You did some of the same stuff when you ran the magazine Ramparts.

Ramparts was a Catholic quarterly. Because we were Catholics we kind of got backed into taking a political stand, because we were critical of Cardinal Spellman. We pointed out that the American Catholic Relief Agency had given over $35 million to Vietnamese Catholics who were goddamn 10 percent of the population, and that Spellman had conditioned America to support the Catholic Ngo Dinh Diem rather than any of the Buddhists who were the majority of the country. It was outrageous. No wonder they were having a goddamn revolution. And it was the same with the racial issues of the '60s and '70s. We were connected with the radical priests, with John Howard Griffin, the guy who dyed himself black and wrote Black Like Me. A lot of those guys were part of the early Ramparts, and we just took that and ran with it. It was critical of the war, critical on racial issues, pretty radical at the time. But we also made it slick. Before Ramparts, journals of opinion like that were printed on butcher paper without color graphics or typography or any real marketing. Ramparts broke the left wing of journalism and of the opinion culture out of that butcher paper mentality. We sold ideas that were critical of the going trends in the country with hot artists and aggressive graphics, big newspaper ads. We built a circulation of about 250,000 doing that.

H. Rap Brown was part of the magazine, wasn't he?

Most of the Panther crew was involved in the magazine. Eldridge Cleaver was one of our major guys. We helped get him out of jail and helped him develop as a writer. But really we were just into where the country was in terms of ferment and dissent. Anybody who was into fermenting dissent and had something to say and could write became part of Ramparts.

What did you think of H. Rap's shootout and arrest 
during the last two weeks? 

There's a TV movie for you. I believe those things usually involve some sort of long-term watch and a police or state setup. I'm withholding judgment because I haven't gone down there to take a look. But I'd be surprised if the story is as black and white as they're making it out.

Everybody has a theory about why the New Left coalition disintegrated from 1968 on. What's yours?

Lyndon Johnson destroyed the New Left by removing himself as a target. He was the central figure that everybody sort of organized themselves around, to take him down. He was the most prominent promoter of the war. Later historical records showed there may have been some ambivalence on his part, but at the time he was saying a lot of in-your-face kind of stuff. And when he removed himself as a target, the elements of what they called the New Left — which made up everything from Indian rights to one-legged feminist lesbian rights to astrology rights; I mean, everybody was opposed to the war — went in their own separate directions. The New Left was like an atom ball of all these individual elements that were unified by opposition to the war, and without that unifying element, they found it was more important to go their own ways.

Right-wing firebreather David Horowitz was part of that crowd, and you knew him. Was he as psychotic and tiresome in person as he seems to be in his columns?

Oh, you know, David, he's ... he's still working out his life. You know, he was the most left-wing guy at Ramparts. He had been Bertrand Russell's personal secretary. He was the most full-fledged Marxist of anybody — I don't mean that to sound McCarthyite, but he was intellectually a serious Marxist. The rest of us were more into just tearing down the walls; we didn't really have any great new structural theory to replace the system of government with. It was more moral indignation and the fight of the moment.

But then David just flipped. There was an incident involving the Black Panthers and a bookkeeper we shared with the Panthers over in Oakland. She found out some dirty stuff that was going on within the Panther organization — ripping off people for money, shaking down liquor stores, things like that — and they bumped her off. That just so blew David away that it was like the god that failed. These former communist true believers go the other way, and they have to become the flip side of everything. They have to go all the way over to the other side and be as crazy and strict for the opposition side as they were for their original side.

But wouldn't you think a guy 
with that life experience would be a more interesting writer? All his 
writing is just bombast and right-wing boilerplate without any kind of 
distinctive mark. Either that or regurgitations of these old intramural fights 
that are as tired and pointless as when you hear these old farts still arguing about the 
Abraham Lincoln Brigade or the Alger Hiss case.

Yeah, it's like who cares? I think he's making a good living. These right-wing guys seem to like him and support him. And I guess he's telling them what they want to hear. I don't think it's particularly relevant to most people's sense of politics or the world today. It's like a jerking-off-in-the-closet kind of argument.

You don't hear as much about Scanlan's, the next magazine you did after Ramparts.

Well, that didn't last very long. Sidney Zion and I did that after we ran out of dough for Ramparts. But you have to remember we were against everything the big corporations and the material culture and the banks were for. I mean, they were all for the war. They didn't like radicals saying, "Hey, blacks are OK, the Black Panthers are OK," all that sort of stuff. So we started off with a degree of advertising. My friend Howard Gossage was a real genius in San Francisco advertising and got us a bunch of ads. But as the politics became more divisive in the country, you just couldn't go into a bank and say, "Hey, we want to borrow $5 million to put in a new printing press." They'd say, "Not you guys." And as far as commercial advertisers, it was just too goddamn controversial.

What kind of magazine was it?

It was a continuation of Ramparts, a little broader culturally. It was supposedly the magazine Richard Nixon hated the most, according to some of the memoirs of people who worked for him. It's been credited with helping start some of what they call the New Journalism. You know, we put Hunter Thompson and Ralph Steadman together. That whole game started when we sent them to the Kentucky Derby. Hunter teargassed Steadman and threw him out of the car, and Steadman had holes in his pants and had to do his drawings with lipstick that he borrowed; Hunter got him drunk and jumped on his stomach — that became the sort of journalism those people are known for. So it was an inventive magazine in that sense.

How long did it last?

Only about a year and a half. We got shut down and we had to print in Canada because we did a story about guerilla warfare in the United States. The government kept insisting nothing was really happening. And we were saying, "No, no. Everything's being blown up, every ROTC office, every police station. You guys are trying to cover this up." Anyway, we got into a huge printing squabble and had to print in Canada. Then in Canada, the Mounties arrested us and beat the shit out of the printer we had up there, took all the copies. Everybody went to jail. It was pretty bad for the printer, but boy, it was a mess. We later got word that this was the result of a call from the White House to the Canadian government saying, "Get these fuckers."

You told Eldridge Cleaver you drink in right-wing bars because 
there were no good left-wing bars. 

There are no good left-wing bars.

Have you ever figured out why that is?

There's the slight exception of Spec's 12 Adler place in San Francisco. He's an old lefty steel worker out of Boston, a veteran of the lefty fights of the '50s and '60s. And he has slightly successfully mixed the chess players and the self-important aesthetes with the merchant-marine-type guys. But the culture of the left in America — if you can say there is a left anymore — they're just pissy. They're against smoking, and they're against people hanging around in bars. They're against everything that's fun.

And the Ex is going to be for everything that's fun.

Damn right.

You'll sell plenty of copies of the Examiner on your first day because people will be curious. What about the second day?

Well, we could do something as crazy as publishing pictures from Jack Davis' birthday party. All I can say is we will sell more issues our second day than our first. We're not giving away any secrets here because we haven't decided any of this yet. But clearly this is the direction we're going to go in, a direction nobody's ever gone in with a daily paper. And it's probably the only chance you have to succeed in this situation. But I'm not worried about giving away any trade secrets because these guys at the Chronicle are too boring to do any of this stuff. With the possible exception that maybe they might read this column and say, "Ooh, we should hire Susie Bright. We'll pay her more money." They're slightly capable of that type of thinking. But only a teensy bit.

[Previous Page] interview by
BarTel d'Arcy

Terry Colon

BarTel d'Arcy