Showing posts with label yippies. Show all posts
Showing posts with label yippies. Show all posts

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Tom Wolfe-Fashionista Of His Own Kind-And A Hell Of A Writer When The Deal Went Down Has Cashed His Check -From The Archives-The Streets Are Not For Dreaming Now- Chicago 1968-Norman Mailer's View

Tom Wolfe-Fashionista Of His Own Kind-And A Hell Of A Writer When The Deal Went Down Has Cashed His Check

By Bart Webber

I had been, strangely enough, in La Jolla out in California attending yet another writers’ conference which seems to be the makings of my days these days, attending writers’ conferences that is instead of taking pen to paper or rather fingers to word processor keyboard, when I heard Tom Wolfe had cashed his check. “Cashed his check” a term (along with synonymous “cashed his ticket”) grabbed from memory bank as a term used when I was “on the bum” hanging out in hobo jungle camps and the whole trail of flop houses and Salvation Army digs to signify that a kindred had passed to the great beyond. Was now resting in some better place that a stinking stew-bitten, flea –bitten, foul-aired and foul-person place. No more worries about the next flop, the next jug of cheapjack wine, the next run-in with vicious coppers and railroad bulls, and the next guy who was ready to rip whatever you had off to feed his own sullen addiction.

By the way this is not Thomas Wolfe of You Can’t Go Home Again, Look Homeward, Angels, etc. but the writer, maybe journalist is a better way to put the matter of tons of interesting stuff from acid trips in the 1960s hanging with Ken Kesey and his various tribes of merry pranksters, the Hell’s Angels, drifters, grifters and midnight sifters, to marveled space flights in the 1970s to Wall Street in the reckless 1980 and back who had cashed his check. The strange part of the “strangely enough” mentioned above was that on Monday May 14th 2018, the day he died, I was walking along La Jolla Cove and commenting to my companion without knowing his fate that Tom Wolfe had made the La Jolla surfing scene in the early 1960s come alive with his tale of the Pump House Gang and related stories about the restless California tribes, you know those Hell’s Angels, Valley hot-rod freaks and the like who parents had migrated west from dustbowl Okies and Arkies to start a new life out in Eden. These next generation though lost in a thousand angsts and alienation not having to fight for every breath of fresh air (with the exception of the Angels who might as well have stayed in the Okies and McAllister Prison which would have been their fate.   

I don’t know how Tom Wolfe did at the end as a writer, or toward the end, when things seemed to glaze over and became very homogenized, lacked the verve of hard ass 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s times. Although I do note that he did a very although I note he did an interesting take on the cultural life at the Army base at Fort Bragg down in North Carolina in a book of essays around the theme of hooking up. That hooking up angle a sign that social cohesiveness in the age of the Internet was creating some strange rituals. Know this those pound for pound in his prime he along with Hunter Thompson could write the sociology of the land with simple flair and kept this guy, me, flipping the pages in the wee hours of the morning. RIP, Tom Wolfe, RIP.  

From The Archives-The Streets Are Not For Dreaming Now- Chicago 1968-The Late Norman Mailer's View

Commentary/Book Review (2008)

This year, also a presidential election year, marks the 40th anniversary of the bloodbath in the streets of Chicago during the 1968 Democratic Convention. I have reposted Norman Mailer’s work Miami and the Siege of Chicago originally posted on this site in September 2007 that recounts many of the incidents that occurred during that week. Mailer’s work is as good example as any that I have read from a journalist’s perspective so can stand here, as well.

Parts of the review also detail my own political positions during that period. Readers can get the gist of those positions below. I would only add that during this particular week I was in Boston manning the phones while others in the Humphrey campaign had gone to Chicago. In retrospect, the most painful detail of that week was the necessity of answering many irate calls from Gene McCarthy supporters and others about the police riot in Chicago. Even stranger was being denounced as a “hawk” for supporting Humphrey’s Vietnam position. Oddly, my own position at the time- for immediate withdrawal- was actually far to the left of what the irate callers were arguing for. Such is the price of my youthful opportunism though.

The Streets Are Not For Dreaming Now



As I recently noted in this space while reviewing the late Norman Mailer’s The Presidential Papers at one time, as with Ernest Hemingway, I tried to get my hands on everything that he wrote. In his prime he held out promise to match Hemingway as the preeminent male American prose writer of the 20th century. Mailer certainly has the ambition, ego and skill to do so. Although he wrote several good novels in his time like The Deer Park I believe that his journalistic work, as he himself might partially admit, especially his political, social and philosophical musings are what will insure his place in the literary pantheon.

With that in mind I recently re-read his work on the 1968 political campaign Miami and the Siege of Chicago -the one that pitted Lyndon Johnson, oops, Hubert Humphrey against Richard M. Nixon. This work is exponentially better than his scatter shot approach in the Presidential Papers and only confirms what I mentioned above as his proper place in the literary scheme of things. Theodore White may have won his spurs breaking down the mechanics of the campaign and made a niche for himself with The Making of a President, 1960 and his later incarnations on that same theme but Mailer in his pithy manner gives an overview of the personalities and the stakes involved for the America in that hell-bent election. I would note that for Mailer as for many of us, not always correctly as in my own case, this 1968 presidential campaign season and those conventions evolved in a year that saw a breakdown of the bourgeois electoral political process that had not been seen in this country since the 1850’s just prior to the Civil War.

The pure number of unsettling events of that year was a portent that this would be a watershed year for good or evil. Out of the heat, killing and destruction in Vietnam came the North Vietnamese/National Liberation Front Tet offensive that broke the back of the lying reports that American/South Vietnamese success was just around the corner. Today’s Iraq War supporters might well take note. In the aftermath of that decisive event insurgent anti-war Democratic presidential hopeful Minnesota Senator Eugene McCarthy’s seemingly quixotic campaign against a sitting president jumped off the ground. In the end that Tet offensive also forced Lyndon Johnson from office. And drove Robert Kennedy to enter the fray. The seemingly forgotten LBJ spear carrier Hubert Humphrey also got a new lease on life. I will have more to say about this below. Then, seemingly on a dime, in a tick we started to lose ground. The assassination of Martin Luther King and the burning down of the ghettos of major cities in its aftermath and later in the spring of Robert Kennedy at a moment of victory placed everything on hold.

That spring also witnessed turmoil on the campuses of the United States exemplified by the Columbia University shut down and internationally by the student –ignited French General Strike. These and other events held both promise and defeat that year but when I reflect on 1968 almost forty years later I am struck by the fact that in the end one political retread, Richard Milhous Nixon, was on top and the front of an almost forty year bourgeois political counter revolution had began. Not a pretty picture but certainly a cautionary tale of sorts. The ‘of sorts’ of the tale is that if you are going to try to make fundamental changes in this society you better not play around with it and better not let the enemy off the hook when you have him cornered. That now seems like the beginning of wisdom.

I have written elsewhere (see archives, Confessions of An Old Militant- A Cautionary Tale, October 2006) that while all hell was breaking loose in American society in 1968 my essentially left liberal parliamentary cretinist response was to play ‘lesser evil’ bourgeois electoral politics. My main concern, a not unworthy but nevertheless far from adequate one, was the defeat of one Richard Nixon who was making some very depressing gains toward both the Republican nomination and the presidency. As noted in the above-mentioned commentary I was willing to go half the way with LBJ in 1968 and ultimately all the way with HHH in order to cut Nixon off at the knees.

I have spent a good part of the last forty years etching the lessons of that mistake in my brain and that of others. But as I also pointed out in that commentary I was much more equivocal at the time, as Mailer was, about the effect of Robert Kennedy the candidate of my heart and my real candidate in 1968. I have mentioned before and will do so again here that if one bourgeois candidate could have held me in democratic parliamentary politics it would have been Robert Kennedy. Not John, although as pointed out in my review of The Presidential Papers, in my early youth I was fired up by his rhetoric but there was something about Robert that was different. Maybe it was our common deep Irish sense of fatalism, maybe our shared sense of the tragic in life or maybe in the end it was our ability to rub shoulders with the ‘wicked’ of this world to get a little bit of human progress. But enough of nostalgia. If you want to look seriously inside the political conventions of 1968 and what they meant in the scheme of American politics from a reasonably objective progressive partisan then Mailer is your guide here. This is the model, not Theodore White’s more mechanical model of coverage, that Hunter Thompson tapped into in his ‘gonzo’ journalistic approach in latter conventions- an insightful witness to the hypocrisy and balderdash of those processes.

Friday, July 08, 2016

*Oh, My Back Pages- The Film Work of Dennis Hopper- “Flashback”-A Review And A Short Note

Click on the headline to link to a YouTube film clip of a scene from the Dennis Hopper film, Flashback.

DVD Review

Flashback, Dennis Hopper, Kiefer Sutherland, Carol Kane, 1990

Okay, blame it on Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters (including “beatnik” bus driver/holdover Neal Cassady). Or blame it on a recently re-read of Tom Wolfe’s classic The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test that pays “homage” to Kesey, his Pranksters, their psychedelically-painted bus Further, and their various adventures and misadventures. Or, better, blame it on Jack Kerouac and that self-same Cassady for his On The Road. Whatever it is I am in a kind of “back to the future” 1960s counter-cultural mood today. And what figure, at least in some senses, represented an aspect of that scene better than the late Dennis Hopper’s character in the classic Easy Rider. And with that introduction/justification as a prompt out of the way other Hopper efforts have come to mind, including this 1990 send-up of some of the iconic figures of the 1960s, whether they deserved that status or not. Or whether they deserved the sent-up either, come to think of it.

In the character of 1960s radical icon Huey Walker, as played by Hopper, we have a prima facie case for not, self-admittedly, deserving that status. It seems that fugitive from the law Huey needs an angle to get his (probably) massive memoir published but needs a publicity hook to stir memories (and sales). So naturally he “snitches” on himself. The plot centers gearing up the ante on that publicity in the process of law enforcement (FBI and local) trying to move Huey from point A to point B, by train no less. To give Huey his just desserts and to cap off a fanciful recapture of the fugitive radical up steps a child of the 1960s children (admirers of Huey) turned renegade FBI Agent Borden (aka Free, played by Sutherland) who, however, in end, after myriad hi-jinks, comical or otherwise, finds his way back to his DNA core. Its in the genes, right?

Along the way we are also treated to send-ups of everything the 1960s stood for, from those gaudy buses to the antics or some rueful then middle- aged “liberation fighters”, at least according to the story writers. We are also treated to a very fetching Carol Kane as Earth Mother-last of the hippie remnant- who is holding out in…Oregon (must be something in the water. Kesey slipped back there after his legal hassles were over). The rest of the plot you can see for yourselves. And you should, if only to see Dennis Hopper playing….Dennis Hopper in mid-life. He carries this thing.

Note: This space usually preaches ‘high Trotskyism” and I would be remiss if I didn’t make at least one political counter-point to round out this review on this commercially-driven comedic effort. The 1960s had more than it far share of Huey Walker figures, like Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin and other leading Yippies, who started out with serious standard left-wing politics and a political compass and moved, sometimes ahead of the crowd , and sometimes by being pushed from behind to a more theatrical sense of politics (to be kind). The kind highlighted in Flashback.

Well, we were young then and made every political mistake in the book, except that those “mistakes” we made even from today’s vantage point, were nothing compared to the actions of the “monsters” (led by Johnson/Nixon) that we were fighting back then. And fighting for our very lives. Against a very vicious and vindictive FBI (to name only the most well-known law enforcement agency in the mix. There were plenty of others.) The work of ConIntelPro, central to the physical liquidation of the Black Panthers and other black liberation fighters should be etched in every leftist’s brain, for eternity. In the end the bourgeoisie got off easy, and got to keep its system. We, on the other are still rolling the rock up the hill. And know who, and who was not “on the side of the angels,” then and now.

I want to finish with the one truism that struck me from the film, although I am sure that the story writers did not intend it as such. Huey, as he is in the process of “bonding” with “Free” lets the cat out of the bag- being a fugitive sucks. Not as much as being a class-war prisoner behind bars like Marilyn Buck, David Gilbert, Mumia Abu-Jamal and others today or in exile like Assata Shakur, is but it still sucks. Why? As Huey candidly stated (and as many real life political fugitives, including ex- Weather Underground leaders Professor Bill Ayers , ya, that Bill Ayers, and Professor Bernadine Dorhn can testify to) you are literally on the run, can’t make lasting friends, have to look over you shoulder constantly and, most importantly, are out of the political loop. You are down there with Huey, half-forgotten in the mist of time. And while one cannot reasonably call those who were involved in the production of what is essentially a commercial comic look at past times (and sometimes a very funny look, at that) that little point needs to be made here.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

*Films to While Away The Class Struggle By- The Halls Of Injustice 101- “Chicago 10”

Click on the title to link to a "YouTube" film clip of the movie trailer for"Chicago 10".

Recently I have begun to post entries under the headline- “Songs To While Away The Class Struggle By”-that will include progressive and labor-oriented songs that might be of general interest to the radical public. I have decided to do the same for some films that may perk that same interest under the title in this entry’s headline. In the future I expect to do the same for books under a similar heading.-Markin

DVD Review

Chicago 10, animated and film footage, starring the Chicago 8 plus defense lawyers, government lawyers, presiding Judge Julius Hoffman, assorted rogue cops, and "youth nation", circa 1968, 2006

Okay, I have spilled plenty of ink over the past couple of years trying to look at some of the events in the key political year for my generation, 1968, and draw some conclusions, lessons if you will, from that period. And as fate would have it I am eminently qualified to do so here on this particular film, in an odd sort of way. The events of that decisive year are brought into focus by the central subject of this film, the debacle of the Democratic Party Convention in Chicago in August of that year. I know this one well.

And why am I a good witness to those events as portrayed here? In a certain sense I was on the other side of the barricades. Then. As I have explained elsewhere in more detail in 1968 I was knee-deep, no waist-deep, in the main task that I had set for my political life at the time, beating one Richard Milhous Nixon, without question the major political villain of my youth. Starting out that year totally devoted to the Robert Kennedy campaign (and actually earlier as I was part of the movement that tried to draft him to run for president in 1967), after his assassination in June I dusted off my pants and went to work for the campaign of one Hubert Horatio Humphrey. Therefore I was inside the “big tent” of the Democratic Party at that time and no one can accuse me of anything but the mildest bemused sympathy (on the Vietnam war question, if not the solution) with the doings outside the "tent".

Fast forward. Now, however, as this film footage of the events around the convention site amply demonstrates, and as the graphically captured brutal actions by the rogue Chicago police and other officials amply reveal this was a sickening display of governmental hubris (on all levels), and authority run amok. The verdict on those governmental actions at the time? No, not, as a rational person might expect, a skewering of police and their superiors but the bringing of charges against the leaders of the demonstrators, those who were maimed, gassed and otherwise abused by governmental actions.

And the harassment did not end there. Obviously the government thought it had a slam-dunk case to put before a Chicago jury with a cast of characters like Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin and Bobby Seale, who to be kind, in those days, if you were respectable citizen you would not want living next door to you, particularly in Chicago. In the end, as has occurred on more than one occasion, the charges against the “conspirators” were, mostly, overturned. But there is a lesson to be learned about the price of such actions, those charges were not overturned before many financial and political resources were brought to bear for the defense. This is hardly an argument against such actions, but rather to point out that when you go after the “monster” you best be prepared for the blowback.

This film works on two tracks as it tries, I think, to reach a younger audience not familiar with the events that the rest of us have permanently etched in our brains. The producers have used the eminently respectable one of the actual film footage interspersed with the more experimental one of using animation to do the heavy duty work of portraying the antics on both sides, in the circus-war, oops, inside Judge Julius Hoffman’s courtroom. I believe that the jury is still out (no pun intended) on the effectiveness of that medium to bring out the drama of the events portrayed. Perhaps for a younger audience not familiar with the events this is an adequate teaching tool. However, the segueing between, let us say, defendant Yippie Abbie Hoffman in animation ridiculing his having the same last name as the judge presiding over the trial and then flipping to a "real time" pep talk to the gathered Yippie tribes was disconcerting, at least to this viewer. Still, all in all, any time that we get to look back at events which formed a decisive part of our youth we should grab it with both hands. And hope today’s youth now have it permanently etched in their brains as well.