Arthur is very pleased indeed to present a special Los Angeles screening of the new feature-length documentary RADIO UNNAMEABLE about free-form FM radio pioneer Bob Fass and his ridiculously long-running midnight program.
For nearly 50 years, Bob has been heard on New York City listener-supported station WBAI, utilizing the airwaves for in-the-moment journalism, in-studio artistic performance, learned philosophizing and righteous mobilization, long before today’s innovations in social media. He is one of the original Yippies, whose outrageous/visionary actions helped sway pigheaded America in the late ‘60s toward eventual progress (or at least getting the hell out of Viet Nam). The film draws from Bob’s extraordinary personal archive of audio recordings—including appearances by Bob Dylan and Abbie Hoffman, and performances by Karen Dalton, Arlo Guthrie, Jerry Jeff Walker, Hamza El Din and more.
RADIO UNNAMEABLE opens at the Arena Cinema in Los Angeles on Friday, April 5 for a one-week engagement. Arthur is presenting the 7:30 screening this Saturday April 6. Journalist, counterculture scholar and longtime Arthur contributor Michael Simmons will introduce the film with his patented song-dance-and-groove approach. Directors Paul Lovelace and Jessica Wolfson, along with subject Bob Fass, will do a Q and A afterwards.
This piece was originally published in Arthur No. 13 (Nov. 2004), with cover artwork by John Coulthart and design by William T. Nelson, pictured above (click image to view at larger size). A correction involving Cosmic Charlie published in a later issue has been embedded in the text here at the most natural point. I’m sorry that I’ve been unable to include the many fantastic photographs from the print article here. However, I have added a still from the film “Will the Real Norman Mailer Please Stand Up” by Dick Fontaine, which we did not have access to at the time of print publication into the text, and there are more stills from various films appended. —Jay Babcock
Clip from Arthur No. 13’s Table of Contents page, featuring photo by Robert A. Altman.
OUT, DEMONS, OUT!
On October 21, 1967, the Pentagon came under a most unconventional assault.
An oral history by Larry “Ratso” Sloman, Michael Simmons and Jay Babcock
* * *
INTRODUCTION BY MICHAEL SIMMONS By Autumn of 1967, the “police action” in Vietnam had escalated. The United States of America waged War—that hideous manifestation of the human race’s worst instincts—against the small, distant, sovereign land. 485,600 American troops were then stationed in Nam; 9,353 would die in ’67 alone. We were there under false pretenses (the “attack’ at the Gulf of Tonkin that never happened), operating under a paranoid doctrine (the Domino Theory, fretting that Vietnamese Communists fighting a civil war in their own country with popular support would envelop all of Southeast Asia and end up invading Dubuque, Iowa). Seven million tons of bombs would eventually be dropped, as opposed to two million during World War II. Indiscriminate use of gruesome weaponry was deployed, most infamously napalm, a jelly that sticks to—and burns through—human skin. Saturation bombings, free-fire zones, massive defoliation with the carcinogen Agent Orange. “Destroying the village to save it,” as one American military man put it.
For a generation that remembered the Nuremberg Trials of Nazi war criminals after WW II, something had to be done. Genocidal fugitive Adolf Eichmann’s “I was just following orders” excuse would not fly. The draft was sending 18-year-olds off to die. A domestic anti-war movement emerged, as had a counterculture of hairy young people who rejected the militarism, greed, sexual repression, and stunted consciousness of their parents and leaders to pursue Joy and Sharing as well as Dope, Rock and Roll, and Fucking in the Streets. Pundits spoke of The Generation Gap. A quaking chasm had split the nation.
San Francisco painter Michael Bowen had a dream of people coming together to celebrate his city’s burgeoning hippie subculture, and so he and his wife Martine initiated the Great Human Be-In on Sunday, January 14, 1967. Sub-billed as A Gathering of the Tribes, 10,000 hippies, radicals and free spirits convened in Golden Gate Park. Beat poets emceed (Allen Ginsberg, Gary Snyder, Michael McClure, Lenore Kandel), rock bands rocked (Grateful Dead, Big Brother & the Holding Company, Quicksilver Messenger Service, the Charlatans), Hell’s Angels returned lost kids to their mommies – and the cops busted no one, despite rampant open marijuana use. For many, the realization that there were other Martians was transcendental. Berkeley anti-war activist Jerry Rubin gave a speech, but his narrow political rap was dubbed “too histrionic” by Ginsberg and many in the crowd. It fortuitously forked Rubin’s direction. “It was the first time I did see a new society,” he said later. “I saw there was no need for a political statement. I didn’t understand that until then, either.”
Events ending with the suffix “In” became the rage. Bob Fass hosted the hippest radio show in the country, “Radio Unnameable” on New York’s WBAI. The all-night gab-and-music fest was Freak Centra, functioning as a pre-internet audio website. Regular guests included Realist editor Paul Krassner (dubbed “Father of the Underground Press”), underground film director Robert Downey Sr. (father and namesake of…), actor/writer Marshall Efron (arguably the funniest man on the planet), and a manic activist-gone-psychedelic named Abbie Hoffman—all rapping madly, verbally riffing and improvising like musicians. One night after participating in a UsCo avant-garde multi-media show of projections, movies, music, etc., at an airplane hangar, Fass stopped by nearby JFK International Airport and noticed a group of three dozen young people—clearly ripped to the tits—communally entranced by a giant mobile centerpiecing a terminal. The vast open spaces of an airport, with jet planes and stars in the sky, were the stage for dreams to come to life. Fass flashed on the infinite possibilities.
He conceived a Fly-In at JFK and announced it on Radio Unnameable. Though Saturday night, February 11, was freezing cold, 3,000 of the underground’s finest came to sing Beatles songs, torch reefers, dance the body electric, and groove with their sisters and brothers. “One of the things that happened,” Fass observed, “was that there was such a colossal amount of human connection that there was something akin to feedback that happened, and people really began to experience not ‘happiness,’ but Ecstasy and Joy. We’re planning another one at your house.”
New York responded to San Francisco’s Be-In with its own. Key to its success was Jim Fouratt, a young actor who’d become one of the most effective hippie organizers on the Lower East Side. Promotion for the event cost $250, which paid for posters and leaflets. On Easter Sunday, March 27, 10,000 full and part-time hippies came together—some in the carnal definition—at Central Park’s Sheep Meadow. It was a glistening, no bad vibes, lysergic day. Fouratt was central to virtually every NYC hip community event, including the infamous Soot-In at Consolidated Edison, where he, Abbie Hoffman, and others dumped bags of nasty black soot at the coal burning, energy company’s offices, in a protest that prefigured and influenced the birth of the environmental movement.
Emmett Grogan was a brilliant and enigmatic prankster/con man at the heart of San Francisco’s do-goodnik anarcho-rogues the Diggers. He suggested to his friend Bob Fass that a Sweep-In would strengthen the momentum the Fly-In had sparked. The idea was to “clean up the Lower East Side” area of NYC where the hippies dwelled. Fass conspired with Krassner and Abbie and listeners on his radio show, and they chose Seventh Street, where Krassner lived. The buzz grew louder and one day an inquiring bureaucrat from the Sanitation Department called Radio Unnameable. The potentates of garbage at City Hall were nervous about these beatniks with brooms taking their gig. While appearing cooperative on the phone and in a later meeting, the city pranked the pranksters on the day of the Sweep-In, April 8. When thousands of mop-wielding longhairs appeared at 11 a.m., they beheld a garbage-free, sparkling fresh, squeaky clean street of slums—courtesy of the Sanitation Department. Fass and Krassner were amused that they’d actually forced the city to do its job. Unfazed, they moved the Sweep-In to Third Street. When a city garbage truck turned the corner, the street peeps leaped on it and cleaned it as well.
No single human—other than Tribal Elder Allen Ginsberg—was as influential on this emerging culture than Ed Sanders. He led the satirical-protest-smut-folk-rock band The Fugs with East Village legend Tuli Kupferberg, ran the Peace Eye Bookstore (and community center) on 10th Street, published Fuck You: A Magazine of the Arts, made films like Mongolian Clusterfuck, wrote poetry, rabble roused for myriad peacenik causes and cannabis legalization. Sanders—one of the first public figures to live seamlessly within realms of Politics, Art, and Fun—was a first cousin to Che Guevara’s paradigmatic New Man—albeit thoroughly American and anti-authoritarian.
But the Life Actor who embodies the Revolutionary Prankster in 20th-century history books is Abbie Hoffman. And he is where our story begins…
Dear Arthur, Okay, so a lot of people in Arthur have been coming out of the Deadhead closet lately [cf. “Uncle Skullfucker’s Band”, Arthur No. 11]. Someone, maybe Bastet, maybe someone else, should put out a mix CD or two of some of the Dead’s material that might be most likely to impress the contemporary drone/noise/psych/improv and/or free(k) folk scene(s). I have enjoyed a very small percentage of the G.D. that I have heard, and have been unwilling to delve through the catalog in search of the gems. I am willing to give them the benefit of the doubt, and would like to hear a carefully selected mix made by discerning ears. Example: Garcia solo piece on Zabriskie Point soundtrack. Rick Swan via email
Dear Rick, There are over 2,800 Grateful Dead shows available for free download at archive.org, and depending on who you talk to at least a half-dozen studio albums worth checking out. That’s a lot of music to sort through, even if you can get your hands on most of it without laying down any cash. We convened a conclave of reconstructed Deadheads in order to help you and any other greenhorn seekers of the Dead find your way around. The Knights present for this meeting were:
Geologist, a member of Animal Collective, that incredible international post-hippie string band. N. Shineywater, of Alabama’s creamiest slow-folk practitioners, Brightblack Morning Light. It is worth nothing that Brightblack’s cover of “Brokedown Palace” with Will Oldham on vocals makes us weep. Ethan Miller, of the mighty Comets on Fire. Daniel Chamberlin, a contributing editor at Arthur, and the author of “Uncle Skullfucker’s Band” (Arthur No. 11) about life as a closet Deadhead. Denise DiVitto & Brant Bjork: Owner-operators of Duna Records, which releases records by Mr. Bjork (co-founder of Kyuss) and other worthy artists. Two mellow souls who hang in the desert. Erik Davis, Arthur contributor, native Californian and the author of Techgnosis: Myth, Magic and Mysticism in the Age of Information. Barry Smolin, the host of the essential “The Music Never Stops” Dead showcase on Los Angeles’s KPFK, 90.7 FM. Michael Simmons, a contributing editor to Arthur. The Seth Man, a/k/a The Seth Man, editor of FUZ and author of “The Book of Seth” on Julian Cope’s website.
GEOLOGIST (Animal Collective) The birth of my father was a mistake; an unplanned pregnancy in the 1950s. As a result, his brothers, and my cousins, are much older. During the ’80s, my cousin Adam was my idol. I was in grade school, he was in high school and later went to college in Athens, GA. The guy was all about “rock & roll.” He had Live…Like A Suicide by Guns N’ Roses on vinyl in 1986. He predicted the worldwide stardom of REM and the B-52’s as far back as I can remember. But his first musical love was, and as far as I know, still is The Grateful Dead. By the end of the ’80s he had been to over 100 shows.
As I got older and began to hunger for more music than what was being fed to me on MTV, I of course turned to him. Like any true Deadhead, my cousin immediately pushed me towards their live material. His Dead collection was just a box of tapes with dates written on them; I don’t really remember seeing any albums. It is to this aspect of the Dead’s output that I would direct any new fan. I listen to the ’66-’74 era, pretty much exclusively. An easy place to start is the live albums released during this period, specifically Live/Dead (from ’69) and Europe ’72. The former has my all-time favorite Dead jam, “Dark Star” into “St. Stephen,” and the latter contains my second favorite, “China Cat Sunflower” into “I Know You Rider” (affectionately known to Dead fans as “China Rider”). In addition, there is a killer CD release of a Fillmore East show from 2/11/69, which has some of the same tunes. And for 1974, the Winterland shows from February of that year totally rule, even though you have to endure the awful background singing of Donna Godchaux.
I certainly don’t mean to discount the worth of their studio albums, because there is no denying the greatness of Anthem Of The Sun, Aoxomoxoa and American Beauty. I love them all and listen to them frequently, but I still lean towards the live stuff. The reason for this is simply “good times.” I recently got into an argument at a bar about whether or not you can give credit to someone for nothing more than “good times.” I say you totally can. Why not? Isn’t that pretty much what most of us want on a day-to-day basis? I was fortunate enough to see the Dead on one of their last tours in 1994. I was 15 years old, and had moved from Philly to Baltimore, where I was in the early stages of becoming best friends with the dudes I still consider my closest friends in the world. At the time, however, I dearly missed my old friends from middle school. They managed to get tickets to the Dead show at the Philly Spectrum, and my parents, being the wonderful folks they are, let me skip school for three days and hop on the train to catch the show. Jerry may have been old and forgotten some lyrics here and there, but man, good times were had by all. I’ve never since been in an environment as positive as that concert. As people who are passionate about music, especially music that is outside of the mainstream, we sometimes get caught up in our own brand of snobbery. But when I catch myself acting like a dick, I try and think back to that night wandering around the burrito stands and hacky-sack circles in that parking lot. If people continue to care about the music we make and continue to come see us play, I really hope our parking lots will look and feel like that one day. Good times.
N. SHINEYWATER (Brightblack Morning Light) Early-era Dead songs resonate with me, so I would maybe dig a collection of songs featuring Pig Pen. The first recording I heard by Grateful Dead also served as a successful backdrop to a good time. It involved my native Alabama woods, an old Jeep chasing another old Jeep through the mud, and the constant doobie. The friend of mine who was driving the jeep let The Dead’s American Beauty repeat over and over … Somehow a very long early-version of the song “Dark Star” appeared on the homemade cassette, and when this came on we had just taken a doobie break. One friendly sister starting throwing mud at me so I threw mud back at her and the next thing I saw was this dancing grey mud flying and hitting smiling bodies of friends.
One time this same Jeep-friend has to drive across the country in a new Ford van. He happened to know he was going to be using reefer along the way. The van had only one sticker, plain in style, that read, “GOOD OL” really large, followed very small by “GRATEFUL DEAD.” It wasn’t the kind with little orange bears; it was red, white and blue. He chose this plain sticker to avoid attracting the Man. Yet he knew that he wanted to share his love of Grateful Dead music. It was a risk he didn’t mind taking.
Later in life he led a Greenpeace effort to successfully lower himself and a few others over the side of the Mitsubishi building in Oregon with banners that read, “BOYCOTT MITSUBISHI, MITSUBISHI DESTROYS RAINFORESTS.” The last I heard of him he became a river guide.
ETHAN MILLER (Comets On Fire) First off, I also loved that article by Daniel Chamberlin in the July 2004 Arthur also and found it very inspiring to try and track down the more extreme avant-garde Dead stuff that the author of that piece talks about being fooled that it was Dead C. or Sonic Youth or whatever.
GUITAR ARMY Rock and Revolution with MC5 and the White Panther Party By John Sinclair With introduction by Michael Simmons
35th ANNIVERSARY EDITION * First time in print since 1972 * 40 additional photographs * Includes 18-track CD with rare recordings
“Guitar Army was our manual for revolt. It’s a rainbow-colored Howl, still resonating today with the singular value of idealism.” —Michael Simmons
Guitar Army is the incendiary book that proclaimed “Rock and Roll is a Weapon of Cultural Revolution” for young, revved-up readers in 1972. Author John Sinclair spearheaded the leftist revolutionary vanguard White Panther Party and managed the Detroit rock band MC5, leading them from the ferment of the Detroit riots to the Chicago Democratic Convention of 1968, where the band played minutes before police clubbed antiwar demonstrators.
In October of 1970, the FBI referred to the White Panthers as “potentially the largest and most dangerous of revolutionary organizations in the United States.” However, just three years earlier, the group’s leaders hosted a “Love-In” on Detroit’s Belle Isle, presided over by Sinclair, whom the Detroit News proclaimed “High Priest of the Detroit hippies.” In 1970 he was arrested and sentenced to 9 ½ to 10 years for giving an undercover officer two marijuana joints. Sinclair then became the most celebrated political prisoner of the original war on drugs. After 18 months in prison, John Lennon, Allen Ginsberg, Stevie Wonder, Phil Ochs, and others demanded his freedom with a televised benefit concert attended by 15,000 people. Three days later, Sinclair was released.
Guitar Army chronicles these years of revolution through Sinclair’s “street writings” and prison writings, with over 80 photographs, illustrations, concert flyers and comics from the period. This 35th anniversary edition of Guitar Army includes two dozen previously unpublished period photographs, recent writings from John Sinclair, and an introduction from Michael Simmons that leads the reader through the revolutionary times to Sinclair’s life today. Author John Sinclair is the still-charging embodiment of a dazzlingly optimistic time in which change felt necessary and possible.
A bonus CD contains rare recordings of MC5 and other Detroit-area revolutionary bands, Allen Ginsberg, Black Panther Bobby Seale on the White Panthers, and original White Panther Party meetings.
6 x 9 in, 360 pages, CD attached, ISBN 978-1-934170-007, $22.95 Pub date: May 2007
JOHN SINCLAIR HITS LOS ANGELES….
THURSDAY, APRIL 26 – DETROIT POETS SOUND OFF! – ART SHARE LA. 801 EAST 4th PLACE – LA, CA 90013 – 213-687-4278
John Sinclair will reunite with brother Motor City poetry-&-music bards M.L. Liebler and Ron Allen for an evening of high-energy music & verse at Artshare Theater in downtown LA at 8:00 pm Thursday, April 26. Sinclair’s Detroit Artists Workshop put poetry on the map in the Motor City in the 1960s. Poet-playwright Ron Allen was a founder of Horizons in Poetry, the collective that revived public poetry in Detroit in the 1970s & 80s. M.L. Liebler, leader of the Magic Poetry Band, has been a major force in the Detroit poetry movement for the 1990s and 2000s. This will be a very special reunion for all three participants and a real treat for modern poetry lovers who like some music with their verse—a rare opportunity to witness the Detroit Sound at its finest.
FRIDAY, APRIL 27 – BEYOND BAROQUE – AN HISTORIC EVENING! – THE GUITAR ARMY RE-LAUNCH PARTY, PANEL, PERFORMANCE
BEYOND BAROQUE – 681 Venice Blvd. Venice, CA 90291 – 310-822-3006 – 7:30 PM JOHN SINCLAIR and FRIENDS – GUITAR ARMY, with ADAM PARFREY, WAYNE KRAMER, DR. CHARLES MOORE, M. L. LIEBLER, PUN PLAMONDON, MICHAEL SIMMONS, a PANEL and PERFORMANCE
Also present for a panel rap will be WAYNE KRAMER (renowned solo artist & MC5 guitarist), PUN PLAMONDON (author & White Panther vet), M. L. LIEBLER (Detroit poet & poetry organizer), DR. CHARLES MOORE (divine musician), and MICHAEL SIMMONS (hyphenated revolutionary & introduction specialist).
Saturday, APRIL 28 – WAYNE KRAMER with special guest JOHN SINCLAIR HOTEL CAFE – 1623 1/2 N. Cahuenga Blvd. LA 90028 – 10 to 11 PM – http://www.hotelcafe.com Avant-Rock legend Wayne Kramer headlines and will be joined by special guest John Sinclair, along with Doug Lunn (bass), Dr. Charles Moore (trumpet), Ralph “Buzzy” Jones (saxophone), Phil Ranelin (trombone), and others.
5) TUESDAY, MAY 1 – MAYDAY! (of course!) – Official Release party for Guitar Army – Appearance & signing with John Sinclair at… La Luz de Jesus – 7 pm – 4633 Hollywood Blvd – Los Angeles, CA 90027 – (323) 666-7667 – www.laluzdejesus.com