Prince of Gadflies

15 Oct
Mather HS /Chicago- my alma mater

Mather HS /Chicago- my alma mater

Looking back at my education in the 60’s era Chicago public schools, I am struck by how little I learned (although because of certain teen age biological imperatives regarding my long-legged history teacher, I can still identify the British monarchy’s succession from the Stuart’s on up.)Now this ought not be taken as a condemnation of that system as clearly multitudes have benefited from their school experiences. But it does speak to my process of edification sans erudition. Not a bad way to go.

Patty Hearst & The Twinkie Murders by Paul Krassner

Patty Hearst & The Twinkie Murders by Paul Krassner

Given the scarcity of gadflies,contrarians, truth tellers, iconoclasts and such—dare I call them prophets (maybe wise men and women works better), I hold the few that I have come across in very high regard. I am tempted to offer that conversing with that small but persistent cadre as a necessity of a well lived and mindful life but I suspect that may fall on the deaf ears of the new and mobile media transfixed of my fellow citizens,

Paul Krassner a patriarch of the radical “new journalism” of the 1960s is one of those wise people. I first ran in to him at a University of Illinois (Chicago)lecture and there after became an appreciative reader of his incendiary and satirical magazine, The Realist. And that discovery was at a moment when having your “mind blown” was still a novelty.

The Realist Issue No. 44 - Lenny Bruce arrested (1963)

The Realist Issue No. 44 – Lenny Bruce arrested (1963)

The second time I ran into Krassner was at the legendary Alternative Media Conference in 1971. Somewhere I have a photo of he and poet and Fugs member Tuli Kupferberg sitting on a park BMW motorcycle.Twenty something years passed and Paul Krassner came to Boston for the publication of publication an anthology of Krassner’s writing, The Winner of the Slow Bicycle Race

We had a nice chat. Here’s sampling

RB: What would Lenny Bruce have gone on to become? If he had reached a ripe age of even fifty, what do you think he would have…?

PK: I think he would have continued to evolve as an icon. When I first interviewed him and asked him what’s the role a comedian and he gave a very formal answer: “To get a laugh every 15 to 25 seconds.” And then as he got more and more involved in the world, he would get more serious sometimes in his performances. Instead of yelling out, “Lenny, you’re funny,” people would say, “Lenny, you’re honest.” And I said to him, “You remember you said the role of a comedian is to get a laugh every 15 to 25 seconds? That’s not happening now.” And he says, “Well, I’m changing.” I said, “What do you mean?” He says, “Well, I’m not a comedian; I’m Lenny Bruce.” So he knew that he had become a symbol, and I think he would have continued in that vein. He would have spoken out.

Here’s kindred spirit, Kurt Vonnegut on Krassner:

I told Krassner one time that his writings made me hopeful. He found this an odd compliment to offer a satirist. I explained that he made supposedly serious matters seem ridiculous, and that this inspired many of his readers to decide for themselves what was ridiculous and what was not. Knowing that there were people doing that, better late than never, made me optimistic.

So, Paul Krassner has a new book Patty Hearst & The Twinkie Murders: A Tale of Two Trials (courtesy of the fine people at PM Press) contains his acute absurdist understanding of two odd headline events of the late 20th century the kidnapping of heiress Patty Hearst by the Symbionese Liberation Army and assassination of San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and gay leader Harvey Milk. There are a couple of other tidbits in this book including an Outspoken Interview with Krassner

Paul Krassner [photo: Robert Birnbaum]

Paul Krassner [photo: Robert Birnbaum]

Currently reading Let Me Be Frank With You by Richard Ford (ECCO)

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2 Responses to “Prince of Gadflies”

  1. Norman Levy October 16, 2014 at 1:16 am #

    Bob, have missed your interviews since retiring from Dartmouth Med Center and giving up my @hitchcock.org email address. Restart email notices to my new address (enclosed), and if you wish, your personal email address.

    I can also recall some additions to your intermittent autobiographies that I will keep from the public eye with a modest donation to a favorite charity 😉

    Norm Levy

    • robertbirnbaum October 16, 2014 at 1:30 am #

      Are you still in Vermont? A little young to retire,no?

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