Close Calls : Paul Krassner

In 1961 Paul Krassner was about two hundred years ahead of his time. Now, forty-odd years later, he’s only a hundred years ahead of his time. I don’t know how that happened — I have no head for numbers. My brother’s the accountant and he never heard of Paul Krassner.

Amongst his many distinguished subversive achievements, Krassner started publishing The Realist in 1958. It was unquestionably the sharpest and most fearless journal of the century and precursor of the underground press movement. I found my first copy in New York in 1961. When I returned to Montréal The Realist was nowhere to be found. I had to get a subscription.

The Realist published news and satire and just as in the real American world it was hard to tell the difference between them and what made Krassner the genius of the age was that he knew there was no difference and now that I think of it I do believe it was funnier than the New York Times and twice as factual, too. Did Lyndon Johnson really violate JFK’s bullet hole on the plane back from Dallas? We didn’t know. When it turned out to be “satire” I chose to go on believing it. Did Krassner really take Groucho Marx on an acid trip? Well, that is a true story but I choose to enjoy the satirical core of it. Did Disney really unleash a battery of lawyers in response to Wally Wood’s “Disneyland Memorial Orgy”? Yes.

Krassner was a pal of Lenny Bruce, became a founder of the Yippies, and a member of the Chicago Seven.

In an issue of The Realist Krassner wrote, “I consider all the readers of The Realist my personal friends”. So I went to visit him at his office on Lexington Avenue. I remember it was on Lexington Avenue because Mad Magazine was in the same building and every word that ever appeared in Mad, including their office address, was permanently ensconced in my mind.

A lovely young woman sat behind a highly cluttered desk.

Big smile. “Hi.”

“Hi. Is Paul in?”

“No, sorry, he isn’t. Can I help you with something?”

“No. I just wanted to see Paul. I’m a friend of his.”

“Hang on, I’ll call him”.

Dials the phone.

“Paul, a friend of yours is here. Are you coming in?” She looks at me, asks, “What’s your name?” I tell her and she repeats it to the phone. She looks at me and says, “He says he doesn’t know the name.”

“Paul wrote that he considers all Realist readers as his personal friends so I just thought I’d come up and hang out with him for a while.”

She conveys this information to the phone, then looks at me again and says, “Okay, he’s still in bed but if you give him half an hour he’ll be here.”

I’m pleased he’s willing to get up and make the trip to hang out with me but if there one thing I know it’s what it’s like to still be in bed. I won’t make him get up, get dressed, and go to the office. He would have, and that’s good enough for me.

“Nah, that’s okay. I’ll come by another time. Thanks for everything and say hi to Paul for me when you see him.”



Postscript

Some “personal friend” I turned out to be. I try just one time to visit Krassner. He happens to be out. He’s willing to get out of bed and come hang out with me. I said no, that’s okay. But I don’t try again for, like, forty years? Well, better late than always – that’s my motto.

Minutes after posting my adventure, my visit to Paul Krassner’s office, I tracked him down via email.

Who was your secretary? She was so nice to me. What ever happened to her?

Not sure who you mean because I had several, all good-looking. First was Erika Munk, short, straight hair. Then Sally Baldwin, a classic beauty, tall and dark-haired. Then Jeanne Johnson (starting in 1963) who became my first wife and we had a daughter Holly, then Sheila Campion, tall blonde.

Did you ever run into the Mad Magazine guys in the elevator?

Sure, or in their offices, since I wrote a few free-lance articles for Mad.

Re your comments about Realist readers – did anyone else ever take you up on it? Try to borrow money, maybe? Or your car?

I don’t recall people taking me literally, but no one tried to borrow $, and I still never learned to drive.

Anything at all else you’d care to say would be appreciated.

I continually hear from readers who were strongly influenced by The Realist, including such diverse celebs as Lewis Black and Garrison Keiller. Below are two corrections on your piece.

“. . . member of the Chicago Seven.”

I was only an unindicted co-conspirator, not a defendant, though I testified (on acid).

“it was on Lexington Avenue because Mad Magazine was in the same building and every word that ever appeared in Mad, including their office address, was permanently ensconced in my mind.”

just goes to show ya…it was on Lafayette St.

Ooops! Just goes to show ya is right! I meant Lafayette. I think. So much for my perfect memory – which is why I’d call it “memoirs of an amnesiac” – if it hadn’t already been used at least twice.

There was someone besides yourself that became a major contributor to The Realist and organized some anarchist-style community activities. It’s so long ago and all my Realists are lost but I sort of recall it was Hugh Romney. Is that right? I saw him perform in the Village one time and never forgot it – thought he was pretty brilliant.

No, not Hugh Romney, who is now Wavy Gravy. You must be thinking of George von Hilsheimer, who ran an organization called People and a summer camp which was set on fire by southern rednecks. One of the projects was LEAP, the Lower East Side Action Project, run by Larry Cole, who also wrote articles for The Realist.

Jeeziz . . . there’s that memory thing of mine again. And I’m writing my memoirs! I knew the name began with an “H”. Hugh . . . Hilsheimer . . . an easy mistake.

I see on your web site you occasionally tour. What do your appearances consist of?

Social-political satire.

As I figured – although I can’t imagine where you find raw material these days.

Would you be interested in coming up to Vancouver some time?

Sure.

Give me an idea when you might be in this area and how much $$$ you want for an appearance. Would a small club be feasible for a hugely famous guy like you? My friend owns a jazz club – seats about 100 – I’ve been thinking about doing some non-music things there. Last year I talked to David Amram and John and Carolyn Cassady but trying to coordinate three people spread over the globe did me in – it never happened.

It’s really hard to say when I expect to be in Vancouver. I have a collection being published in the fall, but I doubt the book tour will include Canada. At this point, I’m obsessed with working on my long awaited (by me) first novel, and I’ve put performing on hold. There’s a comedian I know who calls herself Watermelon in Vancouver and it’s possible that I might open for her or vice versa in a large auditorium, but at the moment that all remains in fantasy land. incidentally, I’m not really a “hugely famous guy”–many people think I’m Paul Kantner.

Well, you’re hugely famous to me!

I know about Watermelon – nude photos of her show up in local papers on occasion. Discreetly nude. Maybe I can get her to open for me.

Well, keep me in mind if you’re ever looking to do something in Vancouver. I’d be glad to help if I can. I don’t know how book tours work but if you hit Seattle maybe you can pop up here for a day to do a book signing at one of our hip bookshops.

I look forward to the new book. I’ve read a few already. Confessions, Bicycle Race, Impolite Interviews . . .

that’s a possibility…I’ll keep you posted, thanks.

Would it be okay to post your replies to my questions on my web site?

yes, though you might also want too mention my website in case any reader wants to check out what I’m up to lately.



The books I mention are:
Confessions of a Raving, Unconfined Nut: Misadventures in Counter-Culture
The Winner of the Slow Bicycle Race: The Satirical Writings of Paul Krassner
Paul Krassner’s Impolite Interviews
more . . .

Paul Krassner’s web site

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