The Helix Returns

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

[audio:|titles=Paul’s 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.”

Paul Sawyer standing on the beach beside the park on the north shore of Lake Union, just west of Ivar's Salmon House. The photo is dated April 25, 2010. I took it during Paul's last visit to Seattle, a wind up, because he knew that he would not live out the year. He brought with him two boxes of his then new book "Untold Story," the cover's of which we will insert directly below this subject. Below the covers we include a page from Helix that features a poem of Paul's from the paper's first year, 1967.
The covers of Paul Sawyers "Untold Story," 2010.

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.

An early contribution of Walt Crowley's, an allegorical illustration of our struggle with City Council to hold light show dances. We won.
Bitter Harvest, another example of the many covers Walt Crowley did for Helix.

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.

A cover by Alaskan artist, Mary Hendrickson

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.)

A back cover designed - and layout - by Paul Heald.

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.

Helping in the folding and collating line, Scott White turns to the camera. Scott was one of the younger staff members, and with the paper throughout. He was the first person I met in the University District, when we arrived at the same moment at the front door of the then still proposed Free University. He was then still in high school - a brilliant teen. The younger folder this side of Scott I recognize, although I cannot recall his name.
Helix was part of the Underground Press Syndicate. We shared each others papers and could reprint content from them. This brought desirable contributions from great sources like cartoonist Art Crumb.

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.

Helix took part in the struggle to save the Pike Place Public Market. Here one of the paper's contributing photographers, Paul Temple, took the cover and centerfold for his study of "market faces."

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.

The 1968 Sky River mud dance before being treated with color and the split-font feature of Ken Monson's flatbed Heidelberg press.
The newspaper was the source or center for a variety of efforts off its pages, including be-ins in the parks, concerts at Eagles Auditorium, the Piano Drop and the multi-day music festivals that dropping a piano from the sky inspired - the Sky River Rock Festival in the late summer of 1968 and two more following. It rained that late summer weekend in '68 except for this moment when the sun splattered with the rain.
From the stage, Sky River NO. 3, outside of Washougal, Washington.
The paper's barely readable report on the Piano Drop, for which the Berkeley band County Joe and the Fish volunteered to play.
Years later Country Joe admiring Paul Heald's poster for the Piano Drop. I remember Paul laying it out in the office, and I remember Joe taking it from me for his concert collection. For all the help he gave, Joe deserved a hundred posters.

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.

An example of an "illuminated page" in the paper. This one with part of a poem by Tom Parsons and a rapidiographed frame by Zac Reisner, another regular. The early romantic artist William Blake was an inspiration for such pages.

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.

Another illumination - this one with poet Gary Snyder and novelist Tom Robbins.
The Great Clock was one of the "hoax reports" I created for the paper. It was believable enough to influence friend Tom Robbins' characters in his second novel, "Even Cowgirls Get the Blues." Another Larry Heald sketch, bottom-right, fits the story well.
The cover - by Walt Crowley - for our issue closest to the 1969 moon landing.

*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.

For may years after the paper folded in 1970, the front of our office on Harvard Ave. - just around the corner from what was then still a funky Red Robin Tavern - was plastered with concert fliers.
Not so long ago - in 2008 - while driving by the old Helix office site, Jean Sherrard pulled over and posed me in its now tagged ruins for a panorama. The wire tap was far right.
Renaissance Blues Man and Photographer Jeff Jaisun's capture of the eight who made it to the sidewalk from the party inside the Blue Moon Tavern celebrating the silver anniversary of the founding of Helix. Left to right are myself (Paul Dorpat), Maury Heald (with the great white beard), Paul Heald (with the lesser white beard), Alan Lande (shaved), Walt Crowley (having a good time), Tom Robbins (shaded), Jacques Moitoret (maybe stunned) and "Not So Straight" John Bixler, looking sort of straight. Except for Maury and Walt, we survive and hope to see each other and you as late as 2017.








10 thoughts on “The Helix Returns”

  1. This is a great public service, long over due if anything! I have my stash of Helixes in a plastic box in a cupboard. They are a tad yellowed and a little crisper than new, but I take them down and look at them every few years, especially the one with the Muddy Waters interview by John Cunnick that has a very small picture of me in it. And, of course, the Wharton T. Funk cover.

    Thank you, Paul, et al!


  2. I sold many many copies of Helix back in the day on the streets of Seattle. Associate of the Crowleys, and others. Remember Gary Taylor, Dana Richardson, George and Louise, Paul Dorpat, and many others. Such as “Not so straight” John. And the list goes on and on. How could such a scene be recreated?How could those days be chronicled? Any ideas? Roundtable discussion… mini series… ?? There might be a few that remember me, there might be not so many care to respond. Thanks for the cool stuff from back in the day. Some of us are still survivors.

  3. I always like the street drug reviews.

    They were like a restaurant review.

    Purple Double Domes, Sunshine, Blotter, Orange Barrels.

    How amazing, what a stick in the eye of “the man.”

  4. Hi Paul;

    Great picture of everyone. So sorry that I missed that meeting, I know Walt’s been gone for a number of years now. I’m still living in Portland, and will be in the Seattle area for a few days within the next couple of weeks. I’ll be staying near Snohomish, helping an old college climbing buddy split and stack his winter supply of firewood. Perhaps we could get together for coffee when I pass through, either on the way up or the way back. I think I’ve still got your phone, and can let you know when I’m coming, let me know what your schedule looks like. Look forward to hearing from you.

    503-293-6125(res/ofc), 503-939-8820(cell)

  5. I too sold the paper on the Ave. back in the day. What a fabulous time to be alive. I recognize the young unknown paper-folding kid in one of these pictures as Corry Bond, one of my cohort @ age 14. Wasn’t the Bead Shop underneath the Helix office? And r.i.p. Walt Crowley. Fondest memories! Was also so proud at the time to know Jacques because he hung around with my bro. and was the hippest artist ever. Thanks for sharing this walk down memory lane!

  6. Saw the photo of Country Joe holding piano drop poster in FB, and simply could not understand why Joe, 26 in 1968, would look like he was 45 going on 60. Finding my way to this page I see it wasn’t the hard livin’. Any idea when the photo was taken?

  7. An article in the Helix warned us about the “mine shaft gap” between the US and Russia. They had more mine shafts to hide in in case of nuclear war. This during discussions of “the missile gap”–author was H. Bert Frank, who was working at the PI (with Tom Robbins) at the time as Frank Herbert, one of my long-time pals.

  8. Just found this post and learned about Helix for the first time. Wonderful. Will there be an event in 2017 at the Blue Moon? I did a search for Helix on the UW library website, and it looks like UW’s collection of Helix issues is incomplete ( The library search shows missing issues are v.5:no.6-7(1968:Nov.21-27), v.5:no.9(1968:Dec.12)-v.6:no.2(1969:Jan.9), v.6:no.5(1969:Jan.30), v.6:no.8(1969:Feb.20), v.9:no.7(1969:Sept.11), v.11:no.15-16(1970:Apr.9-16)
    1967:Mar. 23-1970:June 11. If anyone has these and wants to donate them, please contact the Microforms and Newspapers division of UW Libraries.

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