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Book Review

From Bughouse Square to the Beat Generation: Selected Ravings of Slim Brundage
--- Marc Herbst

Sandpaper recently received From Bughouse Square to the Beat Generation: Selected Ravings of Slim Brundage from the Charles H. Kerr Publishing Company, the self-proclaimed "Publisher of Anti-Establishment Literature Since 1886." With books such as Hay Market Scrapbook, The Auto-biography of Mother Jones, and Fellow Worker in their catalogue, I guess they have justification to make such claims. The Kerr publishing house existence during this "hard times for free spirits" represents the legacy left over by earlier Chicago radicals.

During the fifties and early sixties, Slim Brundage played a very different game then that of Charles H. Kerr Publishing house. This book is a collection of Brundage's writings about his game. Slim was the owner and Janitor of a bar called the College of Complexes, a bar that used to stand north of downtown. Like a people's "theme restaurant" along the lines of the Rainforest and the Hard Rock Cafe, this institution dispensed more than food and drink. Along with beer, the "College" dispensed nightly lectures and discussion groups. And like theme restaurants of today, the bar had franchises; one in New York's bohemian West Village and another one in the uber-beat North Beach of San Francisco.

Unlike theme restaurants, the knowledge dispensed in the college was not canned pop. The lectures it ran were given by Nudists, anti-racists, scientists, Beatniks, Communists, Anarchists, an occasional Fascist, Wobblies, poets, politicians, artists; anyone who wanted to speak.

It appears as though the college was a lot of fun. It served as a "meeting place for people who think" and as a real radical institution. Reading the poorly written "rants" of Slim Brundage, I am amazed that someone on the Left managed to have so much fun. Chicago TV stations approached the college to see if it would host a television show.

These guys also ran a tongue-in-cheek "Beatnik for President" campaign and got national press for it. Apparently with the help of Lawrence Ferlinghetti of San Francisco's famed City Lights Bookstore they mocked the American political system with play by using their own media image as a tool.

Slim Brundage's attitude can only be compared to that of Abbie Hoffman and the Yippies. One thing that made both activists noteworthy was their ability to play with the media and market themselves. Ten years after the Beatnik campaign, the Yippies ran their own mock presidential campaign, nominating a pig for president. Both activists believed that people would come around if they faced the truth.

Yet Brundage and others at the College had a unique quality that seems harder to find in later incarnations of radical culture. Slim created an institution that invited a country in. They ran a revolutionary force out of a storefront bar that advertised in the newspaper. The bar was a hangout for people of all walks of life, old Wobblies and bums, working class stiffs, beatniks, runaways, college professors, students, lawyers and judges.

This book contains a well-written introduction. And yet, Slim's writing shouldn't be read for its literary merits alone. The bulk of this book should be read as an historical text. Slim the huckster tells us about his days as a hobo, about the International Workers of the World and about his bar. While reading the book I enjoyed his use of hobo and beatnik slang of which there is a glossary in the back of the book. So if you got a few bucks to spare on a first hand account of radical history, this book is good. And if you want to start your own radical cultural institution, this book serves as a good guide.


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