I grew up long ago in the sprawling lands of sand and fog to the west known as the Sunset, where the damp air grips your bones, and the endless sprawling sameness leaves your spirit cold.
There is no escape from the punishing silence of those streets, from stucco and juniper, from the closeted secrets of next door strangers who watch from their windows behind closed doors…no relief from the mundane. I sought strangeness where I could. I found it folded on the front step, on the first page of our free local paper, The Independent. I was excited, thinking the man pictured there was a pirate, only to find out from my Mom that it was no buccaneer. Only a man with an eye patch named Warren Hinckle, a journalist who went on to be quite an inspiration to me and someone truly worthy of the inaugural post in Last Call SF’s “Who is San Francisco?” series.
While attending The University of San Francisco, Hinckle began his career writing for the school paper The San Francisco Foghorn. After college he wrote for The SF Chronicle before going on to become executive editor of Ramparts, a political and literary quarterly that became one of the New Leftist movement’s most influential publications. It dug deep, openly opposing the Vietnam War and decrying our use of napalm. Among it’s contributors were Noam Chomsky, Cesar Chavez, Angela Davis, Allen Ginsberg, Kurt Vonnegut, and Ken Kesey. Ramparts published Che Guevara’s diaries with an introduction by Fidel Castro, as well as the prison diaries of Eldridge Cleaver, who was actually employed with the magazine at their Broadway offices as an editor before becoming involved with the Black Panther Party. Publication eventually ceased due to financial trouble, but not without spawning many notable offspring including Mother Jones and Rolling Stone, both founded by former staffers of Ramparts.
Throughout his life Hinckle would go one to write for several other publications, including Francis Ford Coppola’s The City magazine. As he gained notoriety as one of San Francisco’s more prominent political columnists, he authored several acclaimed books, was a recipient of the H.L. Mencken Award, and is currently still on the soapbox, standing tall as editor of The Argonaut 360.
But of all the periodicals published by Warren Hinckle, Scanlan’s Monthly is of the most importance . Founded by Hinckle and Sydney Zion and featuring several articles by the late Hunter S. Thompson, it ran only a year (1970-1971) before it was deemed an Un-American publication following an investigation by Nixon’s FBI. But in that short time it gave rise to the concept of journalism as more than just the passive, polished presentation of impartial subject matter, and sought instead to tell the story of the writer’s personal experience from direct involvement. Hunter S. Thompson’s “The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved” , illustrated by Ralph Steadman, was published in Scanlan’s June of 1970, and is largely recognized as the first instance of the style that would come be known as Gonzo Journalism…
…To which Last Call, San Francisco owes much in the way of inspiration.
If I had grown up instead in the city proper, where no one wants for distraction, I may never have noticed the oddity of that eye patch, and never have known the whole story of the birth of a movement that shaped my life, of something more than the sum of it’s parts.
The Sunset’s tarnished silver lining is a bleak background indeed, but against it even the unlikeliest stars can shimmer.