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BOOK REVIEW: "Did It! Jerry Rubin: An American Revolutionary" by Pat Thomas

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BOOK REVIEW: Did It! Jerry Rubin: An American Revolutionary by Pat Thomas (Fantagraphics Books) 2017

Chock full of photographs, interviews, and even a chapter on attempts to “levitate the Pentagon” – for peace, of course – Pat Thomas’s biography on Yippie radical Jerry Rubin – the first ever, as it turns out, and a long-time comin’ – is nearly overwhelming in its overview of Rubin’s life, views, visions, comrades, and many achievements, much to the chagrin of “The Man,” particularly in the early days of his uncompromising activism.

And that was to end the Vietnam War, push for social change and to make America reflect the values its long claimed to aspire to and hold dear.

Thomas (Listen, Whitey! The Sights & Sounds of Black Power 1965-1975) is very, very cool and hip to the counterculture, having also compiled an Allen Ginsberg box set, cureated CD and LP reissues by everyone from Judee Sill and The Dream Syndicate to Tim Buckley and Public Image Ltd.

So, out of the gate, Thomas stars off, in his introduction, telling us about a man who was a leader who was also ahead of the curve. Who, despite compatriot Abbie Hoffman's criticisms, was not the "sell out" he seemed to be in the 1980's - the Jewish Yippie-turned-yuppie from Cincinnati, before his death in 1994. The Suit. The Man. Wasn't that what the Sixties Generation, the Baby Boomers were fighting?

But Rubin was smarter and more shrewd than Hoffman and the rest. He paved the way for those environmentally-conscious entrepreneurs you hear about on the West Coast and elsewhere. 

"Beware the Creeping Meatball" was a way of telling those willing to listen that we needed to avoid "the acceptance by society of mediocrity as a virtue." 

As former Canadian-Stalinist-turned-American-Yippie Judy Gumbo recalls in the book, soon after meeting Rubin, that while he was intense and not always easy to get along with, his passion was infectious. Gumbo recalls him saying in his recognizable "exaggeration-made-believable-by-enthusiasm voice" that "The way to eliminate fear is to do what you're most afraid of! Rise up and abandon the creeping meatball!"

The Yippies, from YIP, or "Youth International Party" a counter to the National Death Party (the Democrats), who were to meet in Chicago in Summer '68 (and we know how that turned out) for the launching of a new "reality," as they called out to like-minded young people. As he says in the pre-Chicago announcment, "Begin preparations now! Chicago is yours! Do it!" (Bold emphasis ours).

Multiple pages are devoted to folk singer Phil Ochs' link to Rubin and how the clash in Chicago during the Democratic convention really had a serious impact on Ochs, with him cutting back on live performances and becoming convinced that the Yippies were incapable of really "provoking any kind of change in the status quo." The topical troubadour would tell the media that America died in Chicago and that a "fascist military state" had arisen out of Chicago's ashes. Ochs' mental state would take a major dive by the time the 1970's rolled around, with the civil-rights movements and social-justice movements having splintered into  factions and fallen apart as a generation became worn out and even Bob Dylan was turning inward and living in the country. 

Rubin lamented Ochs' death by suicide, stating that "What makes you angy about Phil's death ... here's this nonviolent person, who sang about nonviolence, his life was a statement for nonviolence, who dies by hanging himself. It doesn't make any sense." And Rubin was not alone in sharing that opinion. 

In any event, the Yippies were not winning over folks in Middle America, particularly with their support of "Vietnamese peaseant guerillas" and "The black and other struggling people in America." 

But The System was determined to shut 'em down. Just note the Chicago 8 Trial debacle, hanging out with John Lennon and Yoko Ono and, by the time 1980 rolled around, he seemed like a different person - a Yuppie - who did not support the GOP and Reagan, but Gary Hart, not unlike his contemporary, "gonzo" journalist Hunter S. Thompson, who was also deeply affected by what happened in Chicago years earlier.

Pat Thomas clearly went to great lengths to put together this remarkably readable and interesting book, which showcases a time in recent American history where embracing "meatballism" seemed like a safe bet. 

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Andrew W. Griffin

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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