A Fortnight In The Life… On The Job In Swinging London

 theda

“When one’s friends hate each other
………………………………how can there be peace in the world
Their asperities diverted me in my green time,”

                                                           – Ezra Pound, Canto 115

 

 

PROLOGUE

“Our life has touched on so many points,” Jim said, “but I’m a little weak on that time together in London.” So, when Jim Haynes phoned from Paris asking for a contribution to his participatory autobiography, I took I. F. Stone’s advice – the scoops are in your files. Nothing is easier than predicting the past. Instead of pontificating thusly, I decided to look for documents, genuine relics from the ‘60s – so you, dear reader, experience it directly. As it is said, we were heroes in those days: we thought we were going to invent a new color. We did. It was, and is, called psychedelic.
………..Like everyone else who has been around, I’ve got a little list. I’ve also got a trunk in the attic. It’s one of those large old-fashioned wooden trunks about three feet high and four feet long with bubbles of metal at the corners. The kind people used for transatlantic boat crossings. In fact, I still have it from when I docked in Southampton aboard the Queen Mary in September 1966. Now the trunk is filled with paper, memos, diaries, notebooks, and publications long forgotten. A gold mine for any number of cultural historians and social geographers.
………..Oh no, I think, do I have to go through all of this?!? But, I’m lucky. The archive angel is with me.
………..Almost immediately, I find my membership card – no. 43 – from Jim’s Arts Lab. Wow! That’s like having been one of the first fifty Illuminati. Skimming further through this paper mess, I quickly discover a piece of interesting ephemera.
………..Almost immediately I find diary notes from September 1967, when I had been in London for a year. By that time I was editor of International Times, and it was in this period that Jim and I began a close cooperation lasting many years. Although Jim is not the only character in this story, it does place him in the context of events and people.
In this portrait from the past, I have tried to focus on Jim with a wide-angle lens. Others have provided the close-ups.

 

LOG

Tuesday, 19 September 1967

Jim and I go out on the town. He says: “You are spending too much time working in the house. Part of being editor is to show yourself around town.” We take a taxi to Mayfair, to Huntington Hartford’s who is giving a party for Sammy Davis, Jr. It is obvious the house is seldom used, decorated like an hotel suite. Tonight it’s packed. The women are garishly dressed. For the most part they look like merchant’s wives, hookers and showgirls. The older men are in three-piece business suits. The younger ones chinless-wonders in expensive Granny-Takes-a-Trip gear. Find it difficult to start a conversation with anyone. Plenty of food and drink, however. We wait around for a few hours. Suddenly a wave of excitement flows through the crowd from the direction of the downstairs entrance. There he is! Sammy Davis. Flanked by Huntington Hartford. Both almost run through the rooms saying: “Hi, there!” and “Good to see you again” and “Yes, we must get together.” They press as much flesh as possible, then disappear again.
………..Jim and I leave and take a taxi to the Cuban Embassy for a reception and then from there another taxi to Peter Owen’s house in Fulham. It’s a small publisher’s party for one of his authors, the 65-year-old Guatemalan novelist Miquel Asturias. Jim tries out his broken Spanish on him. He seems like a nice man. [Asturias was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature a few months later]. I get into a rather heated discussion with Mario Amayta, an editor of an arts magazine. [Less than a year later, while interviewing Andy Warhol both he and Warhol were shot by the harsh critic Valerie Solanas.] But tomorrow he’s very proud to have an appointment with Jenny Lee, the new Minister of Culture. He is not amused when I ask – What does this have to do with art or culture?
………..An evening of living Dada.

 

Wednesday, 20 September

Lunch with Ronnie Laing. He steps out of a taxi in front of the Belgravia mews house where I’m now living.
………..“This,” he says in that famous Glaswegian accent of his, “is a much nicer office than that basement you were in before.”
………..We walk to a restaurant off Sloane Square. I tell him IT is opened to his contributions and to announce his projects. He is somewhat cool. Says: “If I have anything, I’ll let you know.” When I suggest an excellent photographer I know who would like to do a portrait of him, Laing replies: “I’ve already had my picture taken.”After lunch he suggests we both pay half the bill, then continues with a conspiratorial smile: “Let me take the cheque for my accounts.” Oh dem Scots!
………..In the evening go see America Hurrah. A well-done museum piece from the early ‘60s.

 

Thursday, 21 September

Important lunch in an Italian restaurant in Soho with Nigel Samuel, Jim and Tom Driberg (Labour MP for Barking). The purpose of the meeting is to ask Driberg to help us find a printer. This crazy law they have in England where the printer can have their machinery seized if the publisher is prosecuted has made it impossible for us. It’s not unlike the licensing law John Milton argued against in his Aeropagetica. We had to walk out of our last London printer when the trade union refused to typeset an advert for contraceptives!
………..Driberg tells us he has wasted his life in politics. That there is nothing really to be done in Parliament; he stays on merely to be of assistance to people like ourselves. “My generation,” he says, “has created this horrible society.”
………..Jim asks if he will intervene with Woodrow Wyatt on IT’s behalf. Wyatt is also a Labour MP and the owner of printing companies. Driberg says he will do it.
………..“I’ll phone him right now,” he says. A few feet away from where we are sitting, there is a wall telephone. He wants to make a point of talking in front of us. While finishing my zabaglione, I hear Driberg say:
………..“…also I’m here with a young man whose family you know, but whose name I can’t mention on the telephone…”
………..(Meaning Nigel whose father was Nye Bevan’s patron and a major contributor to their party in the 50s.)
………..“…and, he has agreed to put up proper bank guarantees to back the payment of print bills.”
………..Over coffee, Driberg tells us he will see Wyatt and give us an answer next week. We bring up two other concerns.
………..One deals with distribution. How W.H. Smith dominates what publications will be available for sale, their insistent refusal to stock IT, and others, even though they sell. Driberg says that when the Railroad Nationalisation Act was introduced into Parliament after the war, he remembers the Smith family was powerful enough to get a special amendment excepting their newsagents in railroad stations from that Act.
………..The other concern is my status as an American and editor of a radical newspaper. The point being that under terms of my visa, I cannot enter into employment paid or unpaid. Driberg suggests I keep a false diary, which if seized in a police raid might justify my presence on the newspaper as part of a research project, like a businessman who keeps two sets of books. “You should,” he says, “have entries about many different publications so it cannot be said you were engaged with any one.”
………..Oz came out today. Richard Neville phones. Always the fast talker, he comes off with the manners of a barrow boy on the make. We speak about matters of mutual interest – exchange ads, printing, subscriptions. I suggest we organize a National Drop – Out Day. Neither one of us would work. Both of us agree to put notices in our publications. We are quite friendly towards each other, but at the same time, each knows the other is holding back information. A tacit agreement to relate as icebergs.
………..Late in the afternoon, I get a phone call insisting I come right away to Joe Boyd’s flat on Westbourne Terrace.
………..When I arrive, I see Michael Abdul Malik, Jim Haynes and Caroline Coon. They are all smiling so hard it looks like their faces will break. Each is holding a piece of paper in their hand. I also am given a piece of paper. I smile too. It’s a cheque for 500 Pounds made payable to IT. Jim has one for the Arts Lab, Michael for Defence and Caroline for Release. The giver wishes to remain anonymous. The only thing he wants in return, he explains, is an agreement for all of us to meet once a week to discuss issues of interests to the alternative community. We agree. We agree. We agree. We agree.

 

Friday, 22 September

Have coffee with Penny Blue, a black stripper who works at the Phoenix Club. She reads the newspaper and is to be our next IT Girl.
………..In the West End run into a bunch of roving poets: Anselm Hollo, Lee Harwood, Michael Horovitz and Brian Patten. They tell me they are going to Brussels for a British Week and plan a poetry incarnation at the Aldwych Theatre in mid-November. I write down the information and tell them I’ll put a story about Poetry in Action in next IT.
………..In the evening, Neil Winterbottom, son of Lord Winterbottom, comes over from his house around the corner on Eaton Square. He accuses me of being foreign, a foreigner. That’s right! Then the Badge Boys – Robert Tascher and Mike Lesser – come over. Both have shaved heads and are wearing back leather outfits.

 

Saturday, 23 September

Visit Lee Harris. I ask Lee if he’d head, i.e. be the face or face dancer of an Underground University of London. The idea excites him. Lee gives me a typescript of his book Living for Kicks, and a preliminary Drug Report (not yet released) from the Civil Liberties Union. It’s full of a lot of presumably well intentioned nonsense. Lee and I have a big laugh. Statements like “the effects of cannabis are the antithesis of the Protestant work ethic.” Their recommendations that the seller is guiltier than the user. And, to rescind Sec. 5 of the Dangerous Drug Act which makes it a criminal offense to permit ones premises to be used for smoking. Ignores the market system in the former and protects property rights, rather than persons, in the latter. But the biggest joke is the sentence that makes it sound as if one is smoking an atomic bomb: “For many people the ultimate aim is the legalisation of cannabis, but not immediately and not unilaterally.” Will definitely write about this report in the next issue.
………..Evening: Frank Zappa concert at Royal Albert Hall where he plays Louie Louie on their famous organ.

 

Tuesday, 26 September

Enormous interest in Aleister Crowley right now. One small mention of him in the last issue of IT acted as a magnet for a bunch of letters. Plan a feature. Go to the BM Reading Room. See first edition of The Book of Lies. (“Liber 333, the Book of Lies, which is also falsely called Breaks, the wanderings or falsifactions of the one thought of Frater Perdurabo, which is itself untrue.”) Also, see his signature where the letter “A” in Aleister is formed as a pictograph for male genitals. Quite by accident, in the coffee lounge downstairs, I see Peter Fryer and Michael Chapman. I think the latter uses the lavatory for his ablutions.
………..Walk down Museum Street and see Tom Driberg in a bookshop. I stop by to say hello. He tells me he is working there to help out a sick friend. He also tells me Woodrow Wyatt’s presses will not print our newspaper. So much for trying to work within the anti-establishment establishment. The bookshop does not carry IT.
………..Spent the evening with Alex Gross and his wife Ilene Astrahan. Ilene gives me her illustrations for the Acid Test center spread.

 

Wednesday, 27 September

Visit Ed Victor at Cape for Aleister Crowley photos. I can get them pre-publication if I mention their forthcoming book The Confessions of Aleister Crowley edited by John Symonds and Kenneth Grant. Ed seems interested in my doing a book of Ezra Pound’s radio speeches. Doesn’t know what he’s getting himself into.
………..Walk over to the BM Reading Room again. This time to search out sources of an article by John Michell called “Centres and Lines of the Latent Power in Britain.” It’s either a work of genius or a madman, or both. I want, at least, to see that his sources exist, especially Watkins’ Early British Tracking and The Old Straight Track. They do!

 

Thursday, 28 September

Spend all day inside trying to tie up, mark up, make ready material for IT no. 19. And, prepare myself for long train ride to printer in Carlisle.
………..Am I under house arrest?
………..John Michell phones. He is back in London after rural rides with Sir Mark Palmer and his gypsy band of horse drawn caravans. Also, a side trip to Glastonbury. Wants to come over and tell me about it.
………..I phone Jim to get final scheduling for the Arts Lab. He tells me it includes work by the Exploding Galaxy. The People Show. Films by Stan Brakage. Storm over Asia by Pudovkin. Poetry readings. A special Black Power Week programme. Indian music and the European premiere of Erik Satie’s Vexations – a work for piano repeated 840 times, performed by Richard Toop.
………..“I’ll have someone bring it over right away,” Jim says. Then he continues: “I had a great day selling IT on the King’s Road last Saturday. I met a lot of people and sold a lot of papers.”
………..That’s true. Jim must be the world’s best street seller.
………..“Listen,” I say. “I have an idea. We can announce it in the issue after this.”
………..“What’s that?” Jim asks a little bit suspiciously.
………..“”Let’s arrange a non-conference at the Arts Lab. We can call it Ying-Yang Uprising. That’s Ying – not Yin – after the Coasters’ record Little Egypt…”
………..“Oh you Capricorn surrealist,” Jim replies, laughing. “Okay. Let’s do it!”

 

EPILOGUE

Amsterdam, January 2006

Manuscripts, like people, may be lucky, or unlucky. The preceding words have been an unlucky text. Originally commissioned for Jim Haynes’ participatory autobiography Thanks for Coming! (London: Faber and Faber, 1984) for some reason it never appeared in that volume. At about the same time, an American magazine edited by Larry “Ratso” Sloman asked me to write an article for their ninth anniversary The Fabulous ‘60s Issue. To appear along with Dick Gregory, Paul Krassner, Allen Ginsberg, R. Crumb, Charles Bukowski and musician Michael Bloomfield. See “Messianic Mind Spray – Or Assorted Sketches from Swinging London” (New York: High Times, June 1983, pp. 46-48 & 67-68). My article originally included all these diary notes embedded in a much longer and different narrative. Although published and in a discerning way, that piece was circumcised. Only snippets from this journal remained.
………..Years, decades, passed. Then at the beginning of January 2005, a Canadian publisher invited me to contribute to a Jim Haynes Festschrift. Immediately I dusted off this docu and donated A Fortnight in the Life. The proposal promised to provide page proofs by the first week of May. That never happened. You see, this has been an unlucky text. The book I saw finally at the very end of December 2005 had a long title: In Praise of Joy, White Washing Fences with Jim Haynes, A Celebration, edited by Howard Aster (Oakville, Ontario: Mosiac Press, 2005.) My offering was fourth on the list in the Table of Contents, pp. 21-26. Not only was I surprised to find it was included, since I hadn’t heard anything about the page proofs, but when examined it flabbergasted me. Suffice to say it was garbled beyond belief with typos and imbecilic expunging. Apologies to all those who have read my diary in this Canadian form.
………..This final rendition – the one you have just read – is an attempt to give an unlucky text an even break.

 

By William Levy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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