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The underground press

IT magazine - Oz magazine - press - underground - Underground Press Syndicate

East Village Other. Vol.2, no.10, 1967
image sourced here.

“Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one” - A.J. Liebling

R. Crumb cover of French magazine Actuel (1990)
image sourced here.

Cover design by Tanino Liberatore for Italian magazine Frigidaire


The phrase underground press, especially underground newspapers (or simply underground papers) is, these days, most often used in reference to the print media associated with the countercultural movements of the late 1960s and early 1970s, although publishers of those journals had borrowed the name from previous underground presses such as the Dutch underground press during the Nazi occupations of the 1940s. The French resistance also published an underground press and prisoners of war (POWs) published an underground newspaper called Pow wow.

The underground press in the 60s and 70s existed in most countries with advanced economies and freedom of the press; similar publications existed to a lesser in some developing countries and as part of the samizdat movement in the communist states, notably Czechoslovakia. Typically weeklies, monthlies, or even "occasionals", and usually associated with left-wing politics, they evolved on the one hand into today's alternative weeklies and on the other into zines. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Underground_press [Jan 2005]

Les Éditions de Minuit

Les Éditions de Minuit (midnight editions) is a French publishing house which has its origins in the French Resistance of World War II and still publishes books today. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Les_%C9ditions_de_Minuit [Oct 2004]

The underground press in the United States and Canada

Georgia Straight. Vol.3, no.82, 1969
image sourced here.

The North American countercultural press of the 1960s drew inspiration from some predecessors that had begun in the 1950s, such as the Village Voice and Paul Krassner's satirical paper The Realist. Arguably, the first underground newspaper of the '60s was the Los Angeles Free Press, founded in 1964 and first published under that name in 1965. By 1967, the cooperative Underground Press Syndicate (UPS) was formed at the instigation of the publisher of another early paper, the East Village Other. The UPS allowed member papers to freely reprint content from any of the other member papers. Other prominent underground papers included the San Francisco Oracle, the Berkeley Barb and Berkeley Tribe (Berkeley, California); Fifth Estate (Detroit), Other Scenes (dispatched from various locations around the world by John Wilcox); The Helix (Seattle); The Chicago Seed; The Great Speckled Bird (Atlanta); Rat (later "Women's LibeRATion") (New York City), and in Canada, Georgia Straight (Vancouver). By 1969, virtually every sizeable city or college town in North America boasted at least one underground newspaper. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Underground_press#The_underground_press_in_the_United_States_and_Canada [Jun 2005]

The underground press in the United Kingdom

OZ first issue (January 1967) Smiling Lips cover

Oz Issue 28
otherwise known as "Schoolkids OZ" became a cause celebre during and following the prosecution of its editors for obscenity

Key Underground Press papers in the UK in the late 1960’s/early 1970’s were International Times (‘’IT’’) started in 1966 by John Hopkins which was joined in 1967 by ‘’Oz’’ and ‘’Friends’’ (later ’’Friendz’’) which were based in the Ladbroke Grove area of London.

The Underground Press offered a platform to the socially impotent mirrored the changing way of life in the UK Underground in the late 1960’s/early 1970’s. It was seen that this ‘’underground’’ press represented a voice of progress and change in society.

Police harassment of the UK Underground in general became commonplace to the point that in 1967 The police particularly focussed on the ‘source of the antagonism’ – The Underground Press. It has the opposite effect. “Police harassment, if anything, made the underground press stronger. It focused attention, stiffened resolve, and tended to confirm that what we were doing was considered dangerous to the establishment” remembered Mick Farren (1). From April 1967 on the police raided the offices of International Times to try and close the paper down. ‘’IT’’ raised money In order to raise money a benefit event was put together. 'The 14 Hour Technicolor Dream', took place at Alexandra Palace on 29 April 1967.

By the end of the decade, community artists and bands such as Pink Floyd, (until they went ‘commercial’), the Deviants, Pink Fairies, Hawkwind, Michael Moorcock and Steve Peregrin Took would arise in a symbiotic co-operation with the ‘’Underground Press’’. The underground press publicised these bands and this made it possible for them to tour and get record deals. The band members travelled around spreading the ethos and the demand for the newspapers and magazines grew and flourished for a while.

The flaunting of a defiant sexuality within the ‘’Underground Press’’ provoked legal prosecution. ‘’IT’’ was taken to court for publishing small ads for homosexuals, despite the legalisation of homosexuality between ‘consenting adults in private’. The ‘’OZ’’ ‘’School Kids’’ Issue, brought charges against the three OZ editors who were convicted and given jail sentences. This was the first time the Obscene Publications Act, 1959, was combined with a moral conspiracy charge. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Underground_Press#The_underground_press_in_the_UK [Oct 2004]

Small press

Small press is a term often used to describe publishers who typically specialize in genre fiction, or limited edition books or magazines. It contrasts with vanity press, which usually implies payment by authors to publish; in the case of a small press the publisher is much more likely to be motivated by the idea that some writing of small immediate commercial value should nonetheless be made available by a formal publication and limited circulation. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Small_press [Jan 2005]

The Underground Press

by Jacob Brackman
August 1967, p. 83

"NEWSPAPERS create and feed the illusions we live by. Instead of instructing us, instead of telling us what's wrong with the country, they stuff our vanity."
Poet Allan Katzman lifted one foot onto a desktop in his claustrophobic city room and stroked his beard reflectively. "The press is losing its power to report spontaneous events," he went on. "But it's gaining a new power - to create events; to turn news gathering into news making. The papers of pseudo events, news leaks and press releases offend no one; they take no moral stand. They are just... neutral. They furnish our boring and repetitive lives with boring and repetitive 'news.' "
Katzman is cofounder of a biweekly newspaper in Lower Manhattan called The East Village Other. The Other doesn't separate fact from opinion. Its journalism is unabashedly, militantly interpretive: pro pot, peace, sex, psychedelics and subversion; anti most of what remains in switched-off American society. Since 1964, some two dozen similar "underground" papers have sprung up across the country. A few died fast. The rest are now growing at an astonishing clip - to a collective circulation pushing 270,000 in three years, with no sign of slowing down.
Katzman's dismissal of the establishment press sounds mild next to the gripes of other underground proprietors. Their charges run from "bland" or "ignorant" all the way to "fascist," "hypocritical" and "brainwashery." Paul Krassner, head man at The Realist, talks about an "escalation of bullshit," and John Wilcock, nationally syndicated underground columnist, insists that "big-city dailies are a corrupt advertising medium; they've forfeited their right to be called newspapers."
"They've let the people down and they've lost the people's confidence," Wilcock says. Like his fellow workers, he believes the demands of modern capitalism have proved inimical to a free exchange of information and ideas. "Most papers - even the holy Times - are up to their necks in old money and official connections. Their job is to keep certain blocs and certain ideas in power. Like, they'll write about pot 'dope fiends' like the Daily News did 30 years ago. But pot's part of your scene... how can you believe a paper when you know it's feeding you lies?" From the vantage point of hip, the establishment media have only three reactions to a groovy scene: Ignore it, put it down or exploit it.
"So where can people who want to bust out of monolithic culture discover one another?" rhetorically asks Ed Sanders, editor of a subunderground magazine. "Assembly places and media are controlled by the creeps. Establishment papers are demented; like a diplomatic mission in a foreign country - you have to ass-kiss your way in. And who can they speak for? They've no idea what it means to live in a slum on the edge of a city. A paper and its audience need a living relationship, like an organism, a tree. And you can get that now, because cultural migrations are happening in the country and pockets of protesting people are filling up the vacuums. A cat from the Village, say, can plug into a similar underground in cities all over." --http://www.trussel.com/lyman/brackman.htm [Aug 2004]

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