Ron Cobb

(Ed Note. The following is the best description I've read of The Great Transition. The author wishes to remain anonymous.)

I was 19 years old in 1963, entry level tech typist job at a tiny start-up company in SoCal (Teledyne, global success as it turned out) working on applied science proposals for the Department of Defense. For some reason I cannot explain, I knew how equations worked (vaguely) and kept finding errors in the handwritten copy, which garnered the attention of the lead scientist and a very late night conversation in which he said to me, quite gently, that he thought I might enjoy the LSD experience.

Boss of the production department had a brother at the time using the stuff in “guided” psychotherapeutic work at Esalen Institute (this was right around the time that Tim O’Leary burst onto the scene), just a coincidence — no conversation with him about it, but the two facts caught my attention.

Thought about it for another four years, slaving over a hot Frieden Just-O-Writer as the (only) production person at Art Kunkin’s LA Free Press, as the scene erupted in Cali. Couple of “electric Kool-Aid acid tests” in remote warehouses, didn’t go but heard rants and raves from folks wandering through the paper’s chambers in West Hollywood.

Then, of course, music morphed into “psychedelic rock” and the Beatles took over for a decade, wiping Elvis and Rock-a-Billy boredom off the map. Never cottoned onto the whole “hippie” thing (and was considered a real weirdo in the press pack — super picky copy editing while assembling the 36-page tabloid every week “by hand,” as it were). Art had bought the beta test version of the monstrous Compugraphic phototopositing system, fed by the punch tapes out of the Frieden.

Three plus years of literally cutting and pasting the copy, filming the plates, driving them in the middle of dark Saturday nights to the printer in canyonesque downtown LA. One of my weekly tasks was driving up to Ron Cobb’s apartment in W. Hollywood to pick up his cartoons, is how I know about his OCD and extreme phobias. 

After observing the to-ing and fro-ing of reaction to the acid craze (Art Linkletter’s son “thought he could fly” — that’s what Art said, anyway; who the fuck knows what was going on in the kid’s mind — and died in a fall from a building; bad news) (George Harrison and the rest of the boys went to India and the whole world shifted to a new plane of song creation, wonderful.)

I had quit my job at the Freep that summer (pissed off that Art bought a $3,000 time clock for all of us 19 employees to use, somehow managed to pour a whole pot of fresh coffee into it and told him what he could do with his…) I was living in an apartment over a pawnshop two blocks from the Pink Pussycat, with roommates who proved to be the most loving caregivers I have ever known (which emerged because of the care I needed after that first existential excursion — because the experience was so truly beautiful and overwhelmingly happy that when I “came down” I spiraled into a depression that lasted weeks (they took me to a country house and let me work it all out in peace, for weeks, incredibly generous, understanding, and kind).

Coming out of that, I ended up in such a deep depression that I found myself on the brink of slow suicide but roused my body in time to split LA entirely — hitchhiking north from Sunset Boulevard with my backpack and about 12 bucks, into the breach! (Masonic and Fell at midnight, no idea how to get to Berkeley and the location of my sole contact from Free Press contacts, no problem! Those were the days.)

Something saved me tho, from the heyday of sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll (did see some tremendous artists, sociological sea changes — like Harvey Milk’s campaign against homophobia and the continuation of the Free Speech movement and protests and the final culmination of Nixon’s fiasco; the whole ten years screaming and marching to stop the fucking “war” — as well as witnessing people transform their lives one way or another). 

This might amuse you: For a few months I had a similar typesetting job at the San Francisco “Good Times,” but got fired for being “too uptight” (demanding copy by printer-driven deadlines, and correcting sloppy copy — an insult to the tender feelings of the authors, tsk). Had a teeny shot at a copy-editing slot at Rolling Stone, got a cool interview, but saw that almost everyone in the room was toasted on the shiny white stuff, and couldn’t deal. Just a girl nerd trying to pay the rent.

Finally gave up on the silliness and got back into the “straight” world of applied science manufacturing, just in time for the technical revolution of semiconductors, and fared wonderfully in it (again, no real idea how, but some mental faculty that was of great use in the right situation). In between I must have taken the stuff another dozen times — recalling the moment of return to Oakland from Concord after seeing “2001: A Space Odyssey” while ripped to the gills on it, the lanes converging as they do at the approach to the Caldecott Tunnel becoming impossible for me to distinguish and had to give one of my equally stoned passengers the wheel — wheeeeeeee!

Did a couple of extended (and “worthwhile”) tours with real peyote — never saw any of the vaunted visions but had a lovely time after getting past the puking stage. Later, working at another applied science company in Berkeley, had the extreme pleasure of working for the former UC Press editor of Carlos Casteneda’s fantasies. 

Enjoyed all the easy-to-get psychotropics (especially ‘shrooms and really excellent hashish) but never got strung out or smoked at lot of pot, while watching the early Seventies scene turn sour on Cocaine, then the shitty stuff (PCP, crank, heroine) and turned back to “employment” as all my friends drifted north to raise their off-the-grid, back-to-the-land families. Some of them, I guess, still around — but not in Lake County.

Vivid memories, still halfway decent cognititive capacities (wearing down, but still outpacing the majority of the people I have to deal with here in this redneck recidivist, Civil War reject backwater — where there are still remnants of the Klan and a few olders who believe that the “moon walk” was faked.

Current state of the world beyond my wildest dreams or worst nightmares — can also still remember listening intently to Edward R. Murrow live on my Philadelphia grandmother’s old Philco radio, picture myself hunkered down in rapt attention in that turn-of-the-century kitchen (she was the proud owner of one of the first electric washing machines, where I was the puller while she churned the sheets through the wringer, and hung them on high clotheslines in the back yard — best smell in the world).

Ah, love.

PS: One of my few regrets is not having ever had a chance to speak with Ron Cobb again, would have loved thanking him.

The world that was opened up to me with that gift. He seldom left his home, so it was a surprise that afternoon when I answered the knock on our door to find him standing, so shyly, with those two genuine Sandoz-dosed sugar cubes. No words were exchanged that I can recall — and now I’m trying to picture how he effectuated the hand-to-hand delivery (wrapped in a piece of tissue?), because of his extreme aversion to physical contact, his hands always raw from constant “sterilizing” throughout his waking day.

But more than that, his heart in every drawing, piercing the facade of hypocrisy and unflinchingly etching the dismal reality of our lives and times. I so wonder what he would have said about this devolution of my beloved “country.”

3 Responses to "Ron Cobb"

  1. Pat Kittle   October 7, 2020 at 2:28 pm

    The few under-rated songs George wrote with the Beatles were psychedelia at its best, before he went solo with that tedious Hare Krishna My Sweet Lord stuff.

    My favorite Cobb image was the one with the aerial view of a freeway lined with billboards of pristine wilderness, screening from view the dystopian industrial nightmare reality.

    Reply
  2. Douglas Coulter   October 7, 2020 at 6:53 pm

    I got to hang out with the cartoon crowd each time I drove my friend George Parsons to Cartoon Fest in Bay Area. Dan Onel, Rick Griffin, and Zippy the PinHead Griffy. Even Charles Shultz showed up at those. Back before underground comics took the big dump.
    All of them were crazy so I fit in well.

    Reply
    • Pat Kittle   October 7, 2020 at 8:15 pm

      “Griffith Observatory” was a masterpiece.

      Reply

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