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The Column of Lasting Insignificance - April 12, 2014

A Cheerful E-Mail

John,
I hope I have the right man. I have a story to share. In 1972 I was in the U.S. Navy and stationed in Rota, Spain. I happened to come across an English magazine called The Snail. In it they reprinted a column they attributed to you from The Village Voice, which they said had originally been printed about “a dozen years before.” It was entitled “Everyone is Assumed to be an Ally.” That column had a profound impact on me and still does to this day. I still reread it periodically and, while some parts might be a little dated, I still find most very relevant. I have been a journalist since 1981 and a political reporter since 1984. I actually quote the section on “there are almost always alternatives” in my column this week. As a whim I did a Google search and found you here and sincerely hope you are the same person who penned this column. So know that you have profoundly affected at least one person on the planet!! Thanks

J.B.
Portsmouth, RI

The column to which JB refers follows:

EVERYBODY IS ASSUMED TO BE AN ALLY… unless they opt for aggression (sometimes even before they meet you) on no stronger grounds than that you are being yourself. I always assume, until given reason to believe otherwise, that each of us shares the same objective: to get through life, from birth to death, with the minimum amount of inconvenience to others while deriving the maximum amount of pleasure and happiness for ourselves.
    I offer a handshake, a friendly wave in passing and any help that’s within my power to anybody who wants to live such a life without interference; sometimes genuine alliances are formed, long or short term, depending not only on the extent of our agreement but how far we can disagree and still respect each others motives.
    There is no time for the fools who think that progress lies in fighting, still less for the belligerent bullies (cowards?) who think their progress lies in fighting you. Offer them a gift to emphasize your peaceful intentions. If they won’t accept, ignore them, bypass them, give them what they want and go away. Only the naïve define running away as cowardice instead of survival.
    Join things if you will, always remembering that a little piece of personal integrity disappears with each such compromise. Sometimes group action is the only means of getting things done. Quite often it is the only route to freedom from some iniquitous burden or unfair restriction. But groups have a way of enforcing rules of their own and I never met or heard of any Messiah who didn’t want to govern as well as guide.
    Any expression of identity, whether it be unorthodox behavior or unpopular opinions, is grounds for the charges of exhibitionism. But all individual thinkers are exhibitionistic so far as the conformists are concerned. An “exhibitionist” is usually making an honest statement of who and what he is so that the like-minded can reach him. He cares not at all about the dummies who condemn him, and why should he? They are not worth a second thought.
    Every individual’s hang-up is less a question of what he can be but what he has been already. The twin moulds of environment and heredity have stunted his growth as much as they have shaped his character and the extent of his potential is in direct ratio to how little he has been allowed to be himself.

    It is harder for some to break away from their background than for others, but it is possible for everybody. The first thing that must be accepted—and how few people will allow themselves to accept it—is that you are alone. Who thinks your thoughts? Who feels as you feel? Who dies when you die? You are alone, you have a life to live and you must have allies.
    No, that is wrong. There are no needs beyond physical needs. There are only wants. It is easier with allies but not impossible. If you declare yourself, if you are honest in your intentions (whatever your intentions) you will always have allies.
    The most important thing of all to remember is that there are almost always alternatives. It is very rarely a choice between black or white, A or B, Communism or Fascism, yes or no. We build a box around our freedom of action and complain that there is no room to move about. Knock down the walls, burn the box, vote maybe or perhaps, spoil the ballot.
    There are too many morals and not enough murals.
    Spread out your opinions and your ideals for all to see but do not insist in making them into laws. Do not do unto what has been done unto you. There is only one immorality and that is in insisting that others live as you do”.
(The Village Voice c. 1958)

The following column appeared in the Sheffield Star in 2010

By Martin Dawes

JOHN WILCOCK, interviewer of Marilyn Monroe and a co-founder of the legendary Village Voice, was holding court at The Stag in Psalter Lane, Sheffield, earlier this week, describing how he first got turned on to drugs.
    “I asked this man in white next to me what taking drugs was all about. ‘It takes you out of your box,’ said Timothy Leary.”
    Not bad for name dropping and John, now 82, can drop quite a few, from Lenny Bruce to Andy Warhol, about whom he is publishing a book soon.
    The Sheffield-born journalist now lives in California and publishes a regular digest of things he has read and people encountered called the Ojai Orange. He was back in Sheffield visiting family.
    One of his best interviews was with Marilyn. “She leaned across the table in a confidential manner, grabbed my arm with her right hand and looked directly into my eyes as though she were about to convey a secret shared only by the two of us.”
    “‘I like men who are poets,’ she declared, squeezing my wrist with her fingers, for emphasis ‘but that doesn't mean they have to write poetry. Do you know what I mean?’”
    A recent issue of the Orange featured former Californian resident Jennifer Moss, who likes to cycle almost naked. The ex-Sheffield Telegraph and Daily Mirror journalist shows he has not lost his touch.
    “Wearing flower petal pasties over her nipples and G-string, she stretched out her shapely body under the oaks of my garden and explained why she had swapped her local notoriety for a life in Oregon.”
    He shows no sign of slowing down and reckons to write 250,000 words a year. Catch up him in words and pictures at www.ojaiorange.com.


The Last Word

JOHN WILCOCK fled Fleet Street for the US fifty years ago, where he “retired” (although writers never retire) after producing 35 travel books, He writes and videotapes about his recent trip to Norway and England at his website www.ojaiorange.com.

The last book I read

I put Barack Obama’s Dreams From My Father on my Kindle and read it on my recent trip to Europe. Written (by himself) before running for president, it expresses his fervent hope that it will help to diminish racial discord and is presented in a melodic style that at the very least proves he could make a living as a novelist if he didn’t have more important things on his plate.

The last CD I bought

In Bergen, Norway, a tour to Edvard Grieg’s enchanting home ended with a piano recital of his works. The composer of Peer Gynt once said he had found his inspiration via folk music into “the inner spiritual life of the people” and listening to it helped me understand what he meant.

The last film I saw

A Night at the Museum was one of the funniest movies I ever saw; a genuine laugh-out-loud riot. Sadly, Hollywood greed then took over and the sequel was not funny at all.

The last TV show I watched

The Mentalist, which stars an ever-smiling Simon Baker as a former psychic-turned crime investigator, is a contemporary take on the old Sherlock Holmes ploy of leaping to (usually-correct) solutions from insignificant details. In actual fact, Baker’s charming character gets much of his effect by making outrageous allegations, often sexual, about suspects on his first encounter with them. All the members of this fictitious California Bureau of Investigation are beguiling to watch.

The last place I visited

I had hoped to visit Holy Island while in Northumberland, recalling my trips there when I worked on the Daily Mail in Newcastle and how the pubs stayed open all night unless a call from the mainland warned that the cops were coming over. Sadly, Lindisfarne can only be visited in daytime when the tide is in—a condition not due for two more days. So the boat chugged around the Farne islands instead and I videotaped all the playful seals.

The last meal out

Just before leaving London to come home I had fish and chips for dinner near Marble Arch at the The Swan (est. 1721). In the 18th century it was the last stop for the wagons taking criminals to Tyburn to be hanged and they were allowed a final drink “on the house”. Then it was back “on the wagon” (no more drinks) for the poor wretch before his final journey. Has any other tavern in the world added two idioms to the language?

4/5/2014