you lived through them, you probably have your own private Sixties.
Bobby Seale, Paul McCartney have theirs and so does George W. Bush.
They would certainly all write different accounts of the rebellious
decade. And if they put together an anthology of writings from that
period they would surely offer very different selections.
And so it is with myself and Ann Charters. She was a college professor
in the Sixties and a much respected scholar of Beat literature,
especially Jack Kerouac. She attended four antiwar demonstrations
but was not really an activist. Certainly not an organizer or leader.
The center of her life was literature. I on the other hand, was
a full time activist, a founder of an underground newspaper, an
original Yippie, I was arrested fourteen times and once ran for
Sheriff of Alameda County. The center of my life was revolution.
Like Ann Charters I, along with my wife Judy Gumbo Albert edited
an anthology of Sixties writings, “The Sixties Papers,”
it was published back in 1984 and it's still around as a college
text. So it’s fascinating for me to see how someone of very
different background approaches the subject and what she selects.
Mostly I want to see how deeply her comments and choices resonate
in my memory, intellect and emotions. Does it bring me back to the
days when everything good seemed possible and our greatest enemies
were “corporate liberals?”
The answer is mixed and occasionally frustrating. Much of the reading
is in a distinctly different than my own, but clearly neighboring
modality. Take the Hunter Thomson selection on the Hell’s Angels
vs The Vietnam Day Committee which oddly finds itself in the “Free
Speech Movement and Beyond” section. About the only thing this
conflict had to do with the FSM was that it took place in Berkeley.
Now almost anything that Thomson writes is a trip and insightful
but his angle of vision here is from the seat of a Hell’s Angel
motor cycle. Not that he romanticizes these outlaws, in fact he
calls them fascists. But his journalism had little to do with the
Vietnam day Committee or its intentions. The Angels had attacked
VDC sponsored peace marchers at the Berkeley/Oakland line in 1965.
And were threatening to do it again in a scheduled second march.
But they backed off. And Thomson is at a loss as to why.
I used to set-up the Vietnam day Table on the Berkeley campus and
occasionally give speeches at noon rallies. Let me suggest that
the Berkeley radicals who would turn out at least ten thousand marchers
were better prepared this time. Not all pacifists by a long shot,
they would far out number the Angels and included in their ranks
some ex-pro and amateur boxers and wrestlers and a number of football
players. The Angels would certainly have been overwhelmed. Then
again, this time around, the VDC had a permit from the Oakland city
regime and its unlikely that on this occasion the Oakland police
would be looking the other way.
Charters could have greatly enriched the telling of this tale if
she had included in her anthology some writing by VDCers, perhaps
something that appeared in the Berkeley Barb.
The sad ending of the Vietnam Day Committee ought to be mentioned.
Person or persons unknown planted dynamite under its office and
blew the building to smithereens. The police called it attempted
murder but the crime remains unsolved.
For me People’s Park was one of the great highlights of the
Sixties. It was created in Berkeley circa 1969, by thousands of
students, street people, and ordinary citizens. Originally, an abandoned
piece of University owned land, it was seized and turned into a
park. The park builders rolled out sod, planted flowers, constructed
swings and planted a vegetable patch. Ronald Reagan hated it and
called in the troops, and that included the Alameda County Sheriffs
Department. They shot up the town leaving one person blind and another
I was hoping that Charters would come up with some obscure masterpiece
about the rise and fall of People’s Park. There was so much
excellent writing about the Park in radical magazines and newspapers.
Reprinting a portion from Mario Savio’s magnificent speech
about “Seizing the Means of Leisure” would have been perfect.
But aside from a passing reference to James Reston being killed
in the battle for the Park, we find nothing. Incidentally, as a
participant in the action I can state that James Reston was nowhere
near the Park. It was James Rector that was killed.
I was feeling a bit frustrated about not finding the passionate
heart of my personal history in Charter’s Sixties anthology
but then she came up with a selection in her antiwar portion from
Norman Mailer’s award winning “Armies of the Night.”
It’s Mailer’s account of his participation in the 1967
march on the Pentagon and the sit-in that took place around that
Mailer’s work is in many ways a masterpiece. His account of
some of the organizing activities that took place in the months
that lead up to the march is incomparable. But unfortunately Mailer
ws arrested early in the confrontation and missed most of the best
and most exciting action. He got much of his account of the wild
stuff from interviewing Yippie Jerry Rubin, who was the Project
Director of the siege. Why not also include something by Jerry Rubin
on the clash and sit-in? Rubin did cover these events in his best
selling manifesto “Do-It.” He was there when it got hot
and heavy, so was Abbie Hoffman, and so was Phil Ochs and so was
I, but the Yippies are mostly missing from this anthology. There
is one odd work by Abbie, a somewhat melodramatic attempt at forging
a last letter from Che Guevara in Bolivia. But it contains none
of the legendary Yippie surrealism. And it isn’t funny.
Speaking of the late Jerry Rubin and Norman Mailer, I do have a
personal story to tell involving these men that is strongly recalled
because of a selection in the anthology. Charters gives a nod to
a portion from “Ringolevio” by Emmett Grogan.
Emmett was a near mythic figure in the mid 60’s. He was a very
famous member of the Diggers. A San Francisco based counter-cultural
activist group that despised famous figures. By way of the media,
Grogan came to represent the group. In the early 70’s he turned
to writing, his autobiography and then some novels. One day he died
on the Brighton Local subway line in Brooklyn supposedly from an
over dose of heroin. Emmett hated the Yippies. He claimed we ripped
him off. Stole his ideas. And then corrupted them by playing to
the media. He may have also been a bit bothered by the Yippies replacing
him as the prevailing counter cultural myth.
Grogan took some revenge in Ringolevio by reporting on an embarrassing
conversation that supposedly took place between Jerry Rubin and
me, after Rubin spoke at the first San Francisco Be-In. Not only
does Emmett misspell both our names but he made the whole thing
up. The day of the Be-In, I was in a Berkeley jail. And Jerry’s
task at the Be-In was to raise my bail.
I’m annoyed that such a dishonest account appears in Charter’s
book. But I have no complaint. An anthologer on the Sixties can
not censor or research the honesty of the selections. If they were
influential they should be included. And Emmett was an important
When the Alberts edited their anthology they included a piece by
the feminist thinker and former Yippie, Robin Morgan, that similarly
mis-located Norman Mailer in the wrong place and and falsely accused
him of doing something bad. Mailer blew up at me for including Morgan’s
essay, and used the sort of heated language that can not appear
in a family newspaper. He also concluded our friendship. His elemental
wish was that I have exactly the same painful experience. With the
appearance of The Portable Sixties Reader, I have had just that.
Of course, by my lights, Charters also gets it right a lot of the
time. You can’t miss with selections by the likes of Rosa Parks,
Bob Dylan, M.L. King, James Baldwin, Ron Kovic. And she really catches
fire as one might expect, when representing the literature of the
era. William S. Burroughs, Diane Di Prima, Ken Kesey, Charles Olson,
Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Amiri Baraka among many others. They were
the creators of the Sixties oversoul. Not, for the most part, artists
of the street and its confrontations but soul builders. The individuals
who provided the image and imagination to elevate spirits and get
them thinking about just where the next sit-in or riot should take
During the Chicago uprising that took place while the Democratic
Convention of 1968 was proceeding, I was cracked over the head.
The doctors that sewed me up thought I had been blackjacked by a
cop. Allen Ginsberg was quite proud of my scar and showed it off
to Burroughs, Jean Genet and Terry Southern who made up a visiting
cultural delegation. Genet said “not bad,” of my wound,
and Burroughs gave me a pat on the back. These guys weren't about
to join the violent festivities but their work had put me on those
dangerous streets. At that moment I felt like a character in their