Monday, August 10, 2015

NO REGRETS - Counter-culture and anarchism in Vancouver

What was it like running wild in the streets with the Yippies? Or invading the USA at Blaine Washington? Imagine civil disobedience against The Bomb in the days when peace was a dirty word! How and why did one become a Beatnik? What were the "hippies" really about? Why anarchism in Vancouver, of all places? No Regrets will answer those questions and many others about the 1960s and 70s. And while striding quickly through international counter cultural hotspots such as Toronto, Mexico, San Francisco, Berkeley, London and the inevitable Kootenays, this memoir never loses its Vancouver focus.

NO REGRETS has been just published by Edmonton's  Black Cat Press for $20.00

Excerpt from Chapter 4 Beatnik Days
Jack, Ingrid and I spent a lot of time together walking around the lower Spadina area. We loved wandering in the night, grooving and digging everything. Sometimes we would head to Kensington Market, or other times take the subway to Yorkville and go to Websters for coffee. One time the group of us were standing on the street corner talking when a bus pulled up. The people on the bus pointed and started laughing, "Look at the crazy beatniks!" you could imagine them saying. Not missing a beat, so to speak, Ingrid ran up to the bus gesticulating wildly, long red hair in every direction, yelling "Look at the crazy straight people!" who now started to look alarmed and were undoubtedly thankful when the bus pulled away seconds later. Keep in mind, not one of us would turn a head today, indeed we would look like Mormons compared to the tattooed, head shaved, jogging-suited freak show walking around the shopping malls today.

We lived not far from the Toronto Art Gallery and Ingrid being an art student took me there on occasion. The Gallery was free in those days. (Government services, remember them?) We turned on before going. Now I knew that paintings were important and they ought to be appreciated, but I had never gotten into art before this. Ingrid guided me over to a painting and it came alive for me, I could see what it was all about. "Wow! Man, this is so cool – I see it", and the two of us started laughing. We traipsed around the Gallery like this, thankfully a week day and almost no one else in sight. From this moment on paintings were important to me. Thank you Ingrid, crazy laughing girl, wherever you are...

A couple of times we went to see Peter Light, who was living in a bed sit some distance away. But it seemed like our group was going in different directions. Peter was still a convinced peace activist (as was I ) but the others seemed more into being full time Beats. I also got to meet some of the "older" Beats, those in their mid 20s to early 30s. We visited poet, and LEMAR (Legalize Marijuana, founded by Ed Sanders and Allen Ginsburg in January 1965) Canada founder, Cecilie Kwait. She was twenty-six, and had hitchhiked all over the place. With reverence that we listened to her stories. ( Today, she is a world- renowned Buddhist teacher) We sometimes ran into Andy Mikolasch, selling his "Yorkville Yawn", Canada's first "underground" newspaper. One evening we had just turned on and there was a loud pounding on the front door. Thinking it was the horsemen, we panicked. After hiding the joints, we gingerly unlocked the door, but it was only poet Jack Martin who had dropped over for a visit. We all got a lot of laughs about that one. All these Beats were interviewed in the November 1965 Macleans, but the author called them "hippies". This is the first time I heard that term. Up till that time, and for the next year we were called, and self-identified, as beatniks.

Excerpt from chapter 15 Revolution In the Streets

Hot on the heels of the Bay Sip-in came the Blaine invasion. This was not a lone Yippie action, but a coalition between us and our friends the VLF. Nixon sent troops twenty miles into Cambodia, (precipitating a chain of events that would led to the genocidal Khymer Rouge taking power) so we decided to invade the United States in retaliation. On a beautiful summer morning we met at the Peace Arch at the US-Canadian border. We were some twenty miles from Vancouver and few people had vehicles, so the arrival of 600 people showed a high level of commitment. Not to mention, what we were about to do was foolhardy and highly illegal.

We made a lot of noise and had a big celebration. I helped close the gates of the Peace Arch, symbolically closing the border with the US. In order to get an idea of the numbers and to see what might await us down the road from the border post, I stood on a low hill at the back of the park. All of a sudden the entire crowd surged forward, pushing the border guards aside and ran down the road toward Blaine. The guards were dumbfounded and did nothing – today they would have shot. My friends Jim and Elizabeth were near the border post, but on the Canadian side. Jim was a war resistor and it was unwise for him to enter the States. There was no point in being a straggler running after the invaders, so I stayed with Jim and Elizabeth and waited for our "army" to return, if indeed they would return.

Half an hour or so later, our little army appeared, and ran back into Canada. Mission accomplished! They told of fist-fights that broke out with the locals, of the American flag being torn down and windows broken. Miraculously, no one got busted and no one got hurt. This was undoubtedly Canada's all-time easiest victory against an enemy. Best of all, a group of Vietnam War resistors were waiting in Blaine and joined the "army" on its return to Canada, getting though the border without fear of being turned back.
Right from the beginning of the action, a group of US Nazis wearing "white power" tee shirts hovered on the edge of the crowd. We ignored them. Then they decided to go into attack mode, but made the bad mistake of picking on Skookum Jim. Now Skookum Jim was built like a fire plug and had recently been a member of an East Van motor cycle gang called the "Catwalkers" before he started hanging around with the Yippies. He was also a bit of a country and western singer and used to go everywhere with his guitar, doing Hank Williams and Johnny Cash. Typically, he had his guitar with him. Less typically, he broke it over the head of the lead Nazi, then used the neck to thrash the next one. By this time the seig-heil boys were scuttling away and Jim threw the remains of his git box at them.


Anonymous Cocoabean said...

Sounds refreshingly readable Larry! I for one will be looking for it.

1:04 AM  
Blogger blunt said...

Nice work, Larry. Grooving and digging everything.

12:07 PM  

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