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August 20, 2016 by John Wilcock

Manhattan Memories

Chapter 25:
California's Shangri La

Video Rants and Raves (part 2)

From time to time we hear about the sad plight of problem gamblers who can’t afford the amount they wager. But not too much is heard about gambling compulsives who can afford their indulgence but rarely have second thoughts about their moronic extravagance. Daniel Negreanu, a four-time World Series Poker champion, boasts: “We don’t think of money the way salaried people do. We don’t love money the way rich people do. We know we can always make more of it”. Another poker star, Mike Matusow, is an advocate of “proposition betting” which in his case involved betting $100,000 he could lose 60lbs by a certain date. (He won). “These guys may play poker ten hours a day but that still leaves 14 hours in which they need to do something”. Helping other people, of course, wouldn’t even occur to them.

Manhattan Memories-Ojai's Libbey Park Fountain
Libby Park Fountain

New York has several public access channels and last time I checked there was a waiting list to acquire a slot. Not so in Ojai where there has been so little interest that Time Warner cut back the programming to Monday and Tuesday nights (with a tape of the City Council meeting shown on Wednesdays) and is said to be ready to close down this channel altogether by the end of the year. With amazing short-sightedness, the local council seemed to be indifferent to this threat and at the time of writing have done nothing to prevent it.

Public Access is the cheapest and most democratic system of mass communication ever devised and the council should have been encouraging and expanding it to get more people involved, rather than collaborating with Time-Warner to help its demise. Time Warner is very unpopular-—of all the places I have lived and explored in my lifelong career as a travel writer, I have never encountered a cable system that has come in for more criticism. Greedily, they tried to abolish public access in Ojai from the first day they took over from those criminals (literally) who ran Adelphia. They pushed out the saintly Carole McCartney, as dedicated a public servant as could be found, and sent somebody from 20 miles away two nights a week to put on the tapes. The council should have challenged them at that point.

I have never understood why one cable company should have a monopoly; certainly competition would improve conditions and bring down the rates. Some cable suppliers, ie Cox in Santa Barbara, are enthusiastic about public access and go out of their way to help train a new generation of would-be television presenters. Has the council ever explored the possibility of turning over the monopoly to some other company other than T-W? Sad to say there is some self-interest here on the part of the council who, under the new policy, will have new, state-of-the-art equipment to continue broadcasting their own posturing while denying the opportunity to others. It's reminiscent of Mayor Bloomberg's grab for power in NYC, buying the votes of the council to extend third limits (which NYC's citizens don't want) by also extending the terms for council members.

In my experience, small towns the world over usually share many of the same problems, some of which are absentee “residents” who work elsewhere and have no true commitment to the town apart from being a place to sleep or spend weekends; a dispute over some tree that is scheduled for demolition (its roots often disrupting the sidewalk or somebody’s property); and developers who demand their rights to build versus the advocates of “no-growth”. Ojai has endured fights over the last two but also, of course, has special conflicts of its own.

With only occasional modifications, Ojai’s five-member City Council, remains the same year after year, the members repeatedly running for office and getting re-elected. They alternate their turn as mayor which means some of them have filled the office four or five times. And there is no shortage of arrogant entitlement. One two–time member decided not to run again and then changed her mind on the grounds that her potential opponents didn’t measure up. “I think if strong, established citizens had stepped forward…Citizens I spoke with felt that not only did I have a strong track record but there were no logical replacements”, she boasted.

The Council’s website claims that they are “independent, impartial and fair in their judgment and actions, and conduct public deliberations and processes openly in an atmosphere of civility” but, like councils everywhere, their motives are often questioned. Especially when it comes to preservation vs development.

The main one, at this particular time, concerns the winding highway, SR 33, through the lovely Los Padre Mountains north of town, which all too often are traversed by hundreds of trucks carrying tons of rock and gravel en route to construction projects. Stop the Trucks! is the slogan of concerned locals who worry about the deleterious effects on road safety and air quality. The campaign, instigated by Howard Smith, a writer and local business tycoon, has been covered thoroughly by Tyler Suchman, founder of the Ojai Post.

In its online vision statement, the Post calls itself “a community blog, featuring Ojai residents from all walks of life writing about the unique Ojai experience. Ojai is a special place, not just for its geography, flora and fauna, small-town architecture and rich native American history—it's also because of the people—talented, creative souls who tend to walk to the beat of their own drummer and carve their own path through life. Check in for daily musings, rants, Ojai news and greater goings-on from the place some call Shangri-La”.

Now that our little town is likely to lose its Public Access channel at the end of the year, the Post will be our only up-to-the-minute report and it does an especially good job of encouraging feedback from readers who act in some ways like a reporting staff. One example, the saga of Ojai’s dueling phone books, prompted more than 60 responses among which was the explanation that the second directory, the Ojai Phone Book, had been started by a pair of disaffected former employees of the Ojai Valley Directory. Many readers bewailed the waste of trees, or at least paper, but some noted that competition had made the original much better. Advertisers, though, were not so happy at having to spend money on both of them.

When I first arrived in Ojai (with a large backlog of taped shows which had earlier run on Manhattan Cable and on other systems) Carole McCartney had been hired by the local operator, Adelphia, to superintend Channel 10 and she gave generous assistance to would-be programmers. Unlike some other venues, Ojai did not have an operating studio from which to do live shows but tapes could be filed for transmission and Carole was always willing to help edit them. Then Time Warner took over (why are these franchises always a monopoly?) from a bankrupt Adelphia and TW pretty much pushed Carole out.

But for the time being at least, public access was still available and when I put myself on camera I was never short of opinions. Fashion became a favorite subject on which I had some unpopular thoughts.

It’s a matter too obvious to dwell on that the vapid 12-page photo layouts in elitist magazines by, say, Calvin Klein, Gucci or Hugo Boss are aimed only at the wealthy who often possess more money than sense. But even some of these over-paid snobs might appreciate an occasional gesture of generosity (so long as it’s not their money being spent).

Supposing, for example, that Donna Karen or Ralph Lauren or any of the other over-the-top, trendy sharks, paid for a dozen pages but filled only eleven? The cost of the extra page could be devoted to providing health care for some of designer’s sweat shop slaves in whatever Third World country currently being exploited.  The company might even devote a line or two to explaining their generosity, earning goodwill from all their modish customers who didn’t have to fork out themselves.

But then everybody except a complete idiot is already aware of the empathy gap between the editors of Vogue and real life humans. Earlier this year, the papers retailed, over a 16-page spread in that shamelessly irrelevant magazine, visuals of poverty-stricken Indians modeling Fendi bibs and $10,000 Hermès handbags—and you can bet that the models were not paid  Union rates. Nearly half of India’s 465 million population lives on less than $1.25 a day, but fashion magazines apparently have no compunction about mocking them. “Lighten up” Vogue’s India editor Priya Tanna told critics, and babbled about how the magazine is about “the power of fashion”.  It could be appropriate to urge a boycott of the luxury companies which so clearly lack comprehension of the life of poor people, but it’s a fair assumption that most of their customers don’t read.

What possible sense does it makes for fashionistas to crave jeans costing two or three hundred dollars a pair—fancy stitching! real rips!—that are inferior to the genuine Levis invented in 1873?

And now we learn about the new store in New York’s Soho which is reported to be “a sunglass emporium with a VIP room”. Here the affluent MMTS (more-money-than-sense) crowd can indulge their taste for $350 sunglasses from the likes of Ralph Lauren, Dior or Balenciaga.  For an extra $1,395 buyers can add diamond-studded frames. A 21-year-old student from the University of Mississippi is quoted in the New York Times: “I’m beginning to love sunglasses as much as I love shoes and bags and jewelry”. Get a life, dearie. “Sunglasses are still a novel way to acquire the cachet of a designer brand” the paper adds helpfully.

It’s always a joy to read about some new category of over-priced goods that have fallen victim to forgery. The buyer of some ‘antique’ mahogany chests, a California designer, recently paid almost half a million dollars and subsequently discovered they had been cobbled together in 2004 from contemporary wardrobes. So numerous other buyers are now worrying that their purchases from this “high end” London dealer might not be worth the hundreds of thousands of dollars they handed over. (Silly to ask if they bought the items because they liked them or because of their supposed value).

And on the subject of inappropriate advertising, how much does an eight-page, full-color ad for the Fresh Air Fund cost in the New York Times? Certainly a quarter of a million dollars would seem to be a minimal guess. And wouldn’t that money be put to better use by fulfilling the Fund’s boast of “serving children”? Another mystery is the weekly full-page ad by Pastor Ock Soo Park touting his Good News Church in downtown LA. Containing at least 10,000 tightly-packed words from the Bible it seems unlikely to be read by more than a handful of people and obviously must cost thousands of dollars.

SOMETIMES THE SUBtEXT of my on-camera rambling was the medium itself, as when I asked my audience:

Why do most newsreaders and presenters talk so fast, gabbling through the script under the illusion that not a second must be wasted? Unless you’re very rude, or drug-addled, you don’t address your friends that way. You give them time to appreciate and absorb what you are saying. Even worse, of course, are the attempts to reel off credits at breakneck speed, a cynical attempt to fulfill legal obligations, in token if not in actuality. It’s the audio equivalent of listing bedrock information in 7pt type.

Probably the most infuriating thing about television is the way that networks act in collusion to present their commercials simultaneously. It’s obviously a defensive measure to protect advertisers who won’t be lost to a competitor, but it always makes me wish that some anti-trust or monopoly law could be invoked to stop it. The great joy of being able to sample another program during a commercial break from the one you are watching, is being denied. What happened to the principle of competition? But then again network programmers are not necessarily smart, particularly when they set similar programs against each other (CBS’ 60 Minutes vs Dateline NBC, for example) thus effectively halving the audience for both.

Whenever a new device is announced or a new version of an existing device, the slaves to Being Firstism are there lining up, sometimes days in advance. What is it that impels such insecure people to believe that it’s some kind of achievement to be first, when it’s clearly obvious that days or even weeks later the device will still be available and more appraisals have been tallied? Occasionally, to the delight of those of us who relish schadenfreude, the early buyers of say, the iPhone, get caught by discovering that the excessive early price was just for suckers—people who’ve been manipulated for commercial reasons. Generating pre-release demand is just a marketing device, aided and abetted by the MSM which benefits so much from the advertising. Every week there are vivid examples of this with the release of new movies whose worth is judged solely on the number of bums on seats counted during the first weekend.  If moviegoers reverted to waiting for a day or two, the industry would be obliged to give its new releases a longer gestation period which would be of benefit to both to the producers and the customers, everybody in fact except the advertisers.


Chapter Twenty-Five—Ojai, California's Shangri La

Video Rants and Raves (continued)


Manhattan Memories is available at

An updat,ed 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.
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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

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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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