Smoking Typewriters: The Sixties Underground Press and the Rise of Alternative Media in America

Smoking Typewriters: The Sixties Underground Press and the Rise of Alternative Media in America

Smoking Typewriters: The Sixties Underground Press and the Rise of Alternative Media in America

Smoking Typewriters: The Sixties Underground Press and the Rise of Alternative Media in America


How did the New Left uprising of the 1960s happen? What caused millions of young people-many of them affluent and college educated-to suddenly decide that American society needed to be completely overhauled?

In Smoking Typewriters, historian John McMillian shows that one answer to these questions can be found in the emergence of a dynamic underground press in the 1960s. Following the lead of papers like the Los Angeles Free Press,the East Village Other, and the Berkeley Barb, young people across the country launched hundreds of mimeographed pamphlets and flyers, small press magazines, and underground newspapers. New, cheaper printing technologies democratized the publishing process and by the decade's end the combined circulation of underground papers stretched into the millions. Though not technically illegal, these papers were often genuinely subversive, and many of those who produced and sold them-on street-corners, at poetry readings, gallery openings, and coffeehouses-became targets of harassment from local and federal authorities. With writers who actively participated in the events they described, underground newspapers captured the zeitgeist of the '60s, speaking directly to their readers, and reflecting and magnifying the spirit of cultural and political protest. McMillian pays special attention to the ways underground newspapers fostered a sense of community and played a vital role in shaping the New Left's highly democratic "movement culture."

Deeply researched and eloquently written,Smoking Typewriterscaptures all the youthful idealism and vibrant tumult of the 1960s as it delivers a brilliant reappraisal of the origins and development of the New Left rebellion.


“Stones Concert Ends It,” blared the front-page headline of the underground Berkeley Tribe, dared December 12—19, 1969. “America Now Up for Grabs.”

The Rolling Stones concert that the Tribe described was supposed to have been a triumphant affair. Coming just four months after half a million hippie youths drew international attention by gathering peaceably at Max Yasgur’s farm, some had even hyped the free, day-long event—which was held at Altamont Speedway, some sixty miles east of San Francisco, and which also featured Santana, the Jefferson Airplane, and the Flying Burrito Brothers— as “Woodstock West.”

But this was no festival of peace and love. As almost everyone knew, the idea for the free show only came about after the Stones were nettled by criticisms that they had alienated fans with exorbitant ticket prices and arrogant behavior on their 1969 American tour. What’s more, Altamont proved to be a dirty, bleak space for a rock festival, almost completely lacking in amenities for the 300,000 concertgoers. People practically clambered over each other to get near the hastily built, three-foot-high stage, and by almost every account, “bad vibes” were regnant among the concertgoers. Asked to guard the performers—allegedly in exchange for a truckload of beer —the Hell’s Angels motorcycle gang went on a drug-and-booze soaked rampage, assaulting countless hippies with weighted pool cues and kicks to the head.

When the Stones finally started their set after sundown, they found it impossible to gain momentum; they could only play in fits and starts, as the Angels roughed up spectators and commotion swirled around them. Albert and David Maysles’ classic concert documentary, Gimme Shelter, captured . . .

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