NOLA Express is a singular publication started in 1967 in New Orleans as part of the Underground Free Press movement of the 1960s that protested the Vietnam War and other government policies along with social hypocrisies. Published by two young poets, Darlene Fife and Robert Head, and produced by a dedicated band of activists, poets and illustrators based in the French Quarter, NOLA Express was opposed to American imperialism, racism and materialism. The paper was named after William S. Burroughs's cut-up novel, Nova Express, and published uncensored news, art and literature featuring Charles Bukowski, Hedwig Gorski, and many others.
NOLA Express was one of the most outrageous papers of the 1960s. It was one of the most notorious underground newspapers to join UPS and rallied activists, poets, and artists by giving them uncensored voice. Editors Robert Head and Darlene Fife were part of political protests that extended the "memeo revolution" through pamphleteering used by 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. Part of the controversy about NOLA Express included graphic photographs and illustrations that many in today's society would be banned as pornographic.
Bukowski's syndicated column, Notes of a Dirty Old Man, ran in NOLA Express, and Francisco McBride's illustration for the Bukowski's "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.
In 1967, the cooperative Underground Press Syndicate (UPS) was formed at the instigation of 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. One can make a comparison between the democratic free speech newspapers like NOLA Express and Wiki publications on the Internet today.
New Orleans was considered the Third Coast by the 1960s migrants of the counterculture who hitch-hiked between San Francisco, Austin, New Orleans, Key West and New York. These Hippies and other social revolutionaries were able to find support, free housing and food, and work without commitments on this counterculture circuit. NOLA Express was mobilized by an ever-changing ragtag army of street vendors, and at its peak sold 11,000 copies every two weeks.
Dripping with righteous venom and acid, NOLA Express beat federal obscenity charges in a landmark decision in 1971. Poet and translator Fife has written a personal and insightful memoir of the paper, the people who produced it, and the community it served titled Portraits from Memory: New Orleans in The Sixties. The book includes some of the correspondence and illustration from notorious issues. The archives of correspondence and issues are now housed at the University of Connecticut.
Contents in Issue June 1972
The contents of a single issue covered investigative reporting about environmental and community issues, essays about current political and social issues, bold cartoons, statements by self-styled fringe leaders, and more created for the large fringe Hippie and artist society of New Orleans and Algiers across the Mississippi River by bridge or ferry.
Issue of NOLA Express #108 from June 9, 1972, with cover art by Hedwig Gorski pictured at right. Contents:
- The Poisoning of Our Water Supply
- Lake Charles Police Sued
- Suit Against Richard Nixon Dismissed
- Kumi Maitreya La-La by John Bennett
- Notes of a Dirty Old Man by Charles Bukowski
- Walter Collins Ani Maitreya Marilyn Austin John Dulude Ericka Huggins Poem/Art Centerfold
- Merit Unified Field Theory III Geophysical Warfare: Vietnam
- The Youth International Party in Miami
- Planet News Small Press Communications Conspiracy
- The North American Book Of The Dead by D.A.
- DA Levy Letters Calendar of Events Community Bulletin Board Classified Ads
- Ads for: Warehouse Concerts (1/4 page ad for gigs by Edgar Winter / Groundhogs, Z.Z. Topps / Wishbone Ash) - ZZ Top
The underground press movement unified those in the anti-establishment service, social, and political movements along with the bohemian circuit of artists, freewheeling travelers and hitchhikers into a force that permanently impacted American policy and culture.
Notes and references
- Fife, Darlene. Portraits from Memory: New Orleans in the Sixties. New Orleans: Surregional Press, 2000.
- Illustration. Fife, Darlene. Portraits from Memory: New Orleans in the Sixties. New Orleans: Surregional Press, 2000. pg. 26
- Gorski, Hedwig. Intoxication: Heathcliff on Powell Street. College Station: Slough Press, 2007. Forward.