the column of lasting insignificance...
—February 24, 2018 by John Wilcock

The Village Voice

When I first left England, where I'd been working for first the Daily Mail then the Daily Mirror (both with gigantic multi-million circulations) I soon found myself in New York, employed by another big paper, The New York Times. What astonished me about Noo York was to see how insignificant the local papers were: boring and filled with tea party stuff, stories about somebody's lost bicycle or fishing prize. This was GREENWICH VILLAGE! Home of human legends!

So my first task (I'd been there a month) was to start a newspaper. A hip weekly newspaper. Knowing few people I called a meeting, but nobody had any money, so I had to wait while the Village contented itself with the sleepy Villager. But it wasn't for long. Two of the people I'd met called a writer they knew: Norman Mailer. He'd struck it lucky with his first best-seller (The Naked and the Dead, if my memory holds) and he was willing to invest. He also provided the title THE VILLAGE VOICE.

As the sole person with newspaper experience, I was selected as news editor, but I was soon working at the NYTimes so I happily chose to be the Village Voice's weekly columnist. I had lots of ideas I wanted to work out, many of which involved travel and it helped when leaving the Times. I was hired by Arthur Frommer (for whom I wrote Mexico on $5 a Day, followed by similar books on Greece and Japan.

Anyway, to cut this short, we had a successful new weekly paper with 80,000 circulation long before the appearance of another new rag, The East Village Other, which was really new and years ahead of what had gone before. I hastened to join and was vilified by the Voice editor who spread the tale I'd been 'fired' by the Voice (what? from a partime job on which I worked a couple of hours a week and still paid me twenty five bucks for a 1,000-wordcolumn?)

Just then Andy Warhol appeared on the scene and I'm pretty sure I was the first in NYC to write about him. We became good friends and I traveled with his small group to many events in the country. I edited EVO for a while going back to writing about Japan, in Japan. I never heard from the Voice (which I confounded) after I edited EVO, and when I returned from traveling, started up a new venture, the UNDERGROUD PRESS SYNDICATE with its scores of underground press around the world to taking membership in the nineteen sixties. Ah, those were the days!
—JW

2/17/18


May 6, 1965, Vol. X, No. 29
The Village Voice

The Detached Cool of Andy Warhol
By John Wilcock

Andy Warhol makes movies with the same unruffled objectivity that he looks at life. His usual procedure is to set up the action — often a group of people interacting — point the camera at them, turn it on, and step back. The camera makes the movie: whatever happens, planned or not, is the film. Sometimes in the studio (which he refers to as “the factory”) there will be interruptions: telephone calls, people going up or down in the elevator, somebody dropping something or walking inadvertently in front of the camera. All is recorded. No trace of surprise or annoyance registers on Warhol’s face.

He is totally cool or very uptight, depending on your point of view. The latter school says: “Andy’s been trained in Madison Avenue. He’s like a high-powered executive who doesn’t show his feelings, but he’s seething inside.” Personally, I think it the height of coolness to regard everything with a detached eye and rely on intuition to make instant decisions. Warhol’s intuition is usually correct.

He is the subject of intense curiosity and heated discussions. What does he DO, people ask, that gives him such a reputation? His public work is more a subject for humor and wisecracks than for serious study: representations of soup cans, silkscreen reproductions of famous faces, multi-colored lithographs of flowers, murky six-hour movies of a man asleep or Henry Geldzahler smoking a cigar. Maybe his true talent lies in provoking so much argument about whether he’s an artist without doing any of the recognizable things that the public accepts as “art.” Warhol is an artist, a catalyst, a perceptive observer of contemporary life whose comments are sometimes astute by being no comment at all.

There are very few words wasted around the Andy Warhol milieu, little idle conversation. Andy himself sizes up situations instantly, and his instructions or comments are brief. Most of his closest friends are as laconic as himself, their thoughts presumably having taken them beyond trite responses. Andy is cordial and willing to converse but wary of cross-examination. He sometimes seems slightly surprised that you have not reached the same conclusion as himself. I have never seen him “rude,” but people who believe that artists must justify themselves in words (if an artist could explain his point of view by words alone, why would he need to do anything but talk or write?) sometimes choose to put him down because he doesn’t always respond according to the accepted canons.

He is a provocateur by his mere presence — the silvered hair, the dark shades (lately he has not been wearing them much), the slightly enigmatic and faintly expectant look of an amiable polar bear. “I didn’t expect him to look like such a twerp,” said a girl at one gallery opening. She was provoked by just the sight of him as many people are provoked. “I bet he’s wearing a wig; I’m going to pull his hair and find out,” she said. Andy smiled, with nervous embarrassment, and ducked into the other room to escape. Does he wear a wig? Does it matter?

…For the past few months Andy Warhol, assisted by poet Gerard Malanga, cameraman Buddy Wirtschafter, script-writer Ronnie Tavelli, and the ubiquitous photographer Billy Linich (“foreman” of the East 47th Street “factory”) has been making at least one full-length movie per week. There is usually a current “superstar,” the present one being Edie Sedgwick, a slender, beautiful East Side chick who played herself in the 70-minute feature “Poor Little Rich Girl.” Warhol did a revolutionary thing in this epic: he moved the camera, swinging it around to follow Edie into the kitchen, completely oblivious to the fact that two sightseers were in the line of fire.

Much of the movie — like most of his works it was filmed one day, processed the next, and screened the day after — is out of focus, but nobody knows better than Warhol that this merely increases the mystique…

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National Weed (1974, issue #3)

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Marijuana--The Weed That Changed the World


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A Reader Comment from the recent New York Times Frugal Traveler post
RN—Sydney, Australia

Not only did John Wilcock shake up staid publishing in the USA, from the Village Voice to the East Village Other, his influence extended to several continents, including Australia & the UK, where - in his mild mannered way - he pushed the boundaries of image and speech. The counter culture was nothing but a dull puddle, until John kicked out the jams and ignited the Underground Press, which attracted absurd prosecutions, that of course boosted circulations. An unsung hero of the sixties,

indifferent to self promotion and the hoarding of gold, it is great to see John get a dash of recognition.

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John Wilcock at the New York Times

It was the first handwritten letter I’d received in 5 years. Or maybe 10. Signed by John Wilcock, a man I’d never heard of, and postmarked Ojai, Calif., it was waiting for me when I returned from my São Paulo-to-New York summer trip. Mr. Wilcock wrote that he had been an assistant editor at The Times Travel section back in the 1950s, and had written the first editions of “Mexico on $5 a Day,” “Greece on $5 a Day” and “Japan on $5 a Day” for Arthur Frommer in the 1960s.

By George, I thought. This man was the original Frugal Traveler.

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and in print...

Manhattan MemoriesManhattan Memories
An Autobiography
by John Wilcock

"A GOOD WAY to describe John Wilcock is to say that he is a talented bohemian counter-culture journalist who once played a major role in the emergence of America’s underground press. Born 1927 in Sheffield, England, he left school aged 16 to work on various newspapers in England, and on Toronto periodicals before moving to New York City. There in 1955 he became one of the five founders of the Village Voice in which he and co-founder Norman Mailer wrote weekly columns. Wilcock called his column “The Village Square”, an intended pun. He and young Mailer were not quite friends, although Wilcock was at times annoyed, but always amused, by Mailer’s monstrous ego."

-From the preface of Manhattan Memories, by Martin Gardner
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