the column of lasting insignificance...
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Don't let a real-life comic strip sneak by unnoticed. This one's too unusual (and brilliant) for that!
From my elevated perch I could observe all the arrivals and should an attractive girl in a red dress catch my eye as she entered I could sense the thought going through her head. He told me to meet him at the party here? But how will I find him among this huge crowd? So it would become an amusing little game to see if I could guess who she sought and locate him before she did.
There was never a shortage of things to write about, but one week, responding to a challenge, I managed to get a column out of reading the Manhattan Phone Book. On page 55 I discovered a Winston Alias, later on two listings for the American Council on Marihuana, a genuine archbishop at 630 Second Avenue, Ethel and Lawrence Ambush, the Academy of Animal Careers, a Mr. Again at 23 Greene Street, Mr. L. Argue on East 13th Street, David Air of Beach Street and Alfie Cockatoo and his Comedy Mackaws. All these in the first 102 pages! I was surprised how many well-known names were listed: photographer Berenice Abbott, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, actress Susan Anspach, Ti-Grace Atkinson, Stella Adler, Hardy Amies, Arthur Ashe, David Amram and artists Kathy Acker, Carl Andre, Arman and a Mr. John Artist with an upstate listing. And that was just the A's. Amusing names, too: Blatas Arbit, Chief Abobargo, Diomedes Abreu, Aliyu, Ago Agopop, Solange Waldestrudis, Epifanio, Hannelore, and Schiffer Aesthetics.
Thursday, March 8: Donald Judd's olive green metal sculpture dominated the lobby of the Guggenheim Museum. It looked like half-completed office furniture but had the merit of keeping down congestion at the bar. Longtime Googy boss Thomas Messer, an opera buff, skirted the edges greeting guests. Among the nods he returned was that of Ruth Ann Fredenthal. "He came down to see my work", said Ruth. "Now there's a man with good taste". Between taking her usual photos of elbows, shoulders, ankles and kneecaps, Abby R pointed out the Russian writer Elene Shapova ("the punk Brunhild") who had long fur ears hanging from her cap. Then she identified Diane Keaton's artist escort as Steve Gianakos whose current work is entitled 'How to Murder Your Pet'. "His last work was for a miniature golf course" Abby revealed. "It was a dog into whose mouth you shot the ball; then it came out of its ass". Around the neck of Olga Osmerkin was a preview of husband Gennady's display of sculptured jewelry (Faber gallery, March 15) but the deep, dark pools that were Olga's eyes were what held my attention. She's an art historian from the Ukraine who, three years ago, was working at the Kiev Museum.
Friday, March 9: Vernita Nemec dropped by to take me to a roller disco party at the seedy Diplomat Hotel at whose entrance we were handed a T-shirt labeled Don Robbie and two group photos of disco dancing guys. Amid flashing lights the sphinx-like Vernita said her palmist told her she had been on the planet for 2000 years. Fiorucci green sheen and Venice boardwalk teenybopper shorts careened all around us. "His name's Mr. Singh and he has to read 1,000 palms to gain enlightenment" Vernita shouted, as a woman in a neck brace glided by.
Saturday, March 10: At Landmark Gallery, Millicent Brower introduced me to painter Jean Davidson who'd just moved to a loft at 8th Ave. & 19th St where she was being deafened by police sirens. "Federal Sign & Signal have just perfected one that penetrates buildings" said Milly. "It tests at 110 decibels; the police want everybody to be sure of their presence". In quieter days Milly lived in a carriage house at 135 E 27th St whose two 10' x 16' ft rooms were connected by a spiral staircase. In this house in the '50s (rent $85) William (The Recognitions) Gaddis met his first wife and Norman Mailer offered me my first joint. Milly's green, yellow, and lilac blouse, bought at an off season sale in Palm Beach, contrasted sharply with the plain black number worn by Landmark's bubbly Victoria Oscarron. Her single touch of color—scarlet lipstick—recalled Kurosawa's High and Low, a b&w movie that was subtly interrupted by a single puff of orange smoke. On WBay Leo Castelli walking with his patrician dalmatian Paddy & a startlingly beautiful frizzy blonde rebuked me gently about last week's diary. Not just himself, he said, but all the dealers helped the Teheran Museum of Modern Art assemble a vast collection of contemporary art which, doubtless at this very moment, was being covered to its eyebrows by the Ayatollah's men. At a loft party on Broadway, Marty Fine was dancing with Sharon Wynbrandts whom he's hired to paint his elevator at 644 Bway. "It will look like the mirrored hall at Versailles" promises Sharon. Methinks Marty is trying to soften his loft-lord image.
Sunday, March 11: London's Private Eye, never noted for shilly shallying, has a simple explanation for Bianca Jagger's constant jetting across the pond on $1500 Concorde flights. It's not Mick Jagger who is paying the bills, explains PE
Monday, March 12: The usual crowd of suspects (Robert Dunham, Marvin, Marilyn, Judson Hand, etc.) were drinking the pale punch at Gotham Book Mart until we split together to crash the party at The Four Seasons for Joseph Heller’s book. When I handed him a newsletter he inspected the byline and remembered me from when we both wrote for The Realist. I also worked at The New York Times ('57-60) and who should turn up but the Book Review's Harvey Schapiro who told me about his forthcoming book of poetry Lords & Nightsounds of which the first line is I hear the music from the street every night... "It wasn't really from the street, if you know what I mean" said Harvey's haughty escort who declined to give her name. Well, as W.H. Auden once said, "poetry is what makes nothing happen". Beside banks of Idaho pansies, got into conversation with the intriguing Donna Ferrato who said she took pix for Soho Weekly News, New York magazine and Plato’s Retreat! She introduced me to Philip Nobile who writes New York’s Intelligencer column and we all agreed that purple seemed to be the color of the week. We had seen so much of it around, said MB that we were all suffering from purple sensory overload. Over at the 55th St. Pier, New York's present editor John Berendt and former editor James Brady were among 2,000 guests celebrating the release of Lester Persky's movie Hair. Handed out newsletters to Lester Persky, Milos Forman, Allen Tannenbaum, and Jill Krementz. Then Henry Geldzahler arrived raving about the film. “It has depth; it has a moral. It lifted me two feet off the ground”. The entire pier was decorated end to end with a forest of twigs and boughs....scenic backdrops on the walls.....half a dozen bars.... piles of gourmet food and fabulous desserts, waiters circulating with trays of quail eggs....organ grinder with monkey.... and about half a mile away disco dancing and laser show. Even Warhol was impressed with rumors that United Artists had spent $200Gs on the party. "But the movie will make $85 million" enthused Cultural Commisar Henry Geldzahler. Producer Persky posed Rudolph Nureyev beside director Milos Forman and star Beverly D'Angelo causing all the ppz's to go crazy. Everybody went home with bunches of flowers, including LA Weekly's Jeannie Johnson who said she was rushing back to catch the party in Century City where Hair opens the Filmex Festival on Wednesday. "They've covered 8 1/2 acres with astroturf" she revealed. "I hope they have more quail eggs".
Tuesday, March 13: Whatever happened to French movies? they used to be engaging, witty, enervating. But with today's batch I've now seen four in the Carnegie Cinema's current French series and rarely have I found anything to relate to. The prevailing style seems to be the staging of a succession of short, unconnected scenes with minimum, almost meaningless dialog—like blackouts but lacking any real point. "It's because of television, or lack of it" suggests Donald Lyons, a reviewer for Film Comment. "In the U.S. these grade B domestic movies long ago passed into the realm of TV". He might have added that lacking the volume of TV that we have over here, French directors have less feedback about societal attitudes. Ellen Roumano was there, as she has been at almost every film festival since starting work on her book. TV, she agreed, has definitely "shaped what people expect in style and content" and she felt that this avoidance of narrative by some of the newer French directors smacked of self-indulgence.
Wednesday, March 14: Several art gallery openings were scheduled for tonight but for once I'll pass. Somebody should declare a moratorium on any more artifacts being made, especially if they're the product of artists who've mastered the bureaucracy of grants—the worst setback for genuine creativity that was ever devised. Artists and poets are indubitably the most important members of any society—like children they see the future—but it's their vision, their imagination, their fantasies we need most. What we don't need are any more wooden or metal beams masquerading as sculpture or the bourgeois decadence of Frank Stella's imitation carousel trimmings. How can centuries of tradition and progress have led only to such irrelevant trivialities?
Friday, March 16: Of all the femmes fatale to turn up on the eve of St Patrick's Day, who should call but the indomitable Deirdre who first crashed into my consciousness exactly two years ago when, sporting ankle-length green dress and flowing red hair, she produced a harp, poetry, and Irish culture concert at a WBay gallery. "My namesake", she announced provocatively, "was the Irish heroine whose very existence was enough to drive all her lovers mad". Well, what could have been more irresistibly adventurous than a challenge like that? Sure enough she drove me completely bonkers and now here it is two years later and I'm sat in Fanelli's watching the slit in her skirt part like the Red Sea every time she gulps her Guinness. But like the heroine of old, Deirdre speaks mostly in riddles and I'm never at my best in bars where I usually feel like an underwater scuba diver with a weight around my ankle and a tank of air that is fast running out. Survival comes first and with a fond adieu I escape into the night.
Wednesday, March 21: Most of the crowd at Miller Gallery (724 5th) for Robert Mapplethorpe's decadent photos looked as tho' they'd liked to have been punks if they hadn't been so indelibly idle rich. So different from the literary-to-the-eyebrows folk at the 22nd St. bash for Doris Grumbach's novel Chamber Music (Dutton). NYTimes Book Review editor Harvey Schapiro nudged elbows with publisher Thomas Congdon (a name well known in Nantucket whaling history) who keeps bees in Manhattan and who discovered Maxwell Perkins and Jaws while still in ms. Some bearded loser was beefing about how the Voice's publisher didn't return his phone calls (he doesn't return anybody's) and B. Dalton's Susan Singleton said they were all in raptures at the store because everybody's favorite saint, Sophia the Sexy, had admired their window display. Over at Cooper Union's Great Hall 70% capacity crowd was listening with surprising patience to art critics reading essays to each other and at 224 Center Street filmmaker Phil Niblock was celebrating the Vernal Equinox with another of his six-hour marathons: explicitly detailed documentation of hands at work—cutting cactus, shaping bamboo, fashioning tortillas—to the familiar oscillating electronic background that gets louder every time you think you can't stand any more. Spring's here at last.
Thurs, March 22: Any movie star who hangs around bookshops has my vote & lovely Ali McGraw, who turned up for Books & Co’s party for Erica Jong proved to be a real charmer without any of those aggravatingly ‘actressy’ airs. Jong was kept busy signing copies of At the Edge of the Body, her fourth poetry book which concludes “...the honey’s in the making if you come.” Gotham Book Mart’s Andreas Brown, wearing a “protect Unicorns” button, stopped by—to check out the competition?—and Rosalyn Drexler fresh from her play The Writer’s Opera, was mulling over the reception accorded to her novel by Publisher’s Weekly which alleged that never had a more “unwholesome, bawdy, and disgusting group” ever been assembled. It’s called The Great Goddess Mother Cult and is about a female punk rock group. Down at the Mudd Club, Larry Rivers and such Art heavies as Art in America’s Betsy Baker cautiously watched the antics of a man wearing an Earth Shoes sack over his face and other masked weirdoes attending the benefit for Carla Liss’ Paranoids Anonymous Newsletter. Espying the glamorous Hannah Wilke in the crowd, I enticed her to Raoul’s where, over double espressos, I confessed my long-term infatuation. “You’ll probably outlast all the others” she smiled sweetly.
Monday, March 26th: BBC cameras were at Books & Co as Fran Leibowitz read from her work-in-progress. She spoke about LA where “the most popular form of currency is the point” and where even radio shows have makeup artists; the poor “who usually summer where they winter”; and the subject of getting large advances for books as yet unwritten. As everybody filed out of the narrow room a man was handing a dollar bill to his girlfriend from an open wallet & the next four or five people to pass reached in spontaneously to take one. The guy just smiled and allowed it to happen.
Tuesday, March 27: Blackout Looting! is the title of the book sponsored by the Ford Foundation for which they gave a party in their tree-filled atrium on E. 42nd St. The exclamation point makes it sound like a fun new game but the study—by Robert Curvin & Bruce Porter—is a serious analysis of that expensive NYC night. July 13, 1977, when all the lights blew. Lawyer Manny Epstein who got the first three alleged looters off the hook—“It was dark; prove it was them” I argued-explained that eventually the DA got smart and told the courts there’d been an undercover cop across the street who saw it all-and prove there wasn’t. At the Lefebre Gallery endless champagne opened the show of Argentine artist Segui, and at Books & Co, which people still loved, he said, because “on TV there are no mistakes; it’s kind of a mortuary activity”. Donna, the demon photographer, took me to the opening of the Fun Palace, an enormous disco at 527 W 57th St. whose chief asset is a tatty amusement arcade dispensing free popcorn. All the paparazzi and Party Circuit crowd were there but most agreed with social arbiter Jonathan Michaels: “Interesting, but only for once”. Among the hundreds of cavorting guests were a huge whistle and a woman whose tiny black waistcoat exposed tits and pubes in company with a gilded fellow wearing only a jockstrap. And how typical of a gay disco that is should end with a 40-minute group grope to retrieve coats.
Manhattan Memories is available at amazon.com.
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also available on amazon.com...
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