View Electronic Edition

History - Demise Party etc.

(Continued from Pg. 441)
So, in June 1971, we had the Demise Party celebrating the self-termination of The Whole Earth Catalog, and all in all it was a rout.   1500 people showed up.   The Exploratorium staff had their museum weirding around us at full steam.  A band called The Golden Toad made every kind of music from bluegrass to bellydance.  A non-stop non-score volleyball game competed for loudest activity with balloons full of inhalable laughing gas.  And then at midnight Scott Beach announced from the stage that these here two hundred $100 dollar bills, yes, $20,000, were now the property of the party-goers. Just as soon as they could decide what to do with them.

"Flush them down the toilet!" "No, don't!" "Give it to the Indians!" "Bangladesh!" "Our commune needs a pump or we'll all get hepatitis!" And so on. The debate lasted till 9 a.m. the next morning, when a dozen remaining hardcore turned the remaining $15,000 ($5,000 had been distributed to the crowd at one wild point) over to Fred Moore, dishwasher. Fred later gathered people for other group decidings over what to do with the money that worked out damn well.  Most of the story. Rolling Stone's account, is in The Seven Laws of Money.   (Pg. 616).

My reasons for perpetrating? Pure curiosity. Some of the surprises were: 1) The money kept trying to come back, innumerable suggestions involved Portola Institute as the recipient; 2) Handling of more than a pocketfull of power was new to most, upsetting, educational; 3) Ideas were mostly lousy, unoriginal, guilt-ridden; 4) People who focussed on the process of deciding had a much better time than those who focussed on the money; 5) "Free money" is crazy.  

It was not a bad overture for the founding of POIWtg the foundation that took over from Portola the dispensing of Whole Earth's soon sizable income. Dick Raymond and I appointed a board consisting of ourselves, Huey Johnson from the Nature Conservancy, Mike Phillips from Glide Foundation, Jerry Mander (radical ad-man), and Bill English from Xerox.   The seventh director was always a guest, called "Elijah," different each time we met.

The first thing we did was give up on my "Mountain Fantasy" notion of a bifurcated high hard community - too pushily experimental.  Instead we focussed on being a needle in the gaseous foundation world.  We ruled that none of us could be with POINT more than three years.  We dispensed (Jerry Mander's brilliant stroke) with group decision about money - each director had $55,000 a year to give out at his unchallenged discretion.   We funded quickly and without fuss, usually preferring to do without proposals and such.  We held board meetings on salmon boats at sea, in tipis, in Glide's sex room, at the Black Panther school in Oakland.  And our grarits were maybe no worse than other people's - they're listed in entirety in the Summer '74 Co-Evolution Quarterly if you're interested.

Huey Johnson and Jerry Mander, who fought constantly, were the best funders.  Dick Raymond and I were terrible.  Now there's mostly a new set of directors, whose qualities we shall see.   The main lesson I learned was: it's not enough to give money to someone who's very good.   They must also be in the grip of an overwhelming idea which is very good; otherwise a hideous paralysis will take them over and, in addition, freeze your friendship.

My own travels after the Demise were mostly unpublic, narrow, hard.   Wife Lois and I trailered around and bough t a piece o f land in Canada.  By that winter back in the Bay Area our marriage was coming unstuck, mostly my doing I reckon. Colleges were hiring me for occasional talks at $500 a throw (time is shorter and price higher nowadays). In the spring of '72 I was up to my neck in a POI NT-funded misbegotten effort to liven up the UN Conference on The Human Environment in Stockholm by sending over sundry poets, Indians, radical scientists, and the Hog Farm travelling commune.   The Swedish lefties figured the CIA sent us.   The only mitigation to the debacle, in my view, was Joan Mclntyre's success in promoting the UN approval of a 10-year moratorium on all whaling.

That same Spring the National Book Award in "Contemporary Affairs" was given to the Whole Earth Catalog over the dead body of judge Gary Wills, who resigned in protest   I told the audience at Lincoln Center (speaking slowly, as neighboring recipient Donald Barthelme had kindly advised me), "If the award encourages still more self-initiated, amateur, use-based, non-New York publishing, good deal,"and then wasted the $1000 check on Stockholm.  Random House sweetly faked up a framable award for my wall.

New York. . . Its other response was two invitations to make a Broadway musical comedy called "The Last Whole Earth Catalog" -  one from Edward Padula ("Bye Bye Birdie"), one from Stuart Ostrow ("1776")  mixed emotions about the projects on all hands.  Oh yeah; there was a highly enjoyable half hour on the Dick Cavett Show (he held his boffer aloft, remarked, "You can't get hurt with these, you say.  What if you swallow it?" swatted me a sneaky blow, ran and gave the weapon to broadsword-trained Black actor Woody Strode, who declaimed something about "unhand-that-princess" while beating me up).

Other Whole Earth staffers were busier than I.   Hal Hershey was becoming a prize-winning book designer with Shambhala in Berkeley. J.D. Smith notioned up a magazine called Place and then departed for wildest Idaho while Dudley and Barbara DeZonia made it into a fine damn magazine (now defunct; worthy back issues available from Place, Walnut Grove, CA 95690.) Steamboat went back to Nebraska. Laura Besserman became the Southern California sales rep for Penguin Books.   Francine Slate took oh the accounting for the Briarpatch Auto Repair Cooperative.  Gurney Norman spent his "Divine Right's Trip" earnings on a big piece of land which nearly crushed him, but came out okay and resumed work on his Vast trilogy.  Fred Richardson became a blaster and then a blacksmith.  The Truck Store crew gradually rotated its ranks until now only Annie Hines is left from the old volleyball-in-back days.

I returned in bad shape from Stockholm, hied immediately to Canada with Lois, and built a small house - far the most rewarding effort I'd been involved in since starting the Catalog, And unbuilt a marriage.  On return to California we both made our way through the divorce trauma.   Lois remarried well to Keith Britton, who is English and a professional dynamiter.   I resumed an active bachelorhood in San Francisco. Paul Krassner sublet one of my closets for his hot nights in town, and we became referred to as "the hip Odd Couple" he wrote it up for Place.

And within the meanwhile, I was dealing with a sporadic case of the Greater Whim-whams, a state of mind I've never seen better described than by Edward Conze.

The discoveries which philosopliers and psychologists have made in recent years about the central importance of anxiety at the very core of our being, have quite a Buddhist ring about them. According to the views elaborated by Scheler, Freud, Heidegger and Jaspers, there is in the core of our being a basic anxiety, a little empty hole from which all other forms of anxiety and unease draw their strength.  In its pure form, this anxiety is experienced only by people with an introspective and philosophical turn of mind, and even then only rarely.   If one has never felt it oneself, no amount of explanation will convince.   If one has felt it, one will never forget, however much one may try.  It may come upon you when you have been asleep, withdrawn from the world; you wake up in the middle of the night and feel a kind of astonishment at being there, which then gives way to a fear and horror at the mere fact of being there.  It is then that you catch yourself by yourself, just for a moment, against the background of a kind of nothingness all around you, and with a gnawing sense of your power-lessness, your utter helplessness in the face of this astonishing fact that you are there at all.  Usually, we avoid this experience as much as we possibly can, because it is so shattering and painful. Usually, I am very careful not to have myself by myself, but the I plus all sorts of other experiences. People who are busy all the time, who must always think of something, who must always be doing something, are incessantly running away from this experience of the basic or original anxiety. What we usually do is to lean and to rely on something else than this empty centre of ourselves. The Buddhist contention is that we will never be at ease before we have overcome this basic anxiety, and that we can do that only by relying on nothing at all.
-Buddhism (Pg. 748^

Back during the Catalog when the Whim-whams first showed up. Jack Downing administered neighborly first-aid.  Later on Pierre Mornell shrank my head most fruitfully for several months, from him I learned to pay attention to the context of symptoms rather than their content.   In other words, watch what I was doing rather than what I was thinking.  It works.

Mostly, of course, I was un focussed.  Most of my contemporaries - late twenties, early thirties- were either blurred out or settling down to long-term work.  We no longer had any remnant of a Generational Story to sustain us from without  A healthy uncertainty was afoot.   I messed around with writing - journalism for Rolling Stone and an interview for Harper's (both now in Two Cybernetic Frontiers Pg. 455/   It was talking with Gregory Bateson, and his book Steps to an Ecology of Mind, that gave me a thread to string my beads on. That process continues still.

Last summer I returned to Canada for a long lone fretful couple of months in which nothing happened. Not even Nothing. One afternoon I considered seriously for the first time resuming publication of The Whole Earth Catalog. A day or so later I wrote Tony Jones at Harper's to see if their invitation for me to guest-edit the "Wraparound" section would be satisfied with a preliminary "Whole Earth Epilog." I wanted to get the reader-response cycle going again so that a full-scale Epilog could be done by the end of 1974.   They said okay.

It all happened very quickly.  On return to San Francisco I was ready to go on the Sausalito ferry with a sign "Secretary Wanted, Interview here", when Diana Shugart (now Diana Barich) indicated she was up for work.   We sniffed around Sausalito for an office, wgre shown (by Diana Fairbanks and David Gately) a mouldering crab shack full of junk renting at $4Q/month, and moved in.

September and October were spent putting together a "New Games Tournament" - a massive semi-successful public event you can read about in the Summer '74 CoEvolution Quarterly.  We hired Pam Cokeley, whom everyone had loved during the failing days of Clear Creek magazine, to correspond with every source listed in The Last Whole Earth Catalog and update the next edition accordingly.   Then Diana Fairbanks' friend Andrew Fluegelman let on he was dropping his legal career.  We glommed him to be Managing Editor, whatever that might mean (it turned out to mean a superb job of getting distribution for The CQ - the obstacle that defeats most new periodicals).  When research traffic threatened to overwhelm Diana, she and Pam hired Andrea Sharp, who is one of those work demons that makes everyone else's work possible.

In January we slid into production on the Harper's "Wraparound" with the return of Steamboat from Nebraska to do paste-up and drawings.   "EDITOR BREAKS PROMISE," we began.

Some explanation is owed.  In May 1971 we ceased mal 1)  They didn't;
2)  The Last Whole Earth Catalog continued to sell
5,000 copies a week with increasingly outdated information;
3)   The North American economy began to lose its mind, putting more people in need of tools for independence and the economy as a whole in need of greater local resilience; and

4)   After burning our bridges we reported before the Throne to announce, "We're here for our next terrific idea." The Throne said, "That was it."      

In retrospect Harper's was not the best place for us. Their audience was unresponsive; their editor-in-chief didn't like our birth photographs or our presumption. Still, as Andrew said, it was a good shakedown cruise.

The CoEvolution Quarterly got its name late in the game.  I had been wanting to call it "The Never Piss Against the Wind Newsletter", or perhaps "Making Circuit".   I did have a formula in mind:  we would print long technical pieces on whatever interested us - the opposite of the predigested pap in, say. Intellectual Digest  So the Spring CQ had Paul Ehrlich on Co-evolution, Roy Rappaport and Howard Odum on energy and culture, Sam Keen on spiritual tyranny, and a nice reception from readers.

March was showdown time on distribution for the EPILOG.   Random House had done a good job on the Whole Earth Catalog, with one $90,000 dispute about contract interpretation - the difference got split.  (One nice war story:  when a shoddy "New Earth Catalog" was advertised by its publisher Putnam as the successor to The Whole Earth Catalog, Random's head-man Jim Silberman asked what should we do about it.  I suggested that he tell Putnam that I might go berserk and remove all Putnam books from the next printing of the Catalog. A few weeks later Putnam ran an ad in Publisher's Weekly apologizing for the previous ad.) All very well, but I didn't want to be wedded to Random (definite non-marital trend here).

Laura Besserman and Don Burns (from the original Catalog distribution with Book People) knew what was up and prevailed on their employer Penguin Books to make a solid offer. Accordingly we sat down with Don Burns and Don Passer in March to hear details.  And the following day Random House was invited to reply.   The negotiations and the eventual contract are reported in full in the Summer '74 CQ.  What it came down to was an offer of $1.75 per $4 EPILOG going to POINT from Penguin, and a $1.66 offer from Random.  Random had fifty salesmen and lots of experience with bestsellers and with us.  Penguin had eight salesmen.   Finally I phoned Don Burns, "Random is a sure thing. Penguin isn't.  We'll try Penguin."

So far I'm not sorry.

We hurried into the Summer CQ in order to clear decks for the EPILOG production. We had printed 5,000 copies of the 96-page Spring CQ and sold them all.   The goddam Summer CQ filled 176 pages, sold out W,000 copies immediately; Andrew had another 7,000 printed.  While that production was in process I was hiring Al Perrin for art director, Susan Roth, Steve Leaper, and Katherine Borsody on paste-up. Evelyn Eld ridge (she was Evelyn Goslow when she typed the Last Catalog) replaced Joe Bacon on composer.   Triple-threat Andrew Main (camera, paste-up, and composer) invited himself aboard. Reddy North, looking just like Carol Channing, took on the index.

Fully crewed, we went from CQ production straight into the EPILOG - 320 perfect pages in eight weeks or die trying.  Our luck was in. An adjoining spacious storeroom came available for expanded workspace. No one tore down our condemned pier. The sieve roof never rained on us too seriously.  No one got sick. J. Baldwin showed up with Kathleen to relieve me of the Soft Technology section. Diana took over Community. Doris took half of Learning. All the section editors came through with the goods on time.  Everything I jobbed out - Video, Black Interest, Electronic Music, China - exceeded expectations.  From here, it's smooth.  God knows what it looks like from where you're sitting.

"When men remember war they shall remember mud." When we remember this production we shall remember a parrot named Lolita who lived just outside the unclosable window shrieking incessantly, "Lo-LEE-ta! Lo-LEEEE-ta! Hello! Hello! Hello-hello-hello-hello-HEL LO-HELLO! AAAAAKKK! Polly wanna CRACKER?"

A year of continuous production.  I'm going to lay off for a couple months.  The Fall CQ's in good hands with the Black Panthers.  Everyone here is taking off but a skeleton crew until Winter, the Winter Quarterly, and whatever response the EPILOG stirs up. And events.  I see they're hoping that President Ford's administration will be a time of "Peace and Quiet." I'm afraid that events, not necessarily Ford, will make those words ring as hollow as "Law 'n Order" did under what's-his-name.

In our researches on the likely economic apocalypse it's become clear what is the prime survival tool for hard times:  friends.   Good friends.   Lots of them.

We ended the Catalog with Kenneth Patchen's coda, "Pause. And begin again."

Said the racooon, "Paws, and begin again."

(There's poor old Hamlet, see, clutching his poisoned wound.  "The rest is silence," he says, and quivers his last  Horatio and Fortinbras weep; the curtain closes; the audience applauds.  "Hamlet" gets up, takes his bows, and goes out for a late dinner. Same thing tomorrow night. I guess that's what else the rest is besides silence.)

-SB 12 Aug 74