Sunday, November 17, 2013

COUNTERCULTURE PULPS



STICKING IT TO THE MAN!
By Iain McIntyre
(2012/The Leda Tape Organisation/Aus/80 pages)
 
Compiled by Western Australian born (now Melbourne based) writer/musician/radio host Iain McIntyre, Sticking it to the Man! takes a look at some of the best (and worst) vintage paperback pulp that was inspired by the counterculture period of 1964-75. One of the most sweeping periods of political, sexual, cultural and racial unrest during the 20th century, the counterculture created a melting pot of ingredients which many of the more salubrious publishers (along with filmmakers) found ripe for exploitation - from marijuana and LSD to psychotic hippies and their freelovin’ chicks, from campus protests and Hells Angels on wheels to the Black Panthers and riots on Sunset Strip, there was plenty happening for youth to get aroused over, and plenty for the older generations to get scared shitless about.
 
Broken up into general subcategories (Power to the People!, Better Living Trough Chemistry, Freaksploitation, Ghetto Blues, etc.), Sticking it to the Man! reviews over 120 paperback titles from this period. Some highlights include BB Johnson’s series of Superspade adventures, Patrick Morgan’s surf thrillers (Girl in the Telltale Bikini, Beach Queen Blowout, Cute and Deadly Surf Twins) and Ann Fettaman’s Trashing (which McIntyre tried to organise a reprinting of back in the 2000s, only to discover it was a dying wish of Fettaman’s that the book never see print again). Many of the reviews are presented as a single short paragraph, but there are also a number of titles which are looked at more in-depth (with McIntyre clarifying in his introduction that the longer reviews are not so much a sign of a book’s importance or quality, but more an indication of how much he simply enjoyed it or found something within its pages to particularly pique his interest). There is the usual selection of New English Library (NEL) biker novels, alongside some surprising inclusions, such as John Godey’s The Taking of Pelham 123 and Malcom Hulke’s Doctor Who adventure Doctor Who and the Green Death, but McIntyre certainly makes a case for warranting their inclusion by tying their themes and ideologies to the spirit of the times.
 
Heavily illustrated (in B&W) with many great covers (both illustrated and photographic), Sticking it to the Man! is an essential purchase for vintage paperback collectors, and anyone with an interest in the social history of the period.
 
 
 
Ian McIntyre Interview:
  
What first piqued your interest in vintage paperbacks?
 
Fiction wise my main interests are hardboiled crime and dystopian sci-fi. Discovering what existed beyond the well-thumbed classics originally got me interested in vintage titles.
 
I’m not generally a collector in terms of owning original items. I tend to read or listen to or watch things and then pass them on to others who I think will enjoy them, hoping they’ll do the same in turn. As the years have gone by I’ve learnt the value of archiving stuff however, not least because it’s a pain when you go back to read a particular novel only to discover it’s no longer available anywhere. Also when I originally became interested in these novels I discovered that, until Creation reissued them, the only way to read a Mick Norman biker book was to track down an original copy, and this remains true for things like Ann Fettaman’s Yippie novel Trashing. The internet is obviously changing this and I’m constantly amazed that obscure hobo novels from the 1920s that were only located in one or two university libraries and previously inaccessible to the public can now be found or purchased online along with rare bootlegs, blues 78s, etc.
 
Regardless of this someone still needs to catalogue, document, scan, etc. the stuff in the first place. With this in mind I started hanging onto novels that covered 1960s and 1970s subcultures because, other than some of the New Wave Sci-Fi stuff, few of them were still in circulation. I also noticed, compared to the music and films of the era or crime novels of the 1930s-50s, that there were no guides and little coverage beyond the Biker books, even amongst academic obscurantists. I thought it might be worthwhile to document these novels at some point, if only so people could see the amazing cover artwork and read about the outré plots and themes.
 
What is it about the counterculture genre that attracts you in particular? Does it stem from an interest in other forms of art from this period (music, cinema, etc.)?
 
I have an abiding fascination for cultural, musical and political troublemakers and oddballs from every era so documenting and celebrating their lives and creations has been a natural focus for my writing and radio shows. I’m not sure why, maybe it’s the sheer volume of activity that was going on then or the particular mix of freakery and radicalism, but the culture of the 1960s and early 1970s has always been of particular interest.
 
In terms of fiction I also find this period intriguing because there are simply so many books that exploit or address seditious, bizarre and rebellious subcultures. This is partially because the social upheaval of this period coincided with the last gasp of the mass paperback. It’s also because the experimentalism of the margins pushed its way into the mainstream as new audiences opened up for books that either pushed the boundaries or exploited and condemned those doing so.
 
Although beatniks, hoboes, etc. had generated a lot of their own novels, or provided grist for pulp hacks to chew on, the influence of psychedelics and radical politics transformed sci-fi and had a major impact on the kind of topics and protagonists that other genres dealt with. Writers like Brautigan, Ellison and Le Guin got the opportunity to produce ground-breaking work that was made widely available via mainstream publishers. Of course you also had low-brow porn, crime, thriller, teen and youthsploitation pulp novelists whose over the top and highly inaccurate takes on the counterculture and drug experiences generally make for hard-hitting and/or hilarious reading today. Even where the writing is execrable, the covers are often fabulous as this was still a period in which as much effort often went into the jackets as the text.
 
One thing that always surprised me is that there was never really a proliferation of Vietnam war themed paperbacks at the time. There were a few softcore sleaze titles like Vietnam Vixen, Viet-Nookie and even the gay title The Killer Queens, and some books had Vietnam vets as their protagonists, but it seemed to be an issue that even the paperback publishers wanted to stay away from.
 
Yes, although there have been plenty of combat novels written by veterans and genre writers since the late 1970s there were probably more novels about anti-war protesters than soldiers during the conflict itself. It may be that a certain period of time has to pass before people start writing novels about particular wars, but from the beginning there was an air of illegitimacy about the Vietnam war that intensified into complete unpopularity by the late 1960s/early 1970s. Unlike the "good" wars of the past there wasn’t much to glorify, particularly as after the Tet Offensive of 1968 it was clear that the US and its allies were not going to win. As you indicate though the figure of the hardened Vietnam-vet was already a fixture in crime novels and thrillers by the early ‘70s, particularly in the Vigilante field that took off around that time.
 
Sticking it to the Man! focuses primarily on fiction paperbacks, did you ever consider incorporating some of the many non-fiction titles from that period which purported to lift the lid on the counterculture (and were often little more than works of fiction themselves)?
 
Given that Sticking it to the Man! is as much about the book jackets as the writing I certainly did as some of the non-fiction publications have the most eye-popping covers of all. This is true of both the stuff that was written by people actively involved in radical politics, the counterculture and the "permissive society" as well as those writing exposes about them. I decided in the end though that I also wanted to discuss the plots and writers that non-fiction should be left out and maybe covered in a separate project one day.
 
I’ve often wondered what a future generation would make of the sixties if all they had to go on was mass market paperbacks and exploitation movies from the period…
 
Probably a more outré version of the mainstream version that has been pushed since the 1980s- a shallow focus on the colourful clothes, music and drugs with most of the ethnic, political and internal diversity and conflict stripped out.
 
What is your favourite sub-genre of the counterculture paperacks? Are there other genres of paperbacks that you have an interest in beyond those covered in Sticking it to the Man!?
 
I have to say that all the books and sub-genres covered in Sticking it to the Man! appeal to me in some way, even just for the covers. The cringe-worthiness of some of the teen novels and the misogyny of many of the Biker novels can make them somewhat hard to plough through however. Although the writing is bad, but generally not quite bad enough to make it funny, the amazing covers, and the fact that there was enough of an audience to enable him to produce ten surfing secret agent novels, make Patrick Morgan’s Operation Hang Ten series a fave.
 
As mentioned earlier I enjoy a lot of Crime Noir and thanks to various websites and online sellers it’s now possible to track down some of the more obscure writers and titles from the 1930s-60s. I tend to pick up anything that relates to subcultures so I have a few punk and beatnik related novels. Over the last decade I’ve also been tracking down fiction and articles about Hoboes from the 1880s to 1940s. Although non-fiction and academic works are published regularly very little of the original writing they reference is available. To help remedy this I’m currently in the process of finishing an anthology of pieces from the classic era that will come out through Verse Chorus Press in the next year or two.
 
In your introduction, you talk about having amassed a collection of around 300 paperbacks, mainly through trawling used bookstores and car boot sales, etc. Is this still your preferred method for seeking out these books? I have to admit, as much as I love eBay and the like when I am trying to obtain a particular title, I still find something special in the simple act of scouring through the shelves of op shops and used bookstores, waiting for that previously unheard-of title to leap out at you. The distinctive smell of a sed bookstore is still one of my favourite aromas.
 
I’ve picked up the odd book via online sellers as the pickings are getting thinner with the passage of time, but I still prefer to discover titles at random or have friends surprise me with things they pass on. Book exchanges are long gone and second-hand bookstores are disappearing in Australia and elsewhere, but there are still plenty of op shops, school fetes, market stalls, etc. to hunt around.
 
Any plans to write a follow-up volume?
 
Yes, depending on how much interest people show in this one. Sticking it to the Man! originally began as a website in the early 2000s. After an initial flurry of reviewing and scanning I got side-tracked with other projects. I’d always wanted to do a print publication about this stuff so when Simon from Ledatape talked to me about doing a book together it gave me the impetus to scan my favourite covers and finish all the half written reviews. I had considered including more reviews and covers, but as the Melbourne anarchist bookfair was coming up, and I didn’t want to drag it out any longer, we made that event the deadline and just got the thing done.
 
As a result this volume only covers120-130 books and barely scrapes the surface of what’s out there. I’ve caught the reviewing bug again and if there is a second volume I’d like to include some interviews and in-depth profiles covering the writers, publishers and cover artists, as you’ve done with Hip Pocket Sleaze. Alternatively I might do a bunch of interviews as a summer series for Community Radio 3CR.
 
What is the one vintage paperback title that you think belongs on everyone’s shelf?
 
Too hard to pick one, but if I was reading this stuff for the first time then I’d start with Mick Norman’s collected Angel Chronicles, Hunter S Thompson’s Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas (supposedly auto-biographical I know, but more fiction than not), any of Richard Brautigan’s books, John Brunner’s The Sheep Look Up, Robert Stone’s Dog Soldiers and Sam Greenlee’s The Spook Who Sat By The Door. Oh, and of course, Malcolm Hulke’s Doctor Who and the Green Death.
 
Barring those already adapted, what book covered in Sticking it to the Man! would you most like to see as a feature film?
 
With today’s effects and budgets I think Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War would make an amazing film. In terms of sci-fi it’s the anti-Starship Troopers (although Verhoeven’s film version of Heinlein’s book did a good of filling that role itself). If we could back in time to the era of the Peacekillers and Psychomania then Mick Norman’s Guardian Angels -- in which standard issue Hell’s Angels duke it out with an ultra-camp, satin attired glam biker gang -- would make a great Z-grade flick.
 
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Other books by Iain McIntyre include Wild About You: The Sixties Beat Explosion in Australia and New Zealand (Verse Chrous Press, 2009) and Tomorrow Is Today: Australia In The Psychedelic Era, 1966-70 (Wakefield Press, 2006).