End-of-year stock-taking time. One way or another, hundreds of books make their way through the offices of The Progressive in the course of a year. Only a fraction find space for mention, but the staff includes an avid bunch of readers. Herewith, our second annual set of idiosyncratic reports from the Editors and the Publisher on their best reading of 1993.
I didn't know when I met Paul Krassner that he was responsible for the "meat-grinder" issue of Hustler magazine - the one with a quote on the cover from Larry Flynt, "We will no longer hang women up like pieces of meat," accompanied by a picture of a woman's body stuffed head-first into a grinder, and coming out the other end as hamburger.
It's just as well.
I enjoyed meeting Krassner. I found him funny and sweet. And I read more than halfway through his autobiography, Confessions of a Raving, Unconfined Nut. Misadventures in the Counter-culture (Simon & Schuster) before I came to the chapter on his tenure as publisher of Hustler.
Krassner's conscious life, as he tells it, began when he was performing a solo violin concerto at the age of six, the youngest musician ever to give a concert at Carnegie Hall: "I was wearing a Little Lord Fauntleroy suit - ruffled white silk shirt with puffy sleeves, black velvet short pants with ivory buttons and matching vest - white socks and black patent-leather shoes. My hair was platinum blond and wavy.... But all I knew was that I was being taunted by an itch." After a few moments of torment, the six-year-old Krassner had a revelation - instead of stopping to scratch, or merely enduring the itch, he decided to balance on one foot and scratch himself with the other, while he continued to play. The audience erupted with laughter. It was a transformative moment.
"I opened my eyes. There were rows upon rows of people sitting out there in the dark, and they were all laughing together. They had understood my plight. It was easier for them to identify with the urge to scratch than with a little freak playing the violin. And I could identify with them identifying with me."
A satirist was born.
Krassner's book often made me laugh out loud. And he has great stories to tell about his adventures with Lenny Bruce, Groucho Marx, Abbie Hoffman, Timothy Leary, Ken Kesey, John Lennon, and other who's-whos of the 1960s counterculture. Despite his genius and his status as a counterculture icon, most of Krassner's stories have a way of turning back on the author, like a boomerang. Generally, he ends up being the fall guy in his own jokes. So...