the column of lasting insignificance...
Now Available in Print!!
Don't let a real-life comic strip sneak by unnoticed. This one's too unusual (and brilliant) for that!
Sunday, Jan 21, 1979: Today was the first time I tried to use my new Citibank cash card but after three or four lines of inventive dialog the machine stubbornly copped out, petulantly declining to explain why it couldn’t complete the transaction. By noon, still cashless, I was on the 8th Ave. subway to Kew Gardens from which the bus to JFK costs a mere 50c instead of the MTA’s current $3.50 train-to-the-plane hype which is no faster. And then to Los Angeles via Braniff’s cheapo ($303 round trip) flight, which pauses at Washington, San Antonio & Austin. My airborne reading included the NY Times review of Kevin McAuliffe’s Village Voice bio called The Great American Newspaper which made the point that the old Voice was “a writers’ paper”—just exactly what me and so many other unemployed writers are waiting to find today. Nobody I know reads the ’79 Voice, whose appeal is mainly to out-of-towners, apartment hunters, and masochistic politicos. And the Soho News, after five years, is still in the 20,000 doldrums despite its 100,000 press run during the recent strike. Obviously both are vulnerable and thus ideas for new weeklies are floating around.
Monday, Jan. 22: Lunch at Musso & Franks—its interior like a cavernous 3rd Avenue saloon—with Eve Babitz, witty chronicler of LA mores (Fast Nights, Slow Company, Knopf)—who’s just completed her first novel, all about a randy Santa Monica lady beach bum. Eve was asked by Saturday Review for a piece about how New Yorkers feel about LA. “But what I gave them”, said she, “was a piece on what NY editors think people feel about LA.” Next, to 5325 Sunset, a rambling old house where Jay Levin (who was hired by Larry Flynt from the NY Post to run the now-defunct LA Freep) has just published #7 of the new LA Weekly. His cover story about “televangelism” says that some of these high-powered TV prophets (one of whom operates from a giant parking lot into which his adherents drive & listen from their cars) are raking in close to a quarter of a million bucks per day from admiring suckers. They are watched on hundreds of TV stations and their escalating social, financial, and political power is frightening. “Have you stopped to think what might have happened if Jim Jones had had a large TV following?” asked one critic. Distributing 60,000 copies each Thursday, the LA Weekly describes itself as the publication of “news, people, entertainment, art & imagination.”
Tuesday, Jan. 23: After lining up for one hour during which I filled in 40 answers to common sense questions (got four wrong) I was told that my new California driving license—the one which bears a color photo & expires on your birthday—would arrive in the mail soon. Former High Times editor Ed Dwyer bought me lunch. He came out here three weeks ago after Tom Forçade shot himself and the trio now running the mag thoughtlessly dumped Bob Singer & made a vapid, young secretary editor. Now working for Hugh Hefner’s Oui, Ed’s searching for writers to help him spend a beefed-up budget for the magazine’s Openers section.
Off to Venice where one of the funniest men in America (“I’m listed in Who’s Who as what’s that”), the ex-Swami X, is drawing the same-size crowds on the boardwalk as he used to in NYC’s Washington Square. Swami considers himself more of a philosopher these days—“A philosopher is a comic who doesn’t care if he gets laughs or not”—but astrology rules his life as much as ever. He was the first to mention the latest (post-earthquake) LA paranoia, viz that a tidal wave is expected to hit the West Coast this coming Sunday. A more pressing problem (I said) was how could I learn to stop snoring because my host had insisted on me sleeping alone because it was keeping her awake. Swami called his hypnotist friend, then reported: “It will cost $30 for a one-hour session but he can’t guarantee anything.” Planned to call him back but Swami, his lady Sher, and I got stoned together & talked until well past midnight. Stopped at a Jack-in-the-Box on the way home and, crazy New Yorker that I am, sat down inside to eat, listening to the squeaky orders coming over the loudspeaker from drivers waiting behind each other’s exhaust fumes as they inched their way around the building to pick up their food. Drive-ins!—so L.A.
Wednesday, Jan 24: En route to Santa Monica stopped in three separate post offices only to find long lines, one solitary counter open, and none of the stamp machines operating. Though discouraged, I was reassured to note that the US Postal Service clearly eschews geographical favoritism, is thus inefficient everywhere. Irresistibly drawn to homemade potato chips on the Santa Monica pier. Ate so many I almost od’d on the damn things, shaken back to life by the sight of a stuffed and lacquered piranha fish being touted as “just what your friends always wanted.” What MY friends want—and kept reminding me to bring—were boxes of See’s chocolates, creamy fudge-filled delights which are slightly cheaper than Beluga caviar. Happily, See’s will mail, although if they have to wait in the post office as long as I did it would be faster by Greyhound bus. Michael Caine was on Merv Griffin’s show tonight, talking about real estate—currently LA’s second-favorite preoccupation (after earthquakes). Having just bought a house 50 yards over the Beverly Hills line into LA, said Caine, he’s been told that prices were high because of school expenditures. But costly as the house was, he said, he’d figured out that what he’d saved in that 50-yard difference was enough to build his own school.
Thursday, Jan. 25: “Be It Ever So Humble, There’s No Place Like Home” is the hand-stitched motto above the door in the 40-room Playboy Mansion where booze flowed freely at a party to announce that Hair would be the opening movie at the forth-coming Filmex Festival. Producer Lester Persky & director Milos Forman were present as were Buck Henry, Chevy Chase and Murdoch honcho Joe Armstrong. Indoor rose trees, fireplace logs & burning candles were all real as were the flamingoes in the garden. But not a Bunny to be seen.
Friday, Jan. 26: LA Magazine’s Geoff Miller took me to the monthly writers’ lunch at the Palm, an overpriced saloon with sawdust on the floor, caricatures on the walls, and lousy service. Visiting from NY was US editor Sam Angeloff who said he’d heard Look was ruthlessly buying rack space any old how, to make sure the mag had a good send-off next week. But after minimal trade gossip, the lunch degenerated into sex talk helped along by Susan Squire (who’d just authored a piece for Oui on current women sex scribes), gossipest Joyce Haber, Oui’s editor Richard Kramer and two editors from Playgirl, one of whom confessed to experiences with a lover who’d applied pepper to her willing, indeed eager pussy. By the time I left to drive to Ed Lange’s nude ranch in Topanga everybody was on their 5th drink. When I came out of the open-air Jacuzzi, Ed told me he’d just lost a case to an uptight neighbor—Catholic, of course—who, along with Mike Antonovitch had been trying to get them closed for 12 years because of the nudity, even though the grounds are fenced in and he can’t see it. “But we’ll win in the end”, Ed forecast.
Saturday, Jan. 27: The teenyboppers in their flimsy, tight shorts are skating as usual along the Venice boardwalk today. The Swami’s tidal wave? It never arrived.
Thursday, March 15: “Leave early” was the advice proffered for today by the Witches Almanac and it seemed like good sense, as swelling crowds burned up all the oxygen at the evening events. Fans mobbed Batman’s creator Bob Kane at a show of his work in West Broadway’s Circle Gallery where a life-sized reclining Cat Woman oil painting was priced at $15,000. Over at Books & Co, on Madison Avenue, publisher Jonathan Williams was celebrating his 50th birthday, and the 28th anniversary of his Jargon Press, with a show of some of his stellar poetry books (Charles Olson, Robert Creeley, Joel Oppenheimer, Kenneth Patchen) produced over the years. Opulently dressed crashers poured into the new Encore restaurant at 2nd Ave. & 64th Street. The tiny checkroom looked like Alexander’s Fur Vault. Piles of fluffy salmon mousse and other exotic goodies were being constantly replenished. But how many of the freeloaders will be back tomorrow to pick from a menu which lists Beluga caviar at $31.50 per portion? Last stop was at the Harkness Pavilion where I planned to report on the party for The China Syndrome, but it was being organized by that notorious little creep Bobby Zarem who doesn’t even condescend to answer my letters, much less allow me in to see my old friend Jane Fonda. He sent a minion to the door, a snotty stripling barely out of kneesocks, who informed me that only “important” press were invited. (If press agents were compensated according to their limited perception, or even for what they contributed to society, most of them would starve to death).
Saturday, March 17: Right in the middle of this E. 83rd Street party given by my friend from Mexico, Elias Benabib, who should suddenly become rehabilitated but NYC’s former mayor William O’Dwyer who left the city under a cloud about 30 years ago to become ambassador to Mexico. First a folk singer named Stan Satlin sang a ballad all about how O’D was accused of many crimes but charged with nothing, then he quoted his father as saying: “He was a very good mayor and a crook.” All this time, the benevolent-looking O’Dwyer just stood there and said nothing, which, for a politician on St. Pat’s Day, is certain evidence of rehabilitation. Another guest at the party was Arnold Skolnick who designed the original logo (bird on banjo) for the Woodstock Festival. “Now that they’re planning the 10th anniversary concert for this summer”, he joked, “I’ve got the assignment to make that bird look ten years older.”
Sunday, March 18: “Unfortunately there is no possibility at the moment of our extending the present coverage of the art scene,” wrote Roger Wood, one of Murdoch’s Aussie editors in response to my offer to write a column for the New York Post. So that’s what it is that I’ve been doing? And here I’ve been thinking that I was writing popular sociology for people of culture and intelligence. Ah well, what do these carpet-bagging Colonials know about art anyway?
Monday, March 19: Tall models dispensed daffodils & Margaux Hemingway perfume at London designer Hardy Amies “Rites of Spring” bash at NYNY. The bright lights of some cable TV show—a pseudo-event if ever there was one—illuminated the faces of Elizabeth Ashley, Truman Capote, Ruth Kligman (the secret weapon behind Jackson Pollock & Frank Kline) & Hair producer Lester Persky, back from the LA opening. Before I could ask about the quail eggs he’d been moved on. Bob Weiner was working on his first column for the new society magazine, Invitation, since leaving SWN in a dispute over money (he wanted his $200 increased to the $350 Doug Ireland is getting). Money was also the cause of a little altercation at the bar where, to host Amies’ dismay, some guests were being charged $2.75 for every drink.
Tuesday, March 20: Evangeline Tabasco peppers are just about the fiercest items you can pop in your mouth & I’ve had a passion for them since Louisiana-born Sam Wiener gave me a jar at Christmas. He called today to assure me he’d replenish my dwindling supply and we pondered why only some people like it hot. Sam adopted Evangeline Tabasco as his alter ego about 8 years ago and has since put on several shows of “her” work, most recently his miniature art museum (at OK Harris) where all the “sculptures” were pieces of pasta or other items available in any supermarket. It’s so beneficial to have an alternate identity—mine is Oliver Johnson—we wondered why more people didn’t do it. I told Sam I’d write about him today & asked what was going on in his life. “It’s my birthday on Saturday”, he proffered, “and I just had my car towed away.”
Friday, March 23: By 2PM I was already over at the printing plant, 47th & 11th, watching the last sheets of my book, Traveling in Venezuela, come off the presses at 4,500 sheets per hour. Next week the pages go to NJ to be bound & the book should be published about mid-April. Containing 200 pictures, it’s obviously the most comprehensive book about Venezuela you could find. At 5:30, I was watching admirers bring flowers & beribboned packages to Sarah Rentschler at her penthouse gallery atop London Terrace where daffodils were starting to bud amidst the tangled sculpture. The divine Sarah was serving wine & that new, pinkish Soho Soda and among the guests was a construction worker named Charlotte who introduced me to her sister, a writer for Home Furnishing magazine who said she’d discovered a smoke detector that started fires. By publicizing the dervishes concert at Cooper Union the New York Times had over-filled the hall & while I was pondering on whether to head for the Institute for the Study of Restlessness (262 Bowery) to see Mary Forrester dance, I collided with a perfect stranger and off we went hand in hand.
Wednesday, March 28 : From the opening song about poisoning pigeons, to the closing number about WACS in WWII (by a comedy group named High-Heeled Women) Homer Rees’ Cabaret was one of Carnegie Recital Hall’s most curious evenings. After monologues by Marvin Cohen & Maurice Edwards and songs in French, German & English, the audience adjourned for wine downstairs and I headed home to write up this final diary. For 49 consecutive days I have been reporting on the vagaries of NYC social life and I need a rest (which I shall take by spending the summer in Greece revising my book about that country). Most of my 400 readers enjoy being part of the diary society & reading about themselves but few (of course) would dream of subscribing. With writing, it was ever thus. In the fall I shall resume this sociological labor of love.
Saturday, March 2: Down at the Kitchen, a man in knee-high boots sat in a water-filled boat rowing air. It was an evening of zany events by the Fluxus group, the best international art group since Dada, all of whose members have the soul of a Duchamp combined with the imagination of Ernie Kovacs. In one number, Remote Music, a plaster finger came slowly down from the ceiling & played a solitary note on the piano. At 50 W. 29th Street, Marci Vitous & Cliff Glinn were giving a loft party. Said Marci: “I didn’t get a new job. I’m not having a baby. My husband isn’t getting promoted: I don’t even have a husband. It’s just a mindless, noisy party.” It was great. This time last week I met Sherry Lane, a caricaturist who’s about to begin teaching face-reading course, but as I was looking around the crowded room trying to apply some of the hints she’d taught me, I met a lady wearing a necklace of sharks teeth, and everything else went completely out of my head.
Sunday, March 3: Seven of Israel Horovitz’s plays are set in Wakefield Mass., where he was born in 1939, and today’s party (at Quinion Books, 541 Hudson) was to celebrate their publication as The Wakefield Plays. “There are lots of people killing each other & nobody hears about it”, was the startling remark reported by one of the guests, Herb Liebman, who said it had spurred him to write a play, Survivors, which had also been produced at the Actor’s Studio (where IH conducts a playwriting workshop). In addition to his autograph, Horovitz was annotating paperbacks with a rubber stamp several of which he kept in a small plastic box. The talk among my friends turned unaccountably to prostitution, legalization of which seems nearer, and I remarked that more & more ladies of my acquaintance seemed to becoming part-time hookers. This clearly emerging trend has something to do with the loss of shame.
+ + + +
YELLOW JOURNALISM is a phrase that’s always amused me. It’s been defined as “not quite libel” and is usually a derogatory term used by ‘serious’ papers to describe their tabloid rivals. The phrase began during the late 19th century battles between the newspaper magnates Pulitzer and Hearst—neither of them very likeable, from all accounts—when a comic strip featuring a boy in a yellow shirt in Pulitzer’s New York World became known as ‘the yellow kid’ and achieved such popularity that Hearst hired the cartoonist, Richard Outcault, away to work at his New York Journal.
Naturally, Pulitzer hired an artist, George Luks, to create a similar strip to the one he’d lost, so for a while New York had two yellow kids. At any rate, “yellow journalism” became the sneering term for these crass penny dailies and in the modern era has been used for Fleet Street tabloids and their sensational style that so entranced Rupert Murdoch and which he transported to Australia and the U.S.
When High Times’ Tom Forçade offered to make me editor of the new tabloid paper he was planning, I insisted that it be printed on yellow paper and for a solitary issue (after which it folded) it was. Undeterred, at a later date, I decided to produce my own Yellow Journal, about a dozen of which appeared. I handed it out to friends.
Manhattan Memories is available at amazon.com.
comments? send an email to John Wilcock
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
Now on Boing-Boing!
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