From "The Sixties Book:"
The Untold Sixties: When Hope Was Born
An Insider's Sixties On An International Scale
NOTE: The material in this section was written
during the early and mid-Seventies when it was still quite
fresh in the author's mind and is also based upon
his large collection of Sixties documents. For
further information, see the book outline by clicking here.
How to Order!
North Americans Click Here
Europeans Click Here
If for any reason either of these links fails to work, go to Amazon
or Amazon UK and search for untold sixties
Since this book has now been published, many of its chapters have been abridged, though the summary and four chapters can still be found in their entirety. You can keep up with publication plans by checking back here periodically.
The Beginnings of the English Scene
During the spring of 1966, London was a mood looking for a scene. Although the rock culture had been firmly established for two years, there was really no convivial place for people to gather who enjoyed dancing but wanted to do other things as well, who shared the feeling that some new kind of social and cultural awareness went with the new music. The "Swinging London" myth had been around for over a year but visitors and even natives were exhausting themselves trying to find the reality corresponding to it. Actually, the phrase "Swinging London" had been, perhaps not by accident, the work of an American, the New York TV columnist John Crosby, who had grown disenchanted with America and come to London in 1964 looking for a job.
He managed to land a splashy feature article in the Telegraph's color supplement that year, in which he used this phrase for the first time. Perhaps looking to curry favor locally, he described London as being more "swinging" than New York. Ilene and I had laughed at the article at the time, as several of the places he had described as having a fresh, new "with-it" feel had fallen victim to English conformism and closed down even before the article appeared. Others closed shortly afterwards. But the title stuck and was soon used as a tourist draw. And Crosby got a job with the Sunday Observer.
Jim Haynes was the first of the "hustler saints," or the first one I encountered, for a few had already arrived in London and some had been there all along. Many were indeed Englishmen, though of a new breed, but it must be some kind of commentary on London at that time that a large number of them were Americans, Australians, Welshmen, Scots-Italians, Jews, or some combination of these distinctly un-English elements. I call them hustlers, because they all imagined at the time that they were selling or promoting some sort of institution, product, or idea.
I call them saints because what they were really selling and promoting was often not what they thought at all but rather a new consciousness, a new way of doing things, a new approach to life in general, and to English life in particular. The goods they were selling were a mixed bagtheatre groups, plays, ideas for plays, rock music, dance recitals, dance halls, lightboxes, psychedelic paraphernalia, hard and soft drugs, books, magazines, newspapers, their own bodies or the bodies of their friends, and occasionally their own souls, though their souls were mostly for rent only and could not be bought.
Many of them lost their shirts, some are still in hiding from creditors, one or two managed to die, and a very few of them actually made some money. But this side really didn't matter, because they weren't truly in business to make money, not in the long run at least. They were hustling because they were busy promoting a new way of living into existence. Although they may not have succeeded on the financial side, their success turned out to be a lot deeper and more meaningful than mere money. In many ways their success still lives in all of us.
Some of themthe poets and dancers and artists and actorsdidn't even have the intention of making much money, though perhaps this was a condition imposed on them by the nature of their profession. In the Third Century B.C. they would all have been cynics and stoics and epicureans disputing with each other and disporting themselves around the Agora in Athens. In the Ninth Century they would have been wandering monks and minstrels begging their way through Europe. In the Twelfth Century they would have been dervishes converging on Baghdad or Cordoba. In London during the Sixties, they once again adopted the dominant cultural mode of their age and became salesmen of a sort. These were the hustler saints.
I met Jim Haynes the next day in a Soho rehearsal room, and we had a long talk about my play and everything else under the sun. And a day later he showed me through the theatre his company was leasing for their first London season. It was just north of Oxford Street, at the beginning of Southampton Row. We had dinner together at a small Italian restaurant across from the theatre. Jim Haynes at this time was a very earnest, self-assured young man from Texas, intent on making his way in the London theatre world, though I suspect that even then his mind, like mine, was intent on things beyond the theatre.
Jim was tall and handsome with a tasteful beard and mustache, and a reputation as a lady's man had preceded him to London. He wore white suits at that time and looked something like a Mississippi riverboat gambler. I had heard both good and bad of him through the grapevine: either he was a genius at organizing people and had set Edinburgh aflame culturally, or alternately that he was terrible at business and refused to delegate authority to anyone else. Both sides turned out to be correct. I imagined I was meeting with Jim to arrange for the production of my play. And Jim no doubt thought he was coming to London in order to found a new theatre company. We were both totally mistaken.
To me Jim was simply a very intelligent young man interested in getting the right start in London, and I gave him all the advice I could. We both agreed that the building he had leased for his theatre was not really suited to what he wanted to do. In Edinburgh his theatre premises included a bar, restaurant, and meeting room as well as an art gallery and a book store. But the Jeanette Cochrane Theatre was part of the Central School of Art and had been leased to him for use only as a theatre. Therefore, he would have no immediate chance of duplicating the bar and restaurant functions of the Edinburgh Traverse, nor was there much room for an art gallery or a bookstore.
Jim seemed confident he could somehow get a liquor license for the theatre lobby and would find some way of getting around the other limitations as well. He asked me if I knew of anyone in London who might be able to help him. I gave him the names of everyone I could think of in the theatre world, when suddenly it struck me that my friends the Hill brothers had opened their craft store just down the street. It was doing rather well, and they had already reordered Ilene's jewelry several times. I told Jim about them, as it struck me that they were just the sort of young Englishmen whom Jim would get along well with.
Jim hit London like a whirlwind in those first few months. It seemed there was nothing he could not accomplish. In less than a month he was operating the most activeand least well financed theatre company London had ever seen. Not only was he mounting new full-length productions each month during regular theatre hours, but his group, of which I quickly became an informal part, set London on its ear by staging smaller productions for lunch hour, rush hour, and late-night theatre sessions. The crush of actors and directors vying for performance space, let alone rehearsal space, was prodigious. Jim immediately set up a small art gallery in the lobby and tried to sell non-alcoholic beverages, but the art school which owned the theatre raised objections.
Jim went to visit the Hill brothers, as I had suggested, and hit it off so well with them that they leased most of their store to him for converting into the book store he had hoped to open in the theatre. Soon he was in partnership with them to start some kind of publication. A third Hill brother, Allan, suddenly appeared, and the three of them were to be active in one aspect or another of the scene for the rest of the Sixties. Soon I too was at work underneath their store. There was little space for offices at the theatre, and I was given a basement room underneath the bookstore to serve as my base for play reading, for I had quickly become the main play reader for the Traverse. I did this with a wink from my agent and some higher-ups at the Royal Shakespeare, who let me know they thought this was very enterprising of me, though it was soon to bring me into conflict with my friend Jeremy, who began to wonder if I was angling for his job at the Shakespeare. Needless to say, I wasn'tall I wanted to do at that time was to immerse myself in the theatre and learn every aspect of it, as I was not ready to accept a full-time job of any sort.
The bookstore was managed by an English friend of Jim's named Miles, who had run his bookstore for him in Edinburgh. Miles (the only name he used) was the next of the hustler saints I was to encounter, a curious combination of avant-garde pamphleteer and extremely conventional Englishman. He quickly turned the bookstore into the crossroads of the emerging youth culture, importing poetry booklets from San Francisco, weird mystic tracts from India, and offbeat publications from all over the world. It was here, at the increasingly famous Indica bookstore, that I saw my first copies of EVO and other American underground papers. Miles was also busy hosting American and continental literary notables when they passed through town and even booked American rock groups on the side. Anything too large for the bookstore proper to handle would be shunted down the street to the Traverse theatre.
Though Miles was one of those most responsible for importing much of the new culture from America, he was extremely defensive about this and was always ready to go off on a tirade about the need to preserve true commonsensical English values against hysterical Americanism. He was also given to dogmatic proclamations about the superiority of English socialism over American capitalism, and while he may have been right in many cases, I could not help but feel that the word "socialism" as used by Miles (and by many other Englishmen) was merely the newest catch-word the British were using to prove to themselves they were still at the center of the universe.
If they couldn't have an Empire, at least they were on the leading edge, as they saw it, of the "Wave of the Future." But Miles always carried a great deal of weight on the sceneas a close personal friend of the Beatles and other rock stars, he was constantly doing interviews with many of these culture heroes, and these would be reprinted internationally in the underground press. A slick London monthly did an article on the early days of the London scene, and it included the following quote by Miles, which was in many ways typical both of him and the mood at the time:
"Of course, people like Burroughs and Ginsberg have been a strong influence on us. But the creative people in England just don't have the fanaticism that the American movement seems to have. For a start we don't have to battle against organized religion here. Nor is there the same Puritanical anti-sex thing the Americans have to react against...What we see is a generation which idolizes both the Beatles and Ginsberg. Rigid barriers are being broken downcultural and social. Americans always comment on how relaxed our scene isthat whole class bit is now an irrelevancy."
These were of course strong words of eulogythough not as strong as some then being usedand were to acquire a certain irony in retrospect. But in many ways Miles was perfectly correctsomething quite unheralded was going on in England, and a peak was reached which has probably not been attained again.
There was a continual stream of offbeat types going back and forth between the store and theatre at almost any time of day, and the restaurants of Southampton Row and the nearby benches of Russell Square echoed with the conversation of strangely dressed poets, musicians, and wanderers. I remember meeting the American poet Kenneth Rexroth at the Indica and talking for some time with him about the contrast between English and American culture. Before either of us knew what was happening, a reporter came up and started interviewing him, and I heard Rexroth saying that what was going on at the Indica, and what all of us, including myself, were involved in was a unique subculture that was beginning to spring up all over the world.
This was during the summer of 1966, and it was the first time I heard the word subculture used in this sense. I was a bit taken aback, because I had until that time been devoting almost all my energies to making my place in the dominant, or orthodox, culture, and I did not see myself as figuring in anything so unimportant as a mere subculture. But there was no doubt that something quite remarkable was going on all around me. And in spite of any misgivings I might have had, I found becoming a part of it the most natural thing in the world.
It was at the Indica that we were suddenly out of a clear sky to produce England's first underground newspaper. I remember going downstairs to my play-reading office one day and finding I would from then on be sharing it with a Scots-Italian named Tom McGrath and a New Yorker named David Mairowitz. Jim Haynes dropped in to explain to me that they would temporarily be using the office to bring out the first issue of IT, alias International Times, and would I help?
Needless to say I wouldthere had been plans and rumors about this paper for several months, John Wilcock who had helped found several underground papers in America had visited and departed, and now the project was suddenly a reality. The editors picked my brains for story ideas, and I answered as many questions as I could about the London cultural scene as I then understood it. Mairowitz was very much at sea, as he had literally just got off the plane from Berkeley, and he was suffering from jet lag, cultural shock, and the need to orient his political ideas to the London scene all simultaneously. I don't think he ever completely arrived in London, but the effort he made was to produce some interesting journalism.
Tom McGrath was a different bowl of kippers altogether. A poet with a thick Scottish brogue, he had a taste for anti-establishment causes from birth, as his parentsalong with the entire sizable Scottish-Italian enclave near Glasgowhad been, like the Japanese in California, interned in camps for the duration of World War II as enemy aliens.
Another of the hustler saints was Simon Barley, an unforgettable figure from Los Angeles. He was an indefatigable missionary for the virtues of pot and stronger psychedelics, and some suspected he was stoned most of the time. This did not seem to hamper his efficiency, for he was everywhere and into everything. He wore impenetrable silver-framed sunglasses and a rather dated Van Dyke that nonetheless suited him. He did much of the work of organizing the first rock and mixed-media sessions at "UFO" the following spring, and he boasted of his friendship with Dylan, the Doors, and the Grateful Dead. Miles disapproved of him as a reckless irresponsible American, possibly because he was an interloper into a territory Miles considered his own. The two cools, London and Los Angeles, definitely did not mix, and there were frequent fights and feuds centering around Simon, who nonetheless always managed to appear relaxed and laidback in the Angeleno manner.
Another American who found a much warmer welcome was Steve Abrams, a psychologist by profession who became our resident information service on the effects of various drugs and was prominently involved in the campaign to have both varieties of Cannabis legalized in England. He not only wrote about drugs for the underground press but united a number of English doctors to sign their names to a full-page ad in the Times under the banner headline "The Law Against Marijuana is Immoral in Principle and Unworkable in Practice." For October of 1967 this was extremely controversial. Steve, tall and lanky, was frequently seen in ultrahippy garb at the various functions, formal and informal, of the scene. Also very much in attendance was Suzy Creamcheese, her name well-known to admirers of Frank Zappa's first album. She supplied moral support to many, got herself arrested, and finally returned to America.
Jim's alter ego also arrived in London at this time. His name was Jack Henry Moore, and he was in every way a contrast to Jim, whom he had served as right-hand man in Edinburgh. Where Jim was tall, handsome, and well-spoken, Jack was short, fat, and had a squeaky voice. He was twenty-four years old, though he sometimes seemed much younger, and hailed from Oklahoma. Where Jim had the prettiest girls in London virtually falling down in front of him, Jack was out-spokenly and unmistakably gay. It was rumored that Jim and Jack had some kind of affair in Edinburgh and Jack had followed him to London because he felt left out of Jim's plans, though no one knew for sure. [I should add that Jim has recently written to me to deny that this was ever the case].
Jack arrived on my doorstep one afternoon with a Scottish playwright whom he described to me as one of the greatest geniuses ever to use the English language. The playwright promptly went into our john and gave himself a fix, as Jack explained to me the reason why his friend seemed virtually inarticulate was that he needed his injection. When he emerged from the john, he fell deeply asleep in my bed, and Jack, Ilene, and I retired to the other room. Here Jack told me of his plans for the London branch of the Traverse and for what we were increasingly beginning to call the "scene."
Jack made it clear to me that he was the presiding genius of the Traverse in Edinburgh and consequently would be playing the same role here in London. He believed that Jim had deserted the principles which had made the Traverse a success in Edinburgh and was making a mistake to try and fit in with the commercial London scene, by which he meant everything, including the relatively non-commercial Royal Shakespeare. Jack felt that the sole viable role of the theatre was to encourage experiment. He also felt that it was time for artists to move out beyond their narrow role as observers and become participants in the growing social crisis. In this he was very much under the influence of the Living Theatre and others from the emerging new left.
It was my first confrontation with the way many people were now beginning to talk in America, and I found it partly spellbinding, partly specious. Jack was insolubly wedded to the potential of new technology for changing human consciousnessanything having to do with a light bulb, a microphone, a video screen would almost make him salivate. I pointed out that I found this all fascinating, but there was a problem of how to fit these concepts into the limited Traverse budget. Jack passed this off as if it were of no importance, as though somehow a way would be found to finance all his ideas, no matter how wild and costly they were. I soon became convinced I was talking to an utter megalomaniac, and when I later asked Jim about him, he agreed that Jack did tend to lose contact with reality. But soon Jim would do the same, partly under Jack's influence, partly just from the direction everything else was going in. And although they may both still be fleeing creditors for all I know, Jack did prove strangely prophetic that afternoon in my apartmentwe were able to do most of what we wanted, and money did not become an obstacle, at least at the beginning.
The Rock Stars Help Start the "Scene"
London, Autumn, 1966
In the early fall of 1966, Jim Haynes was moving from strength to strength. He had not only founded the liveliestif the most erratictheatre London had thus far seen, but he had managed to get his bookstore and newspaper branches moving as well. There was even an art gallery, also called the Indica, located further afield near Piccadilly, and there were rumors that a rock music hall cum mixed media palace would be opening at any time. It was commonly understood that contributions from the Beatles and other rock groups were being made behind the scene to make all of this happen.
The London "scene" was already becoming a reality with its own peculiar magnificence. I remember in particular one gala opening at the Indica Gallery. I was shepherding the Polish playwright Slawomir Mrozek through London for Jim and arrived after the opening had already started. It was a loud, joyous occasion, and many rock stars were in attendance, including the odd Beatle or two. In fact, I was later to learn that it was at this opening that John Lennon and Yoko Ono first met. The art was delightfully kinetic and all of us were playing with it. I had seen kinetic art works before but none anywhere near this good. I'm no longer sure which artist did which worksuch is the atmosphere of all art openingsbut I know that some of the best pieces were by Takis, who was then three years from entering my life.
The conviviality was intense, the sense of occasion all-pervasive, and it was at last possible to believe that "Swinging London" had really come into existence after all. Jim was very much in the center of things, smiling, shaking hands, embracing old friends and new, waving to people across the crowded gallery. But there was also very much of a group feeling at work, as if everyone knew that we were bringing a new definition of culture to England. It was something we shared and felt proud of, not just as individuals but as a group, as a generation.
An even more joyous occasion was the opening of the so-called "Round House," a large engine-switching barn near St. John's Wood. For several years the playwright Arnold Wesker had been making noises about using this structure for cultural purposes. He had sent out letters, held fund-raising events, and written articles promoting an expensive plan to remodel it. But few took him seriously, as his "Centre 42" project, allegedly devoted to "bringing culture to the masses," had resulted mainly in working class people walking out in droves on performances of Stockhausen and other classical modern fare. Jim went to Wesker and in almost no time convinced him that they should open the round house then and there. It was to become a permanent addition to the London cultural scene and is now regularly used for all sorts of performances and events.
Jim used the launching of our newspaper as the excuse for opening up the Round House. Everyone at the theatre and the bookstore was given posters to put up over London as best we could. I sat in the London Traverse offices the afternoon before the "rave," as we called it, working out plans for the evening with Jim and another of the hustler saints with the unfortunate name of Victor Herbert. He was neither a musician nor an Irishman but rather our resident millionaire who had been one of Bernie Cornfeld's cohorts in his infamous IOS investment scheme. Now Victor's time was given over to leisurely living and "helping the scene." We racked our brains trying to find some special touch to make the coming evening unforgettable. It was October of 1966, and for several months London's papers had been increasingly full of scare articles on the menace posed to western civilization as we know it by little LSD sugar cubes.
"Why not give out free sugar cubes to everyone who attends," I suggested. LSD was already illegal in England, but there was no law against giving out ordinary sugar cubes, and the idea was enthusiastically adopted.
When Ilene and I arrived at the Round House that night, there were vast throngs waiting to get in. The entrance was totally inadequate to the crowd, but everyone seemed in a good humor. We managed to use our connection with the paper to make our way through the crush. Once inside, we could scarcely believe what we saw. It was like entering another world.
We did not fully realize it, but we stepped that night directly into the Sixties. The vast domed hall was extremely dark, as no lighting had been installed. But the darkness didn't really matter. What little lighting there was totally held everyone's attentionthe squishing colors of a light show projected on the rock musicians. There were two groups of these, and although they had both been around for a short while, it was the first time I had heard the Pink Floyd and the Soft Machine. This was essentially their debut into the "big time."
And a big time it was for everyone present. Girls went around half or fully naked, pot smoke was everywhere, and a further frisson of potential violence was provided by the occasional sound of breaking bottles, though no real trouble developed. For several hours, two and a half thousand bodies wandered, watched multiscreen movies and happenings, smoked pot, listened to music, and gathered in small groups on the sidelines or out in the courtyard to discuss what was going on. It was probably one of the first occasions in London when strangers actually started speaking to one another. The atmosphere itself was a palpable drug, and more than a few of the visitors managed to convince themselves they were on an acid trip, thanks to the sugar cubes we had provided. Suddenly all the underground verbiage I had been hearing or reading about new visions and modalities of existence ceased to be rhetoric and became a reality. If something like this could happen in London, then anything could happen anywhere.
I met almost everyone I knew in London that night. Peter Brook, Jeremy Brooks and at least half a dozen other Royal Shakespeare people were desperately rummaging around in the darkness in search of the American critic and director Charles Marowitz. I don't think they ever found him, for if they had, Marowitz would now be dead. What had happened was that Brook had plunged ahead with his "new vision of the theatre" and Marowitz had used the first page of the very first IT to expose it for the shallow, pretentious mess it was. It was the appearance of this paper we were now celebrating, but my friends from the RSC were not in a very festive mood.
The project had really ended rather badly. After I had opted out, Peter had spent over four months of rehearsal time (during which several less experimental productions could have been mounted), monopolized the creative skills of thirty accomplished players and half a dozen writers, invited Joseph Chaiken from New York and Jrzy Grotowski from Poland to help out with rehearsals, and yet after having absorbed all these international resources had given birth to an enormous dud. But neither Peter nor any of the many other exhausted artists and writers who took part in this extravagant failure was in any state to accept Marowitz's judgment, and this is why they went groping through the darkness of the Round House to seek him out, providing the only discordant note of the evening.
As I have said, the contribution of the Beatles and the other rock stars during these early days was considerable. Not only was the very real gift of their music constantly around us, but their personal charisma produced a feeling of infinite optimism as they walked among us in the grubby streets of London. They were also quietly funneling money into the scene that no one could discuss because of strict English tax laws. It was in large measure their concern and generosity that set the London scene on its feet. Some of the stars did this out of genuine altruism, others because they had seen what was going on at the Haight-Ashbury and the Fillmore in San Francisco and were naturally resentful that England had no analogous "scene." It was their concern that partly led to the opening of the Round House, the so-called "UFO" evenings that winter and spring on Tottenham Court Road, and the later evenings at "Middle Earth."
It was a heady time, no pun quite intended. Articles would appear in IT heralding the imminent establishment of a new economic system based on rock music, soft drugs, and love. In the meantime we were all supposed to spend our money "inside the counterculture" and not deal with "straight" enterprises. Articles also appeared at this time proclaiming that the days of alcohol as a socially accepted drug were numbered, for pot and other psychedelics were soon to take over. Perhaps a few people took all this seriously, but there were numerous defections both on the economic and drug front. In fact, I don't think I ever met anyone in the counter-culture who would refuse a drink when offered one.
As events progressed, and as the rock groups became more embroiled in tax suits, internal feuding, ravenous agents, and the joys of high living, the support they were able to give to the "scene" diminished considerably. This disturbed their followers and added not a little to the growing instability. At the beginning, the theory had been that the various elements of the scenedance halls, underground newspapers, rock music, posters, art projects, drugs, and assorted spin-offswere all supposed to help pay for each other in a communal way. This was not advanced as an idealistic theory but as a functioning economic system. By the summer of 1968 the system, such as it was, had begun to fall apart, and the Beatles took a full-page ad in OZ to explain to everyone what was going on. They referred to themselves by their corporate name of "Apple." The ad's brief text, written by Miles, ran as follows:
"Paul McCartney asked me to point out that Apple is not in competition with any of the underground organizations, rather it exists to help, collaborate with, and extend all existing organizations as well as start many new ones. The concept as outlined by Paul is to establish an 'underground' company above ground as big as Shell, BP, or ICI but there is no profit motive, as the Beatles' profits go first to the combined staff and then are given away to 'the
If the Beatles and other rock groups had succeeded in working out a formal system for financing the "underground" amidst the thicket of English and American tax laws, the outcome might have been quite different and they might indeed have been able to build the basis for a new society, as the underground papers claimed was being done. But this would have required a level of political effort and economic know-how that no one possessed.
In the meantime, the foundations of Jim's overnight empireonly his first, as it turned outwere already beginning to prove as unstable as some had feared, and we could all see the land beginning to slip beneath it. Just as the newspaper and the Round House were being launched, the London Traverse Theatre was beginning to crumble from within. The theatre was in fact run by three peopleJim, an English director named Michael Geliot, and the same Charles Marowitz who had just lambasted Brook's new production. Jim was the impresario and had neither the desire nor the ability to direct plays, but Geliot and Marowitz were at each other's throats from the very beginning. This was natural enough, as they were both directors and were competing with each other for production time. My own play was to prove one of the bones of contention between them.
Geliot wanted to direct it as soon as possible, though I had misgivings about it being handled by him, not so much because he was an Englishman but because he was a bit older in his way of thinking and also somewhat amateurish in his productions. And Marowitz, whom I would have preferred to direct it, saw my work as an affront to the conventional dogmas of the left at the time. But their disagreement over my play was merely symptomatic of much larger conflicts going on at the Traverse. As soon as Jack Henry Moore arrived in London and began throwing his weight around the theatre, many of those who had steadily admired Jim began to have second thoughts. And Geliot positively hit the ceilingto him Jack was merely a young inexperienced American of the worst sort. He gave Jim an ultimatum that Jack must go.
Jim vacillated for about a month before coming down on Jack's side. Now Jim and Geliot were pitted against each other. There was simply no meeting of minds between the older English approach and the new emerging one, whether it be called English or American. Marowitz, who had actually made some money for the theatre when two of his productions had been transferred to the West End, began to back off. And Jim and Jack were beginning to make noises that the whole concept of the London Traverse had been wrong from the start. They opted for something totally different which they called an "Arts Lab." Few people were able to understand what they were talking about. But they were in deadly earnest about it and started raising money for their"Arts Lab" while they were still operating out of the Traverse and nominally associated with it. All of which added to the decline.
I was also distancing myself from the Traverse at this point. My agent had shown me a letter from the Chefdramaturg of Berlin's Schiller Theater late that spring. He had read my play and was enormously impressed by it, though he felt it might need some changes. He wondered if there was any chance I might be able to discuss them with him. At the end of summer I had sent him an answer suggesting that I would be willing to come to Berlin if he thought it would be worthwhile. He replied almost immediately, warmly inviting me to come. My agent had told me that there was some kind of grant program by which I would probably receive my living expenses for a month or two once I arrived in Berlin, if my stay became prolonged. As it turned out, I was to be offered a great deal more.
Everything that summer had a feeling of change about it. Ilene took a trip back to Florence to sell our apartment, just a few months before the flood hit the city. Ilene had also been impatiently awaiting word of the New York exhibit her London gallery had arranged for her. We had anticipated the show would do well, and in the normal course of events it probably would have. But as luck would have it the most active of the two partners running the New York gallery died shortly before her show, and it did quite badly. She barely recovered her expenses, but even these she was finally unable to collect, when the gallery went bankrupt. This caused both of us a great deal of pain and propelled our minds into mulling over the ways of the art world.
Late in September I somehow found the time to finish another full-length playthis one a two-hander with an erotic theme. I also handed in my first article to the editors of IT and told them I would be looking around in Berlin for suitable material for them. I was really looking forward to my trip to Germany. As usual, I imagined I was going there for a specific purpose of my own, to arrange for the production of a play. And so, with a sigh of relief, I turned my back on the in-fighting at the Royal Shakespeare and the Traverse and made my way to Liverpool Street Station, thence to Harwich, Hook of Holland, and Berlin. What I did not realize was that I had merely received my second assignment as "Counter-Cultural Agent."
This book excerpt is Copyright © 2000
by Alexander Gross. It may be
reproduced for individuals and for
educational purposes only. It may
not be used for any commercial (i.e.,
money-making) purpose without
written permission from the author.
All Rights Reserved.
to sixties book menu
to book summary
to other topics menu