Former OBcean Published OB’s First Underground Newspaper
In 1966 the cultural revolution that was sweeping the country washed up on the shores of Ocean Beach. Long haired men and patchouli-scented women began showing up on the streets. A few head shops, like the Paisley Pelican, opened. Be-ins, love-ins and a new ethos manifested themselves, starting in OB and spreading throughout the community.
A radio station (KPRI, back then at 106.5)) started playing “underground” music featuring bands like the Jefferson Airplane, Big Brother & The Holding Company and the Greatful Dead. The war in Vietnam loomed large, with protests and a strong current of pacifism woven into the emerging consciousness. And, somewhere in the mists of that long ago upheaval, OB resident Norman Lamssies began to print the Liberator, an underground newspaper.
OBRagsters Frank Gormlie and myself tracked Norman down not long ago, living in a south beach community, and visited him, hoping for a chance to view early copies of the paper.
After an hour or so of socializing—you got the feeling he was sizing us up to make sure we could be trusted–, he led us into a back closet in his home and we began the arduous process of digging through boxes of stuff from the past. He spent a bunch of time photographing the upheaval in Mexico during the 1960’s, and there were countless old newspapers and photographs, each documenting the many paths Norman has followed throughout his life.
Finally, we hit pay dirt—copies of the Liberator. Not a complete collection, but enough of a sampling to give a feel of what it was like on the streets of OB back then. Reading those old papers and visiting with Norman brought back a flood of memories, as I played a part in the creation of many of those editions.
Norman is a person who was ahead of his time. He’d moved to OB in 1954 from Chicago, after serving in the Korean conflict. He was (and is) a non-conformist in the truest sense of the word, viewing the world from an alternate universe. Although to look at him, you could hardly call Norman a hippie, his libertarian outlook, artistic sensibilities and anti-authoritarian point of view made him a natural supporter of the counter-cultural commotion that manifested itself on the streets of Ocean Beach.
Norman had a strong dislike of the San Diego Police Department, and for that matter, any authority figure. He was a frequent witness to the SDPD’s attempts to enforce the cultural “norms” of the time, photographing and witnessing their harassment of the growing movement. At some point in his life he’d acquired a small offset press. Working out of garage not far from the beach cottage he shared with his mother, he gave birth to a smudgy and irregularly published “SD Liberator”. (Later on it morphed into just the “Liberator”.) Asked exactly when he started publishing, Norman responded, “I don’t do timelines well”.
I started working with the Liberator in the summer of 1968 not long after graduating from Point Loma High. I’d left behind a normal middle class home on Point Loma, radicalized by the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy, and moved in at 4910 Orchard Street with a group of Vietnam Vets and fellow City College students who’d embraced the hippie movement in a big way.
It didn’t take long for us to become up close and personal with the local law enforcers. It seemed like we’d get stopped by the same group of officers every day as we went about our business in OB. Officer Abbott was our favorite, as he’d call us by name, before asking for ID’s and shaking us down. Anti-war buttons were cause for extra harassment; sometimes it would take an hour plus just to walk down to Newport Avenue.
At some point we ended meeting Norman after a particularly nasty visit with San Diego’s Finest. My roommate Jim Herman signed on as editor. Roommate Terry Galbraith had considerable talent as a cartoonist. And I’d spent my senior year at Point Loma selling ads for the school paper, so it was decided that I would handle selling ads. Steve took great pictures of the cops whenever there was a “police riot”. “Juice” typed up stories, “Dennis” sold papers around town, and we all spent late nights pasting up galleys and hoping that what ever we printed would be legible. Eventually we found another printer with a better press and started farming out the presswork.
The Liberator wasn’t “political” in the same sense that the OB Rag Newspaper would later become. At that point in time, we were more “cultural”, using more often than not satire to attack the “establishment” and the culture it represented. Some of the stuff we printed was just plain silly, and there certainly was no consciousness of sexism on our part.
I think we stayed with the Liberator for about six months. Norman went off to Mexico (he did come back to publish some later editions); Jim Herman got busted for possession up in San Luis Obispo; somebody stole Terry’s fine art pens; and I started getting involved with campus anti-war politics. Sadly, I’ve lost touch with all these folks over the years.
Do take some time to browse the various pages of the Liberator that we’re posting with this story. It was a wild and crazy time back at the dawning of the Age of Aquarius.