Results 1 to 21 of 21
  1. #1
    Amor de Cosmos's Avatar
    Don't worry, it'll soon be over
    Join Date
    Jan 2008
    Location
    The Fraser River delta
    Posts
    17,389
    Teams
    QPR, Hitchin Town
    Biscuit
    Fig Roll
    Actor
    Klaus Kinski (if he was alive, like)

    Essential Reading — The 1960s

    I’ve wanted to read Emmett Grogan’s Ringolevio: A Life Played For Keeps for close to fifty years. Having now done so I can attest the wait was worth it, but not in the way I expected.

    Every UK teenager knew something was happening in San Francisco during those Mid-60s’ Summers, but it wasn’t exactly clear to us what it was. Drugs and music sure, but we had those ourselves. What we definitely didn’t have were hundreds of thousands of “flower children,” apparently descending on a single street corner. The arresting images the straight media provided only contributed more perplexity. In retrospect the underground press wasn’t much better. A litany of names, Be-ins, and drug busts meant little without context. Emmett Grogan’s was one of those names but never more than that hence, to me, especially fascinating.

    Grogan was, almost everyone present agrees, a key figure in that place at that time. He was also a consummate liar. By his own account, he’d been a heroin addict at 14, a convict at 15, then attended a prestigious prep-school, become a cat-burglar on NY’s West Side, climbed the Matterhorn, attended film school in Rome, and gone on bombing runs in Northern Ireland with the Provos. This covers the first half of the book and, while entertaining, clearly suggests a steaming pile of bullshit. But, as fellow Digger Peter Coyote, writes in his introduction: “Don’t believe everything you read, but don’t be too quick to doubt it either. Whether or not he actually did everything he claimed in exactly the way he claimed is immaterial. As Emmett disclaims in his Author’s Note, ‘This book is true.’ But that doesn’t mean it all actually happened. Which sounds like a cop out to me but, perhaps unintentionally, does perhaps get close to the heart of who Grogan was.

    The San Francisco Diggers were an obscure organisation at a time when every other radical group in town found it easy to get yards of copy. Referred to variously as street anarchists or a secular Salvation Army, they took it on themselves to feed, clothe, house and otherwise supply with essentials the innumerable kids who wandered into the Haight at that time. Based on the little I knew about them at the time, to me they appeared to embody what the hippie counter-culture was supposed to be about. It turns out I was wrong, the Diggers wanted no part of that at all. Says Grogan:

    “The Summer of Love was mainly the result of... a lie. The Haight Independent Proprietors’ Human Be-In lie and its result bore witness to what would be in store for a nation that allowed its children to be lied to by comical, fake-radical politicos whose masquerade they nurtured by giving them profitable access to mass media. The adventure of poverty by young white people in love ghettos throughout the country, like the Haight-Ashbury and the Lower East Side, was pleasant fakery for most of them. But in the same way that real poverty has always given birth to real revolution, this feigned poverty would breed a false bottomed, jerry-built revolution in which the the adventurers would continue their make-believe and be followed by the rock-concert lumpen, tired of their own voyeurism.”

    Grogan despised the counter culture political celebs even more than the hip entrepreneurs. The Learys, Hoffmans, Rubins and the coffee shop campus radicals were, he believed, building personal fame on the backs the poor. Anonymity was fundamental to the Diggers. In part this was pragmatic, much of what they redistributed was stolen or obtained otherwise illicitly. However fear of becoming media generated personality cult was an equal concern, particularly for Grogan. It’s clear he was an articulate and charismatic personality, and his struggle against visibility became simultaneously both a fear and obsession. Yet the more he struggled the more that role pursued him, to the extent that he became to be distrusted by the other Diggers. Ultimately his solution was to walk away.

    This book was published in 1972. Six years later Emmett Grogan was found dead of a heroin overdose in a subway train at Coney Island. His testament begs as many questions as it answers, yet it’s still the best subjective account of the period I’ve read. I expected an autobiography, what I got was not that. The first half of this book is mostly fabrication and the second a good part exaggeration. Yet in spite of that, on its own terms, it’s never less than honest.

  2. #2
    Benjm's Avatar
    Join Date
    Aug 2010
    Location
    London
    Posts
    5,105
    I wasn't really aware of Grogan before now but have just ordered a copy of Ringolevio. His only other published title seems to have been a hard boiled heist thriller.

  3. #3
    Amor de Cosmos's Avatar
    Don't worry, it'll soon be over
    Join Date
    Jan 2008
    Location
    The Fraser River delta
    Posts
    17,389
    Teams
    QPR, Hitchin Town
    Biscuit
    Fig Roll
    Actor
    Klaus Kinski (if he was alive, like)
    Yes, I know nothing about that. I'll look forward to your impressions. BTW if, like me, you've ordered the NYRB edition, there are several photos almost all of which are uncaptioned. Which only adds to to the air of mystification.

  4. #4
    Benjm's Avatar
    Join Date
    Aug 2010
    Location
    London
    Posts
    5,105
    My copy of Ringolevio arrived today and I'll start on it after I've finished Johnny Marr's autobiography. The page count suggests that EG subscribed to the countercultural author's traditional disdain for the editorial hand.

    The edition I've got was published by UK outfit Rebel Inc., who our man may well have been deeply suspicious of for packaging and selling dissent.

    The other work that Amor's OP description, particularly the last paragraph, brings to my mind as having potential similarities is Errol Flynn's My Wicked, Wicked Ways.

  5. #5
    Amor de Cosmos's Avatar
    Don't worry, it'll soon be over
    Join Date
    Jan 2008
    Location
    The Fraser River delta
    Posts
    17,389
    Teams
    QPR, Hitchin Town
    Biscuit
    Fig Roll
    Actor
    Klaus Kinski (if he was alive, like)
    Yes, it's not a short read but, I found, never boring. In a way it's really two books, the pre-San Francisco "Kenny Wisdom" years, then SF "Emmett Grogan" period. He changes from one identity to the other literally between paragraphs. Each is written in the third person which adds another layer of fictionality to the enterprise. According to some both are in fact pseudonyms.

    Does your edition include Peter Coyote's introduction? I found it helpful in nailing down the fact that someone calling himself Emmett Grogan did actually exist!

  6. #6
    imp's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jan 2008
    Location
    Frankfurt, in the main
    Posts
    4,052
    Teams
    The Mighty Imps of Lindum
    Biscuit
    Jaffa Cakes/Biscuits
    An old flat-mate of mine loved this book and had read it several times. Eventually he persuaded me to read it, and I can remember all the preposterous claims - like how he learned to speak fluent Italian after two weeks in Italy, and the same in any other country he visited. It annoyed me from start to finish on every level.

  7. #7
    Amor de Cosmos's Avatar
    Don't worry, it'll soon be over
    Join Date
    Jan 2008
    Location
    The Fraser River delta
    Posts
    17,389
    Teams
    QPR, Hitchin Town
    Biscuit
    Fig Roll
    Actor
    Klaus Kinski (if he was alive, like)
    I can see how it might. I found "Kenny" infuriating but his sheer preposterousness, while sometimes annoying intrigued me. Why was he writing this when it was so transparently fraudulent? I kept reading mainly because I wanted to go to San Francisco, where it began to make some kind of sense. There, Emmett's brand of bullshit, at least in his eyes, is less corrosive than the most of the counter-culture charlatans he describes. They exploit the truth with words, while his actions reveal an honest liar. There's a lot of Robin Hood-ishness in there. How much is only in his head though, I confess is still unclear to me.
    Last edited by Amor de Cosmos; 17-09-2017 at 23:38.

  8. #8
    Benjm's Avatar
    Join Date
    Aug 2010
    Location
    London
    Posts
    5,105
    Quote Originally Posted by imp View Post
    ...I can remember all the preposterous claims...
    That's the I, Ludicrous earworm sorted for the duration of the book then. Preposterous tales in the life of Ken 'Wisdom' McKenzie.

    The introduction to my copy is by a Chris Sullivan, who I think it is fair to say is a bit of a fan:

    This book is like a latter-day new testament. Something to live your life by and nothing else.

  9. #9
    imp's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jan 2008
    Location
    Frankfurt, in the main
    Posts
    4,052
    Teams
    The Mighty Imps of Lindum
    Biscuit
    Jaffa Cakes/Biscuits
    That's funny - the flatmate who raved about Ringolevio was also the first to play me 'Preposterous Tales in the Life of Ken McKenzie'. Maybe I've always associated him with the word 'preposterous'.

  10. #10
    "Now Then, Now Then"

    Bob Dylan dedicated his Street Legal LP to Emmet Grogan. (Released just after his death) That at least is true.

  11. #11
    Amor de Cosmos's Avatar
    Don't worry, it'll soon be over
    Join Date
    Jan 2008
    Location
    The Fraser River delta
    Posts
    17,389
    Teams
    QPR, Hitchin Town
    Biscuit
    Fig Roll
    Actor
    Klaus Kinski (if he was alive, like)
    This book is like a latter-day new testament. Something to live your life by and nothing else.

    Oh dear.

  12. #12
    Amor de Cosmos's Avatar
    Don't worry, it'll soon be over
    Join Date
    Jan 2008
    Location
    The Fraser River delta
    Posts
    17,389
    Teams
    QPR, Hitchin Town
    Biscuit
    Fig Roll
    Actor
    Klaus Kinski (if he was alive, like)
    Quote Originally Posted by wittoner View Post
    "Now Then, Now Then"

    Bob Dylan dedicated his Street Legal LP to Emmet Grogan. (Released just after his death) That at least is true.
    He hung out with the Bobster at Woodstock. I can see how they'd get on, both being partial to bullshit and self-mythology. The Band recorded a couple of his songs too, and he apparently organised the poetry readings for The Last Waltz.

  13. #13
    Nocturnal Submission's Avatar
    Man's Gotta Know His Limitations
    Join Date
    Mar 2008
    Location
    Revelling In The Hole
    Posts
    2,000
    Teams
    England, Chelsea and Tooting & Mitcham
    Biscuit
    Nairn's Cheese Oatcake
    Actor
    Griff Rhys Jones
    Quote Originally Posted by Benjm View Post
    That's the I, Ludicrous earworm sorted for the duration of the book then. Preposterous tales in the life of Ken 'Wisdom' McKenzie.

    The introduction to my copy is by a Chris Sullivan, who I think it is fair to say is a bit of a fan:
    I have told everyone that I used to work with one half of I, Ludicrous (Will Hung) and indeed Ken McKenzie, haven't I?

    Yeh, thought so.

  14. #14
    imp's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jan 2008
    Location
    Frankfurt, in the main
    Posts
    4,052
    Teams
    The Mighty Imps of Lindum
    Biscuit
    Jaffa Cakes/Biscuits
    I've missed that story. So Ken McKenzie was real? Aaaaaah, come on!

  15. #15
    Nocturnal Submission's Avatar
    Man's Gotta Know His Limitations
    Join Date
    Mar 2008
    Location
    Revelling In The Hole
    Posts
    2,000
    Teams
    England, Chelsea and Tooting & Mitcham
    Biscuit
    Nairn's Cheese Oatcake
    Actor
    Griff Rhys Jones
    He is indeed and a lovely guy.

    I can't say that I ever heard him make the claims attributed to him in the song but according to another guy that we worked with (who went to be the Sunday Times's rock critic!) it was all absolutely true.

    I think Ken was just one of those people that things happened to. I remember him chasing down a mugger in London and then shortly afterwards helping people following a train derailment in Scotland.

    Thinking about it I'm not so sure that M. Night Shyamalan didn't base the character of Elijah Price in Unbreakable on him!

  16. #16
    imp's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jan 2008
    Location
    Frankfurt, in the main
    Posts
    4,052
    Teams
    The Mighty Imps of Lindum
    Biscuit
    Jaffa Cakes/Biscuits
    Yeah, well next time you see him, you can tell him I once saw the Palace score six goals away from home. Preposterous? It's true, man, I swear it's true. And I have to ask - have you sampled his home brew?

  17. #17
    Nocturnal Submission's Avatar
    Man's Gotta Know His Limitations
    Join Date
    Mar 2008
    Location
    Revelling In The Hole
    Posts
    2,000
    Teams
    England, Chelsea and Tooting & Mitcham
    Biscuit
    Nairn's Cheese Oatcake
    Actor
    Griff Rhys Jones
    Quote Originally Posted by imp View Post
    Yeah, well next time you see him, you can tell him I once saw the Palace score six goals away from home. Preposterous? It's true, man, I swear it's true. And I have to ask - have you sampled his home brew?
    Heh - mercifully not.

    Here's the great man himself, BTW, peering into the middle distance for the next, unlikely, yarn:



  18. #18
    Benjm's Avatar
    Join Date
    Aug 2010
    Location
    London
    Posts
    5,105
    This is fantastic.

    Admittedly Emmett Grogan remains a shadowy and marginal figure but confirming the existence of Ken McKenzie, with first hand witness reports and photographic evidence, has to count as a significant contribution to the field of crypto-biography and an OTF highlight for the ages.

  19. #19
    imp's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jan 2008
    Location
    Frankfurt, in the main
    Posts
    4,052
    Teams
    The Mighty Imps of Lindum
    Biscuit
    Jaffa Cakes/Biscuits
    The picture. "That's me at the top of Everest. Or was it the time I uprooted a fencing post to fight off a horde of Mongols? No, no, wait, it's me at the helm of a yacht I stole off Ted Heath before sailing it single-handedly around the world!"

  20. #20

    Join Date
    Feb 2010
    Location
    South London
    Posts
    502
    Teams
    Middlesbrough
    Wow! It's not often I venture into 'Books' but it's probably the best thing I've done this week. Remarkable.

  21. #21
    imp's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jan 2008
    Location
    Frankfurt, in the main
    Posts
    4,052
    Teams
    The Mighty Imps of Lindum
    Biscuit
    Jaffa Cakes/Biscuits
    You should stay. We always have tea and biscuits at around 4pm.

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •