By Gary Meyer
We are lucky to live a world where rebels can become heroes, whether they are historical figures, entertainers, journalists, visionaries, artists, writers or leaders. Some rebels become elected officials who make us question our response to “rebels as heroes.” But we can be selective.
And this issue of EatDrinkFilms focuses on five rebels who are no longer with us but whose legacies and wisdom deserve to inspire, challenge and amuse us far into the future.
On the surface you might assume classic movie and TV comedian Groucho Marx and irreverent satirist Paul Krassner are an unlikely pair but think about them— both comedic anarchists who always surprised us in unexpected ways that made us laugh out loud and relish revisiting their humor.
Out of the blue I wrote and asked Paul to review a documentary about the National Lampoon. He had no reason to remember me after so many years but he immediately responded with a funny and telling piece. And then he reviewed an earlier film about Ram Dass. It was a year ago Paul suggested that I run an updated version of a piece he had written for the February 1981 issue of High Times Magazine, “I Dropped Acid with Groucho.” I was waiting for the right context and wasn’t finding one. I probably didn’t need one but maybe fate was holding me back.
And then, in July, 2019 Paul passed away. We knew he had been fighting health issues but one is never prepared for this. So it seems the context has arrived in two ways, to celebrate Paul Krassner and because of Ram Dass and Timothy Leary’s relationship to LSD.
But there is a backstory to my relationship with Paul that I have told to people but never written before.
When I was a teenager growing up in conservative, small-town Napa (a very different place today), there were few opportunities to be creative. My friends and I went to San Francisco and Berkeley almost every weekend to see foreign films, small theater productions, folk and jazz performances, poetry readings and make frequent visits to our favorite bookstores, Cody’s and Moe’s in Berkeley plus in San Francisco, City Lights, Columbus Books (both in in North Beach) and McDonald’s Used Books (in the Tenderloin). There we found books and magazines we could not imagine existed. One of our favorites was The Realist edited by Paul Krassner. It was packed with outrageous and thought-provoking satire running the gamut from politics to literature with a line-up of the famous and yet-to-be-discovered writers and artists, “Impolite Interviews” with Jules Feiffer, Lenny Bruce, Dick Gregory, Norman Mailer, Ken Kesey, Timothy Leary, Jean Shepard, etc. —plus Wally Wood’s controversial Disneyland Orgy (found here but definitely X-rated). His credo was “Irreverence is our only sacred cow.”
Paul and I met informally at various times over the years. In high school I subscribed to The Realist until it ceased publication (later to rise again).
I watched Paul burn a draft card at Expo ’67 in Montreal, heard him do stand-up and appear on panels. We expected him to be irreverent but sometimes were surprised at his seriousness on issues he cared about.
It was The Realist that, in 1964, inspired me to gather some high school friends to create the first ever zine published in very conservative Napa.
The Free Speech Movement arrests so outraged us that we decided we should invent a four-letter word and see if we could get it into use as a dirty word.
The word was “Nort.”
As in “Nort You!,” “Up Your Nort!, ” “Eat Nort!’
It caught on at the high school.
Since there had never been a literary magazine in town we thought it made sense to create one called Nort. Like The Realist, we had a mascot, called “The Holy Nort.” It was an immediate success — the first issue sold out 200 copies the first day before school in early 1965.
The next morning I was called to the principal’s office.
“Are you responsible for this filth?” he asked holding up Nort .”
“I am one of the people, yes. Isn’t Nort great?”
I watched as he shuddered just hearing that dangerous word spoken, embarrassed that such disgusting language had been heard aloud in his office, much less was being spread across his campus.
He explained that calls from worried and irate parents had been coming in all morning. They did not want this trash brought into their homes.
“Do you know what ‘Nort ‘means?” I asked. More discomfort as he shifted in his seat worried what he would hear next. “It is a four-letter word for ‘frangipate.’ “
He sat there stunned and, I assume, worried what else I might have to say.
“We made up both words. Thank you for participating in a social experiment.”
And on the spot I was suspended from school for three days, giving me plenty of time to mimeograph more copies and start planning the next issue.
That is the start of a story that involves more issues being published, a battle to successfully create the school’s first official magazine, Bacchus, and students from other northern California towns hearing about us and asking for help that resulted in a free workshop on how to engage students and sympathetic teachers to get articles, stories, poems and illustrations to publish in their own magazines; deal with censorship, get help from the ACLU and more.
Bumper stickers started appearing proclaiming “Tron Troppus.” This confounded people until they saw it in their rearview mirror.
A lot of zines followed from other culturally deprived communities. And my family’s barn became a center for creating the magazine, showcasing films, music, theater and art while generally challenging what Napa thought it stood for. My parents, Eleanor and Wes Meyer, respected citizens in the Napa Valley since 1939, bravely encouraged all our activities.
It was a proud moment when Nort went on sale at City Lights and Moe’s alongside The Realist. I would go in weekly to see if any copies had sold. There were dozens of zines. One night I went to the City Lights basement where these amateur publication were displayed next to poetry books. Woody Allen was looking at the poetry while waiting to do his gig at The Hungry i. I picked up Nort, looked through it and turned to Allen stating “I hear this one is pretty good.” He took the copy and added it to his stack of books to buy.
In a way EatDrinkFilms is a tribute to Nort and to all those who decide to do it their way.
Gary Meyer started his first theater in the family barn when he was twelve-years-old. He directed a monster movie there and wanted to show it on the set. It became The Above-the-Ground Theatre screening dozens of silent films with music arranged from his parents’ record collection. Over 250 films were screened along with live productions, workshops and the publication of a literary/arts/satire zine, “Nort!” and a film newsletter, “Ciné.” After film school at SFSU he calls his first job as a booker for United Artists Theatres “grad school” that prepared him for co-founding Landmark Theatres in 1975. It was the first national arthouse chain in the U.S. focused on creative marketing strategies to build loyal audiences for non-Hollywood fare. After selling Landmark, he consulted on many projects including Sundance Cinemas and the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Rose Cinemas, created several film festivals including the Dockers Classically Independent Film Festival and Tube Film Festival for the X Games, and resurrected the 1926 Balboa Theatre in San Francisco. Meyer joined the Telluride Film Festival in 1998, becoming a Festival Co-Director in 2007-2014. He founded the online magazine, EatDrinkFilms.com in April 2014 and consults for festivals while offering pro bono advice to independent filmmakers and cinemas. He started EatDrinkFilms to give a voice to writers wanting to explore food, beverage and the movies from unique perspectives. Meyer, Editor/Publisher, also contributes articles.
All issues of The Realist can be read here.
Honoring Paul Krassner with links to numerous obituaries and celebrations of his life.