Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Two-fer Tuesdays: Counterculture Combo

A twice-monthly pairing of book covers that just seem to go together. Click on either of these images to open up an enlargement.

I seem to have read a great deal about the 1960s lately, between novels such as John Lawton’s Sweet Sunday and Walter Mosley’s Rose Gold, and Frank Rich’s essay in New York magazine about the troubled year, 1964. So it’s no surprise that my eyes were caught recently by a couple of cover images in my collection that remind me of that era of pot smoking and love-ins and anti-war protests.

First up is The Hippy Cult Murders (MacFadden-Bartell, 1970), by Ray Stanley. Evidently inspired by the twisted tale of Charles Manson, this is more a horror novel than anything else. A blog called The Mighty Blowhole (no, I didn’t make that up) describes its plot this way:
Pure Manson-sploitation in which a charismatic hippie named Waco gets a vision that fear is the greatest power, and the god of fear is Zember. Along with his friend Whitey he plans to gather a family of hippies and impregnate a “pure” girl with the son of Zember. They head off to L.A. where Waco brains a couple of girls with a meat-tenderizing hammer that Zember compelled him to buy, then he carves Z’s on their bodies … Waco slowly starts gathering a group together, targeting homeless teens (mostly girls, who all become group sex objects) and it gets too large to keep living in his bus and tent, so he decides he needs to rent some land. He finances this by murdering some wealthy couples during a wife-swapping orgy, raping and terrorizing them before stabbing them all to death. It all gets to be too much for Whitey, who also resents playing second fiddle to Waco all the time and thinks the “Zember” business is bullshit, so he starts causing trouble. Whitey’s disposition only gets worse when Waco cuts one of his fingers off and gangrene sets in. As cops follow the really sloppy trail Waco’s leaving (he’s too crazy to have much sense about covering his tracks and even does his crimes in a VW bus with flowers painted all over it), Waco’s planning an orgy where he’ll marry a young girl who’s “pure” enough … but Whitey’s fed up and planning to spoil things. There’s plenty of sex, violence, drugs, and weirdness, and it’s lurid enough not to be disappointing even though it’s still pretty restrained and not nearly as graphic as it could have been. The writing is solid, matter-of-fact stuff without a lot of flash to the style but plenty of detail, and it keeps the story compelling. It’s a very hard-to-find book I wouldn’t say it’s worth the crazy prices people are asking for it now (nothing is), but if you find an affordable copy then it’s well-worth the read.
Hmm. I don’t know. I’m still not sold on Stanley’s mass-market paperback, especially after reading this other review that says “The Hippy Cult Murders is not a particularly remarkable or memorable piece of work. It has enough cheap visceral thrills peppered throughout to at least keep you turning the pages, but you also get the feeling that the author (about whom nothing is known) is afraid to get his hands really dirty and take full advantage of all the potential he had at his fingertips.” The same critique notes, though, that the cover art--executed by somebody identified as “O’Brien”--“is a great piece of psychedelic sexual violence.” No question there.

Is it pure coincidence that “O’Brien” is also the last name of the author responsible for our next book? Tom O’Brien, that is. And the novel is Hippie Harlot (Cougar, 1967). I haven’t found much information about this “adults only” yarn, but this page says the story involves a guy named Jim, who has “just been released from the army and returns to his hometown of Patterson, New Jersey, to loaf around while he sets out on his (rather poorly realized) dream of being a writer.
Jim gets to make [passionate love with] a lot of broads before a couple of his friends die, in what passes for a plot in this pretty aimless tale. … There’s no real hippie theme in this book, other than the general desire of the central characters to write bad poetry rather than have to go to work. In fact it’s more of a beat-exploitation novel with its numerous references to hard drinking and hints of socialism. The novel ends with Jim declaring true love for his English-schoolteacher squeeze. Could we get a squarer ending? Bah, give me druggie housewives over this rubbish.
The story may be rubbish, but the cover--featuring a shapely guitar-strumming flower child--is a classic, having been reproduced on posters and refrigerator magnets. This book’s clever and altogether cute backside is no less remarkable. Unfortunately, I don’t see the artist’s name available online. For all I know, it’s “O’Brien,” too.

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