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Monday, December 2, 2019

STICKING IT TO THE MAN


STICKING IT TO THE MAN

I can't express how much I enjoyment I received from reading every page of Sticking It To The Man—Revolution and the Counter Culture in Pulp and Popular Fiction, 1950 to 1980. I can’t recommend it highly enough. Fascinating, well written, filled with an amazing array of beautifully reproduced vintage paperback covers, and endlessly entertaining subject matter. This endorsement should be more than enough for those of you who know me—and know I don’t gush over much—to delay reading further and immediately swing over to your chosen Internet book source or head out to your favorite independent bookstore and order a copy.

Don’t worry, I’ll wait...

Stop reading...Go order...I said, I’ll wait...

Okay...You’re back...If you’re into instant gratification and downloaded your copy of Sticking It To The Man, feel free to skip out on this post and jump right in to the electronic pages of a book you’re going to find way more interesting. If you’re old school and have to wait for your copy to be delivered, you’re welcome to hang out, but hold on ‘cause I’m gonna drag you down a rabbit hole...

Having spent thirty five years serving with the Los Angeles Police Department, there is no doubt the counter culture of the '60s and '70s would have seen me as The Man. Not as in you da man, but as in the jackbooted, oppressive, heavy-handed authority figure and violent stooge who needs to be eliminated in the coming radical civil war. You know—The Man who needs sticking it to.

Fortunately, that stereotype is as false and prejudicial as most stereotypes, but you still might not think I'm the intended target audience for a scholarly, yet eminently readable reference tome entitled, Sticking It to the Man: Revolutions and Counterculture in Pulp and Popular Fiction, 1950 to 1980.

You would be wrong...

I was fifteen years old when I first read Pimp by Iceberg Slim. A voracious reader of everything I could find at the library or stretch my very limited budget to buy off the spinner racks, I haunted a regular round of bookstores and other retailers who stocked shelves of paperbacks.

Occasionally, I found my way to an old fashioned open air newsstand on the corner of White Oak and Ventura Boulevard in the San Fernando Valley. There, perilously close to the forbidden section containing dirty magazines and sleazy books of a questionable moral nature, was a double row of what appeared to be angry Black-centric paperbacks. 

These always fascinated me. The books were new, but exposure to the open air had turned their covers grubby and slightly warped the interior pages. Still, they seemed to call to me with an illicit promise of exposure to another world I vaguely knew existed, but had never experienced.

Most of these paperbacks were produced by Holloway House, a shabby down market publisher with a shady reputation. I was totally unaware at the time of Holloway House’s ironic nature—being run by two white publishers who saw the uprisings in Watts and other black neighborhoods across the country as a crisis of representation, a cultural void they could profit from by publishing cheap mass-market paperbacks targeted specifically toward a black working-class readership. 

As a fifteen year old white kid, I only knew Holloway House’s crappy bindings, cockeyed cover printing, and poorly chosen graphics lived in a world total different to the traditionally published paperbacks I was used to reading—where James Bond was considered risqué.

Books by Iceberg Slim and his protégé Donald Goines dominated the small selection. Alongside them were the lurid pulp-style covers of men's adventure series featuring Black anti-heroes such as Radcliff, The Iceman, Kenyatta, and Joseph Nazel's pointedly named character, Black. And hidden deep in the mix were Chester Himes’ blacker than black cops, Coffin Ed and Gravedigger Jones—two police detectives constantly caught between two worlds and accepted in neither.

I found myself compelled to buy a copy of Iceberg Slim's Pimp. Maybe it was my own questioning counter culture leanings. Maybe it was the driving quest I'd had from a young age to seek out the authentic otherness of cultures outside of my own white bread existence. Maybe, at fifteen, I was being seduced by books reeking with the promise of something dangerous and purient—something not to be caught reading by judgmental adults. 

Whatever it was, I plunked my money down on the counter. The grubby, unshaven clerk gave me the stink eye, but never the less rang up my purchase. Smuggling the book home, I cracked open its pages as I sat on the floor of my bedroom with the door closed and the light low—life was never the same again.

An only child, I immigrated to America from Britain when I was eight. I had a prissy English accent, prissy English manners, and my bi-polar mother insisted on dressing me like Little Lord Fauntleroy—I am not exaggerating. You can imagine what going to school was like for me in the late sixties surrounded by California kids who were either cool surfers or hard-edged greasers. Yeah, you get the picture. I’m not whining, but it weren’t pretty. I was intimately familiar with the inside of school lockers and trashcans on the quad.

However, in the pages of cheap garish paperbacks by Iceberg Slim, Donald Goines, and Joseph Nazel, I found a connection to the experiences of another culture which was also getting its ass kicked—they were the crack in the door opening me to a whole different cultural world view. And then there was the startling reality of the character’s representing the downtrodden cultures in those books refusing to back down and being ready to fight.

At the same time I was discovering the words of Iceberg Slim and Joseph Nazel, I also fell into the vast array of sordid NEL (New English Library) paperbacks, which exploited any and every radical, rebellious, angry British youth subculture from skinheads to boot boys to terrace terrors to mods and rockers, and more. These took a little finding, but on trips back to Blighty, I trolled the used bookstalls at the open air markets in London and regularly stashed a supply in my suitcase when returning to California.

In both the black pulps and the low-end British trash novels, I found a weird sort of encouragement. Like the characters in these books, I was tired of taking crap and made a conscious decision to fight back. If I was going to get my fifteen year old ass kicked anyway, I might as well do as much damage going down as I could.

After collecting enough bruises to fill an emergency room, I eventually learned to fight—and fight dirty (it’s amazing how much harder you can hit with a roll of nickels in your fist). I became intimately familiar with the principal’s office, but somehow never got expelled—mostly due to selectively reverting back to my prissy accent and prissy manners when needed. I began dishing out more damage than I took, and it didn’t take long before the bullying predators went in search of easier prey.

My reputation stuck. When my wife forced me to go to our 20th high school reunion, the first three classmates we encountered looked at me and said, “Oh, you were the kid in all the fights.” Yeah, that was me.

There was another surprising layer to many of the works that mainstream society dismissed as not worth the paper to publish. Some of the authors were screaming out their rage and pain on the page. Others were simply trying to make a buck in a hustler’s world. Whether consciously or subconsciously, their stories of fighting back, of fighting for self-respect (or their world’s version of self-respect), there was also a thread that spoke to righting wrongs and protecting others who couldn’t protect themselves.

In my autodidactic way, exposure to these fictional counter culture pulp radicals led me to read Malcom X, Lenny Bruce, Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Budda, and many other real life extremists and activists—all of whom enforced and drove home the message of battling for self-respect and lifting up others in the effort.

This long ramble has been to build the groundwork for why I have been so profoundly moved by the impact of Andrew Nette’s and Iain McIntyre’s Sticking It To The Man has had on me. Within its covers, I was transported back to the raw emotions and desperate struggles I’d first found in Pimp, Whoreson, Swamp Man, Howard Street, A Rage in Harlem, Skinhead, Suedehead, Hooligan, and so many more. 

Sticking It To The Man is filled with radical delights—Vietnam fiction, the beginnings of gay and lesbian fiction, paperback original men’s adventure series, retrospectives on Iceberg Slim, Donald Goines, Joseph Nazel, Joseph Hansen, Ernest Tidyman and Shaft—if it was radical and it was captured in paperback between 1950 and 1980 it’s part of Sticking It To The Man.

Finally, circling back to what I learned from radicalized trash fiction. After thirty-five years with the LAPD, I find myself now as a nationally recognized interrogator. I’m good at what I do. Immodestly, I’m very good. Those who I've sat with in an interrogation room have never met a Machiavellian nightmare like me.

But I got here because of the two most important things radicalized trash fiction taught me. 

First, to be an objective enforcer of the law without regard to race, religion, sexual orientation, affiliations, past behaviors, or anything else used to derisively judge another human. 

Second, and more importantly, radical trash fiction taught me truth is not a set point...truth is about individual perspective viewed through the lens of the shit that happens to you in life.

The recognition of my quest to understand the nature of truth, and attempt to objectively get as close to it as possible in highly emotional situations, began when I read a book by Iceberg Slim, which I bought from a crap hole newsstand so many years ago. And I’m thankful to Sticking It To The Man for reminding me where I came from and how I got here today.  

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