The HELIX cover printed just below appeared first on the 1st of December, 1967, which was still in the first year of the tabloid’s three year – and a few weeks – run. The cover was one of artist Jacques Moitoret’s many contributions to Helix. With age the pulp it was printed on has nurtured its color. Starting tomorrow, Monday April 2, 2012, we will feature it again on the front page of this blog as the front door – or button – to eventually all issues of Helix. We mean to put them up in the order they first appeared. Directly below Jacques’ butterfly is another and longer introduction to this project. You can read it and/or listen to it. The audio, which I recorded at my desk in one take!, runs about eight minutes. (When, in the context of revealing how Helix was conceived, I mention looking “down on 42nd Avenue,” please hear instead, “42nd Street.” It is correct in the copy, but wrong in the audio.)
AUDIO for the Following INTRODUCTION
Sample of banners
(Click to Englarge)
By those who remember it, Helix may be described as “Seattle’s First Underground” newspaper. This, I think, is too romantic or glamorous. Rather, it was Helix candor – above ground – that was apt. It could be either disturbing or compelling – of course, depending.
Helix was conceived in a conversation with Paul Sawyer, a friend and Unitarian preacher, now deceased. I can recall the moment in color. We were alone in the Free University office (beige walls and gray ceiling), on the second floor above the Coffee Corral on University Way, aka “The Ave.” Under a blue winter sky and from the window I followed a couple walking hand in hand below me on 42nd St., when over my left shoulder Paul suggested, “What we need here is something like the Berkeley Barb.”
The Barb was one of the many weekly tabloids associated with the 1960s “counter culture” that were blooming then from Boston to L.A. and soon from Atlanta to – with Helix – Seattle. Most of these were loosely connected with university communities and the talents they offered. Here, for instance, Helix bundled Seattle’s University District and the University of Washington as part of a town and gown experiment. That was in the winter of 1966-67.
Now thru the next nearly three years we will hang from this blog all manner of HELIX, which is every issue from Vol.1 No.1 to Vol. 11 No. 21. By posting one a week, and in the order they first appeared on the street, we expect, or hope, that the paper’s often illuminated pages will stimulate some responses and recollections – some current alternatives for drop out, turn on and tune in. Perhaps remember, reflect and rejoin.
The first issue of Helix is dated March 23, 1967, although it “hit the streets” a few days later. And then it popped! Pastor Paul was right – it was what we needed. It was our own news and opinion, often otherwise not reported. And it also yielded the small economics of street sales, which helped many get by. At 20-cents a copy our little pulp was enthusiastically consumed, sold by vendors whose enterprise was only limited by the number of copies they could carry and the charms at their corner. (The seller kept half the cover price.)
(Cartoons by Skagit Valley artist Larry Heald above, and below. All three of the artistic Heald brothers, Maury, Paul and Larry, were part of Helix.)
The first issue was late because Grange Press, the scheduled printer, on seeing the flats we delivered to their high-speed photo-offset webs, found the content somehow offensive. At the time this rejection mystified us, but if you choose to browse that same first issue – and it appears here first tomorrow – you may find something in it that hollers for more than editing, perhaps for censorship on the grounds of decency or national security. (And please point it out with a blog response.)
With help from some civil libertarians we found another printer, Ken Munson, a union man. Ken pulled good fortunes from the combination of our Grange rejection, and his Heidelberg flatbed press. This meant higher quality pressings and split-font color for the covers and centerfold on an array of colored newsprint. On the day of publication the flatbed also obliged a ritual for the staff that was at once bonding and blabbering. Every issue printed on Ken’s flatbed required hand folding and collating on the big tables in the Helix office.
For the first few months Helix was published only every two weeks, but here from the start we intend to bring it back every week, ordinarily on those Mondays that aren’t busy with washing. We may treat Sunday’s Seattle Now & Then as a civic service, and Monday’s Helix as a humanist’s hippodrome. On the distinction of having first heard the voice of Pastor Paul over my shoulder in 1966, and having edited the paper for most of its life, I will introduced each issue with a commentary. Much of it will be new to me too, for although I was the editor through most of its life, I did not read it all. Editing the Helix was sometimes like being a coach, making certain that there were enough players were on the field.
For much of the staff, myself included, preparing and publishing a paper was like attending school, and many of us stayed involved in community life – even journalism – beyond owning a home and paying taxes. Throughout the weekly routine of publishing a newspaper we were more reporters than hippies, and much of the super sincerity often associated with those we primarily served – “the hips and the rads” – was wrapped by us in irony and the rules of evidence. Ours was a sort of liberal conspiracy of both self-taught and schooled intellectuals who might join a demonstration but when the nightsticks came out we might also think “My how ironic!” while running away.
After the next nearly three years of weekly postings, if we are then still able – I mean standing – with the readers’ help a book might be fashioned from all these reflections and reprints. Then certainly we would also have to edit. Thankfully, already one of our staff, Walt Crowley, wrote his book Rites of Passage which treats on the Helix and the events of that time and it can still be easily found in public libraries and perhaps your own. Add two years more to these about three of weekly offerings and we will be spot on for the paper’s Golden Anniversary. And then surely a few from the original staff will be lingering to lift a toast at the Blue Moon.
Above and below, two political cartoons by artist Mike Lawson.
Springtime is a good time to reminisce about our youthful enthusiasms, while also reflecting on some of our abiding concerns. We hope you respond. We will check for posts for one thousand days, should we survive them what with springtime allergies and day-in and day-out mortality.
*There was little that was “underground” about Helix. When the Yakima Eagle printed that they were determined to find out who was printing our paper and lead a boycott against them and us we published the details for them in Helix. Our only underground certainty we discovered after the paper passed away when we surveyed our stripped quarters on Harvard Ave. East. We found that our phone had been elaborately tapped, but then again almost certainly in the interests of decency and national security.