Former publisher Ralph Ginzburg died yesterday. The name may not mean much to many younger than 50 because Ginzburg had largely flamed out by the '70s, but when I was a Colorado kid trying to connect with the world outside my dry, conservative valley, Ginzburg threw one of my lifelines.
Ginzburg was most famed for EROS magazine, a four-issue stick in the eye to American prudery. Instead of presenting naked women with the airbrushed and interview-wrapped philosophy of Hefner or the clinical leer of Flynt, Ginzburg dared to elevate sexuality with art and serious writing, plus canny promotion.
It was really the promotion that landed him in prison on an obscenity conviction.
EROS had come and gone by the time I started pulling magazines off the shelves of Readmore Books, but in its place was fact: an actually better and more dangerous magazine, because it didn't limit itself to sex. fact: addressed subjects such as abortion and the cruelty of circumcision that no other magazine would touch, but it also took controversial positions on more mundane topics, such as the safety of American cars and the musical merits of The Star Spangled Banner.
Whether they know it or not, today's irreverent bloggers and pop journalists owe a debt to Ginzburg, who, along with Warren Hinckle of Ramparts and Paul Krassner of The Realist, were publishing countercultural views that had only begun to be aired in mainstream America.
They weren't just pretending to be bad boys like today's bloggers. There was a realistic possibility that what they printed could put them in jail. In addition to his pornography conviction, his fearlessness got Ginzburg back into court at least once, when he ran an article questioning Barry Goldwater's psychological fitness to be president. And the controversy surrounding his work and his conviction eventually made it difficult for him to do business.
Ginzburg also had a strong design sense, and he collaborated with the great art director Herb Lubalin on all his magazines. His issues featured strong statements, bold typography and provocative images. The circumcision story was classic Ginzburg, with a crying baby on the cover, coupled with a quote calling the procedure "unnecessary and barbaric." The baby memorably reappeared in the opening spread, this time in a wider shot, with the groin portion of the photo excised by an X-acto knife.
Together, they created Avant Garde, another magazine more famous than read. But it was fact: that mattered to me. When no one around seemed to see the world the way I did, Ginzburg arranged to put similar minds expressing themselves right there in my small town bookstore.
Today, it may not seem like much of a stretch for solitary readers to connect with others. But then, it was, and Ralph Ginzburg put himself at risk to facilitate the transaction. His work made a difference in my life, but he was the one who paid.