Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Free Press: Underground & Alternative Publications 1965 – 1975: Jean-Francois Bizot (UNIVERSE, 2006) is a handsome, oversized collection of images from the height of the underground press era of the United States and Europe. The oversized format well accommodates the newspaper style and silk-screened beauty of many of these extraordinary publications. Unfortunately this collection is heavy on looks and very short on content, but I suppose that was inevitable with the limitations and space involved. The 2nd word in Barry Miles’ introduction is “nostalgic” and sadly nostalgia is all that remains of “the sixties” for many of this book’s potential “readers”. The fact is there is little reading to be done here. This is all about the striking image, the breathtaking slice of cover art, and for some a frozen moment of remembrance of an entire era past indeed. There are article reprints. Yet, more often than not, when things get interesting, one is led to an inside page that does not exist. This book is about the idea of Black Power, the idea of revolution, the idea of the peace movement, the idea of anti-imperialism, and obviously the idea of something called “the sixties” that most people who will enjoy this book had nothing to do with. It should come as no surprise then that the media wings of the Panthers and the Weathermen, The Black Panther and Osawatomie respectively, are not represented here. On the other hand, Atlanta’s own excellent The Great Speckled Bird is proudly represented with a “You Can’t Jail the Revolution” Huey P. Newton, silk-screened cover. Likewise, it appears arbitrary to take this up to The New York Rocker and a John Holmstrom, Punk magazine styled East Village Other cover and simply go no further. What about Sniffin’ Glue, Search & Destroy, Factsheet Five, Rollerderby, Nancy’s Magazine and a hundred others too numerous to mention? The underground press did not really come to a close in 1975. It continued more or less up until it was pushed into the dumpster of history by a new generation of non-print technology. This process is going on today. But this is a book about yesterday, about a time when phrases like “Freak Out” and “Power to the People” meant something. Certainly it is a lovely thing to behold, a reminder of what could have been and maybe even about what could be again.


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