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The Liberty Bar began in a bookstore.
In the spring of 1960, the year I graduated from high school, I had an epiphany at my uncle Clyde’s drugstore in Pampa, Texas. I was sitting on a chrome stool at the end of the marble soda fountain counter drinking a cherry limeade and idly rotating the wire paperback book rack. I stopped at a cover with a hand drawn yellow title, THE BEATS over a black and white photograph of a bearded bespectacled man in a white shirt with his sleeves rolled back, leaning forward, apparently explaining something, under a painting that appeared to be scribbles and scratchmarks. A woman with a dark lion mane of hair sat to one side, looking down and away with a bored gaze, a cigarette held smoldering between her upright fingers. (I was into cigarette mechanics at that stage) In the lower part of the cover the title continued Raw, penetrating stories, poems, and social criticism by JACK KEROUAC, NORMAN MAILER, ALLEN GINSBURG, LAWRENCE FERLINGHETTI and many others edited by Seymour Krim.
In the spring of 1980 (twenty years after the fact but still pursuing the bohemian fantasy) in San Francisco I came across a book entitled English Bread and Yeast Cookery by Elizabeth David with notes by Karen Hess in a shop called Cookbook Corner just off the lobby of the YWCA on Powell Street. Perusing the book I discovered the following passage , “People complain that baking bread, waiting for it to rise, is time consuming but the dough does not ask to be watched, furthermore it can be trusted in the house alone.” I laughed out loud. A skinny guy on the other side of the room was standing at the checkout counter talking to the owner, a mature young woman with an interesting, faintly frazzled, slightly exopthalmic look. They both turned in my direction. The man fixed me with a demanding glance, “What are you looking at?” I held up the book. He approached me, took the book from my hand, nodded and declared, “That’s a very good book.” He spoke as though he was a judge of these matters and his decision was final. The tone of his voice was flat, nasal and sounded familiar. I sidled over to the counter, smiling at the woman but speaking to the man, “By the sound of your voice, I take it you’re from north Texas or perhaps Oklahoma.” The man pursed his lips and squinted, not altogether pleased by the observation or the redirected attention. “Ft. Worth,” he replied. His name was Radford Drew Allen. The woman’s name was Taya Monfried. She had a degree in Library Science but had turned to selling books instead. I assumed Radford Drew Allen was putting the make on Taya Monfried but I was wrong about that…Drew was putting the make on me.
County, where men are men and women are too.
- DWIGHT HOBART
It took a little while to sort this out, fifteen years in fact. That’s about all there was to it except the details…and now I’ll bore you with the details.
In the spring of 1975 a friend of mine, Tom Powers, secured an assignment from Rolling Stone Magazine to write an article about the Arabs and the Israelis. He invited me to accompany him on the trip as a traveling companion. As a selling point, he encouraged me to take pictures along the way with the idea that the magazine might buy some photographs as illustrations for the article. I paid my own fare and took approximately three thousand photographs, edited that number down to twenty and the magazine bought ten, publishing them along with the article in December, 1975. While on the trip I crossed paths with a free spirit by the name of Lance Carlson who lived in San Francisco and invited me to visit him there. When I left the mid-east I did just that, living in Lance’s apartment while taking advantage of the U. C. Berkeley Extension Center Campus on Laguna St. in San Francisco where Steve Collins, who ran the photography program, very kindly allowed me to use the darkroom facilities to develop and print my photographs (all of which were made using black and white emulsion film with either a 35 mm Olympus single lens reflex camera or a vintage Rolleiflex 2 ¼ twin lens reflex…old school). After the pictures were sold I hung around the U.C. Extension Center darkroom as an unpaid volunteer helper. To be frank, I shamelessly used Collins’s generosity as an excuse to take up a virtual residence in the basement labyrinth’s little known nooks and crannies, devouring the small but well chosen art library, taking night courses in silk screen, etching, dye transfer printing and various other subjects in exchange for setting up chemicals, handing out enlarger lenses and pulling prints off the dryer drum,
“Hey, Sophie! Get out of that dry mount press room and take away your boyfriend's dildo shots before they frighten the children!”
or, two men's voices overheard from the hall outside the darkroom office during a long slow late morning silence,
"JANET! You'd better get your act together!"
"Don't call me that! HE doesn't know!"
For the better part of two years I descended into darkness every day before sunup and came out into darkness long after the sun had set. I spent my waking hours among other youthful enthusiasts who had drunk the koolaid of ART and found a home in the twilight of safe-light.