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the column of lasting insignificance...
—for June 13, 2015 by John Wilcock

Considering how easy it was for people to dismiss this phenomenon known as “the underground press”, it must have come as something of a surprise for them to learn that the young were reading more newspapers than ever. Only underground newspapers (sometimes) told a truth the elders preferably kept under wraps.

The Underground Press, little more than a joke in the early Sixties, had become a notable phenomenon by the end of the decade: the earliest and biggest rags (a definition they gleefully accepted) such as the Los Angeles Free Press and the San Francisco area's Berkeley Barb were claiming circulation close to 100,000—and this in the era when ‘undergrounds’ still cost money. For reasons unexplained, the west was ahead this time. It took an artist, Walter Bowart, to introduce New York to the East Village Other, a tabloid likely to make the world pay attention. It was a radically different paper, as might be expected from an artist to whom words, in general, played second place to visual images.

At first little was seen of the paper beyond Greenwich Village, but by issue number five we were united in our admiration for the beloved Slum Goddess, an unlikely-sounding pin-up.

When I accepted Walter’s invitation to become EVO’s editor, I had already worked for the London Daily Mail, Daily Mirror, Liberty, and the New York Times, the last of which paid me $150 per week, good money for the nineteen fifties. I was 30.

After two years (or was it three?) at the sleepy 1950s Times I was fired, largely, I suspect for lack of attention. My Voice column was over after ten years because, ruled Voice publisher Ed Fancher, I could not write for both the sleepy Voice and its new rival.

I was determined not to work for any established paper. Where was the excitement in that? Naturally it was a vow that could easily have been broken if any good job came along. But as it happened my Big Newspaper days were apparently over and magazine writing took their place. But my career as a newspaperman had one last gig: editing the East Village Other for the six weeks I had left before becoming a fulltime magazine writer.

When I went off to Japan to revise my travel book about that lovable country, I didn't expect my romance with Sherry to survive, and of course it didn't. But our happy month-long idyll still had its course to run.

The tiny East Village Other might have seemed unlikely to come up with a contemporary legend. But after EVO launched its weekly panel depicting the current Slum Goddess, it gained a worldwide reputation among comic connoisseurs. The first three pictures show every early Goddess looking lovingly at viewers, hands in front of the chest. Pictures one, two and three depict the current goddess posed, one arm diagonally across the chest. In the fourth picture, she would appear bare-breasted. Sherry was to take the place of the goddess as we shot the sequence.

“I'll do it” laughed the goddess. “But Walter will have to be there”.

When we filmed it, Walter was there and after we'd filmed it, in one take, we went for dinner. And that's how, after ten years, I left the Village Voice.

I can’t remember when Amber first appeared in my life. I must have hired her as an assistant around 1963, or maybe a year or two before. Certainly I surely married her in the early sixties but the picture of us both (at left) posing in London, suggests a married couple. Our families, and sometimes ourselves, all had traditional ideas in those days about being married before taking off together.

Nor do I remember giving her much guidance about the work. In 1964 I was 37 which means Amber was around 24, and as the years passed I became more and more reliant on her competence. In fact eventually she took over all the necessary chores on a little monthly magazine, doing all the jobs that I couldn’t do for the life of me—cleaning, proof reading, typesetting. Not to mention shopping, housekeeping, and all the time-consuming tasks that a busy editor—of as small a magazine was caught up in, as you're likely to see. I saw her again recently, for the first time in decades, and proposed again, more than 60 years after the first time. Sadly, I don’t think she’s interested.

**********************

Note for friends: I dropped out of the working life in the Spring of last year when I had a stroke which has so far cost me about $150,000—pretty much all I had. I must find work to survive, and would be grateful If anybody has any suggestions...

6/6/15



National Weed (1974, issue #3)


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