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Liner Notes: Me and Mr. Cohen

Jack Newfield was a Village Voice reporter, a Brooklyn Dodger fan, and a friend of mine. When I was in Columbia, South Carolina in the winter of 1967/68, I received in the mail from Jack and his friend Paul Gorman, the first album by the singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen, with a note that said “Isn’t this amazing?” When I saw Jack I asked him what was so amazing? He said the record reminded him of the songs I used to sing for friends in his living room. Jack meant the Leonard Cohen comparison as a compliment but I, in my arrogance, did not take it as one.

One of Jack’s signature moves as a journalist was to make analogies between people in disparate fields, like “Robert Kennedy is the Senate’s Albert Camus.” Sometimes you could see the likeness, sometimes you couldn’t. So I wrote Jack this song, which once was topical but now requires annotation.

Norman Mailer is Ho Chi Minh
Janice Ian is Staughton Lynd
Richie Goldstein is really Richard Goodwin
and I’m Jack Newfield, I’m Jack Newfield
I’m Jack Newfield, who are you?

Norman Mailer was a US American writer who hit the scene after World War II with a novel called The Naked and the Dead. In ’67 or ’68 he ran for mayor of New York City and Jack was involved with the campaign. Ho Chi Minh was the president of North Vietnam. Janice Ian is a folk-rocker who had some big hits, starting with “Seventeen.” Staughton Lynd is a political organizer, the son of brilliant sociologists. In the spring of ’63, Lynd was teaching at Spelman College in Atlanta. The Lynds lived upstairs from the Zinns, Howard and Roz, and they were all involved with the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee. The night I arrived to stay with the Zinns, the Lynds’ baby fell out of a second story window (but was okay). Lynd became a lawyer late in life, has always fought on the side of the underdog.

Richard Goldstein wrote cultural criticism for the Voice. Later he edited a very good, short-lived magazine called US that was the size of a mass-market paperback. In recent years Goldstein has been writing obituaries for the New York Times. He was very small-boned and sweet-looking, in total contrast to Richard Goodwin, a big-boned, brutish-looking politico employed by the Kennedy Administration. I was present once when Goodwin visited Lillian Hellman in Martha’s Vineyard in the summer of 1964. He had just represented the U.S. at a meeting of the Organization of American States in Punta Del Este, Uruguay. At this time Che Guevara had dropped out of sight and everyone was wondering what he was doing and where? Goodwin told Hellman that Che and Fidel had had “a homosexual falling-out.” After he left I asked Hellman if she believed Goodwin’s bizarre info. Ol’ Lil (who was then younger than I am now) said she didn’t rule it out. “He has that fag face,” she said of Che.

Joey Archer is Baby Blue
RFK of course, Camus
Tom Hayden’s Carol Baker’s new guru
And I’m Jack Newfield…

Joey Archer was a welterweight boxer whose fights were covered and whose psyche was analyzed in the Village Voice… Baby Blue was seemingly a chick kissed off by Bob Dylan —unless she was the personification of the Fake Left, which Jack heard from someone in Dylan’s entourage… RFK was Robert F. Kennedy, who Jack admired and befriended… Albert Camus was a French novelist… Tom Hayden, a leader of the peace moveent, had not yet gotten involved with a famous actress, but my guess was in the right direction. Tom and I are on okay terms as old men after a long split. In the ’70s I called him the leader of the Fake Left and his wife said it was a shame that  I had lost my mind. Tom was in Jack’s pantheon with Dylan, Pynchon, Bobby Kennedy, Mario Cuomo, Jimmy Breslin, and Robert Moses.

Robert Moses is Robert Parris
Ed Sanders is Roger Maris
Mr. Jones is really Mrs. Harris
and I’m Jack Newfield…

Robert Moses, a leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, got fed up with the personal publicity and said he’d rather be known as Robert Parris (which I think was his middle name). He married a woman I’d gone to high school with and will always love. The last time I heard her voice (1988) it was on a phone answering machine, asking, “What have you done for Black people today?”  Ed Sanders is a real prime mover —maybe the prime mover— in the marijuana legalization movement. With Allen Ginsberg he started a group called Lemar.

Roger Maris broke Babe Ruth’s home run record in an extended season. Mr. Jones, Jack claimed, referring to the square in the Dylan song who doesn’t know what’s happening, was Joan Baez, who had married a draft resister, David Harris, who went to prison. Jack knew people who knew Dylan and he was always getting info-tidbits, not all of them accurate. This one seemed especially far-fetched.

Warren Hinckle is Max Lerner
Eldridge Cleaver is Otto Kerner
Tina Aptheker’s really Nat Turner
and I’m Jack Newfield…

Warren Hinckle was the flamboyant publisher of Ramparts magazine. When Hayden asked in June ’68 if I could  come to Chicago and put out a daily leaflet with a map to coordinate actions on the streets, Hinckle said, “We’ll do it as a wallposter! One side news from the streets, one side news from the convention!” And we did!  Max Lerner was a liberal columnist for the New York Post. Eldridge Cleaver, author of “Soul on Ice,” became a prominent Black Panther. Otto Kerner had been the governor of Illinois during the protests at the 1968 Democratic National Convention. A commission headed by Kerner would conclude that the turmoil amounted to a “police riot.” Bethina Aptheker, a feminist professor at UC Santa Cruz, was the daughter of a Communist Party historian who, she would eventually claim, had molested her as a little girl. Nat Turner led a slave revolt that William Styron based a novel on.

Norman Fruchter is Johnny Carson
Dick Aurelio is Don Larsen
Antonioni is also Barbara Garson
And I’m Jack Newfield…

Norman Fruchter —a serious dude— organized a group of lefty filmmakers called Newsreel. Johnny Carson was host of the Tonight show, holding the country together with his sane commentaries after insane days. Richard Aurelio was press secretary to the mayor of New York City, John Lindsay. In the mid-70s Aurelio was handling public relations for Erhard Seminar Training. (I wonder if Bill and Hillary took the est “training?”) Michelangelo Antonioni was an Italian filmmaker whose movie set in the U.S., Zabriskie Point, did not ring true in any way. The dialogue that I and four other writers contributed got vetoed by the miscast actor and actress. Barbara Garson was the author of a brilliant little play about Lyndon Johnson called MacBird. Her ex-husband Marvin was a natural humorist who moved to Israel and sends occasional letters to the AVA. Barbara and I wrote a comedy with songs called “Going Co-op” that got produced off-off-Broadway but I never got to see because I moved back to California to work on the paper with the women who were as angry as I was.

Hale Boggs’ daughter married LeRoi Jones
Andy Kopkind is I.F. Stone
Fred Gardner, I know him: none other than Leonard Cohen
and I’m Jack Newfield, I’m Jack Newfield
I’m Jack Newfield, so are you.

Hale Boggs was a Congressman from Louisiana, the Speaker of the House for many years, and the author of federal mandatory-minimum legislation passed in 1951 that has resulted in countless years of misery for countless millions of Americans. His daughter, Cokie Roberts, became an influential reporter/pundit, married a New York Times reporter named Steve Roberts, and wrote a book giving advice for marital success. (Hale Boggs’s son Tommy ran the most influential lobbying firm in DC for many years, his top client being Big PhRMA.) Andrew Kopkind was a journalist whose New York Review of Books piece about the court martial of Capt. Howard Levy (for refusing to train the Green Berets in the healing arts because their ulterior motive was not benign) inspired me and my friends to start a coffeehouse near Fort Jackson that provided a respite from the Army for off-duty GIs.  IF Stone was a lefty journalist from an earlier generation.  The Rolling Stones need no introduction.

LeRoi Jones was a poet and writer who took the name Amiri Baraka, moved back to New Jersey, and became ever sharper in his criticism of capitalism. He testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee that Tom Hayden (author of a book called Rebellion in Newark) was not a spokesman for the Black community of that city. Leonard Cohen is a Canadian poet/novelist whose nasal drone reminded Jack Newfield of your correspondent. Cohen is still touring, drawing adoring throngs. I’m recording the songs I can remember on GarageBand.  It’s too bad Jack isn’t around. Bill DiBlasio could use his input.

PS November 2016 Goodbye, Tom, RIP Leonard Cohen. For all my ambivalence about them, I feel diminished.

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Fred Gardner is the managing editor of O’Shaughnessy’s. He can be reached at fred@plebesite.com

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