, some of his things had not been returned, including a key to a safe deposit box at Manu­facturers Hanover Trust Company.

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The box contained $225,000 in profits from illicit drugs. A woman companion of Owsley had a duplicate key, but they were afraid to go in to get the money and wanted an intermediary.

Whenever he needed advice on how to handle a situation, Hitchcock called an attorney. The kind of attor­ney he called depended on what he needed done. This time he called his good friend and childhood playmate, Charles Cary Rumsey, Jr., a nephew of W. Averell Harriman who had gotten his Harvard Law degree in 1960 but who had never practiced law. Together they called Hitch­cock’s pal, Bill Sayad, Jr., another graduate of Harvard Law, who had abandoned his Wall Street practice for the greener pastures of Baha­mian banking. A year before, Sayad had been made general manager of Fiduciary Trust Company, a bank in Nassau, and had many financial dealings with Billy Hitchcock. Fidu­ciary Trust Company was, it was later learned, controlled by Bernie Cornfeld’s Investors Overseas Services.

After consulting with Sayad, Hitchcock and Ramsey got the money from the safe deposit box and gave it to Owsley. Sayad flew up from Nassau and the money was turned over to him the next day at Hitchcock’s apartment. Hitchcock’s relationship with the bank was such that Owsley didn’t have to sign any of the usual account opening state­ments — and, of course, there were no tax records.

Some months later, in the spring of 1967, Sand and Hitchcock made plans to move to Northern California and go into the acid business. Hitchcock decided he would continue to operate his investment business by phone. Scully, Owsley, and others who had come and gone at Millbrook, were already in the Bay Area.

By then, California was the Mecca for the counter-culture. The Brotherhood of Eternal Love, a small group of like-minded people living together, smoking dope, and dropping acid, had already been established in Laguna Beach. Somewhere along the line this straggly group of beach boys and farmers gradually merged with Dr. Timothy Leary’s League for Spiritual Discovery. Both Leary and the hippies traveled back and forth between Millbrook and Laguna Beach, and soon Leary became both the patron saint and the spokesman for the Brotherhood of Eternal Love.

At about the same time the Millbrook crowd moved to Northern California, the Brotherhood in the south took on another dimension — hustling drugs on a large scale for profit. Their commercial endeavors revolved around Mystic Arts Beach, a head shop in Laguna Beach, which was begun as a legitimate business but soon shifted to trafficking mari­juana smuggled from Mexico and LSD smuggled from Switzerland. The Millbrook crowd was well aware of the progress of laws covering specific drugs and knew that Swit­zerland was about to dry up as a supply depot for acid.

Leary was the advance man for the chemists and financiers coming from Millbrook. He was also quite a drain on the Brotherhood finances. He traveled constantly and had no apparent source of income. His function in the organization was public relations and advertising, and his act was in the best tradition of Madison Avenue propagandists.

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Hitchcock, who had left his wife and children behind in New York, says he was barely settled in his new quarters in Sausalito when he was visited by Scully, who told him he was working in a lab manufacturing synthetic drugs and needed money to buy glassware to complete his manufacture. “We talked philosophy,” Hitchcock explains. “Ideologically Scully and I had a meeting of the minds as far as the altered state of consciousness that psychedelic drugs produce. We became close friends. He asked for $10,000. I agreed to loan it with interest. It was repaid with substantial interest in six months.”

In 1969 Hitchcock put Scully on a retainer of $1,000 a month and provided expense money so he could experiment with drugs in his laboratory. In return, he was to turn over the drugs he manufactured.

Scully, now 29, is a genius whose intelligence exceeds the I.Q. scales. He came to the attention of Bay Area scientists when as a seventh grader he built a computer that won a prize in a science fair. Part of his prize was a tour of Lawrence Radiation Laboratories in Berkeley. Scientists there took such a liking to him that they invited him to work with them.

In high school Scully spent almost all his time working on a linear accelerator designed to change mer­cury into gold. He was deeply in­volved in the project and had little time for friends or other high school subjects. His teachers eventually be­came so frightened that they would be sued for allowing a radiation hazard in the school that they asked him to leave. Scully’s alchemy period came to an abrupt end.

Scully then enrolled at the Univer­sity of California at Berkeley where he studied mathematical physics and continued his work at the Radia­tion Laboratory. He soon began doing lucrative consulting work, de­signing radiation detection equip­ment in his grandparents’ attic. He became so involved in these projects that he dropped out of school and quit working at the laboratory. He began building instruments for parapsy­chology research, which led to an interest in psychedelic drugs.

One day in 1965, Owsley, who had heard about Scully’s interests, paid him a visit. Besides being the “King of LSD,” Owsley was the sound man for the Grateful Dead. He told Scully he wanted to develop specialized instrumentation for rock bands, and he took the thin, quiet genius on tour with the band. Scully had never had so much fun in his life. About seven months later, Scully, who had no experience with chemicals but was fantastic at library research, was making LSD for Owsley near Ber­keley.

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After the raw materials had run out, Owsley said he was going to take a break, but staked Scully for an­other lab he decided to set up in Denver. Because Owsley couldn’t get the lysergic acid and ergotamine tartrate from his former supplier, Scully made STP, which Owsley wholesaled to the Hell’s Angels.

When Owsley and Hitchcock met in New York, Scully happened to be there because he had come from Denver to get more money. ”Ows­ley,” he later explained, “kept me on a short string financially.”

STP was a weird, jittery drug that didn’t sell very well, and Scully didn’t particularly like making it. He tried to talk Owsley into going to Europe in search of raw materials and was told that Hitchcock was the man to talk to.

The meeting of the minds between the millionaire and the genius con­tained one disagreement. Scully thought his new friend should donate the materials and equipment to the “movement” and give the drugs away. Hitchcock told him that people didn’t value things they got for free.

Meanwhile, Nick Sand, the extro­vert chemist, started a phony chem­ical company in San Francisco known as D&H Research, which also was a psychedelics lab where he had been making various drugs, though he lacked the raw materials for LSD. Like Scully, he was on a $12,000-a-­year retainer from Hitchcock. He moved to a ranch in Cloverdale, 90 miles north of San Francisco, along with other Brotherhood members.

Sand’s capacity for moving on almost any level allowed him to feel at home with such characters as John T. “Terry the Tramp” Tracy a Hell’s Angel who wandered around the ranch shooting locks off gates for amusement.

The Cloverdale Ranch, which was adjacent to a small airport, was purchased for $155,000 in the name of Peter Buchanan, one of Hitchcock’s questionable San Francisco lawyers. According to Scully, the ranch was Hitchcock’s reward to a group of his associates who could live there as long as they pleased. He also hoped it would be a good investment.

Besides loaning money, helping with banking problems, and putting chemists on retainers, Hitchcock was a one-man legal aid society for the Brotherhood. Leary’s 1965 marijuana arrest at the Mexican border led four years later to a Supreme Court ruling in his favor but involved vast amounts of legal work and a heavy chunk of Hitchcock money. Lower echelon Brotherhood members got legal advice over the telephone from Hitchcock lawyer Al Matthews without even giving their names. He supposedly used codes to keep track of Brotherhood members and their various legal problems. Matthews also put up bail when necessary, and defended lab assistants caught in raids. He worked from a defense fund which was replenished by Hitchcock from time to time. Eventually Hitchcock even put up $10,000 for Scully’s defense, though he testified against his friend.

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While living in Sausalito, Hitchcock continued to operate as a stock broker through Delafield and Delafield in New York. He had four or five accounts besides himself — all friends or relatives. According to Hitchcock, his employment with the brokerage firm was mostly related to pushing stock in Mary Carter Paint Company, now known as Resorts International, Inc. This much-investigated corporation owns the gambling casino, hotels, restaurants, realty companies, and other interests on Paradise Island and elsewhere in the Bahamas, and should be familiar to readers of The Voice. (See “From CREEP to Bebe to Casino to Nixon’s Swiss Bank Accounts?”, Voice, November 1, 1973, “Everybody’s in Bed with Everybody Else,” Voice, January 31, 1974.)

Hitchcock’s work with Mary Carter–Resorts International involved the initial financing of the island, and big investors were invited to buy shares not listed on the open market. He spent a great deal of time in the Bahamas in 1966, 1967, and 1968.

From his new position in Sausalito, Hitchcock contacted Charles Druce, a British chemical supplier who had the connections necessary to obtain large quantities of the starting chemicals for acid. Toward the end of 1967 Druce came to Sausalito to discuss prices.

Druce, currently a fugitive, is best described as a double-dealing scoundrel. According to Hitchcock, Druce pressed him to invest in a poultry feeding operation he said he was establishing in Iran. Even though Hitchcock realized this was a phony corporation, he made an investment of 5000 pounds sterling just to get on Druce’s good side.

Druce and his partner flew back to London, and Hitchcock took off for the Bahamas to attend the opening of the new Paradise Island Casino, a dazzling New Year’s affair which attracted such normally non-social personalities as Richard Milhous Nixon and his close friend, Charles G. “Bebe” Rebozo. Hitchcock claims he never spoke to either Nixon or Rebozo, but it is known he was called before the original Watergate grand jury to give testimony concerning the Bahamas.

The spring of 1968 found Hitchcock back in the Bahamas again, this time in the company of his acid partner, Nick Sand. He stayed at the home of his banker, Sam Feranis Clapp, a Harvard lawyer who was chairman of the IOS-controlled Fiduciary Trust Company. Hitchcock had known Clapp since 1964 and had a number of accounts at the bank. Bahamian banks, which stand on every street corner of Nassau, have long been popular temporary repositories for American funny-money as well as handy offshore way stations for Swiss banks.

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Hitchcock was called before the SEC in 1965 to testify about his relationship with the Fiduciary Trust Company. He lied several times during his SEC testimony, saying there was no connection between the Fiduciary Trust Company and the Investors Overseas Services (then controlled by Bernie Cornfeld), when in fact IOS controlled the bank.

Late that spring, when Sand needed a place to stash $70,00 in ill-gotten money, Fiduciary Trust was only too happy to open an account for Hitchcock’s buddy.

Hitchcock’s connections in the Bahamas were so heavy that he began favoring the islands as the location for an offshore acid laboratory, perhaps on a cay. Joining in the discussions was Lester Friedman, a brilliant chemistry professor form Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, who was working on simplifying the synthesis for LSD.

In July 1968, Clapp informed Hitchcock he was in the process of liquidating Fiduciary Trust Company and that his various accounts would have to be transferred. It was about this time that laws regulating Bahamian banking were changed, particularly in regard to secrecy. Hitchcock decided to put the money in Switzerland. In August Hitchcock went to Zurich’s J. Vontobel and Company, a private bank, and used $25,000 to set up a Lichtenstein corporation called Four Star Anstalt which was to be the vehicle for purchase of land in the Bahamas.

While in Switzerland, Hitchcock ordered $32,000 transferred from numbered account 1315 at Paravicini Bank, Berne, as a “loan” for the purchase of ergotamine tartrate.

From this point on the financial transactions grow more complicated but Hitchcock has said he personally turned over $98,000 in cash the following October to one of his Swiss bankers, Freddie Paravacini, at the offices of T. Mellon and Sons, Pittsburgh. (T. Mellon and Sons, on the 39th floor of the Mellon–U.S. Steel Building, conducts no business of its own and has no assets. It has both offices and suites for various branches of the family and was set up as a device for exchanging intelligence and concerting actions within the family. Uniformed guards inspect everyone who gets off the elevators. It was a good, safe place for an exchange of cash.)

The man who owned the Paravicini Bank, Freddie Paravicini, was useful to Hitchcock in several ways. Through the bank, he hid money Hitchcock had made in the LSD business, and concealed its source by falsifying records. He also helped to conceal the money for income tax purposes. In fact, years later Hitchcock would say that if his Swiss bank accounts had not been discovered he would never have been caught violating any laws.

Hitchcock’s friendly relationship with Paravicini was based on substantive grounds. Together they had pulled off the largest violation of SEC Regulation T ever to come to light.

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Regulation T sets the margin or credit which stockbrokers can extend to their customers. It is designed to prevent a market crash like that of 1929. The legal margin varied between 20 and 30 per cent while Hitchcock and his partner, in 1969, bought and sold over $40 million in stocks on virtually 100 per cent margin. They had Paravicini and his bank buy and sell securities for them — from them. The money they were using simply didn’t exist.

In the beginning this was a highly profitable operation, but eventually Hitchcock made a bad choice of stock and took a bath. His losses in the Regulation T violation are believed by some of his friends to be the reason for his later involvement in the acid business. But none of this was apparent until years later.

In the meantime, Hitchcock hired a well-known New York lawyer, Michael Standard of Rabinowitz, Boudin, and Standard, to research which psychedelic compounds were illegal and which were not currently covered by rapidly changing U.S. laws. He also instructed Scully to search out countries or islands that had neglected to pass laws prohibiting the manufacture of psychedelics.

Eventually the Brotherhood set up both LSD and hashish labs in Costa Rica. Members of the LSD arm of the Brotherhood working there met George Grant Hoag, the young heir to the J.C. Penney fortune, who owned a villa overlooking the ocean. He was returning to the U.S. and told his new hippie friends they were welcome to stay at his place. They promptly moved in and set up a lab.

Some weeks later, federal narcotics agents checked in at the consulate on their way to raid the lab. Before the agents had even left the building, word of the impending arrests was passed through the local grapevine. Impoverished locals stormed Hoag’s home, took all his possessions, and butchered his cattle on the spot. Hoag said later he had no idea the Brotherhood group was involved in acid making. He says the incident cost him half a million dollars.

Foreseeing busy times ahead, Hitchcock called Rumsey to come to California to take care of the final blow to Hitchcock’s rapidly failing fortunes as an acid magnate.

Mrs. Hitchcock’s attorney told her husband’s accountant about the Swiss bank accounts. The accountant told Hitchcock he’d better bring the matter to the attention of the government immediately or he could turn Hitchcock in.

The airlines were mobbed by Hitchcock’s motley collection of advisers. Paravicini flew to New York, the accountant flew to New York, attorneys flew to New York, attorneys flew in from all over. It was decided that Hitchcock should get out his checkbook. He immediately mailed a check to the IRS for $500,000. This was supposed to cover unpaid taxes and potential fines. He even sold part of his interest in the Millbrook estate to his mother to pay for his estimated back taxes.

Hitchcock’s other pressing problem was Charles Druce, his erstwhile acid-starter-chemical-supplier. The good Englishman was blackmailing him through a London bank, threatening to turn him in to Scotland Yard if he didn’t cough up a quick $20,000. Hitchcock was indignant. Naturally, he hired a capable solicitor to take care of the bothersome blackmailer.

In the spring of 1971 Hitchcock moved to Tucson for reasons he has never made clear.

Paravicini closed the bank (which was in trouble anyway) and headed for the Costa del Sol where he remains, fretting from time to time about whether he will ever be extradited.

By the summer of 1972 grand juries were convening in both Northern and Southern California and Hitchcock began spending most of his time at his mother’s place in Canada to avoid a subpoena.

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Hitchcock had an understandable interest in seeing that Scully steered clear of the grand juries as well. So Hitchcock began a six-month seduction of Scully, offering him money and free trips to Europe to keep him from the law’s grasp. Michael Boyd Randall, at Hitchcock’s direction, gave Scully $5000 and instructions to take off for Madrid. But after a few months in Europe, Scully got restless and came back. This time Hitchcock closeted him in Canada, but again Scully’s yearning for California sunshine overcame his fear of the grand jury. Finally Hitchcock convinced him to move out of his house and lay low. He telephoned Scully’s hideout weekly to make sure he was staying out of the way.

In February 1972, Hitchcock’s elaborate dodging fell apart when he was indicted for income tax evasion as a result of the L.A. customs incident and subsequent discovery of his Swiss bank accounts.

Under indictment, Hitchcock freaked. He met Scully in California and told him he was going to become a government witness. His family was furious at him, for his activities and further embarrassment of the Mellon clan or a drug conviction would mean the loss of his $160 million trust fund. He begged Scully to make a deal with the government and turn state’s evidence too. Scully refused.

Scully and Hitchcock flew to San Diego to consult with Randall, who told them there wouldn’t be enough evidence to convict anyone in the drug case if Hitchcock refused to testify. As it turned out Randall was right. But the case came to trial last November and Hitchcock turned on his friends, hoping his testimony against them would save him from a prison sentence for tax evasion and SEC violations. His testimony was often in direct conflict with Scully’s.

Tim Scully, who claims he told the truth on the stand, got 20 years.

Nick Sand received a 15-year sentence.

Lester Friedman, the Case Western Reserve chemist, faces two years.

Owsley Stanley, who had spent two years in prison already, was forced to pay $142,276 in back taxes, plus penalties and a $5000 fine.

Peter Buchanan, the Hitchcock lawyer who still lives in Berkeley and who was an unindicted co-conspirator in the case, was given immunity for his testimony, but had a memory loss on the stand. No action has yet been taken to disbar or censure Buchanan or Rumsey.

Ronald Hadley Stark, Michael Boyd Randall, and Charles Druce were all indicted but remain fugitives.

Billy Hitchcock copped a plea on charges filed against him by the IRS and the SEC. He got a five-year suspended sentence and $20,000 in fines, on the condition that he cooperate with the government law enforcement agencies.

Timothy Leary is in the custody of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Chicago. In an effort to secure parole from federal prison, he recently decided to cooperate with a department of Justice investigation of the Weathermen, the Brotherhood, and his involvement with radical politics and drugs. He is being held in solitary confinement because federal law enforcement officials fear he might be killed by those he has turned against.