the column of lasting insignificance: September 6, 2014
by John Wilcock

The free soul is rare, but you know it when you see it - basically because you feel good, very good, when you are near or with them.
—Charles Bukowski

I am trying to find myself. Sometimes that's not easy.
—Marilyn Monroe

Read my blog at Crowdsourcing survival.

From the Archives: September 5, 2009

“Fields are not ‘natural’; nor are crops: both are wildly successful human inventions. In nature, plants don’t want to be eaten, they want to thrive. Indeed, the closer a plant is to its natural state the more likely it is to poison you which is why humans have spent 10,000 years breeding out harmful traits from crops.”
Observer columnist Robert McKie in a piece questioning the value of organic food.

THE BEST CHEF in the world is what innumerable people have called Spain’s Ferran Adrià whose Costa Brava restaurant elBulli manages to seat a mere 8,000 of the 300,000 potential customers who request a reservation every year. Adrià, 47, is notorious for such dishes as fried tobacco balls, a chicken skin and orange blossom envelope and ice cream served on garlic oil and vinegar. Delicious! (to some), but is it art?   It’s provoked a fierce argument in art and foodie circles, exacerbated by the publication of Adrià’s book, Food for Thought, Thought for Food, already in three languages and claimed to have “revolutionized the world of gastronomy”. Some critics lashed into the chef when his recent ‘artwork’ was to create special dinners at Documenta (held every five years at Kassel in Germany). One, José de la Sota, wrote: “Adriá is not Picasso…What is art now? Is it something or nothing?”

LIES ARE EVERYWHERE and we can’t survive without them writes psychologist Robert Feldman in his new book, The Liar in Your Life. “Teens who are good liars tend to be more successful socially, and cancer patients who can deceive themselves into believing a falsely sunny prognosis are better at combating the disease”.

CALIFORNIA AS A Third World country. That’s the prospect envisaged by Alex Alexiev as he forecasts that “immigrants will likely soon dominate the state’s overall population and politics”. It’s not just that Hispanics are already a minority in the schools and that 40 per cent of immigrant families depend on public assistance, he writes in National Review, but that even after 20 years in the U.S. most remain “poor, unskilled and culturally isolated, a new permanent underclass”. And the site now has the country’s highest adult illiteracy. “We are witnessing a highly advanced and prosperous state, long endowed with superior human capital  turning into the exact opposite in just one generation” Alexiev declares.

THE CSI EFFECT may be wonderfully convincing to television viewers but is very misleading to jurors, says Popular Mechanics, who “routinely afford confident scientific experts an almost mythic infallibility because they evoke the bold characters from crime dramas”. The magazine devotes eight pages to examining ballistics, bite marks, blood splatter patterns to conclude that much of the ‘science’ behind forensic science “rests on surprisingly shaky foundations”. In fact, it says, it was developed not by scientists but by cops “often guided by little more than common sense”. Even fingerprints have their limitations, although DNA evidence “has become the strongest tool in the courtroom”.

RACING AGAINST EACH OTHER,  teams milked a cow, rushed the milk in a steaming pitcher to a home espresso machine and created a cappuccino on the spot for the judges. The report in barista magazine is of an earlier contest for the annual Nordic  Barista Cup, an event that will take place Sept 16-19 in Iceland’s capital of Reykjavik. For this year’s event, to be attended by baristas from dozens of countries, teams will spend two days in the wilderness together, before returning to the capital to study in depth the coffee culture of Costa Rica to which the winning team will be transported next spring.

MACHISMO IN MEXICO is being undermined by the growing number of edecans (models hired for what Ms reports is a “steady stream” of expositions at the five enormous convention centers in the capital, whose population now tops 22 million. “The edecan is the first image clients get when they arrive” comments Isaac Abadi, head of a design firm, although it’s reported that as part of the job involves flirting, the ladies still have to deal with a lot of harassment and are sometimes regarded as prostitutes. Brazilians, Venezuelans, Argentinians and Czechs fill most of the $300-a-day jobs—“typically tall, voluptuous and golden skinned” the magazine explains, “representing an ideal Latin or European woman with little resemblance to the average Mexican woman”.

BORN OUT OF the space industry, solar energy has Bell Labs to thank for its initial success declares Ron Pernick in a Via Satellite story which declares that it is via space that solar power will eventually reach its high point. “Five power satellites could supply 2 percent of the energy needs for the United States” claims John Mankins, prexy of the Space Power Association which monitors current technology. “The development of space solar power must be an international undertaking and the U.S. should definitely play the leadership role in developing that effort”.  The magazine cautions that not only will it be considerably more expensive to place this solar array in space rather than on the ground, but that the geo-stationery orbit where it must go, is already perilously crowded with satellites. Nevertheless, says Mankin, it would “encourage countries to start working together instead of in isolation”.

BY THE TIME the Fed caught up with Albert Talton in March, he’d successfully created and passed seven million dollars, maybe even more, and America’s most successful forger is now serving nine years. The story is told in this month’s Details: how Talton, 44, a career criminal, learned to counterfeit watermarks and security strips, to emulate the 75/25% cotton-linen paper, and fool the detection pens that make  a yellow mark on genuine bills. “The security features make it more difficult” says Treasury Agent Edwin Donovan, “but there’s no such thing as uncounterfeitable”. After hanging them up to dry on a clothesline, Talton distributed the $100 bills (for about $12-16 apiece) to intermediaries, one of whom carelessly betrayed him. “A wise printer insulates himself do that the person who spends the money has no idea of its source” comments the magazine.

THE WILCOCK WEB: At a time when path-breaking advances are being made in biotechnology, nanotechnology and a dozen other similar areas, science journalism is declining says the Nation reporting that the number of U.S. papers with newspaper science sections has shrunk by almost-thirds….Involuntarily swearing when you hit your thumb with a hammer may be a good thing, says Keele University’s Dr. Richard Stephens, raising levels of adrenaline which acts as an anaesthetic?….. For a contest at Cambridge University next spring, 18 competitors are competing--for a prize of $15,000—at sending  some half-ounce sized object into orbit on a miniscule budget of $1,500 ….Silent gratitude isn’t very much use to anyone” jeered Gertrude Stein…. You may think that burquas and niquabs demean women, says Christopher Caldwell, but what about “jeans that cinch halfway down the bumcrack?”…..Maybe that firm that invested (and lost) $585 in Readers’ Digest didn’t read the magazine first….A dozen members of Britain’s Upper House known as Law Lords, who have up to now been responsible for hearing final appeals, will don robes next month and be renamed as the country’s first Supreme Court… Small time preachers go to jail for stealing a few thousand bucks from church funds so how come televangelists who take millions get a pass?….Longchamp indubitably has the ugliest models…. Available soon: Inflatable walls, inset with air filters and oxygen supplies, that can be moved along on a cart by coal miners to block off the tunnel after an underground disaster....At a cost of $30,000 each, San Francisco is installing 360 new bus shelters whose solar panel roofs will channel thousands of kilowatts into the city’s grid…..Obviously New York’s blind Governor David A. Paterson can’t do the job  as well as a sighted person but it’s not politically correct to say so, so nobody does….More than 200 people have booked $200,000 seats on Virgin Galactic’s space flights scheduled to begin next year. Among other operators planning flights are Xcor (offering four-minute fights for a bargain $95,000; the European Commission’s Fast 20XX (from Sweden but not before 2015); and $20 million seats available for  Russia’s next flight in 2011… Deft definition: Osteopornosis -- a degenerate disease….On Washington’s National Mall next month, 20 student teams will compete to build the most efficient solar-powered home….”The secret to creativity” alleged Albert Einstein,“is knowing how to hide your sources …. Getting attention on some college campuses are contests with the atlatl, a 25,000-year-old weapon which is described by Celine Rainville as “a stick that can hold a spear, or dart, and acts like another joint for your arm, giving you the ability to hurl a spear further.”…”To be wronged is nothing, unless you continue to remember it”—Confucius (550-479BC)


Bakewell (part 2), its mayor, and its pudding...

National Weed (1974, issue #3)

it's here...
Marijuana--The Weed That Changed the World

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Bakewell and Chatsworth 2013 (part 1)

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recent columns

“A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike. And all plans, safeguards, policing, and coercion are fruitless. We find that after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us. ”
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in the press...

Now on Boing-Boing!

JOHN WILCOCK: Writing the Book "Mexico on 5 Dollars a Day" (Part One)
June 5, 2014

The New York Years - Boing-Boing

July 13, 2012

Manhattan Memories: an autobiography
By John Wilcock (, 2010)
excerpt from A Book Review By Marshall Brooks
Provincetown Arts Annual 2012/13

On the Ground
John Wilcock had lived in the Garden of Eden he would have started the world’s first under- ground newspaper there. One can easily picture it: a paradisiacal incarnation of John’s 1960s legendary tabloid, Other Scenes, featuring a lively threesome on its cover and an interview inside with the snake, who, it turns out, really dug (in the argot of the day) cool, mellow people. An Eden on $5 a Day guide would have been sure to follow, precursor to the dozens of travel books that John Wilcock actually has methodically researched and authored over the years, beginning with Mexico on $5 a Day in 1960 for enterprising guidebook publisher Arthur Frommer. Still traveling the world at age eighty-four, no moss grows on John Wilcock, which Manhattan Memories makes clear. But there is more.

(The complete review begins on p.175)

December 1, 2011

On the Ground: An Illustrated Anecdotal History of the Sixties Underground Press in the U.S
reviewed by Steve Heller in Imprint
On the Ground
The Underground Press, as it was called, was a groundswell of media activity running the gamut from radically political to seriously satirical. A new book, On the Ground: An Illustrated Anecdotal History of the Sixties Underground Press in the U.S. (PM Press) Edited by Sean Stewart (who between 2007 and 2009 owned and operated Babylon Falling, a bookstore and gallery in San Francisco), recalls the Underground epoch. Through interlacing interviews with Emory Douglas (Black Panther), Paul Krassner (The Realist), Art Kunkin (The L.A. Free Press), Abe Peck (The Chicago Seed), John Wilcock (Other Scenes), Jeff Shero (The Rat), Trina Robbins (Gothic Blimp Works) and many more (including Al Goldstein of Screw), the remarkable journals that shaped my life (and career) are revived as oral history.

(read more)

November 28, 2011

The Book Bench - Loose leafs from the New Yorker Books Department
New Yorker Online
Check out the first installment of Ethan Persoff's serialized comic-book biography of the publisher and writer John Wilcock.

(read more)

October 22, 2011

The New York Years

An authorized comic book biography of John Wilcock,
art by Ethan Persoff and Scott Marshall

This is a book length comic series on John Wilcock. People who enjoy focusing on underground and alternative media are occasionally familiar with John's work, but most often the response is "who's that?" Outside of small press historians and collectors, John remains very unknown. Which makes no sense, the more you learn about him. We're very excited about the opportunity to tell his story. Art for THE STORY OF JOHN WILCOCK is by me and co-conspirator Scott Marshall. Story comes from an extended and ongoing year-long interview with Wilcock, himself. The focus is John's years in New York, roughly 1954-1971.

(read more)

January, 2011

The Return of the World's Worst Businessman

Sneak Peak “The Return of the World's Worst Businessman”
Tyler Malone
PMc Magazine

John Wilcock is not what you would call a household name, and yet, he has had a measurable impact on art, journalism and culture-at-large over the last century. He co-founded Interview with Andy Warhol. He also was one of the co-founders of The Village Voice. He has written for countless print and online publications: Frommer’s, The Daily Mirror, The Daily Mail, The East Village Other, The Huffington Post, The New York Times, The Ojai Orange, etc. So why, one feels inclined to ask, is he relatively unknown? The answer seems simple: Wilcock has called himself “the world’s worst businessman.” This self-description makes sense because listening to him one hears the voice of a writer and a traveler and an enthusiast, not at all the voice of a businessman. In an age when it seems like everyone is all about business—art as a business, fashion as a business, everything as a business—it is refreshing to hear someone self-identify as “the world’s worst businessman.” It seems less like he has failed as a businessman and more like he has refused to become one. In addition to all his other accomplishments,...

(read more)

Monday, November 15, 2010

A Reader Comment from the recent New York Times Frugal Traveler post
RN—Sydney, Australia

Not only did John Wilcock shake up staid publishing in the USA, from the Village Voice to the East Village Other, his influence extended to several continents, including Australia & the UK, where - in his mild mannered way - he pushed the boundaries of image and speech. The counter culture was nothing but a dull puddle, until John kicked out the jams and ignited the Underground Press, which attracted absurd prosecutions, that of course boosted circulations. An unsung hero of the sixties,

indifferent to self promotion and the hoarding of gold, it is great to see John get a dash of recognition.

(read more)

October 27, 2010

A Budget Travel Pioneer on a Time When $5 a Day Was Real (Frugal) Money Frugal Traveler

by Seth Kugel
John Wilcock at the New York Times

It was the first handwritten letter I’d received in 5 years. Or maybe 10. Signed by John Wilcock, a man I’d never heard of, and postmarked Ojai, Calif., it was waiting for me when I returned from my São Paulo-to-New York summer trip. Mr. Wilcock wrote that he had been an assistant editor at The Times Travel section back in the 1950s, and had written the first editions of “Mexico on $5 a Day,” “Greece on $5 a Day” and “Japan on $5 a Day” for Arthur Frommer in the 1960s.

By George, I thought. This man was the original Frugal Traveler.

(read more)

and in print...

Manhattan MemoriesManhattan Memories
An Autobiography
by John Wilcock

"A GOOD WAY to describe John Wilcock is to say that he is a talented bohemian counter-culture journalist who once played a major role in the emergence of America’s underground press. Born 1927 in Sheffield, England, he left school aged 16 to work on various newspapers in England, and on Toronto periodicals before moving to New York City. There in 1955 he became one of the five founders of the Village Voice in which he and co-founder Norman Mailer wrote weekly columns. Wilcock called his column “The Village Square”, an intended pun. He and young Mailer were not quite friends, although Wilcock was at times annoyed, but always amused, by Mailer’s monstrous ego."

-From the preface of Manhattan Memories, by Martin Gardner
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