on babylon falling (fingers up and crossed)

I WAS RESEARCHING AN ARTICLE when I stum­bled over a site con­taining thou­sands of im­ages, all ap­par­ently scanned from ‘un­der­ground news­pa­pers’ and sim­ilar coun­ter­cul­ture pub­li­ca­tions. And best of all, they ap­peared to all come from that pe­riod of un­rest and up­heaval that we call “The Sixties”—which took place be­tween 1962 and 1975, de­pending on how you de­fine it and where you lived at the time.

The im­ages that I first found were music-related, but I spent an hour pe­rusing the pages: page after page of ad­ver­tise­ments for things that seemed hip then; po­lit­ical car­toons, from the am­a­teur to the ge­nius of Ron Cobb; art­work; por­traits; photos; ar­ti­cles; comic strips; etc.

So of course I sent a com­pli­men­tary email to the site’s pro­pri­etor (I told him that I had “ab­sconded with a couple of im­ages of Emory Dou­glas Pan­ther pages”), who re­sponded in kind (“Ab­scon­sion is en­cour­aged!”). We re­mained in touch spo­rad­i­cally and then a few weeks ago I stum­bled over his site again and fol­lowed with an email to him re­questing an ‘in­ter­view.’ And so this first round of ques­tions and an­swers followed …


A revolutionary bookstore and gallery

NU: Do you own all of the magazines/newspapers that you use for BF?

BF: Yeah, I own all the mag­a­zines and news­pa­pers and per­son­ally scan and process the im­ages you see posted on the site.

NU: That must be large col­lec­tion: what are its parameters?

BF: No real pa­ra­me­ters to the col­lec­tion. I just ac­cu­mu­late shit I like when­ever I have extra cash laying around. I’d say I have about 5,000 news­pa­pers and maybe 1,000 magazines. 

NU: What was the mo­ti­va­tion for Babylon Falling?

BF: After I closed my book­store, I fi­nally had the time to dig into all this stuff I had been col­lecting over the years. The mo­ti­va­tion to scan and post the im­ages was simply a de­sire to share this stuff with people who might dig it. Con­ve­niently, the site also helps to jus­tify my hoarding impulse.

NU: Okay: what was the name and lo­ca­tion of your book­store. New or used? Spe­cial­ties? Did you sell the old magazines/newspapers from which you com­piled the im­ages on BF?

BF: The store was called Babylon Falling Book­store and it was a ‘rev­o­lu­tionary’ book­store and gallery in San Fran­cisco. I had vin­tage posters and but­tons in the store, but only brought out the mag­a­zines and news­pa­pers when I tabled at book fairs.

NU: When was your store open? Years? I lived in Napa and St. He­lena 1978-81 and loved the area. I haven’t been back in 30 years and have been told that I wouldn’t rec­og­nize much. Petaluma, Santa Rosa, Napa, Vallejo, all changed dramatically.

BF: I opened the store in 2007 and closed it in 2009. Miss the Bay Area some­thing serious.


Cover art that proved some­what pre­scient: while Huey P. sur­vived the po­lice bul­lets, many other Pan­thers did not.

On the same wavelength

NU: Do you get a lot of con­tact feed­back email re­garding your site?

BF: People email me pretty reg­u­larly just to ex­press sol­i­darity with the en­deavor, and I oc­ca­sion­ally get re­searchers, cu­ra­tors, and film­makers con­tacting me with ques­tions and re­quests for material. 

NU: By “sol­i­darity” you mean?

BF: “Sol­i­darity” meaning they’re on the same wavelength.

NU: Is your wave­length philo­soph­ical? Po­lit­ical? Aes­thetic? Re­li­gious? All? None?

BF: My wave­length is middle fin­gers up always.

NU: Has any news or­ga­ni­za­tion picked up on it?

BF: A handful of web­sites out­side of the Tumblr ecosystem have done mini-features on the site, and a few big name news or­ga­ni­za­tions have reached out to use con­tent and/or have lifted im­ages from my site without credit. 

NU: I will be yet an­other non-Tumblr site doing a fea­ture. Have you con­sid­ered a Babylon Falling Face­book page to at­tract viewer?

BF: Tumblr is the per­fect plat­form for a living archive like this and be­cause Babylon Falling is strictly non-commercial having a pres­ence on Face­book, Twitter, In­sta­gram, or any­where else isn’t worth the ef­fort. I have enough of an au­di­ence on Tumblr that I can just focus on keeping every­thing simple and ac­ces­sible and trust that con­tent will get eyes and if it res­onates that it will travel.

NU: I re­ally don’t un­der­stand the so­cial media well. I have my blogs and I just write what I want. I like Face­book mostly be­cause I have made con­tact with sev­eral people that I went to high school with that I did not even know then. I hated high school but if I had known these people, it might have been a bit better. We get along now be­cause of politics …

BF: I hear you. I see the value of so­cial media but per­son­ally have no use for any of it. 

NU: Back to Tumblr: I have a site there but I haven’t paid it much at­ten­tion. I wanted it to bring people to my blogs. Is that a rea­son­able expectation?

BF: No idea. Trial and error uber alles.


“In the freedom of that power of all wisdom and of love all the shit of worldly cen­turies but nour­ishes the rose and all good and gra­cious crea­tures grow great within them­selves and find in the mouth of lions the holy book of peace.” (Richard Shannon, The Book Of Peace, or The Way Within)

NU: Do you ever add any commentary?

BF: Very rarely. Adding com­men­tary feels like a con­ceit; for me, at­tri­bu­tion is the key. I figure with a little ori­en­ta­tion, anyone that is truly in­ter­ested in more than the aes­thetics can follow the thread them­selves. It’s all about laying down lines of as­so­ci­a­tion and pro­moting dig­ging over pas­sive ab­sorp­tion of facts; learning over preaching and proselytizing.

NU: Oh, I didn’t mean in­ter­pre­ta­tion. More like, “This image is from Any­town’s only issue of its only un­der­ground news­paper done to protest the My Lai Mas­sacre in 1968.” That sort of data.

BF: I try to put that kind of in­for­ma­tion in the tags. If you see me writing some­thing like that I prob­ably drank too much coffee that morning.

NU: In my ques­tions, I am being sim­plistic so that my readers who no nothing about your site will get an idea of what they are in for.

BF: No worries—I em­brace simplicity!

NU: My home­town of Wilkes-Barre, Penn­syl­vania, had a one-shot “un­der­ground news­paper” in 1970: the Wyoming Valley Free Press. It was dis­trib­uted in time for the first Earth Day and I drew the cover and the in­side illustration(s). I do not think that there was a second issue. I have not seen a copy of this ar­ti­fact in more than 40 years! Know any­thing about it?

BF: Never heard of it, but will keep an eye out




He in­spired a chant: “Hey! Hey! LBJ! How many kids did you kill today?” He in­spired a song: “And it’s one, two, three, what are we fighting for? Don’t ask me, I don’t give a damn, next stop is Vietnam. And it’s five, six, seven, open up the pearly gates! Well, there ain’t no time to wonder why. Whoopee! We’re all gonna die …” Who thought that after the 1968 elec­tions we’d miss him?

A trip into a wormhole

NU: How many cat­e­gories does you site have?

BF: Many, but the main um­brella cat­e­gories are listed on the site. A little ini­tial guid­ance for what I hope is a trip into a wormhole.

NU: You no wanna give your age?

BF: Half-assed at­tempt to brush away the trail as I make the slow march to­ward the fringe. I was a teenager in the ’90s if that helps orient you. 

NU: What name should I use for you?

BF: My name is Sean.

NU: You wrote, “After I closed my book­store, I fi­nally had the time to dig into all this stuff I had been col­lecting over the years.” Were you an ac­tual ‘col­lector’ ac­tively and con­sciously building a col­lec­tion or were you buying the stuff and simply not selling it?

BF: My horizon is too short and my tack changes too often to build a real col­lec­tion. I rarely sell, only purge.

NU: You wrote, “It’s all about laying down lines of as­so­ci­a­tion and pro­moting dig­ging over pas­sive ab­sorp­tion of facts; learning over preaching and pros­e­ly­tizing.” I am con­stantly (daily?) as­tounded by people that I knowknow better who re­ceive these unf*ckingbelievable rightwing emails and send them on to others, in­cluding me.

And I mean that they are not re­motely in the realm of pos­si­bility and yet there is no ques­tioning of their ve­racity. The In­ternet is the greatest re­source for in­for­ma­tion, facts, dada, etc., in history.

I read some­thing that doesn’t sound kosher and I can look it up and learn its truth or lack of truth in a matter of min­utes and yet most people seem to never use the In­ternet for any­thing but so­cial­izing! Pisses me off …

BF: I don’t mind so much. This ma­te­rial and these ideas are all sup­ple­mental to ac­tual lived ex­pe­ri­ence anyway. More than facts and data, it’s the spirit of the thing that re­ally matters.

NU: Do you wanna give readers a brief bio? Or where you live now and what you are doing?

BF: Since I left home at 15, I’ve never lived any­where more than three years at a time. I’m in Brooklyn right now and I’m doing this and that.

Wyoming Valley Free Press

So that’s that for now and it’s all sec­ondary to the im­ages and the meaning of those im­ages and since this is sup­posed to be a record col­lec­tors site I have se­lected im­ages (above and below) from Babylon Falling that I be­lieve are in some way re­lated to the music that some of collect …

There is a Face­book page de­voted to the valley in Penn­syl­vania where Wilkes-Barre is lo­cated. I posted a note there about the Wyoming Valley Free Press hoping that someone know some­thing or had a copy to at least copy for me. Didn’t hear a word in return.

Fi­nally, Sean placed these two im­ages one after the other and I thought them a per­fect way to end this article …





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