The City That Was: The Radical Newspaper “Frisco” Didn’t Survive. Here’s Why.
In The City That Was, Bohemian Archivist P Segal tells a weekly story of what you all missed: the days when artists, writers, musicians, and unemployed visionaries were playing hard in the city’s streets and paying the rent working part time.
In the ‘80s, San Francisco was still really cheap, and because of its cheapness, many things were possible. For one thing, there was a glut of free publications, like The Bay Guardian, available on the streets— that survived, and paid writers at varying degrees of inadequacy (some things never change), on proceeds from advertising sales. I worked for several of them.
The most miserable of all my jobs at local publications was at a thing called City Arts. I was thrilled to be hired, until I discovered that the publisher actually hated people. So of course he hated me, and he especially hated my writing. I think he hired people so he could verbally and psychologically abuse them, with a particular preference for sensitive targets like myself. But at least he loved the arts. Our local version of City Arts is mentioned nowhere on the Internet, except in the resume of the editor I worked for. Apparently the whole world wanted to forget it as much as I did.
I wanted out of City Arts badly. So I was thrilled once again when a friend called and offered me a job at a new publication, which was taking over a fairly long-standing, decent rag called Boulevards. My friend was a partner in this new enterprise, which was headed up by the notorious San Francisco journalist, Warren Hinckle. That’s Hinckle himself, above, and the photo alone will give you some inkling of what I was in for.
Hinckle had worked for all the city’s dailies, and he had formerly been the editor of the publication, Ramparts, which earned him his reputation as a powerful muckraker. He could be counted on to be controversial, so I was pretty sure that that his new publication would raise a few eyebrows.
“What’s the new magazine called?” I asked my friend.
There was a moment of silence on the other end of the line. “It’s called Frisco,” my friend said.
As a native San Franciscan, I immediately wondered if this job was going to be any better than City Arts. “Frisco???” I sputtered. “Seriously?”
“Yeah,” he said. “San Francisco is the staid city built on top of the wild town called Frisco.”
I let that sink in. I had to admit that I was far more inclined to life in a wild town than to living in a well-behaved, dull metropolis. And it wasn’t City Arts. “Okay,” I said, “I’ll do it.”
Warren Hinckle and his friends, who all chipped in a few bucks to get this new magazine going, were all writers, editors, and graphic artists. They didn’t really need another writer, and once again, I found myself working at a magazine that wasn’t interested in anything I wrote. But at least it wasn’t an insurance company or City Arts.
My job was to sit in the office on Union Street and answer calls from the outraged, and dine at the many good restaurants on the street that gave us freebies. I read a lot of books while I ostensibly worked there, and wrote for other publications that paid me inadequately—but at least they liked my work.
Getting issues of the magazine out was never very easy at Frisco. It was a quasi-monthly that relied on annoying periods of sobriety to get to press. In fact, when an issue did get out, it always warranted a huge celebration at one of Hinckle’s watering holes. Part of my job was sending flowers to the bar owners who had survived a Frisco publication event.
Another regular part of my job was getting calls from Hinckle from some bar or another, mostly The Dovre Club, which was, at the time, the gathering place for Irish Republican Army advocates. “Get in a cab,” he would say, “and bring me an armload of the recent issue.”
Frisco managed to get out about five issues in the almost-year I worked there. I believe they just ran out of money, partying through their capital prematurely. But a payday came when there was no check for me. I never did know why they suddenly stopped paying me, but it may have had something to do with an article I pitched that inadvertently pissed off most of the partners. What I wrote, and why it pissed them off, is yet another, rather dark, story… for later.
image from Channer.tv