Paul Krassner Is Up In Heaven Now
Paul Krassner, the counter-culture satirist who founded The Realist and co-founded the Yippies, died Sunday at home in Desert Hot Springs, California. He was 87. His daughter, Holly Krassner Dawson, didn't say what the cause of death was, but said he'd been receiving hospice care. We'd like to think that, if there is an afterlife -- not something Krassner believed in -- he's already making fun of whoever's in charge.
Krassner traced his love of comedy and satire to his experience, at six years old, of performing a violin concerto at Carnegie Hall:
When in midperformance he tried to soothe an itch in his left leg by scratching it with his right foot, the audience burst out laughing, and he realized he loved that sound more than the applause for his playing.
Krassner tells the story in the first chapter of his autobiography, Confessions of a Raving, Unconfined Nut: Misadventures in the Counterculture, describing the laughter, the result of a choice he'd made, as "being engulfed by some kind of spiritual orgasm," and there was no similar high from the violin, sorry, Vivaldi.
We also kind of love that Politico merely says the memoir's title comes from an angry letter to the editor of "a magazine" that wrote a positive profile of Krassner, while the LA Times has the full story. It wasn't just any old magazine, it was that middle-class taste-maker LIFE, and also not just any average reader:
an FBI agent, using a fake name, sent a letter to the magazine saying, "To classify Krassner as some sort of `'social rebel' is far too cute. He's a nut, a raving unconfined nut. As for any possible intellectual rewards to be gleaned from the Realist — much better prose may be found on lavatory walls."
Krassner was a step ahead. His own letter to the editor said, "Regarding your article on that filthy-mouthed, dope-taking, pinko-anarchist, Pope-baiting Yippie-lover: cancel my subscription immediately!" Krassner's letter was published; the FBI's was not. (Krassner discovered it years later when he was able to examine his FBI file.)
But that was a bit later; Krassner got his start after dropping out of Baruch College and disappointing his parents. He got a job writing for MAD magazine, because he'd been working for a newspaper run by MAD's business manager. By coincidence, MAD also passed earlier this month, in case we all want to feel old. His business manager friend
also gave him a list of subscribers to a small progressive magazine that was closing down, and Mr. Krassner managed to persuade 600 of those readers to buy his satirical replacement, The Realist.
An interview in the magazine with a doctor who performed abortions at a time when they were illegal led to Mr. Krassner's first foray into serious activism. After receiving calls from women seeking information about how they, too, could obtain abortions, he set up a service to refer pregnant women to qualified doctors. He was subpoenaed by two different district attorneys but never prosecuted.
Krassner quickly made The Realist the hot ticket for grownup humor and satire, not to mention interviews with Big Names like Joseph Heller -- it's a MASSIVE interview, so open that tab for later, kids. Krassner also followed his friend Lenny Bruce into standup comedy, and edited Bruce's autobiography, How To Talk Dirty and Influence People.
In 1967, after Walt Disney died, Krassner hired MAD cartoonist Wally Wood, who had illustrated Krassner's first article for MAD, to draw The Realist's most notorious cartoon: The Disneyland Memorial Orgy, featuring Pluto pissing on a picture of Mickey Mouse, Mickey shooting heroin, Tinker Bell stripping, and various other Disney characters screwing like bunny rabbits. Including some bunny rabbits. Krassner wrote about the crazy thing in HuffPo in 2005:
The Disneyland Memorial Orgy centerspread became so popular that I decided to publish it as a poster in 1967. The Disney corporation considered a lawsuit but realized that *The Realist* had no real assets, and besides, why bother causing themselves any further public embarrassment? They took no action against me, never telling me to cease and desist. Recently I found a carton of the original posters in my garage (available via paulkrassner.com); fortunately, the statute of limitations has run out. But I had broken through the cultural taboo.
As artistic irreverence toward the Disney characters has continued to grow, attorneys for Walt Disney Productions have gotten busy filing lawsuits to stop the sale of such items, because their corporate client has worked "for many years to acquire the image of innocent delightfulness known and loved by people all over the world, particularly, but not only, by children"—and now these characters are being shown in a "degrading, lewd, drug addictive, offensive and defaced" manner, some of them "in poses suggestive of a love-in."
You just don't mock the Mouse, man. But as far as we can tell, you can still pick up one of those posters -- we ordered one.
Krassner also did politics, co-founding the Youth International Party -- the Yippies -- with Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman, and pulling fun stunts like throwing dollar bills on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, running a pig for president, and holding a demonstration to levitate the Pentagon via meditation. (I'm fairly sure Hoffman maintained the Pentagon actually did float a few inches off the ground, but he said the media covered it up; I'm not finding a citation, so don't trust my memory.) Krassner also joined Ken Kesey on the Acid Bus, too.
Yr Dok Zoom was a bit too young to have encountered any of Krassner's best-known work when it came out, although he kept publishing well into this century, reviewing porn for Adult Video News, and writing a column for High Times. But lordy, the people he influenced sure as hell influenced me -- George Carlin, Robert Crumb, and Art Spiegelman, to name just a few. In his memory, we urge you to have an orgy and flip off the authority figure of your choice.
[NYT / Politico / LAT / HuffPo / Photo: Heidi De Vries, Creative Commons License 2.0]
Orgy us ... WITH MONEY. Thank you kindly!
Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.