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The Column of Lasting Insignificance: November 3, 2007


IT’S BEEN A FRUSTRATING year which I have spent trying to find a literary agent in the hope of peddling a book, mostly about myself, but also incorporating some of the millions of words I have published over the past 50 years. Most of them appeared in the various publications I produced: the New York tabloids Other Scenes and Nomad (1965-72); minimags such as Soho Confidential and John Wilcock’s Secret Diary (1960s to ‘70s); and the Ojai Orange (2001-to the present).

Hunter Thompson, Martin Gardner, the Christos, Milton Glaser, Steve Allen, the late Anita Loos, and Larry Adler have been among contributors to my current little magazine which for six years has been sent free to friends — mostly editors, writers, and artists — in a dozen countries around the world.

My autobiography covers my travel writing (20 countries, 30+ books); and also delineates

  • my co-editorship of The Witches Almanac for 30 years and the three books about magic which it prompted;
  • a thorough investigation of marihuana;
  • my meetings and/or friendship with Lenny Bruce, Marilyn Monroe, Marlene Dietrich, Woody Allen; Andy Warhol; the Christos;
  • my early role co-founding (with Norman Mailer and three others) the Village Voice; followed by my stewardship of the Underground Press Syndicate (200 papers worldwide, 1960s & ‘70s);
  • my association with five of the world’s largest daily papers (London Daily Mirror, Daily Mail, Toronto Daily Star, Mainichi Daily News) culminating with three years as a travel editor at The New York Times;
  • my career as producer and presenter of more than 800 Wait A Minute programs, a 28-minute cable TV show which has appeared variously in New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and now Ojai;
  • extensive coverage of the New York art scene in those exciting years and my audio-taped conversations with a score of the people closest to Warhol, which resulted in the first biography of the artist, The Autobiography and Sex Life of Andy Warhol (out of print, but $100+ on Amazon), which is due for republication before Christmas.

I list all these dubious achievements at unseemly length, because it accentuates the fact that even an eventful life such as mine carries no interest for most literary agents. The scintillating outline by Saundra Sorenson for this book was turned down by a few agents (who kept it for months) but most didn’t even condescend to reply, failing to return the outline, despite the fact that it was accompanied by the obligatory stamped, addressed envelope. Any would-be authors trying to follow this route, can presumably expect similarly cavalier treatment. When I first started doing magazine interviews in the 1950s, agents were the people who facilitated your access to the star you wanted to write about, whereas today they run interference, ensuring that only sympathetic reviewers break through.

These ever-more-arrogant agents now emulate their showbiz colleagues, furnishing the writer’s single biggest obstacle to contacting a publisher. Even a neophyte knows about the size of a typical publisher’s slush pile, i.e. the unsolicited mss. that will never be read. With very rare exceptions, only a solicitation arriving via an agent will gain a publisher’s attention.

So why am I telling you all this? It’s because putting aside Saundra’s excellent outline for the moment, I am planning to publish my original autobiography, Manhattan Memories, on this website, beginning next week. It was probably Charles Dickens who did this first, writing a novel that appeared at the rate of a chapter a month in some Victorian magazine. In the past century, Norman Mailer performed a similar task for Esquire, and Hunter Thompson serialized his book in Rolling Stone. I bow humbly before such masters but know that via the internet my worldwide audience is potentially larger.

At any rate, beginning next week, a new chapter of Manhattan Memories will be appearing every two weeks on the website. It will continue for an entire year. I hope some of you will become my regular readers and, naturally, I would really appreciate it if you could pass the word along to other potential readers.

Don’t anticipate that this will be one of those dramatic tales that will make headlines; you’re unlikely to see its un-startling “revelations” quoted anywhere. It’s just the simple story of my somewhat diverting life which began at my rebirth in New York in the ‘50s, and was subsequently appraised by the London Sunday Times as the story of ”the Yorkshireman who went to America and invented underground papers”. Not entirely accurate, of course, but near enough to the truth.