the column of lasting insignificance: May 5, 2018
by John Wilcock

From the editor...

THE REAL TRUE HISTORY: When I first came to the United States (from England, then Canada) in the 1950s, there was no such thing as as 'underground' paper. All newspapers were for adults and no alternative existed.

I quickly found myself in Greenwich Village and at the mercy of the Villager which--I'll maybe unkindly say--was a pretty straight forward round of very local news, tea parties, and small town reporting. I tried to start a different sort of paper, more or less aimed at a younger audience, although I myself was in my late twenties with having worked for the London Daily Mail and the London Daily Mirror.

Unfortunately, I didn't have enough money to start a paper, and apart from meeting other ambitious enthusiasts (Ed Fancher and Dan Wolf) our plans for a new paper, indeed a new kind of paper, even existed.

BIRTH of a NEW JOURNALISM: It was the year 1955 and America was about to see the birth of a new kind of journalism.

I was news editor in our new journalism; in fact for America. The title of our new paper came from Dan's friend, Norman Mailer. He had just finished his very first book The Naked and the Dead. As for me, I was soon no longer news editor but the new paper's first columnist, titled punnily The Village Square. The money for the Voice's first few five-cent issues came from Mailer but he was soon out developing his second novel and disagreeing with Ed and Dan so much that he quit.

Dan was working on some political magazine, Ed was doing a psychological job and their first employee and partner was Jerry Tallmer who worked on the magazine as the Associate editor. The three had all been in the army and meshed comfortably together. I was the outsider without military, but WITH newspaper experience. I was also the wild one as far as that trio were concerned and only the fact that I knew newspapers inside out kept me in my place. My column son started coming from everywhere, especially places about which I was soon doing travel books for Arthur Frommer: Mexico, Greece, Japan.

There is a good reason for my near invisibility to the world at large and that is that these early people I worked with--Ed Fancher and Dan Wolf, for example--hated the very thought that I was a non-American, an English person indeed, that introduced this non-American journalism. Of course it wasn't a new journalism, it was just new to America--and, of course, so was I. Ed and Dan were not pleased by my views about journalism, especially later when I became a pot smoker, and eventually banned me from the office (just so long as I kept contributing the barely paid column. Which surveys showed was the Voice's best read item except for the weekly mail.

With Ed's influence, my weekly column was deliberately kept out of print when, years later, books telling the Voice history were published reprinting some of its best tales. My column, which had starred in the first 500 issues. Oh, pardon me, they did run one of my 500 column--the one about Andy Warhol.

Next week: John Wilcock's life in America continues...

From the archives...

(this column first appeared ten years ago.)

We aren’t built to be happy. Rather, we are built to survive and reproduce. We wouldn’t be here today if our ancestors didn’t struggle mightily to protect and feed their families. The promise of happiness meanwhile, is just a trick to jolly us along.
    —Jonathan Clements in the Wall Street Journal

MERELY A SHORT-LIVED FAD half a century ago, 3-D movies are now apparently here to stay. Every major studio is upping its budget $20 million or so to produce 3-D movies, with DreamWorks boasting that all its slate will be in 3-D from next year. CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg says it is “the single most revolutionary change since color pictures”. What hastened things along, according to Fortune, is that Disney’s Meet the Robinsons and Paramount’s Beowulf grossed twice as much in their 3-D than their regular versions. James (Titanic) Cameron’s sci fi thriller Avatar is eagerly awaited and a trio of Tintin films by Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson. Financial analyst Barton Crockett forecasts that 3-D will someday represent 20% of box office receipts.

WHOEVER HEARD OF a department store having a crime lab? But we’re talking about the strange case of Target whose 80,000 cameras in its 1,600 stores and parking lots have proved to be so helpful in solving thefts and fraud by ‘customers’ that the store became experts in analyzing videotapes. “We had a volume of evidence from our cameras but no expertise” says Target spokesman Frederick Lautenbach. The  seven-member forensic team they set up has repeatedly been called upon by law enforcement agencies to review tapes, track cell phones, and even analyze fingerprints.

BILL COSBY’S VIEWS that the black community was committing cultural suicide with its absentee fathers, the spread of hip hop and the rise of black-on-black crime, have been controversial but have deep roots in history claims a writer in the Atlantic. “His most obvious antecedent”, says Ta-Nehisi Coates, “is Booker T. Washington who called for black self-reliance a century ago”. Later Marcus Garvey, patron saint of Black Nationalism, argued that blacks had rendered themselves unworthy of the white man’s respect and Malcolm X and Louis Farrakhan echoed Garvey’s core of beliefs. “Crosby’s rhetoric played well in black barbershops, churches and backyard barbecues where a unique brand of conservatism still runs strong” says Coates.  “Instead of waiting for handouts or outside help,” Crosby argues,  “disadvantaged blacks should start by purging their own culture of noxious elements like gangsta rap”. The Atlantic’s eight-page essay, largely sympathetic to the actor-turned-advocate, recounts his $20 million gift to Spellman Collage and how he defied NBC to retain an anti-apartheid sign on his television show.

IF YOU DON’T READ People, you probably aren’t aware that a recent issue was the first to include an ad (for Welch’s grape juice) in which the reader was invited to scratch and LICK. “How will the pass-along reader feel when they get to the ‘already-been-licked’ page?” asks Stores magazine. “Scratch and sniff ads can be fun; lickable ads are just gross”.

THE BEST OUTCOME of the imaginative and attractive make-over of Mother Jones is the array of charts and graphs amplifying everything from the relative efficiency of power suppliers and gasoline alternatives to the sum paid for photographs of celebrity babies. One color-coded table breaks down the likelihood of a musician (79%), a rabbi (74%) or a professional golfer (24%) being Democrat and a chauffeur (91%), a midwife (72%)  and a lawyer (42%) being Republican.

THE BIGGEST FISH in the world, the bluefin tuna, is also the most valuable (a single one sold for $173,000 in Tokyo’s Tsukiji fish market) but is in danger of extinction says Scientific American, unless it can be bred on a commercial scale. Reaching as much as three quarters of a ton in weight, the fish that ancient samurai rejected as unclean has become a staple of high end sushi restaurants where meals cost hundreds of dollars. As a result, says SA, “the tuna fishery is rife with illegal, unregulated fleets that ignore quotas, restrictions, boundaries, and any other regulations that might threaten the catch. The Japanese market, which devours about 60,000 tons of bluefish every year… is only too eager to buy the tuna, regardless of where or how it is caught… Unless tuna can be raised as if they were domestic animals, their world populations will continue to crash”.

DESPITE THE FACTS that this country’s short-sighted ethanol program has disastrously raised food prices around the world and proved to be inefficient (more energy is used making ethanol from corn, than is produced), the farmers and agribusinesses whose bribes to Congress got it enacted are standing firm. “The ethanol industry are loath to surrender $7bn in annual subsidies” comments The Week, and “all three presidential candidates have signed up to the bio-fuels agenda”. A UN food expert recently called bio-fuels “a crime against humanity”.

THE WILCOCK WEB: Bravo to Boston Legal for going after the Supreme Court……Londoners, currently monitored by more street cameras than anyone else, will next month be able to read a new book, Surveillance Unlimited: How We’ve Become the Most Watched People on Earth…..Madonna, 49, wants to remake Casablanca, playing the leading role that Ingrid Bergman played in her twenties…. Belgian artist  Delphine Boel, a bastard daughter of King Albert will exhibit her papier mâché sculptures of the king and queen as pigs, reports The Week…. By the year 2012, General Electric will be producing a holographic digital disk capable of holding your entire DVD collection….Combining restaurant and grocery in its new Scottsdale store, Whole Foods calls it a groceraut…..Greyhound racing, once the domain of the English working class--some of whose owners kept dogs in the home and used them to catch rabbits--are going up market “attracting a more prosperous constituency” recounts the Economist…..“My ethics basically” says Jack Nicholson, “are to live in the now, and that requires tremendous discipline. It’s as close to a religious sentiment as I have”…. Climatologist Gregory Jones points out that global warming will change the climate so much in future years that many of the world’s famous wines may change beyond recognition….At booming Fort McMurray, nearest town to Canada’s Athabaska Oil Sands, hamburger flippers in fast food joints are making $17 per hour…. Eric Clapton told Esquire: “One of the most beneficial things I’ve learned (in life) is to keep my mouth shut”….. More than one million unsold copies of singer Robbie Williams’ latest CD (reports Discover) are being recycled to surface Chinese roads…. Success is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm--Winston Churchill (1874-1965)

May 3, 2008

comments? send an email to John Wilcock



National Weed (1974, issue #3)
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