Mica Died on This Date

November 22. The date is forever associated with President John Kennedy, who was assassinated on that date in 1963.

I think also of Mica Kindman who died on that date in 1991.

I was honored to work with Mica as his editor while he wrote his autobiography, My Odyssey through the Underground Press. The book recalls Mica’s adventures working primarily with two underground newspapers during the sixties and seventies: The Paper, in East Lansing, Michigan, and Avatar, in Boston. The underground press was the independent, noncorporate, dissident press of the Vietnam era. His story was one of two dozen insider histories that I compiled, edited, and published in what became my four-volume Voices from the Underground Series.

Muckraking at The Paper

To his friends in East Lansing in the sixties, he was Michael Kindman. In 1963, Michael was one of some 200 honors students from around the country who had been awarded National Merit Scholarships, underwritten by Michigan State University and usable only there. Together, they represented by far the largest group of Merit Scholars in any school’s freshman class. At MSU? The nation’s first agricultural land grant college?

Two years later, he founded the legendary The Paper, the Lansing area’s first underground newspaper and one of the first five members of Underground Press Syndicate, this country’s first nationwide network of underground papers during the Vietnam era.

The Paper connected the emerging radical campus community of Michigan State University with the activists of the East Lansing community. It is best known for its work with Ramparts, the premier left-wing glossy magazine of the era, in exposing MSU’s role as the number one CIA front organization in Vietnam in the sixties. The bureaucrats, academics, and police who built the infrastructure of oppression in Vietnam that forced the Vietnamese peasants from the villages into the cities, carded them, and forced their daughters into prostitution, then bombed their homes anyway, received salaries from the CIA that were filtered through an account at MSU. Most of these “professors” never actually showed up on campus.

Through Underground Press Syndicate, underground papers around the country exchanged subscriptions with each other to spread the word and build solidarity. One of those papers was Avatar, a paper out of the Boston area whose poems and essays explored a mystical dimension that attracted Michael’s attention.

Getting Sucked into Avatar

So in 1968 he left The Paper, headed east, and joined the staff of Avatar, unaware that the large, experimental commune that controlled the paper was a charismatic cult centered on a former-musician-turned-guru named Mel Lyman, whose psychic hold over his followers was then being strengthened and intensified by means of various confrontations and loyalty tests. Michael got sucked right in, not surprisingly. He was bright and might have posed a perceived threat to the leadership so they worked on him with mind control games and punishments.

It took him five years to escape, which he did from the commune’s rural outpost in Kansas. He headed west, eventually settled in San Francisco, worked as a carpenter, came out as a gay man, and changed his name to Mica.

By the time I caught up with him, he was working as a home-remodeling contractor, a key activist in the gay men’s pagan spiritual network Radical Faeries, and a student. He was also dying of AIDS.

I worked with him for two years on his autobiography. He died peacefully on November 22, 1991, two months after submitting the final draft. I got the call from his partner, Tony. I believe he lived as long as he did because he was inspired to complete his book.

Mica Press

Meanwhile, after receiving multiple publisher rejection letters from my agent that told me they loved the concept but didn’t want to touch the content (one gave me a “rave rejection”), I realized I wasn’t going to find a commercial press to publish my collection or an agent to represent me. I knew I would have to create my own press to tell the story of the underground press. With the help of Joe Grant, one of the other contributors, we created Mica Press.

In its Mica Press iteration, Mica’s story appeared as one piece – by far the longest – in a 600-plus-page, 2-column anthology. Twenty years later, Michigan State University Press worked with me to divide the anthology into four separate volumes, known as the Voices from the Underground Series. Mica’s story is all of volume 2.

The below image shows Mica’s patch on the famous AIDS Memorial Quilt.

Ken Wachsberger is a book coach, editor, and author of the upcoming You’ve Got the Time: How to Write and Publish That Book in You.

Volume 4 of Voices Series Is Out!

Volume 4 of the four-volume Voices from the Underground Series, Joe Grant’s Stop the Presses! I Want to Get Off: A Brief History of the Prisoners’ Digest International, is now out. I received my author copies last week and immediately ordered my first shipment for resale. Pre-orders were shipped out yesterday and should arrive in a few days. In my next post, I’ll give an overview of the book.

But for now I want to talk about the series as a whole, which is its own story. It’s been an amazing adventure that goes back a quarter of a century. If someone had said to me, “Ken, how about editing a series of stories on what will be seen commercially as an esoteric topic that will be hostile to the mainstream publishing world, rendering your chances of successful publication precarious, and that will take twenty-five years to complete?,” I’d have laughed and walked away. Or I would have politely pointed out my shaky financial straits and noted the infeasibility of spending so much potential income-producing time on a project that might never come to fruition let alone produce income.

Fortunately, I had no idea it would take me so long because once I started I couldn’t stop. Momentum is a powerful force; once you have the vision, you can’t pretend you don’t without resorting to mind-deadening drugs, which I’ve never used.

And the truth was, that esoteric topic from the late eighties when the Voices from the Underground Series was born—the long-forgotten underground press of the Vietnam era—was the most important news medium and antiwar organizing tool of my generation’s formative years. The antiwar community during the Vietnam era was the broadest, most diverse antiwar community in the history of our country. No exceptions. It cut across the races, the genders, the ages, the classes, the geographic regions. And there were underground papers that spoke to all of those antiwar voices.

To those of us who were active on underground papers, it was our most important formative event. We boomers have been unfairly derided for being self-centered, spoiled, divisive, and pampered, but we were selfless in stopping a war that we didn’t start, that had no business being waged, and of which our own government was the enemy. No other generation has ever done that. For that we were heroes, except to the war profiteers who ran our country and still do; the elected officials who they bought with their campaign donations; and the corporate press whose mindless support for the war was the reason the underground press was born.

So while many antiwar veterans and their allies “went inside themselves” after the war, partly through burnout from being full-time antiwar activists and partly so they could enter the corporate work force and begin raising families, the war industry rolled up their sleeves and began the work of getting us back into the military mood. (Remember what Bush #1 said when the fighting stopped after he invaded Iraq for the first time: “By God, we’ve kicked the Vietnam Syndrome once and for all.”) By the time the late eighties rolled around, the country had freaked out from seeing our true soul ripped bare and believing the corporate media’s interpretation, and we collectively had swung way to the right. Reagan was president and members of my generation who had fought alongside me against the war machine were running from themselves, hiding who they were, even from their children. My students at Eastern Michigan University typified the younger generation of the time. They admired Reagan, thought Rush Limbaugh made sense, and had no idea what their parents had done during the war.

It was in that atmosphere that a publisher friend who ran a small stable of library journals, including one devoted to the needs of serials librarians, asked me—because I had written a history of the Lansing-East Lansing, Michigan-area underground press some years back—to edit a series of insider histories of underground papers so that young serials librarians would gain a better understanding of serials from the sixties and seventies. I embraced the opportunity and immediately began to reactivate and expand my network of underground press veterans. The special collections libraries at University of Michigan and Michigan State University were invaluable.

What I found, much to my delight, was a scattered community of proud activists, like me, who had never forsaken their radical, activist roots and were still passionately involved in the cause of building a progressive community in the United States. They embraced my invitation to share their stories. In all the years since the Vietnam War had ended, no one had ever asked them so they were sitting on priceless literary and historical material. My job was to read and edit their stories and then coax them to give me more: “What do you mean by that?” “Who is she?” “Please clarify.” “How did you feel then?” “What happened next?” I asked every question I could think of and then asked follow-up questions in response to their answers. Never did they say, “Hey, that’s enough already.” Instead they dug deeper and produced more material.

The result was over 600 pages of stories, laid out in an 8 ½ x 11, 2-column format, the equivalent of a 1,500-page book in the traditional 6 x 9 or 7 x 10 format, plus another 150 pages, same layout, of resource materials on the period. Instead of publishing one special issue, we ran articles for the next year and a half.

Even then, I had compiled a collection that was so massive some stories still remained unpublished. I knew we had to publish them all in book form—actually two books, one of the stories and one of the resource materials.

Unfortunately, my publisher friend balked. He began to worry that he would be sued for libel. Being a small publisher who had already gone nearly bankrupt twice to win two previous libel lawsuits, he was scared he wouldn’t survive another one, even if he won, despite the great publicity I told him he would get. His worst image was of a guy who had been a flaming SDS’er—a member of the radical group Students for a Democratic Society—twenty years ago and was now a bigwig in the Republican Party suing us for ruining his reputation.

I said, “If we can document it, it’s not libel.” But I knew my time with him was up.

I started looking for a new publisher.

I found an agent who loved the manuscript. He was talking a high five-figure advance and claiming the movie rights. “I just want to pay off the Visa,” I said.

So he sent it out to corporate publishers. Here’s what they said:

  • “an important collection of underground press histories….”
  • “an impressive piece of scholarship…”
  • One editor apologized for taking so long to return the manuscript. He said he “was busy reading it.”
  • Another said, “couldn’t put it down … extraordinary book … rave rejection.”

They loved it. But they didn’t want to publish it.

Being an agent, he was in it for the money, not the cause. He returned the manuscript and suggested that I approach a small press. I thought, if I have to go to a small press, I might as well become the press. And so I knew: to be able to tell the story of the underground press, I would need to create my own underground press all over again.

All I needed was $18,000.

It fell to Joe Grant to find an investor. Joe is an ex-prisoner from Leavenworth who in 1970 founded Penal Digest International [later Prisoners’ Digest International], an underground paper with a paid circulation of over 20,000 prisoners from all over the world. Joe was outside Attica Prison with William Kunstler, the most renowned movement lawyer of the period, during the riots there in 1971. His story begins in pre-revolutionary Cuba in 1952 when he was stationed there in the navy and met Cubans who were actively involved in the revolution.

I was working on Joe’s story with him during the time my agent was sending me the rejection letters, so he knew my whole story.

Joe found an investor to enable him to print 2,000 copies of volume one and 2,000 of volume two. We typeset it and laid it out ourselves on WordPerfect 5.1. We obtained pre-publication quotes from famous people saying nice things about us. Our logo was a white rose, in memory of a group of students in Nazi Germany named the White Rose who opposed Hitler and were killed for their convictions. In this way, we linked our generation of independent poets and writers to an earlier generation of independent poets and writers. We called the company Mica Press after the gentle and legendary Mica—which is what he changed his name to from Michael in the eighties—Kindman, who died of AIDS soon after completing his story for me, which in this second edition is volume 2 of the Voices from the Underground Series, My Odyssey through the Underground Press. We had a collective dedication page for all the contributors. Our copyright date was January 29, 1993, to commemorate the 156th birthday of Thomas Paine.

The book came out to great acclaim. The Los Angeles Times said it captured the sights and feel and texture of the period better than any book out there. The reviewer for In These Times called it the most important book on American journalism published in his lifetime. Choice magazine named it one of the top five books in the field of communication for 1993. I was giving keynote talks at political conferences.

But for the most part, the nationwide mainstream media, including most of the over 200 dailies that requested and received copies, didn’t review it. And so overall sales through the mail were modest. Most went to public and academic libraries around the world. We were beginning to build our own distribution network. The money from sales I sent back to Joe was absorbed in promotional costs.

Then, less than a year after the book hit the streets, Joe’s remaining inventory of books were confiscated from storage by the man whose mother gave Joe the money to print Voices. He claimed Joe ripped off his mother and demanded all the money back immediately.

After the man confiscated the books, his lawyer told Joe that all the books would be returned to him if he would sign a promissory note stating that he had received the money from the son and not the mother. However, since the son was a drug dealer and informer who was doing time for selling cocaine, Joe believed that signing such a note would implicate him and everything connected with Voices. All his computers and his business would be seized by the government.

In a letter to me, the son acknowledged he made a mistake (getting busted for drugs, not stealing the books from Joe) but insisted that he was really a good person who would love to share his ideas with me on how to market Voices. Joe said bullshit. “He wore a government wire when he sold his drugs to unsuspecting users,” Joe told me. “That’s general knowledge. He’s in prison because he was running a drug business on the side that the government only discovered when he sold drugs, with his wire turned off, to another informer who had his wire turned on.” Joe believed the government was after him—Joe, not the son—for past political activity and when they couldn’t get him they settled for the books. Nothing of their business arrangement was ever put down on paper.

Joe and I, however, did. As publisher he agreed that if Mica Press went out of business, I, as editor, would automatically inherit all outstanding copies. Those, of course, were the books that were confiscated.

So technically that left me in ownership of 1,000 copies of volume 1, the stories, and 1,000 copies of volume 2, the resource guide, but in possession of none of them. I did own and possess all rights to the collection.

I considered legal action against the guy who stole them but I was discouraged by well-meaning movement lawyers who warned me that, even if I could get pro bono legal help from a movement lawyer who believed in the cause, the other costs—legal briefs, travel, appeals, and others—would be so much that, even if I won and then sold all the books, I would never see financial daylight. By this time I had a growing family and a heavy debt load, which further demanded my attention.

So I reacted like any hyperactive with depressive tendencies would react. I went into a depression that took me years to climb out of. Along the way, I lost contact with my contributors. But I never lost the conviction that the stories deserved to come out again, and needed to, for a wider audience.

Today I believe that more passionately than ever before. It’s no mistake that in order to start new wars the power structure that runs this country wanted to bury the lessons of the Vietnam era, especially the one that says that common citizens, working together, can overcome our ingrained prejudices; respect our ethnic, gender, religious, and other differences; honor the environment; change the policies of a corporate-controlled war-machine government; bring our troops home from countries where we don’t belong or not send them there in the first place; and use the money we save to build our own country’s infrastructure and create services and jobs that help everyone, not just the 1%.

Five years ago I finally was able to reorganize my life to make room for a second attempt to publish the stories. My success was due to many factors.

I’m grateful to the Internet, without which there is no way I could have tracked down all of the contributors. I’m grateful to all of the writers for giving me permission to use their stories again and working patiently with me to update their stories, which by now were all dated. I’m grateful to the many photographers and artists who gave me permission to use their work, more often than not gratis. I’m grateful to Michigan State University Press for buying into my vision of changing the 600+-page volume of stories from the first edition into four separate volumes in this second revised, updated, expanded edition, and for their craftsmanship in producing the four volumes. I’m grateful to so many activists and progressive journalists from then and now for their kind words, in the forewords and afterwords to the four volumes, in reviews, and in testimonial quotes that appear on the back covers and on my website. I’m grateful to all of those restaurants that gave me unlimited booth space, electricity, and coffee to do so much of my work. I’m grateful to my friends and family for giving me encouragement. Most of all, I am grateful to Emily, David, and Carrie, who for many years didn’t have much of a husband or father because he was lost in a competing vision of love and despair and had to find his way out alone.

CHOICE Review of Mica Kindman’s Story, V.2 of Voices Series

I can’t find an accessible electronic link to this review of Michael “Mica” Kindman’s book, My Odyssey through the Underground Press, which is volume 2 in the Voices from the Underground Series, but I’m grateful to CHOICE for permission to reprint it here. It appears in the August 2012 issue.

In this posthumously published autobiographical account, Kindman (who died in 1991) details his involvement with the underground press and culture and brings to the fore a long-missed voice of the 1960s and beyond. As a Michigan State University student, Kindman established The Paper, a weekly underground newspaper and in 1966 one of the founding publications of the nation’s Underground Press Syndicate. Paul Krassner’s outstanding foreword provides context for Kindman’s story and underground newspapers across the nation like Los Angeles Free Press, Berkeley Barb, San Francisco Oracle, Seattle’s The Helix, and New York’s The East Village Other. The book itself also features excerpts from letters and newspaper articles. As a well-researched, well-edited firsthand account of the US underground press from its formative to it later years, this book complements John McMillian’s Smoking Typewriters: The Sixties Underground Press and the Rise of Alternative Media in the United States (2011), but Kindman offers more details about the beginnings of this kind of news media. A good resource for anyone interested in underground-media history and counterculture. Summing Up: Highly Recommended. All readers. — M. Goldsmith,Nicholls State University (Reprinted with permission from CHOICE http://www.cro2.org,  copyright by the American Library Association. )

In-house Editing Does Honor to Mica’s Story

I just finished reviewing the edited manuscript pages of Voices from the Underground, volume 2, Michael “Mica” Kindman’s story. MSU Press editors did a fine job of editing. They edited lightly, respecting Mica’s writing and my editing, in the same way they edited for volume 1, which will be out hopefully in December (but definitely in January). For that I was grateful. Mica’s story is powerful; the text is graceful. A heavy editing hand would have done the text no good and a lot of harm.

Most of what the house editors did was to insert html coding and bring our text in line with their house style in such areas as the following:

  •  Comma usage
  • Uppercasing or lowercasing
  • Spelling out or abbreviating terms
  • Spelling out or using digits for numbers.

In addition they raised questions when the text was unclear to them. This, to me, is the area where editors are most useful. If it makes sense to me, does that mean it makes sense to the reader? Usually I can pull myself back from my ego far enough to read from the reader’s perspective but not always. The editor, on the other hand, is always far enough from the writer’s ego. In some cases what I already had was correct. In others, her query and my answer will now give readers a smoother read.

Mica’s story ends with him on the cusp of death but still holding out hope for the future. The foreword by Steven Muchnick, who goes by the name of Rosemary for Remembrance within the Radical Faeries community, brings Mica’s story to a close. No one will read Mica’s story, then Steven’s afterword, then see the photo of the AIDS blanket square with Mica’s name on it and not shed a tear. Hopefully readers also will draw strength from Mica’s courage and humanity.

For me, the most powerful line was at the end of the last chapter of the main text where he wrote, “Getting to write about all of it has been a tremendously healing, and confrontational, experience for me.” I know that I was the person who asked him to tell his complete story and gave him encouragement as he wrote it. So, even though he didn’t say so directly, I took that line as his thank you to me. That was where I shed a tear. He worked on his story for two years, dying of AIDS the whole time. He finally died two months after submitting the final manuscript. I believe he lived those extra two years so he could finish his story.

It deserves a wide audience, not only in book form but on the screen as a record of a tumultuous period that covered the politics of the sixties, the cults of the seventies, and the AIDS tragedy of the eighties.

Manuscript Arrives for Life of Michael Kindman, Underground Press Legend

I got the word from MSU Press that the edited manuscript of volume 2 of the Voices from the Underground Series is ready for my review.

Volume 2 is the story of Michael Kindman, one of the legends of the Vietnam era underground press. Michael started school at Michigan State University in September 1963 as one of nearly two hundred honors students from around the country who had been awarded National Merit Scholarships, underwritten by MSU and usable only there. Together, they represented by far the largest group of Merit Scholars in any school’s freshman class.

The irony was not lost on the academic community, as MSU, the nation’s first agricultural land grant college, was busy under President John Hannah trying to shed its reputation for being a cow college. Those years immediately followed a period of tremendous expansion on the MSU campus, for reasons that became clear later. But for Michael the first two years were academically bleak for a brilliant mind that was looking to expand.

To do that he had to change his environment. So, two years after coming to MSU, he dropped out of school—despite being in line to become editor in chief of State News, MSU’s student newspaper, and instead founded The Paper, East Lansing’s first underground newspaper and one of the first five members of Underground Press Syndicate, this country’s first nationwide network of underground papers. It was The Paper that helped Ramparts magazine expose MSU’s role from the mid-fifties until 1962 as the CIA’s number one front organization for the government’s war against the people of Vietnam. CIA agents—actively training the South Vietnamese police, “pacifying” the South Vietnamese countryside by pushing peasants into the cities, instituting ID programs, and more—were all the while publicly identified as faculty members at MSU (some actually were MSU faculty even before the CIA involvement, and, in their defense, some were well intentioned and only later became disenchanted). Meanwhile, MSU was being secretly reimbursed through CIA funds that were laundered through the MSU budget.

One of the first articles I ever wrote for the underground press years later was about the return to MSU of Wesley Fishel, publicly identified during those years as an MSU assistant professor but in reality the person who introduced then-exiled Ngo Dinh Diem to powerful U.S. government officials who helped bring him back to power as prime minister of South Vietnam in 1954. Fishel became head of the MSU Group, the program that guided many of these activities. My article appeared in Joint Issue in 1971, about a campus protest that greeted Fishel’s return to the MSU campus after two years of heading the Center for Vietnamese Studies at Southern Illinois University, where he was likewise hounded by protestors.

In early 1968, Michael moved east, settled in Boston, and joined the staff of Boston’s Avatar, unaware that the large, experimental commune that controlled the paper was a charismatic cult centered on a former-musician-turned-guru named Mel Lyman, whose psychic hold over his followers was then being strengthened and intensified by means of various confrontations and loyalty tests. Five years later, Michael fled the commune’s rural outpost in Kansas and headed west, where he eventually settled in San Francisco, came out as a gay man, and changed his name to Mica. When Mica wrote this important journey into self-discovery, he was working as a home-remodeling contractor, a key activist in the gay men’s pagan spiritual network Radical Faeries, a student, and a person with AIDS. He died peacefully on November 22, 1991, two months after submitting the final draft of his story. I never met him personally but—because his underground press activity in East Lansing preceded my activity by two generations of underground papers—I considered him my spiritual grandfather.

His story is a major first-person document of the period and joins three other volumes of major first-person documents in the Voices from the Underground Series.

I received the Mica electronic files as 34 attachments—including frontmatter, backmatter, and main text—plus the style guide in four separate email messages. Not that I’m superstitious but my lucky number is 34. (That also was the number of chapters in my first published novel but the number goes back to my childhood.) My comments are due back by October 28.

On one hand, the announcement couldn’t have come at a worse time as I’m fighting about six other deadlines.

On the other, I look forward to reading the files. I’ll use my best time management skills with a major dose of hyperactivity and I’ll get the job done probably early. I’m especially pleased that MSU Press got them to me early thanks to, obviously, expert time management on the part of the MSUP editorial team. So I owe them no less.