the column of lasting insignificance: November 22, 2014
by John Wilcock
“Whenever people agree with me, I always feel I must be wrong.”
“I like to be the right thing in the wrong place and the wrong thing in the right place. Being the right thing in the wrong place and the wrong thing in the right place is worth it because something interesting always happens.”
“I’ve been accused of bad taste, and I’ll go down to my grave accused of it and always by the same people, the ones who eat in restaurants that reserve the right to refuse service to anyone.” “I’m sorry I haven’t been funny. I am not a comedian. I am Lenny Bruce.”
Read my blog at Crowdsourcing survival.
Paul Krassner introduced me to Lenny Bruce, an outspoken comic who'd already created a sensation on the west coast with his attitudes, but mostly with his vocabulary. Lenny was about to open at the Village Vanguard and as it was only a few yards from my Perry Street apartment, I offered him a key so he could rest between gigs. One night I returned to find he'd left a bunch of flowers, another a row of candy bars accompanied by, "Wouldn't this be a great gift for a diabetic?"
Having Lenny around was much too good an opportunity to let pass by, and so I told him one night I'd really have to do a column about him. OK", he said, "bring that typewriter into the kitchen and we'll do it while I'm getting ready".... Then he proceeded to dictate both questions and answers:
What topics get the most attentive response from your audience?
Super: Mr. Bruce, this is Mr. Schindler. I hate to have this reason to call you, but your mother passed away.
"Lenny", I said at this point, "it seems safe to assume you're using this interview to try out a routine. How much do you change these bits from show to show?". "Oh," he said, " I have a tremendous backlog; I could do a different show every night of the week. But I wouldn't be creating anything new, I'd just be recalling bits I had already done. From the creative aspect, if I do two shows a night, at the end of the week I've created a new 15-minute bit, worth about $1,000 on today's market".
He hung his jacket on the door and I glanced nervously at the needles sticking out of the pocket. He noticed my expression and said, "I've got prescriptions for all this stuff. It helps me jazz the words..."
What did he do, I asked, on nights he didn't feel funny--"I bomb!" he said--and what did he do to get funny? "What I will do is bare my soul and through this cathartic method achieve humor". He was finished dressing and ready to leave. "Just before you go, Lenny, what people have influenced you the most?"
"Evelyn Waugh, Terry Southern and--thanks to John Wilcock's extensive library--Henry Miller".
Any actors or actresses?
"W.C. Fields, John Garfield, Jimmy Dean--who I loved to madness-- Eisenhower. I love them all but they haven't influenced me".
Well, I did watch that super routine change and grow in his performances over the next few days. But my guess is that over the years he never changed the philosophy of his opening words at his New York opening.
Well", he said, shading his eyes and peering into the gloom, "do we have any spics here tonight? Any kikes, any micks, any niggers?"
Lenny was an equal opportunity freak before the words came together.
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- Complete column archives: 2006 - present
— Dear Readers...
— John Wilcock ... Marijuana, the symbolic center of the underground society
— John Wilcock ... From the Archives: Cuba Diary—Havana, April 2011
— John Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Nineteen (continued)--Travels
— John Wilcock ... From the Archives: When you vote, don’t forget the Republican Paradox
— John Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Eighteen--The Quest for Magic: Around Europe by VW bus;
Regarding armchair travelers;
Pisa's Leaning Tower;
The magical Alhambra
— John Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Seventeen (continued)--London's Magical library;
In the Cannes
— John Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Seventeen--The Sorcerer's Apprentice
— John Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Sixteen--JW'S Secret Diary (continued)
— John Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Sixteen--JW'S Secret Diary
— John Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Fourteen (Part Two--Manhattan phone book, JW'S Secret Diary
— John Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Fourteen--Party Circuit
— John Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Thirteen--Figaro Diary, part two, Soho Saturday
— John Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Thirteen--Figaro Diary, part one, Soho Saturday
— John Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Twelve (continued)--Traveling with Nomad; SoHo Confidential
— John-Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Chapter Nine (continued)--Rip Torn on stardom… Robert Mitchum's gift; London: Julian Beck’s critique; Emmett Grogan and the Diggers; Greece: The Junta, Charlotte Rampling, and art hero Daniel Spoerri
— John-Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Chapter Nine--Bob Dylan in the Village, Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin, Richard Neville and OZ, What Does London Need Most?, The International Times
— John-Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Eight (continued)--Japan: a working honeymoon;
The Shinjuku Sutra
— John-Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Eight--Art Kunkin's LA Free Press; In LA with Hunter Thompson, Lenny Bruce; Visit by Warhol; Hakim Jamal plays god; The San Francisco 'Be-In'; Underground papers meet
— Manhattan Memories: Chapter Six (continued)--Tom Forcade: smuggler supreme; That pathetic drug czar
— Manhattan Memories: Chapter Six—The weed that changed the world--Confessions of a pot smoker
— Manhattan Memories: Chapter Four—Into the '60s--London's underground press; Jean-Jacques Lebel burns US flag; Everybody's friend: Jim Haynes; Lenny Bruce and the kitchen tapes
— Manhattan Memories: Chapter Three--The Village Voice (continued) --Lasting insignificance: the 3-dot column, ECHO and Larry Adler, Woody Allen plays classic nerd, A sample Village Square column
— Manhattan Memories: Chapter Two--Steve Allen derides TV columnist; Marlene Dietrich--glamorous grandmother
— Manhattan Memories: Chapter One--Chatting with Marilyn Monroe
— Manhattan Memories: Introduction.
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May 2, 2013
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.
Forty years ago the second of my three books about magic was published, A Guide to Occult Britain (Sidgwick & Jackson) covering a wide range of sites from Stonehenge to Loch Ness and King Arthur country to the witches of Pendle Hill. It is now available as an eBook on amazon.com.
"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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