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The Blackboard Newspaper
Mystical Journey
 
 
 
 

Chris Bunch Meets Hakim Jamal

by Dr. Derek Lamar

So there we were... at the Whisky A Go Go. I cannot even remember who was on the bill that night. I wish I could say that we were there to see The Doors, but alas, I am sure I would have remembered that. Jim Martin, editor of Coast Magazine and I sat down in a booth and ordered drinks. Chris Bunch was already there. I am sure that it was the same booth George Harrison sat in when he threw that drink at the newspaper photographer on his 21st birthday celebration back in 1964.
Seems Paul and Ringo had left earlier but finding the booth where John and George were was easy. That was where all the action was. Jayne Mansfield was sitting there with the two... composers of "Cry For A Shadow".

(Left: Chris Bunch, science fiction author. Right: Whisky a Go Go from 1970 to more recent)

George missed the photographer but the moment was still captured on film. It landed on Mamie Van Doren. Singer Johnny Rivers yelled: "Hey, what's wrong with you?" But Mamie said it best in her autobiography : "A drunk Beatle, I'd discovered, was just a drunk." Jayne and Mamie were the runner-up wannabe's for the Marilyn Monroe icon of their day.
But this was 1968 and there we were drinking and yelling because you had to yell for anyone to hear you. Chris told us about this new project he was involved in as editor. "Come to work for us," he said after telling Jim and me about it. "Why not? Sounds great!" I responded. It was "The Los Angeles Image" and it was called an "alternative" newspaper to creatively slide passed the grating image of the term "underground". But I felt that I was the one who had moved up a notch. Instead of looking for a job, a job had found me. At Open City I edited the Calendar page and did some collages but I did work hard and late at night so that was pretty much my resumé.

Soon after arriving to work Mike Hodel, associate editor (who later went on to work for KPFK public radio), asked me how I wanted to be listed in the staff box: production manager or art
director. I asked, "Why not both? I'll be doing both." Mike lowered his pipe and aimed it at me as he responded and said "You only get one. Which one is it?" I said "Okay, art director." Art director sounded a little more glamorous.

(Above: George Harrison on that drunken August night at the Whisky in 1964. I'm still looking for the photo where his glass is aimed at the photographer and the drink is flying out of the glass.)

(Right: Jayne Mansfield dancing at the Whisky while Johnny Rivers performs Secret Agent Man?)


Chris Bunch was a good writer. But it was more than that. Chris actually got along with people despite the motorcycle and beer drinking
attitude he wore like his leather jacket. He always treated me like a real person and he wasn't embarrassed by it either. I was just 18 years old and pretty immature but I tried to keep that hidden. Chris really was one of those people who, though he kept parts of himself a secret, he didn't let that build a wall between the people he worked with.
A lot of history was walking through those doors everyday but still Chris took it in stride and did his best to keep the ship from sinking. It was a ship of fools and though it was tossed about on the waves which threatened any new business, it remained forever a ground breaking publication for a new type of iconoclastic writing and reporting.

Ric Lowitz was the publisher of The Los Angeles Image along with Ron Maxson but Chris ran the thing. After working his ass off at Open City this was a real exciting challenge for Chris. He wrote for Open City but most of the time he was sweating upstairs doing the typesetting for the paper and a little editing while John Bryan figured out ways to finger the local L.A.P.D.

(Left: Mamie Van Doren. Above Right: the icon of 50's sex, liquor and Hollywood: Marilyn Monroe)

One of Chris' closest friends was Rick Knee. As Chris said: "Rick was my copy editor, and they don't come any better...he just got an award, up in SF, for twenty years of radical journalism. Not all of us cop out." Rick is now a San Francisco writer and supporter of the Green Party.
Another writer, Alex Apostolides, was a real character. He was this Greek Art Historian and archeologist who wrote a column for the Image as well as Open City and listed on the staff box of the Free Press as "Staff Shaman". It turned out he had been a friend and colleague of Carlos Casteneda back in the 60's at UCLA. He smoked these God-awful Mexican cigarettes. He said that he smoked them because they didn't give you cancer. When someone would bite, he'd say: "They don't have that Surgeon General warning on the side of the pack." Bunch reminisced: "I remember the time that one of Rick's friends came back from boot camp with a whole bunch of detonators, and I boobytrapped the office, said boobytrap was set off by Alex...who was very white and shaken...and then I found out he'd gotten himself sunk twice in WWII, in the Mediterranean, and was understandably twitchy about loud noises."

(Above right: Alex Apostolides ala Indiana Jones of the Southwest and his wife Patti.)


Bob Plass was the photographer. He spent most of his time in the darkroom it seemed, when he and Chris weren't taking pictures.
Among many unusual nuances, Hakim Jamal (Malcolm X's cousin), wrote a column for the paper. Malcolm X managed to accumulate many enemies on all fronts and anyone near him received the same treatment. Hakim started the Malcolm X Foundation in 1968 but his journey began long before 1965 when Malcolm X was assassinated. Along with the look of a militant Afro-American, Hakim pushed the envelope by carrying a shotgun around with him everywhere he went. It wasn't a concealed weapon and it wasn't loaded and it wasn't appreciated when one day he needed to go to the local Bank of America. The people inside were ready to hit the floor and the police were there in minutes. Nothing came of the event and he was allowed to continue on his way. But he remained a personality of interest to the watchers in the FBI. Considered a "Negro extremist" he was not thought of with fondness by the likes of J. Edgar Hoover. No extremists were. Even Jean Seberg, well known actress and lover of Hakim's at this time (committed suicide in Paris in 1979) became of interest to the F.B.I. in terms of being a possible threat to the "protective organs of the body politic". Hoover released rumors that Seberg was carrying the baby of a Black Panther.

(Above: Book about Hakim Jamal. Hakim holding now famous "shotgun". The book "Make Believe", also shown below with a good pic of Hakim, was written by Diana Athill. Actress and one time lover of Hakim, Jean Seberg. J. Edgar Hoover in street clothes. Right: Malcolm X)

Finally in 1972 Hakim's then girlfriend, Gale Benson, a rich white woman, was killed in Trinidad by Michael Abdul Malik, a self-styled Black Power leader who changed his name in London to Michael X, of all things, and even was given a piano by a misguided John Lennon. In some twisted poetic submission Hakim was brutally murdered shortly after by the Mau Mau Brothers in Boston in 1973. Like John the Baptist, Hakim's "voice in the wilderness" was quickly losing its meaning in a rapidly changing world. There would be no political celebration. The F.B.I. simply removed Hakim Jamal from the "Black Extremist Photograph Album".

Chris Bunch could deal with Hakim and feel comfortable. At least on the outside. I don't think I ever really considered the ramifications until now. Our office could have just as easily been the location for the end of Hakim. I'm glad it wasn't.

Next issue the saga continues with Chris Bunch, Jim Morrison, Theodore Sturgeon, Harlan Ellison, Rodney Bingenheimer, waiting for the RTD. Next Installment: Chris Bunch Meets Jim Morrison

© Copyright Derek Lamar 2004

 

 

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