The trite mythos of the outlaw; the self-conscious romanticism of the outlaw; the black wardrobe of the outlaw; the fey smile of the outlaw; the tequila of the outlaw and the beans of the outlaw; respectable men sneer and say ‘outlaw’; young women palpitate and say ‘outlaw’. The outlaw boat sails against the flow; outlaws toilet where badgers toilet. All outlaws are photogenic. ‘When freedom is outlawed, only outlaws will be free.’ There are outlaw maps that lead to outlaw treasures. Unwilling to wait for mankind to improve, the outlaw lives as if that day were here. Outlaws are can openers in the supermarket of life. Tom Robbins, “Still Life with Woodpecker”
However, to be fair:
And now a few other outlaws:
And then there was…OUTLAW BARNEY
The New York Times: “In the mostly tweedy, genteel world of book publishing BR was a bit of an outlaw: a raffish, unconventional figure who loved breaking the rules and challenging the conventions. His imprint, Grove Press, quickly became a badge of coolness and sophistication.”
On the other hand:
Today, FOR OUR BACKERS AND POTENTIAL BACKERS, as a thank you, we feature another of our cast members, Alan Kaufman, co-editor with Barney Rosset (and Obscene‘s producer Neil Ortenberg) of “The Outlaw Bible of American Literature.”
Outlaw Alan’s first encounter with Barney:
“Because my brother Howie and I collected comics as poor kids in the Bronx, hoping to score a prized first edition of, say, Avengers #4 (which heralded the return appearance of Captain America) or Amazing Fantasy #15 (containing the origin of Spiderman) we haunted the sleazy second hand bookstores around the Bronx of the 1960s, dark moldy storefronts stacked with boxes full of lurid paperbacks and stag mags. In such a shop, I found a wooden grapefruits crate containing back issues of a magazine called Evergreen Review, edited and published by Barney Rosset as an offshoot arm of the publishing house: Grove Press.
I bought a pile of Evergreens for a dime apiece, hauled them home in a shopping bag and stretching out on the cot that served as my bed poured over the black and white pages, little understanding what I read, mostly impressed by the authors’ exotic high-sounding names—Jack Kerouac, Samuel Beckett, Eugene Ionesco, William S. Burroughs, Vladamir Nabokov.
Published in Manhattan, the distance between the offices of Evergreen/Grove Press/Barney Rosset and my Last Exit to Bronx neighborhood was like that between Cape Canaveral and Venus.
Decades later: My anthology, “The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry”, had just appeared, containing a poem from Barney. By these and other weirdly karmic routes, I arrived on Barney’s sofa.
I sensed in him a Luciferian pride of indomitable willingness to pursue any inspired impulse, break new ground, reach unexplored depths, violate sanctimonious taboos, tear the mask from reality.
Many of today’s writers place money high up on their list of priorities, go write for HBO and Miramax. This was not Barney’s kind of author.
Better to die broke, even forgotten, but to have discharged your gifts honorably, he told me. He said that the truest wish at the heart of the kind of writers he had championed—Samuel Beckett, Hubert Selby, Jr., William S. Burroughs, Kathy Acker—was not for wealth but to write in a way ABSOLUTELY TRUE TO ONESELF, no matter how absurd; write in a manner that spits in the face of domineering convention, and that may perhaps even seduce ecstatic pleasures to your door, erotic or forbidden joys.
So… What about Kerouac?
Barney only shrugged. “Kerouac was big at the time,” he said, “so why wouldn’t I jump to publish him?””
Jack wasn’t a Barney favorite. But Hollywood loved Jack. Always.
Here’s to all you outlaws out there: thank you for helping to save Barney Rosset’s legacy.