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As publishing a full-scale tabloid became less and less commercially viable, I began my newsletter Nomad, a four-page newsletter mailed worldwide In January 1973 noting how many backpackers were on the road, Nomad offered tips on living rough, sleeping on beaches or in graveyards and earning money using primitive folk craft talents: macramé or stringing beads. We met one man at a bar on a Greek beach making his living costs selling simple necklaces he made on the spot. His only ingredients: horseshoe nails, wire, pliers and leather thongs--all kept in an old tobacco can.
We noted the best places to get used camper buses and how to obtain student cards (even if you weren't a student). We reported on nude beaches and Greek cheese pies; overland tours to Nepal and living on a houseboat in Amsterdam; the best days to cross the border from Spain into Morocco without being stranded in the Sahara and what you needed for a 28-day tour of all South America. John Giorno wrote about his stay in a Buddhist monastery in India and Lillian Roxon offered guidance on successful hitchhiking Down Under.
Best of all, from a subscriber's point of view, was that we offered impressive-looking free Nomad press cards, "good for what you can get away with". And in some of the world's remoter outposts, our readers gleefully reported, you could get away with an awful lot.
IN SAN FRANCISCO I had been gratified to meet lanky Ed Buryn, as dedicated a traveler as I’d ever encountered, and a man after my own heart. The title of his seminal books says it all: Vagabonding in Europe and Vagabonding in America, both guides to the kind of nomads who use their ingenuity more than their credit cards. “The U.S. was settled by vagabonds: Indians, pilgrims, adventurers, pioneers, nomads of all races” he wrote. “Vagabonding is in our blood, a sure sign of the energy of this people and this land”.
A former Naval engineer, Buryn had crisscrossed this country 30 or 40 times keeping his book up to date, and it was at its most interesting, he averred, if travelers eschewed well-worn paths. “Forget what all the travel ads say, look at how Columbus did it. Pick a new vessel, a new crew, a new route a new destination.
“Living in the richest country in the world (probably no longer true in 2008) means that its leavings, castoffs, extras, and used paraphernalia are abundantly available everywhere. The basic rule is to spend your time and energy in lieu of spending money. Occasional fasting not only saves money but will make you alert and energized, ready to perceive and experience more”. The goal of the vagabond was “always to make more from less, to discover that any place could be magical”.
And everything he said and wrote struck a chord with me. There are so many famous quotations making the point that the journey itself is at least as important as the destination. So many of us, myself included, often coast carelessly through life, barely noticing what we pass through, so intent are we in getting some place. Tangible evidence of this sometimes impressed me when I showed a piece of videotape of a familiar street to somebody who maybe traversed it every day. With fascination they would notice for the first time things they had never even seen—the distinctive etched pattern on an ancient door, the weary expression worn by a street vendor, the luminous flowers on a second-story windowsill. The way that this sort of hiding-in-plain-sight is so familiar that it goes unnoticed, is why it’s usually better to hire a stranger to write a travel guide than somebody who’s lived there all his life.
At the Cannes Film Festival I shared a $10 a day ‘double’ room with my friends Martha Zenfell and Sally Hart, one of them hiding each morning when breakfast for two was delivered by room service. We typed onto stencils which were picked up by Mike Tickner, a London printer who’d volunteered to come along, living in a tent on the edge of town. There, he turned our stencil into primitive mimeographed newsletters, In the Cannes, filled with the gossip that Sally and Martha picked up around town each day. From the second day onwards it was easy to collect gossip by handing out a free copy of the daily. By evening we had gathered in our tiny hotel room to condense our collective reports, a batch of 30-150 word items about interesting developments, deals and people. We interviewed an unknown director, Martin Scorsese, one of whose early movies was being debuted and I tried a non-stop interview with Robert Altman, running alongside him on the beach (he wouldn’t slow down), but extracting little beyond angry monosyllables in answer to my questions.
The following spring (1975) we were better organized, having paid a printer to print logos and department heads on both sides of 1,000 dated sheets of 17x12” paper for each day, the color alternating between red and green. Into these forms we fitted the news items and then photocopied the final result. The resulting broadsheet was folded three times to produce a pocket-sized newsletter about 4x6”. The 15c it cost for each copy would have been easily redeemable if we had had an efficient ad salesman which unfortunately we didn’t.
For a feature backlog I found an old book about screenwriting by Anita Loos (who had worked with DW Griffiths on Birth of a Nation) and sought her permission to reprint chapters from her books which she graciously granted.
What sabotaged the whole affair was the greed of Jim Buckley, co-founder (with Al Goldstein of the New York sex paper Screw) who had agreed to finance the venture after seeing our efforts of the previous year. In actual fact what Jim did, was to use In the Cannes to promote a movie he had brought to the festival and then balk at paying for most of the printing. I suppose he thought I would pick up the tab myself, but instead I just quit cold, ending In the Cannes halfway through its run. Later I will sadly relate how I failed to learn my lesson and got appropriately “screwed” over financial matters twice more by Jim before cutting the links between us 40 years later.
I did prove to myself something that I had always suspected and that was how easy and relatively inexpensively somebody could produce a pirate paper, for what in effect was a captive audience at a specific event. It started me dreaming of setting up a VW bus with all the simple equipment one would need: a good typewriter, an Itek machine (which converts a paste-up into a plastic or paper plate on a simple press something like a mimeograph machine). Of course, long before I tried to out the idea in practice I was overtaken by a much more streamlined technology.
The Soho streets were crowded every Saturday when there were usually a dozen or more openings. The best-known artists were rarely visible, content to stay in their spacious—and by then luxurious—lofts, but on at least one occasion Warhol turned up with an armful of Interview magazines which he handed out, and signed for awestruck pedestrians. One of the friendliest major artists around the scene was James Rosenquist who was known for huge paintings that consumed the entire walls of galleries. Six years younger than me, he had moved to New York from North Dakota the same year as myself, 1955, and whenever we met in Soho he was jovial, always seemed to be smiling. His background as a billboard painter had given him the right heft and experience to paint enormous, brightly-colored works that overwhelmed everybody who saw them. One of them was a fitting introduction to the Museum of Modern Art’s Pop show. His 7 by 35 ft work Time Dust is probably the largest painting in the world.
Yoko Ono was active in the wonderfully anarchist Fluxus group, the most interesting of all the avant gardists. At Judson Church on Washington Square, participants crawled into a black bag on the floor, theoretically deprived of all external sights and sounds, was an early Yoko event. Occult circles have long played with something similar known as the Witches Cradle, which adds a dimension by taking place in an completely enclosed hammock.
Ono’s Sales List, a feature we ran in the Other Scenes issue devoted to the Venice Biennale, included such whimsical items as
Crying machine: Drops tears and cries for you when coin is deposited.
April 22, 1978: Photographer Marcia Resnick hosted a $475 Gotham Book Mart party to launch her Re-Visions. A sprinkling of punk rock pals, green hair, and safety pins, mingled with the straights who've been attending these parties since Gotham's Frances Steloff (now 90) was smuggling Henry Miller's books from Mexico in the Fifties. (Of course, I always had the hots for cute Marcia. But so did everybody else.)
Sun, May 7: The Robert Freidus gallery on Lafayette Street is actually somebody’s luxuriously furnished apartment, so openings there always have the aura of intimate parties. Today the roof was open, displaying a selection of sculptor Jay Kelly’s constructions, most of which drip, squirt of spray water. The artist, who makes simple sundials that look like metal spinning tops, tripped and scattered a bagful of ice cubes all over the floor which diverted my attention from a comely lady who had just told me that her name was—no kidding—Skye Vermont; a poet, as who wouldn’t be with a monicker like that. At the Broome Street party later, somebody told me I’d missed yet another of Sharon Wynbrandt’s performances (she’s doing seven, on successive Monday nights) at her White Street loft. “You should certainly have come this time; she was nude”. Sharon turned up at the party and amplified: “Yes, it was lovely. I did my Dance for Red Laser and Trumpet with the laser beam caressing my body all over. My children were in it, too”. Next, I got into conversation with an actress who said she worked part-time as assistant cook in the executive dining room at one of the networks. “Boy”, she said, “talk about naked power; I’ve seen it all”.
Tues, May 9: Blond Charmian Stirling had arrived in New York for the first time only a few hours earlier. She said she was here to draw half a dozen portraits which usually took about six hours apiece. “Men fall asleep and women look worried when being drawn” she added. Painter Walter David and I discovered we had a mutual friend, Sam Middleton, another black artist who lives in Amsterdam. “He influenced me a lot” Walter confided. “I’ll always remember his horizon painting—a thin blue line across an otherwise blank canvas. Who influenced Sam? Well, Romaire Bearden for one. Miro probably, and…oh Matisse. And they must all have been influenced by jazz. Walter was wearing a red blazer, checkered shirt with tie and neatly pressed slacks.
“Last night I had on T-shirt and jeans” he said. “Thelonious Monk once said, ‘We don’t play the same music so we don’t have to dress the same”. Colette, who has always been uniquely attired at any event at which I’ve seen her, never dresses the same. Tonight she sported the Victorian punk look with pink jacket, Chinese print dress, shimmering pink shoes and bloomers. “I’ll be on view in Fiorucci’s window on 59th Street next week” she revealed.
Tues, Sept. 1: The opening movie of the NY Film Festival screenings, Blood Brothers, was just about to make its appearance as a novel when I was putting together a new paper, National Weed, two years ago. Now here I am putting together another new paper, The National Opener, and it turns up again, this time as a movie. I liked it. Everybody in the story seems to be constantly extending themselves to educate, enhance, and enlighten somebody else with the concept of blood brothers always expanding into the larger world around the closely-knit Italian family, which is at its core. After the screening, down to Franklin Furnace where a table full of old books had been annotated by Steven Cortwright in an amusing & imaginative fashion. A gold-covered volume entitled The Emperor’s New Clothes naturally contained only blank pages; a 1908 text book, Ventilation had holes in it; Eat & Get Slim was half chewed away and a black stain blotted out more and more of the successive pages of The Lengthening Shadow.
Sun, Sept. 17: At the final Art of the Beach performance, a motley band of people squeaked, beeped and made a variety of strange sounds with their voices unaccompanied. Rosemary Castoro sat contemplating the ‘forest’ of logs she had stuck in the ground in symmetrical rows. The Battery Park City authority had insisted she remove them though as there were no signs of building it was a mystery why they couldn’t stay. Marian Zazeela’s fantastic light display (pastel lights creating four color shadows for every two mobiles) at Heiner Friedrich on W. Broadway seemed a perfect setting for LaMonte Young’s recital. For four hours fans reclined on thick carpets while the insistently melodious ripplings of a Bosendorfer piano swept through the cavernous room in repetitively reinforcing waves. The improvised soundtrack ran thru the brain like an electric current transporting a realm of glittering ideas. Strong, positive music does that, putting one’s sound intake on automatic pilot so it’s not what you are hearing but where it takes you. When I actually examined the music I noted a strong sitar element simulated by the piano, hardly surprising considering that LaMonte has been studying with a noted Indian teacher, Pandit Pran Nath for some years now. At the concert’s end, the audience left without a murmur—no chatter, no applause, just stunned reverence.
Across the street, Andy Warhol sat quietly in a corner of art director Toni Brown’s loft while vulgarians from the Boutique show pranced around drinking absinthe as guests of High Times. After I left, I heard Aaron Kay had thrown a cream pie in Warhol’s face, a dumb thing to do to somebody who’s already been shot by one maniac so far in his life.
Mon, Sept. 18: My friend Joanna Walton had me meet her down at a women’s karate studio, which she feels we ought to rent when the women move out. All around were muscular ladies punching sacks, kicking chairs and letting out blood-curdling screams. Incautiously I muttered something to Joanna about the “emotional” side of some female friend we had in common. “Really?” she said. “Say it louder. Come on, why don’t you say that louder?”
Wed, Sept. 20: A Polish film which opened today’s screenings failed to grab my attention and I left at the same time as Screw’s Al Goldstein who gave me a lift downtown in his chauffeured Rolls Royce. Artist Ruth Kligman was at the 3 P.M. screening of the Robert Altman’s A Wedding which was better than RA’s usual trash. Ruth, with impressive credentials from Cashiers du Cinema, told me how a mutual friend of ours had once made a twin-pincered grab down her blouse and up her skirt simultaneously. It was very different from my un-aggressive style, I said, and she replied: “Oh I don’t mind aggressiveness. But it’s got to be with some finesse.”
Thurs, Sept. 21: Early morning appointment at Grossett & Dunlap to pitch to the editor who’s handling the new line of miniature travel books, four out so far. I made an offer to do Tokyo and Hong Kong when the time came and could turn in a manuscript within two months.
Lunch at the Overseas Press Club where a team from the new Life magazine explained why it was going to be easier to bring out the magazine now (as a monthly) than when they folded six years ago. Firstly, TV advertising (which milked their market before) is now more expensive and in shorter supply; secondly, the whole state of publishing is healthier that it’s ever been (partly because so many publications followed the lead of the underground press and shifted to offset).
The Life team did their best but, honestly, it sounds like it’s going to be dull. Publisher Chuck Whittingham, 48, set a new record for the 100-yard dash back in 1951 (9.6 seconds) but here he’s lumbered with a six-week lead time and it results in features such as the one in the first issue about the Shah of Iran’s secret retreat. “We’re not going to be chasing the news”, Life editor Philip Kunhardt remarked, in an understatement. With the company’s past record they might not even have to chase advertisers much either, but readers are another matter. Although it does sound like the kind of soothing, trouble-free publication that one likes to read at the dentist.
Mon, Nov. 2: My one-time friend Bill Cole told me that the membership committee of P.E.N., had declined my application on the grounds that I was “a journalist” rather than the serious writer (i.e. poet or novelist) they wanted as a member. As I was pondering the injustice of it all, after crashing today’s P.E.N. party, a member consoled me: “We used to have distinguished figures on the board,” he said, “but currently we’re going through a non-entity period, marked by Russian-type elections in which the elitists keep each other in power.” Current nonentity chairman is somebody named Richard Howard—a poet, of course, and undoubtedly one of the Establishment types who have an inflated view of their relevance to society. Frankly, I’ve never understood why if we can afford to pay farmers not to grow corn, then why can’t we pay poets not to write it. But back to Bill Cole, a member of the committee who rejected me. Fifteen years ago he was always sending me his books (anthologies of other people’s writing) seeking plugs in my Voice column. And I always obliged. Imagine my amazement, therefore, when I asked him to mention in his column a book about magic that I had published last year. “Sorry, I don’t write about my friends,” replied the urbane William, whose column has now been axed as being too dull even for Saturday Review. (Hard to get much duller than that).
Sun, Nov. 26: Time was when it was almost more than one’s life was worth for a male writer to wander among the angry feminist writers at Claudia Dreifus’ parties. But today’s gathering was a pleasantly low-key respite from a frenetic Thanksgiving week. And as Claudia—just back from Africa—promised, there was plenty of food, but no turkey. When I got home I read in the paper that food has also been on the mind of the nation’s dentists who have been urged to warn their customers of the dangers to dental health of hidden sugar in processed foods. Dentists, of all people! My own dentist used to have his own way of conveying the message: “Eat plenty of candy,” he always joked as I left. It’s good for me.”
Tues, Nov. 28: On the way between the photo show opening at the French Embassy and Bert Brittain’s Books & Co. we followed a fur-coated crowd into Sotheby Park-Bernet where a 3-day sale of Russian icons were being previewed. Highly paid peasants were strumming Russian ballads and a lavish bar dispensed Napoleons (Vaklova vodka, Perrier, and lime). Leaning against a wall beside the hanging catalog I was frequently accosted by curious ladies seeking to check estimated prices. No. 379, a 16th century painting of the Archangel Michael was expected to fetch $30,000-$40,000. A lady in a hot puce silk blouse, all covered in Chinese characters, said: “It’s a love poem. I got it in Bangkok & tomorrow I’m going to the Chinese laundry to get it translated. Robert passed, in search of a Russian, dissident somebody had pointed out. “I hope you’re not going to talk about that man,” Vanessa scolded. “He’s stupid and boring & takes advantage of everybody.”
At the bookstore, boss BB was talking about “women & sensuality” to a woman in a flaming red dress named Joan Mellen who said she’d just finished her seventh book Masculinity in American Films.”
Next we all hit the $75 American Cancer Society benefit at Alexander’s dept. store, which was celebrating the debut of its gourmet dept., with 300 creamy desserts, champagne, strawberries & cream, and kahlua in chocolate cups. Setting was the 5th floor Café des Artistes whose owner, Hungarian-born George Lang obviously appreciates a sweet tooth. He should go into partnership with my old dentist.
Sonia Moskowitz, the ubiquitous photog who was last seen on TV eating an ice cream cone at the Erlichman wedding reception, was chatting with Soho News photog Allan Tannenbaum as Xtazy’s hammy models put on a camp fashion show in which they simulated NY Times mag fashion ads by posing languidly on coat racks. No, it was not. A brace of window-dressers minced through the diabetes-prone crowd and the dumpy lady known as the Queens Connection grabbed my arm and said she’d been concentrating on the Manhattan circuit lately. Showed me her party list for the day, which included the Yugoslavian Consulate and at least three cocktail receptions in smart midtown hotels.
Back home, at 12:30, I called Sally S, the poet from Philly whose ad I’d answered in New York Review of Books. She’d sent me a mimeographed letter saying she’d be at the Plaza but now she said she was so annoyed at being awoken by “a stranger” that she no longer wanted to meet me. (If you don’t like late hours, go back to Philly).
Wed, Nov. 29: The best art show I’ve seen for a long time was at the Alternative Center for International Arts, 28 East 4th St., where “Wall Works” included two that were connected to the floor, too, with literal threads—a nail painted into the picture joined to a nail hammered into the floor by Liliana Porter. “Cast light, cast shadow,” read the overlapping positive & negative slides projected by Rudolph Montanez. An intriguing canvas comic strip depicted Judy Blum’s “Paris Case of Mistaken Identity.” Over at the Midtown Gallery, 344 E. 14th St., I was bear hugged upon entering by photog Larry Siegel whose show it was and who said my book had sent him to Mexico long ago, when it was still $5 a day, and he had only recently returned.
Onwards to the kitchen where the intriguingly named Pooh Kaye & three friends were crouched crinkling coats of leaves into dust during the course of a dance, which ended with them all, throwing dust in each other’s faces. Pooh Kaye’s mentor, Simone Forti, who once asked me to stop giving her my diary, sat near the front and told friends she’d just returned from Italy where she’d given eight performances and it hadn’t rained once.
Thurs, Nov. 30: Colette Rips Off Herself at Victoria Falls was the title of the distinguished stylist’s performance at the elegant Spring St. boutique, which specializes in last century’s undergarments. As well as flimsy slips, Colette is offering $50 T-shirts—“a bargain to that uptown crowd who are used to paying $200”, one cynic observed. Over at Sarah Rentschler’s gallery—often the best openings—there was a fine array of cheeses & chocolate cake but not many familiar faces so we all headed down to Franklin Furnace where a guy named Bill Gordh was backing across the floor on hands & knees, dragging a bag with his teeth while barking and growling. FF’s cat fled upstairs but the children in the audience laughed gleefully. And at 178 Duane St., Vernita Nemec’s birthday performance turned into a party with cake & champagne.
Fri, Dec. 1: Valerie Oisteanu was handing out blue slips of paper, about the size of fortune cookie mottoes, each emblazoned with the word POISON to announce his poetry memorial reading for Jim Jones at Jamie Canvas. “I’m your guide/Come for a ride/With the help of cyanide,” he chanted, with a maniacal cackle. Can suicide ever be fun?
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National Weed (1974, issue #3)
Over the past year, my combined medical and support costs from a stroke I had in April 2014 have been more than $100,000. If you'd like to help, use the Paypal donate button, or better yet, buy my book, and thank you. —JW
- Complete column archives: 2006 - present
— Dear Reader,
— 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.
- column archives: 2006 - present
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February 12, 2015
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