A CONVERSATION WITH DAVID LANCE GOINES
DAVID LANCE GOINES is a significant figure of our time-tremendously accomplished as a calligrapher, graphic artist, and printer. He's recognized internationally for his posters, which grace collections in the Metropolitan, Smithsonian, and museums around the world, and have been featured in several books. He won an American Book Award in 1983 for A Constructed Roman Alphabet, which showcased the geometry and elegance of his meticulously executed letters. When you illuminate Goines, you see a quirky, multifaceted character whose art reflects his life-mathematically precise, controlled, thoughtful ... though never dull.
Goines leads with a certain formality. With his trademark vest and workshirts, sense of propriety, and good manners, he could easily be taken for a 19th century gentleman.
Caught from a different angle, you find a kind man who is generous with his friends and regularly spends hours hooked up to machines at the blood bank donating platelets for children with leukemia.
He makes no bones about being a creature of habit. His daily routines are well-regulated. You could set your watch by his arrival each day at the gym.
In yet another light, Goines comes across as a cantankerous cuss who readily argues with just about anybody, about just about anything, at just about any time. He searches out people with strong views, especially those contrary to his own. You name it, he's interested in it-and he's probably done some serious thinking about it.
In addition to his appetite for engagement, Goines is a serious collector of jokes and American slang. Recently I spent an evening with him and some other guests over dinner, when suddenly, he and another fellow launched into a game of "joke tennis" which lasted into the wee hours. Jokes were served and returned with such rapid fire that there was no time to catch your breath between one punch line and the next. "This guy walks into a bar, see ... " Goines could easily outlast the Energizer bunny.
In the 20-some years that our paths have crossed, I've found him to be intensely private. Although he announces himself strongly, and holds forth with an opinion at the drop of a hat, he doesn't reveal himself easily, even among friends.
Goines got involved with the FSM through the student organization SLATE, which in addition to civil-rights activity, produced the SLATE Supplement to the General Catalogue-course and instructor evaluations by UC students. This publication was banned from campus. He designed the cover and did illustrations and calligraphy, and was suspended from the university for hawking the publication at Sather Gate. This led to the Free Speech Movement, for which he mimeographed countless leaflets. From mimeo to offset-press at the radical Berkeley Free Press, thence to graphic design and publishing. Taking another turn, he started writing. In October of 1993, Ten Speed Press published his first major piece of writing, The Free Speech Movement: Coming of Age in the 1960s. David Lance Goines had come full circle.
The book gives voice to major players in the FSM. With characteristic candor and irony, Goines unearths the roots of his own personal and intellectual journey. And of course, it's the '60s, so there's sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll.
We talked at his print shop and design studio, Saint Hieronymus Press, on Martin Luther King, Jr. Way. He's been there for 30 years, and the place is chock full of stuff but, as you'd expect, everything has its place.
JEAN WEININGER: Lets start with the FSM book. After all these years, why did you write it?
DAVID LANCE GOINES: There's never just one answer for anything. First, I was on the path of self-discovery anyhow, and when Mark Kitchell, who made "Berkeley in the Sixties," interviewed me for the film and sent me a transcript, I got interested in fleshing out that brief account. It grew and grew, and got up to perhaps 120 pages of personal recollections.
At a publishing party for the poster "Earth's Ten Commandments," I met Sal Glynn, an editor for Ten Speed Press. In the course of conversation he lamented that he had no books. I responded, "Well, I have a book," and sent it to him. Six months passed and Ten Speed said they wanted it. At that point I had to get serious, so I sent out manuscript copies to everyone I could think of who'd been involved in the FSM. Many responded, and I began harvesting memories.
My old FSM crony Marston Schultz provided the magic in the form of hundreds of hours of 1965 and 1966 taped interviews he'd made with FSM veterans. I listened and transcribed, and they form the backbone of the book. Edie Sei Ichioka suggested that a picture or two might be appropriate for those who weren't actually there or alive at the time, and the heroic Marston came up with an orange crate full of 30-year-old contact prints and original photographs. Underlining the narrative is my own personal "coming of age" story.
JW: What did you learn from writing the book?
DLG: Something important came out of my interviews with Jack Weinberg. During the 32 hours that Jack was held in the police car, on Sproul Plaza, his human functions did not cease. Though a pee in a paper cup was fine, at one point he either did or did not attend to more serious bodily functions. He either went to the can or he did not. I and others share clear, specific, personal recollections, larded with anecdote, about his leaving the car, going into the Student Union men's room, and returning to the car. All this by gentleman's agreement with the police. The stories differ, sometimes widely, in particulars, but each has that ring of truth which results from precise detail.
I was there. I was among four (or two, or only one) students who went (did not go) with Jack into the Student Union gent's and (did not) accompany him together with (the police stood outside the door) two (four) cops. We waited leaning against the sinks (outside) as he sat in the stall. He took about ten minutes (he got done so fast that we were afraid he had the scoots). He washed his hands and face, and went back into the car.
Jack swears on a stack of Bibles that it didn't happen. He realized that he was going to be in that car for an indefinite, but long time, and he stopped eating. He remembers that the police said he could go into the Sproul Hall basement (police station) bathroom. He thought it was a trick and refused. He specifically remembers thinking, "Leave the car, lose the fight." So he drank a lot of water and soda, and discretely relieved himself in pop bottles or a paper cup.
Now you can say, "Either it happened or it didn't happen. Which one?"
You can look at history a lot of different ways. One way is that it isn't in any absolute sense true. It's only relatively true. It's always somebody's point of view.
This is the Free Speech Movement from the point of view of the students, and specifically, one student. Me. This is a foot soldier's view. Not the bemedaled and high-horsed general, nor yet the sit-at-home politician. This is not an historian's view. I'm not standing back and looking at something that happened a long time ago from a detached and dispassionate vantage. I'm not talking about the great historical forces sweeping back and forth across the United States, etc. I'm recounting what happened to me and the people with me, in our own words.
JW: How did you remember all this stuff?
DLG: Anything like this, any reliving of the past in such great detail, unleashes flooding sensations untouched for long years. Though I only poorly understand the mechanics of memory, it seems that by thinking hard about the past you can retrieve information that seemed erased. I don't think that any memory is utterly lost. Even when you can remember nothing else, you seem to retain an ability to distinguish between something that sounds right and something that sounds wrong.
Permanent, rock-solid memory seems tied in with things that have been marked "important." The famous instance, for those of us who were around at the time, is "where were you when John F. Kennedy was assassinated?" Everyone not only remembers hearing the news, but everything that was going on around them when they heard it. As though a cookie cutter had landed on your life and taken a little chunk out and put it in the "remember this forever, this is really important" box. It may be that your memory hasn't got a capacity to tell what is, or is not, the important part of an event, so it just takes the whole slice of life and lets your thinking mind sort it out whenever the information is needed.
Other events do not get this royal treatment. Much of what went on during the FSM is not in my accessible memory any longer. It was at one time, because Marston Schultz' interview of me, made in 1965, demonstrates an encyclopedic familiarity with what had happened. However, these memories were lightly etched. I wasn't sleeping much, or eating much, and was much of the time in an advanced state of hyper-excitement.
I have a few letters that I wrote to friends during the FSM, and Alice Waters saved the letters I wrote her from jail. Then there are the tapes, leaflets, newspaper accounts, archival footage, photos, contemporary and later interviews. In all, the account can be considered reliable, though biased in favor of the students. Let the UC administration write their own book about the FSM. All in all, I feel that I did what I had to do. The FSM was an event that demanded an account by someone who loved it and loved what it meant. No dry academic account could do justice to the excitement, the thrill of growing up in such an incredible time.
History is collective memory. In the FSM book, I'm remembering something for everybody. Some people will be interested in these memories and others will view them with disinterest. Some, who were at the time hostile to the goals and means of the Free Speech Movement, will be repelled by these dredged-up memories, as one would be repelled by recollections of an unpleasant childhood. Many people, especially from the faculty and administration, found this a time that tried them spiritually. I know it harmed many careers. I'm sure they do not relish the recollection.
We were fighting a war of words in which there were some serious casualties. The students sincerely felt that getting our First Amendment rights was inseparable from becoming true adults and acting politically. The administration sincerely felt that this was not appropriate within the bounds of the University campus.
One of the things that marred the University position was a certain duplicity and lack of understanding of their opponent. They couldn't treat us as adults; they couldn't treat us as responsible citizens, because that would undermine their whole philosophical position.
With few and notable exceptions, I don't think there was any real malice on the part of the administration. Generally, they were fair minded and tried to do their best in an unfamiliar and dangerous situation. They just couldn't accept that we weren't children.
JW: What is the significance of the FSM?
DLG: In a summing up at the end of the book I ask the same question. Was the FSM such a tremendous event all by itself? Certainly to those who participated in it, yes. To the great world at large? No. Though it was a small part of a larger continuum, it galvanized and to some degree was a catalyst for the American political system. Isolated, it might have loomed large. Though on the world's front pages for months, it was immediately overshadowed by the Vietnam anti-war movement, People's Park, the rise of feminism, and the Black Power movement, among others. In the short term it probably contributed to Ronald Reagan's rise to political power. Close up, everything looms large. But as you get a little further away, you begin to see that everything is part of a pattern, each event becoming a droplet in a huge moving ocean.
JW: In retrospect, what faults do you see in the book?
DLG: The faults of the book reside as much in inexperience and ignorance of the proper way of doing things as in anything else. Basically, it was one of those "learn while you earn," projects that have a bit of that "first pancake," problem. Generally you toss it out and serve the second pancake, which is not burned on the outside and raw in the middle. But sometimes, you gotta eat that first pancake.
On the other hand, without the ignorant and inexperienced author before you, it would never have been done at all. So, on the whole, despite its manifest faults and flaws, it is better to have written it than, for fear of imperfection, not to have written it. It's far better this than nothing. If for no other reason, it brought to light the hundreds of hours of taped interviews that languished under Marston's bed for twenty-five years.
Very probably if I hadn't done the book, nobody would have done it. No academic was going to find out about those tapes. It's unlikely that FSM veterans would have participated as willingly with either a disinterested academic or a young researcher working on her doctorate. There would have been no feeling for the events within their context, no deep comprehension of what they meant to us.
Only an FSM veteran, and one who fully participated in every aspect of the FSM at that, could have known enough about the internal workings and events to decipher the hieroglyphics of notes, captionless and undated photos, undated leaflets, and the sometimes almost unintelligible gibberish on 1-7/8" reel-to-reel tape that had never been played or transcribed.
jw: How did you become involved in the FSM?
DLG: In 1964 I was a student in Classics at U.C. Berkeley, hotbed of political activity, especially civil rights. I was peripherally involved, and through my roommates became part of SLATE. I was no ball of fire. I was just another student doing what students were doing.
I became active when the administration banned the SLATE Supplement. I broke the administration rules and was in consequence expelled. I've often reflected that had this not happened, I probably would not have become part of the Free Speech Movement. For me it was personal. Only later did I become political.
JW: What did the FSM do to you?
DLG: My expulsion from Cal was a tremendous stroke of good fortune. It dramatically changed my life, and for the better. I was on the wrong track, trying to be who I wasn't. The FSM gave me a chance to start over and find a better path.
Instead of becoming an academic, I became a printing pressman. I parlayed that into graphic design, and thence publishingmostly my own books on art and calligraphy. After computers became an ordinary part of ordinary people's lives, I began writing. Although I have no great talent, I've found that you can get good at anything if you work on it long enough.
There's a simple rule for becoming a writer, or an artist, or a photographer: do it. If you want to become a photographer, take pictures. If you want to become a writer, write. If you want to become and artist, draw. There is no substitute. There is no royal road offered by taking courses or reading how-to books. Unless you sit down and do it, such things are utterly useless.
Now, becoming a better writer, artist, dancer or what-not will perhaps benefit from instruction, but instruction is not a substitute for action. Taking a course in writing is a bit like buying a diet book and not doing anything else. The diet book will not magically make you slender and desirable. You've got to eat less and exercise more, and the book is not going to do it for you.
I think of such things as the "illusion of action." You think you're doing something when you're watching the TV news. You think something has happened because you bought a diet book. You think you've done something because you took a course in writing, but unless you have brought something to it, nothing at all has happened.
The FSM book is a synthesis of everything I've done in my life. I've been a political activist, learned printing, graphic design, photography, writing and publishing, and it's all there in one handy pile. I'm back where I began. There's a feeling of starting over. I lived through the FSM and then I wrote about the FSM, and now it's done. At last, I've caught up with myself.
JW: You've delved into your own family history, your roots. What did you find?
DLG: As I wrote the FSM book, which is my own history, I often thought of my ancestors. My great-great grandfather, Andrew Jackson Burch, enlisted in the Union army at the age of forty-five. He'd been married to his second wife for six weeks. His sixteen-year-old son Martin was killed in an early skirmish. They probably enlisted together. He was illiterate. He had 22 children. There are not many records, and they're not very revealing, but they're what he did. He wasn't anybody special. These few records give me a window into the past that an account written by a famous general would never give. For one thing, the famous general wasn't my great-grandfather, so there'd be no visceral connection.
I have a letter written in 1834 by my great-great-grandmother, Elizabeth Vanneman Scarce Heath, to her own mother, Ann Vanneman. It's a commonplace letter; it tells what things cost and of insignificant walks along the shores of Lake Michigan. It's unlikely that she wrote many letters. This one's not long, but it's packed with plain information that's never, ever in the big history books. She was just a farmer's wife, out in the wilds of Indiana. Literate, but alone. I find these accounts of the past far more compelling than the college professor's immense, passionless narrative.
I unearthed a lot of things that some among my ancestors had done their level best to cover up. I discovered my family's black African heritage, which is obvious once you know it's there. My family name, Goines, is clearly traceable to a peculiar kind of Americans called "genetic isolates of tri-ethnic origin." We're one-third black African, one-third American Indian and one-third European white. We started out black African, in 1650, when Michael Gowen came to America as an indentured servant. These mixed-race peoples married among themselves until my own generation, when racial lines were more easily crossed, and subtle racial clues were no longer so carefully observed. Having inbred for some 350 years, we look a whole lot alike, so much so that we're classified as a "sub-racial" group.
My paternal ancestors were among the Washington, D.C. Free Colored population from 1830 to the end of the Civil War, and after the War remained through the 1920s. My paternal grandmother also belongs to the same tri-ethnic, genetic isolate population, though from a slightly different group.
My mother's father was half Sioux Indian and half English. His mother's father, Blue Eagle-his English name was George Carpintier-was killed in 1876 in the battle of the Little Big Horn. I have blood of all races, in almost equal proportions, running through my veins.
JW: What about your parents? You've talked of them as being a strong influence in your life.
DLG: For good or ill-for good and ill-you are half your mother and half your father in nature, nurture, flesh, blood and bone.
My mother, Wanda Burch Goines, is a fine arts and modern dance graduate of the Universities of Oregon and Wisconsin. My father, Warren Charles Goines, is a civil engineer who studied mathematics at the University of Wisconsin. Lots of civil engineers and doctors in my family background. My parents are strong-willed, contentious, independent people. They have serious principles and encourage, rather than discourage, taking strong clear positions on important issues. Everything, by the way, is an important issue. They are not political in any proper sense, but they have a firm sense of what should be done and what should not be done, and what's right and what's wrong. On many occasions they have taken principled stands that could have, or did, prove detrimental to their economic or physical welfare. So, you see that the apple does not fall far from the tree.
JW: You have been characterized as obstinate, argumentative, opinionated and cranky.
DLG: So? Want to make something of it? [Laughs] Sure I am. I like conversation, and conversation often leads to disagreement, though I don't often get my knickers in a knot about it.
I like discussion. It's fun. I'm delighted to talk with people who disagree with me, because it makes me examine and justify my own position. Sometimes I even change my mind. My family has different points of view about everything, and this doesn't bother any of us a bit. My mother is a fundamentalist Christian, my father an agnostic. My youngest sister has been arrested in "rescues" at abortion clinics; I'm a heavy contributor to Planned Parenthood. I'm glad that my sister has strong opinions and a strong stance on a matter in which we entirely disagree. I would never dream of stopping her or to be angry with her because her morality is different from mine. Hey, you go to your church and I'll go to mine. But don't try to stop anybody from going to church just because it's different from your church, or you'll have the Goines clan about your head like hornets. Mrs. Goines did not raise any milquetoasts.
We have strong opinions about everything, and act on our beliefs. Yet, we are not troubled that others have radically different opinions and perform quite contrary acts. We love each other in an uncompromising, uncritical way that I find absent in many other families. We have a lot of tolerance for other's points of view. A different point of view is not a wrong point of view. That's how children think: different equals wrong. Adults can understand that different is both stimulating and good.
JW: Have you always had this strong sense of history?
DLG: Interestingly enough, up until the point when I began writing the FSM book, which was about 1984, I had no interest in the past. I didn't save or collect anything; I didn't take photographs when I traveled; I didn't save letters. Although I likely printed the lion's share of Berkeley activist polemic in the 1960s, I saved none of it. The past was over with, and I was busy going on to whatever came next. I had no sense of the past as part of the present. I thought about the FSM infrequently, if at all.
Then it all started coming up. Not only the FSM, but my ancestors as well. I started reading history. I find that for diversion, I prefer it to other literature. I'm not sure that it helps me understand the present or predict the future, but there's a certain satisfaction in reading something that makes the attempt more likely.
The world changes constantly; so much so that a lesson learned in the past isn't necessarily a useful lesson now. I'm not sure we can apply the errors of the past to enable us to act better. I know I can't. An understanding of the past might even paralyze you. You see that nothing's simple; everything's interconnected; it's all relative; there is nothing that can be called truth. There is no truth at all, of any kind, about anything.
You start out as a child with exposure to a narrow environment, and the concept that there are right and wrong ways to live and act. You ask questions and you get answers. You ask, "Why is the sky blue?" and the teacher answers, "Because it reflects the sea." That's the answer. That is the truth. When you hear another answer, you're tempted to reject it as false, because, after all, how can there be two truths? Then you find out that your teacher was somewhat mistaken and you get confused. This is the beginning of wisdom.
By studying history you become aware that there are many, many explanations for everything and that they are all , if not precisely true, at least equally true. Even though one explanation may not be much good, is not therefore invalid. The "because it reflects the sea," answer may not tell you much about the sky, but it tells you a lot about your teacher. Even though one answer may be a better one, it does not invalidate the others.
In debates going on now about, say, the First Amendment, many of those who argue in favor of it tend to reject the other arguments in favor of it, not realizing that both can be perfectly true.
A fairly vigorous debate has arisen surrounding the Second Amendment, as well, and how it should be interpreted at the close of the millennium. People come up with "an" answer to these questions, rejecting all the other answers. They deny the other answer a voice. They won't listen to what the other person has to say. This is really dimwitted.
The Framers of the Constitution and Bill of Rights had a lot of things in mind. They tried to include as many of them as possible, without excluding things that they hadn't thought of, or that hadn't happened yet, but might. They were inclusive, rather than exclusive.
The Framers recognized one great truth, and left all the little truths to look after themselves: the Bill of Rights did not create the rights that it outlines. The Bill of Rights recognizes and discusses, guarantees and protects certain rights, but it did not bring them into being. Even if the Bill of Rights did not exist, or if it were repealed, or if it were so circumscribed by law and judicial opinion as to become meaningless, the rights would nonetheless exist undiminished. They would merely be accorded no official protection.
The First Amendment guarantees that the government will not interfere with your right to speak out against injustice, nor to worship God as you see fit. Those rights existed long before there was a First Amendment, or even a State. Without those rights, there could be no just government. Government is just in direct proportion to the amount of free speech people have, and the lack of official interference with matters of conscience.
The Second Amendment does not create the private right to keep and bear arms. It recognizes the pre-existing right and enumerates one good reason for it, without implying in any way that other such good reasons do not exist. You have a right to protect yourself from criminals, both public and private, and you have a right to the means of protection. You have a right and an obligation to respond to the call of the State in its hour of need, risking your life and property if necessary. You have a right to purge the State of tyrants, by force if necessary. That is, after all, what the Founders actually did, and they did not do it with hard words or their naked fists. All these reasons are good reasons, and two, or three, or four good reasons do not ever add up to only one good reason.
There are a lot of reasons why people should have privacy. There are a lot of reasons why people must be able to speak and write and read whatever they want to. There are a lot of reasons why your sexual affairs are nobody's business but your own; what, with whom, when or where. There are a lot of reasons and they're all correct, and none of the reasons excludes the others.
There are many explanations for everything. I guess that's the main thing I've learned from writing a history book-that there are myriad right answers, and they're all right.
I am even prepared to believe that Jack Weinberg both did and did not go to the bathroom. I am prepared to accept that there is in history some capacity for things that seem mutually contradictory actually to have occurred.
There is no objective truth. There is no big camera in the sky that has recorded everything that ever happened and will give us all a show when the end of the world comes. There was no camera following us around at that moment, and all we have of that moment is what is left inside our heads. I remember this event as clearly as I remember anything about the FSM. Jack also remembers it with absolute clarity. I can cite a half-dozen others who were right there on the spot and who all have slightly different memories, all resonating with the ring of truth. Why would they lie? This is not something we all sat around and discussed to get our stories straight. We're not talking about memories polluted by a biased account, or memories led astray by some unscrupulous therapist. We just remember it as it happened to each one of us, and it happened to each one of us differently.
Since there is no objective truth, it is hard to argue that something either did or did not occur. You can look to the causes, the "big events," and to the results, and you can say, sort of, well, yes, the South lost the War Between the States. Or they lost the Civil War, or they lost the War for Southern Independence, or they lost the War of Northen Aggression. Kind of colors things a bit, which war they actually lost. You can broadly say that the South lost, and reasonably expect to get away with it. Hostilities came to an end, sort of, and the United States became once again a Grand and Glorious Union. But if you were to ask the individuals involved in that conflict what had happened, you'd get a million different answers. And they'd all be perfectly correct.
I'm not paralyzed by this. I'm not confused by this. But I have learned not to accept "the" answer. There ain't no such animal. As far as history is concerned, there is no right and there is no wrong. And I don't think there's any right or wrong in any other sense either. There are things that work and things that don't work. Our society is run by a collection of rules that work pretty well, as long as we agree that breaking them is a bad idea. The First Amendment is a useful set of rules. It's not right or wrong that people should have the maximum amount of individual liberty and freedom of speech and of assembly, and the maximum amount of freedom to worship God as they see fit or not worship God at all. It's merely a successful political system. Democracies are more stable and productive than other systems of government.
Anything that makes democracy stronger is good. The day after an American election nothing happens. People get up in the morning and they know that the bank's going to be open, and the school's going to be open, and they can go to church. This is not true elsewhere. We don't have a problem with political succession, which is a problem that tears other countries apart. One of the things that's going to tear China apart, that's going to tear Cuba apart, is that there is not going to be an orderly succession of leadership. That's because they're dictatorships instead of democracies. In a dictatorship, the government is afraid of the people and deprives them of as many rights as it can, in return for which the government falls apart on a regular basis. Then they start over with a new dictatorship, usually killing many people in the process.
In totalitarian systems the government wants order, safety and obedience. Everything neat and tidy. A minimum of disorder, confusion and change. Most people probably like it just fine. In a democracy, things are a bit chaotic and messy. The FSM was a chaotic, messy episode in the history of the University of California. It was a messy part of American history. In fact, taken together the 1960s were an unusually chaotic, messy period of time in every regard. But that's what democracy is-it's messy. Its not neat and tidy and clean, because neatness equals death.
Like all such trials, the FSM ultimately strengthened America. The controversy emphasized one of the ways in which a dialogue can take place in a nation of law. Granted, it was a fairly messy, confrontational dialogue, but it was a dialogue that couldn't happen anywhere else.
Basically, we ultimately persuaded the administration of our point of view through the use of the last resource of the citizens of a republic-main force. This can be dangerous. However, I don't think you'll find many UC administrators now who don't agree that students should have the right to express themselves within the boundaries of the First Amendment, both on and off campus. Many of the younger ones are likely a bit surprised at the whole fuss, and find it difficult to understand. I'm sure that the current crop of students, in their late teens and early twenties, cannot understand and don't care. It has no visceral meaning to them. But the FSM was indeed typical of the kind of thing that happens on a regular basis within a healthy democracy. Things may escalate to the point of physical confrontation. It may get out of hand and slop a bit beyond First Amendment issues.
JW: A reviewer of your book, David Littlejohn, said that you had changed very few of your opinions in the last 30 years.
DLG: And furthermore, he meant that as a harsh condemnation, as though sticking to your principles despite the onset of extreme old age were a grave character flaw.
JW: How would you characterize your views today vis-a-vis your views then?
DLG: I characterize myself in the FSM book as a nascent anarchist. Today I'm more clearly aware of where I stand within the political spectrum. If you were to divide the political world up, not into Democrat and Republican, liberal and conservative, but into libertarian and communitarian, I would be a libertarian. I value those things in the political world which maximize individual freedom. Others, such as our President Clinton and Attorney General Reno, value what I would call a communitarian ideal. We should act more collectively than privately, and the needs and desires of individuals must be subordinated to the greater good of the entire body. Both positions, of course, have their virtues. I, however, do not think that the government is the best guardian of the Bill of Rights.
The whole Bill of Rights endures constant attack from many sides, the most dangerous of which is the government itself. The Bill of Rights was not designed to be a tool of government, which merely wants to do what it wants to do when it wants to do it, and views the electorate as sheep to be sheared and occasionally slaughtered and eaten.
Both Mr. Clinton and Ms. Reno correctly perceive that the public is demanding safety. Both see that the citizenry is obsessed with a fear of violence, both real and imaginary, to which they are subjected when they conduct their ordinary affairs. Both have proclaimed that what the people want above all else is safety.
I do not agree that the first responsibility of government is to secure the safety of the people, especially when the price tag is the loss or restriction of fundamental civil liberties. The true responsibility of our government is to make sure that our nation remains a democracy. You will always find in any chaotic epoch-which is all of them-that people will be glad to trade freedom for safety. But when the trade is completed, they find to their disappointment that they have neither. All they've accomplished is to add the government to the list of dangerous things.
When the government decides what's best for us all, it may decide well or poorly, but it only takes one big wrong decision to wreck everything. If you allow for many, many decisions on almost every matter, there may be many wrong and many right, but no single one of them will take over and do the one big wrong thing. So I favor a strong citizen and a weak government. I'd rather make my own wrong decisions, thanks.
Democracy is best served by more, rather than less speech; by more, rather than less individual responsibility; and by less, rather than more, government.
JW: How would you bring us safety?
DLG: [Laughs.] I'm not competent to do anything of the sort. The trouble is, you can't go back to Pandora and say, "Dearheart, please don't open that box." You can't go back and undo the dumb mistake that got us into the difficulty in the first place, but you can always make a worse mistake trying to fix the problem without knowing what it is.
We've got a long tradition of telling other people what to do because we know what's good for them. Prohibition is a classic in the annals of serious errors. People did not stop drinking, but the illegality of alcoholic beverages created a brand new criminal structure and gave it plenty of time to get organized. Drug prohibition is the same thing. It was created for the same reasons and is wreaking the same havoc. It is destroying America, and England, and Columbia. It might even be destroying the world.
Prohibition went a long way towards damaging this country in irreparable ways. It undermined respect for law. It made everybody believe that the law was a fool. Judges, juries, policemen, they all drank; they all bought illegal booze. Everyone became a scofflaw. Everyone became a lawbreaker. Gangsters became heroes.
The worst legacy of Prohibition was not the organized criminal underworld that it created out of nothing, and which is doing just fine right now-thank you very much. It was the creation of a permanent, irresponsible United States police agency, whose sole calling in life is to harass Americans going about their lawful business. We're talking about the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. This dangerous, secret police organization, together with all its vicious little bureaucrats, should be abolished tomorrow morning and the field sown with salt.
JW: So, you think that decriminalization of drugs would go a long way, or would contribute in some way to making America safe?
DLG: I'm not sure it would solve any problems, but I can't think of anything better to do. I think if we'd learned the Prohibition lesson and not criminalized drugs, things would be better by far. If I could go back and undo Prohibition, I sure would, but you can't ever do that. I think it possible that if we were to decriminalize drugs, decriminalize prostitution, decriminalize many if not all of the things that are crimes only because they're against the law, we might have a chance. It's a bad idea to try to force people to do something that they don't want to do. It's an equally bad idea to try to force people not to do something that they do want to do. Because, it doesn't work.
I don't take illegal drugs. I don't take them for a lot of reasons, one of which is that I don't like them. But I also fear the law. I do not obey the law out of respect; I obey the law in fear and hatred. This is not good.
I have no great interest in altering my consciousness with dope. Other people do. Other people like it. I like to go home and have a glass of wine with my dinner. If you were to tell me that I could not have wine with my dinner I would think that you were insane. During Prohibition, many Americans felt the same way. They went home and had wine with their dinner, same as always, except that it wasn't good wine. It was more expensive than it should have been, and it was against the law to drink it. Diners were breaking the law by having red wine with beef and white wine with fish. So, they became friends with the criminals-after all, they were criminals themselves-and blurred the line between good citizens and bad. This was a great evil.
When there are poor people, and you provide them with an opportunity to make good money by breaking bad laws, they will do so. Thus, it's not surprising that many poor people are also criminals. Unfortunately, poor criminals are really bad at hanging onto money, so they remain poor criminals.
I am not sure that reversing the drug prohibition laws would transform hells-on-earth to tolerable environments, but it is hard to imagine how things could be made worse. I doubt that endemic crime and despair could be undone with a signature on a piece of paper. You'd have to start by undoing the damage done by paternalistic welfare programs, which though no doubt well-meaning, have created a lot of human misery. Once again, it's knowing what's good for somebody else. "We'll give you welfare but you can't have a job, or a TV or a telephone, and you can't have a man in the house. You have to live in a place populated exclusively with people in the same miserable condition as yourself." Well now. What is this going to do to the family structure of these folks? It's going to blow it out of the water, is what. You didn't mean to destroy an entire social class, but that's what happened. You just wanted to make sure you weren't giving public money to a chisler. I do not believe we can put out the forest fire by snuffing the match that started it. Sometimes things are broken and can't be fixed. They can only be lived with.
Just because there's a problem doesn't mean there's a solution. Just because you come up with a solution doesn't mean things will improve. Most of the time the solutions to problems such as crime, or people getting drunk and not supporting their families, have created new problems that are orders of magnitude worse than the original problems. I'm almost inclined to advise politicians and lawmakers, "Don't do anything."
When you go to North Richmond, or West Oakland-which I do not advise-it is as though there were no laws against drug dealing or prostitution. People do these things openly, settling their many differences with great violence. So, how could decriminalizing this otherwise illegal activity make it worse? Hey! Take a chance! Nothing else is working. You already know how bad it can get. That's not a real wonderful thing to say, but it's the best I can offer.
JW: Let's switch gears and talk about your art and posters. How would you characterize yourself as an artist?
DLG: I'm a graphic artist. I'm not an artist in the academic sense. When you use the word "artist" you have to make a careful distinction. There's academic art, which comes from the academic tradition. Artists who have not partaken of that tradition are either at odds with or uninterested in it. I am neither interested nor have I partaken.
In the latter part of the 19th century, the manufacture of huge quantities of goods in a centralized location and shipping them out all over the place and trying to sell them, created a demand for something that had not existed before. This was advertising. You can't buy something if you don't know about it.
Advertising created a whole new class of artists, usually called graphic artists or commercial artists. Their tradition is not academic. It's scarcely even Western. An important influence is the Japanese woodblock print, which successfully solves most of the problems created by the need to communicate a lot of information quickly and effectively. In the latter 19th century, academic painting was running as fast as it could away from the influence of photography. It was trying to show that it could do something that couldn't be done by a kid with a Brownie Box. Western art since photography has also been reacting against and running away from other things: it's not this; it's not that. It's exclusive rather than inclusive, and it's just about become nothing at all.
Graphic artists embrace the camera; embrace all the influences that served their ends. One of the reasons that late 19th and early 20th century advertising looks like Japanese woodblock prints is because those prints offered solutions which Western academic art could not. Advertising necessarily integrates word and image, and the advertisements created before exposure to Japanese prints are painfully unsuccessful. They're cluttered and unintelligible. As soon as the Japanese prints appear in the West, which is around 1875 or so, there is an overnight change for the better in advertising art.
I do advertising for a living. It might be a noble cause like Planned Parenthood or AIDS awareness, or it might be a mundane commodity, like Mr. Espresso coffee. My art exists to serve another purpose. You don't buy my art to decorate your wall. You buy my advertisement to decorate your wall. I am not an artist in a proper sense: I am the servant of industry and commerce.
JW: But, many people do buy your art to decorate their wall.
DLG: But they're still getting an ad. You might like the Mr. Espresso ad, or you might think that the Planned Parenthood image is attractive. But you're still putting an ad on the wall. It's not even an old ad for something that's no longer manufactured. It's current. Planned Parenthood's right out there. You can send them money right now if you wish.
JW: How do you choose clients?
DLG: I don't. They choose me. I have a simple selection process: if they have money, I'll work for them. I've never discriminated against any client. I don't do too well with large corporations, and I do very well with small operations where one person is in charge. Big companies can only deal successfully with other big companies. I can't even afford to do the paperwork required to deal with Standard Oil.
JW: What would the process be? Say I wanted you to do a poster for me.
DLG: You'd come to me and say you wanted a poster, and I'd tell you the price. You'd tell me when you needed it, and I'd say that I either could or could not get it done by then. If we agreed on that, you'd give me some earnest money and I'd get to work.
JW: Does the client often suggest ideas?
DLG: Not usually. Though the client may, of course, suggest ideas, those ideas are rarely any good. Usually they want what they've seen before. They'll come up with some wonderful idea that they saw this morning in a TV commercial for breakfast cereal. They'll come up with a safe, bland concept which they think is really nice. Somehow I will then transform their safe, bland illustration into an award-winning design. Which I can't, and it won't serve them well, either. Most advertising is boring. The reason that it's boring is because it has to be safe. You don't want to offend anybody.
My clients are usually small clients. They're usually able to be more adventuresome than Ford Motor company. Chez Panisse is not trying to serve dinner to everybody. That's Wendy's job. So Chez Panisse can kick over the traces every now and then. Mr. Espresso is not trying to sell coffee to 250 million Americans. It's a much smaller audience.
I try to get free reign, though not always. It depends on how well the client is able to express a concept.
I do a preliminary colored sketch, and show them the design, and that's usually about all they see before printing.
If they vehemently object, I've either made a mistake or they've made a mistake. It happens about 10 percent of the time. A few times I can fix the mistake, but usually if it's not satisfactory it never will be. Wrong client, wrong artist.
Sometimes I can try again. It depends on the client and just how far off base I am. Sometimes you realize that you are never going to please the client. Usually that's because they've picked the wrong artist. Several typical problems surround failed designs: the hidden agenda is my personal favorite. Say you are jockeying for power in your company. You get an idea to do a poster. Your enemy also wants to do a poster. The poster becomes the bone of contention, but really it's all about power. Nobody cares about the design, they only care about who gets to decide which design will prevail. So the design is selected on the basis of who has won the fight.
Another one I relish is where some vital piece of information is withheld. The client knows exactly what's going on, and because it's so important they think you will know by osmosis. One of my worst disasters was with a private boys' school which had just admitted girls. The alumni-which was one-hundred-percent male-hated the change, and the new administration was trying to get them to give millions for new development. Nobody told me this. So, I did a design with a girl student sitting under a tree and reading. Disaster. You can't assume that the client has told you what you need to know. Does any of this sound like real life?
Mr. Espresso has been a lovely client. His needs are simple: he wants to sell coffee. He doesn't want to sell coffee to any particular group. He just wants to sell coffee to anybody with five bucks. That makes you a member of his exclusive coffee-buying club. I make posters for a Bay Area audience, and that's where he sells coffee. It works out fine.
The poster recently finished for the San Francisco Early Music Society is calculated to appeal to that audience. There is another audience interested in Hip-Hop, but I'm not talking to them in this instance. A poster designed to appeal to both audiences would probably be somewhat bland. Or really weird. I'm not running an easy listening station here, trying to bring everybody in. I just want clients who have class, taste, and money.
My close relationship with Alice Waters illustrates the kind of client with whom I get along best. We have a clear aesthetic, are dedicated to our work, and leave each other to do the best we can for each other. I cannot imagine a finer relationship.
JW: Aside from eating at Chez Panisse, what do you do for fun?
DLG: Everything I do is fun. But aside from making posters and other graphic works, writing books and polemical tracts, I do have interests which do not bring in any money. I guess that would be the distinction. If I earn my living doing one thing, that's work. If I do something from which I don't make money, that's play. But the line between work and play is fuzzy. When I get tired of drawing, I write for a while. When I get tired of writing I go back and draw for a while. When I feel like neither drawing nor writing, I read. I read a lot. When I'm not reading, writing, or drawing, I talk. I have conversations with my friends. Probably my biggest true entertainment is dinner and conversation with friends.
I have amateur interests, of course. I'm an amateur astronomer with a special interest in archaeoastronomy. It's a thankless pursuit here in Fog City, of course, but if it were easy I probably wouldn't do it. Despite the thin, misty clouds, this morning I got to see a conjunction of Venus and Jupiter.
I get a lot of exercise, which is good both for the body and for the soul. I run in the mornings and lift weights at Gold's Gym every day. That's an important part of my life. Mens sana in corpore sano and all that-I mean, without your body, where are you? You're nowhere.
I do target shooting, which is the pleasant pursuit of turning money into noise. It's not quite as much fun as shooting tin cans off a fence post, but we do live in the big city. I'm not as good a shot as my dear mother, nor yet as good as her father, who was a paragon, but with time I may improve. We Goineses have a long tradition of keeping the means for resistance within easy reach. In 1717 the Crown took away my first American ancestor's land, with the excuse that he was "a Negro, and consequently not a citizen." By 1834 the Free Colored citizens of most Southern and many Northern states had lost all their civil rights, including the right to keep and bear arms. My ancestors did not agree with that and went into the hills, guns, dogs, children and all. It then became a simple matter of just how serious the state was in its desire to enslave us. You will not be surprised to hear that they found themselves in some doubt on the matter when vigilantes, militia-men and soldiers went into the hills after them and did not come out again. We used them for fertilizer. If you think it can't happen here and now, you've got another think coming. Look at Waco. My ancestors did not fight and shed their life's blood for my rights so that I might blandly surrender them to fools and demagogues. I would die of shame were I to do such a wicked and unfilial thing.
JW: Speaking of life's blood, the blurb on your book says that you're a seven gallon donor. It must be very satisfying.
DLG: If you're a big old ox like me I feel that you have the duty and honor of helping those who need something you have plenty of. I'm almost up to seven gallons, but not quite. I thought that by the time the book came out I'd be there, but I miscalculated. I said it in the blurb because I felt that people should be encouraged to do it. Long ago, I read in the blurb on one of Algis Budry's books that he was an eleven gallon blood donor, and I resolved to beat his record. He had the advantage of being older than I during the Korean Police Action, when the Red Cross would gladly bleed you white with no thought for tomorrow. I'm operating under the handicap of once every three months for whole blood. So, I've liberalized the rules to my advantage, and am a regular platelet-pheresis donor. You can do that every three days, if your veins hold out. It's not hard, but it is time-consuming, and many people can't do it. You need to have fire-hose veins and be pretty hefty. The donations are largely for people who have had chemotherapy and can't generate their own platelets, as I understand it.
All you guys and gals out there in the lonely hearts club, remember that the blood bank is a great place to pick up conscientious, nice people who have a guarantee in writing that they're hog-healthy.
It's something I do that's good, to compensate in some way for the things that I do that are bad. Work that karma out. There's no negative side to it. The only place to get platelets and blood is from other people. Without it, folks will die, and if you can help them in a way that only you can, you must do it. Hey, what the hell. I'm over 200 pounds, and I've got a lot of blood to spare. My heart's full of the stuff.
January 15, 1994
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