Five (5) underground newspapers, ca. 1967: The San Francisco Oracle, Vol. 1, No. 8 (August 1967), 40 pp. The City of San Francisco Oracle, Vol. 1, No. 10 (October 1967), 32 pp. The Haight-Ashbury Maverick, Vol. 1, No. 7 (1967), 16 pp. Southern California Oracle, No. 5 (August 1967), 32 pp. Southern California Oracle, No. 7 (November 1967), 24 pp. Gift of Charles Stolzenbach.
This collection of five underground newspapers makes an important contribution to the Archive by documenting some of the broader cultural currents informing the Bay Area scene in the critical year 1967. The San Francisco Oracle is considered one of the premier underground newspapers of the 1960s, responsible for pioneering the split-stream method of color printing (where colors were applied to the press as the rollers were moving). Although it only produced a dozen issues from September 1966 to February 1968, the Oracle was quite successful: from an initial run of 3,000 copies for the first issue, print runs swelled to 125,000 copies by the sixth, the first to use the split-stream method. Selling copies was an important source of income for hippies, who served as the newspaper’s principal distribution mechanism.
For scholars, the Oracle is important for a number of reasons. As an important community voice of the Haight, it represents a vital form of contemporaneous evidence: articles on issues the neighborhood was facing at the time depict the scene as it appeared to Oracle staff, who were a part of the Haight; even the want-ads provide snapshots of themes and currents in the Haight-Ashbury during its heyday. For historians, the prominence of Beat poets such as Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and Michael McClure in the Oracle’s pages shows how these elder statesmen of Bay Area bohemia were a vital and visible part of the Haight’s flowering, alongside emerging voices and visions, such as Lenore Kandel and Rick Griffin. The October issue, for example, features a lengthy piece by William S. Burroughs and a five-page interview with Tim Leary, along with a poem by Lew Welch, a poet whom Robert Hunter credits as an important influence. These two issues are especially welcome, since most copies show some variation, and these differ from those reproduced in the facsimile edition produced by Regent Press in 1991.
The Oracle is well known, due to editor Allen Cohen’s prominence as a poet along with the paper’s own visibility, fueled by the critically-acclaimed 1991 facsimile edition. That edition informed a welter of new critical studies of the Haight, but many other ephemeral newspapers of the time have not fared so well. Two other contemporary efforts included in this gift are the Haight-Ashbury Maverick and the Southern California Oracle, the latter with two particularly nice issues. The Haight-Ashbury Maverick took its cues from the Oracle in its sensibility and design; poems, essays and illustrations vividly capture the Haight sensibility, even as it peaked and began its decline. One sketch, “The Eight Thirty Bus,” by Robin, conveys the hippie worldview nicely:
There before us, and about 10 feet below us was a young man of about 35 years/standing-reading the NEW YORK TIMES, in a dark grey business suit. Waiting for his prompt 8:30 bus to come and fetch him and bring his soul back to his dark frey [sic?] desk where he would sit—in constant fear of everything. It took us near 10 minutes to cease our wild laughter/then it happened—I became the laughter of life, the chuckle of intelligence, and the pity of wisdom. Silently I returned to the window and wondered if perhaps the man glaring up at me couldn’t detect the smile of truth in my eyes. My pity forfeited to the tickling of life and I burst out laughing again/I was 2 hours old now and would stay that way forever and ever. (p.3)
Underground newspapers have been recognized as critical sources for scholars studying the sixties for decades, and these issues will be helpful to not only those studying the Grateful Dead but a host of related contexts. The Archive thanks supporter Charles Stolzenbach for his generous gift.
~ Nicholas Meriwether, Grateful Dead Archivist