David Jacob Kramer: Heads Together

Das Underground Press Syndicate (UPS), ab 1973 umbenannt in Alternative Press Syndicate (APS), war ein Netzwerk gegenkultureller Zeitungen und Zeitschriften in den USA, Kanada und Westeuropa, das von 1966 bis in die späten 1970er aktiv war. Was als lockerer Zusammenschluss von fünf Zeitungen zum gegenseitigen Austausch von Artikeln und Bildmaterial begann, zählte innerhalb weniger Jahre über 500 Publikationen und Millionen von Leser*innen weltweit, auch in Deutschland.

„Sie vermehrten sich wie Unkraut (= weed)“ sagte Tom Forçade (1945-1978), UPS Direktor, Weed Dealer und späterer Gründer des Monatsmagazins High Times (gegr. 1974). Ein passender Vergleich: Das UPS engagierte sich auch für die Legalisierung von Marihuana, und das Hanfblatt wurde zum „Totem“ der Legalisierungskampagne wie der parallel stattfindenden gesellschaftlichen Umbrüche. Der in Los Angeles beheimatete Autor David Jacob Kramer breitet in seinem opulent illustrierten Buch „heads together. Weed and the Underground Press Syndicate 1965-1973“ (Edition Patrick Frey 2023) dieses Kapitel Kulturgeschichte vor uns aus. Herausgekommen ist dabei zugleich eine visuelle Geschichte der Underground-Presse in ihrer Hochphase, mit Zeitschriftencovern, Seiten aus Underground-Comics, Grafiken, Werbeanzeigen u.a.m., die Kramer in amerikanischen Archiven, aber teilweise auch deutschen Beständen in Berlin und Bremen recherchiert hat.

Diese Materialien sind der visuelle Kern des überraschenderweise nicht in den USA, sondern einem Schweizer Kunstbuchverlag edierten Buches über die anfängliche Do-it-Yourself-Mentalität und „mimeo revolution“ in der Gegenkultur der 1960er und 1970er. Ergänzt wird der Bildteil durch eine Reihe kurzer „Oral Histories“ von Zeitzeug*innen aus Literatur, Kunst und der aktivistischen Politik. Sie werfen einen (etwas verklärten) Blick zurück in eine Zeit, als Gras zu rauchen noch ein Akt zivilen Ungehorsams war und John Lennon 1971 in seinem Protestsong „John Sinclair“ singt: „They gave him ten for two“, also für zehn Jahre ins Gefängnis wegen zwei Joints.

Für Brinkmann, wildgefleckt hat der David Jacob Kramer einen Auszug seiner Einleitung als Leseprobe zur Verfügung gestellt. Wer mehr über seine Recherchen und die Entstehung des Buches erfahren möchte, dem sei das am Ende verlinkte Videogespräch empfohlen. (Roberto Di Bella)

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David Jacob Kramer


The Chicago Seed. Vol. 4, Number 9, 1969. Hrsg. von Abe Peck

The youth uprising now simply called the “Sixties” was fed by one of the greatest booms in publishing history. A heterogeneous horde of publications with radical tenets – anti-war, Black Power, women’s liberation, gay rights, labor rights, environmentalism, and psychedelic spirituality – were linked by the Underground Press Syndicate (UPS).

Beginning as a loose confederation of five regional, independent papers in 1966, within a few years the UPS swelled to over 500 across the world, reaching a readership in the tens of millions. They “spread like weed,” said Thomas King Forçade, the UPS director, weed-dealer, and eventual founder of High Times.1Underground Press Syndicate Directory, 1973. See also Thomas King Forçade (ed.): Underground Press Anthology (Ace Books: New York, 1972).  – … Continue reading The metaphor was apt: the UPS also spurred the weed-legalization movement, and weed came to be its totem.

This syndicate galvanized a movement, but each UPS paper did its own thing: in its own city, town, and country. Sometimes UPS papers were at odds with each other, and at odds within their own staff. One thing they tended to have in common was the role of this plant in their collective rise and fall. The first papers to confederate as the UPS2The name UPS can be attributed to the editor of the East Village Other, Walter Bowart (1939-2007), who came up with it in a flash when asked by Time … Continue reading were the Los Angeles Free Press, Berkeley Barb, East Village Other, The Paper of East Lansing, and Detroit’s Fifth Estate.3Anm. R. Di Bella: Bis auf The Paper of East Lansing wurden diese Zeitschriften vollständig digitalisiert und sind zusammen mit vielen weiteren … Continue reading The collective was formed for its power in numbers. Together, they sought “to create the illusion of a giant coordinated network of freaky papers, poised for the kill,” said Thorne Dreyer, editor of Austin’s the Rag.4John Burks, “The Underground Press,” Rolling Stone, October 4, 1969.

“The war is wrong, universities are an impossible bore,
LSD is good and Good For You, etc., etc.” (Ray Mungo)


A snapshot of the UPS’s first year through its pages would include: Bobby Seale and Huey P. Newton’s founding of the Black Panther Party (the following year its own eponymous paper would join the underground press network); the launch of fired Harvard professors Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert’s manifesto for a psycho-chemical “inner-revolution”;5Berkeley Barb, May 24, 1966. the arrest of vigilers in Berkeley blocking truckloads of ammo headed for Vietnam;6Berkeley Barb, August 12, 1966. Andy Warhol’s screening of Eat, Sleep, Kiss, Banana, and Blowjob to open a Velvet Underground residency in New York; the Committee for Free Beaches’ fight for nude bathing rights in California; poet and Fugs band-member Ed Sanders’s arrest in his East Village bookstore, Peace Eye, for publishing the homoerotic poetry of W. H. Auden (in court, Sanders argued obscenity doesn’t exist); and Dutch anarchist-theater group, Provo’s public happenings, which included an egg-throwing-atpolice contest in Amsterdam.

“I guess we agreed on some basic issues,” Ray Mungo (*1946), co-founder of the Liberation News Service (LNS), a kind of Reuters for the UPS, wrote in his 1970 memoir. “The war is wrong, the draft is an abomination and a slavery, abortions are sometimes necessary and should be legal, universities are an impossible bore, LSD is good and Good For You, etc., etc. – and I realize that marijuana, that precious weed, was our universal common denominator.”7Ray Mungo, Famous Long Ago: My Life and Hard Times with Liberation News Service (Boston: Beacon Press, 1970), 22.

This also meant weed was a helpful means for US government agencies to crack down on the UPS. Journalist Chip Berlet, who wrote for the College Press Service, Denver Clarion, and Flamingo Park Gazette, said: “What underground journalist didn’t engage in manic sweeping and vacuuming in an attempt to remove every last marijuana seed from tiny cracks and crevices in his or her car, home, or underground newspaper office the night before publishing an article calculated to drive government officials to the brink of madness?”8Chip Berlet, Insider Histories of the Vietnam Era Underground Press, Part 1. Voices from the Underground, ed. by Ken Wachsberger (East Lansing: … Continue reading

Both sides agreed: pot represented an adversarial position to the State. This relationship went beyond national borders. “Every week IT received news of about ten arrests for pot; many of those taken were friends… Theirs was a moral battle, not one based on the law. It was us against them,” recalled Barry Miles (*1943), founder of England’s first UPS paper, International Times (IT), and owner of the modishly-titled Indica Books.9Barry Miles, In the Sixties (New York: Vintage, 2003), 196. […]

Weed was decorative, adding a touch of flair
to the mastheads of countless UPS titles.


Liberation News Service Office, New York City, Foto: David Fenton, 1969

The UPS was an antidote to the regular press, which at the time were regurgitating government positions on Vietnam, and ignoring the concerns of marginalized communities at home. Art Kunkin’s the Los Angeles Free Press (or The Freep) was one of the UPS pioneers, launched in 1964, its attitude implied in Kunkin’s characterization of it as “a reader-written paper.” The Freep’s profile rose with its coverage of the Watts riots – it was the only local paper blaming racist cops for the unrest, and the only one whose journalists got beatup by cops while reporting it.

The innovation of the UPS was that each was locally oriented, but operated under an agreement of non-proprietary content, granting free reprint rights to anything that appeared in any other member paper. The imperative was to spread the word and bolster the movement.

The same articles, essays, poems, and photography appeared in multiple papers across the globe, and so did the illustrations. A wonky maximalism pervaded the page, gaps crammed with “spot illustrations” that thread through columns – a consistent motif being pot. Joints and the seven-pointed leaf served as section breaks, or randomly disrupted text. Every kind of animal, vegetable, and Disney character popped up getting high. Pipes are clenched in fists. A little girl waters a baby plant. Obsessively-detailed, excrescent letter-forms spell the word “stoned”.

Weed was decorative, adding a touch of flair to the mastheads of countless UPS titles. It could be a goofy doodle of a woman riding a joint like a rocket to entertain the stoned doodler. It was also a rallying cry: weed literally emblematized activist groups, like the Yippies, White Panthers, Motherfuckers, and New Nation Sisters.

Offset-printing was a new technology
and it detonated old graphic limitations.


UPS publications adopted a newspaper format, not just because newsprint was cheap, but subverting those formal conventions communicated its challenge to the perception of factual news. “What I was trying to do was to create credibility,” Max Scherr (1916-1981) of the Berkeley Barb said. “The way I did it was by looking like a newspaper and printing mind-blowing facts down in straight columns.”10

Offset-printing was a new technology, more accessible than the typical newspaper letterpress, and it detonated old graphic limitations. The  UPS shirked the linearity of standard industrial machines’ hot-type. Offset meant layouts could be cut up and arranged by hand, then photographed to become plates.

In San Francisco’s Oracle, for example, the art came first, and copy arranged around it. Technicolor bled through the newsprint paper. “When the stoned freaks looked through the pages, it was the colors that really did them in,” an LNS piece gushed.10Leamer, The Paper Revolutionaries: The Rise of the Underground Press, 33.

The Oracle was created high and intended to be read high. Ink fountains were split and a method of squirting paint from ketchup bottles into the press was invented by local artist, Hetty Maclise. Perfume went in, too. “Most of the artists would conceive and manifest their designs in a state of expanded awareness,” editor Allen Cohen said. “The Oracle would go from hand to hand and mind to mind in the evocative states unveiled by marijuana and LSD. It was a centering instrument for that intense, aesthetic, and expanded perceptual universe…”11Wachsberger, Insider Histories of the Vietnam Era Underground Press, Part 1, 145.

“God through cannabis.” (Ed Sanders)


Good Times: vol. 3, #22, May 29, 1970: “The Mutants Take Over”

This de-professionalized approach was ideological. Journalists were also designers, illustrators, street-sellers, community organizers, and activists. Austere New Left politics were granted allure by the psychedelic graphics, and psychedelia made politically credible. These two schools would forge a dynamic co-mingling (when they weren’t bickering in meetings).

Proto-UPS publications had been cultivating a weed sensibility since the turn of the decade. Ed Sanders mimeographed Fuck You: a Magazine of the Arts in 1962, which declared its committment to “God through cannabis.” Also influential was The Realist, founded by Paul Krassner in 1958 after he’d written for MAD magazine (later he authored the “Brain Damage Control” column in High Times). The first mimeographed issue of the Marrawanna Quarterly was released in 1964 by d.a. levy, who disseminated stoner verse until 1967, when he was arrested for obscenity and had his press confiscated.

Like regular newspapers, the UPS syndicated comic strips too, the most globally adopted being Gilbert Shelton’s Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers, detailing the mishaps of a trio of scuzzy pot heads and their cat in the endless pursuit of scoring more weed. As the title of Robert Crumb’s Head Comix indicated, it was geared toward heads. Spain Rodriguez’s Trashman was a horny, street-fighting, mystic revolutionary. “I don’t know how exactly it came about,” Rodriguez recalled. “It was one of those nights that I would be up all night being stoned and listening to the radio and drawing.”12Spain Rodriguez, Street Fighting Men: Spain Vol. 1 (Seattle: Fantagraphics, 2017), 276.

Like an old roach, pot as a symbol of civil disobedience
has long ceased to smolder.


[…] The art collected in this book shines a light on some less famous names in the stoner-art canon, and on many who weren’t names at all, as no signature was attached to a ton of UPS illustrations, though they would be reprinted across multiple papers around the world. Articles had fake bylines, or jettisoned them entirely to signify the dissolution of ego in the service of the collective. UPS prose wasn’t terse and detached reportage, but mercurial, intimate, florid, and stream-of-consciousness, not always concerned with readability, just as the layouts weren’t always in the service of legibility. […] Another condition for membership in the UPS was providing all other UPS member-papers with copies of your paper. UPS offices became access-points to the global counterculture in cities and small towns. Each one was a scene. […]

Like an old roach, pot as a symbol of civil disobedience has long ceased to smolder. The imagery in this book speaks to a time when pot was smoked with optimism, as something potentially good for society, capable of activating profound transformation in the face of corrupt and powerful forces. These hopes remain timeless, however unlikely the savior. The artists, activists, writers, and freaks that embodied those values (and copped the brutal fallout) are remembered and celebrated herein. ■

Anklicken zum Vergrößern
Zahlreiche weitere Abbildungen aus dem Buch gibt es auf Instagram.

David Jacob Kramer: Heads Together. Weed and the Underground Press Syndicate 1965-1973. Softcover, 566 Seiten, 451 Abbildungen. Mit Oral Histories von: Ishmael Reed, John Sinclair, Marjorie Heins, Mariann Wizard-Vasquez, Abe Peck und einem Beitrag von Melania Gazzotti. Zürich: Edition Patrick Frey 2023. → Leseprobe (PDF)

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Zur Person
David Jacob Kramer (geb. 1980 in Sydney, Australien) ist ein in Los Angeles lebender Autor. Dort gründete er den Family Bookstore (2007-2021), einen Ort für Künstlerbücher, Zeitschriften und Fanzines, Performances und Lesungen. Seine Texte erscheinen in Zeitschriften und Ausstellungskatalogen, wie u.a. zu Doug Aitken: The Idea of the West (Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Katalog: jrp|editions 2011) oder Ben Jones: Men’s Group/The Video (a.a.O.; Katalog: PictureBox 2013). Sein nächstes Buch, Handmade Utopia, ist eine Recherche über die Hippie-Landkommunen und -Farms in den USA und wird 2025 erscheinen.

Buchvorstellung und Autorengespräch  (Zürich, 10. Juni 2023)

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(zusammengestellt von Roberto Di Bella)

Siehe für den (bundes)deutschen Kontext den Gastbeitrag von Anja Schwanhäußer auf diesem Blog.

Independent Voices (auf Jstor.org) ist eine frei zugängliche Sammlung von Zeitungen, Magazinen und Zeitschriften der alternativen Presse. Der digitale Bestand umfasst Publikationen aus der Hälfte des 20. Jahrhunderts mit unterschiedlichsten Schwerpunkten (Feminismus, Universitätsproteste/Free Speech Movement, amerikanische Ureinwohner, Kriegsgegner, Black-Power-Bewegung, Hispanics, Rechtsextremismus, LGBT-Aktivisten, alternative Literaturzeitschriften/’Little Mags’ u.a.m.). zur Datenbank

Das Archiv für Alternativkultur (auch: Sammlung Josef Wintjes) an der HU Berlin umfasst literarische, künstlerische und politische Archivmaterialien der deutschen Alternativszene aus der Zeit der 1960er bis in die 1990er Jahre. Eingerichtet wurde es 1995 am dortigen Institut für Europäische Ethnologie, initiiert durch den Nachlass des „Literarischen Informationszentrums Josef Wintjes (Ulcus Molle)“. zur Website

Das Archive of Independent Publishing (AIP) ist eine Sammlung deutscher und internationaler Underground- und Selbstpublikationen (Schwerpunkt 1965-1975), die seit 2018 an der Hochschule für Künste beheimatet ist (Koordination: Prof. Tania Prill). Das AIP ist hervorgegangen aus der Privatsammlung von Jan-Frederik Bandel und dem von ihm mit Tania Prill kuratierten Projekt „Unter dem Radar. Underground- und Selbstpublikationen 1965–1975“ (Ausstellung und Katalog 2015) , das u.a. von der HfK Bremen getragen wurde. weitere Informationen (hier & hier)

Harter, Christopher: An Author Index to Little Magazines of the Mimeograph Revolution, 1958-1980. Lanham, Md. [u.a.]: Scarecrow Press 2008.

McMillian, John Campbell: Smoking typewriters: the Sixties underground press and the rise of alternative media in America. New York: Oxford University Press 2011.  Open Access

Peck, Abe: Uncovering the sixties. The life and times of the underground press. New York : Pantheon Books 1985.

Sanders, Ed: Fug You. An informal history of the Peace Eye Bookstore, the Fuck You Press, the Fugs, and counterculture in the Lower East Side. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Da Capo Press 2011.

Stewart, Sean: On the Ground: An Illustrated Anecdotal History of the Sixties Underground Press in the U.S. Preface by Paul Buhle. Oakland, California: PM Press 2011. Open Access

Hoffmann, Jule; Vens, Hartwig: Tits and Clits und das Underground Press Syndicate. Deutschlandfunk Kultur (24. April 2023), 22:20 min. Podcast hören


Über Roberto Di Bella

Dr. Roberto Di Bella: Literaturwissenschaftler & Kulturvermittler
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