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Paul Krassner: Founder, Editor, & Contributor, The Realist

August 15, 2014

Interviewer: Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Numbering: Issue 5.A, Idea: Outliers & Outsiders (Part One)

Place of Publication: Langley, British Columbia, Canada

Title: In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Web Domain: http://www.in-sightjournal.com

Individual Publication Date: August 15, 2014

Issue Publication Date: September 1, 2014

Name of Publisher: In-Sight Publishing

Frequency: Three Times Per Year

Words: 2,736

ISSN 2369-6885

Paul Krassner

ABSTRACT

A brief interview with Paul Krassner, the founder, editor, and contributor to The Realist.  He discusses the following topics: youth and pivotal moments in life-trajectory; early life as a violin child prodigy, influence of Lenny Bruce, and entering the world of comedy; City College of New York to major in journalism; myths of the 60s counter-culture during and up to the present day; importance of Dr. Timothy Leary and Dr. Robert Anton Wilson to the counter-culture and mainstream culture; purpose of art and the role of artists in shaping, defining, and contributing to society and culture; extraterrestrial life; the ‘Yippies’; controversial topics; Occupy Movement; and advice for youth.

Keywords: ‘Yippies’, art, child prodigy, City College of New York, contributor, counter-culture, Dr. Robert Anton Wilson, Dr. Timothy Leary, editor, founder, journalism, Lenny Bruce, Occupy Movement, Paul Krasser, The Realist, violin.

1. How was your youth? How did you come to this point? What do you consider the earliest pivotal moment in your life-trajectory?

My parents nurtured me with a sense of responsibility, honesty, thoughtfulness, healthiness and humor. I realized early on not to take things personally–that there were people who wanted to control me in some way—from my violin teacher who, when I told him I wanted to learn a certain song, said, “That’s not right for you,” to my crazy aunt who tried to kill me when I was nine years old. All in all, I felt like a Martian learning to pass as an Earthling. I became awed by the infinite coincidences that ultimately led to my existence, and enjoying that mystery has continued to this very day.

2. Early in life, you had talent for music. In particular, a gift for violin meriting the title of ‘child prodigy’. You began at age 3 and performed in Carnegie Hall at age 6.  The youngest ever to perform there at the time.  However, you have recounted this as a period of being ‘asleep’. Further, you have talked about the experience of having an itch in your left leg while performing a Vivaldi Concerto, scratching your left leg with your right leg during the Carnegie Hall performance, and having an experience of ‘awakening’ to the Carnegie Hall audience laughing. Following this, Lenny Bruce entered the picture, who convinced you to drop the violin and begin comedy. What importance did he play in your development?  How did he convince you?  What ideas did Lenny have and embody that convinced you to enter comedy?

When it came to the violin, I had practiced myself right out of my childhood. But at Carnegie Hall I awoke to the sound of laughter. I wasn’t trying to make the audience laugh, I was merely trying to scratch an itch. Although I was considered to be a child prodigy, I only had a technique for playing the violin, but I had a passion for making people laugh. In high school I wrote, produced, directed and starred in the Senior Play. The local newspaper called me “a junior Orson Welles.” I had no idea who that was. When I started doing stand-up comedy as an adult, I used my violin as a prop. Lenny Bruce advised me that it was unnecessary. He didn’t have to convince me to begin comedy, I was already obsessed with it. While editing his autobiography, How to Talk Dirty and Influence People, I traveled around with him, and he inadvertently served as my mentor. Our viewpoints and satirical targets were totally in sync, ranging from obscenity laws to teachers’ low salary to nuclear testing.

3. You attended City College of New York to major in journalism. Why did you choose this field?

There were no courses in comedy—moreover, there were no comedy clubs with open-mike nights—but I also wanted to be a reporter.

4. In my contact with the current generation of students, my generation, many seem to have a different understanding of the ‘60s counter-cultural revolution’ than those currently living to tell their experience of the time.  For instance, some slogans come to mind like ‘Turn on, tune in, and drop out’. Some research on, and casual use of, consciousness-altering substances come to mind such as psilocybin, LSD, marijuana, and lesser-known ones.  However, this seems obfuscating at best and misleading at worst.  What myths abounded during the 60s about the purpose of popular social movements across the spectrum of activity?  What myths persist to this day?

Filtered through mainstream media, the ‘60s countercultural revolution has been reduced to a pair of images at both ends of the spectrum: a group of “flower children” at a party smoking joints; and cops indiscriminately, sadistically beating antiwar activists with billy clubs. Myths ranged from the notion that hippies didn’t take showers to the notion that they spat at soldiers returning from Vietnam. At the risk of revealing my self-serving streak, I hereby recommend my own memoir (available at paulkrassner.com), Confessions of a Raving, Unconfined Nut: Misadventures in the Counterculture, about which Pulitzer Prize winner Art Spiegelman wrote that “His true wacky, wackily true autobiography is the definitive book on the sixties.” As for current myths, remnants of misinformation and disinformation about drugs, gays, racism, theology still remain, they are gradually evolving out of existence, but the most persistent myth is that men and women in the military who lost their lives in Afghanistan and Iraq have not died in vain. Support our troops. Huh?

5. Many major figures of the ‘counter-culture’ produced highly popular books. For instance, Dr. Timothy Leary and Dr. Robert Anton Wilson produced multiple influential books encapsulating many of their core ideas.  For Dr. Leary, Info-Psychology, Neuropolitique, The Game of Life, and Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out; for Dr. Wilson, the Illuminatus! Trilogy, Prometheus Rising, Cosmic Trigger (I, II, and III), and Email to the Universe.  You founded, edited, and contributed to the Realist. The first counter-culture magazine. In your view, what importance do their, and your, work mean to the mainstream culture?  What about to the ‘counter-culture’?

Leary, Wilson and other contributors to The Realist were prescient about the future, and many of the seeds they planted are gradually blossoming in the present. In the sixties, there were civil rights sit-ins and marches, and now we have an African-American president. The women’s liberation movement was launched by the protest at the Miss America pageant in 1968, and it’s not unlikely that a female president will be elected in 2016. There were demonstrations for the decriminalization of marijuana then, and there are now medical marijuana dispensaries in twenty states, and the legalization of recreational marijuana in two states. I won’t be satisfied until there’s amnesty for all those nonviolent stoners who are serving time for drug offenses. They’re political prisoners.

LSD became unlawful in 1966, and in 2014 a study concluded that LSD can ease anxiety. In 1969, police raided a gay bar, the Stonewall Inn, and now more and more states are legalizing same-sex marriages. Then there were vegetarians and vegans, but no such cookbooks. Now there are bookstores and online shelves filled with cookbooks for vegetarians and vegans. Then, organic farming. Now, organic farmers’ markets. Then, challenging theological dogma. Now, widespread public skepticism. As a dolphin once told me, “If God is evolution, then how do you know He’s finished?” Obviously, it was a male chauvinist dolphin. Speaking of which, dolphin researcher Dr. John Lilly corrected me. “If God is evolution,” he said, “then how do you know you’re finished?”

6. If any, what do you consider the purpose of art? More importantly, what role do artists play in shaping, defining, and contributing to society and culture?

Here’s a couple of quotes about art and communication. Luis Bunuel: “I make films to give me something to do between birth and death.” And Pablo Picasso: “Art is the lie that enables us to realize the truth.” That’s why artists supersede politicians. Except George Bush.

7. If you could have one question answered through a massive research project, what would you want answered? 

Is there life on other planets, and if so, do they have civilizations?

8. You contributed to the American lexicon of terms like the Hippies, the Punks, and so on, through the term The Yippies.  This invention described a sub-population of the USA: a coalition between the ‘anti-war activists’ and the ‘hippie dropouts’.  What purpose did this term serve?

I didn’t coin hippies or punks. Yippie was a traditional shout of spontaneous joy. We could be the Yippies! It had just the right attitude. Yippies felt like an appropriate name for the radicalization of hippies. What a perfect media myth that would be. And then, working backward, it hit me. Youth-–this was essentially a movement of young people involved in a generational struggle. International–-it was happening all over the world, from Mexico to France, from Germany to Japan. And Party–-in both senses of the word. We would be a party and we would have a party. We would be the Youth International Party and we would be called the Yippies. The name provided its own power of persuasion.

Yippie was simply a label to describe a phenomenon that already existed-–-an organic coalition of psychedelic dropouts and political activists. In the process of cross-pollination, we had come to share an awareness that there was a linear connection between putting kids in prison for smoking marijuana in this country and burning them to death with napalm on the other side of the globe. It was the ultimate extension of dehumanization. Meanwhile, reporters had a who for their lead paragraphs. A headline in the Chicago Daily News summed it up: “Yipes! The Yippies Are Coming!” The myth was already becoming a reality. Yippie chapters were forming on campuses, and pot-head antiwar activists across the country realized what to call themselves.

9. What do you consider the three most controversial topics at present?  What arguments do you consider most convincing for your views?

Chris Christie’s role in sabotaging the world’s largest bridge. The dictator of Syria murdering 100,000 civilians, including 10,000 children. Uganda’s government legalizing the execution—literally–of homosexuals. But I’m unable to convince power-without-compassion.

10. In the current heated political climate, precarious economic conditions for many citizens, and social uncertainty regarding norms, individuals tend to feel uneasy.  In fact, this tends to provide the appropriate ingredients for popular social movements.  Our current incarnation of such a movement arises in the Occupy Movement.  What do you think of this movement?  What do you attribute to the rapid popularity of the Occupy phenomena to, especially in the US?

I had been wavering between hope and dismay when the Occupy Movement came along. The Yippies had to perform stunts to get media coverage. A group of us went to the New York Stock Exchange, upstairs to the balcony, and threw $200 worth of singles onto the floor below, watching the gang of manic brokers suddenly morph from yelling “Pork Bellies” into playing “Diving for Dollars.” Then we held a press conference outside, explaining the connection between the capitalist system and the war. So, a few decades later, when an Occupier held up a particular placard, “Wall Street Is War Street,” it gave me a sense of continuity and a feeling of optimism. Their spirit will continue with or without any aid from the media. Their weapons are imagination, dedication, truth and communal love.

11. Who most influenced you? Why them? Can you recommend any seminal books/articles by them?

Lyle Stuart was the courageous, uncompromising publisher of The Independent, an anti-censorship paper where I started out as an apprentice, wrote a column, “Freedom of Wit,” and eventually became the managing editor. I was influenced by radio personality Jean Shepherd, and he wrote a column, “Radio Free America,” for The Realist. J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye so resonated with my adolescence that I naïvely sent a letter to him, asking for permission to use his character in a novel I planned to write. Dalton Trumbo’s Johnny Got His Gun was my bible, not because of its antiwar theme, but for its insights to consciousness and the urge to communicate.

Aldous Huxley’s Antic Hay included my favorite literary phrase–-“excruciating orgasms of self-assertion”–-which served as a filter through which to perceive human behavior. Dr. Robert Spencer was a humane abortionist when it was illegal, and I ended up running an underground referral service, evolving from a satirist to an activist. I met Abbie Hoffman at protest demonstrations, and his article, “Revolution for the Hell of It,” landed on the front page of The Realist.  Ken Kesey and I co-edited The Last Supplement to the Whole Earth Catalog and attended Grateful Dead concerts in Egypt. Mae Brussell was a brilliant researcher. I published in The Realist her documented analysis in which she delineated the conspiracy behind the Watergate break-in, while Richard Nixon and the mainstream media were still describing it as “a caper” and “a third-rate burglary.”

12. Where do you see the legacy of major figures like Lenny Bruce, Dr. Leary, Dr. Wilson, George Carlin, Richard Pryor, and yourself? In particular, where do you see the future of your work?

I believe that each one of the dead folks you mention will go on being remembered as pioneer iconoclasts. As for me, I’m working on my long awaited (by me) first novel, about a contemporary Lenny-type performer. My archives (translation: all the crap in my garage) will end up in a university library. NPR and AP already have my obituaries prepared. Meanwhile, I’ve been honored with the writers organization PEN’s Lifetime Achievement Award. Here’s how I concluded my acceptance speech: “The only thing I remember from college was in an anthropology course, and it was a definition of happiness–“having as little separation as possible between your work and your play”–and I’ve been very fortunate, being able to do that, and to get an award for it is really the icing on the cake, because the process was the goal. And also I know that, in my lifetime I’ve met so many people who deserve a lifetime achievement award, except that they didn’t do it publicly. I do want to say how happy this award makes me, and the only thing that makes me happier is that it’s not posthumous. Thank you.”

13. What advice do you have for youth?

Try not to take yourself as seriously as your causes.

Bibliography

  1. Art Spiegelman. (2014). In Encyclopaedia Britannica. Retrieved from http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/
  2. Bruce, L. (1965). How to Talk Dirty and Influence People. Chicago, IL: Playboy Publishing.
  3. Huxley, A. (1923). Antic Hay. London, UK: Chattos & Windu.
  4. Krassner, P. (1993). Confessions of a Raving, Unconfined Nut: Misadventures in the Counterculture. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.
  5. Krassner, P. (2014). PaulKrassner.com. Retrieved March, 2014 from www.paulkrassner.com.
  6. Krassner, P. (2014, January 10). Predictions for 2014. Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/paul-krassner/predictions-for-2014_b_4576857.html.
  7. Lenny Bruce. (2014). In Encyclopaedia Britannica. Retrieved from http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/1364050/Lenny-Bruce
  8. LSD. (2014). In Encyclopaedia Britannica. Retrieved from http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/
  9. Leary, T. (1987). Info-Psychology. Tempe, AZ: Falcon Press.
  10. Leary, T. (1979). The Game of Life. Los Angeles, CA: Peace Press.
  11. Leary, T. (1999). Turn On, Tune in, Drop Out. Berkeley, CA: Ronin Publishing.
  12. Salinger, J. D. (1951). Catcher in the Rye. NY, New York: Little, Brown, and Company.
  13. Trumbo, D. (1938). Johnny Got His Gun. Philadelphia, PA: J. B. Lippincott.
  14. Wilson, R. A. (1977). Cosmic Trigger I: The Final Secret of the Illuminati. Las Vegas, NV: New Falcon Publications.
  15. Wilson, R. A. (1992). Cosmic Trigger II: Down to Earth. Las Vegas, NV: New Falcon Publications.
  16. Wilson, R. A. (1995). Cosmic Trigger III: My Life After Death. Las Vegas, NV: New Falcon Publications.
  17. Wilson, R. A. (2005). Email to the Universe and other alterations of consciousness. Las Vegas, NV: New Falcon Publications.
  18. Wilson, R. A. (1975). Illuminatus! Trilogy. New York, NY: Dell Publishing.
  19. Wilson, R. A. (1983). Prometheus Rising. Las Vegas, NV: New Falcon Publications.

License

In-sight by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Copyright

© Scott Douglas Jacobsen, In-sight, and In-Sight Publishing 2012-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-sight with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  All interviewees co-copyright their interview material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

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