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Light Years: an Anthology (Multimedia in the East Village, 1960-1966)

Edited by Carol Bergé

In the last twenty years of her life, running an antique shop in Santa Fe, the writer Carol Berge asked for and put together a capacious set of sundry memoirs of people she had known in New York, writers of talent who lived mostly on the Lower East Side in the late 50s and early 60s. This collection is now available in print thanks to her friend Carl Ginsburg and the editorial work other brilliant protégé, James Beach, its advent coming four years after her death in 2006.
Carol clearly aimed in her introduction to make the anthology an anatomy of the world of her youth. The quantity of geniuses living in the Lower East Side at that time would have made such a task impossible even for a centegenarian encyclopedist. Instead, one has in these 625 pages a generous grab bag of reminiscence, letters, and pieces about the past by one of the most interesting generations of writers in American cultural history.
LIGHT YEARS records a silent twilight of the gods, honoring an age that thrived in a few big cities before the intellectual axioms of a more popular and low culture were set in place in the late 60s, helped along by the Andy Warhol-James Rosenquist set. the intrepid folk in this anthology were not attempting to appeal to everybody; they were seeking to maintain their hermetic integrity as they explored the tomato can sections for monads of the concrete, ordinary and trivial. They could get abstruse and paid a dole for it. Looking at the origins of this, both Steve Kowit and Ron Tavel are quite funny. Tavel is dryly so, in his arch reminiscences of this dewy time. Steve is very brilliantly satirical about the priestly afflatus of high Art rife in that day.
A book like this one is going to have one set of attractions for people who were there, now mostly perished, and another for younger folk looking for the models in mausoleums who, after a while given the proven if measured utility of the dead, have become genuine icons.
Since there is no center to this book besides Carol’s friendships and the once general physical proximity of all the characters to the point of living in a walking man’s neighborhood, the reader of LIGHT YEARS is going to enjoy some reminiscences more than others. My own choice of bon-bons reflects only one way of seeing what ultimately is a low level enigma. After all, the real miracle in life isn’t that some resourceful and cunning geniuses realize themselves, at least for a while, but that all human beings don’t.
The subjects of this anthology were all extraordinary people. The wildest of the contributors , like Ron Tavel or Jackson MacLow, tended to be the most discreet about their lives. Others, like Kirby Congdon, are, in print, what they were over a beer in real life.
All the writers in LIGHT YEARS were an attractively fecund bunch of explosively diverse singularities. When people do get weary of the banalities of their day, as youth commonly does, they couldn’t do better than to look to this anthology as a classic model and magic touchstone for taking up their own immortal journeys into the wilderness. —review by Matthew Paris, first published in Home Planet News



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