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“Down from their cloud – The Rolling Stones at the Forum”
*From the Los Angeles Free Press, USA, Jan. 26 1973
The Los Angeles Free Press, also called the “Freep”, is often cited as the first, and certainly was the largest, of the underground newspapers of the 1960s. The Freep was founded in 1964 by Art Kunkin, who served as its publisher until 1971 and continued on as its editor-in-chief through June 1973. The paper closed in 1978. It was unsuccessfully revived a number of times afterward.
From its inception, the L.A. Free Press was notable for its radical politics when, in the mid-1960s, such views rarely saw print. The Freep wrote about and was often directly involved in the major historic issues of the 1960s and 1970s, and with the people who shaped them, including the Chicago Seven, Timothy Leary, Allen Ginsberg, and Abbie Hoffman. Both the famous and the infamous would open up to the Los Angeles Free Press, from Bob Dylan to the Black Panthers to Jim Morrison to Iceberg Slim.
The paper regularly reported on and against police brutality, covering topics such as the death of journalist Ruben Salazar, and even publishing the names of undercover drug enforcement operatives. As Greg Williams of the Gerth Archives said, “It was the first publication to start presenting points of view that the L.A. Times wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole. They not only had their own political slant, but they also supported the Black community, the Chicano community, and the LGBTQ community in a variety of ways.” (Ref. down from their cloud)
The Free Press saw itself as an advocate of personal freedom as well as a vehicle to aid the anti-Vietnam war movement. Because of its coverage of the Vietnam War and how it became a touchstone for the anti-war movement, the Los Angeles Free Press is given degrees of credit for the ending of the War. It grew with the movement, and at its peak was selling over 100,000 copies, with national distribution.
As the paper gained influence, it suffered pushback from the authorities and intimidation by those determined to defend the status quo. Free Press reporters were arrested for covering demonstrations. The paper’s offices were bombed three times, with the police neglecting to investigate the crimes. At another point the FBI “convinced” the paper’s printer to refuse their business. And, after the Free Press published the names and addresses of narcotic agents, publisher Kunkin and Free Press writer Jerry Applebaum were taken to court by the Attorney General of California, fined $10,000 and “convicted of receiving stolen property — that is, information.” (The conviction was later overturned on appeal.) (Ref. down from their cloud)
One of the Los Angeles Free Press’ greatest strengths was its music coverage. Among the writers whose bylines appeared were music editor John Carpenter, Tim Devine, Jerry Hopkins, Harvey Kubernik, John Mendelsohn, Anne Moore, Tom Nolan, Steven Rosen, Greg Shaw, John Sinclair, Chris Van Ness, Bill Wasserzieher, and the trio of Pete Johnson, Richard Cromelin, and Don Snowden — all three of whom also wrote for the Los Angeles Times.
The paper also pioneered the emerging field of underground comics. Before becoming an underground comix star, Gilbert Shelton worked for the Freep; his The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers strip started appearing as a regular feature in 1970. Ron Cobb’s underground political cartoons were a regular feature; in November 1969, he created an ecology symbol — a combination of the letters “E” and “O” taken from the words “Environment” and “Organism”, respectively — and published it in the Freep, and then placed it in the public domain. Look magazine incorporated the symbol into a flag in their April 21, 1970, issue — it became known as the Ecology Flag. Bobby London’s Dirty Duck comic strip ran in the Freep early in the spring of 1971, running underneath Shelton’s Fat Freddy’s Cat strip. (Ref. down from their cloud)
Categories: Yesterday's Papers