Hugh Holmes Norton,
Eleanor Katz, Elliott Macis,
Mary Sue Valenti,
INTERVIEW WITH FRANK BARDACKE
INT: You were born in 1941 -
FRANK BARDACKE: Yes.
INT: And you grew up in the 1950s, which people now associate with repression, narrow-mindedness - an atmosphere produced largely by the Cold War. What is your recollection of that period?
FRANK: Well I grew up in a family that kind of had a Bohemian aspect to it: my father was a community college teacher, and my mother was a poet and a housewife, and my notion of the choices that were available to a young person were that they were all sort of bougie choices; and so they were, my outlook wasn't explicitly political; of course the political choices had been limited by the beginning of, by McCarthyism, and kind of the repression that begins right after the Second World War, and which basically destroys any kind of left political choice in the country. It sort of reads it out of political possibility. but I wasn't that interested in politics as a young man; I liked, I liked the beach, I liked Mad Magazine, and I had a sense of sort of cultural, I wouldn't exactly say suffocation, but like just of limited cultural possibilities in the country. for me, that that those limited possibilities were broken by the Cuban revolution, and for many people that I knew that were later involved in politics - and the Cuban revolution was not only, not only suggested like new possibilities for the world, new revolutionary possibilities for the world, but there was an anti-bourgeois aspect to it, which was really exciting. there was, they were bearded, they didn't wear coats and ties, they, you know, I remember real well - by this time I was no longer in Lemon Grove where I grew up, but I was in, I was in Berkeley - but I remember really well when Castro and a group of leaders, the Cuban revolution went to the United Nations in New York City, and they brought with them chickens, because there was like rural folks in the in their van, and they brought their food with them, and - live chickens; and they went to this fancy New York hotel, which was supposed to, which, where they were supposed to stay, because they were going to address the UN, and the hotel wouldn't let the chickens in the in the rooms, and so Castro and his, and his gang went to the Hotel Theresa, which was in, down, is you know, like the most important hotel in Harlem. And so here was Castro, bearded, dressed like an ordinary person, with his chickens, in the Hotel Theresa in the middle of Harlem; and it was a real exciting event for me and my friends; and that sort of to me was kind of like the end of the Cold War - and actually Castro comes in to Havana, January 1st 1959, so that's like an important event; that sort of blasted the world and made, and suggested all kinds of more possibilities; and also, you know, it's like close to the United States - many people that I knew actually visited Cuba. There was an essay written by Leroy Jones - now no longer called Leroy Jones, I can't remember what he's called now - but an essay written by Leroy Jones, about going to Cuba, which celebrated both the cultural and political possibilities in the new Cuba, which was really popular among the people that I hung out with. so Cuba was a big thing that, that blasted the fifties away. Another big thing that blasted the fifties away was of course the civil rights movement. it started earlier in the fifties, but it really takes off with sit-ins, which happened in 1960 in North Carolina, and the first sit-ins sort of, people looking at what the possibilities are in the South. So that says OK there's all kinds of more possibilities; but I came to it out of cultural kind of, more like a cultural rebellion, which wasn't really a rebellion, because it was like part of my family history. I came to it culturally, but then the culture and the politics got all mixed up together.
INT: In relation to Cuba, and Castro in particular, why was it do you think that the American reaction to Castro was so violent?
FRANK: Well I don't think that the American reaction to Castro was so violent, I think the reaction of the American politicians, and the American corporate world was violent. I don't think the ordinary American people had a violent reaction to Castro - and the reason that the corporations and the politicians didn't like him is 'cos he expropriated American property. And it's pretty simple, I mean Cuba was like, you know, a dominion of the United States, and particularly the Mafia, actually - it was like a resort for crime, was the crime capital of the US, the crime resort for the USA. So it was the, it was the politicians and the corporations that got pissed off about Castro, not the American people; I don't think it was the American people. And so I, as a matter of fact, American young people, American young people - the people who were going to make up sort of the shock troops of the sixties, were thrilled by the Cuban revolution; and which also is kind of important to keep in mind, because it's read out of the histories of the new left, because in the histories of the new left the way they write it is that the new left was, was a reaction to the civil rights movement, and the civil rights movement was an attempt to make America live up to its promise. It was like very much within the American grain; and at first the young people in the sixties were like just trying to make America live up to its ideals, and then later, through the crucible of the war in Vietnam, is when kind of the new left goes crazy and becomes revolutionary, and has all these silly revolutionary dreams. I might add it, that was no longer the New Left, but that was the left around the world that had those dreams, so you can't just blame it on Americans. But that that telling of the story, the sort of these nice young people in tune with the American ideals, trying to make America live up to its promise, who then later become revolutionaries, is not, that is not really taking into account the Cuban revolution; because the Cuban revolution was as much a turn-on to the new left, or as much turned on the early new left, as the civil rights movement - in my, in the people that I hung with; and that was a revolution. So that there was kind of revolutionary hopes from the beginning; there were revolutionary hopes from the beginning, in the in the new left, and it's a mistake to see them coming, only coming in '68, or '69.
INT: You talk about your own perspective as being as much cultural as political. Could you expand on that.
FRANK: Well there's Mad Magazine: I mean there's a kind of, which I don't know if you look at the early issues of Mad Magazine, I think it was terribly important. I think if you talk to people who were later activists in the sixties, you'll see that most of us read Mad - which was really quite a good political satire, you know, aimed at young people, but I mean it was it was cultural satire, not political satire but cultural satire; so it satired that TV shows that we were seeing, and it satired the movies, and there was a sense that there was something fake about the culture - bougie is the word I like to use, although I didn't use it at the time. You know what the word at the time was, it's kind of interesting: the word at the time was "phony". If you remember Catcher in the Rye, "phony" is the word that Holden used. That's the notion that the culture is somehow not authentic. and there was a massive rebellion against that inside the fifties, by young people, and then I think that that there's, so there's that dissatisfaction. Now as a cultural phenomena, it really needed the political, the political break - and the political break was particularly difficult in this country to make, because of McCarthyism, because McCarthyism had limited the political choices, so like the political, the political, you know, spec-, allowable spectrum, was like that wide. And the attempt to sort of culturally break free wasn't really possible unless it was all this, also this political opening; and the political opening, you know, it's true, the political opening came mostly from the civil rights movement, but it also came from world wide events, and a major world wide event was the Cuban revolution.
INT: The fifties, late fifties and the early sixties saw an explosion of youth culture - music, rock 'n roll etc. Did that impact on you in any particular way?
FRANK: Well sure, I mean I don't think there was anybody that it didn't it didn't in some way affect. As a matter of fact like rock 'n roll: rock 'n roll is a good example of what I was just talking about, because rock 'n roll happens in the fifties, and rock 'n roll is primarily an African/American thing, has African/American roots, and so white music is taking from African/American music, and forming rock 'n roll, is somewhat of a cultural protest. and in the same way that subsequently the new left is going to take from the African/American civil rights movement, as, in terms of a sort of leading it in a political direction. So rock 'n roll's a real big part of that - rock 'n roll is probably more, it's way more important than Mad Magazine - but it's a similar development.