1969. Things were heating up! The Vietnam War seemed to be escalating rather than de-escalating as President Nixon had promised! Student uprisings had disrupted many college campuses and even some returning army veterans were speaking out!
In New York I was becoming even more aware of how much drug use there was. Amphetamines appeared to be the most popular. I would see people getting thinner and thinner — and then they’d just not be around any more. I didn’t know what happened to them but I assumed it couldn’t have been too pleasant. To say that it was an intense time was an understatement!
We tried to keep everything as calm as possible hoping for the best but I couldn’t help feeling involved as I kept following events on Pacifica Radio Network’s New York affiliate, WBAI-fm.
That station covered demonstrations in minute detail giving a full description of what was going on and even more importantly, an explanation of why! In fact, WBAI was so much a part of things that many demonstrations and actions were unofficially organized by listeners calling in to programs to announce which demonstrations were occurring and where and when to appear!
Bob Fass’ show, Radio Unnameable, was a major cornerstone in all of this! Frequent guests on the show were Alan Ginsberg and Hugh “Wavy Gravy” Romney, one of the founders of The Yippies who’d invaded the Democratic Convention in Chicago in November. The regular radio and television networks still appeared to be reporting news that rather hesitatingly seemed to not be too critical of the War. It became increasingly difficult for me to believe that news when WBAI was broadcasting testimony from civil rights protesters and dissident war veterans who’d actually witnessed and even taken part in atrocities!
Hearing about Americans killing and torturing I started to wonder if the “official” news was oblivious to what the post World War II Nuremberg Trials been for? What had they accomplished if Americans were now doing what the Nazis had done? And the “official” news was oblivious to it all!
If I knew about it they certainly must’ve known about it! They were the news! Even The New York Times was going along with the official word. Around this time the counter culture was beginning to change The Times’ slogan to “all the news that fits, we print!”
I was glued to my drawing table with a lot of work. I never did any work that was political as I was having commissions from national advertisers or if it was a publication I was thought of as doing non-political satirical work. I was feeling like a spy!
New York magazine had received a manuscript written originally in Japanese by Hiroko Kuroda and somewhat naively translated into English by her daughter. It was decided that the piece, “I Love New York,” describing her family’s two-year residency in New York, would be an amusing article in the magazine.
New York magazine’s design director Milton Glaser thought it would be fun if I illustrated the article in an updated Americanized version of the classic Japanese Ukiyo-e woodblock prints.
I had to become an instant expert on the art of Hokusai, Hiroshige and any of the other Japanese masters of the art!
I think that Milton might have thought that my work was influenced by the Japanese but I was actually inspired by 1920’s graphic art. And that had actually itself developed out of an interest in Japanese art … so in a roundabout way, Milton was right!
So this is how it turned out. (From the Editor’s note):
Mrs. Kuroda described the New York subways and I visualized her text.
She also described shopping in Forest Hills.
And shopping by telephone.
And during their stay there was a snow storm!
The job was certainly a lot of fun to do and overnight I became New York magazine’s go-to expert on Japanese-flavored illustration. It was fine with me!
And god knows these whimsical jobs took my mind off of the depressing events around me. I wondered if it made me complicit!
Paul Bartel, Craig Caswell and I went to dinner at the Bavarian Inn on East 86th Street in German Yorkville where Nazis had hidden out during WWII and where there’d even reportedly been pro-Nazi demonstrations!
Craig was having other thoughts.
The Draft was an ever present threat. He was beginning to wonder if leaving Georgetown had been a good idea.