Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Dispatches From The Frontal Lobes: Boots On the Ground

By Liza Béar

New York, October 31 2015--Of course we need boots on the ground, rather than--Brit alert-- Boots the chemist, though that might be a lot more help to soothe the wounds of countless wars. And we need them not only in Afghanistan, Iraq or Syria but to high step in the Halloween Parade--unless of course you shun the whole affair--and what better place to find them than on Bond Steet? You see, this shoe store isn't on the Bond Street of London's West End as you might expect from its gestalt, it's on the corner of the once infamous pre-gentrification Bowery in Manhattan. The new developer on this corner was lucky enough to find a well-heeled tenant, Kenneth Cole. Not so the owners of small narrow stores, idling faceless on sleepy Mulberry Street between Prince & Spring.

London's West End was the site of an early editorial day job in the mid-Sixties-- nothing fancy, proofing, copy-editing and rewriting scientific and engineering copy so that it read decently. The company was the British Sulphur Corporation, my editor the sprightly Michael Freeman whose eyebrows could rise at an angle of 45 degrees in expressions of dismay at my late mornings, eventually agreeing to let me keep my own hours, unheard of in those days. I worked specifically on the glossy bi-monthly Phosphorus and Potassium, P & K, a fact which amused Willoughby greatly when I told him the night we met. I may even have been on the masthead as a sub-editor. P & K had a lot of gritty mining, drilling, ore extraction type articles. The Western Sahara has huge phosphate deposits that the Kingdom of Morocco has been after till kingdom come, so to speak, and maybe they were featured in the mag, but I probably didn't know the political relevance of that then so I'm getting ahead of myself.
What I did know was that the US Embassy was right across Upper Brook Street and that I could hop over there in my lunch hour, sit on the widest swivel chairs in the UK, and scout magazines to which I could apply for editorial jobs in New York, to which my subculture friends at Columbia were already beckoning me.
Which I did. We're talking immediately post college here, or university as they say in England, though not before the mandatory one term business course at Northwestern Polytechnic that was supposed to instill marketable shorthand/keyboard skills in young ladies with writing/publishing ambitions thought appropriate as a sequel to the study of analytic philosophy. If, as logic professor Alan R. Lacey would tell his all-girl class, they weren't already rocking the cradle. The logic of sexism was assumed if not explicitly taught in a symbolic logic class, where if p, then q.
From 1966 to summer 1968 when I left for New York I also worked as a rédacteur on Circuit, a subculture publication with a long narrow format partly funded by the British Council At least in the later issues that's how in egalitarian mode we credited ourselves. I wasn't a founder of this mag as I was of Avalanche, but I was roped in via a friend who'd studied PPE at Oxford to translate an interview with Pierre Boulez. The format was nothing like Avalanche, nor the content, but edgy nonetheless with features on the Situationists and Bob Dylan lyrics.
All of which is to provide some background to the dramatic, life-changing and life-affirming rencontre with Mr Sharp, who was introduced to me by my friend Graham Stevens, an English artist in Willoughby's Air Art show, one of four traveling shows devoted to the elements air, earth, fire and water.