[Note: You can make a donation in Paul Krassner's memory here.]
Back in 1996, Kurt Vonnegut wrote the foreword to a book by Paul Krassner with the beautiful title The Winner of the Slow Bicycle Race. Paul’s own introduction to his book also had a memorable title. It was called “The President’s Penis.” At the launch for it at the National Arts Club that autumn, Kurt rose to his full height at the podium, leaning into it, and said with emotion to the large audience, “Paul Krassner is a national treasure. Indeed, he is one of our most important national treasures.”
There were titters in the audience. Vonnegut glared at them. They had assumed he was being comical in his remarks, since after all Paul Krassner was as irreverent a satirist as has ever carried a US passport. But he wasn’t kidding. And now he raged at the audience, assuring them he was as serious as he had ever been, and that if anyone didn’t agree they were free to leave. No one left. There was a long pause in which Vonnegut cooled off, and people recovered from the shock of seeing him genuinely angry and intimidating in defense of his friend.
Then he continued with his remarks, mostly talking about how enamored he was of a poster Paul had created and put on sale, at the start of the ’60s, consisting of the words “Fuck Communism” against a background of red, white, and blue. Kurt considered this to be, he said, “a miracle of compressed intelligence nearly as admirable for potent simplicity…as Einstein’s e=mc2.” And at the end of his remarks, he invited Paul to the podium to continue the presentation.
Paul was co-founder with Abbie Hoffman of the Yippies and one of Abbie’s longest standing friends and collaborators. Paul founded and still edited, half a century and more later, the Realist, and authored many books, including three from Seven Stories, The Winner of the Slow Bicycle Race, One Hand Jerking, and Impolite Interviews. He co-wrote Lenny Bruce’s autobiography, How to Talk Dirty and Influence People, and probably considered Lenny his bff. Paul wasn’t simply funny, he was kind of the original funny bone of America.
In the last couple of weeks Paul was writing a foreword for me to a biography of Abbie Hoffman by Abbie’s brother Jack and me that Seven Stories is reissuing in the fall. He needed my help to get it done, but he was still funny and warm and smart in all our emails back and forth. I had no idea this was so close to the end. Without knowing anything about it, I felt enormously grateful to him for his gesture of support and the absolute graciousness with which he made it. I’m guessing it was the last piece he wrote. His last words to me, written eleven days ago, conveying his agreement about a sentence in the foreword I suggested he keep ambiguous, were “Mushy lives.”
Paul knew a lot of the same people we did, and was an enormous influence on many of them. And maybe “influence” is too obvious-sounding a word. He was a counter-comfort, comforting because you knew you could go as far as you possibly could to test the limits, no holds barred, and still be comfortably inside the larger net he cast without even thinking too hard about it.
—Dan Simon, NYC 7-22-19