Paul Krassner Publishes The Realist

Paul Krassner Publishes The Realist

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


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