Monday, October 1, 2012

Radio Unnameable

There are only two days left to see Radio Unnameable, Paul Lovelace and Jessica Wolfson’s documentary about Bob Fass— the Ur albeit soft spoken radio shock jock, the precursor to Howard Stern, the postscript to Lenny Bruce and the inspiration for the last vestiges of free thinking that may be found on rogue public radio stations. NPR and PRI have a template in which First Amendment dirty laundry is washed and bleached in a strong detergent of political correctness. Fass pioneered what he called “free form” radio, which occurred in the wee hours of the morning. In fact, the film clips of the era in which Fass had his heyday look like outtakes from Taxi Driver and some of the call-ins could easily have been part of Scorsese’s script. But  "Alice’s Restaurant" and "Mr. Bojangles,” debuted  on the program and Joni Mitchell, Jose Felciano and Bob Dylan all found their way to the WBAI studios where Fass also interviewed the likes of Ed Sanders, Judith Malina, Julius Lester, Abby Hoffman and Paul Krassner. One of the most joyous of the events that Fass created on the air was a party at the international terminal of JFK called "the fly-in,” (in which in a use of words he admits is injudicious Fass describes his listeners as “crashing” at Kennedy). His commentary would also accompany the    “Yip-in" (in which the hands were removed from the clock above the information booth in Grand Central Station), the "be-in" and ultimately the l968 march on the Democratic Convention (culminating in the trial of the Chicago 7). The intellectual horsepower that he was able to summon makes one painfully aware of what Occupy Wall Street lacks. If Fass didn’t change the world, he certainly saved one life. One night someone named Kenny, who’d intentionally overdosed, called in and Fass kept him on the air until the call could be traced. Curiously Radio Unnameable is playing at Film Forum which is right across the street from one of the homes of Grove Press, whose Evergreen Review published some of Fass’s guests. Right down the street from the Grove Press site, is an AA clubhouse, that in Fass’s heyday was an afterhours club catering to pre-op transsexuals. How times do change.

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