Larry Harnisch reflects on Los Angeles history
June 26, 1960: For the Fourth of July, the Beats of Venice plan to protest an ordinance against being on the beach between midnight and 6 a.m. by spending the night on the beach. Except there is no such city ordinance, police say. The beats also plan a Gilbert and Sullivan production, one-act plays by Tennessee Williams and other “hip writers,” poetry readings and an art auction.
Coastlines magazine, Spring-Summer 1958, with a cover story on LSD.
|Note: In late June and early July, I wrote about Lawrence Lipton's 1959 book on the beatniks of Venice West, "Holy Barbarians." I was particularly interested in the account of a reading by Allen Ginsberg in which he responded to a heckler by taking off his clothes. |
I recently heard from Mel Weisburd, one of the sponsors of that reading, who figures in Lipton's account. He stated that Lipton's account of the reading was inaccurate and highly slanted to his point of view. For example, Weisburd never said or demanded that Ginsberg "get out," nor was he in any way hostile toward him and others in the reading. He respectfully asked him to get dressed because there was a child in the house.
He has kindly shared his experiences with the Daily Mirror.
If you are able to get John Maynard's book on Venice West, which I urge you to do, at least from the library, which documents the career and life of Lawrence Lipton, you will see that in many ways he was a remarkable though complex man. He succeeded in many of his "commercial" works and writing, particularly in the detective mystery novel field (with his first wife Craig Rice) and in TV, radio script writing, books and promotion and publicity. He was on a treadmill all of his life and had to compromise with the commercial world.
Then he discovered the tiny world of poetry and the little magazine which he saw as an underground, anti-academic, anti-elitist, anti-social movement which in Los Angeles he attempted to dominate -- and in our case -- to take over our magazine, Coastlines Literary Magazine, which ran during the '50s. At the same time, living in Venice he met a group of poets --such as Stuart and Suzanne Perkoff, Tony Scibella, John Thomas and others. From their deprived life style he codified the concept of "disaffiliation" in an extreme form -- from job, consumption, conventional life styles etc. I was editor of Coastlines at the time at night, newly married with child, and worked as an air pollution control inspector with the Los Angeles County Air Pollution Control District (forerunner of the AQMD) and felt that I had a constructive, useful job in the fight against smog. Of course, I refused. That began a culture war between him and us, the Coastliners. We were the "squares"; he took it upon himself to represent the Barbarians.
Lipton wanted to use me as an example as one who drops out from his job, maybe even marriage and join him in Venice. He began touting poets of Venice West as great poets who had dropped out. I wrote an article entitled "The Merchant of Venice" which attacked him and his third rate poets in contrast to substantial poets and writers throughout Los Angeles like Ann Stanford, Thomas McGrath, Lawrence Spingarn, Gene Frumkin and many others. As a young man, I took what Lipton said about me personally. Later, he quoted from my report on my LSD experience, as an example of a pure experience, but then attacked me viciously as a "Sunday slummer in Paradise" in his book, even though I ventured to be the first in the literary life of Los Angeles to have had that experience. (1956.)
According to John Maynard, Lipton succeeded in persuading or finding (I don't know which) a high-paid executive by the name of Charles Foster to drop out in the way he wanted me to do. You have to read Maynard's book to appreciate the full extent of this tragic case. Others in his entourage suffered similar fates. There was considerable anti-Lipton sentiment among his young poets. Perkoff, who was actually a good poet, referred to Lipton's book as "Holy Horseshit."
Three versions of my account of the Ginsberg were published in Grasslimb, a San Diego journal, in the long article "Gene and I" in Blue Mesa Review, published by the University of New Mexico (where Gene Frumkin taught) after he died in 2006.
Coastlines, Autumn 1959, with a cover story on Lawrence Lipton.
THE COASTLINERSthe Other Generation of the 50's
By Mel Weisburd
One evening in October 1956, Allen Ginsberg and Gregory Corso entered a three-story, Tudor brick and stone house on Virginia Road in an old middle-class neighborhood of Los Angeles. Just as he had done in Gallery 6 in San Francisco earlier that year, Ginsberg read Howl, Sunflower Sutra and other poems to a gathering of the local literati. Some were enthusiastic, some ambivalent, some shocked. The reaction of a young man who was probably drunk was clear. His ears heard the whining, shrill voice of an unkempt poet. He interrupted the reading to lambaste Ginsberg for his negativity. The verbal exchange that ensued began to verge on a fist fight, when Ginsberg suddenly challenged the man to take off his clothes instead and then stripped until he was completely naked.
In this manner the Beat Generation was introduced to Los Angeles. Present at this reading were the diarist Anais Nin and Lawrence Lipton, a former pulp fiction writer and founder to be of "Venice-West," each with their own entourage. The reading was sponsored by Coastlines literary magazine which was founded by Gene Frumkin and myself and published from this house which was owned by Barding Dahl, the fiction editor.
Ginsberg was barely known to us at the time, and while his reading was heartfelt, his poetry on first impression did not seem to differ much from the material we were receiving in the mail and publishing. Much of that writing was anti-academic and non-traditional. It protested social conditions, the conservative values of the mainstream, the industrial military complex, the nuclear threat and McCarthyism. While we agreed with the intent, the manner of complaint was becoming repetitious. We were looking for new ways to express these same ideas and feelings, hopefully to a more mainstream audience. In those days we were anxious about the presence of government agents who were in the habit of attending events like ours. If a local undercover cop had been in the crowd, we could easily be cited for indecent exposure or gathering illegally. It also occurred to Frumkin and myself that we had never before seen the stranger who attacked Ginsberg and that he might have been an agent provocateur.
This was, without our being aware, a defining event of the 50's and this reading has since become legend. In fact, the entire year of 1956 was loaded with defining events. Earlier, we accepted an article by Lipton entitled "American’s Literary Underground." It called for "disaffiliation" from job, political loyalty and middle class mores, the assumption of 'voluntary poverty' and denial of the "Social Lie" (the lie of the assumed social contract in which the government gives more to the people than the people to the government). Then we met Lipton at the New School of Art in Los Angeles where we sponsored a poetry reading of the works of Bert Meyers, Tom McGrath and Lipton. Afterwards, Lipton proposed that Coastlines become a vehicle for the ‘new writing,’ under his tutelage. According to him, writers can be true only if they shun ‘the thickening centers of corruption.’
Because we didn't want to emphasize one group of writers over another, we turned him
down. We argued that his notions were unrealistic and inappropriate for Los Angeles. In addition to the damage done by McCarthyism to the educational and cultural assets of Southern California --the film and entertainment industries and education -- Los Angeles was a socially desolate, repressed city, a city where single people of the 50's were often isolated. They were seeking attachment, not disaffiliation. Besides, art was an existential affair and all experience was valid. Right under our noses, a number of the world's greatest writers were working for the movie industry. ‘Thickening corruption’ was the theme of the novels written as a byproduct of the experiences of such writers as F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner, Nathanael West, Budd Schulberg, Howard Fast, Aldous Huxley, Malcolm Lowry. Many of the movies they wrote reflected this complex mood of complicity and involvement, particularly in the film noir of the time. In fact, the novelists working as screen writers within the studio system called themselves insiders, meaning their novels could not have been written in such a socially relevant manner had they been disaffiliated to the side lines.
Also some of us had concerns more germane to Southern California than to San Francisco, such as the local, but immense military-industrial complex with its ‘think tanks’ which created a C.P. Snow type of two-culture conflict in many intellectuals (as represented by the writings of Curtis Zahn in the magazine), the nuclear threat, the alienation and dispersal of "The Non-Existent City," and, of course, the unique symbol of this all, smog.
Coastlines was the name Frumkin and I gave the magazine in 1955. Ocean waves rebounding from the coasts of California suggested to us lines of poetry, while the long coastline symbolized the continuing tradition of literature with its many variations in the forms of jagged indentations, coves and peninsulas. We also saw it as a boundary between the awareness of the land and of the unconscious in terms of the immense ocean. Since the earth’s surface is mostly comprised of water, the planet itself is mostly subsurface and unconscious, to be mined and farmed by poetry.
As the first editor of Coastlines, my opening editorial sought simply to "discover the source of writing in Los Angeles." That was meant to be more than rhetoric; it initiated the search for writers in a vast, urban wilderness. The second intent was to "fully exercise the right of free speech" which was more than cliche, since many social themes and avenues of literary exploration were shut down by McCarthyism. We saw ourselves as partisans daring to publish any material of merit, regardless of content. To make that point, we dedicated the first issue to the passionate and socially aware poet Edwin Rolfe, who happened to have been a veteran of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, and who had died then.
In retrospect, a Coastliner was one associated with the writers and editors of the magazine and who were originally brought together by the poet and teacher Thomas McGrath. Like the beats and Lipton’s barbarians, Coastliners were in the process of transition from the literary traditions of the 30's and 40's to something different. Ginsberg, for example, transformed his political orientation to a point ever as agitated as the 30's, but essentially without direction; Lipton renounced his world of the radical left of the Chicago 30's. The Coastliners hoped to presage a freer and more creative left to come. They sought to re-assert a poetry relevant to the larger society and pursued socially conscious themes, but treated in an individual and personal manner. They often used the devices of surrealism and were receptive to Zen and other influences. They only differed from the writers at Venice West in that their creativity was not contingent on a life style.
Through McGrath, the Coastliners consciously assimilated the influences of Hart Crane,
Berthold Brecht, William Butler Yeats, Andre Breton and Rainer Maria Rilke – and something called a poetry wheel which through its randomness taught the element of surprise in language and surrealism. Thus, our central concern was above all the craft of poetry geared to the socio-political concerns of the 50's.
Another important defining element was the introduction of mescaline and LSD (acid) in the mid-fifties. Contrary to accepted history, first exposures were by non-beats for whom Aldous Huxley remained the archetype, not the Timothy Leary to come. In Los Angeles, the psychiatrist Dr. Oscar Janiger administered some 3,000 doses of LSD to 1,000 volunteers from 1954 to 1962. I was the first in our group to be given LSD, followed by Gene Frumkin and Alvaro Cardona-Hine.
Most importantly, the effects extended beyond the immediate; they tended to persist in some form, if only in re-activatable memories, across the life span of the individual. Frumkin grew in the direction of a poetry that is a hybrid of realistic narrative and ‘language poetry’ (language in itself as an entity). He regards "poetry-thought" as occurring beyond ordinary cognition, which can be construed to be something like an expression of linguistic substrate in the sense of Chomsky’s ‘deep structures.’ Alvaro Cardona-Hine in his acid trip1 reported that the "five senses have taken off in different directions and are bringing back reports of their wonderful discoveries." 1 Thereafter he grew as a multi-media artist: poet, composer, novelist, painter.
The ingestion of acid altered consciousness in many creative artists in highly individual ways. When positive (many were bad), "the experience" had the tendency to nullify categories, reconcile contradictions and unify disparate concepts, rendering Beat v. Square meaningless.2
After LSD was banned in 1962 it was impossible to study the long-term effects, but I believe the total recall I’ve had of the minute details of this experience 44 years later is a major sign of it--like a single, powerful religious or other peak experience can permanently alter certain aspects of consciousness and perception.3 For me, it appeared to facilitate (1) non-linear, multi-dimensional perception and (2) reflexive perceptions of one’s own brain states. One of the immediate effects of my experience was a feeling of omnipotence -- that I could cross professional and occupational lines with the surprising result that I emerged as an inter-multi-disciplinarian. Paradoxically, I believe the experience empowered me in my life-long career in the field of environmental protection to the extent that I founded and ran an environmental engineering company for some 15 years, perhaps the only English Major to have ever have done so. On retirement I began writing a novel based on ecphory, the retrieval of systematically stimulated memories.
The experience not only inspired poems, novels and paintings but also impacted popular culture.4 These changes produced profound and widespread effects both directly and indirectly in succeeding decades, not only on artists, but professions and vocations and society as a whole, often in extremely subtle ways, amounting to a silent revolution. The effects span the spectrum from the most extreme affecting, personal states of consciousness in poetry and art on one end to the most detached, objective point of view in science and technology on the other. Objectivity alone perceives forms at different scales of realities which evoke aesthetic pleasure in themselves. Scientific detachment sometimes can became analogous to the notion of the sound of one hand clapping.
In my view, the 50's was the most ideal period in history for such drug experiences because they were taken by relatively few, mostly for the purpose to experience higher levels of creativity. By the end of the 60's and up until the present day hard drugs began to be used on an epidemic scale for escape, sensation and ultimately out of addiction, with dire results.
While the beat movement in Lipton’s Venice West was very short lived, often with tragic results, looking back, it is clear that the contribution of the beats to the culture and lifestyles of the U.S. and much of the world continues to reverberate through the generations of the hippies, flower children, street people, punk, yuppies, in the rock and roll/ rap/ slam/ performance/ spoken word performances we see today and in the continuing interest in the poets and writers of that time, especially Ginsberg, Kerouac, Ferlinghetti, Di Prima and Burroughs.
The greatest contribution of the beats was in liberating many human latencies in life-style, language and sexual mores that had been repressed by social and political taboos. They broke the pervasive hold of the new criticism and ended the idolatry of T.S. Eliot. But at the same time they also contributed, although inadvertently, to the loss of an organized, effective political left in this country implicit in the creed of disaffiliation codified by Lipton in 1959.
The Coastliners on the other hand never lost their left orientation, but also never comprised a distinctive school of poetry with a set program. They worked as individuals refining their art down the decades. Many of them are still alive and writing on their own resources. Others like the poetry of Bert Meyers and Naomi Replansky are being rediscovered today. Perhaps the pendulum has swung, and given the times, similar perspectives that radiate to social concerns can be seen and new voices heard.
Copyright, Mel Weisburd, August, 2002. Email here. This article was originally published in The Lummox Journal, May/June 2003
1. Alvaro Cardona-Hine, "The Lysergic Acid Diethylamide Experience," (date and publication unknown.)
2. David Ebin (ed.), The Drug Experience, "2. A Symposium", Ronald A. Sandison, p. 378, The Orion Press, N.Y., 1961. -- "The introduction of LSD ... has transformed the entire hospital, because the whole atmosphere engendered by LSD has spread throughout the hospital and, in fact, forms an essential part of the hospital culture. If LSD is given in a large institutional setting, treatment will be ineffective unless this transformation has occurred."
3. Mel Weisburd, "Lysergic Acid and the Creative Experience," in "Poets of the Non-Existent City, Los Angeles in the McCarthy Era," Estelle Gershgoren Novak (ed.), University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, 2002.
4. Ebin, ibid.
Mr. Weisburd is completing a book-length memoir on the Coastliners and other major events that took place in the 50's. He is currently seeking a publisher for this and other works. He is the author of "A Life of Windows and Mirrors, Selected Poems," 2005, and "The Gloria Poems," 2009, both published by Conflux Press.
Aug. 29, 1959: A judge's temporary restraining order prevents a bus and streetcar strike.
The threat of communist aggression casts a shadow over world peace. And Times readers are talking about singing the National Anthem, what it means to get old in America, hating Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev ... and looking for a lost dog.
One nice thing about ProQuest is that it's possible to enlarge the comics and see the details that aren't visible in the newspaper, especially strips like "Li'l Abner."
After losing to the Pirates and the Phillies, the Giants beat the Dodgers in a 5-0 shutout.
| Reading "Holy Barbarians" has turned into a curious case of role reversal. I was a youngster when the book was published and the beats and squares who populate Lawrence Lipton's study of the Venice scene would have been my parents' contemporaries -- although my folks were a bit older. |
Today, however, although the Beats and squares have remained in their 20s and early 30s, I'm old enough to be one of their parents -- and this shift in ages provides an odd perspective. I'm apt to be a little tougher on them than if I'd read the book when I was younger, and I'm also a bit more charitable toward these earnest, naive angry young artists telling the truth.
Even so, I bogged down in Lipton's lengthy defense of smoking marijuana, which may have been dangerously revolutionary in the 1950s but is trite and passe these days. For the record, Lipton didn't even smoke marijuana, which the Beats preferred to call "pod" rather than "pot." But he was "given a pass," which tells you something about the minimum requirements to be a beatnik. And I'll have more to say about that later.
In fact, "Holy Barbarians" had just about gotten a one-way ticket to the discard pile when I came across an incident that's absolutely hilarious. I can't guess why Lipton buried it in the middle of the book, but he did.
He's describing a reading in Los Angeles by Allen Ginsberg and Gregory Corso that's interrupted by a heckler. It's some square, of course, who wants to fight. Instead, Ginsberg starts undressing and dares the heckler to take off his clothes.
"Holy Barbarians," Pages 195-198
The reading was to be held in a big old-fashioned house that was occupied by two or three of the Coastline editors, living in a kind of Left Wing bohemian collective household, furnished what there was of furniture, which wasn't much in atrociously bad taste, nothing like the imaginative and original decor of the Beat Generation pad, even the most poverty-stricken.
I consented at their request to conduct the reading, "chair the meeting," as these people are in the habit of saying. To them everything is a meeting. In this case they got more than they bargained for. Allen showed up high mostly on wine, to judge by the olfactory evidence and, after an introduction by me, in which I tried to spell out something of the background of this "renaissance," he launched into a vigorous rendition of "Howl." "Launched" is the word for it. It was stormy, wild and liquid. In his excitement he tipped over an open bottle of wine he had brought with him, spilling it over himself, over me and over his friend Gregory Corso who was with him and was also scheduled to read.
Allen and Gregory had refused to start till Anais Nin arrived, and now that she was seated in the audience Allen addressed himself exclusively to her. He had never met Anais before and knew her only from Henry Miller's books. She had written the preface to Miller's "Tropic of Cancer" in the Paris edition of the book. He was sure that Anais was one person who would be able to dig what he was putting down. For him there was no one else in the audience but "beautiful Anais Nin ." That she had long ago come to the parting of the ways with Henry Miller and was making her own scene now, a very different scene from the one they had once made together on the Left Bank of Paris, made no difference to Allen. She was still, to him, the Anais Nin of the Henry Miller saga, a fabulous figure out of a still brightly shimmering past. Artistically, he felt, she was his nearest of kin, and Anais very graciously acted out the role he had cast her in that night.
The audience, except for Anais and the people we had brought with us from Venice West, was a square audience, the sort of an audience you would find at any liberal or "progressive" how that word lingers on even though the song is over fund-raising affair of the faithful who are still waiting for the Second Coming. Few of them had come knowing what to expect. They never read anything but the party and cryptoparty press. The avant-garde quarterlies are so much Greek to them. Most of them don't even know such magazines exist any more. They associate that sort of thing with the little magazines of the twenties which were swallowed up with the advent of the Movement, the real Movement (capital M), in the thirties and transformed into weapons in the class struggle. The few who had heard rumors of what was going on in San Francisco and Venice West were there as slummers might go to a Negro whorehouse in New Orleans, to be with, briefly, but not of. But even they were not prepared for Howl, or for the drunken, ecstatic, tortured, enraptured reading Allen was giving it that night. A very moving performance, for all his tangle-tongue bobbles and rambling digressions. He was reading from the book, which had just came out, but he changed words, improvised freely, and supplied verbally the obscenities that the printer had in a few cases deleted.
As it happened, Allen and Gregory were not the only ones in the place who had been drinking. There was one other in the audience. He was someone who had drifted in, having somewhere picked up one of the pluggers advertising the reading. At first he applauded Allen's reading at all the wrong places and too loudly. Then he took to cheering, the kind of cheers that are more like the jeers they are in tended to be. I watched him and it struck me that he looked and sounded like a brother Elk on the loose, or an American Legion patriot on a convention binge. When Allen got to the poem America, the drunken square was visibly aroused. He began to heckle. Allen ignored him and, at one point, interrupted the reading to ask the heckler, very gently, to hear him out and he would be glad to talk to him about it later and listen to any comments or criticism he cared to make. That, and disapproving scowls from some members of the audience who, being squares themselves and sober dislike anyone "making a scene," stopped him for a few minutes.
Gregory Corso now got up to read or, rather, sat down to read Gregory, unlike Allen, is the gentle, relaxed persuader rather than the shouter. At least he was that night. When the drunk started heckling him, too, he turned the face of an injured angel to him. When that failed he reversed himself and tried shock therapy.
"Listen, creep, I'm trying to get through to you with words, with magic, see? I'm trying to make you see, and understand "
The square had an answer for that. "Then why don't you write so a person can understand you, instead of all that highfalutin crap?"
"You will understand," Gregory replied patiently, "if you open your self up to the images. Try to get with it, man."
You think you're smart, don't you?"
Gregory ignored the remark and went on with his reading. Nothing could have angered the drunk more. It brought out the righteous citizen in him.
"Think you know it all, don't you? I know your kind. It's punks like you that are to blame for all this -all this " he sputtered, unable to make up his mind which of the crimes punks like this were to blame for were equal to the enormity of the occasion. He tried again, gave up, turned a beet red and, to cover his chagrin, launched into a tirade of uninspired, stereotyped, barroom profanity, ending with, inevitably, an invitation to "step outside and settle this thing like a man!"
Gregory grinned. "Yeh, I know, you want to fight. Okay, let's fight. Right here. Not with fists, you cornbalL That's baby stuff. Let's fight with a mans weapon with words. Images, metaphors, magic. Open your mouth, man, and spit out a locomotive, a red locomotive, belching obscene smoke and black magic. Then I'll say:Anafogasta. Rattle-boom. Gnu's milk. And you'll say: Fourth of July, Hydrogen bomb! Gasoline! See? Real obscenities. . . ."
The drunk was indignant. He was outraged. When he heard snickering in the audience he started toward the front of the room, menacingly, repeating his challenge to step outside and settle this thing. "You're yella, that's what. Like all you wise guys. You're yella "
Ginsberg got up and went forward to meet the drunk.
"All right," he said, "all right. You want to do something big, don't you? Something brave. Well, go on, do something really brave. Take off your clothes!"
That stopped the drunk dead in his tracks.
Ginsberg moved a step toward him. "Go on, let everybody see how brave you are. Take your clothes off!"
The drunk was stunned speechless. He fell back a step and Allen moved toward him, tearing off his own shirt and undershirt and flinging them at the heckler's feet. "You're scared, aren't you?" he taunted him. "You're afraid." He unbuckled his belt, unzipped his fly and started kicking off his trousers. "Look," he cried. "I'm not afraid. Go on, take your clothes off. Let's see how brave you are," he challenged him. He flung his pants down at the champ's feet and then his shorts, shoes and socks, with a curious little hopping dance as he did so. He was stark naked now. The drunk had retired to the back of the room. Nobody laughed. Nobody said a word. The audience just sat mute, staring, fascinated, petrified, till Allen danced back to his seat, looking I couldn't help thinking at the moment with inward amusement like Marcel Marceau, the great French mime, doing his hopping little David and Goliath dance. Then the room was suddenly filled with an explosion of nervous applause, cheers, jeers, noisy argument. Our hosts, the editors of Coastlines, had been having a huddle on the sidelines. Now one of them, Mel Weisburd, dashed up front and stood over Allen menacingly.
"All right," he shouted, "put your clothes on and get out! You're not up in San Francisco now. This is a private house . . . you're in someone else's living room. . . . You've violated our hospitality. . . .
"If this is what you call . . ."
He looked over at me as if to say, "You re chairman here, do some thing."
I rapped for order like a proper chairman and announced the next order of business. Gregory Corso would read another group of poems and then we would hear from Allen Ginsberg once more with his poems Sunflower Sutra and A Supermarket in California. Corso was all for leaving at once. "We'll go somewhere where we can get good and drunk and take Anais Nin with us." But Allen shook his head and quietly put his clothes on, one piece at a time, in slow motion, smiling to himself with half-closed eyes. A sly, mysterious, inner-directed Buddha smile.
The reading went on amid general approval and with closer, more respectful attention than before. The incident had sobered up the drunk. When the reading was over he approached Allen and said, loud enough for everybody to hear, that he was sorry he had made such an ass of himself and where could he buy a copy of Howl?
Through it all Anais Nin, faithful to the role in which the poets had cast her, sat imperiously still, only slightly disdainful of the hubbub, like a queen on a throne.
|Above, the dust jacket of Lawrence Lipton's "Holy Barbarians" that's in pretty good shape. Obviously owned by a square. |
June 28, 1959: Lawrence Lipton uses a review of "The Beat Generation and the Angry Young Men," by Gene Feldman and Max Gartenberg to explore bohemian life of the 1950s.
The reading list at the Daily Mirror HQ is long and quirky: "Never So Few" and "Go Naked Into the World" by Tom T. Chamales, "Muscatel at Noon" by Matt Weinstock and EBay's latest contribution to my shelf of books by W.W. Robinson. Then there's the desiderata, like "The Bridal Night of Ronald and Thusnelda."
What jumped to the top of the list is Lawrence Lipton's "Holy Barbarians," a 1959 chronicle of the Beats in Venice, which I encountered somewhere in the clips, possibly a Weinstock column, although I can't find it now.
The book showed up in the mail a few days ago courtesy of EBay, so I've been playing Charlie Parker, Miles Davis and some Coltrane all weekend to create the right mood while I read it. To do the job right, I suppose I should have a set of bongo drums somewhere, hang netting and sea shells on the walls and fill the place with stale marijuana smoke, but I'm not that much of a stickler for authenticity.
The former husband of mystery novelist Craig Rice, Lipton was born in 1898, so he was about 60 when he wrote the book, roughly the twice the age of the beatniks who considered him an elder statesman of their disaffiliated generation.
Lipton was the Boswell of these Beats, capturing their lives in exquisite and often excruciating detail. It's fair to say that the book wasn't written as much as it was tape-recorded. Many conversations, some of them quite long, are merely transcribed from tapes Lipton made of his friends.
Behold, actual hipster talk (Page 102):
"It isn't art or intellectualism, it isn't genius that's got me hooked. It's the life. Do you have any idea what it's like out there? Sure, it isn't Main Street any more. Sinclair Lewis' Gopher Prairie is a thing of the past. So is Zenith City, for that matter.Squareville is modern now. It's got network television and Life magazine culture. You can tune in the Metropolitan opera on the radio. You can stay out late and come home drunk once in a while without being hounded out of town. You can play around a little, if you're discreet about it, without too much talk. The drugstores carry paperback editions of Plato and Lin Yutang.Notice that there isn't a single "daddy-o." In fact, there isn't one in the entire book. If you think James Ellroy's novels are written in authentic hipster talk, you'll be shocked that their speech is so ordinary -- though they do ramble.
"But the tension! Wages go up three cents and coffee goes up ten. So they pipe sweet Muzak into the supermarkets and you go around in a daze loading up that cute little chromium-plated cart without looking at the price tags. And let most of it rot in the refrigerator before you get to it. Last year's car is out of style before you finish paying for the tail fins. It's a rat race. Who's got time to laze around in the sand for an hour, or take a quiet walk by the ocean in the evening, or watch a sunset?
"Here I can get away from it for a while, at least evenings and weekends. I can do without things. God! do you know what a relief that is? Not to have to keep up with anybody. Nobody to show off for. The people at the office, they don't even know where I live. I tell them I live in Santa Monica. That's close enough, and it sounds respectable. It's got the same telephone exchange as Venice, so nobody suspects anything.
"This is the one place I've ever lived where you can take your skin off and sit around in your bare bones, if you want to. Only the rich, surrounded by acres of land and iron fences, can enjoy anything like that kind of privacy. That's what I mean by being hip. And staying cool."
Barbara Lane is part time square and part time hipster, but her heart is in Venice West. "In town, at the office, I work. Here I live," she will tell you. "It's like having one foot on each side of the tracks. But that's the only way I can make it."
I have more to say about "Holy Barbarians," but I'm only halfway through it. You might want to read along. The book is available for free from archive.org in pdf and plain text format.
Is it worth reading? Consider these gems:
Page 20: By which I meant, I suppose, pretty much the same thing that [Kenneth] Rexroth meant when he wrote, apropos of Bird and Dylan, "Against the ruin of the world, there is only one defense -- the creative act."
Page 103: Like Jack Kerouac says in On the Road, "Mexico is a whole nation of hipsters!"
Comments? Send them along.
Edward Simon Wein, given five death sentences under California's "Little Lindbergh Law" for a series of kidnappings and rapes, said: "I was convicted before I ever came to trial. The papers said all kinds of bad things about me. They called me all kinds of bad names, including 'beast.' There was so much prejudice I was convicted."
The 32-year-old painting contractor was identified by seven women, but he said they were all wrong. "They were mistaken--honestly, the first time," he said. "But then they couldn't change their minds."
"A half-hour after I was arrested, a Hollywood detective said they were going to make a [Caryl] Chessman out of me. The prosecutor in my case is the one who prosecuted Chessman. I had the same charges pressed against me as Chessman and the verdict was the same."
Of California's death penalty, Wein said: "I don't think it's human. It's something more or less out of the Middle Ages."
According to police, Wein, who lived at 418 S. Hamel Road, answered classified ads placed by women. He told them he would have to check with his wife about whatever was being sold, then pretended to have lost the stem from his watch. He gained control over his victims when they stooped down to look for the missing watch stem and threatened to kill them if they made any noise.
The attacks occurred over 18 months in Alhambra, Hollywood, South-Central, Burbank and elsewhere in the San Fernando Valley. He was arrested by a private officer at a Long Beach cocktail party after one of the victims said she recognized Wein when he stepped on her foot. She said: "I'd never forget what he looked like."
Wein was prosecuted by Deputy Dist. Atty. J. Miller Leavy, a formidable lawyer who handled the Chessman, Barbara Graham and L. Ewing Scott cases. When Wein said he'd never in his life answered a classified ad, Leavy produced Shirley Tierstein, who identified a check Wein wrote to her for an electric stove. Tierstein said Wein came into her home at 753 S. Mariposa in Burbank, but fled when her son Kenneth, who was sick and home from school, called out to her.
The prosecution also introduced partial fingerprints matching Wein's taken from a glass that he allegedly used to drink water at one victim's home.
Wein was sentenced to death. His Dec. 5, 1958, execution was upheld by the state Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court rejected his appeal. However, the state high court granted a delay pending a second appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The mother of one of his victims, who was 14 at the time she was raped, wrote to The Times in 1959: "What is wrong with the course of justice? ... To think of the possibility of such a man getting back on the streets again, free to come into homes again to rape, rob or kill!!"
The U.S. Supreme Court denied his second appeal, which claimed inadequate counsel. But in June 1959, Gov. Pat Brown agreed to grant Wein a clemency hearing. Brown reduced Wein's sentence to life in prison "without the possibility of parole" because the kidnapping was technical--he only moved the victims within their homes.
"I feel that only where there is kidnapping in the true sense of the word, with bodily harm, should the death penalty be involved," Brown said.
In 1966, Brown further reduced Wein's sentence, making him eligible for parole and on Sept. 16, 1974, after 17 years on death row, Edward Simon Wein was a free man.
Then on Aug. 8, 1975, the strangled body of Dorothy George, 52, was found in the bathtub of her home at 5935 Abernathy Drive in Westchester after she placed an ad for a recliner on a supermarket bulletin board. On Sept. 5, a woman living in Palms who had posted items for sale on a supermarket bulletin board was raped by a man who claimed he had lost the stem of his watch. He began filling her bathtub with water but fled when a neighbor slammed a door.
Over lunch a few days later, Venice Division detectives were discussing the cases with retired investigator Robert S. Wright, who recalled the series of "watch stem" rapes from 1956. After learning that Wein had been paroled, they arrested him and charged him with murder.
Several of his earlier victims testified during his 1976 murder trial. A 63-year-old woman said that on Dec. 15, 1955, Wein came to her Crenshaw district home to look at a fur stole and dining room set that she was selling. He choked her "so long and so hard it ruptured the blood vessels in my eyes," she said.
A 54-year-old woman testified that on March 12, 1956, Wein locked her 5-year-old son in a closet at her Encino home before raping her after she advertised a mattress and box springs for sale.
The testimony of a woman who was a 19-year-old concert pianist when she was raped May 11, 1956, was read into the record because "her physical and mental condition is still so fragile that she cannot testify in person," The Times said.
In June 1976, Edward Simon Wein, the "watch stem rapist," was convicted of rape and murder and sentenced to prison.
As he said in 1957: "It's like a bad dream. You keep thinking you'll awaken and find it's a bad dream."