Radical vets recall Yippie-turned-Yuppie Rubin

BY MARY REINHOLZ | In a posthumous salute to a man from a revolutionary era, about 40 left-wing radicals like Dana Beal, Larry “Ratso” Sloman and Aron “Yippie Pie Man” Kay crammed into Unoppressive Non-Imperialist Bargain Books, at 34 Carmine St., on a sunny Saturday afternoon. They had come to hear reminiscences about the life and times of Jerry Rubin, the late former Yippie leader-turned-Yuppie investment banker who is the subject of a coffee-table biography by Pat Thomas called “Did It!”

“Generally, we get together at funerals but this is more like a book party,” mused Kay, 68, who had taken a seat on one of the folding metal chairs set up on March 24 at Unoppressive, which shares its space with Carmine Street Comics. He observed that there were few females of a certain age present, telling The Villager that the Yippie movement of yore had been, “I hate to say it, very male-dominated.”

Thomas said that he tried to make up for that gap by including in his book about 20 statements from women, like Judy Gumbo, widow of Yip Stew Albert, Rubin’s best friend; and Nancy Kershan, Rubin’s longtime girlfriend, noting he had been told that both female activists would “kick my ass” if he didn’t.

Bookstore owner Jim Drougas live-streamed Paul Krassner into the shop on his laptop. Photo by Mary Reinholz

Conspicuously missing at the event was Dylan garbologist A.J. Weberman, once a member of an anarchist group called the Zippies that feuded fiercely with the older Yippie leadership during the 1972 Democratic and Republican conventions in Miami. In “Did It!” subtitled “From Yippie to Yuppie: Jerry Rubin, An American Revolutionary,” Weberman claimed in his statement that he went after Yippie co-founder Ed Sanders, then the legendary leader of The Fugs rock group in the East Village, for allegedly calling Weberman a cop on a radio show. At the time, both radical groups were under surveillance by the F.B.I.’s COINTELPRO program for their antiwar activism.

“[Weberman] is too chickens— to come,” opined octogenarian satirist Paul Krassner, another co-founder of the Youth International Party and former editor of The Realist magazine, who was live-streamed into the bookstore from his home in Southern California.

Krassner, who wrote a front-page Los Angeles Times review of “Did It!” last summer, told the West Village gathering that Sanders dismissed Weberman’s claim in the book that Weberman had put sugar and his own urine in the gas tank of Sanders’s Land Rover in retaliation for Sanders’s alleged comments on radio.

“I asked Sanders about it and he told me it wasn’t true,” Krassner said. He described Sanders as “one of the most honest people I know” and characterized Weberman as a “liar —second only to Donald Trump.”

Contacted by e-mail, Weberman explained that he was a no-show because “I was finishing the book, which I felt was more important. Plus, you are not allowed to talk bad about another Jew who is dead,” he said of Rubin, who died in 1994 after being struck by a car on Wilshire Boulevard, not far from his penthouse apartment in Westwood, California.

“Plus, Krassner was not there, just on Skype,” he added. “Aron [Kay] took my place and he counts as two. How do I know this? One time I wanted to put out a contract on him and the Mafia wanted to charge me double,” Weberman joked, referring to Kay’s ample girth.

Several weeks earlier, Weberman said that he stood by his story about “trashing” Sanders’s car and so did Thomas, a music producer and author of another book called, “Listen Whitey! The Sights and Sounds of Black Power, 1965-1975.”

Author Pat Thomas with his new Jerry Rubin coffee-table book “Did It!” Photo by Lincoln Anderson

Thomas, born in the 1960s, looked like a mere boy among his elders at Unoppressive as he played a series of audio recordings that captured Rubin during his time as a counterculture icon — joking and putting on a young Phil Donohue, who interviewed him during a break in the Chicago 8 conspiracy trial. Deadpan, Rubin told the somber broadcast journalist, “I want to ask you a question. Didn’t I meet you on the street in New York and you sold me dope?”

Thomas also played portions of Rubin’s speech in 1985 when he had long since become a successful businessman after the Vietnam War ended and was speaking at a “Yippie versus Yuppie debate” — one of a nationwide series — with his more famous rival Abbie Hoffman. Rubin’s voice was startlingly clear as he stated, “If you still think of the old slogan, ‘Tune in, turn on and drop out,’ then you’re going to be on [Hoffman’s] side. If you believe time is money, then you may be more tempted toward my side,” he said to background applause.

Krassner said that Thomas decided to write about Rubin because there had been six biographies published about Hoffman.

Thomas, however, insisted that he also wanted to “right some wrongs” leveled against Rubin, who had been pilloried by some lefties for leaving radical politics and becoming a capitalist, attracting attention (and ridicule) for touting social networking at trendy nightclubs like Studio 54 and promoting nutritional drinks.

“Jerry did not become a Republican,” Thomas noted. “He did not vote for [Ronald] Reagan,” the writer explained in his effort to rebut “fallacies” about Rubin. “He was very much like Tom Hayden, a liberal Democrat” who put on a suit and tie. “Jerry never actually sold stocks and bonds. Jerry was marketing green energy, marketing solar panels and ecology and things.

“On the day he got hit by a car” in 1994, Thomas continued, “He was having a meeting about giving money to kids in Compton,” a city with high employment in southern Los Angeles County. “What I’m trying to say is that Jerry kept a social conscience.”

Pat Thomas during his reading at Unoppressive Non-Imperialist Bargain Books last month. Photo by Lincoln Anderson

A woman seated in the front row at Unoppressive asked: “Did he make a lot of money?”

“He made a decent amount of money, yeah,” Thomas replied. “He wasn’t a zillionaire, but Jerry made enough to have a swanky apartment off Wilshire Boulevard. He was on Wilshire” when fatally hit in traffic.

He was “jaywalking” at the time, someone else said.

New York Yippie leader Dana Beal, free on bond after his arrest late last year on pot-trafficking charges in Northern California, was reportedly overheard asking Thomas about Rubin visiting Charles Manson in jail before Manson went on trial for his role in the 1969 murders of actress Sharon Tate and her friends by the so-called Manson Family. According to “Do It!” Rubin met Manson with folksinger Phil Ochs. The two later described the notorious cult figure as “one of the most poetic and intense people we have ever met.”

That episode occurred when people in the counterculture initially believed the Manson Family had been framed by the authorities because of their hippie status.

“The Jerry Rubin-meeting-Manson thing is overblown,” Thomas said in a Facebook message to this reporter. “Basically, Rubin and Phil Ochs visited Manson thinking he was innocent — then realized he was twisted.”

One of the more poignant moments at the Carmine St. event occurred when Thomas played a recording of LSD guru Timothy Leary pleading with Rubin to “come back” to life when Rubin was in a coma and dying at the UCLA Medical Center at age 56.

During brief audience comments after Thomas’s talk, Beal noted of the counterculture, “We needed Charles Manson liked we needed a hole in the head.”

Kay added that hippies used to get invited to the celebrity parties in L.A. before the Manson murders.

“After Manson,” he said, “hippies didn’t get invited to rock-star parties anymore. There was good stuff to smoke there. And there was a lot less hitchhiking — you couldn’t get rides after Manson.”

A woman in the audience added of Rubin, “Although he died from jaywalking, he had cancer. It came out that he knew he might die of cancer. But he didn’t commit suicide. Abbie Hoffman committed suicide. Phil Ochs committed suicide.”

Thomas later sold 29 books out the 30 he had brought with him, most reduced from $50 to $35, according to Unoppressive bookstore owner Jim Drougas.

Based on the success of the event and the fact that he can now get Krassner live-streamed into the store, Drougas later said he is thinking about regularly hosting talks with Krassner joined by other influential figures.


With reporting by Lincoln Anderson

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