Tuesday, November 08, 2022

Ted Berrigan's Get the Money: The Collected Prose (1961-1983)

It was 1963 or '64,  in the library at Cal State L.A., that I came across my first Ted Berrigan poems. At the time I was solidly into the likes of Charles Olson, LeRoi (not yet Baraka) Jones, Michael McClure and Frank O'Hara- in fact, just about anyone  in Don Allen’s New American Poetry- but I'd never come across  anything quite like Berrigan's poems. They seemed so off-hand and playful, with none of   the heaviness and obscurantics associated with  Pound and his various poetic progeny.  Naturally, I thought about writing like Berrigan- who wouldn't? His work  seemed so natural in its reach and drift, so easy to emulate. Well, if only...  A year later at San Francisco State I was handing over a clutch of Berrigan-like poems to John Logan who, for better or worse, had been hired as the college's in-house poet.  He looked at the pages like they were pieces of rotting fruit, quite likely the product of an idiot.  Not that I cared. After all,  Logan wasn't someone I'd ever thought of emulating, nor even considered interesting as a poet.  He was, I thought at the time, just another old guy who had a decent line in self-pity. 

Still mining the open stacks, and with nothing better to do, I started to peruse back issues of Kulchur, enticed as I was  by the magazine's masthead and table of contents carrying such names as Sorrentino, Corso, Di Prima, Dorn, Don Phelps and Fielding Dawson. And, of course, Berrigan. Not poems this time, but  reviews.  Open, humorous, but also deadly serious, Berrigan's prose turned out to be every bit as beguiling as his poetry. So much so that it sent me back  to the poems, this time his  Sonnets, or what I could find of them, since the Grove Press edition had yet to be published. So of the moment were they that as the moment passed, so eventually did my attention. Which led me to wonder whether poems like his were even meant to last. But if poetry wasn't  of and for  the moment, then exactly what was it of and for?  Posterity? I wasn't really sure there was such a thing. 

But that kind of speculation soon faded, replaced by more immediate concerns of a personal and political nature. Fast forward thirty  years and five thousand miles away,  I was willingly forking out  twelve quid for a secondhand copy of Berrigan’s Collected Poetry. Those same poems, I discovered, had in the intervening years turned into  heart-wrenching reminders of a particular time and place, and the promise of what could have been and might still be. Sure, they were submerged in a certain kind of quotidian immodesty, but, despite time and technology, that is very much part of their charm.  Like a great deal of art of that period, those poems represent a community and way of viewing the world. With his polaroid exactness Berrigan's poems, like those of O'Hara, Paul Blackburn and Philip Whalen, wear their intelligence as lightly as possible, never making a thing out to it, which, in fact, was typical of  the New York/Tulsa school (Padgett, Gallup, Brainard). Always in search of the sweet spot of everyday reality, less a product of the street than of windows, galleries, poetry readings and the work of other writers.     

Much the same could  be said of Berrigan's criticism and journals, both  of which are abundantly represented in Get The Money: The Collected Prose (1961-1983), published by City Lights (eds., Edmund Berrigan, Anslem Berrigan, Alice Notley, Nick Sturm). In entry after entry, Berrigan pursues and captures the presence, and more often than not the essence, of whatever he scrutinises, whether a painting, poem, novel, or person, always in search of its fundamental is-ness. Not defensive "in the presence of the spontaneously beautiful," but, as Berrigan writes in a review of Ron Padgett's In Advance of the Broken Tone Arm, but which might be applied to  himself, "Padgett doesn't really take any chance in beauty's presence; he is simply there." That being the case, Berrigan, as the title of this volume suggests, mockingly pursues payment, knowing that what he is advocating and producing will most likely have little if any monetary value. Though who would have been able to say that there wouldn't one day be a market for what was then thought to be unmarketable. That Berrigan has nothing to lose or gain makes his critiques all the more honest, cogent, personal and playful.  This in an era when the apparent chaos was such that most criticism, with the exception of magazines like Kulchur, were lagging behind, or simply didn't get, what Berrigan was promoting.          

Coming in at just under 300 pages, Get the Money!, with entries on the likes of Kenward Elmslie, FT Prince,  Red Grooms, Alice Neel, John Ashbery, Frank O'Hara, Anne Waldman, Jim Carroll, Tom Raworth, Joel Oppenheimer, and much more, will surely be this year's favourite commodity for any fetishistic punter with an inkling for  Berrigan's work, or, for that matter,  the New York poetry and art scene during those years. All proof that Berrigan's prose is never less than an extension of his poetry, indicative of his engagement with what is going on around him. As the Whitehead quote Berrigan inserts as the epigraph to his journals, reads,  "What is going to happen is already happening." That word, happening, for better or worse, so synonymous with the era and its sense of community. Likewise, behind the dash-it-off, who-gives-a fuck attitude, Get the Money attests to someone lasered into the push and pull of both public and private with an apparent recklessness that never fails to connect.  Or one could equally say that Berrigan's critique is never less than an extension of the object being criticised. Even if that object is no more than  an opportunity for him to demonstrate his literary chops. As in his "review" of Burroughs' Nova Express, which could be read as a flexing of Berrigan's literary muscles, or as a conscious, if overly enthusiastic, extension of the novel.  Even though, at the other end of the scale, "Frank O'Hara Dead at 40" comes across as a completely straight and touching, but  manufactured, tribute. A case perhaps of Get the Money for real, but not without  feeling.  Just as the occasion dictates, but tame when compared with the following, written in a more familiar manner: 

"In fact, it would be much easier for me to get something said about this book if I could briefly turn into Charles Olson or John Lennon or Martin Luther King. Then I'd just lean forward into the TV camera and intensely, 'If you really want to know what it's all about, read Frank O'Hara, that's right, FRANK O'HARA... Whereupon...Joe Levine would rush production on his new movie, Life on Earth, the biography of Frank O'Hara, starring young James Cagney as Frank... and Gig Young as John Ashbery, Rod Steiger as Jane Freilicher. What excitement!"

All of which makes Berrigan if not political, at least doggedly democratic in his merging of subject and object. Though sometimes it does seem like he's the focal point, cheerleader and barker-in-chief of a semi-secret society. Democratic, thenbut only in a world within a world within a world, exemplified by the various entries about Berrigan's friends, Berrigan himself, or Berrigan and his friends. But wait a sec... Wasn't that what poetry communities, significant or otherwise, were about in those pre-internet age? Even at the risk of over-reach, or, in this case, over-sell, as Berrigan shamelessly tests the limits, however playfully, insisting as always on le droit du poete. A tendency that, in today's world of identity politics and territorial armour, might be questionable. But this is now and that was then. Whatever the subterranean politics, Berrigan remains as large as life, missed by many and forgotten by no one who inhabited that world and its margins. All of which leaves one to speculate about Berrigan's letters, which, if gathered together, would undoubtedly complete the picture of this most late twentieth century of twentieth century poets. 

Thursday, October 20, 2022

Lofts and Corners: From Holy Ghost: The Life & Death of Free Jazz Pioneer Albert Ayler by Richard Kolada to The Cricket: Black Music in Evolution 1968-69 (edited by David Grundy, original editors Amiri Baraka, A.B. Spellman, Larry Neal)

Though I think I first heard about Albert Ayler through Amiri Baraka's LeRoi Jones Apple Cores column in Downbeat in the mid-1960s, I can't actually recall when I  first heard his music. It just seems like it's always been part of the musical landscape.  However, I do remember being surprised to find, when visiting London, Paris and Amsterdam in 1967, that nearly everyone I ran into seemed to have an Ayler LP in their collection. Of course, by then Ayler had already played extensively in Europe. Another example of an artist better appreciated abroad than at home. 

Much to my disappointment, I never actually heard Ayler play live. Mainly because he never travelled to the west coast. Had he come to San Francisco, he would  have found, as Archie Shepp had, an attentive audience amongst the jazz cognoscenti in the city.  I once asked my friend, the poet Lewis Macadams, who had seen Ayler at  Sluggs, what it was like to hear Ayler up close. Lewis said the only thing he could compare it to was the sound Tibetan monks made when chanting along side those long trumpets.       

An apt comparison, but one that conveys just one side of Ayler's playing. Likewise, Ayler would always emphasise the spiritual nature of his music. Not that jazz, prior to Ayler and, of course, Coltrane, had been devoid of spirituality. After all, jazz is at the very least partially rooted in gospel music. Likewise, the rise of Islam amongst musicians in the late 1940s onwards couldn't help but give the music a spiritual dimension. Then, of course, there's the  transcendent nature of the music itself. 

But rarely had the spiritual side been stated so bluntly and so boldly. With titles referencing angels, ghosts, bells and the search for spiritual unity, Ayler's sound sought to transform basic melodies into congruent waves and clusters. So deep and immense was his sound that it was able to attract a select but diverse audience, from black activists and nationalists to spaced-out hippies, from culture vultures to producers in pursuit of either art or mammon.  So intense and seemingly anarchic was his music that perhaps it's understandable Ayler has never been placed on the free jazz pedestal alongside Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, or Cecil Taylor. Could it be that, these days, the academically trained might be able to churn out antiseptic solos by Coltrane and Coleman, and marvel at what they perceive as the Euro-modernism of Taylor, but only a select few would dare to emulate Ayler.  Which is understandable. After all, how would one go about "teaching" Ayler. It would  be like trying to instruct someone in how to capture the wind.  

As Richard Koloda's diligently researched and long overdue book, published by Jawbone Editions, suggests, Ayler's music recalls an entire history of African American music, from folk melodies to gospel songs, from field hollers to pre-blues fife and drum music, from marching band rhythms to futuristic sheets of sound.  Moving far beyond the restrictions of The Great American Songbook, Ayler's music referenced the past, while pointing to  a utopian landscape of possibility (black futurism for real). Naturally, opinion would be divided amongst critics, some of whom thought, and perhaps still think, Ayler a charlatan, while others were simply bemused by his playing. All of this Koloda documents in his book. As well as Ayler's heartfelt belief that he had a higher calling, leading him to link up with Ornette and, most important of all, Coltrane (playing, per Coltrane request, at the latter's funeral). Though his music might be outside the realm of academia, his influence is nevertheless apparent in  musicians like Charles Gayle, Frank Wright, Evan Parker, Peter Brotzman, Vernon Johnson, Frank Lowe, David Ware, Marion Brown, Archie Shepp, Joe McPhee, David Murray and Mark Ribot. 
Koloda is excellent when it comes to  the burden Ayler would carry for his single-mindedness. Though at times, the author's investigation, reliant as it is on information recycled from periodicals and commentators of the time, can verge on the pedestrian. On the other hand, he does manage to bring a great deal of information together, and, while doing so, provides his fair share of primary research, whether through  interviews- including those with Ayler's brother and musical cohort, Donald Ayler, and their father Edward- as well as his communiques with various relevant parties. Koloda is particularly good when it comes to detailing the pressures put on Ayler by a record label like Impulse, which sought  to alter the direction of Ayler's music so it might appeal to a wider audience, and which might well  have had something to do with Ayler's decline into  depression and ultimately his death. Though Koloda presents a number scenarios, he doesn't come to any specific conclusion regarding Ayler's demise. Immediately his body was pulled from the East River, questions were raised, and Koloda addresses each of them. Could it have been suicide by drowning for someone known to be  frightened of water; a drug deal gone wrong though Ayler wasn't known to ingest anything stronger than marijuana;  a gangland murder of someone who had no apparent ties with the mob? Speculation has long been rife, so much so that, in France, there was even a Gallimard Serie Noir paperback anthology entitled The Death of Albert Ayler. 

Of course, most dedicated Ayler fans are likely to have their own quibbles with Koloda's book. Personally, I thought he was a bit harsh when discussing Baraka's role in Ayler's music, implying that Baraka  was using Ayler for his own political ends. While there  might be some truth to that, it's also clear  that  Baraka was  the loudest and most persuasive of Ayler advocates. Another quibble: Koloda at times succumbs to  his own research, relying a bit too much on detailing gigs, recording sessions, and critical reaction. I would have preferred even more interviews and stories from those who knew or were influenced by Ayler. But, then, perhaps not all biographers can be as thorough as Stanley Crouch was in researching the story of Charlie Parker's early life in Kansas City Lightning.  Having said that, such reservations shouldn't stop any dedicated Aylerite from getting hold of this book.  




















It's sometimes forgotten how articulate Ayler could be.  A number of radio interviews can be found on-line, then there's  his apocalyptic and quixotic article- a mixture of UFO sightings, William Blake, the Pentecostal church and the Nation of Islam-  To Mr. Jones, I Had a Vision ("Don't forget that arguing with each other is bad because if you do the devil angel is laughing in the closet... You see if you argue the Holy angels leave you because they are of oneness of harmony, so don't bring on the devil.") that appeared in the short-lived (1968-69) but influential magazine The Cricket. Edited by Baraka (calling himself at the time Imamu Ameer Baraka), poet/critic A.B. Spellman (Four Lives in Bebop) and poet/scholar Larry Neal, The Cricket should be essential for anyone interested in Ayler and the  sensibility that informed the music of that era. Despite its short life-span, The Cricket was arguably the best and most political publication devoted to the emerging black music scene. Created after  the 1967 Newark riots, and distributed for free, the magazine contained not only reviews of live and recorded  black music, but also poetry, essays and short plays. Not that it was alone in presentation or advocacy. There were other publications as political but perhaps not so Afro-centric, such as those from the Artists Workshop in Detroit (Work, Wh'ere, Guerrilla).  But The Cricket, if not the most experimental, was the most immediate, rooted in and around the community in which the music was centred, its specific purpose to challenge the dominance of white writers in reporting on  black music, and critique  the role of white club and record owners in exploiting the music. With copies for many years  difficult to come by, the magazine has by now taken on a legendary status amongst those who remember those times and that music.

All of which  makes the recent republication of the magazine, put together in an amazing single volume, published by Blank Forms Editions, by British poet and scholar David Grundy (author of A Black Arts Poetry Machine: Amiri Baraka and the Umbra Poets), an occasion for celebration. Because, following Spellman's Preface and Grundy's excellent and comprehensive  overview,  what one finds here are contributions by the likes of Baraka, Spellman, and Neal, as well as musicians such as Ayler,  Milford Graves, Oliver Nelson, Sun Ra, and Mtume, poets like  Sonia Sanchez,  critics (though, at the time, still a drummer) Stanley Crouch, poet and novelist Ishmael Reed, and many others.  

Determinedly of  the moment, The Cricket's revolutionary passion and insight are apparent on just about  every page.  If some of the articles seem  overly stylised, all one can say is such were the times, the posture and the perspective. To be fair,  the magazine wasn't simply a booster for the "new thing;"  its writers were ready and willing to criticise the music when they thought it fell short.  For instance, there's Mwanfunzi Katibu's take-down of Shepp's Three For a Quarter One For a Dime album, or Larry Neal's critique of Ayler's contentious latter day Impulse LP New Grass. Regarding the latter, Neal was stating the obvious when he wrote that  the record was the result of Ayler being leaned-on by Impulse in order to court a wider and whiter audience. Few, including Koloda, would disagree. Though Neal was less bothered by  Ayler attempt to court a wider audience as he was by the music itself which he considered lacking in focus and subtlety.  

Reading The Cricket is to be cast back to a time- right down to its mimeo font and spacing- when the music was everything, and everything was at stake, politically as well as artistically. A time when  ethics and aesthetics sought to be one and the same, and the likes of Albert Ayler were walking a tight-rope, bursting with energy but ultimately fighting a losing battle with the profiteers that be. One can't help but miss those days when the music so highly charged and political, when it was still something mostly learned from listening and watching, whether in clubs or jam sessions, before jazz became, for better or worse, institutionalised in places of higher learning.  But let's leave the last word to the surviving member of The Cricket's editorial team, A.B. Spellman. Regarding the technology of that time, seemingly so primitive yet so political, and the means by which such publications could exist, Spellman, only half-jokingly, writes in his Preface,  "Someone should do an homage to the Gestetner mimeograph machine. It was, if not the heart, at least the vascular system of the myriad movements of the day. It was clumsy, extremely messy—you got blue ink on all of your clothes; blue ink soaked into the flesh of your hands for days. But with a mimeograph machine, a couple of reams of paper, a good stapler, you could have yourself a publication. We didn’t need no stinkin’ internet."






Thursday, September 29, 2022

Writing Skin Flick

 

It would be an understatement to say that between the writing of what would become Skin Flick and its eventual publication a lot has happened in the world. So much so that I feel as though the real author of my most recent novel could well be someone else altogether. Perhaps my evil twin or  a case of identity thief.  Or is it that we are simply living in a different world from the one we inhabited around the time I began writing the novel which would have been sometime around 2010.  Though I have a dim recollection at the time of wanting to write something under similar conditions to those that faced pulp paperback writers in  the late 1940s and 1950s regarding deadlines, word count, narrative drive heading into the unknown, etc.. Of course, those who wrote for the  likes of Gold Medal and Lion were hardly dabblers when it came to the conditions they wrote under, but working writers who ground out books because their lives and livelihood depended on what they were able to produce. Nevertheless, I gave myself a time limit- was it six weeks or six months? I can no longer recall- to write what would become Skin Flick. Though I might as well have had said six years, because the book has taken that long, thanks to various factors, including Covid, for the book to go from its initial writing to its publication. Within that time Skin Flick has gone through the various permutations and title changes. Consequently, the novel that took the shortest amount of time to write of any of the books I’ve written, has taken the longest amount of time to complete and finally publish.

When I began the novel I remember being engrossed in certain purveyors of self-abasement, such as Dan Fante and Jerry Stahl. As well as memories of Hubert Selby's Requiem For a Dream. There was, and remains, something appealing about such writers with their first-person narratives, and no perceivable limit to the depths they are willing to descend. Which has to do with their honesty, sense of humour and perspective, the latter of which sometimes manifests itself as having no perspective at all. Of course, who, other than the writers themselves, can say with any exactitude that what they write might  be nothing more than a masquerade. In any case, there is that side to Skin Flick’s mock confessional, first-person narrative which starts off  in something akin to  Ross Macdonald territory before gradually descending into that world one normally associates with Fante and Stahl, if not the likes of David Goodis and Jim Thompson. Which is to say that Skin Flick moves from the everyday to the perverse, albeit from the viewpoint of a not-all-that-successful freelance journalist, who begins with the best of intentions, to help an old friend, but who, despite or because of his flaws, ends up trapped in his own pursuit, just marginally less warped than those he’s pursuing.

The result is a deep dive into the greed-is-good 1980’s, and its assorted depravities, from real estate scams and bank scandals, to the rise of Jesus-is-coming-so-why-worry-about-the-future mindset, from the corruption of the “sexual revolution” to pornography as the last refuge of the desperate and raw product of late capitalism.  While the title refers to the often used term for a certain type of movie, it also suggests the exploitation of bodies on a personal as well as political level, that beauty, from skin deep to deep down, can easily be flicked away by power and money. But, then, that was a time when even the most righteous were, to varying degrees, guilty of whatever crimes and misdemeanours the culture had to offer. And the reason why, with its quotidian contradictions, Skin Flick is a novel in which no one escapes unscathed.

("Writing Skin Flick" first appeared in a slightly different version in Crime Time)

Thursday, June 16, 2022

Derek Raymond Revisited

The couple days have been spent revisiting Derek Raymond's (aka Robin Cook) autobiography The Hidden Files. I remember, when it came out, some expressed disappointment because they said the book did not have the same edge and dark focus of his crime/noir novels. That its prose and presentation was a bit self-conscious, as though Robin was trying to prove his worth as a writer. Maybe there was some truth in the latter, though at the time of its publication, I enjoyed the book immensely. But, for some reason, I hadn't  looked at it since. This even though I've re-read Robin's Factory novels, and some of his others (Crust On Its Uppers, A State of Denmark, The Legacy of the Stiff Upper Lip, etc.) at various times since their publication or re-publication. Re-reading The Hidden Files was not only a great pleasure but I found it quite moving. For me, no matter how under-appreciated it might have been at the time, The Hidden Files really does deserve to be up there with the likes of Cyril Connolly's Enemies of Promise, a kind of scaled down version of Anthony Powell's multi-volumed Dance to the Music of Time. For me there has always been something admirable about old Etonians- and I seem to have known a few over the years- who have the political and personal nous to reject their class, their education, and sense of entitlement. Certainly no one personifies that kind of downward mobility more than Robin. What a pleasure it was during late 1980s and early 1990s to run into him on the streets of Kilburn, where we were neighbours, or at events at Compendium or Murder One. As I was revisiting The Hidden Files I couldn't help but be reminded of those days, which led me to dig out my 1992 interview with Robin which took place at this favourite pub, The Coach and Horses in Soho, and subsequent article that appeared in the Observer Magazine later on that same year.    




Wednesday, June 01, 2022

CLR James: Then & Now

Reading John L. Williams' excellent biography of CLR James put me in mind of an interview I was fortunate enough to conduct with James in the Spring of 1989, just a few weeks before his death. The interview appeared in Labour Briefing as well as in Ed & Jenny Dorn's Rolling Stock, accompanied by an account of a memorial for CLR James held some months later (all of which I've inserted below).  These days I feel privileged to have been able to meet such a formidable writer and thinker. One of the things I liked about Williams' detailed and scrupulously researched account of James' life is that, with no particular factional axe to grind, the facts of James' life quite rightly stand on their own. And those facts and that life are truly  impressive. Likewise the range of those with whom James crossed paths, whether in the world of politics or  cricket. And there are, of course, many surprises. While I was aware of the likes of Trotsky, Eric Williams, Kenyatta, and cricket commentator John Arlott,  I hadn't known about James' friendship with Ernest Borneman (author the excellent noir novel Face On the Cutting Floor). But, then, James' life really was, as the title states, beyond the boundaries. Suffice it to say that  anyone interested in James or, for that matter, black history, colonialism and empire, or simply the function and drift of 20th century politics and culture should do themselves a favour and take a serious look at this book.   

As a postscript, I can, like Williams, recall seeing the CLR James BBC documentary. Though it must have been a repeat because I would have put watching the film sometime in the early 1980s. I say that because my first encounter with James occurred a bit before viewing the documentary.  I was travelling by train to teach a class in the west of England when I heard a lilting West Indian voice coming from the back of the carriage holding forth on how the ill-fated SDP (which had recently been formed in 1981 by disgruntled rightwing Labour MPs) was destined to fail. Not because of its politics but simply because of the way the House of Commons was constructed. That is, its actual space did not allow for a major third party opposition.  I'd never heard anyone talk about the politics of physical space in that manner (though I had yet to read anything so abstract as Bachelard's Poetics of Space, I was reminded at the time of the  seemingly endless debate a decade earlier about the shape of the table prior to the peace negotiations at the end of the Vietnam war).  I turned and saw  a group of young black students surrounding this man who was holding forth. But it was only while watching the aforementioned BBC documentary that I realised that person was, in fact, CLR James.  









Friday, March 11, 2022

Still Dangerous, Still New: Dangerous Visions and New Worlds- Radical Science Fiction, 1950 to 1985, edited by Andrew Nette and Iain McIntyre.



It was a long-haired donkey-jacketed council labourer from Yorkshire named Tex who introduced me to Michael Moorcock's New Worlds magazine. It was that glorious  summer of 1967 when, as someone once said, there was music in the cafes at night and revolution in the air.  I had been staying briefly in a house in Bermondsey. It was most likely  the only time I ever had anything close to what one could  call a  conversation with the taciturn Tex, this one lasting only long enough for him to hand me the magazine, mumble a sentence or two before going back to his thousand-piece jigsaw  he and his girlfriend had been working on for as long as I'd staying there. In the weeks that followed it seemed like everyone I ran into was reading the magazine. And one or two were even writing for it. With Michael Moorcock, not yet the author of all those Jerry Cornelius novels and so much more, at its helm, the magazine set out to explore, not the cliché-ridden realms of outer space, but that murky world referred to at the time as inner space, and, in doing so, make speculative fiction a kind of road map directing readers to what might be possible in a world that was being turned upside down. 

Moorcock had Roberts and Vinter to thank for purchasing the magazine  in 1964. Soon Moorcock had what amounted to a free editorial reign. Within its cheaply printed pages readers could find stories by a cadre of these so-called New Wave writers, whether Tom Disch, Brian Aldiss, M. John Harrison, J.G. Ballard, D.M Thomas, or Moorcock himself. These writers were mostly young, neither baked in the cynicism of the genre nor aligned with its mainstream tendencies. Moreover, contributors  were as likely to be influenced by Burroughs and Pynchon, as Sturgeon, Stapleton, PK Dick, Lieber or David Lindsay. As for those who read the magazine, they were sort who preferred perusing International Times and Tariq Ali’s Black Dwarf rather than the mainstream or traditional leftist press. Given New Worlds outsider  status, it was inevitable that it would meet some resistance. One of its stories, Bug Jack Barron,  by Norman Spinard, which appeared in a March 1968 New Worlds, so outraged those in certain quarters that it led  to a ban on the magazine’s distribution stretching  from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa to WH Smiths in the UK, not to mention a debate in the British  Parliament regarding the misuse of Arts Council funding, which had been, to a large degree, subsidising the magazine. 

If not flying its proverbial freak flag, New Worlds was doing its best to move against the tide of sci-if technocrats- no point mentioning names- whose space operas and stories of  planetary expansionism and futurist war games had long dominated the genre. Not quite a case of anything goes, for Moorcock and his followers it was more a matter of transforming old tropes and creating new ones. All of which was coincident with the interest, thanks to psychedelics and soft drugs, in expanded consciousness, inner rather than outer space, as well as individual freedom. As Moorcock himself said, it was a time  “when we let the rockets explore the multiverse in terms of the human psyche. Powered by a faith that fiction- especially speculative fiction- could change the world, the New Wave allied with the underground press, the left, and the world of rock ‘n’ roll to create a cultural explosion.” Moreover, in keeping with the politics of the era, Moorcock, in 1969, was not only beginning to think of New Worlds as a magazine of  experimental literature as much as speculative fiction, but decided, whether of his own volition or by the persuasion of others, to democratise his editorship, and allow others to take on some of the editorial responsibilities. Which could  have been a sign that the magazine was running out of revolutionary steam. Indeed, it would never quite recover, even though New Worlds would continue for some years, eventually, to publishers Sphere and Corgi, morphing into a periodic paperback anthology.  

Meanwhile, in the U.S. the energetic and seemingly ever youthful Harlan Ellison was churning out his Dangerous Visions anthologies, beginning with a Doubleday edition in 1967. As excellent as the stories in Ellison's anthologies were- a sign of Ellison's acumen as an editor- the books were never, as far as I was concerned, quite as radical a departure from mainstream science fiction as were the stories found in New Worlds. It could be the authors who appeared in the pages of Ellison's paperback were a bit more  established, as might befit the demands of a mass market paperback publisher.  But that didn't mean that they didn't attract a legion of readers, myself included,  who picked them up wherever and whenever they appeared. Most likely  in liquor store and bus station paperback racks or on newspaper stands rather than in legitimate book stores. It was at one such  liquor store on Haight Street in San Francisco that I came across Ellison’s first anthology. That book, and their follow-ups, functioned, for me, as a kind of  entry level drug, providing me with my first  taste of Zelazny, Leiber, Delaney, and PK Dick’s mind-bending Faith of Our Fathers, a story with which I soon became obsessed. The stories were all accompanied by Ellison's  pithy and evocative intros- just a few sentences to prepare the reader for their deep dive into each particular vision. Yet those  anthologies lacked the same immediacy as New Worlds, nor did they have the explicit intention to, in Moorcock’s words, “create a cultural explosion.” Still, they  were necessary for those seeking something more mind expanding than what science fiction was accustomed to serving up at the time.  Ellison’s series would continue into the 2000s, but it was that first handful of editions that appeared from 1967-69 that were, for me, the most interesting.  Or it could simply be that their contributors were, whatever their past output, fairly new to a neophyte reader as I was at the time.  Interestingly, there was a degree of cross-over between the two publications. British writers such as Aldiss and John Brunner would appear in Ellison’s publications, while American writers like Spinard, Ellison, Delaney, John Sladek, Rachel Pollack and Pamela Zoline would crop up in the pages of New Worlds.  

So it’s appropriate that these  two publications  would form the basis, and focal point, for a study of radical science fiction from 1950-1985. In fact, Andrew Nette and Iain McIntyre, while keeping those publications firmly in mind, move both backwards and forwards in time with essays that extend the  rebellious spirit, however varied, of New Worlds and Dangerous Visions. Nette and McIntyre’s volume really does cut a wide swathe, with excellently-researched essays from a variety of contributors on subjects that move across the board: from that utopias, dystopias, the bomb, revolution, the Vietnam war, race relations, feminism, the sexual revolution, ecology,  and drugs, to sub-genres like Russian, gay, and young adult sci-fi, as well as chapters on publishers, editors, and writers, both obscure and well-known, from Moorcock, Judith Merril, Philip K. Dick, Samuel Delaney, Barry Malzberg, J.G. Ballard, Ursula LeGuin, Roger Zelazny, to Denis Jackson, Hank Lopez, R.A. Lafferty, Octavia Butler, and James Tiptree. With something for everyone, there are bound to be writers discussed that will be unfamiliar to readers. I for one had never come across the likes of Hank Lopez (Afro Six) or Denis Jackson ("Flying Saucers and Black Power"!). Likewise, there’s a plethora of paperback covers, all excellently reproduced which will make readers want to track down some of these titles on secondhand sites and bookstores. 

In all, this is as complete a history of that period- 1950-1985- one is likely to come across. Though as I thumbed through its pages it did make me think about how so much of what considered  radical during those years has now more or less become mainstream speculative fiction. But that probably says as much about how the genre has evolved as it does about this who now read the genre. If there is a criticism to make about the collection, it's that it doesn’t include contributions  by the writers themselves. But then, in the end, this is essentially a book by sci-fi critics ands fans for other sci-if fans. Which  it does in a format that has become something of a template for its editors. That is if their two collaborations-  Sticking It to the Man: Revolution and Counterculture in Pulp and Popular Fiction 1950 to 1980, Girl Gangs, Biker Boys, and Real Cool Cats: Pulp Fiction and Youth Culture 1950-1980- are anything to go by. All of which makes me wonder if  Tex, minus the donkey jacket, is still around, and, if he is, if he's still reading what he once was so excited about. I hope so. Because, if nothing else, Dangerous Visions and New Worlds illustrates that it wasn’t, as the editors attest, so much a “long 1960s,” as a perpetual 1960s, however much those years and what they stood for have been, and continue to undergo such revision.