Over the Counterculture

Written by Niki D'Andrea Category: History Issue: October 2014
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For a brief blitz in the late ‘60s, Arizona produced a slew of influential underground publications.

The table of contents for the July 1968 issue of Phoenix-based bimonthly counterculture digest Orpheus teases such stories as: “Yiggers, Blonkies & Crackers,” “Confessions of a Pornographer,” “Declaration of Cultural Evolution” and “San Francisco’s Hipster Cinema.”

This time capsule of cut-and-paste pages, each raging in paisley and slang, paints a pretty good picture of the late ‘60s, an era of “Hippies,” “Yippies” and “Zippies,” of anarchy and nudity and police raids and pies in faces and underground publications – all across the nation, but especially across Arizona. Though only one of the state’s underground papers from the era still publishes today, Arizona enjoyed a glut of ‘60s subversive gazettes (see sidebar). And most of them were circulating, small scale, in the years before Arizona’s enduring and most widely-read “alternative newsweekly,” the Phoenix New Times, cornered the market.

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The Underground Press Syndicate (UPS) was formed in 1966 by publishers of underground papers in California, Michigan and New York. It grew into a national network that, according to a roster published in 1971 by activist Abbie Hoffman in Steal This Book, included 271 affiliates in the United States, Canada and Europe. Arizona was an active, and in fact seminal, part of the UPS. One local man in particular is credited with growing the UPS into an off-the-grid empire that he claimed was 20 million readers strong.  

Tom Forcade published one of the earliest underground papers in Arizona, Orpheus, which began circulating in 1967. Frequently described as “a radical literary magazine” in university library archive summaries and Google search results, Orpheus was anti-establishment, pro-pot and sociologically savvy. Born Gary Goodson in Phoenix, the late Forcade was a long-haired activist who left his Arizona commune to live in a 1946 Chevy school bus, from which he published Orpheus. In 1969, Forcade was running the Phoenix office of the UPS when it was infiltrated by an undercover narcotics agent and raided by local police looking for drugs. They didn’t find any drugs, but reportedly did make off with UPS subscriber lists. After that, Forcade folded Orpheus and headed east, landing in New York City, where he ran the NYC office of the Underground Press Syndicate and, in 1974, founded High Times magazine.

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In an article for Cannabis Culture magazine, former High Times news editor Bill Weinberg quoted his former employer about the UPS. “The Underground Press Syndicate papers, as advance scouts for journalism in Amerika [sic] & the world, often find themselves in conflict with the last vestiges of honky mentality... uptight Smokey-the-Bears of the totalitarian forest running around with axe-wielding blue-meanie henchmen, stomping out the fires of a people who have found their voice and are using it.”

In 1968, another notable underground paper, the hippie tabloid Rebirth, was born in the Valley. Published by a collective known as the Rebirth Tribe, the paper combined crude underground comics and swirly psychedelic designs with coverage of local and national news and music. Editorial content centered on the “peace and love” ideals of the Flower Child era. “We were a commune of visionaries, banded and bonded together in a common effort to bring a new level of consciousness to the planet,” recalls Daniel Page, who was an assistant editor and writer for the paper, and contributed his reminiscences to the web page rebirthtribe.com, maintained by former Rebirth co-publisher Bruce Frank as a “community of Woodstock nation.”

Also in 1968, civil rights activist and arts advocate Kim Moody launched the magazine Prick in Downtown Phoenix. Moody says Prick was underwritten by late ASU sociology professor Naomi Howard, and founded as “my provocative, UPS, anti-war, social-justice-advocacy baby,” pointing out the title was a reference to a line from Shakespeare’s play Two Gentlemen of Verona – “My duty pricks me on to utter [these words]” – and not, as some inferred, a crude slang reference to male genitalia.  

Outside Phoenix, underground publications sprang up from Fort Defiance to Tucson, where Fred Woodworth began publishing anarchist journal The Match! in 1969. Woodworth continues to irregularly publish to this day, and has produced more than 100 issues. “Computers, organized religion, the police, the U.S. Census, jury duty, and the bookselling industry are just a few of the institutions regularly disparaged in its pages,” reads one anonymously authored online description. “Mr. Woodworth is a collector of antique printing machinery, and he puts his collection to regular use, printing each issue without the use of computers.” In true old-school, screw-the-system fashion, The Match! is not available online, and must be ordered via a P.O. Box and paid for in cash (a “recommended donation” of $10 for four issues).

Phoenix New Times was founded in 1970, as a response to the student shootings at Ohio’s Kent State University. Ironically, the alternative newsweekly’s groundbreaking success itself became an alternative media flashpoint. The founder of Mountain Newsreal, Jonathan Leigh “Jonathan L” Rosen, envisioned his underground tabloid as a Tucson counter to the New Times. “My idea was to give Tucson an alternative to New Times,” Rosen recalls. “An unabashed assault of content that was meant to shake things up... the ‘60s counter-culture played a big part in the early years of the paper.”

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Douglas Biggers, who worked as managing editor at Mountain Newsreal during the late 1970s, went on to found Tucson Weekly and later the magazine Edible Baja. He remembers his tenure at Newsreal as a time of learning, experiencing – and pranking. After relaying how anarchist environmentalist author Edward Abbey walked into the Newsreal office one day looking for a back issue, Biggers recounts putting a pie in the face of conservative author William F. Buckley Jr. Referencing a member of the Youth International Party movement (a radical offshoot of the anti-war movement), Biggers says, “There was a Yippie – one of Abbie Hoffman’s cohorts – named Aaron Kay. He’s still alive in New York – barely – and he was the infamous ‘pie man.’ And he came in, and of course we did an interview with him, and I think it was about a year later that William F. Buckley came to speak at the U of A, and me and another guy pied him. I actually carried the pie and handed it off to my friend, who put it in his face.”

But the flurry of UPS publications seemed to hit and fall off as fast as the whipped cream from Buckley’s face. Most of Arizona’s underground papers folded by 1972, and the Underground Press Syndicate morphed into the Alternative Press Syndicate in 1973, ultimately ceding its existence to the growing Association of Alternative Newsweeklies.

Forcade, the father of Phoenix’s underground press, committed suicide in New York City in 1978, at the age of 33. Years earlier, he’d foreshadowed the self-inflicted demise of the underground press, writing, “The underground press is crouched like a panther, dollars and days away from daily publication and thus total domination in the print media. After the underground press goes daily, they’ll die like flies.”

Papers, Please
A roll call of Arizona’s documented underground publications:
Der Zeitgeist (Phoenix, dates unknown)
Orpheus (Phoenix, 1967-1968)
American Dream (Tempe, 1968)
Gambit (Tempe, 1968)
Prick (Phoenix, 1968-1969)
Bandersnatch (Tempe, 1968-1969)
Rebirth (Phoenix, 1969)
Butterfield Express (Tucson, 1970)
Druid Free Press (Tempe, 1969-1970)
Calypso (Phoenix, 1969)
New Penelope (Phoenix, 1969)
8-20 Voice of the City (1969-1970)
Diné Baa-Han’e (Fort Defiance,
1969-1973)
The Match! (Tucson, 1969-present)
Resurrection (Tucson, 1970)
Mountain Newsreal (Tucson, 1974-1985)