babylon falling only strengthens our will to resist

ABOUT FOUR YEARS AGO, I was searching for some im­ages on the in­ternet for an ar­ticle, the title of which is long for­gotten. I stum­bled over a site that con­tained thou­sands of im­ages, all scanned from un­der­ground news­pa­pers and sim­ilar al­ter­na­tive and coun­ter­cul­ture pub­li­ca­tions. Black and white to full color, most of them re­pro­duced in what looked like full size!

And best of all, they ap­peared to come from that pe­riod of un­rest and up­heaval that we call The Sixties—which ac­tu­ally (po­lit­i­cally, so­cially, spir­i­tu­ally) took place be­tween 1962 and 1975, de­pending on how you de­fine it and where you lived at the time.

 The im­ages that I first found were music-related, but I spent an hour pe­rusing the pages with page after page of:

•  ad­ver­tise­ments and poetry
•  
po­lit­ical car­toons and record reviews
•  photos and articles
•  
por­traits and comic strips
•  and so much more!

I sent an email to the site’s pro­pri­etor com­pli­menting his work and alerting him to the fact that I had ab­sconded with a couple of im­ages by Emory Dou­glas. He re­sponded in kind (“Ab­scon­sion is en­cour­aged!”). I fol­lowed with an email to him re­questing an ‘in­ter­view.’

This first round of ques­tions and an­swers followed …

 

Babylon Falling: cover of the CHICAGO SEED underground newspaper from 1970.

A revolutionary bookstore/gallery

NU: Do you own all of the magazines/newspapers that you use for BF?

BF: Yeah, I own all the mag­a­zines and news­pa­pers and per­son­ally scan and process the im­ages you see posted on the site.

NU: That must be large col­lec­tion: what are its parameters?

BF: No real pa­ra­me­ters to the col­lec­tion. I just ac­cu­mu­late shit I like when­ever I have extra cash lying around. I’d say I have about 5,000 news­pa­pers and maybe 1,000 magazines. 

NU: What was the mo­ti­va­tion for Babylon Falling?

BF: After I closed my book­store, I fi­nally had the time to dig into all this stuff I had been col­lecting over the years. The mo­ti­va­tion to scan and post the im­ages was simply a de­sire to share this stuff with people who might dig it. Con­ve­niently, the site also helps to jus­tify my hoarding impulse.

NU: Okay: what was the name and lo­ca­tion of your book­store. New or used? Spe­cial­ties? Did you sell the old mag­a­zines and news­pa­pers from which you com­piled the im­ages on BF?

BF: The store was called Babylon Falling Book­store and it was a ‘rev­o­lu­tionary’ book­store and gallery in San Fran­cisco. I had vin­tage posters and but­tons in the store, but only brought out the mag­a­zines and news­pa­pers when I tabled at book fairs.

NU: When was your store open? Years? I lived in Napa and St. He­lena 1978-1981 and loved the area. I haven’t been back in thirty years and have been told that I wouldn’t rec­og­nize much. Petaluma, Santa Rosa, Napa, Vallejo, all changed dramatically.

BF: I opened the store in 2007 and closed it in 2009. Miss the Bay Area some­thing serious.

 

Babylon Falling: cover of the GUARDIAN independent radical newsweekly from 1970.

On the same wavelength

NU: Do you get a lot of con­tact feed­back email re­garding your site?

BF: People email me pretty reg­u­larly just to ex­press sol­i­darity with the en­deavor, and I oc­ca­sion­ally get re­searchers, cu­ra­tors, and film­makers con­tacting me with ques­tions and re­quests for material. 

NU: By “sol­i­darity” you mean?

BF: “Sol­i­darity” meaning they’re on the same wavelength.

NU: Is your wave­length philo­soph­ical? Po­lit­ical? Aes­thetic? Re­li­gious? All? None?

BF: My wave­length is middle fin­gers up always.

NU: Has any news or­ga­ni­za­tion picked up on it?

BF: A handful of web­sites out­side of the Tumblr ecosystem have done mini-features on the site, and a few big name news or­ga­ni­za­tions have reached out to use con­tent and/or have lifted im­ages from my site without credit.

 

The mo­ti­va­tion to post the im­ages was to share this stuff with people who might dig it.

 

NU: Have you con­sid­ered a Babylon Falling Face­book page to at­tract viewer?

BF: Tumblr is the per­fect plat­form for a living archive like this and be­cause Babylon Falling is strictly non-commercial. Having a pres­ence on Face­book, Twitter, In­sta­gram, or any­where else isn’t worth the effort.

I have enough of an au­di­ence on Tumblr that I can just focus on keeping every­thing simple and ac­ces­sible and trust that con­tent will get eyes and if it res­onates that it will travel.

NU: I re­ally don’t un­der­stand the so­cial media well. I have my blogs and I just write what I want. I like Face­book mostly be­cause I have made con­tact with sev­eral people that I went to high school with that I didn’t know then.

I hated high school, but if I had known these people, it might have been a bit better. We get along now be­cause of politics.

BF: I hear you. I see the value of so­cial media but per­son­ally have no use for any of it. 

NU: Back to Tumblr: I have a site there but I haven’t paid it much at­ten­tion. I wanted it to bring people to my blogs. Is that a rea­son­able expectation?

BF: No idea—trial and error über alles.

 

Babylon Falling: cover of THE EAST VILLAGE OTHER underground newspaper from 1970.

Laying down lines of association

NU: Do you ever add any commentary?

BF: Very rarely. Adding com­men­tary feels like a con­ceit; for me, at­tri­bu­tion is the key. I figure with a little ori­en­ta­tion, anyone that is truly in­ter­ested in more than the aes­thetics can follow the thread themselves.

It’s all about laying down lines of as­so­ci­a­tion and pro­moting dig­ging over pas­sive ab­sorp­tion of facts; learning over preaching and proselytizing.

NU: Oh, I didn’t mean in­ter­pre­ta­tion. More like, “This image is from Any­town’s only issue of its only un­der­ground news­paper done to protest the My Lai Mas­sacre in 1968.” 

 

I have enough of an au­di­ence that I can just focus on keeping every­thing ac­ces­sible and trust that con­tent will get eyes and that it will travel.

 

BF: I try to put that kind of in­for­ma­tion in the tags. If you see me writing some­thing like that, I prob­ably drank too much coffee that morning.

NU: In my ques­tions, I am being sim­plistic so that my readers who know nothing about your site will get an idea of what they are in for.

BF: No worries—I em­brace simplicity!

NU: My home­town of Wilkes-Barre, Penn­syl­vania, had an un­der­ground news­paper in 1970: The Wyoming Valley Free Press. It was dis­trib­uted in time for the first Earth Day and I drew the cover and the in­side illustration(s).

I don’t think that there was a second issue. I haven’t seen a copy of this ar­ti­fact in more than 40 years! Know any­thing about it?

BF: Never heard of it, but will keep an eye out

 

Babylon Falling: cover of the BERKELEY BARB underground newspaper from 1970.

A trip into a wormhole

NU: How many cat­e­gories does you site have?

BF: Many, but the main um­brella cat­e­gories are listed on the site. A little ini­tial guid­ance for what I hope is a trip into a wormhole.

NU: You no wanna give your age?

BF: Half-assed at­tempt to brush away the trail as I make the slow march to­ward the fringe. I was a teenager in the ’90s, if that helps orient you. 

NU: What name should I use for you?

BF: My name is Shaun.

NU: You wrote, “After I closed my book­store, I fi­nally had the time to dig into all this stuff I had been col­lecting over the years.” Were you an ac­tual col­lector, ac­tively and con­sciously building a col­lec­tion or were you buying the stuff and simply not selling it?

BF: My horizon is too short and my tack changes too often to build a real col­lec­tion. I rarely sell, only purge.

NU: You wrote, “It’s all about laying down lines of as­so­ci­a­tion and pro­moting dig­ging over pas­sive ab­sorp­tion of facts; learning over preaching and proselytizing.”

I am con­stantly as­tounded by people that I know know better who re­ceive these unf*ckingbelievable rightwing emails and send them on to others, in­cluding me.

And I mean that they are not re­motely in the realm of pos­si­bility and yet there is no ques­tioning of their ve­racity by these people. The in­ternet is the greatest re­source for in­for­ma­tion, facts, data, etc., in history.

I read some­thing that doesn’t sound kosher and I can look it up and learn its truth or lack of truth in a matter of min­utes and yet most people seem to never use the in­ternet for any­thing but so­cial­izing! It pisses me off.

BF: I don’t mind so much. This ma­te­rial and these ideas are all sup­ple­mental to ac­tual lived ex­pe­ri­ence anyway. More than facts and data, it’s the spirit of the thing that re­ally matters.

NU: Do you wanna give readers a brief bio? Or where you live now and what you are doing?

BF: Since I left home at 15, I’ve never lived any­where more than three years at a time. I’m in Brooklyn right now and I’m doing this and that.

 

Babylon Falling: full-page ad in underground newspaper stating that "Eldridge is free, and will return to Babylon soon.".

Wyoming Valley Free Press

So that’s that for now and it’s all sec­ondary to the im­ages and the meaning of those im­ages and since this is sup­posed to be a record col­lec­tors site I have se­lected im­ages (above and below) from Babylon Falling that I be­lieve are in some way re­lated to the music that some of collect.

There is a Face­book page de­voted to the valley in Penn­syl­vania where Wilkes-Barre is lo­cated. I posted a note there about the Wyoming Valley Free Press hoping that someone know some­thing or had a copy to at least copy for me.

Didn’t hear a word in return.

 

Babylon Falling: editorial cartoon for underground newspapers by Ron Cobb about nuclear annihilation.

FEATURED IMAGE: I orig­i­nally po­si­tioned this stun­ning Ron Cobb car­toon at the top of this page but re­flec­tion made its place as a coda seem the better choice. Since posting this ar­ticle, I have also de­voted a page to Cobb’s work on Pin­terest as “Po­lit­ical Car­toonist to the Un­der­ground News­pa­pers of the Six­ties.” This con­ver­sa­tion orig­i­nally ap­peared on Rather Rare Records on De­cember 23, 2014. It is re­posted here as it fits the theme of this site.

 

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