After the Flood

by wjw on March 6, 2013

My house doesn’t have a furnace proper, it has a boiler that pumps hot water to registers in each room.  Which is a terrific, energy-efficient system, right up to the point where the water pump springs a leak.  Oddly enough, it wasn’t the boiler room that flooded, but the closet of the room next door.  Which room happens to serve as our (desperately overcrowded) library.

All of which is by way of saying that it’s really lucky that Ty Franck got sick.  I was planning on gaming with Ty an’ Daniel an’ a bunch o’ them, and Ty got the flu, so we couldn’t play the game we intended, and I went to the library to dig into one of the boxes in the closet for a board game that might amuse us, and I thought to myself, “Hey, how come the Kingmaker game box is moist?”

If Ty hadn’t got sick, I might not have gone into the library for days, and the whole room could have flooded, with thousands of dollars in damage.  As it is, the damage was limited to a few boxes in the closet. (And thanks to PCH Plumbing of Peralta for fixing my leak late on a Friday afternoon, which as we know never happens.)

So now the contents of the boxes are strewn all over the house, by now mostly dry.  I’m very pleased to report that the Silver Age Marvel comics, the ones that have been following me from place to place since I was a kid, survived with no damage at all.

Some gaming stuff got good and soggy.  My copy of Cyberpunk 2020 may be a total loss.

The most intriguing item rescued from from becoming papier-mâché was a box of old Rolling Stone magazines that date from 1972-3.  They’ve followed me around for decades precisely because I never thought about them— at some point I put them in a box, and when you move, it’s easier just to move a box rather than take everything out and figure out which items you’re going to save.  So after the magazines dried out, I started reading them.  And I entered a very different world.

It was, to begin with, a Manichean world.  Richard Nixon, the Ultimate Evil, was running for re-election, and the Fundamentally Evil War in Vietnam had been going on for six or eight years, depending on when you think it actually started, and consuming endless blood (mostly Vietnamese) and treasure (mostly American) for purposes that no one seemed able to quite articulate in any kind of convincing way.

It was Us (the Good) versus Them (the Evil), and there were all sorts of signs and signifiers to enable you to tell one from the other.  Dress, hair length, vocabulary.  And of course drugs.  Of which more later.

The entire political establishment of both parties had been fundamentally tainted by the poison of Vietnam, though some, mostly populists like Fred Harris or George McGovern, could be standard-bearers against the Ultimate Evil provided that someone of sufficient authenticity was willing to vouch for them.  (That “someone of sufficient authenticity” might be Hunter S. Thompson was sort of incredible, even for the time.)

Insofar as we couldn’t trust the entirety of the establishment, who was left to trust?  The Troubadors, of course.  It was the job of musicians to tell us what was actually happening in the world.

Of course it had to be the true, authentic Troubadors, not the phony ones, and a good deal of energy was expended trying to sort one from the other.   As, come to think of it, it still is.

(Now, of course, the trustworthiness of the Troubadors has been pretty well nullified by the fact that their tours all require massive corporate support.  “This political message brought to you by American Express” does not have quite the forceful authenticity of, I dunno, Neil Young’s “Ohio.”  And of course “Ohio” would never get airplay here in the world of Clear Channel.)

Politically Rolling Stone was not radical, especially considering what was going on in publications like the Berkeley Barb and LA Free Press.  (Or, for that matter, Screw.)  Rolling Stone was populist with a dose of libertarianism.   They took radicals like Angela Davis and John Sinclair seriously, but didn’t ally with them.  They were committed to democracy, not Maoist insurgency.

Rolling Stone wasn’t really a magazine then, it was a newspaper, a tabloid-sized journal that opened up to nearly the size of a regular paper.  There were no staples holding it together and you could just grab the pages you were actually interested in and carry them around with you.

There was a lot in there.  The paper was cheap newsprint, the typeface small, and there were a great many pages.  In the last few days I’ve been reading long, long interviews with the likes of Ray Charles, Paul Simon, and Truman Capote.  Some of those interviews must be 40,000 words.  Incredible.

The Capote interview is particularly amusing.  For some reason Rolling Stone (the magazine) thought it would be a good idea to send Capote along on the 1972 tour of the Rolling Stones (the band).  Capote duly followed the band for a while, but ultimately decided that the Rolling Stones weren’t interesting enough to write about for Rolling Stone, and never turned in the article.  So Rolling Stone, determined to get something from its investment,  sent Andy Warhol to interview Capote and try to ferret out his thoughts about the Rolling Stones, and what they got was an Interview-like piece of verite, with the two wandering around Manhattan from bar to bar, talking about anything they damned well pleased, which was followed by a second Capote interview, in which Jann Wenner tracked Capote down in Florida and made him talk about the goddam band, fer chrissake!

There’s some heavy-duty intellectual cred in these issues.  Capote, Norman Mailer, Tom Wolfe.  RS employed the biggest names available.

Rolling Stone is a much smaller magazine now than it was then, and I can’t imagine they would devote as much space to an interview these days.  (I haven’t read it in years, so I don’t actually know.)  In fact, I don’t think anyone would run interviews of that length today.  Interviews nowadays are puff pieces or pieces about celebrity fashion.   Why else would anyone do them?

(Does Playboy still run long interviews?  I don’t know.)

All of which has me nostalgic for the days when journals took journalism seriously enough to try to do it well, particularly in the long form.  William Shawn at The New Yorker would commission articles that would run in several issues, and you’d end up with In Cold Blood, Fire in the Lake, or John Hersey’s Hiroshima (which actually filled all of a single issue, but nevermind).  The New Yorker still does serious journalism well, but certainly not at that length.  (And Rolling Stone has good stuff by Matt Taibbi, so, um, yay.)

And did I mention the drugs?  Oh my god, they’re everywhere!  Those interviewed were more or less required to relate their drug experiences.  (Capote, the only actual drug addict, for some reason was not.)  The classified ads sold bongs, smoking supplies, “legal hash,” and featured books on how to brew your own psychedelics.

Drugs were one of those signifiers I mentioned.  The establishment lied more or less continually about drugs, making up all sorts of batshit insane stories, and the relentless lying perversely validated drug use.

Not that there weren’t lines being drawn (no pun intended).  Rolling Stone generally favored grass and acid, but spoke scornfully of heroine and cocaine.  Some drugs apparently increased authenticity, and others did not.  And in any case, they were pretty much everywhere.

For all that I’ve been wallowing in a certain nostalgia during my reading, that doesn’t mean I want 1972 back.  Though we’re in a war just as endless and expensive as Vietnam, the casualty lists aren’t nearly as long.  There was a war here as well— see Weather Underground, SLA, Jackson State, Kent State— and I sure as hell don’t want that back.  And though Manicheanism isn’t very far from the surface in American culture, it’s nowhere as omnipresent as it was back then.

Still could use authentic politicians (who aren’t authentically batshit crazy).  And certainly more authentic superstar musicians who aren’t jammed into narrow categories by Clear Channel, etc.  And longer interviews with interesting people.  And freaking public intellectuals that are actually known to the public.

And I still have a lot to look forward to.  Tom Wolfe’s three-part article on the Apollo astronauts— it’s not The Right Stuff, it’s sort of a prequel to The Right Stuff.  I have the two-part Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, by “Raoul Duke.”  There’s much more 1972 to come!

Just in case I’ve left some of you younger readers completely puzzled, I thought I’d end with questions and answers for any of you who might not have experienced 1972 personally.

Q: Was Richard Nixon actually the Ultimate Evil?

A: Fuck yes!

Q:  Were you, like, a hippie or something?

A: I was far too young to be a hippie, but old enough to be a geek intellectual who wore blue velvet and beads, and who celebrated the fact that his draft lottery number came up 326.

Q: What do you think about the drug laws?

A: The purpose of the drug laws is to put Negroes in prison whenever we want.  That may not be the intention, but that’s what happens.  So if that’s not the intention, we should get rid of them, because just changing them doesn’t change what happens.

Q:  What was this “War in Vietnam” of which you speak?  My history textbook only went up to 1945!

A:  Oh, dear.  Where to begin?

DorjePismo March 6, 2013 at 1:33 pm

Any copies of Zap Comix with Mr. Natural?

TJIC March 6, 2013 at 3:08 pm

> Q: Was Richard Nixon actually the Ultimate Evil?
> A: Fuck yes!

I, personally, loathe him for the fact that he carried on a drone war, put American citizens on a kill list without due process, and kept a torture prison camp going in Cuba for five years.

Wait…who were we talking about?

Power corrupts.

Nixon was bad, but let’s not kid ourselves that evil belongs to just one party or one moment in time. Feel free to add your own examples.

John Appel March 6, 2013 at 6:36 pm

Well, I was alive at the time, though my only association with The Rolling Stone in those days was with the Dr. Hook song. (Side note – never realized that was written by Shel Silverstein. Man got around.)

Coincidentally, I happened upstairs just after reading this to find my wife watching Frost/Nixon. I was struck by how horrified some of the “serious journalists ” were when one of Frost’s British colleagues refers to him as “a performer”. One wonders what they have to say about the bulk of today’s journalists, let alone the purely partisan outfits like The Daily Caller that just make stuff up.

And on a different note, how do you handle the endgame problem in Kingmaker?

Mark Pontin March 6, 2013 at 9:39 pm

Like yourself, I have a box of old ROLLING STONES in storage. But unlike yourself I moved more often, so I’d occasionally break the box open and decide not throw the box’s contents out upon re-encountering all those elements of that vanished alternate universe you’ve mentioned here.

And others besides. How to explain a phenomenon like the Plaster Casters to today’s youth? (Actually, it’d probably be straightforward enough.)

But, agreed, quite a difference between the journalism of then and now. Back then, William Shawn would devote a whole issue of the NEW YORKER to something like George Trow Jr’s IN THE CONTEXT OF NO CONTEXT. It’s kind of staggering to recall….

Whereas now we live with the continual effusions of the newsclowns that Phil Dick predicted. (Trow, too, actually.) Occasionally, I indeed feel like I am living in a PKD novel or in Pohl and Kornbluth’s GLADIATOR AT LAW.

wjw March 6, 2013 at 11:06 pm

TJ>> President are evil insofar as they choose to follow Nixon’s example. Virtuous insofar as they don’t.

Mark, I hadn’t encountered that piece by Trow. Goodness gracious me. A whole issue?

John, which endgame problem? I haven’t played Kingmaker in over thirty years.

John Appel March 7, 2013 at 2:43 am

Walter – the endgame problem in Kingmaker is that one can place a noble who controls a ship and an heir aboard the ship and remain at sea, essentially indefinitely. There may be ways around it now – it’s been about 20 years since I’ve played Kingmaker myself, and that was with an old printing.

An acquaintance was working on a game somewhat similar in scope but a bit less abstract than Kingmaker. He was tentatively going to call it Mad England Bleeds, which is a line from one of Shakespeare’s histories. I wish he’d finished it, for the title alone.

wjw March 7, 2013 at 3:11 am

Fortunately I never discovered that loophole, so it never concerned me.

Seems to me that you could fix it by adding “all ship to home port” card.

Ralf The Dog. March 7, 2013 at 7:33 am

Sounds like an adventure of titanic scale!

DensityDuck March 9, 2013 at 6:30 am

Lost your copy of CP2020? No problem, just buy the upcoming video game!

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