Alpheous Latimer was born in Canton, New York, in 1945, into a household
already comprised of nine brothers and sisters, six cows, three pigs,
numerous chickens, wood stoves - no running water. During his year and
a half at the New York State College at Potsdam, he worked as a reporter
for the St Lawrence Plaindealer and the Potsdam Courier-Freeman. After
college he went to New York City, where he wrote for the East Village
Other, then to California, where he won the Creative Writing Fellowship
at Stanford University. While in California, Latimer worked for the
Black Panthers and taught a course at the Midpeninsula Free University.
Upon returning to New York in 1968, he began writing Decomposition,
his weekly column for EVO.
if you wanna talk about violence,
You know you can count me out.
Don't you know, everything's gonna be all right?
Everything's gonna be all right . . .
Revolution by J.Lennon
he'd made his first million dollars - it must have been in late '63
- John Lennon by that fact counted himself out. A couple grass busts,
some naked posters, and an intercontinental bedside chat with the media
shouldn't make us lose sight of his bank balance. Money does dirty things
to your head, you commence to prattling on about violence, how it begets
nothing but more violence, and how estrangement from the System is the
only means of fighting it, and of course the happy ineffable tendency
of all things to Turn Out All Right In The End.
is rich men's bullshit. Violence begets change, a wasted pig is a force
for social evolution. Estrangement from the System merely allows the
System to do its thing, part of which necessarily involves fixing the
wagons of them as act E-stranged. And a cursory study of the ineffable
tendency of all things as they tend right now is sufficient to prompt
some grave reservations about their happy disposition In The End: dig
it, it may be your End that gets the final shaft.
prophets of the coming era, then, the Lennon Brothers have to be taken
with a grain of salt. Certainly, in a tactical sense, when it comes
to fostering helpful Revolutionary attitudes and ideas, the Beatles
aren't the most forceful of propagandists. It cannot be said of them
that they spur you forward to joust against the pigs with the same fervour
and determination with which the Redskins fly against the Vikings after
one of Vince Lombardi's half-time pep talks. 'Don't you know everything's
gonna be all right?' Sure, and when the middle linebacker steps on your
quarterback's spleen, that's cool baby, don't get hung up on it, we
must maintain moderation in all things, rage included.
John Sinclair, now, there's a moderate man for you. . . They sentence
him to ten years in jail for two joints of smoke, and by George he doesn't
stir a hair, what few remain since the prison barber got to him. Any
lesser man would have tried to total his arresting officer right there
in the courtroom, but not ole Brother John. No, a few words to the judge
and he goes away all sweet and quiet to the maximum security prison
at Marquette, Michigan, a place of heavy sandstone bricks and electric
barbed wire and guns, where they tattooed his serial number into his
forearm with blue laundry ink. We've come a long way since Germany in
the thirties, baby: tattoos can be surgically removed now.
two joints they ripped off Brother John, defaced his body, and cut more
years out of his life than nicotine cut out of Edward R. Murrow's. You
should weep to think about this, because John Sinclair was to the teenagers
of Darkest America the only truly incendiary force that existed for
them in the last decade.
AMERICA is the vast waste of pork fat and corn husks and motor oil that
lies between the Northeastern Megalopolis and the narrow beachfront
stretch from Los Angeles north to the Marin Peninsula. For all practical
purposes, nothing ever happens in this vastness of mediocrity, except
on the day every few years that the bars are closed and the polls are
open. Only in the Cities and on the Coast does anything new ever come
into being, but for all the effect these places have on the lives of
the Darkest Americans, they might as well be amusement parks, or brothels.
Nothing grows in Darkest America but the young, and when they reach
a certain age in years the growth process is firmly arrested. At seventeen
you graduate from high school in Columbus and you go straight into the
Service: at twenty you come home, sit around until the boredom kills
what's left of you, and then you go get a job. Eventually you get married
and watch television while your kids grow up.
has it that this is the only way to live in Darkest America. What an
insane idea! Why, fifty years ago you could shoot bears in your back
yard in Minneapolis, Minnesota. A hundred years ago the place was woods
so thick even the Indians had trouble getting through it. And these
people now have the nerve to tell their kids to jam themselves up tight
at the age of seventeen out of deference to tradition?!! What God damned
tra-fucking-dition, pray? Grandpa sold his soul to the company store
during the Depression, little Elroy is supposed to follow in his footsteps?
Shit!!" John Sinclair was wont to explode when some professional
hippie with hunkie tendencies tried to back-ass out of some Trans-Love
Energies project. "I'd like to carry the Sun in my head shop,"
the guy would plead, "but gee, John, you got all that filthy writing
in there - and it's obviously directed straight at the teenage kids
- look, John, I gotta license to worry about, and you know what the
DA's been saying about smut and crime on campus. . ."
Shit!!" John would remark, and stomp heavily out into the Detroit
streets leaving in his wake a trail of blue expletives. Trans-Love Energies,
operating out of Detroit and Ann Arbor, was Brother John's baby. It
had grown out of the Writers and Artists' Workshop, which John had formed
in 1965, in an effort to organize all the creative people in Motor City
to resist the Formaldehyde Tradition in Darkest America. It worked well:
with a whole mess of people operating as one, it was nothing to arrange
for cooperative living and studio space, necessary equipment and food,
and phenomenal amounts of dope (cheap) with which to coax th' bashful
was one thing no one could have foreseen, however, in the founding of
the Workshop, and that was the unnatural quantity of creative folk who
answered Sinclair's summons. It was '65, the year something green was
unleashed in the American psyche, and Motor City abounded with creative
young kids. Swing a cat and you'd knock over four writers, a painter,
two cute little jewelry sculptresses, and a couple weird sorts who never
actually did anything, but from whom radiated a whole spectrum of profoundly
fertile vibrations. Faced with the Traditional fate of a life spent
working at GM and following the Lions every autumn, these kids were
opting out in frenzied bellbottomed giggling droves. It came then to
Sinclair's shrewd and delighted mind that the Formaldehyde System would
do better to protect itself from these kids than the other way around.
Why, if all these young punks ever went on the offensive - it was clearly
the best part of the Baby Boom - it would be a terrifying thing to see,
for J.Edgar Hoover and all those other freaked-up old dudes. So Brother
John went into
in a big way with
Trans-Love Energies. Communications: First he
put out the Detroit Sun, one of the very first Underground newspapers
to appear in Darkest America. Written mainly by Sinclair himself - eight
pages or so out of every issue - the Sun covered developments of interest
on the municipal scene, such as drug busts and rumors of drug busts,
be-ins, art shows, and a generous amount of radical propaganda. A frequent
contributor to the Sun was John's friend Pun Plamondon, who wrote a
regular column with the aggressive title "Fucking In The Streets."
Kids who grew up watching television and not believing a bit of all
that old bullshit - pray, who could take Walter Cronkite seriously?
- found in the open, out-front sincerity of the Sun a lot which reflected
their own experience of Darkest America.
After reading the Sun you couldn't sit still. If there was one human
being in Detroit who shared your sensibilities - Brother John Sinclair
- the surely there were hundreds more, if you could only bust out and
get to them, with them. In fact there were thousands, and thus the White
Panther Party Was born, out of John's observation that anyone who deviates
from the Traditional Norm is effectively a nigger. Much more than a
mere Hunkies-For-Huey handkerchief outfit, the White Panther Program
became a radical alternative to the Detroit YMCA Teen-Canteen: kids
collected around it because, for the first time in history, here was
something TO DO!! For a million years teen-agers had perplexed their
parents by complaining about the lack of things to do, and now John
Sinclair was on the scene, suggesting, "Just kick out the jams,
motherfucker. Kick out the jams." Which brings us to:
The MC5 is one heavy bitching group! Now, to Activate a high school
kid, you do not - if you know what's good for you - fill his teeming
imagination with Marxist dialectic and the history of the Wobblies in
the Twenties. This won't work. The only kids who get interested in such
rap are the ones who read stuff like this, and in this age of Television,
these kids are not the tastemakers of their age group, not by a damn
sight. No, to turn on the adolescent population at large, you got to
kick out the jams, goddammit! Brother John, Information Minister of
the White Panther Party, got for his Detroit movement the Motor City
Five, good clean young American boys who with him traveled the length
and breadth of Darkest America causing young folk to lose their wits
and run amok in the streets screaming obscenities and engaging in deviate
forms of premarital intercourse. Buffalo, Seattle, Denver, Miami, Boston,
New York, Oakland, St.Paul, Youngstown: when the MC5 leave town, they
leave a shambles.
THREW A SCARE INTO all those freaked-up old dudes, all right. Why, look
at that newspaper, the Sun there, with all those dirty words and them
Pinko nigger-lovin' antiwar stories. Would you want your kid reading
stuff like that? So the Sun was shut down with obscenity busts and judicious
license-violation terrorizing of a new key Detroit newsstands, and henceforth
was mimeographed and distributed for free on streetcorners. Stomping
out the Detroit Sun was about as productive as trying to piss the real
sun down - it was an organic phenomenon, like fingers growing out of
wrists, it couldn't be stopped by an act of Congress - and when Trans-Love
Energies moved to Ann Arbor to escape the heat, the Sun turned into
the Argus, and now appears biweekly.
MC5 was a blight on the nation. Goin' around cussing on stage, taking
their pants down, pissing on the audience, inciting to riot and rock'n'roll,
dope and fucking in the streets. . . They were busted in Oakland for
balling a teenybopper on stage. They were kicked out of Seattle for
publicly cussing out a plastic hippie who accused them of selling out.
After Rolling Stone warned the Mayor of Miami about the Five's proclivity
for unnatural acts, the group was banned from the state of Florida.
And in New York at the Fillmore East, a mini-riot erupted when the Five
refused to accede to the demands of the hysterical crowd that they start
the Revolution on stage right there that night; it is a testament to
the power of Sinclair's group than anyone thought they could blow up
the country all by themselves.
matter of the White Panther also tended to give the authorities the
cold cobbles. Panthers . . . Panthers . . . Wasn't there some violent
militant Black Power outfit called the Black Panthers got wrote up in
Bill Buckley's magazine a while back? Why sure enough, and if you thought
the Communists were evil, wait'll you clap your eyes and ears on the
likes of Huey Newton, Eldridge Cleaver, and Bobby Seale. From the first,
the Panthers had the best white folk freaked for fair: it was bad enough
when the blacks just wanted your job and your woman, but now they're
creating an identity of their very own, not the sort of lamebrain self-effacing
niggerhood the White Man's been laying on them since he "discovered"
this White Panther business was just doubly alarming. Kids, good well-brought-up
American kids leading decent lives like in Leave It To Beaver and the
Mousketeers, all of a sudden these kids are nigger lovers!! And not
merely like in CORE or Vista or NAACP, harmless liberal wastebasket
caseworkers and envelope stuffers, no, these kids were doing something
even more distressing - they were adopting the lifestyle of the Black
Panther Party, the mystique, the cellar-Christian humor, yea, the very
language thereof, for themselves. To have kids working for Civil Rights
was merely repugnant, but to have them working with and acting like
this new brand of nigger, well . . . Well, y'all best check up on the
tear gas supply and order a few gross more cattle prods, hear?
new interstate anti-riot bill was considered the ace up the Formaldehyde
System's sleeve, since under its implementation virtually anybody who
made a long-distance call on a tapped phone could be busted for one
thing or another. It was merely a question, after the act was rammed
through as a rider to the Rap Brown Bill, of who to bust out of Ma Bell's
millions of satisfied clients. The Panthers went first, those niggers
soon learned who was boss on this plantation. Then they got the Chicago
people. And what about them thousands of midwestern high school students
so woefully deluded and mislead by one John Sinclair?
WAS THE SORT OF MAN who caused respectable women to tighten their sphincters
and leave the room; the look of him alone threw previously secure gentlemen
into seething fits of confusion and resentment. Built like a defensive
tackle, John Sinclair was, very tall but so broad as to be apparently
stuffed ankle-deep into the ground by his own heft: hair all over and
the specific density of a neutron star. Invulnerable! You saw that by
the look of his eyes behind his thick spectacles, gentle and gentle,
so very gentle there was no hate that could ever cloud them over. And
John Sinclair was a man of heavy passions.
only he wouldn't wear his hair that way. John had beautiful hair, like
the mane of one of those lions on a Provençal coat of arms, only
black. It came out of his head like black shrapnel at first, but then
it rippled down over his sloping shoulders in wonderful waves that made
a Toni permanent look vulgar by comparison. It was the hair that blew
the mind of anyone who clung to the trappings of propriety - it was
too long and too pretty and too masculine, dammit! Nobody who'd spent
his life admiring the Korean War look could relate much to Brother John,
he was just too weird.
DAY HAS COME. YOU MAY LAUGH, Mr SINCLAIR, BUT YOU WILL HAVE A LONG TIME
TO LAUGH. I SENTENCE YOU TO NOT LESS THAN 91/2 AND NOT MORE THAN EN
YEARS IN THE STATE PENITENTIARY.
The Collected Sentences of Judge Robert J.Colombo, Recorder Court
Judge, speaking in the name of the People of the State of Michigan.
which Brother John immoderately responded: "You've completely revealed
yourselves, you're exposed yourselves even more. Power to the people!
Off the pigs! You will die!" And he will.
people hated John Sinclair. One who made his career out of hating John
was Warner Stringfellow of the Detroit department of narcotics control.
Twice before Stringfellow had busted Brother John for possession of
weed. The first conviction, in 1963, resulted in an extended period
on probation. The next conviction, in 1965, landed John in the slammer
for six months, during which he wrote
CAN'T MAKE ME A CRIMINAL, WARNER, YOU SHOULD KNOW THAT BY NOW, &
YOUR PRISONS & COURTS DON'T SCARE ME ANY MORE; I KNOW WHAT YOU ARE
& I DON'T HATE YOU ANY MORE, I WON'T LET YOU TRAP ME IN THAT TINY
LITTLE BAG OF YOURS, I WON'T RESPOND THE WAY YOU HAVE TO HAVE ME RESPOND
BECAUSE IT'S TOO LATE FOR THAT NOW, WARNER, IT'S JUST TOO DAMN LATE
FOR THOSE GAMES . . .
Poem For Warner Stringfellow by John Sinclair, in response to
Stringfellow's declaration, on the night of the second bust, that "I
know what you are, and when I get you again you ain't gettin' off so
easy. I'll drown you, you worthless prick." And he too will die.
after the third conviction, which came about after John in his generosity
had given a couple joints to some other undercover pig who'd been running
a pottery shop in Detroit, they put him away for ten years.
that grass ever hurt anybody, but on the Monday after the Woodstock
Music And Art Festival at Bethel, N.Y. last fall, Pun Plamondon and
Sinclair's wife, Leni, were stopped in their car in Wayne Township,
New Jersey, by the police, and kept in jail for several days fro possession
of the stuff. It can't be too comforting to be sitting in an isolation
cell in a maximum security prison with your number branded on your forearm,
to know that the woman who is carrying your baby is socked in the Jersey
slams. Research is underway now to determine the identity of the pigs
who busted Pun and Leni, and when their names are known they will certainly
may allow several months to pass attempting to free John Sinclair on
bail and attempting to reason with the media. Senators, liberals, legislators,
etc. to secure some trace of justice. If we fail, we shall be forced
to mount a campaign to alter, if necessary, the nature of the government
of the state of Michigan to free one of the most important men of our
ARE FOUR LETTERS YOU CAN WRITE IMMEDIATELY:
To Judge Robert Colombo, Detroit
Recorders Court, Detroit, Michigan;
to a Mr.Callahan who is Wayne County prosecutor (Detroit) and has requested
that John's sentence be upped to 20 - 40 years;
to Governor William Millikin, State Capitol Building, Lansing, Michigan
to the Warden, Southern Michigan
Prison, Jackson, Michigan
to make you letters calm enough to be read and forceful: but not threatening.
We must exhaust certain legal avenues before we may have to jessejames
him out of the slams."
The Christ of Marijuana by Ed Sanders, East Village Other, which also
YOUR LIFESAVING CONTRIBUTIONS TO:
John Sinclair Defense Fund
1510 Hill Street
Ann Arbor, Michigan."