Legendary Alternative Editor Harper Barnes
New Journalism in Boston/ Cambridge in the Early 1970s
By: Charles Giuliano - Apr 14, 2018
Before art critic, David Bonetti, retired in Boston, where he died recently, he worked for the Saint Louis Post-Dispatch. The obituary in Berkshire Fine Arts resulted in numerous emails from those who knew him as well as posted comments.
One came from Roseann Weiss who knew him in St. Louis. She identified herself as the wife of the journalist Harper Barnes. In an exchange of calls and e mails I asked if I might speak with Harper.
From 1970 to 1973, when he was editor of Cambridge Phoenix then columnist for The Real Paper, we knew of each other but were not intimate.
We connected for a wide ranging discussion covering formative years of alternative journalism in the early 1970s. It picks up the narrative from the recent Ryan Walsh book "Astral Weeks: A Scret History of 1968" which focuses on the Boston/ Cambridge counter culture.
To the best of my knowledge, what follows is the first in depth attempt to document the seminal events of alternative journalism in the 1970s. Soon to be a major motion picture with Jeff Daniels, a dead ringer, to play the legendary Harper Barnes.
Charles Giuliano Greetings after all these years. Fortunately there is enough distance that you can’t take another swing at me. Although I was in little danger as you were having difficulty standing up at the time.
Harper Barnes (laughing) I met Bob Woodard some years ago. He married our former executive assistant. The last thing he said to me was “Nice to see you when you’re not drunk.” I had a problem.
CG What was her name.
HB Francie Barnard was his second wife.
CG Have you read the Ryan Walsh book “Astral Weeks?”
HB I know about it but haven’t seen it.
CG It deals with a time before you arrived bringing attention to the counter culture of Boston with a focus on events that occurred in 1968. Compared to other regions, it seems that Boston never got its fair share of respect and media coverage. With Ryan’s book that appears to have changed.
Carter Alan’s book on WBCN “Radio Free Boston” appeared in 2013. Steve Nelson, the original manager of the Boston Tea Party under Ray Riepen, is publishing a book on Boston in the 1960s. From time to time David Wilson, former Broadside publisher, and I get author queries. There is a lot of interest in Club 47 and the Cambridge folk music and blues scene. Primarily I want to talk to you about the underground/ alternative media of that era.
Over time things changed. We were not in the same orbit back then. I was largely vilified by your Cambridge Phoenix staff. No, I was not the scab who wrote for the paper when it was on strike. But the writer sounded a lot like me. When a movie came out, allegedly, the slovenly rock critic was based on me. I never actually saw the film.
HB “Between the Lines.” (By Fred Barron, directed by Joan Micklin Silver, with John Heard, Lindsay Ann Crouse, and Jeff Goldblum, 1977.)
Actually, the character was based on George Kimball (BFA Obit) who died a couple of years ago.
CG I wrote an obit. He was a piece of work. Hanging around bars, when visiting the head, he said “Keep an eye on my seat.” He had a glass eye.
How old are you?
HB I’m 80. Being 70 didn’t seem so old but 80 is different. I’m having trouble with it. It seems awfully old. Overall I’m in good shape. I’m astonished because I certainly drank and smoked enough. I quit drinking about 30 years ago when I met my current wife. It seemed like a good time to make a change. I don’t miss it.
CG I smoked my last joint a month after I met Astrid 24 years ago. I think we hit our quota and then it is change or die. A lot of our friends didn’t make it.
HB I hit my quota 32 years ago when I was living in a motel working at the (St. Louis) Post-Dispatch. Across the street was the Newspaper Bar and Grill. All I had to do was walk a couple of blocks at the end of the day. Then go back and crash at the motel. Roseann rescued me from that. It is one of the many things for which I am eternally grateful in meeting her.
CG At the Herald the writers and editors would walk to J.J. Foley’s in the South End. Once I had Mississippi Fred McDowell in my care for the day and I took him there. He drank peppermint schnapps and beers.
It seems that I am writing far too many obituaries. Like our friend David Bonetti. It was how we connected. There have been a lot of great comments on his obit, but truth is, he wasn’t always such a sweet guy.
HB (laughs) Based on one of the obits we were trying to figure who it was he got into a fist fight with over one of his reviews. Somebody literally wanted to punch him out because of one of the nasty reviews he wrote. Usually it was deserved but at times he took it too far.
CG So you started in St. Louis, went to Cambridge, then went back to St. Louis. Why on earth would anyone do that?
HB Ray Riepen, a legendary figure around Boston, wanted to buy the Phoenix. We were old friends from college. He was at Harvard Law School, dropped out, and started the Boston Tea Party. He was building a media empire and flew me in to be the editor.
(Riepen convinced WBCN founder, T. Mitchell Hastings, to switch to broadcasting alternative rock with Peter Wolf as the first DJ. The Cambridge Phoenix gave him a newspaper in addition to a rock club and radio station.)
Ultimately he found an investor. They bought the paper and made me the editor in April, 1970. I wanted to get out of St. Louis and I lasted for two years. After that I freelanced from Boston for about a year. I came back to St. Louis because there was a Teamsters strike. A group of writers wanted to put together a union friendly newspaper. They asked me to come back and be the editor. The Post-Dispatch was being struck. I got several Pulitzer Prize winners and we put out a tabloid that came out three or four days a week. It was called St. Louis Today. We had approval of the unions. That was not a problem and we gave people a little money. I stayed with a friend of mine in his house. He was my age and I thought, well, I wouldn’t own a house if I stayed in Boston. Life was very pleasant. I got seduced by it and later the Post-Dispatch offered me a job. I took it and have been here ever since.
CG What was your job?
HB I had several jobs. Toward the end I was Critic at Large. I had some other positions. I was features director. Then I left to be editor of St. Louis Magazine for a few years and now I am trying to write book reviews. I keep working on a novel set in the St. Louis World Fair in 1904, a murder mystery. I’m not getting very far with it.
CG Have you published anything.
HB Yes. Three books.
(“Never Been a Time: The 1917 Race Riot that Sparked the Civil Rights Movement” Walker & Company, 2008. A detailed history of the first and officially the deadliest of the numerous mass attacks on African Americans that broke out in cities across the United States in the era of World War I. It places the East St. Louis riot in the context of similar racial massacres as far back as the early decades of the 19th century in Philadelphia and other Northern cities. It analyzes the impact of the East St. Louis riot on the early civil rights movement. The book was named the Best Non-Fiction Book of the Year for 2008 by The Truth About the Fact, an international journal of narrative non-fiction based at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.
(Also “Standing on a Volcano: The Life and Times of David Rowland Francis” Missouri Historical Society Press, 2001. It is a biography of the influential Missouri politician who ran the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair and served as Woodrow Wilson’s ambassador to Russia during the revolutions of 1917. It won the 2002 Missouri History Book Award from the State Historical Society of Missouri “in recognition of superior original scholarship in a book pertaining to the history of Missouri and its people” and the annual book award from the Missouri Conference on History as the “best book written by a Missouri resident in 2001.” And Blue Monday (Patrice Press, 1991). An historical novel set in the 1930s among the musicians, newspapermen and corrupt politicians of Pendergast-era Kansas City.)
Last summer was the 100th commemoration of the race riot. It was one of the deadliest race riots in American history. Very little was known about it. Among other things it was the inspiration for The Silent March. 8,000 to 10,000 blacks and a few whites marched down Fifth Avenue in New York. They tried to end lynching and honored the victims of the St. Louis Race Riot. It was about white people killing black people. During the WWI period there were dozens of race riots across America. They all consisted of blacks being slaughtered by whites. That book sold pretty well.
CG Who founded the Cambridge Phoenix and when?
HB Jeffrey Tartar founded it in 1969.
(Or, as they say in French) “En 1972, Stephen Mindich, propriétaire et éditeur de Boston After Dark, acquiert son concurrent Cambridge Phoenix. Il rachète le nom et dissout le journal. L'opération donne naissance au Boston Phoenix alors que l'ancienne équipe éditoriale du Cambridge Phoenix fonde un nouveau titre, The Real Paper. Le film Between the Lines de Joan Micklin Silver, sorti en 1977, est librement inspiré de ces évènements. Fred Barron, auteur du scénario, a travaillé pour The Boston Phoenix et The Real Paper.. Durant les années 1970, les deux publications sont distribuées à 100,000 exemplaires, dont la moitié payée. Ils jouissent de la confiance des annonceurs de leur région et constituent des exemples dans le domaine des médias dits « alternatifs » aux États-Unis. Leur réussite inspire d'autres hebdomadaires5. Lorsque The Real Paper ferme en 1981, ses actifs sont rachetés par Mindich..
“En septembre 2012, le Boston Phoenix est rebaptisé The Phoenix. Le magazine est diffusé à plus de 100,000 exemplaires, mais la nouvelle formule, imprimée sur papier glacé, ne parvient pas à attirer des annonceurs d'envergure nationale. Stephen Mindich déclare qu'il ne considère plus le magazine comme une entreprise viable. Son dernier numéro paraît en mars 2013.”
After about nine months Tartar ran out of money. In early 1970 he sold The Cambridge Phoenix to Riepen and Richard Missner.
CG Was the idea to compete with the Mindich weekly Boston After Dark?
HB That was pretty much an entertainment paper. The Phoenix was getting into politics but it was more of a hippie paper than Boston After Dark.
CG Nobody ever described Steve Mindich as a hippie.
HB (laughing) No.
CG I worked for Mindich as the art critic before moving on to the Boston Herald Traveler. When the Herald folded it was musical chairs. By then Ken Baker was sitting in the seat.
I was there during the strike when the original partners Mindich and Jim Lewis were fighting for control. Lewis put out Boston After Dark with scabs. Mindich, and editor Arnie Reisman, briefly published Public Occurences. During the interim time I attended a meeting and chewed out Mindich and Arnie. There were anti war riots and I wanted to know why we weren’t covering them? Of course Arnie was pushing in that direction but Mindich was concerned about alienating advertisers. Which is funny considering that he later made mega bucks selling advertising for escort services.
When Mindich bought the Cambridge Phoenix and changed the name to Boston Phoenix, as we know, the paper became known for its political coverage and many writers went on to have distinguished careers.
HB Mindich bought the name and George Kimball.
The counter culture had reached St. Louis but hardly was dominant. I remember walking into Harvard Square and being astonished. There were Hare Krishnas, political people, dancing monkeys.
The Boston I knew, basically the Green Line between Back Bay and Cambridge, was dominated by the counter culture.
CG My perception was that you were straight and waspy.
HB Yeah, I was, kindah. I once said that I was the most conservative person at the paper and I was a screaming liberal. Yeah, the name alone identifies me as pretty waspy. I don’t resent that. When we took over the Phoenix it was less than a year old. It was a hippie project and I tried to retain the hippie elements. While having serious stuff, like eventually, political writers Joe Klein and Paul Solman.
CG I didn’t know you at the time, and was regarded as an enemy of the paper and its staff. From a distance, however, I sensed that, as editor, you brought professionalism and journalistic standards to the Phoenix.
HB I think that’s true. I cut the first graph of every story. I mean that almost literally. They were very young untrained writers. They tended to put the punch line in the lead. There were paragraphs after paragraphs of philosophizing before they got to the story itself. I trimmed out a lot of that. It was a personal newspaper and I didn’t want to take the personality out. But I reshaped some of the stories. That was the main thing I did.
Finding writers was no problem. Cambridge was full of writers. They came from either BU or Brandeis. There were a few Harvard people but not many. I made sure it came out on time and treated the writers well I think. The paper itself attracted writers. There was already a core there when I came on. Like Chuck Kramer the film critic. They were pretty darned good. We hired Jon Landau almost immediately. It was Ray Riepen’s doing really. Paul Solman and Joe Klein came about a year later.
In 1971 the writers for Boston After Dark got disgusted with (publisher) Steve Mindich. The writers offered to come over entirely or in part to the Phoenix. We chose Paul and Joe for various reasons. I thought they fleshed out the paper. We were probably more cultural than political at the time. They came over and made the paper even stronger.
CG Paul Solman I knew from Brandeis. He was a couple of classes behind me. The same was true for Ted Gross who became the editor of the later Boston Phoenix. I believe his brother was a classmate. Of course Landau was also a Brandeis graduate. David Bonetti and Francine Koslow Miller were art critics from Brandeis as was myself. There was a famous radical tradition. My editor at Boston After Dark, Arnie Reisman, had edited my first efforts for the Brandeis Justice.
HB From what I could tell Arnie was a good editor. He had Mindich holding him back. Also from Brandeis we published an interview with Stanley Bond. He was part of a bank robbery in which a guard was killed somewhere in suburban Boston.
CG It was in Brighton and Officer Schroeder, the father of a large family, was killed. The robbery led to the flight of Susan Saxe and Kathy Powers.
(On September 25, 1970 The New York Times reported “The police obtained today warrants charging two women identified as students at Brandeis University and two men with murdering a policeman during a $26,000 holdup yesterday at a branch bank. The warrants were issued soon after Patrolman Walter A. Schroeder died of his wounds.
“Those named in the warrants were: Stanley R. Bond, 25 years old, of Cambridge, also identified as a Brandeis student; William M. Gilday, 41, of Amesbury; Susan E. Saxe, 20, of Albany, N.Y.. and Kathy Powers, 20, of Denver, Colo. A fifth man charged with murder, Robert Valeri; 21, of Somerville, Mass., was captured last night.”)
In addition to Abbie Hoffman and Angela Davis they were other Brandeis students on the FBI’s Most Wanted list. I was a freshman when Abbie was a senior. I was close to his wife Shelia who was an art major. Martin Peretz (publisher of The New Republic) was president of the student council during my freshman year. Arguably, it was the most radical campus in America at the time.
As I understand it, Gilday was a career criminal taking classes at Brandeis. He radicalized and recruited Saxe and Powers. They were going to rob a bank to raise money for their cause.
In 2012 I saw a David Mamet, Broadway, two hander “The Anarchist” with Patty Lupone and Debra Winger. It got terrible reviews but I though it was a powerful evocation of the radical generation of Saxe and Powers. NY critics and the bridge/ tunnel crowd didn’t get it. That play richly deserves another production. Having lived through that era and ambiance it was a riveting experience. On many levels it is among Mamet’s best work.
HB Stanley Bond wanted to write for the Phoenix. This was before the bank job. He wrote an article for us and I can’t remember what it was about but it was publishable. A month later he pulled the bank robbery. They chased him and caught him in Colorado. He called me because he wanted the story to be first in the Phoenix; about why he did the robbery and so forth. He had the usual radical reasons. We consulted an attorney because Stanley was not looked at favorably by the legal profession.
CG Talk to me about Jon Landau. He wrote that famous “I saw the future of rock ‘n’ roll last night” review of Bruce Springsteen in Cambridge.
(Arguably the most influential rock review of its era stated in part "Last Thursday, at the Harvard Square theater, I saw rock'n'roll past flash before my eyes. And I saw something else: I saw rock and roll future and its name is Bruce Springsteen. And on a night when I needed to feel young, he made me feel like I was hearing music for the very first time.")
HB He wrote that for The Real Paper. Jon was a columnist and I was as well. We hired Jon for the Phoenix because of Ray Riepen, who had experience in the music business through the Tea Party. He felt that Jon was key to getting record company ads. Landau was respected by the record companies but the stuff he wrote didn’t pull any punches. When he wrote those lines he was not affiliated with Springsteen.
CG I recall controversy. The Phoenix and later Real Paper were collectives but there was resentment that his salary was greater than the other writers.
HB I don’t think that’s true. There were four or five writers on staff at that time and think he got more or less the same salary that they did. But I may be wrong. I didn’t have much to do with salaries.
CG There were so many contributors and artists, like cartoonist David Omar White, designer Lynn Staley who went on the Globe. Mark Zanger wrote wonderful restaurant reviews. There were rock writers, Steve Davis, James Miller, and James Isaacs, or film critics, David Ansen, Stuart Byron, Stephen Schiff, and Gerald Peary. Arthur Friedman was the eccentric, curmudgeonly theater critic.
But tell me about wacko C. Wendell Smith.
HB Richard Missner owned the paper and kept trying to get rid of Wendell. Ray had gotten Richard involved and then he fired Ray. Wendell wrote these obscure notes that looked like ee Cummings poetry about upcoming political meetings. I thought it was perfect. It fit in with the hippie feeling of the paper. I was running Howard Zinn and that contrasted with Wendell’s late 1960s, hippie/ commune notes.
CG As I recall he submitted reams of copy insisting that you run it all. It was printed in 6 point and one could hardly read it even if you had the time, interest and patience.
HB (laughing) We did that from time to time. When things were too long I knocked them down in size. But I think that some did run in 6 point. Finally, I fired Wendell because Richard just got on me. I had to fire somebody because I was spending a lot of money. The next thing I knew Wendell chained himself, with a bicycle chain, to Richard’s desk. (both laugh) He won and Wendell came back to the paper. The times were wonderful.
CG Tell me about Laura Shapiro. She was a feminist writer then evolved into writing on dance. I believe she later wrote for Newsweek.
HB She wrote a couple of political cookbooks. Her best known book was about Fannie Farmer. It had a feminist take. In the beginning I didn’t get feminism. I thought it was an excuse for rich girls to be treated the same as rich boys. I have regretted that feeling ever since. I got into it with her in the beginning. She wrote a long manifesto when Norman Mailer attacked feminism. I would agree with her now but in those days I didn’t get it. I don’t know why but a lot of people vaguely on the left didn’t get it. I wouldn’t publish the piece and Laura and I barely spoke for a year and a half. She wrote on dance and classical music in the tradition of Jill Johnson of the Village Voice. Slowly, I came to understand what it was all about.
CG From what I understand she had a complex relationship with feminists. Cambridge was a hotbed of activism. At some point there was an occupation of what I recall was a Harvard building. Laura gained access as an alleged member of the group and then published, without permission, an insider’s report on the protest. It was regarded as a betrayal.
It was out of a Cambridge collective that “Our Bodies Our Selves” was published. It was recently announced that hard copies would no longer be printed but it is available on line. Similarly, “The Whole Earth Catalog” was published as an occasional magazine from 1968 to 1972. I attended the first global Earth Day in 1970 on grounds near Harvard Stadium.
HB You’re cursed by a good memory.
CG What was your relationship with Landau?
HB Early on I tried to edit him. He was somewhat imperious but always very pleasant. Clearly he was headed for bigger and better things. He wrote a story about Muscle Shoals Recording Studio (founded in Sheffield, Alabama by four studio musicians in 1969). It’s where the Allman Brothers recorded.
(The Rolling Stones stopped by Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Alabama during downtime from their 1969 American tour. They didn't have a recording permit for America at the time, so the sessions became an extremely hush-hush affair. In just three days, the group recorded "Brown Sugar," "You Gotta Move" and "Wild Horses." They had to sit on the latter song for almost two years because of a legal battle with their former manager, Allen Klein.)
Jon spelled it correctly, Muscle Shoals, which I thought was ridiculous and changed it to Mussel Shoals. He was very kind but said “Don’t edit my copy again.” I gave in immediately because his copy was so incredibly clean.
CG I find it interesting when you talk about cutting first graphs and trimming philosophical speculation instead of cutting to the chase. That kind of self indulgence is happening more and more because of the lack of editors and mentoring. There is nobody to shape and school emerging writers. Journalistic standards are in crisis mode.
HB Absolutely. Our generation, with Hunter, you, and me broke the bonds of the old objective journalism. It became permissible to use a personal pronoun occasionally but it couldn’t be fake news. Now there’s too much opinion and too little fact coming out in blogs or whatever you call them.
CG What I understood is that the personal pronoun is ok if it is relevant to the story. If something from your personal experience has bearing on the topic then yes.
HB There was a writer, Stu Werbin, that was true of. I believe he has passed. He wrote a lot for Rolling Stone. He wrote for the Phoenix but inserted himself in places he didn’t belong. He was a fabulous writer. Perhaps he was ahead of the times but he injected himself too much into the pieces and I cut it out. He would submit his copy and we would go over it for an hour or so until it met with his approval. It was never a matter of publish it as I want or not at all.
I did have that relationship with Eric Mann a radical writer. He had gone to prison for breaking into a Harvard office that had selective service numbers. It was 1968 or 1969 when things were pretty violent. He spent a year in prison. He wrote the story of his life, which was fascinating, about how this middle class guy ended up in prison. I cut the hell out of it. He came in and said “I didn’t realize that I was submitting my memoirs to be copy edited.”
I hadn’t thought of it as memoirs I thought of it as a story. It was crucial to understand how personal people wanted to get. With Eric Mann I allowed him to get more personal because I realized he was writing from the heart.
CG Did Steve Davis write for you?
HB Yeah. He was great. He managed to get back stage with Led Zeppelin. As you know he wrote a book about going on the road with them. He was prolific and a wonderful guy.
I think there were more good writers around Cambridge than around New York.
CG That may be true but for whatever reason Boston/ Cambridge has not gotten due recognition and respect for its formative role in alternative culture and journalism.
HB I’m surprised by that.
CG I’m fascinated by your role as a traditional, well trained journalist editing the new writers. With time many would evolve from underground to alternative to mainstream publishing. Consider how many went on the write books and screenplays or work in other aspects of media. By bringing some shape to that process you were a fulcrum character.
HB I was with the Post-Dispatch for five years before going to the Phoenix. I was pushing in the other direction at the Post-Dispatch. I have a story that illustrates the difference between mainstream and alternative press. I did a story about a guy who was organizing grocery workers for the unions. I wrote that “He drove away in a ten-year-old Plymouth Valiant.” Maybe it was a Ford Falcon. The editors changed it to “He drove away in a Ford automobile.” (both laughing) They didn’t get it.
Little things like that bugged me in the so called straight press. On the other hand, thank God for the Washington Post and New York Times, particularly with what was going on.
CG What was the transition from the Cambridge Phoenix to the Real Paper?
HB The issue was me being fired. I was the editor for two years. Richard wanted to be more like The New Republic. I wanted to hang on to the Wendell Smiths of Cambridge. I thought they gave a funky air that people enjoyed. Finally he fired me and the staff went on strike. Even the comptroller went on strike.
Through negotiation the Phoenix would resume publishing and I would get a few thousand dollars to go away. The staff would elect an editor who proved to be Paul Solman. It was still the Phoenix and lasted about six months. They ran what they wanted and Richard couldn’t do anything about it. So he fired Paul and folded the paper. He sold the name to Mindich for several hundred thousand dollars.
The staff immediately started The Real Paper and I got arrested. The scab Phoenix was being put together in the basement of a building in Central Square. Several of us, me and Jan my wife at the time, and a couple of other people broke into the room where the copy was being pasted up and we tore the paper up. We got out before the cops came but they served a warrant on us. The case was eventually dismissed.
When I got fired the Globe ran a three quarters head shot. I got rehired, briefly, then fired again. The Boston Globe ran my picture on the front page flopped the other way. It was the same picture and the headline read “fired again.”
Until that point I was something of a darling of the left wing Harvard/ Cambridge, Schlesinger crowd. I had been invited to a party by Arthur Schlesinger’s divorced wife. People just snubbed me at the dinner. I think it has something to with tearing up the sheets.
CG How did you get along with George Kimball?
HB He was impossible. I went to the University of Kansas and later taught there. Kimball was there and the leader of the hippies. I knew him vaguely. He showed up in the early days of the Phoenix. I didn’t think he could write. He submitted a piece about Jo Jo White. He had come from Kansas and played for the Celtics. It was brilliant.
Kimball was a handful. He would get drunk and start fights. He had a glass eye. During a barroom brawl in Greenwich Village a guy broke a whiskey bottle over his head and destroyed his left eye. A lot of people couldn’t get along with him. He was terribly sexist and out of control like John Belushi. But I liked him and he gave an angle to the paper.
CG He wouldn’t survive in today’s social/ political climate.
HB Not at all. George wouldn’t change.
CG You could fill a book with anecdotes about him. I was tight with pr and record company people. As a favor, I arranged for a big launch party at Castle Hill in Ipswich. It was a great place for a blowout. There was lots of food and booze of which George had his fill. I recall him staggering across the elegant ballroom. Without stopping there was a fuselage of projectile vomit. He just walked through it and kept going as though nothing had happened. (both laughing)
HB George died of throat cancer a few years ago but if he were around today and acting like that he would surely end up in prison.
CG It’s a head scratcher to recall that Kimball and Laura Shapiro worked for the same publication. You say Kimball was all that Mindich got for buying the Phoenix.
HB The name had some value. He thought that buying a competitor meant that he would be the only alternative weekly paper in town. The Real Paper was launched a couple of weeks after the purchase.
CG Kimball later moved from the Boston Phoenix to the Herald and turned out to be one of the best Boston sports writers of his generation. His specialty was boxing.
HB I read a book he published with several essays on boxing. I didn’t put up with his crap because I knew him back when he was running for Sheriff of Douglas County, Kansas. Of the writers I developed, of which there weren’t that many, I am proudest of Kimball. He was the best writer, not to say I developed him, but who I worked with and got better as he went along.
CG He was great friends with George Frazier.
(Famous Esquire jazz critic and later Boston Globe columnist. For a time he hosted a TV show. He ran pieces identifying who did or did not have duende.)
Did you know him?
HB A little bit. He was fascinated by the underground. Hunter Thompson and Kimball gave us a surprise. The (Harvard) Nieman Fellows met at the St. Botolph Club on Comm. Ave. They were on a panel discussion that soon got out of hand. The next day the president of Nieman Fellows posted a sign on his door “From now on all guest speakers will be approved by me.”
CG Did you know Bill Cardoso?
HB A little bit. What became of him.
CG Bill was a friend who stole the word gonzo from me.
HB Did he really!
CG I’ll send you my book “Total Gonzo Poems” that documents what happened. I had many conversation with Bill about what gonzo journalism consisted of. He suggested that each story be written in the first person including end notes with a list of a drugs and alcohol consumed while writing a piece. Eventually, that was part of what done him in. I am about to publish my fifth book of gonzo verse but haven’t done drugs for the past 25 years.
Bill worked on several book projects. One was about legal brothels in Nevada. Another focused on twin brothers, high profile doctors in Palm Springs, who were implicated in murder. Nothing came of these projects.
A collection of his magazine pieces “The Maltese Sangweech and Other Heroes” was published in 1984 and is out of print. Some are gonzo but most are straight journalism.
When it had deep pockets Bill wrote for San Francisco Magazine. He convinced them to pay him to cover the Red Sox then in a pennant race. His pitch was that Boston and Frisco were sister cities. He visited and lived high hanging at the Eliot Lounge with Kimball and other sports writers. I recall that Kimball got banned from the press box and they covered games from the bleachers.
HB They went to Zaire together to cover the Ali vs Frazier fight in 1974.
CG That’s in “Sangweech” and may have been his best piece. It belongs in a gonzo anthology. When on his game nobody topped Bill. What an awesome talent.
HB I read a lot of his stuff.
Editing the Phoenix was hard work with seven day, twelve hour days. A year in we were very successful. Circulation was increasing. I was getting tired and wanted to get back to writing more. Richard Missner suggested that we hire the former editor of the Boston Globe Sunday Magazine to be the managing editor and do all the work.
We had lunch in Harvard Square and it became very clear to me that if we worked together I would do all he work and Cardoso would be the mastermind. In a way, that was tempting but I decided not to give up my seat. The last time I talked to Cardoso he had just returned from Ibiza.
CG There was a knock on my door and Bill swept in with Suzy and their two Afghan hounds. Offering me a bottle of booze which he drank they set up residence. I was in grad school at BU at the time. Bill was standing over me while I was trying to study. Smoking my reefer and partying he would say “You know Charles, you’re a glum dude. Just write man, you’ve got talent. You don’t need school. Just do it man.”
For a time they moved on but split up. I introduced Bill to Susan who was a wonderful friend. I saw her a few times after they parted. Sadly, she died way too young. He ended up freelancing in Frisco. He had a sweet day gig running the concession stand on the ferry between Frisco and Sausalito. He loved the salt air. We hung out when he came to town to visit his ailing mother. From time to time I called him. Bill was complex but a great talent. Ultimately he was too gonzo.
HB Lucian Truscott and I covered the Snake River jump by Evel Knievel (1974). I believe Cardoso was there.
CG It’s in his book.
HB Yeah, I thought we got together there.
CG Lucian Truscott the fourth wasn’t he?
HB Yeah. Lucian was a West Pointer (Class of 1969). His father was a Colonel and his grandfather, was in the movie “Patton.” He took command after Patton slapped the GI in an army hospital. For a while he ran the war in Europe. Lucian followed the family tradition and went to West Point. After his freshman year on weekends he would go to NY and hang out at the Village Voice. While still a cadet he was writing for the Voice.
(He is a member of the Monticello Association, the members of which descend from Thomas Jefferson, who was Truscott's great-great-great-great-grandfather. The association owns the graveyard at Monticello. During a November, 1998 appearance on the Oprah Winfrey Show he invited descendants of Sally Hemings to the family reunion in 2000. The Hemings descendants had not been allowed to join the association, or to be buried in its graveyard. Starting in 1970, he joined The Village Voice as a freelancer and later staff writer. He had previously written for the Voice as a cadet, submitting "conservative, right-wing letters" that the newspaper eventually started to publish. One such letter, describing Christmas 1968 among the hippies at the Electric Circus nightclub, was published as a front-page story. Another piece, written a few weeks after he graduated from West Point, described the riot at the Stonewall Inn on June 27, 1969. He has published six books.)
He wrote occasionally for the Phoenix. Lucian was a hippie in a Lower East Side kind of way. He was pretty tough and lived on a barge on the New Jersey shore. He took a boat to cross the Hudson to go to the Voice.
CG Were you the editor of the Real Paper?
HB Paul Solman was the editor. It was started by the Cambridge Phoenix employees union after Missner sold the paper. It was everybody but Kimball. It started on unemployment insurance. Everyone who was fired had six months of benefits.
CG How did you manage not to be discovered?
HB We weren’t getting paid. In the beginning our only income was unemployment insurance. Nobody was getting paid. We got $1,000 from Barney Frank and that was the nugget Paul used to start the paper. He came over, told us he always liked the Phoenix, and wrote a check.
CG How long did the Real Paper last?
HB Six or seven years. Maybe not that long. I’m trying to remember. Maybe three years.
(It ran from August 2, 1972, to June 18, 1981.)
Eventually, it couldn’t compete with Mindich. He was a great ad salesman.
CG Do you recall the art critic Jeanne Bergantini Grillo? For a time we were rivals when I was art critic for Boston After Dark.
HB There was staff there when I took over at the Cambridge Phoenix. She was there and I don’t have much to say about her. She covered it adequately with a lot of information and listings of local galleries. I feel that’s a function of weekly papers to provide that coverage and she did that. She was a good art critic who worked hard.
(Better known is Kay Larson who began at The Real Paper, then an associate editor at Artnews, and art critic for the Village Voice. She was the art critic for New York Magazine for 14 years, and has been a frequent contributor to The New York Times. In 1994, she entered Zen practice at a Buddhist monastery in upstate New York.)
CG There are so many writers we can discuss from that era. You mention that Harvard was underrepresented in the mix. An exception was Ken Emerson. He started with The Avatar. When Dave Wilson and I ran it in the summer of 1968 I contacted him. The prior editor, Wayne Hansen, had him covering local bands but Ken was more interested in emerging British rock. I remember him writing about Spooky Tooth when they played the Tea Party. He later became a writer and editor for the Boston Phoenix. Then he and Janet Maslin, who was a rock/film writer for the Boston Phoenix, joined the New York Times. They broke up and Ken stayed on as an editor.
HB Was that after Janet and Laudau?
CG Yes. Ken was a terrific editor. I did a long piece on the MFA for him which became a cover story. He took me to school on it and had me rewrite it. I learned a lot from that editing process. The elements were there but I didn’t know how to piece together so much information. He laid out a template to follow then it all fell into place. It is such a pity that emerging blog writers are not getting that experience. Over the years I have had a few good editors to whom I am so grateful.
HB It’s amazing. Just consider the movie criticism thing; Maslin, David Ansen, Patrick McGilligan.
CG Deac Rossell of Boston After Dark became the first film curator for the Museum of Fine Arts. In the 1980s he was with The Directors Guild. Since 1997 he has taught at Goldsmiths College in London. There are so many careers like that.
Do you recall any of the other underground and alternative papers like The Old Mole?
HB I believe that The Old Mole was defunct by the time I got to Cambridge. I remember it being pretty radical.
CG How about the BU News?
HB I read about that in Ray Mungo’s book. There were a lot of BU people. Jeff Albertson was a great photojournalist. We were close friends. They were cranking out journalists. I think Steve Davis was BU News as was Stu Werbin. He covered rock for the Phoenix and Rolling Stone.
CG Landau recruited a lot of local writers for Rolling Stone.
HB He did.
CG You were free lancing for the Real Paper?
HB I had a column called Reading. It was every other week on books and magazines. Even when I went back to St. Louis I kept writing it.
CG That’s what Frazier did for the Globe. His column was called The Literary Life.
HB It got pretty thin toward the end as I recall. I met George a few times and liked him personally. He glamorized a whole bunch of people that I wouldn’t. He lived in a fascinating world.
CG Did you ever have finnan haddie with him at Loche Ober’s? With a lot of cocktails.
HB He was drunk every time I saw him. He had a staunch following.
After “All the Presidents Men” came out the staff of daily newspapers changed. It became much more career and professional oriented. In the ‘70s and ‘80s the women were more interesting than the men. The young women wanted to be like us. I consider myself an old drunk newspaper guy. They wanted to also be old drunk newspaper guys. The men were all trying to win the Pulitzer Prize by getting rid of the President.
CG When were you back in St. Louis?
HB 1972. Actually, 1973. I lived in Cambridge for two years then near Gloucester for a year. Freelancing, mostly for the Real Paper.
CG Why go back to St. Louis? What would anybody go back to St. Louis?
HB I had a job offer for the strike paper.
CG How were you staying alive?
HB I don’t know. It seemed easier in those days. When I got fired Richard Missner gave me $3,000 in severance pay. The Phoenix employees union negotiated that for me. Somehow I made that last for six months. You stayed with friends and drank beer which was cheap. Marijuana was cheap. You didn’t go to fancy restaurants and crashed in people’s basements. I couldn’t do it today.
CG Describe your current lifestyle.
HB We live in the middle of the city in a fairly urban neighborhood. There’s a French restaurant a block away. We live within walking distance of a lot of bars and restaurants. It’s not like living in Boston. It’s a Midwestern city.
I’ve been working on books. The East St. Louis book was the last one. I survive.
My wife (Roseann Weiss) is pretty good at bringing in money. I’m doing all right with a couple of freelance gigs. I introduce movies for a movie club. I do some book reviews. We get by living a middle class life. My wife is an art consultant. She was head of public art for the regional arts commission. Now she freelances. Her subject is the intersection of art and society.
CG I enjoyed a great conversation with her. She described to me, from time to time, taking issue with some of Bonetti's art reviews. He was unkind to local artists.
HB (laughing) What I remember was a guy named Bill Cohn, a much admired but terrible local artist. He mentored a lot of girls. He was pretty popular. He died and there was a show of his work. Bonetti totally trashed it. Which was fine. Then he went back a couple of weeks later and trashed it again. Beating on a dead man twice was going too far.
CG They say speak well of the dead which I certainly did in Bonetti’s case.
HB You get one swipe at the dead but not two.
CG Do you get any intellectual stimulation in St. Louis?
HB My friends are art dealers and newspaper people. The Post-Dispatch was a great newspaper at one point. It was much better than the papers in Boston even in the 1970s when I was in Boston. It’s not a cultural wasteland but it’s not Boston. Per capita, Boston is the most intellectually stimulating city in the country.
CG I agree with that although we now live in the Berkshires and have an entirely different scene.
Give me a pullout quote for journalism on your watch.
HB It was very exciting. There were the Pentagon Papers and Watergate. Both of which we covered tangentially. We published pieces by Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn. It was a great time as the Baby Boomers were just getting into journalism. I’m about ten years older. They were doing some great stuff particularly at the Washington Post. Other papers were doing muckraking as well.
CG How did Boston/ Cambridge fit into the scheme of things?
HB Boston/ Cambridge was in a ferment and produced so many great writers who are well known today. It was great to be a part of that. For me the personal highlight of that era was when I got fired and the staff walked out to support me and we started The Real Paper. That was spread out over several months.
There was a story I refused to run and I am proud of that. At the time nobody agreed with me. The former treasurer of the City of Boston, an Italian guy Frank Anzalone, was corrupt and the FBI wiretapped him. They were after money changing hands illicitly. The Federal court wouldn’t accept the wiretaps. The FBI offered leaks to the Boston Globe but they wouldn’t run it. The FBI offered it to The Phoenix and Boston After Dark. Because it was the FBI I wouldn’t run it. Teddy Gross ran it in BAD. I was proud of that decision and it was kind of a liberal thing to do. We didn’t like what the FBI was doing to liberal groups. I didn’t like the FBI wiretapping a Sicilian.
CG I’m Sicilian.
HB (laughs) So there.
CG My parting thought is that we have had this remarkable conversation, mid-day, clean and sober. That wouldn’t have been true back then.
HB (laughs) Said with pride.
CG Not with pride but rather irony. So many are now gone but we lived to tell the tale. Back in the day what were your favorite Cambridge watering holes.
HB Jack’s and The Plough and Stars. We held editorial meetings in Jack’s. The Plough and the Stars was for more serious drinking. Kimball loved the Plough. He had his eye on a seat all the time.
CG Days of wine and roses.
Flight of the Phoenix response from former Boston After Dark editor, Arnie Reisman.
Arnie Reisman on Alternative Boston Media in the 1960s.