Reading Willard Bain’s 1967 meta-fiction, Informed Sources: Day East Received, was for me such a time-trip that I can’t imagine getting half as much pleasure if I’d read it forty years ago.
First, we have to take care of the matter of technology. The entire text of Informed Sources: Day East Received is in upper-case Courier. This is because, as we’re told around the book’s half-way point,
THE SKELETON OF THE BOOK IS MODELLED, SIGNIFICANTLY, ON THE AP REPORT FOR THE THREE DAYS FOLLOWING PRESIDENT KENNEDY'S ASSASSINATION
Back in the day–the day being pretty much any time between the late 1930s and the mid-1980s–the Associated Press, Reuters, etc. were known as wire services. That’s because they distributed their headline news and news reports to newspapers and radio and TV stations over teletype networks. In fact, the text also helpfully tells us that
"DAY EAST RECEIVED" ACTUALLY APPEARS ON THE COVER OF THE ASSOCIATED PRESS "A"A WIRE REPORT WHICH IS BOUND UP IN THE SAN FRANCISCO BUREAU AT THE END OF EACH MORNING.
In each one of these clients’ offices sat something that looked like an industrial-strength typewriter. These were usually Teletype Corporation Model 15s (you can see one in action in this YouTube clip).
I saw one of these in action back in the early 1970s, when my dad detoured to visit a microwave relay site while we were driving down the Al-Can Highway. The site also housed a local radio station, and my brother and I read the news on the wire service machine while Dad talked to the microwave guys. Ten years later, I ran into teletypes again (Model 28s, this time) on my first job, running an Air Force communications center. In both cases, the machines ran on 7-bit code, which meant that
EVERYTHING WAS IN UPPER CASE, the
SHIFT key requiring that not-yet-state-of-the-art 8th bit.
OK, enough of my geek nostalgia.
Informed Sources: Day East Received is also a trip back to a very specific time, place, vocabulary, and world-view: San Francisco in 1967, the Summer of Love, when Hashbury was the unofficial capitol of Flower Power and an explosion of cultural, musical and political energy.
You need to know that to dig where Willard Bain was coming from, man:
FIVE MINDS WERE BLOWN TODAY, FOUR OF THEM SERIOUSLY
IT WILL BE COOL WITH A CHANCE OF SCATTERED CHAOS
The book even provides at one point a quick guide to some frequently-encountered Hippie (or was it Hippy?) terms:
EDITORS: A NUMBER OF GUIDES HAVE BEEN ISSUED USING THE FOLLOWING TERMS RECENTLY:
POLYMORPHOUS PERVERT--PAUL'-LEE-MORE'-FUSS PREE'-VERT
INSECT PLOT CONTROL--(JUST AS IT SOUNDS0
Informed Sources is both the book’s title and the name of the AP-like new service over which the transmissions captured in the book are sent. In this case, the story–so-to-speak–centers on a cultural rather than political assassination. Robin the Cock, a supposedly legendary figure in the “Peripheral Underground” is reported to have been killed, and in the flurry of rumors, contradictions, and reactions to his death, several fringe movements rise up and threaten the Establishment.
One bombs the Golden Gate Bridge. Several infiltrate the wire services:
THERE ARE INDICATIONS NON-STAFFERS ARE MANNING ONE OR MORE BUREAUS
Among these are Solomon and Sarah Hershey, who seem to be Merry Pranksters of the wires. They post a story describing themselves as
A PAIR OF FAR-OUT VOLCANIC ISLANDS that
DECLARED THEIR INDEPENDENCE IN 1963 AND NOW RECOGNIZE NO COLONIAL AUTHORITY WHATEVER. Later, they are joined–or contested–by another group known as the
As these revolutionaries introduce more and more of their information into the system, the Informed Sources service keeps trying to push through a story that embodies the worst fears of the Establishment:
SAN ANTONIO, NOW (IS) -- A COMMUNIST BEATNIK DOPE FIEND KILLED AND MUTILATED A 3-YEAR-OLD BOY TODAY AS THE LAD WAS KNEELING IN PRAYER IN A JUST-DEDICATED METHODIST CHURCH.
It’s a losing, battle, however, and the infiltrators manage to subvert an attempt to push out a “Support Your Police” message:
Before the whole thing goes spiralling out of control, the movement celebrates its triumphs:
WASHINGTON, NOW (IS) --THE STATUS OF MAJOR LEGISLATIVE PROPOSALS THIS SESSION:
LEGALIZE POT . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ENACTED
FREE LOVE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ENACTED
REDUCE LAW ENFORCEMENT TO OPERA BOUFFE . . . . . . ENACTED
The first publication of Informed Sources was itself a counter-culture act. Printed by mimeograph and stapled together by the Communications Company, run by Chester Anderson and Claude Hayward as the publication arm of the Diggers an improvisational theater/community anarchist group, the first few hundred copies were taken to Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s City Lights bookstore and given away free. (Today, the few copies to be found fetch the price $400 on Amazon.)
On its first appearance, the book was considered a sign of great days a-coming. Writing in the L. A. Free Press, Lawrence Lipton proclaimed,
What is being escalated today, among other things, is the dying of the sick & dying society. A day to day chronicling of the deathbed scene. The author, whoever he is, is the master arsonist of ideas, A light-bringer as well as a fire-bringer. This book may turn out to be the first major work of the hip era in writing.
The book’s reputation eventually made its way to the editors of Doubleday, who published it as a trade paperback in 1969. At that time, reviewing the book in the New York Times, novelist R. V. Cassill advised readers not to get distracted by the
font and focus on Bain’s message. In doing so, however, he chose a comparison that now makes him seem even more dated that the teletype: “In its quality as political manifesto and in its subordination of eccentric technique to satire and affront, I find it more in a class with the play ‘Macbird!‘”
Now, of course, we know that the Summer of Love had far less political than cultural impact in the long run.
one member of the movement declares with pride, rather in the manner celebrated by the title of Nicholas von Hoffman’s account of the San Francisco counter-culture: We Are the People Our Parents Warned Us Against. Ironically, the Establishment’s assessment proved more accurate in the end:
THE BIRCHERS WERE RIGHT AFTER ALL WE ARE INDEED THAT DANGEROUS
A COUP WOULD BE UNNOTICED AND IRRELEVANT writes one Informed Sources die-hard. The revolution was televised, but in the end it went the way of “Laugh-In.”
Willard Bain and his wife moved to Marin County a couple of years after he first published Informed Sources. They opened a bookstore in Corte Madera and raised five children. He died in 2000.