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October 8, 2016 by John Wilcock

Manhattan Memories

Chapter 26:
The Last Word
(part 5)

The Pre-Election Blues

In a column two weeks before Nov. 4, [2008] the NYT’s most readable columnist Gail Collins wrote the Democrats were terrified that something terrible was going to happen because something terrible always happened, and likened it to the curse of the Bambino—“the Dems fear they’re under a jinx because they committed some sin, the political equivalent of trading away Babe Ruth. If so it probably started with nominating Joe Lieberman for vice president. The only people who seem to have faith that Barack Obama can pull this off are the Republicans.”

All the pundits were in agreement that McCain’s boast of being a maverick may have been true when he bucked the official GOP line on immigration etc., but for most of the campaign he preached the straight party line. Anyway, as Maureen Dowd shrewdly observed, mavericks don’t brand themselves. Sensibly Frank Rich, pointed out that despite his protests, McCain was not a “passive martyr to a catastrophic administration”: that the bravest, even most Conservative focus of his campaign would have been to separate himself from the Bush crowd. Instead he embraced it even more tightly.

Under a new administration, we’ll presumably we’ll see an end to what author Thomas Frank (What’s the Matter With Kansas?) termed “sarcastic staffing” or the Bush policy of deliberately appointing incompetent people to staff watchdog agencies, so that they wouldn’t watch too closely. (As an example—if you need anything more than FEMA—he listed the man appointed to oversee the Employment Standards Administration as being the author of a book, How to Close Down the Department of Labor).

The Supreme Court has blessedly not escaped Obama’s attention. Responding to McCain’s promise to appoint more of the politically rightwing judges favored by Bush (i.e. Roberts and Alito), Obama said he was concerned about a Conservative court that appeared to be more on the side of the powerful than the powerless. “What’s truly elitist” he declared, “is to appoint judges who will protect the powerful and leave ordinary Americans to fend for themselves.”

The Republicans used to find that accusations of communism worked well for them, notwithstanding that most of the people they accused weren’t communists at all. The next to be tagged as villains were “socialists” who to many right wingers are pretty much the same thing. Now we also have “liberals” who are apparently guilty of something only Republicans can define. Presumably “centrists” will be the next to be tagged, by a group who never seem to run out of people who aren’t as patriotic as themselves.

A letter writer to the NYT wrote that according to Greek historian Herodotus only two behaviors in the ancient Persian Empire would result in social ostracism: telling a lie and going into debt.

* * *

After 50 years in this country, I consider myself fortunate to still be alive to applaud the election of Barack Obama. An intelligent man as president! Who could have imagined it after eight years of that illiterate moron-in-chief? Election night 2008 was exciting and watching the joy around the world brought tears to my eyes.

There was a time, not that long ago, when a new president benefited from a grace period—the first 100 days, were often mentioned—to adapt to the office, to start getting things in shape, giving some indication of how he was going to operate. But this is no longer true.

The day following the election, the likes of Fox’s Sean Hannity and the blustering, bullying Rush Limbaugh were still sloshing out their poison, unable as many remarked, to let go of their hate. In another era their actions might have been regarded as treasonable. And if the right wing tried to make similar accusations about the 2004 critics of Bush, we should emphasize that his election was an illegitimate one. Nobody could sensibly could say that about the Obama victory.

Harry Pincus Obama
NYT columnist David Brooks said that all the time he’d been watching Obama there hadn’t been a moment when the candidate had publicly lost his self-control. “(Some) candidates are propelled by what psychologists call self-efficacy, the placid assumption that they can handle whatever the future throws at them”.

The concept of change didn’t originate with Obama. He was the latest to see its huge potential, tapping into its resources, the Internet and emails. That this country has enormous capabilities of change I realized when I returned here after leaving during the Nixon years. The mood, vibrant and optimistic, was totally different.

And so, this is a time when everybody I know seems wildly upbeat about the future; their expectations limitless. Inevitably many will become disappointed that their specific priorities have not been met. Unrealistic assumptions should be tamped down. Give the guy a break. Almost every decent human being wishes him well. (And a year from now, forecast the cynics, thousands of former dissenters will be claiming to have voted for him).

“No president should come into office having to face the almost impossible burdens confronting Obama” wrote Santa Barbara columnist Barney Brantingham. “Presidents are CEOs but we hang on their words as though from the guru on the mount. They are our rock stars… If they’re ‘our’ guy we rebel against anyone saying a word against them. They are wise beyond wisdom. We are starry-eyed. But when they falter and show their human failings, we lapse into bitter recrimination. We insist on perfection”.

Michael Moore says he’s actually hoping that some of Obama’s campaign promises will be broken, especially the ones relating to foreign policy which, people say, look little different from the ones that this Superpower has implemented for several generations. What are America’s intentions? Waging war has been very good for business. Will the U.S. decide it still has the right, and duty to police the world? Will it reach out to make some friends again, even earn the world’s admiration for offering a new global vision?

Meanwhile there’s the idiotic occupation of Iraq to deal with; the endless Palestine dilemma and the growing Afghanistan/Pakistan thing. Maybe we should just leave the situations to resolve themselves. We always realized that the Russians had to quit. The whole region is the Great Problem, or whatever history used to call it. Let’s just get out.

Countries such as Burma and Zimbabwe, both rank high as humanitarian priorities but there’s nearby Cuba and Haiti which could be dealt with immediately. A volunteer Peace Corps of some kind could do wonders for both. And how about this for a crazy idea—financing Cuban medical teams and other volunteers to go and help Haiti?

Leaving aside the argument of what values America stands for, the essence of what it really is, we note that Obama is no miracle man, just a brilliant and imaginative politician, perhaps no better, nor worse than yourself. Neither he, nor anyone else, could survive in the government of this country, or any other, without playing efficiently the kind of game that politicians play. And politics by its very nature is a flawed system, albeit the only one we’ve got.


Manhattan Memories is available at

An updated A Guide to Occult Britain, complete with new illustrations, is also available at


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John Wilcock: New York Years, Book One

A comic book history of the rise of the 1960s underground media.
by Ethan Persoff and Scott Marshall

Don't let a real-life comic strip sneak by unnoticed. This one's too unusual (and brilliant) for that!

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Marijuana—The Weed That Changed the World

National Weed (1974, issue #3)

A Guide to Occult Britain

Forty years ago the second of my three books about magic was published, A Guide to Occult Britain (Sidgwick & Jackson) covering a wide range of sites from Stonehenge to Loch Ness and King Arthur country to the witches of Pendle Hill. It is now available as an eBook on

Over the past year, my combined medical and support costs from a stroke I had in April 2014 have been more than $100,000. If you'd like to help, use the Paypal donate button, or better yet, buy my books, and thank you. —JW

Now on Boing-Boing!

An authorized comic book biography of John Wilcock, 
art by Ethan Persoff and Scott Marshall

An authorized comic book biography of John Wilcock,
art by Ethan Persoff and Scott Marshall

This IS a book-length comic series on John Wilcock. People who enjoy focusing on underground and alternative media are occasionally familiar with John's work, but most often the response is "who's that?" Outside of small press historians and collectors, John remains very unknown. Which makes no sense, the more you learn about him. We're very excited about the opportunity to tell his story. Art for THE STORY OF JOHN WILCOCK is by me and co-conspirator Scott Marshall. Story comes from an extended and ongoing year-long interview with Wilcock, himself. The focus is John's years in New York, roughly 1954-1971.

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January 2, 2011

John WIlcock at home in Ojai
Photo Credit: Carmen Smyth/News Press

A way with Andy Warhol : John Wilcock recalls life in iconic pop artist's inner circle
Marilyn McMahon, Staff Writer
Santa Barbara News Press

During a journalism career that began when he was 16, John Wilcock has interviewed celebrities — Marilyn Monroe, Marlene Dietrich, Milton Berle, Steve Allen and Bob Dylan, to name a few — was part of enigmatic pop artist Andy Warhol's intimate circle in the 1960s, traveled to exotic locations all over the globe, has written dozens of books ranging from frugal travel to magic, was one of five founders (Norman Mailer was one of them) of the Village Voice and co-founded Interview magazine (still in circulation) with Mr. Warhol.

Today, the 83-year-old writer, who has been described by others in his field as "a libertarian-anarchist" and "a talented Bohemian counter-culture journalist," lives a tranquil life in a rustic cottage he rents on the outskirts of Ojai.

(click here to access the Santa Barbara News Press online where the full text of the article is available by subscription)

January, 2011

The Return of the World's Worst Businessman

Sneak Peak “The Return of the World's Worst Businessman”
Tyler Malone
PMc Magazine

John Wilcock is not what you would call a household name, and yet, he has had a measurable impact on art, journalism and culture-at-large over the last century. He co-founded Interview with Andy Warhol. He also was one of the co-founders of The Village Voice. He has written for countless print and online publications: Frommer’s, The Daily Mirror, The Daily Mail, The East Village Other, The Huffington Post, The New York Times, The Ojai Orange, etc. So why, one feels inclined to ask, is he relatively unknown? The answer seems simple: Wilcock has called himself “the world’s worst businessman.” This self-description makes sense because listening to him one hears the voice of a writer and a traveler and an enthusiast, not at all the voice of a businessman. In an age when it seems like everyone is all about business—art as a business, fashion as a business, everything as a business—it is refreshing to hear someone self-identify as “the world’s worst businessman.” It seems less like he has failed as a businessman and more like he has refused to become one. In addition to all his other accomplishments,...

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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Jewcy Top 10 Art Books of 2010
Margarita Korol

This brilliant remake of a pop primary document is brought to you by John Wilcock, probably the Most Interesting Man in the World in the realm of writers. The Village Voice cofounder had also edited Warhol’s seminal mag Interview in the 70s. The fruit of the book is in the genius of its redesign. After 40 years out-of-print, the newly edited edition is “beautifully redesigned in a bright, Warholian palette” that surrounds a trail of Harry Shunk’s internationally Pop-art-informed camera as well as transcribed interviews with those closest to Warhol that ultimately make up an oral history of the artist’s Factory period. By looking at him through the scope of his peers, this book is the equivalent of Pittsburgh’s Warhol Museum in illuminating qualities of Warhol’s warped mirror on which our American culture was briefly reflected.

Said John Wilcock in explaining the book, “A lot of people really misunderstood him then and indeed still do, although there’s hardly a day when Andy’s name is not mentioned in the paper.” Especially interesting is the timing of Warhol’s booming popularity as it comes half a century after pop rushed the 60s, a period similar to our own with fluxes in economic, political, and civil rights climates.

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Monday, November 15, 2010

A Reader Comment from the recent New York Times Frugal Traveler post
RN—Sydney, Australia

Not only did John Wilcock shake up staid publishing in the USA, from the Village Voice to the East Village Other, his influence extended to several continents, including Australia & the UK, where - in his mild mannered way - he pushed the boundaries of image and speech. The counter culture was nothing but a dull puddle, until John kicked out the jams and ignited the Underground Press, which attracted absurd prosecutions, that of course boosted circulations. An unsung hero of the sixties,

indifferent to self promotion and the hoarding of gold, it is great to see John get a dash of recognition.

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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A Budget Travel Pioneer on a Time When $5 a Day Was Real (Frugal) Money Frugal Traveler

by Seth Kugel
John Wilcock at the New York Times

It was the first handwritten letter I’d received in 5 years. Or maybe 10. Signed by John Wilcock, a man I’d never heard of, and postmarked Ojai, Calif., it was waiting for me when I returned from my Săo Paulo-to-New York summer trip. Mr. Wilcock wrote that he had been an assistant editor at The Times Travel section back in the 1950s, and had written the first editions of “Mexico on $5 a Day,” “Greece on $5 a Day” and “Japan on $5 a Day” for Arthur Frommer in the 1960s.

By George, I thought. This man was the original Frugal Traveler.

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available in print...

Manhattan MemoriesManhattan Memories
An Autobiography
by John Wilcock

“A GOOD WAY to describe John Wilcock is to say that he is a talented bohemian counter-culture journalist who once played a major role in the emergence of America’s underground press. Born 1927 in Sheffield, England, he left school aged 16 to work on various newspapers in England, and on Toronto periodicals before moving to New York City. There in 1955 he became one of the five founders of the Village Voice in which he and co-founder Norman Mailer wrote weekly columns. Wilcock called his column “The Village Square”, an intended pun. He and young Mailer were not quite friends, although Wilcock was at times annoyed, but always amused, by Mailer’s monstrous ego.”

-From the preface of Manhattan Memories, by Martin Gardner
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