Ephemeris: Love Is The Song We Sing

Digging around the internet or maybe even in a brick and mortar store (!!), you come across a mimeo that you’ve never seen before.  What do you do?  Go to OCLC first.  That is what all the book dealers do if they come across a seemingly unusual item.  Dealers cross their fingers that it is not listed at all.  If so, they can put NOT LISTED ON OCLC and mark it up 1000%.  (By the way, there should be an official scale of mark-up relating to OCLC.  No copies:  1000%.  One copy:  500%.  Two copies:  250%.  And so on to five copies.  More than five copies you have to start discounting your price against the hundreds of other copies available on Abebooks.)

Take Ephemeris, edited by David Schaff, out of San Francisco.  You’ve been around the block a few times so chances are if it is new to you it is pretty rare, right?  Do not flatter yourself.  There are so many mimeos out of just San Francisco that nobody can read (or own) them all.  So I generally do not beat myself up when I remember that I once thought Interim Pad was some prime real estate from the Mimeo Revolution just because it had slipped under my radar.  Turns out Interim Pad was not a true flophouse of a mimeo (because everyone knows that in mimeo, the flophouses are worth more than the penthouses), but just another tourist trap located in the neighborhood of City Lights. 

So what about Ephemeris?  Well, there are 20 institutions that have Ephemeris in some form or another.  Yet do not despair, because OCLC does not always tell the whole story.  There is another way of judging if a mimeo is a true lost classic.  All fans of mimeo are no doubt aware of Nuggets:  Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era, 1965-1968.  Compiled as a double album by Lenny Kaye in 1972 for Elektra, this LP became a major influence for the soon to emerge punk scene.  In fact in the liner notes, Kaye makes use of the term punk rock, not for the first time, but early on nonetheless.  (Like with OCLC, book dealers like to bump up the price on book, magazine or LP that used the term punk rock before 1975.)  In the 1980s, Rhino released 15 other Nuggets related compilations.  Knockoffs followed, like Pebbles, Rubble and Back from the Grave, which dug around the garage for any audio ephemera to set into wax.  As Wikipedia notes, “Nuggets spawned an entire cottage industry of small record labels dedicated to unearthing and releasing obscure but worthy garage and psychedelic rock music from the 1960s.”

Secret Location on the Lower East Side by Clay and Philips is the Mimeo Revolution equivalent of Lenny Kaye’s Nuggets.  This is the book that in large part spawned the cottage industry in collecting the Mimeo Revolution for a generation of collectors who did not actually live through the era.  If Nuggets influenced punk, then Secret Location inspired all the hipsters who are going to take over PS I for the Book Arts Fair in September. 

Yet in terms of a lost classic what matters most is not that the magazine was featured in Secret Location.  No, a featured write up in Secret Location is like being played on Top 40 radio.  The Preliminary Checklist in the back is more on target, and is the Secret Location equivalent of Back from the Grave.  It is here in the corners and dark places of the garage that the real mimeo rarities lurk.  And the real obscure shit does not appear in the Preliminary Checklist at all.  Ephemeris is nowhere to be found there and neither is Interim Pad for that matter. 

There will be those of you out there that will say the absence of Ephemeris and Interim Pad from Secret Location is merely proof of their irrelevance.  If Clay and Phillips missed them, they must not be worth reading.  They must not be important.  You may have a point.  But for true mimeo fanatics, for the visionaries and the pioneers, this is precisely what makes these mags even more interesting than a boring, old Fuck You that everybody knows about.  The logic goes:  If everybody has forgotten about it, it must be truly memorable.

For these pioneers I would suggest adding Christopher Harter’s Author Index to Little Magazines of the Mimeograph Revolution and George Butterick’s list of Periodicals of the Beat Generation that appeared in the Dictionary of Literary Biography on the Beats (Vol. 16 – The Beats:  Literary Bohemians in Postwar America A-Z) as a further layer of obscurity on top of the Preliminary Checklist in Secret Location.  Butterick’s list, in particular, is fairly deep.  He lists Interim Pad, but Ephemeris is nowhere to be found.

I will not go on record and say that Ephemeris is a lost classic that is going to change how we approach the Mimeo Revolution, but I will say that it provides some insight into the magazine scene that developed in and around Spicer’s San Francisco.  David Schaff and Ephemeris are not mentioned in Ellingham’s and Killian’s Poet Be Like God, but Schaff is very much drunk on the Spicer spirit.  Ephemeris came “out of the shadow of the late Cassiopeia,” of which the first issue featured Spicer poem.  (Cassiopeia, which ran for only two issues and was also edited by Schaff, is yet another lost classic.  Unfortunately this also means that it is tough to find.  Cassiopeia I has thus far eluded me.)  From Ephemeris II:  “That old Bodega Bay salt Lew Ellingham perservered through the typing of this sheet and weathered many a gale at GINO AND CARLO, beloved by all and where all end up at one time or another – while they last, copies of this issue are available for the price of a drink.”  As a little-known song suggests, that spirit was still available in 1969. 

Ephemeris is very much an apparition of the late J and Spicer’s ghost is all over it.  In Ephemeris II, Schaff writes of Spicer in terms of ghosts and hauntings.  Throughout all three issues, poems are dedicated to Spicer and written in the Spicerian manner.  Poets who played in Spicer’s shadows, like Ellingham, Persky and Stanley, flitter about its pages as you would expect, but so does the specter of Frank O’Hara, who you would not.  O’Hara appears care of Donald Allen, who was preparing O’Hara’s unpublished poems for posthumous publication.  Ebbe Borregaard, Joanne Kyger, and Charles Olson appear as well.  So Ephemeris has some big names in it and you might expect the mag to have turned up in Secret Location or elsewhere.

Ephemeris II features a map on the cover and Issue one has an astrological chart. The magazine is truly a chart and a map of late 1960s San Francisco and the vestiges of the Spicer Circle.  For example, Ephemeris features several advertisements for what is now a lost book culture:  Serendipity and Dave Haselwood Books for example.  And therein lies Ephemeris’s importance:  it documents an ephemeral scene that threatens to fade away like newsprint in the California sunshine.  The third issue switches to a newspaper format and continues down the White Rabbit hole of New Age Frisco with pieces on Merlin, the Birth of Venus and the Apocalypse accompanied by numerous illustrations and drawings.  My copy is inscribed by Ellingham to Harold Dull, which itself is a nice association that tells of a history that goes back to Spicer.  The entire issue is a trip at sunrise down by the Bay with appearances by Ellingham, Persky, Stanley, Hoyem, Bromige, Mary Norbert Korte, Richard Duerden, Wieners and Blaser.

In 2007, the fourth Nuggets box set was released by Rhino -Love Is The Song We Sing:  San Francisco Nuggets 1965-1970.  Ephemeris fits right in that time capsule.  Flipping through its pages nearly a half century later, it still comes through loud and clear.



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