THE LIBERATION News Service appeared in the fall of 1967 as what seemed to be an underground, or radical, counterpart to the AP or UPI. From its office in Washington, it sent out stories to hundreds of underground papers across the country-stories about students, blacks, dissident GI's, the War, the draft, Chicanos, drugs, astrology, and just about everything else. Ideologically independent of any single faction of the Left, the LNS served to foster the notion that there was still such a thing as The Movement, a popular misconception which led to Chicago's Yippie hysteria and the subsequent Chicago conspiracy trail. Its founders never fooled themselves about that piece of fiction, realizing that their alleged movement of astrology freaks, SDSers, Trotskvites, blacks, students, pacifists, and so forth, had little in common, aside from their general disgust with America. And they eventually learned about factionalism first-hand when their own organization fell apart.
Less than a year after its inception, strange stories began to filter out about the LNS itself: predictable ideological splits, internal dissension, and finally, a bizarre heist in which one faction stole all the organization's equipment from its office and moved it to a farm in Massachusetts. Then there were two LNS's.
Today the LNS, that is, the LNS in New York, still operates, though its subscribers are barely making it. Witness the Mole here. But Ray Mungo, who founded the service and wrote his book, Famous Long Ago, about that crazy year, writes from a backwoods Vermont farm, living what he calls the "post-revolutionary life" in the New Age. His account, as the title indicates, is both a history and an autobiography, and it is, as the title also indicates, a story of days gone forever. "We're closing the book on the 1960s," he says, "and good riddance to all that striving after the wind." His book is specifically a history of the LNS, from 1967 to 1968 to be exact, but it is also a history of some very wild, very sane people living in the last years of The Movement, before it was necessary to retreat to Vermont or join the Weathermen. Mungo seems to be an individual with a talent for riding the crest of his time, just far enough ahead of everybody to have fun and make trouble, and just canny enough to forego the martyrdom of regimentation or incarceration. "I seldom try to convince anybody of anything (except perhaps in print), cause if they don't already know, I figure I can't tell 'em. If it isn't happening to you right now, I can't save you, brother," he writes.
His introduction befits his sometimes heady "wow 'em" style, but it describes himself best:
Were I true to my roots I'd now be a laborer in a paper or textile mill, married and the father of two children, a veteran of action in Vietnam, and a reasonably brainwashed communicant in a Roman Catholic, predominantly Irish parish. Instead, I am a lazy good-for-nothing, probably a Communist dupe, and live on a communal farm, way into the backwoods of Vermont. What went wrong?
Well, what went wrong was that he was the smartest kid in his high school class, won a scholarship to B.U., and turned on to Marx, dope, and sex in his freshman, sophomore and junior years, in that order. In his senior year, he edited the B.U. News and transformed it into a real radical rag, printing the kind of stories LNS would later specialize in. His account of those years is refreshingly ironic- a welcome relief from those numerous tomes gravely relating the intricate workings of local politicos-but it unfortunately omits some events we would like to hear about. Mungo was there, and active, when the Resistance was still viable, when acid was to be avoided, and when Nixon and Mitchell stayed in New York. Mungo was calling for the impeachment of the President in front of LBJ's close advisers, shaking up the B.U. establishment, and living in his world of preYippie antics.
THE BULK of this book, however, is about the LNS, and Mungo tells his story with talent and gusto. Unlike Jerry Rubin, he can write, and some of his passages transcend the steady stream of daily escapades. He talks with warmth about the people: Marshall Bloom, the co-founder of LNS who single-handedly ran the anarchic organization, and whose singularly dynamic personality eventually led to the split in the LNS; Little Stevie Wonder, a 16-year-old photographer-hanger-on who ended up dead in a car accident, strung up on heroin; Bala, Bala, another co-founder and jack-of-all-trades, now in hiding; and Verandah Porche, poet-in-residence who termed their band "refugees in winter dress/skating home on thin ice/from the Apocalypse." And he relates their schemes with delight: freaking out Eugene McCarthy and a convention of college editors; leafleting LBJ's favorite church; roaming Washington's streets on the night of Martin Luther King's death; and , in the climax, outwitting the rival faction of the LNS with a daring daylight raid on its offices.
But, for all his activity, Mungo and his cohorts were hardly dedicated revolutionaries. They had no ideology, he admits; in fact, they rebelled against the daily necessities posed by running an organization like the LNS. "I guess we all agreed on some basic issues, "he writes, "the war is wrong, the draft is an abomination and a slavery, abortions are sometimes necessary and should be legal, universities are an impossible bore, LSD is Good and Good For You, etc., etc. - and I realize that marijuana, that precious weed, was our universal common denominator." If he ever begins to articulate a philosophy, it is in big capital letters: TOTAL LEISURE, FREEDOM, PLEASURE, etc., and he understands that they aren't enough. "It is important for you to understand the way we lived, " he says, realizing that he can explain much better than analyze. The descriptions of their life-the people who drifted through, the epic cross-country trip to California, the Stones-aren't too far from the standard fare. What he does manage to do is capture those peculiar historical moments and insights which drove him and his friends (Bloom's Band, they called it) first to their frantic enterprise in Washington and finally to their Thoreauvian existence in Vermont.
An old lady approaches him on the street and exhorts him: "GET OUT OF WASHINGTON! It's no place for a young man!" He watches a bunch of blacks mug a white man and woman in a seemingly random, senseless fashion. His more sober-minded comrades, living for "the Revolution," mechanize LNS and then viciously torture his friends to recover the equipment Mungo's friends have stolen in their big caper. He discovers that the Movement's members can be more than just disagreeable. Writing of his meeting with Eldridge Cleaver in his pre-Algerian days, he says: "He [Cleaver] told us to be wary of supporting everybody who called himself a revolutionary, that some of these revolutionaries were, you know, sort of in the same place as cops only from the other side of the issue." And he perceives, with proper ecological consciousness, the death of the cities.
So he decides to opt for survival. Marshall Bloom commits suicide, Bala-Bala leaves the country, Little Stevie dies. Mungo and his friends find themselves in the country, growing their own food, getting along with their neighbors, and watching the seasons come and go. The social analysis never comes; neither do the plans for ending the war or saving the country (which, he notes, doesn't seem very possible). It's all a bit romantic, a bit too familiar an impulse, and perhaps as impossible as all the other schemes. But that's not his concern, and he deserves the last word:
Let's now cease with our complaining about the state the world is in, and make it BETTER. We're not trying to convince the world-the world has an energy of its own, and we're only a tiny part of that. We're only trying to change ourselves, what a preoccupation! But if we get better, if I get better, that's a tangible change, isn't it?