Underground press

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Oz magazine, number 33

The underground press were the independently published and distributed underground papers associated with the counterculture of the late 1960s and early 1970s in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, and other western nations.

The term "underground press" is also used to refer to illegal publications under oppressive regimes, for example, the samizdat and bibuła in the Soviet Union and Poland respectively.

Origins[edit]

This movement borrowed the name from previous "underground presses" such as the Dutch underground press during the Nazi occupations of the 1940s. The French resistance published a large and active underground press that printed over 2 million newspapers a month; the leading titles were Combat, Libération, Défense de la France, and Le Franc-Tireur. Each paper was the organ of a separate resistance network, and funds were provided from Allied headquarters in London and distributed to the different papers by resistance leader Jean Moulin.[1] Allied prisoners of war (POWs) published an underground newspaper called Pow wow. In Eastern Europe, also since approximately the 1940, underground publications were known by the name samizdat. Those predecessors were truly "underground," meaning they were illegal, thus published and distributed covertly. While the countercultural "underground" papers frequently battled with governmental authorities, for the most part they were distributed openly through a network of street vendors, newsstands and head shops, and thus reached a wide audience.

The underground press in the 1960s and 1970s existed in most countries with high GDP per capita and freedom of the press; similar publications existed in some developing countries and as part of the samizdat movement in the communist states, notably Czechoslovakia. Published as weeklies, monthlies, or "occasionals", and usually associated with left-wing politics, they evolved on the one hand into today's alternative weeklies and on the other into zines.

In the United Kingdom[edit]

In London, Barry Miles, John Hopkins and others produced International Times which, following legal threats from The Times newspaper was renamed IT.

Richard Neville arrived in London from Australia where he had edited Oz (1963 to 1969). He launched a British version (1967 to 1973), which was A4 (as opposed to IT's broadsheet format). Very quickly, the relaunched Oz shed its more austere satire magazine image and became a mouthpiece of the Underground. It was the most colourful and visually adventurous of the alternative press (sometimes to the point of near-illegibility), with designers like Martin Sharp. Other publications followed, such as Friends (later Frendz), based in the Ladbroke Grove area of London, Ink, which was more overtly political, and Gandalf's Garden which espoused the mystic path.

Neville published an account of the counterculture called Playpower, in which he described most of the world's underground publications. He also listed many of the regular key topics from those publications including Vietnam, Black Power, Politics, Police Brutality, Hippies & Lifestyle Revolution, Drugs, Popular Music, New Society, Cinema, Theatre, Graphics, Cartoons etc.

The underground press offered a platform to the socially impotent and mirrored the changing way of life in the UK underground.

Police harassment of the British underground in general became commonplace, to the point that in 1967 the police seemed to focus in particular on the apparent source of agitation: the underground press. The police campaign may have had an effect contrary to that which was presumably intended. If anything, according to one or two who were there at the time, it actually made the underground press stronger. "It focused attention, stiffened resolve, and tended to confirm that what we were doing was considered dangerous to the establishment", remembered Mick Farren. [1] From April 1967, and for some while later, the police raided the offices of International Times to try, it was alleged, to force the paper out of business. In order to raise money for IT a benefit event was put together, "The 14 Hour Technicolor Dream" Alexandra Palace on 29 April 1967.

On one occasion - in the wake of yet another raid on IT - London's alternative press, somewhat astonishingly, succeeded in pulling off what was billed as a 'reprisal attack' on the police. The paper Black Dwarf published a detailed floor-by-floor 'Guide to Scotland Yard,' complete with diagrams, descriptions of locks on particular doors, and snippets of overheard conversation. The anonymous author, or 'blue dwarf,' as he styled himself,' claimed to have perused archive files, and even to have sampled one or two brands of scotch in the Commissioner's office. The London Evening Standard headlined the incident as "Raid on the Yard". A day or two later The Daily Telegraph announced that the prank had resulted in all security passes to the police headquarters having to be withdrawn and then re-issued.

By the end of the decade, community artists and bands such as Pink Floyd, (before they "went commercial"), the The Deviants, Pink Fairies, Hawkwind, Michael Moorcock and Steve Peregrin Took would arise in a symbiotic co-operation with the underground press. The underground press publicised these bands and this made it possible for them to tour and get record deals. The band members travelled around spreading the ethos and the demand for the newspapers and magazines grew and flourished for a while.

The flaunting of sexuality within the underground press provoked prosecution. IT was taken to court for publishing small ads for homosexuals; despite the 1967 legalisation of homosexuality between consenting adults in private importuning remained subject to prosecution. The Oz "School Kids" issue, brought charges against the three Oz editors who were convicted and given jail sentences. This was the first time the Obscene Publications Act 1959 was combined with a moral conspiracy charge. The convictions were, however, overturned on appeal.

Local papers[edit]

Apart from publications such as IT and Oz, both of which had a national circulation, the 1960s and ‘70s saw the emergence of a whole range of local alternative newspapers, which were usually published monthly. These were largely made possible by the introduction in the 1950s of offset litho printing, which was much cheaper than traditional typesetting and use of the rotary letterpress. Such local papers included Aberdeen Peoples Press, Alarm (Swansea), Andersonstown News (Belfast), Brighton Voice, Bristol Voice, Feedback (Norwich), Hackney People’s Press, Islington Gutter Press, Leeds Other Paper, Response (Earl’s Court, London), Sheffield Free Press, and the West Highland Free Press. A 1980 review identified some 70 such publications around the United Kingdom but estimated that the true number could well have run into hundreds.[2] Such papers were usually published anonymously, for fear of the UK's draconian libel laws. They followed a broad anarchist, libertarian, left-wing of the Labour Party, socialist approach but the philosophy of a paper was usually flexible as those responsible for its production came and went. Most papers were run on collective principles.

List of UK underground papers[edit]

In North America[edit]

East Village Other (April 16-May 1, 1967).

In the United States, the term underground did not mean illegal as it would in other countries. The First Amendment and various court decisions (e.g. Near v. Minnesota) give very broad rights to anyone to publish a newspaper or other publication, and severely restrict the government in any effort to close down or censor a private publication. In fact, when censorship attempts are made by government agencies, they are either done in clandestine fashion (to keep it from being known the action is being taken by a government agency) or are usually ordered stopped by the courts when judicial action is taken in response to them. A publication must, in general, be committing a crime (for example, reporters burglarizing someone's office to obtain information about a news item); violating the law in publishing a particular article or issue (printing obscene material, copyright infringement, libel, breaking a non-disclosure agreement); directly threatening national security; or causing or potentially causing an imminent emergency (the "clear and present danger" standard) to be ordered stopped or otherwise suppressed, and then usually only the particular offending article or articles in question will be banned, while the newspaper itself is allowed to continue operating and can continue publishing other articles.

In the U.S. the term underground newspaper generally refers to an independent (and typically smaller) newspaper focusing on unpopular themes or counterculture issues. Typically, these tend to be politically to the left or far left. More narrowly, in the US the term "underground newspaper" most often refers to publications of the period 1965-1973, when a sort of boom or craze for local tabloid underground newspapers swept the country in the wake of court decisions making prosecution for obscenity far more difficult. These publications became the voice of the rising New Left and the hippie/psychedelic/rock and roll counterculture of the 1960s in America, and a focal point of opposition to the Vietnam War and the draft.

In the period 1969-1970 a number of these papers grew more militant and began to openly discuss armed revolution against the state, printing manuals for bombing and urging readers to buy guns; but this new trend of the pacifistic underground press toward violent confrontation soon fell silent after the rise and fall of the Weatherman Underground and the tragic shootings at Kent State. By the end of 1972, with the end of the draft and the winding down of the Vietnam War there was increasingly little reason for the underground press to exist. A number of papers passed out of existence during this time; among the survivors a newer and less polemical view toward middle-class values and working within the system emerged. The underground press began to evolve into the socially conscious, life-style oriented alternative press that predominates this form of weekly print media in 2013 in North America [3]

In 1973 the landmark Supreme Court decision in Miller v. California which re-enabled local obscenity prosecutions after a long hiatus sounded the death knell for much of the remaining underground press (including underground comix), largely by making the local head shops which stocked underground papers and comix in communities around the country more vulnerable to prosecution.

The North American countercultural press of the 1960s drew inspiration from predecessors that had begun in the 1950s, such as the Village Voice and Paul Krassner's satirical paper The Realist. Arguably, the first underground newspaper of the 1960s was the Los Angeles Free Press, founded in 1964 and first published under that name in 1965. In mid-1966, the cooperative Underground Press Syndicate (UPS) was formed at the instigation of Walter Bowart, the publisher of another early paper, the East Village Other. The UPS allowed member papers to freely reprint content from any of the other member papers. Also playing a major role was Liberation News Service (LNS), which was co-founded in the summer of 1967 by Ray Mungo and Marshall Bloom.[4] and which "provided coverage of events to which most papers would have otherwise had no access." [5]

Among the most prominent of the underground papers were the San Francisco Oracle, San Francisco Express Times, the Berkeley Barb and Berkeley Tribe; Open City, (Los Angeles), Fifth Estate (Detroit), Other Scenes (dispatched from various locations around the world by John Wilcock); The Helix (Seattle); Avatar (Boston); The Chicago Seed; The Great Speckled Bird (Atlanta); The Rag (Austin, Texas); Rat (New York City); Space City! (Houston) and in Canada, The Georgia Straight (Vancouver, BC). By 1969, virtually every sizable city or college town in North America boasted at least one underground newspaper. During the peak years of the underground press phenomenon there were generally about 100 papers currently publishing at any given time. A UPS roster published in November 1966 listed 14 underground papers, 11 of them in the United States, two in England, and one in Canada.[6] Within a few years the number had mushroomed. A 1971 roster, published in Abbie Hoffman’s Steal This Book, listed 271 UPS-affiliated papers; 11 were in Canada, 23 in Europe, and the remainder in the United States.[7] According to historian John McMillian, writing in his 2010 book Smoking Typewriters, the underground press' combined readership eventually reached into the millions.[8]

LA Free Press (December 15–22, 1967).

The Rag, founded in Austin, Texas, in 1966 by Thorne Dreyer and Carol Neiman, was especially influential. Historian Laurence Leamer called it "one of the few legendary undergrounds,"[9] and, according to John McMillian, it served as a model for many papers that followed.[10] The Rag was the sixth member of UPS and the first underground paper in the South and, according to historian Abe Peck, it was the "first undergrounder to represent the participatory democracy, community organizing and synthesis of politics and culture that the New Left of the midsixties was trying to develop." [11] and Laurence Leamer, in his 1972 book The Paper Revolutionaries, called The Rag "one of the few legendary undergrounds.[9] Gilbert Shelton's legendary Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers comic strip began in The Rag and was republished all over the world.

Probably the most graphically innovative of the underground papers was the San Francisco Oracle. John Wilcock, a founder of the Underground Press Syndicate, wrote about the Oracle: “Its creators are using color the way Lautrec must once have experimented with lithography -- testing the resources of the medium to the utmost and producing what almost any experienced newspaperman would tell you was impossible... it is a creative dynamo whose influence will undoubtedly change the look of American publishing.” [12]

One of the most notorious underground newspapers to join UPS and rallied activists, poets, and artists by giving them uncensored voice was the NOLA Express in New Orleans. Started by Robert Head and Darlene Fife as part of political protests and extending the "mimeo revolution" by protest and freedom-of-speech poets during the 1960s, NOLA Express was also a member of COSMEP (Committee of Small Magazine Editors and Publishers. These two affiliations with organizations that were often at cross purposes made NOLA Express one of the most radical and controversial publications of the counterculture movement.[13] Part of the controversy about NOLA Express included graphic photographs and illustrations of which many even in today's society would be banned as pornographic.

Charles Bukowski's syndicated column, Notes of a Dirty Old Man, ran in NOLA Express, and Franciso McBride's illustration for the story "The Fuck Machine" was considered sexist, pornographic, and created an uproar. All of this controversy helped to increase the readership and bring attention to the political causes that editors Fife and Head supported.[14]

Many of the papers faced official harassment on a regular basis; local police repeatedly raided and busted up the offices of Dallas Notes and jailed editor Stoney Burns on drug charges, charged Atlanta's Great Speckled Bird and others with obscenity, arrested street vendors, and pressured local printers not to print underground papers.[15] In Austin, the regents at the University of Texas sued The Rag to prevent circulation on campus but the ACLU successfully defended the paper's First Amendment rights before the U.S. Supreme Court. In an apparent attempt to shut down The Spectator in Bloomington, Indiana, editor James Retherford was briefly imprisoned for alleged violations of the Selective Service laws; his conviction was overturned and the prosecutors were rebuked by a federal judge.[16] The offices of Houston's Space City! were bombed and its windows repeatedly shot out; similar drive-by shootings, firebombings, break-ins and trashings were carried out on the offices of many underground papers around the country, fortunately without causing any fatalities. In Houston as in many other cities the attackers, never identified, were suspected of being off-duty military or police personnel, or members of the Ku Klux Klan or Minuteman organizations. [17] Some of the most violent attacks were carried out against the underground press in San Diego. In 1976 the San Diego Union reported that the attacks in 1971 and 1972 had been carried out by a right-wing paramilitary group calling itself the Secret Army Organization, which had ties to the local office of the FBI.[18]

During this period there was also a widespread high school underground press movement circulating unauthorized student-published tabloids and mimeographed sheets at hundreds of high schools around the US. Most of these papers put out only a few issues, running off a few hundred copies of each and circulating them only at one local school, although there was one system-wide antiwar high school underground paper produced in New York in 1969 with a 10,000 copy press run. And Houston's Little Red Schoolhouse, a city-wide underground paper published by high school students, was founded in 1970.

For a time in 1968-1969 the high school underground press had its own press services, FRED (run by Clark Kissinger of SDS, with its base in Chicago schools) and HIPS (High School Independent Press Service, produced by students working out of Liberation News Service headquarters and aimed primarily but not exclusively at New York City schools). These services typically produced a weekly packet of articles and features mailed to subscribing papers around the country; HIPS reported 60 subscribing papers.[19] In 1968 a survey of 400 high schools in Southern California found that 52% reported student underground press activity in their school.[20]

The GI underground press in America produced a few hundred titles during the Vietnam War, some produced by antiwar GI coffeehouses, and many of them small, crudely produced, low-circulation mimeographed "zines" written by a draftee editor opposed to the war and circulated locally off-base. Three or four GI underground papers had large-scale, national distribution of more than 20,000 copies including thousands of copies mailed to GIs overseas. These papers were produced with the support of civilian anti-war activists, and had to be disguised to be sent through the mail into Vietnam, where soldiers distributing or even possessing them might be subject to harassment, disciplinary action or arrest. The idea of smuggling a full size printing press into South Vietnam was mooted but determined to be too dangerous to attempt. As an alternative, a few GIs based in South Vietnam were issued small kits to enable them to produce little hektograph-type zines.

The boom in the underground press was made practical by the availability of cheap offset printing, which made it possible to print a few thousand copies of a small tabloid paper for a couple of hundred dollars, which a sympathetic printer might extend on credit. Paper was cheap, and many printing firms around the country had over-expanded during the 1950s and had excess capacity on their offset web presses, which could be negotiated for at bargain rates.[21]

Space City!, April 1, 1971. Art by Bill Narum.

Most papers operated on a shoestring budget, pasting up camera-ready copy on layout sheets on the editor's kitchen table, with labor performed by unpaid, non-union volunteers. Typesetting costs, which at the time were wiping out many established big city papers, were avoided by typing up copy on a rented or borrowed IBM Selectric typewriter to be pasted up by hand. As one observer commented with only slight hyperbole, students were financing the publication of these papers out of their lunch money.

According to Louis Menand, writing in The New Yorker, the underground press movement in the United States was "one of the most spontaneous and aggressive growths in publishing history." [22] But, the underground press phenomenon proved short-lived. By 1973, many underground papers had folded, at which point the Underground Press Syndicate acknowledged the passing of the undergrounds and renamed itself the Alternative Press Syndicate. That organization soon collapsed, to be supplanted by the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies.

During the 1960s and 1970s, there were also a number of left political periodicals with some of the same concerns of the underground press. Some of these periodicals joined the Underground Press Syndicate to gain services such as microfilming, advertising, and the free exchange of articles and newspapers. Examples include The Black Panther (the paper of the Black Panther Party, Oakland, California), and the Guardian, New York City; both of which had national distribution.

The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) conducted surveillance and disruption activities on the underground press in the United States, including a campaign to destroy the alternative agency Liberation News Service. As part of its COINTELPRO designed to discredit and infiltrate radical New Left groups, the FBI also launched phony underground newspapers such as the Armageddon News at Indiana University Bloomington, The Longhorn Tale at the University of Texas at Austin, and the Rational Observer at American University in Washington, D.C. The FBI also ran the Pacific International News Service in San Francisco, the Chicago Midwest News, and the New York Press Service. Many of these organizations consisted of little more than a post office box and a letterhead, designed to enable the FBI to receive exchange copies of underground press publications and send undercover observers to underground press gatherings.

The Georgia Straight outlived the underground movement, evolving into an alternative weekly still published today; Fifth Estate survives as an anarchist magazine. The Rag—which published for 11 years in Austin (1966–1977) -- was revived in 2006 as an online publication, The Rag Blog, which now has a wide following in the progressive blogosphere and whose contributors include many veterans of the original underground press.

Most others died with the era. Given the nature of alternative journalism as a subculture, some staff members from underground newspapers became staff on the newer alternative weeklies, even though there was seldom institutional continuity with management or ownership. An example is the transition in Denver from the underground Chinook, to Straight Creek Journal, to Westword [2], an alternative weekly still in publication. Some underground and alternative reporters, cartoonists, and artists moved on to work in corporate media or in academia.

Ray Mungo, in his classic memoir of the American underground press, Famous Long Ago, gave a cynical explanation of the origins of the typical underground newspaper: "Lots of radicals will give you a very precise line about why their little newspaper was started and what needs it fulfills and most of that stuff is bull. You see, the point is they've got nothing to do and the prospect of holding a straight job is so dreary that they join 'the movement' and start hitting up people for money to live, on the premise that they're involved in critical social change blah blah blah."

List of U.S. underground papers[edit]

List of US military GI underground press[edit]

List of Canadian underground papers[edit]

In Australia[edit]

The most prominent underground publication in Australia was a satirical magazine called Oz (1963 to 1969), which owed an obvious debt to the UK magazine Private Eye. The original Australian edition appeared in 1963 and it continued sporadically until 1969. The Australian editions published after 1966 were edited by Richard Walsh, following the departure for the UK of his original co-editors Richard Neville and Martin Sharp, who founded the British edition ("London Oz") in 1967.

List of Australian underground papers[edit]

In Italy[edit]

In India[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ The French Resistance by Raymond Aubrac (Paris: Hazan, 1997), p. 18-32.
  2. ^ Crispin Aubrey, Charles Landry, Dave Morley, Here is the other news: challenges to the local commercial press, p.13 Minority Press Group, 1980
  3. ^ Peck, Abe. Uncovering the Sixties (New York: Pantheon Books, 1985).
  4. ^ McMillian, John (2011). Smoking typewriters : the Sixties underground press and the rise of alternative media in America. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-531992-3. 
  5. ^ Dreyer, Thorne and Victoria Smith, "The Movement and the New Media," Liberation News Service, March 1, 1969.
  6. ^ 1966 Underground Press Syndicate Roster
  7. ^ 1971 Underground Press Syndicate Roster
  8. ^ McMillian, John, Smoking Typewriters: The Sixties Underground Press and the Rise of Alternative Media in America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011)
  9. ^ a b Leamer, Laurence, The Paper Revolutionaries : The Rise of the Underground Press (New York : Simon and Schuster, 1972)
  10. ^ McMillian, John. The Underground Press in America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011).
  11. ^ Peck, Abe, Uncovering the Sixties: The Life and Times of the Underground Press (New York: Pantheon Books, 1985)/
  12. ^ Dreyer, Thorne and Victoria Smith, "The Movement and the New Media,"
  13. ^ Fife, Darlene. Portraits from Memory: New Orleans in the Sixties. New Orleans: Surregional Press, 2000.
  14. ^ Illustration. Fife, Darlene. Portraits from Memory: New Orleans in the Sixties. New Orleans: Surregional Press, 2000, pg. 26.
  15. ^ Trodd, Zoe and Brian L. Johnson, Eds, Conflicts in American History: A Documentary Encyclopedia, Volume VII (New York: Facts on File, 2010), Document section, "Law Harasses Underground Papers" by Thorne Dreyer, pp. 255-257
  16. ^ "Who Watches the Watchman" by James Retherford, The Rag Blog, August 25, 2009
  17. ^ Mankad, Raj, "Underground in H-Town," OffCite, May 21, 2010
  18. ^ "FBI financed terror tactics against dissidents, paper says," Chicago Tribune, Jan. 11, 1976, pg. 16.
  19. ^ "Revolt in the High Schools" by Diane Divovky, Saturday Review, February 15, 1969, p. 83-84 et seq. Retrieved January 14, 2011.
  20. ^ Glessing, Robert. The Underground Press in America (Indiana University Press, 1970).
  21. ^ Glessing, Robert. The Underground Press in America (Indiana University Press, 1970), p.44. Glessing pins the blame specifically on the Miehle-Goss-Dexter firm, which waged a successful sales campaign in the late 1950s to sell its expensive new high-capacity web-fed offset presses (a full installation cost $100,000) on credit to small newspapers and printing firms across the country which couldn't quite afford them.
  22. ^ "It took a village: How the Voice changed journalism" by Louis Menand, The New Yorker, January 5, 2009.
  23. ^ http://freeingjohnsinclair.aadl.org/papers/aa_sun
  24. ^ a b http://www.sources.com/ssr/Docs/SSR22-1-BritPress.htm
  25. ^ http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/bandes-dessinees/027002-8500-f.html

Further reading[edit]

  • Leamer, Lawrence. The Paper Revolutionaries. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 1972.
  • Lewes, James. Protest and Survive: Underground GI Newspapers during the Vietnam War. Westport: Praeger Publishers, 2003. ISBN 0-275-97861-3.
  • Mackenzie, Angus, "Sabotaging the Dissident Press," Columbia Journalism Review, March–April 1981, pp. 57-63, Center for Investigative Reporting, 1983.
  • Mungo, Raymond. Famous Long Ago: My Life and Hard Times With the Liberation News Service. Boston: Beacon Press, 1970.
  • Peck, Abe. Uncovering the Sixties. New York, NY: Pantheon Books, 1985.
  • Rips, Geoffrey, "The Campaign Against the Underground Press," San Francisco, City Lights Books, 1981.
  • Wachsberger, Ken, editor. Voices From the Underground. Tempe, AZ: Mica Press, 1993.

External links[edit]