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Coca Crystal, a Wild Child Turned ‘Unconventional’ Mother

Coca Crystal from her Facebook pageRalph Ginsburg Coca Crystal

The first thing on Jackie Diamond’s to-do list: “2008 – Publish book.”

“You see I’m behind schedule,” the 64-year-old said of the unfinished work, her chest purring with laughter. “I got busy with cancer.”

Ms. Diamond is better known to students of the underground as Coca Crystal – a secretary, writer, and “Slum Goddess” for The East Village Other who went on to host a cult cable-access television show for nearly two decades.

In 2006, she was diagnosed with lung cancer. Since then, she’s had three operations to remove over a third of her lungs, undergone chemotherapy, and become a patient at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan. The last time her cancer returned, her doctor told her it had spread to a part of her lung that was inoperable.

Her to-do list continues: “2010 – Movie based on my life released. Drew Barrymore stars as Coca Crystal.”

“And then the dignitaries and the party,” Ms. Crystal imagined. “And then I’ll live happily ever after. Finally.”

But the real reason she wants to publish her book isn’t the dream of a movie deal – it’s Gus. Read more…

Rex Weiner: There Is Always The Other

Rex Weiner, circa 1971, photo by Deanne StillmanDeanne Stillman Rex Weiner, circa 1971.

Rex Weiner co-founded The East Village Other’s successor, the pioneering New York Ace (1972–73) and according to his FBI file, was a founding staff member of High Times. He recalls getting his start at EVO.

My first week aboard The East Village Other, its venerable editor-in chief Jaakov Kohn squinted at the name I’d signed to an article, clutched his blue pencil spasmodically, and curled his whiskered lips in disdain. In an Eastern European accent nearly as impenetrable as the cloud of unfiltered Lucky Strike smoke curling from the butt in his nicotine-stained fingers, he declared, “You look more like a Rex to me!”

The newly minted moniker echoed amongst my new colleagues in the vast, shadowy loft. At EVO you had the name you were born with and the name that EVO gave you: Jackie Diamond was Coca Crystal, Alan Shenker was Yossarian, Jackie Friedrich was Roxy Bijou, Jaakov was “The Arab,” Charlie Frick was Zod, and so on. And so with my next byline I was reborn in 1970, a new decade with a new name, and on my way as a writer, of sorts.

I’d walked out of the clanking elevator into the EVO office that fall, a 20-year-old N.Y.U. dropout from upstate and a Lower East Side inhabitant since I was 17. Two of my closest friends from high school were lost, one to Vietnam and the other to heroin, allowing me to nurse a tragic heart tinged with righteous political outrage. With half a dozen porn novels credited to my name — or pseudonym — for a Mafia publisher, and a handful of poems I’d recited at St. Marks in the Bowery, I thought of myself as an established writer. I appointed myself EVO theater critic, filling a staff vacancy, and felt right at home. Read more…

Lynda Crawford on John and Yoko’s Leftovers and EVO’s Post-Salad Days

Lynda Crawford 1971 by Kathy Streem Kathy Streem Lynda Crawford, 1971

Breathless — not just from the late-night climb up 11 flights to the EVO office on East 12th Street, or the astonishing art by the likes of Yossarian, Spain, Little Moon, Joe Schenkman, Brad Holland, R. Crumb, Kim Deitch, Trina Robbins, and Fred Mogubgub, or by Dean Latimer‘s gorgeous prose, or the thrill of reading Ray Schultz, or from the stunning reportage of Jackie Friedrich, Pat Morris, and Claudia Dreifus, or the amazing true life adventures of Coca Crystal (subduing a would-be attacker with a tune on her guitar) and Steve Kraus, or the Krassner interview by Kathy Streem, or the wondrous music reviews by Richard Meltzer and Charlie Frick (and Charlie’s magical layouts), or Tuli’s poetry and songs, Vincent Titus’ fables, Honest Bob Singer’s film writings, Rex Weiner’s off-off Broadway reviews (he was homeless and theaters were warm), Tim Leary’s communiqués from Algeria, A. J. Weberman‘s illuminating investigative portraits, or the vocal harmonies of Steve Heller, Latimer, and Schultz; but also from EVO’s coverage of the major events of the time: efforts to stop the Vietnam War, the Pentagon Papers, the Panther 21 trial, American Indian Movement protests, the murder of George Jackson, the Attica uprising, and Bob Dylan’s 30th birthday party, all produced at high intensity under editor Jaakov Kohn‘s benign leadership.

“EVO is not a tit!” I remember editor Allen Katzman telling several of us when salaries were slashed to the single digits, and then disappeared, during the post–salad days of the early 1970s — my tenure.

I waitressed to pay the rent on my $51-per-month apartment on East Sixth Street and to be able to eat a little more than the nightly fare of free chicken wings and chickpeas at Max’s Kansas City that many subsisted on. The EVO piece I wrote that is most remembered came out of that gig at a deli on Christopher Street when John and Yoko happened in one night and I interpreted their relationship through bits of conversation, body language, and by dissecting leftover pieces of blueberry blintz (A. J. gave me kudos for that one); it was reprinted in the Berkeley Barb and a bunch of other papers too. Read more…

Coca Crystal: Handmaiden, Slum Goddess, Reporter

Coca Crystal -Magic Garden - If I Cant Dance You Can Keep Your Revolution 7.20.03 PM

Coca Crystal (born Jackie Diamond) was EVO’s self-described “gatekeeper,” receptionist, sometime reporter and sometime model until the bitter end, when, as staff and resources dwindled, she became its defacto publisher (she financed the final two issues out of her own purse). Here, she describes how she got her start.

The first time I set foot in the EVO office, it was in the fall of 1969 and I had come to visit with a college friend, Barbara, who was EVO’s secretary.

The office was located on the third floor of the Fillmore East building on Second Avenue and Sixth Street. The place was a wreck. It was freezing, the garbage cans were overflowing, cigarette butts were everywhere, and the walls were covered in fabulous cartoons by the best in underground comix: R. Crumb, Kim Deitch, Spain Rodriguez, Yossarian, Shelton, Art Spiegelman, just to name a few. It was chaos, but a kind of cool chaos.

The office was in a frenzy to get copy ready for the typesetter, and I was asked if I could type. I said I could and was given the job of typing up the classifieds. I had never seen such weird ads. (“Dominant Iguana seeks submissive zebra,” sex ads, odd employment opportunities, legal advice for pot busts). I had to type while sitting on Allen Katzman’s lap (his idea), wearing my winter coat and gloves. When I had completed the classifieds I was told the other secretary, Marcia, was leaving and I could have her job if I wanted it. The pay was $35 a week. I took the job. Read more…

Allen Katzman and J.C. Suares on the Reportage of Wonderment

Katzman-EVO proposal120

With this special edition, The Local presents the first of seven wild, winding, weekend walks through the seven years when this neighborhood was home to The East Village Other. EVO, as the weekly soon became known, began in the imagination of the late Walter Bowart, in his fourth-floor painter’s loft at Avenue B and Second Street. He was the sole creator of Issue No. 1, a broadside, or uncut proof sheet, that was folded into tabloid size. As readers unfolded it again, the pages faced all directions. Anyone with half an eye who happened to pass a Village newsstand that October of 1965, could see that Mr. Bowart was far ahead of others in grasping the real potential of the revolution in printing techniques just getting underway: the move from costly metal plates, professional printers, and “hot type” to paper, scissors and rubber cement. Cold type — offset printing — did more than lower the bar to entry; it provided whole new means of expression in graphics and text.

By Issue No. 2, the East Village Other had a team of publishers and actual papers of incorporation. By Issue No. 3, it had its own storefront office on Avenue A between Ninth and Tenth Streets, just across from Tompkins Square Park. In 1968, Bill Graham bartered concert ads for office space on the third floor of his new Fillmore East, giving EVO daily access to the concert hall’s all-important back stairwell and the stars of rock ‘n’ roll.

By the time the Fillmore closed in 1971, EVO’s end was not far behind. It had moved to new offices on the 11th floor of 20 East 12th Street, and then to a back store room of the Law Commune offices at 640 Broadway. There, as word surfaced that, owing to unpaid bills, city marshals were coming to seize whatever assets might be, the young Charlie Frick, alone in the office with Coca Crystal, scooped up all and sundry, boxed up the files, commandeered his family truck and then hauled it all to his mother’s barn in Passaic County, N.J. There it would remain unmolested for the next few decades.

In anticipation of The Local’s exhibition “Blowing Minds: The East Village Other, the Rise of Underground Comix and the Alternative Press, 1965-72,” we asked Mr. Frick to dive back into the bounty, now variously housed in a storage unit and at his home in Montclair, N.J. Choice selections from the ephemera and artifacts he and others have unearthed will be among items to be featured.

The Local has something from the annals, too. The items in Mr. Frick’s collection included the following undated typescript that must have come into his possession at some point at least a decade after EVO’s demise. It is a xerox of a proposal for a book to be titled “The Best of the East Village Other.” Its cover page attributes it to the late Allen Katzman (most likely the proposal’s author) and the well-known creative consultant and book and magazine designer, J.C. Suares. The late Mr. Katzman, a poet and longtime publisher of EVO, was, along with Mr. Bowart and Dan Rattiner, a signatory to the founding papers. Who better than he to start us out?

Read more…