Paul Krassner published the influential satirical magazine The Realist—which pioneered an envelope-pushing style that laid the groundwork for “New Journalism”—and he also cofounded the Yippies with Ed Sanders, Abbie Hoffman, Jim Fouratt, and others.
The Village Voice and other independent publications such as I. F. Stone’s Weekly debuted before the Realist, but Paul Krassner’s magazine had the biggest impact on the 1960s literary landscape. It pioneered an envelope-pushing style that laid the groundwork for Tom Wolfe’s “New Journalism,” and its contributors included Ken Kesey, Kurt Vonnegut, Norman Mailer, Lenny Bruce, and Joseph Heller. Television host Steve Allen was the Realist’s first subscriber and bought subscriptions for several people, including controversial comedian Lenny Bruce. Mad magazine art director John Francis Putnam wrote a regular column, called “Modest Proposals,” starting in the first issue. “I had never heard of Jonathan Swift’s ‘A Modest Proposal’ before that,” Krassner said of the classic satirical essay that advocated eating babies as a solution to child poverty, “so it was an educational process for me.” The Realist and the Fugs sprang from the same countercultural hive mind—many Fugs songs, such as “Kill for Peace,” were quite Swiftian—and the two troublemakers, Paul Krassner and Ed Sanders, became fast friends after meeting at an antiwar rally in Times Square. “Ed was a poet, but he also was very politically active,” Krassner said. “The Fugs kind of split the difference between poetry and activism.” As for the Realist, Krassner saw it as “a combination of satire and actual journalism. But I didn’t want to label something as journalism or satire because I didn’t want to deprive the readers learning for themselves which it was.” The magazine had many taglines over the years, but the most apt was The Truth Is Silly Putty. “I started with 600 copies,” Krassner said, “and then when it got up to a thousand, I said ‘Wow.’ Our peak circulation in 1967 was 100,000, plus pass-along copies and copies stolen from libraries.”
From Chapter 5 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore
WBAI’s Bob Fass was another Yippie collaborator, and he used independent radio to broadcast his social and political critiques. Fass’s free-form radio program, which aired from midnight to the early morning, was a prelude to the way many people use social media networks today. “It served a community purpose,” Paul Krassner recalled. “If there was some kind of event, people would call in to the radio station. They were like citizen journalists describing what was happening right then and there.” For example, Fass used his WBAI show to organize listeners after a citywide sanitation worker strike left piles of trash on the streets. “The first thing they did was clean up wealthier streets like Park Avenue, naturally,” Fass said, “so we organized this ‘Sweep-In’—where people came from all over to clean a block on the Lower East Side.” Another time, Fass used his radio show to call for a “Fly-In” at JFK airport that drew thousands of people on one of the coldest nights of the year. “They sang and danced and gave out flowers and welcomed people as they were getting off the plane,” Fass said. “There was nothing being sold, nothing but goodwill.” These street theater actions were partially rooted in Fass’s own theater background. He appeared in Bertolt Brecht’s Threepenny Opera, and performed in other Off-Broadway shows at the Circle in the Square and Cherry Lane Theatre during the late 1950s and early 1960s. “When I was in theater, I hung out with the people who were part of the art scene, and I would go to painters’ bars,” Fass recalled. “Actors’ bars kind of bored me, but the painters’ bars, there was excitement. I would also hang out in places like the Figaro. The coffeehouse scene and the music scene was beginning to erupt.”
During an August 24, 1967 action that targeted the New York Stock Exchange, Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin dropped a few hundred-dollar bills from the viewing area above. The goal was to create a mass-media spectacle in order to highlight the connection between the military-industrial complex and corporate war-related profits. Fellow activist Jim Fouratt hatched the idea, and Hoffman executed it with Jerry Rubin. “At first, they didn’t want to let them in because they were a bunch of hippies,” Paul Krassner recalled. “Then Hoffman said, ‘We’re a group of Jews and you don’t want to be accused in the media of being anti-Semitic, do you?’ So they got in, and the trading ticker-tape stopped.” Then, on New Year’s Eve 1967, Hoffman, Rubin, Fouratt, Ed Sanders, Paul Krassner, and other activists cofounded a political “organization” called the Youth International Party, aka the Yippies, while they were planning a protest of the 1968 Democratic National Convention. Krassner coined the group’s name. “Y was for Youth,” he explained, “because there was a generation gap, and the I was International, because this kind of revolutionary consciousness was around the world, and P was for Party, in both senses of the term. Yippie! The moment I said it, I felt it would work. It was a form of marketing an attitude.” These prankish tactics provided free publicity for the demonstrations, but, unfortunately, the riots that ensued in Chicago resulted in conspiracy charges against the organizers, known as the “Chicago Eight.”
From Chapter 15 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore
The attempted levitation of the Pentagon was a famous protest/prank that brought together the politicized wing of the counterculture and the hippies who were more invested in cultural revolution. The levitation stunt was a joke, but one with serious undertones that helped publicize their antiwar protest, the first of its kind in Washington, DC. “If you don’t like the news, why not go out and make your own?” Abbie Hoffman wrote in Steal This Book. “Guerrilla theater events are always good news items and if done right, people will remember them forever.” Even Pentagon officials joined in on the levity when the organizers sought a permit to levitate the building. “Well, don’t raise it higher than twenty-two feet, because that’s the height of our ladders,” they were told by a bemused official, who finally bargained them down to three feet. “So then we were able to go out and tell the newspapers that the Pentagon said that we could ‘only’ raise it three feet off the ground,” Paul Krassner said. “It was a great quote. It was funny, and it served as an organizational tool of media manipulation—in order to inform people about the demonstrations that were going to take place that October at the Pentagon.” The proto-Yippies staged two different media events filled with humorous hooks that they dangled in front of journalists, who took the bait. One was held at Abbie and Anita Hoffman’s apartment across from The Dom, and the other press conference featured a demonstration of the levitation at the Village Theater, complete with wires used to raise a small model of the Pentagon. While Sanders and others chanted, it rose high above the stage like a cheap magic trick.
Earlier in the day on June 3, 1968, Realist publisher Paul Krassner ran into Solanas on the street when he was heading over to have lunch at Brownie’s, a vegetarian restaurant near the Factory. When she walked into Brownie’s a little bit later and asked to sit with him, Krassner politely declined because he was with his daughter, who he didn’t get to see much. “She said she understood and she left,” Krassner recalled. “Right after that, she went and shot Warhol. I still think about that. It’s like, suppose it wasn’t Warhol she shot. Suppose she said, ‘What do you mean I can’t join you?!?’ BANG! It was kind of scary because she really obviously had some kind of mental problem.” Solanas walked from Brownie’s, took the Factory’s elevator up to the main offices, then shot Warhol multiple times as he crawled under a desk and pleaded for her to stop. Sanders heard about the shooting that afternoon when he was in his apartment and became justifiably concerned. “I was afraid she might come to Peace Eye or, worse, to our apartment, with her smoking .32,” he recalled. “I hid behind the police lock on Avenue A until she turned herself in to the police on Times Square a few hours later.”
From Chapter 18 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore
Before Andy Warhol declined to produce Valarie Solanas’s Up Your Ass, she had already approached Charles Stanley and Robert Patrick at Caffe Cino about directing the play. Stanley wanted Patrick to direct the play, but it was a little too extreme and filthy even for his tastes, so Patrick declined. “I remember her look,” he said. “She shot Warhol for not doing that play. I wish I had done it. It might have saved Andy Warhol. I deeply regret it.” Ed Sanders was another man who dashed Solanas’s dreams after she delivered the twenty-one page SCUM Manifesto manuscript to his Peace Eye Bookstore. She hoped he would publish it, but after he sat on it for too long, Solanas left a terse note for him at the bookstore. “She wanted the manuscript back,” Sanders recalled. “I got the impression from the store clerk that she was miffed.” Adding to her frustration, Solanas unsuccessfully approached Realist publisher Paul Krassner about publishing SCUM, yet another male gatekeeper who turned her down. “It didn’t fit whatever my editorial criteria were,” he said, “but I did give her fifty dollars because she was an interesting pamphleteer and I wanted to support her.” She ended up self-publishing the manifesto and sold it at Paperbook Gallery, the Greenwich Village store where Jackie Curtis collaborator Paul Serrato worked. “Valerie would pop in with her SCUM Manifesto and she’d chat, just like anyone else,” Serrato said. “Who knew what she was gonna do, right?” Solanas began showing up at the Factory more frequently, asking for money, so Warhol put her to work by casting her in his 1967 film I, a Man. Over the course of 1968, she became increasingly agitated until she finally snapped on June 3 and shot Warhol.
St. Mark’s Place was a street that functioned as a major pedestrian thoroughfare to the West Village (it turns into Eighth Street after crossing Third Avenue). The print shop that published the Realist was near Sheridan Square, and Paul Krassner regularly walked there from his loft on Avenue A. “It was just a great feeling to walk along St. Mark’s Place,” he said, “and then Eighth Street to Sheridan Square to deliver stuff to the printer—going back and forth. There was a lot of smoking of marijuana on the streets. It was just a very friendly atmosphere and people would walk along and smile.” Krassner also used to watch the Fugs perform free concerts at the shell stage in Tompkins Square Park, where St. Mark’s Place terminated to the east. Future punk singer Joey Ramone and his younger brother Mickey Leigh (then known as Jeffrey and Mitchel Lee Hyman) occasionally came from Queens to hang out. Off-Off-Broadway performer Agosto Machado would take acid trips with people in that park, where he sometimes slept. “Suburban kids—or ‘weekend hippies,’ that was the new term—populated the area after Bill Graham opened Fillmore East,” Machado said. “That’s when the media and suburban people came and overwhelmed the East Village and Tompkins Square Park. They would say, ‘You are so free. You can live your life the way you want but we can’t.’ They were already branded and enslaved by the ideals of their family, and yet they could admire us, the homeless, who didn’t have anything, because we could do what we want. They thought our struggles were glamorous.”
From Chapter 19 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore