Grooving in Chi
The photographer was arrested while composing this picture. Click here for his story
On the way to the hotel this afternoon, coming from the airport, I saw something right out of a Bunuel movie; in a desolate section that resembles the Jersey flats, four boys each about ten years old and armed with small sticks were flailing wildly at a huge crippled black man who reeled and staggered drunkenly among the piles of debris in a deserted lot. The taxi passed within fifty feet of the scene, slowing down as the driver looked directly at it, with no apparent reaction.
"Wait a minute," I said as we continued past, "their beating the hell out of that guy back there. We'd better help him."
The driver just shrugged and brought the cab to a gradual stop. "The coons loaded," he muttered, craning his head out the window to look behind us.
"Just back up a little," I suggested, "they'll probably take off."
"Uh-huh," he started slowly backing up, "what if they don't?"
"They're only kids for chrissake," saying this with an almost total lack of conviction as we drew nearer but as it happened my analysis was correct; after one last flurry, and amidst mucho high-pitched prepuberty screeching of obscenities, the children abandoned their prey and scurried pell-mell across the lot.
"Are you okay?" I asked the Negro, much closer to the curb now, still staggering, not seemingly unscathed. Instead of a direct, or indeed a verbal reply, his response was to seize a large, empty and battered ashcan, to raise it over his head, ready to slam it into the side of the taxi.
"Wait," I started to explain, "me friend... " but the driver had by now definitely lost interest in the case, and he lurched the car up and away.
"Boy, was that coon ever loaded," he said matter-of factly about five minutes later.
A curious tableau-did it augur well or mal, conventionwise?
Six p.m. Rendezvous of our hard-hitting
little press team-Jean Jack Genet, Willy Bill Burroughs, and yours truly as anchor man, trying to lend a modicum of stability to the group. Also on hand, Esky editor young John Berendt-his job: straighten these weirdos, and K.F.S. ("Keep Flying Speed!"). We met in the queer little Downstairs Lounge, one of several bars in our hotel, the Chicago-Sheraton, and John Berendt was quick to charge us with our respective assignments: "You Jean Jack Genet, on the alert for all manner of criminality and perversion in high places! You, Big Bill Burroughs, let your keen and experienced eye discern any sign of sense derangement through the use of drugs by these delegates, the nominees, and officials of every station! Now then, you, T. Southern, on double alert for all manner of absurdity at this convention!"
Terry Southern, William Burroughs and Jean Genet gather outside the Chicago Convention Center
Thus charged, we drank steadily for the next two hours before going to visit grand guy Dave Dellinger, head of National Mobilization to End the War in Vietnam and one of the chief coordinators for the planned demonstrations. Before our meeting, I thought this so-called Dellinger must necessarily be some kind of old-fool-person, a kind of leftover leftist from another era who didn't know where it was at right now, just a compulsive organizer ... maybe even a monstro-commie-spade-fag. But no, a groove and gas he proved to be.
"Our demonstrations shall be entirely peaceful," he explained (with a certain lack of prophecy) and then went on to describe the coalition and its program. The other two principal groups were the S.D.S. (of Morningside Heights fame) and the fun and everloving Yippies. A wise and gentle man, it was this same Dave Dell, editor of Liberation, who led the Pentagon March last fall, and so we sat talking in a bare and harshly lit room, the windows of which had been blown out the previous day in some ironic industrial explosion, the glass replaced with a flimsy plastic cloth which flapped absurdly now in the Chicago (Windy City) night breeze, lending a surreal quality to the scene. "We are not seeking a confrontation," said Dave, a term incidentally which proved the most meaningful, both in theory and in fact, of any concept put forward during the convention, "we simply wish to protest the foregone conclusion that it is a closed convention, that there is no possible alternate to Humphrey, as a candidate, and more importantly, of course, to express our continued opposition to the war in Vietnam."
"What's happening with Lincoln Park?"
Early in the afternoon an announcement had been issued by the Office of the Mayor, Richard Daley, to the effect that everyone would have to be out of the park by eleven that night. This edict was fairly inopportune, because about two thousand young yip-yip Yippies had just arrived from various U.S.A.; and with absolutely no other place to go, all hotels full for proverbial months on end, they had ensconced at the Link.
"We're hoping the Mayor will reconsider his decision," said Dellinger, ever boss-reasonable, "that perhaps he will understand the best way to deal with a situation like this might be to accommodate it ... not to defy it." This truth was obvious and it immediately brought to mind my own John Jack Lindsay, and how he would have handled it, to good advantage, god bless him, strolling down there in shirt sleeves, with some hot dogs to roast, a nice little Panasonic transistorized cassette unit blasting a fine sound, and maybe even a taste of, hrrumph, hee-hee, Chicago Light Green! It was all so apparent how Dumbbell Dick could have cooled it-and not merely have cooled it, but turned it to gross P.R. advan. I began to think of myself as some sort of lean and hungry Pierre Sal, as I grooved there with Dave Dellinger, just grooving on Big Dave and his son, Ray, both too beautiful to be believed-son bops-physical-spiritual, wearing a blue beret, circling catlike bodyguard-style around his father ... knowing Dad Dave was something else, and that certain lewdies and sick weirdos might venture harm against him.
Suddenly Mister John Jack Genet, knowing no English at all, demanded of our ace trans (Richard Dick Seaver, of Evergreen-Grove fame) if Hugh Hefner was a fag.
Well, really. I mean I'm no prude myself, but when some weird frog starts blasting the Hef, that's when I begin to get a bit uptight. Unfortunately I had nothing at the moment to get up on, much less tight, so I simply lay back, and sort of dropped out, so to speak. Dellinger, of course, knew nothing about Hef sex, nor could (I warrant) care less. In any case the subject was soon dropped in favor of more serious
matters-namely where we could find Allen Ginsberg. Allen, it developed, was staying at the Lincoln Hotel, just opposite the park itself; so with Dick Seaver at the wheel, we zoomed across town, toward the very heart of the action, for it was now ten minutes till curfewville, eleven p.m. And quite apparent it was, too, when we reached the scene, the baby-blue police already massed in rows of three... nightsticks and Mace at the ready, also gas masks, smoke grenades, and riot guns, a weird sight I can tell you. They lined the sidewalk bordering the park, which was completely dark, except for two or three bonfires glowing in the distance. In the midst of the police formation was a huge armored van, on top of which were several banks of large searchlights; in front of the still dark lights stood three men, the ones on either side holding riot guns, the kind used to fire tear-gas shells, while the man between them made announcements over a gigantic bullhorn:
Michael Cooper took this photograph during the Chicago Convention of 1968.
Cooper also created the famous album cover of the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band in his studio in London.
"This is a final warning. Clear the park. Disperse. You have five minutes to disperse. You have five minutes to get out of this park!"
About then we spotted big Ed Sanders, of Fug and E.V.0. fame, threading his way along the periphery of monstro-fuzz before knifing into the darkness.
"Where's that loony fruit Al Ginsberg?!?" I shouted, rushing to overtake him. Fortunately, just before lowering the boom on me, Ed recognized the remark for the clever and good-natured jibe it was. "He's doing his thing," he said, pointing, "over by that fire."
We all started walking in that direction. As our eyes became accustomed to the dark, and in the eerie light of the approaching fires, we could now make out figures and faces where before it had been an empty blackness. It is difficult to estimate the number of persons there, but they were everywhere, probably more than two thousand, milling around, seemingly about half of them moving toward the street to get out of the park, the other half just wandering uncertainly in the half-light.
We found Allen, seated in the center of a group of fifty or so, doing his thing, which in this case was the "Om," leading the others in chanting the word "Om" with varying intonation, pitch, and volume. Sanders explained that at eleven o'clock a rumor that the police were moving in had caused panic and started a general and chaotic flight. Ginsberg however had restored calm by gathering these people around him and doing his Om thing. Now they appeared to be serenity itself, while behind us the bullhorn droned on: "Final warning. The Officers are moving in in five minutes. Anyone in the park will be arrested." We sat down with the others, and joined the Oming, which especially delighted Genet; we stayed there for maybe half an hour, while the circle grew steadily larger, and the "final warnings" were repeated. It was now nearing midnight. Burroughs looked at his watch, and with that unerring awareness of which he is capable, muttered, "They're coming." At that instant, the banks of searchlights blazed up on the armored van which was already moving toward us. Fanned out on each side of the van were about a thousand police.
"Well, Bill, I think we'd better pursue another tactic," I suggested, getting to my feet. What the hell we were supposed to he here as observers, not as participants in any of Allen's crackpot schemes. That the entire reportage team should be busted the first time out was unthinkable. Genet was the most difficult to persuade, but finally, on Ginsberg's insistence, we all went up to his hotel room. By this time the police had made their first contact with the crowd, persons who were actually trying to leave the park, but had been driven back in the opposite direction, so that now people were fleeing all around us. Advancing in the distance, silhouetted against the wall of light, moved this incredible phalanx of strangely helmeted men, swinging their nightsticks as they came. Once it was decided that we should leave. We moved with unfaltering gait, odd how infectious panic can be. Near the street, I glanced back in time to see them reach the place where we had been, and where a dozen, or more were still sitting. They didn't arrest them, at least not right away; they beat the bell out of them, with nightsticks, and in one case at least, the butt of a shotgun. They clubbed them until they got up and ran, or until they started crawling away (the ones who were able) and then they continued to hit them as long as they could. The ones who actually did get arrested seemed to have gotten caught up among the police, like a kind of human medicine ball, being shoved and knocked back and forth from one cop to the next, with what was obviously mounting fury. And this was a phenomenon somewhat unexpected, which we were to observe consistently throughout the days of violence, that rage seemed to engender rage; the bloodier and the more brutal the cops were, the more their fury increased.
Witnessed an amusing, and perhaps historic, confrontation this p.m. when in the lobby of the Hotel Drake, we chanced across a dramatic encounter between Louis ("I have nothing to hide") Abolafia, the nudist-ticket candidate, and testy Babe Bushnell who's running on the S.C.U.M. (Society for Cutting Up Men) ticket, whose founder, it might be recalled, tried to assassinate Andy Warhol. It was a curious meeting, a sort of "battle of the sexes," you might say. While the Babe shouted her diatribe about the "cutting up" of men, and where exactly the process should begin, Abolafia attempted to detract from her remarks by executing what appeared to be a nude dervish or tarantella. Both candidates had to be dragged from the lobby.
Right after lunch we very dutifully piled into the car and headed for the Convention Hall. It is exactly like approaching a military installation; barbed-wire, checkpoints, the whole bit; Genet was absolutely appalled, I was afraid he was going to be physically sick; Burroughs, of course, was ecstatic; it was all so grotesque that at one point he actually did a little dance of glee. He has a tape recorder, and he applies his cut-up and fragmentation theory to its use -recording speeches by the delegates and committeemen, then putting blank spaces in them, and filling the blanks with pieces of other speeches, and finally playing back this composite of cliches and inanities in such a way as to sound like live radio coverage, a possibility which was enhanced by the fact that this particular recorder looks exactly like a portable radio. It was Burroughs' belief that if these tapes were played constantly in the Convention Hall, the subliminal effect of the repetitions, the non sequiturs, and the general idiocies would so confound any chance listener as to possibly snap his mind, and thus become a profoundly disruptive factor in the overall "Convention profile."
We had one hell of a time actually getting admitted to the hall, despite all the proper credentials. Burroughs and I, of course, are veritable paragons of fashion and decorum, but Ginsberg and Genet, it must be admitted, are pretty weird-looking guys. In any case the cluster of door cops took one look at our group which now also included Michael Cooper, an English photographer with shoulder-length hair, a purple suit, and sandals, and then simply turned away, as though we had never arrived. The lieutenant in charge looked at us, though, and just sort of shook his head, a tight little "Who-are-you-kidding?" smile on his lips.
"Our accreditation is all in order, officer," snapped Esky's John Berendt, indicating the door passes around our necks.
"It is, huh?" said the lieutenant, not even bothering to look.
"How about his creditation?" he said, pointing to Ginsberg "is it in order too?" And he gave a derisive snort. "It certainly is," said Berendt, "show him your pass, Allen."
The lieutenant ignored Allen's attempt to show his pass, and fixed on Cooper. "And he's got creditation? Hell, he ain't even got any shoes!"
This drew some appreciative snickers from the Cops in the doorway. Just then another lieutenant arrived and wanted to know what the trouble was, whereupon the first lieutenant simply indicated us with a nod, as though it was that obvious.
"They got passes?" asked the other, and reached out to examine the nearest one. "You wantta handle this?" said the first lieutenant in a highly annoyed tone, "You handle it. I don't want no part of it." And he turned away, arms crossed, a sullen little-boy expression on his fifty-year-old face. The other one watched him for a minute, then looked at us again, with perhaps only one iota less suspicion than his colleague.
"Okay, let's go," he said, "I'll take you up to Security."
The Security chiefs were typically F.B.I., C.I.A. cop-types, but a shade less stupid; at least they made a slight effort to disguise their arrogance. In any case, after a thorough checking they let us go on our way, and into the hall. Not that it was necessarily worth it because, aside from Burrough's tapes, and an occasional hoodlum act on the floor, the events were without interest. It was so flagrantly obvious that the fix was in, and that there was no possibility of altering the outcome. It was in the air; you could see it, you could feel it, you could almost smell it. Worse, like the cheapest sort of wrestling match, where even the staging of the deception is inept. The spectacle of grown men behaving like children at a birthday party, cavorting in colored hats and streamers, jumping up and down, standing on chairs, screaming and waving, did not lessen the nausea. Riding back to the hotel everyone felt depressed, as if the absurdity of it might not be enough after all. We listened to the tapes.
"I wonder what can be in the mind of a politician," someone mused. Seaver translated it for Genet, but he was not intrigued. "I wonder," he said, staring at the dashboard of the Ford car we were in, "what can be in the mind of someone who names an automobile Galaxie?"
Near the hotel we passed a procession of about five hundred Yippies, a red flag flying at the fore, and all chanting "Pigs must go! Pigs must go!" We learned that they were parading to the police station to protest the arrest of two of their leaders, Tom Hayden and Wolf Lowenthal. Ginsberg was apprehensive about the growing tension. One of the reasons he had come to Chicago, he explained, was to try and dissuade certain of the more militant leaders from pursuing a program of violence. An hour or so later we went to Grant Park, opposite the Hilton Hotel, where a meeting concerning the Lincoln Park situation was in progress. The parading Yippies had arrived, and one of them had climbed atop a large marble statue commemorating a Civil War hero. A large number of police, guarding the Hilton, watched the boy with smoldering antagonism, and finally a contingent of them abruptly crossed the street and pulled him down, so forcibly that it broke his arm. A tremendous wave of resentment swept through the crowd, and things might have gotten out of hand at that moment, but everyone started leaving for Lincoln Park. They had decided that tonight they would hold it.
We got there around eleven and immediately sensed that there was a different atmosphere from the night before, an air of determination, and about twice as many people, including twenty or thirty priests and ministers. A few helmets were in evidence, and a number of the medics, dressed in white with Red Cross armbands, were on hand, but the park was not yet the armed camp it would become. At midnight the police begin to appear; they arrived on the opposite side of the expressway which forms the north boundary of the park, it was a solid line, shoulder to shoulder, five blocks long. Their gas masks were quite conspicuous. About twelve-thirty, one officer crossed the expressway and started issuing "final warnings" on the bullhorn. A few minutes later, a patrol car occupied by four cops with shotguns slowly moved off the expressway and down the sidewalk, through the crowd. Somebody in the crowd threw a brick through the windshield, probably a cop. Incidentally, one of the most insidious aspects of the entire police operation was the use of 'confrontation provocateurs." These were cops dressed like hippies whose job it was to incite the crowd to acts of violence which would justify police intervention or, failing that, to commit such acts themselves. It is curiously significant that their artfully dressed undercover men were so flagrantly conspicuous as to be impossible to miss, not due to their appearance, which was indiscernible from the rest of the crowd, even the fact that they were encouraging violence, but due completely to the loud, lewd, tasteless stupidity that characterized their every remark and gesture.
In any case, when the brick hit the windshield, it seemed to me that was our cue to get the hell out of there, so we began a leisurely withdrawal. Behind us now the crowd had surrounded the car, and was rocking it, trying to turn it over. That's when the police charged. They came very fast, clubbing everyone they could catch, and firing tear-gas shells ahead of the fleeing crowd, so that it was a question of going through the gas or waiting to get clubbed. Most people chose the gas, and emerged into the street on the south side of the park, groping blindly, face streaming with tears. Our fun party was well ahead of the clubs, but not the gas; no one seemed to escape the gas, the wind was right, and they were using a lot of it. We reached the street adjacent to Allen's hotel, and assumed we were safe, they had wanted us out of the park, and now we were out. But we continued to walk away from it because of the fumes. About three-quarters of the way down the block, we heard yelling ahead and the approach of frantically running footsteps, then the appearance of several dozen people tearing along the sidewalk toward us. "They're coming!" screamed a girl in absolute terror as she passed; running behind her was a boy of sixteen or so, blood covering one side of his face. Now, at the rear of the crowd, we could see the cops, chasing and flailing. We started running with the rest, down the middle of the street, but almost immediately encountered people running in the opposite direction.
"Don't go that way, man," one of them said, "it's a very bad scene back there." We were trapped, and for a moment it was sheer panic, then someone (Berendt or Seaver no doubt) had the inspired thought to try one of the apartment-house doors we were passing, and so the next moment we were all huddled in this small hallway, just as one wave of police swept past, wiping out everyone in its path. Now we had to crouch so as not to be seen through the glass front of the door, because from the other direction they were rushing into the doorways and halls and routing them out. We could hear it happening next door in no uncertain terms. And then it was our turn and, sure enough, in charged four of the finest, with expressions of rage such as I have never seen. In fact, Genet later jestingly insisted that they had not been cops at all but actors who were overplaying their roles.
"You Communist bastards!" one of them snarled, get the hell outta here! Now move!" And he raised his club at the nearest person, who as it happened was Genet, but the latter, saint that he is, simply looked at the man and shrugged, half lifting his arms in a Gallic gesture of helplessness. And the blow didn't come. Another tribute to Genet's strange power over people. Instead, they pushed and prodded us out onto the street where they talked about taking us to the station; but they were soon distracted by activity farther down the block, and they rushed away. Because it wasn't really us they wanted to get, it was the children. I talked with Ed Sanders at the park this afternoon. The Yippies have brought a pig, which they are going to try to place in nomination if they can ever get near the hall. The pig is pink, and weighs about a hundred pounds. They keep it in a burlap bag.
Tonight we went to the L.B.J. Un-Birthday Party at the Chicago Coliseum. It was a swinging affair, with a groovy audience who responded very enthusiastically when our brutality statements, prepared earlier in the day, were read to them.
Tonight's scene at the park was certainly the strangest yet. About one hundred priests were there, having earlier announced that they would conduct an all-night religious service. A large cross (about ten feet high) had been erected, and several fires burned nearby. The pattern of events was identical to what had transpired on the previous evenings. Only the presence of the cross, after the smoke and tear gas came rolling in, slowly engulfing it, lent the spectacle an unreal and cinematic quality. As we fled from the park, I witnessed a curious incident, near the lake. A young boy on a bicycle, of apparently no connection whatever with the demonstration, was peddling along the outer path, past six or eight police who were stationed there. They grabbed the bicycle and pushed it and the boy into a lagoon, laughing uproariously the while. By chance a photographer was standing not fifty feet away, and he got a picture of it, published the following day (Wednesday, the 29th) in The Chicago Daily News.
Wednesday, August 28th. This was our biggest, most outlandish day. The plan was to march to Convention Hall, so the crowd began early to form in Grant Park. By four o'clock there must have been seven or eight thousand people. Mayor Daley had refused to issue a parade permit, and the order was that anyone who attempted to march would be arrested forthwith. By now, of course, the National Guard was there in great strength, massed three deep along the Michigan Boulevard side of the park, while on the opposite side, in front of the Hilton, were the police, or "the Pigs" as they were now known by all. Again the order to clear out of the park was given. Under the circumstances (of not being allowed to parade) it was decided that it might be best to regroup elsewhere, so what was intended as a general exodus was begun. And this is where the logic of the Chicago authorities can be proved either insane or sadistic, perhaps both, because the park is joined to Michigan Boulevard by several bridges, and these are the only means of egress, but when the first of the crowd reached the nearest bridge, we found it blocked by soldiers with fixed bayonets. As the crowd continued to accumulate near the bridge, the order to disperse was given again.
"Hey why don't you stick those bayonets up your ass?" someone suggested, a quip which was answered with several quick rounds of tear gas, and the crowd began to scatter wildly across the park. The same thing was experienced at the next two exits, here was a case of containment and dispersal all in one. "Somebody's wig has snapped," observed Burroughs dryly. But it was patently a harassment tactic of the shabbiest order, and one which was to backfire badly. The only way out of the park now was to walk around on the lake side by the expressway, a very long route indeed, so that by the time the bulk of the crowd reached Michigan Boulevard, and the Hilton Hotel, they were hopping mad. So were the cops, and you could see the adrenalin rising. We had all gotten separated during the confusion at the park, so now I found myself alone outside the locked doors of the Hilton, caught up in a seething crowd, and a rapidly growing malaise. I pounded on the glass.
"I'm a guest," I insisted.
"Let's see your key."
"It's at the desk."
Then by the sheerest chance I spotted a guy I knew, just as he was dangling his key in front of the glass. He was able to get me in, and we immediately went to the hotel bar on Michigan, the windows of which afforded a grandstand view of the melee which followed. By now it had all become like some strange, and sickening, spectator sport.
Bill Styron and John Marquand Jr. were also in the bar and there was a certain undeniable decadence in the way we sat there, drinks in hand, watching the kids in the street getting wiped out. Tear-gas fumes began to permeate even the locked door, and at the height of the slaughter five or six kids were pushed through a plate-glass window on one side of the bar. The cops rushed in after them. "Get the hell outta here!" a cop was yelling, which they were trying to do as fast as possible. But something was wrong with one of them, a thin blond boy about seventeen. "I can't walk," he said.
"You'll walk outta here, you little son of a bitch!" said the cop and clubbed him across the side of the head with his stick. Two of the others seized him by the shirt and started dragging him across the floor of the bar and through the lobby.
Next to me a middle-aged man, wearing a straw hat with a Hubert Humphrey band, watched the incident with distaste.
"Those damn kids," he muttered, "I haven't seen a clean one yet." Then he looked back out into street where, at that moment, a flying squad of blue helmets and gas masks, clubs swinging, charged straight into a crowd obviously of bystanders.
"Hell," he grunted, "I'd just as soon live in one of those damn police states as put up with that kind of thing."
© This article was reprinted with permission from the Southern Estate. No unauthorized versions or recreations without permission.