“Rear View,” An Essay by Louis Gallo

Essay by Louis Gallo

A history with scandalous cameo personalities*

While away in grad school I sent weekly book reviews to Vieux Carre Courier, an alternative, low-budget newspaper owned by lawyer Jim Derbes and his wife, Ginny.  Jim was an old friend from my early teen years.  We had met, weirdly enough, over the forty meters ham radio bandwidth.  We didn’t know each other at all yet we lived about four blocks away and it took proto-cyberspace to bring us together.  One day he showed up at my house in Gentilly and informed me that I was “drifting.”  That’s ham radio jargon for a sloppy signal that doesn’t remain fixed in an assigned frequency.  Thing is, we were at the time—both about thirteen years old—“novices.” The FCC required that novices remain frequency-fixed via crystal diodes.  “Drifting” meant you were cheating, that you were transmitting with a variable frequency oscillator, a no no.  Jim had caught me, for I did indeed use a VFO.  It simply made transmitting and receiving signals easier; you were not stuck at one static frequency.

Well, that’s how we met.  I suspect Jim used a VFO as well, for he chastised me with a wink of the eye.  After much romping about New Orleans we both attended Tulane University together, he aiming for law school, I lodged in Gibson Hall with the English department.  Then I left New Orleans for graduate school and Jim bought the newspaper, a shabby little rag but a nice breath of oxygen given the only other option, that ziggurat, The Times Picayune.  Somewhere along the line it became simply The Courier, added pages, and thus my book reviews.  When I returned to New Orleans circa 1973 the Derbes team sold the paper to Mississippi heir and scion, Philip Carter (related somehow to the ubiquitous Hodding Carter).  Philip and his chief of staff, Bill Ruston, energized the p

First issue of “Books: A New Orleans Review”

aper and it became truly a kind of underground challenge to the Picayune, mostly because of Bill’s investigative exposes of local political corruption and architectural ravages.

I, new again in town, sought writing and publishing outlets.  I had already launched The Barataria Review, a literary magazine, but journalism had always interested me as well.  So one day David Hershkovits, whom I met at UNO as a fellow instructor, and I trekked up the Everest-like stairwell on an old warehouse on lower Decatur—headquarters of The Courier.  This before computers, before digital anything.  It was all typing and paste-ups in those days, then photocopying, then printing.  David and I introduced ourselves to Philip, a genteel, easy-going, friendly guy in probably his late twenties or early thirties.  I will forever remember him reading copy with his feet propped up on a desk.  (He seemed to me a living, breathing incarnation of laissser les bontemps rouler.)  And of course Bill was always frantic in the background.  Bill, the antithesis, perhaps alter-ego, of Philip.  A super-voltage, intense and energetic young guy, maybe twenty-five or so, who could explode in rage over the slightest provocation.  You tip-toed around Bill.  I never saw him sit still—he was whirlwind.  Yet when not beset, he was an immensely likable guy with a sly sense of humor.  Well, David and I made a proposal to Philip and Bill.  How about a monthly supplement to the regular paper, a supplement to be called Books: A New Orleans Review (devoted solely to book reviews), maybe twenty or so pages long.  David and I would do all the work as editors.  The idea appealed to Philip and thus we launched.

Bottom half of first issue, showing intent in block

Before I proceed, here’s some interesting tidbits on Bill and David.  Bill supplied us with lids of marijuana and he usually brought them along to the Courier office.  On one occasion he told me to meet him at his apartment for the exchange.  When he opened the door I walked into a roomful of smiling, laughing naked guys!  This, I guess, was meant to intimidate me, which it did, though all in fun.  Bill must have assumed that David and I were gay as well since we had become fast, close friends.  But David and I were not gay—we loved women.  Around that time David was having a torrid affair with another man’s wife, and the husband caught them in bed one afternoon and chased them naked out of the house into the street, through an open window, with a shotgun.  I too had already begun my own affair with a 23-year-old married woman.  When I think back on the amorality, debauchery and decadence of our crowd, I can assume that either we were like most other young people of the time or that we were severely depraved.  Either way, such antics required an excess of energy, bravado, enthusiasm, passion, and stupidity which only time itself would deplete soon enough—save for the stupidity.  Yeats:  “Not a woman casts a glance / Upon a broken tree / I spit into the face of time / That has transfigured me.”  Sadly, Bill Rushton would die young from what I strongly suspect was AIDS.  And, of course, time also has a way of alchemizing scandal into interesting literary tidbits.  I merely want to record the exact scent of the onion as I recall it now so many years later.

The first issue of Books appeared in December 1973, as show below in the photos.  The masthead of this publication cited as editors, Louis Gallo and David Hershkovits; senior editors, Mary Frances Berry and her son Jason Berry; associate editors, Rebecca Gallo (my first wife, who didn’t really do anything for the issue and with whom I was in the process of divorcing) and Carol Flake; advisory editors, Russell Rocke (my then friend from Tulane and the angel of Barataria Review) and Philip Carter; consultants, James Derbes and Bill Rusthon.  The masthead of the second issue would change dramatically.  Of the above, the survivors were Frances and Jason Berry, Carol Flake, Philip Carter and Bill Rushton.

Oh, we really snazzed up the second issue masthead to lend formal credibility to the venture.  Check out this assembly:

Masthead for second issue of “Books”

Walker Percy?  George Garrett?  Et al?  I simply made phone calls and asked them if they would agree to become members of the advisory board.  All said yes.  I knew Philip Carter but not Hodding; I knew Walker and Clarence and Grau and had met George Garrett a few years earlier when working on my doctorate in the Midwest; I did not know Gaines or Alice Walker; I did not know Whitehead.  I just took my chances.   Truth is, we never asked the advisors to do a thing much less advise.  We knew they were busy and didn’t want to impose.  Under “Editors” appears my name and David’s and that of Jason Berry, a New Orleans writer who wrote reviews for us and who did much work in the civil rights area.  Jason and I did not exactly get along. I recall one explosive session between us when I lost it and screamed at him.  He looked at me stoically and said, “You’ve got a lot of balls.”  He was a pretty big guy and could have clobbered me—I guess that’s what he meant by balls.  Now, in retrospect, I regret that meltdown.  Jason and I simply had conflicting temperaments I assume.  He was a serious, calm yet intense guy.  I was never calm.

Our associate editor, Carol Flake, was a beautiful person and writer.  I would describe her prose as delicious.  She had advanced degrees from, I believe, Rice, and was in the process of detaching herself from a passionate relationship that didn’t work out.  Under design, Steve Singer, another great guy and splendid artist who once designed the massive poster for the King Tut exhibit in New Orleans.  I have this poster hanging on my wall to this very day.  Julie Nead is one of the first people I met upon my return to New Orleans, a cheerful free-lance photographer for the Courier and comrade of photographer David Richmond, who also did some work for us.  I have already noted the identities of our “Consultants” and “Advisory Editors.”


Aside from our writers, David and I (who also wrote for Books) did most of the arduous work of gathering up reviewers, rounding up books to review, delivering bundles of the insert to varied coffee houses and public buildings around town—often at midnight or into the wee hours.  Otherwise, the review insert was somehow conjoined with the regular newspaper, and that’s how most of the copies were received by readers.  I might add that we were paid nothing for the work.  We did it for the “fun,” for

our devotion to literature and books, for the intellectual stimulation.  It proved an exhausting ordeal and I think we managed four issues, at which point personal histories conjoined to make continuance impossible.  I had taken another teaching job in South Carolina and would be moving from the city again soon.  David and his girlfriend broke up and he would shortly leave for New York and become the successful editor and publisher of The Paper.  He and I had also had a falling out over shenanigans with The Barataria Review.  I also regret the loss of his friendship.  We had been staunch, intense and devoted allies ever since my return to New Orleans.  We have never spoken since.  Ditto, the termination of my friendship with Russell, who sided with David in the Barataria dispute (David and Russell wanted to convert the magazine into a more popular medium covering fashion, food, and cultural phenomena, whereas I insisted upon the literary).  I had known Russell for many years since our freshman years at Tulane and our membership in the same fraternity (imagine me in a fraternity).  We had been thick, and I had spent much time with him in his ritzy Manhattan apartment and his upstate New York mansion at Cragsmoor, atop a mountain.  Sad to think that literary ventures can destroy great friendships, sad, but that’s the case.  As well as my own intolerance and refusal to yield, my own uncompromising nature—the wretched stuff of youthful arrogance.

The Barataria Review story is, as they say, another story, one that I have already published a memoir about in Louisiana Literature some years ago.  A first issue had been produced with many of the people already described involved, but the next three issues would prove ventures by myself and my still good friend, poet Ralph Adamo (with the help of the late C.D. Wright of Lost Horizons Press—involving also, my new friendship with legendary poet Everette Maddox and, briefly for me at least, the young poet who took his own life, Frank Stanford).  It’s amazing how many first-time publications of now famous writers we printed in that first issue, mainly Ellen Gilchrist, who went on to win the National Book Award, and Julia Alvarez, now an internationally acclaimed Hispanic-American writer.  Ellen’s first publication was a book review for the journal!  Julia submitted some wonderful poems in, I believe, the second issue, a newspaper-like affair designed by Steve Singer.  (It’s not a format that pleased any of us, but c’est la vie, as usual.)  Nevertheless, these were gory days for all involved, certainly for me, which also accrued in terms of poetry readings around town—like the first Mardi Gras Poetry Reading which took place in David Richmond’s studio on Exposition Alley.  I think Exposition, anyway—memory becomes sloppy as years pass—but it was definitely an Alley in the Quarter where we all attended many, many openings and readings.

And what of the fates of the dramatis personae?  Well, I’ve already briefed on some of them.  As for Russell, he bought the Toulouse Theater and ran it for a while.  I have no idea where he is now, though I have attempted the usual Google searches.  Jim Derbes drifted from his law career to go into real estate and has become very wealthy.  Carol continued to publish in magazines and wrote a wonderful book about carnival in New Orleans.  I can’t account for Julie Nead, though we too were very thick in those days.  Who else?  Too many to account for here.  Everette too died way too young.  (I have published an account of him already in this journal.)  As for me, my five-year contract at UNO came to an end, I married my then second wife in 1977 after a tumultuous ordeal with her attempts to leave her first husband, I took the South Carolina job . . . we moved to Columbia in 1978.  The Books phase was over; I continued working on Barataria for a while long-distance, but the passion for it fizzled and the fourth issue culminated that venture.

Ralph Adamo and I continue to communicate and remain friends.  He is now the editor of The Xavier Review and has published a lot of my work there as well as in The New Orleans Review when he edited that journal.  I published a long, appreciative review of his last volume, Ever (which is fabulous) in The Hollins Critic.  Alas, I have lost touch with most of the others, except Philip Carter, with whom, I recently renewed friendship with in cyberspace, on of all places, Facebook.  He now lives in Maine and is writing some top-notch, often funny poetry, many of the poems about New Orleans.  I forgot to mention Hazel McKinley Guggenheim (sister of Peggy) who was very old at the time and spent much of her time in a private hospital room on St. Charles Avenue.  She contributed money to Barataria, but she also demanded a lot of attention.  The constant scramble for money was incessant and grew old after a while.

Youth, boundless energy, arrogance, a passion for art and literature—we had it all.  Often the clash of titanic egos meant division and discord.  We amounted to a convergence of eccentrics, artists, misfits, outcasts, iconoclasts and pariahs.  Or maybe we were all ordinary and normal as pound cake. Who can tell in this age of alternative facts and fake news?  Whatever the case, I was reminded of trying to get the individual members of an orchestra together in order to produce something beautiful—and when we succeeded, we flourished.  It required hard work and consumed much time.  Was it worth it?  Of course it was, and wasn’t.


*This account relates to my own impressions of many decades ago.  Others on the scene may have read personalities and events differently.  What would be interesting is if the accounts of all involved could somehow be consolidated into a kind of kaleidoscopic, panoramic assessment of those events and people.



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