The current issue of BC Bookworld reprints an article by Pierre Coupey on the origins of the Georgia Straight and Dan McLeod’s rise to power. The story first ran in The Grape in 1972. That was the short-lived weekly put out by some of the Straight‘s staff – the result of their failed attempt to persuade Dan to relinquish what some considered his illegitimate ownership of the Straight to them. I was on the staff at the time. I backed Dan, contradicting my own convictions and confounding everyone including myself.
I remember well my first meeting with Dan because unlike most people in my circle of hipsters and flipsters he was dolled up in a suit and tie, blonde hair cut short in the style of some kind of youth for jesus canvasser, but we clicked anyway. Dan has a sense of humour and that makes up for almost anything. I’d just returned to Vancouver after spending the summer a year or two before, during the UBC poetry conference. I went by Peter Auxier’s place at Seventh and Oak and that’s where I met Dan. He was in the UBC math department but was also coeditor, with Auxier, of the legendary TISH poetry newsletter. We hung out a bit and as we were both night-dwellers there were many 3 or 4 AM meetings at the Jolly Roger around the corner from my place at 2nd and Cypress, sometimes with George Bowering. Eventually we shared an apartment in the building at 1666 West Sixth Avenue.
In the fall of 1966 I hitchhiked back to Montreal. I asked Dan to look after my record collection till I got settled, when he could ship them to me. Months later, when two or three increasingly frustrated and angry letters asking for my albums went unanswered I finally phoned him – a big step in those days before cheap rates. Dan said he and some others were starting up an underground paper. He asked me to be their Montreal correspondent. “Yeah, maybe. What about my records?” Dan probably sent them the very day in September 1967 that I took the train west, because when I got back to Vancouver they were in Montreal and the Georgia Straight was a reality, with a couple of issues out, stirring up some shit.
I went by the house at 16th and Burrard where Dan and his cohorts were living and publishing the paper. It was a pretty spunky little rag and I never missed an issue but I was not involved with it in any way till 1970. By then they were in an office in Gastown and Dan was the boss.
In 1970 I got my dad to cosign a bank loan for me so I could buy a truck. I got the idea from a junkie friend of mine that with a truck of some sort there were always ways to earn a few bucks. I bought a 57 VW van for about 400 dollars. I didn’t want a real truck because that might have led to real work. Light deliveries and small moving jobs was more what I had in mind. I called Dan to see if he needed anyone to deliver papers around town. He did and I started right in. It was a pretty good job. One day a week. Two days when the dailies went on strike. Eventually I was some kind of distribution manager. Besides the Straight, we flogged all kinds of underground papers from various cities, as well as a few odd books, underground comix, and whatnot. (For a number of years “distribution” was my racket, even after leaving the Straight. I did pretty well at it so, naturally, gave it up.)
I did some writing for the paper, too. Mostly on jazz topics. Meanwhile, there were staff meetings to try negotiating a deal with Dan whereby he’d hand over ownership of the paper to the collective. A few of us stood by Dan. I thought I was being realistic, or practical, or some damn thing. It seemed as though Dan worked some kind of capitalist magic to keep the paper going week after week, juggling creditors, and writing cheques to the printer (for example) to get the paper out and then frantically finding money to cover the cheques. That kind of thing. I had no faith in the collective to keep it together in the long run. Funny . . . I don’t know now why I thought that. Also, there were some political elements that bugged me. I submitted a story once (the paper ran fiction sometimes) in which a cow was a prominent character. The women’s faction thought the cow represented women (it didn’t) and was therefore sexist. They refused to publish it. (Editorial decisions were made by the staff, for the most part.) That didn’t win me over. But for the most part I thought it was a good paper which stood for good things.
When the insurgents seized the office, Dan, myself, and a handful of others kept the paper going out of Mitzi Gibbs’ living room. Besides my regular delivery duties I was running around drumming up content, taking pictures, writing stories, helping with layout, etc., and although I still earned my commissions there wasn’t any question about getting paid for any of that work and why I was doing this for what was ultimately Dan McLeod’s business is a question I’ve only started asking myself recently. But the bigger question, beyond anything that was in it for me, is, was I on the wrong side?
A person wiser than myself (Barbara) said something to me a long time ago that seems fairly simple and yet manages to elude everyone. An improved golden rule. Have principles, and live by them.
In other words, do the right thing.