The city of Chicago has had a long history of anti-establishment, free speech thinking going back to the 1880s Haymarket days. Through the early 20th century, there were a number of open-air forums open to all. The most famous was a place called Bughouse Square. Kind of like Hyde Park in London, anyone could get on a soapbox and talk on anything. The International Workers of the World (IWW, or Wobblies) were the first egalitarian union, open to everyone, especially the supposedly "unorganizable" immigrant workers. Perhaps the most well-known watering hole was a place called the Dil Pickle Club. To read literature unavailable elsewhere, there werea number of radical bookstores around the city, assisted by the Charles H. Kerr Publishing Company (publisher of this book). One of the major links between the 1920s counterculture and the 1960s Beat Generation/New Left counterculture was a place called the College of Complexes.
Run by a man named Slim Brundage, the College was a very egalitarian sort of place. Any night of the week, anyone could attend a lecture on any topic under the sun; sometimes serious, sometimes frivolous. It wasn't a place where only "educated" people could give lectures (though a number of college professors did just that); even the lowliest person could stand and challenge the lecturer or give a lecture themselves. One of the College's central principles was that just because a person had a blue-collar job, or no job, did not mean that they did not care about intellectual matters, or that they couldn't talk on any given subject.
Other nights, the College played host to art exhibitions, live music, theater, etc. The walls were lined with chalkboards for anyone to use. It was one of the few places in 1950s Chicago to accept blacks and women. It didn't discourage right-wingers from coming, but it's general point of view was more left-wing and Marxist/Leninist. In the latter 1950s, when the beatnik movement was suffering a backlash throughout much of America, the College was one of the few places to say Beatniks Are Welcome. It lasted from 1951 to 1961, when Brundage was forced to close by the IRS, the official reason being nonpayment of entertainment taxes. Throughout that time, the College of Complexes never forgot the meaning of the word "fun".
I really enjoyed this book. Anyone interested in 20th century anti-establishment/free speech/beatnik history in America will also enjoy it. It's well worth the reader's time.
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Paul Lappen (plappen)
I am in my early 50s, single and live in Connecticut. I am a lifelong very, very avid reader and am a freelance book reviewer with my ownblog (http://www.deadtreesreview.blogspot.com). Please visit. It … more
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Cultural Writing. In 1960, Dorothy Kilgallen wrote, "If you wish to see the so-called 'beat generation' in action, drop in at the College of Complexes." A unique combination of tavern, university, and non-stop party, the College was for many years Chicago's premier "outsider outpost." The writings collected here by the College's Founder and Janitor, Slim Brundage (1903-1990), chronicle the colorful history of what may well be the oldest continuous dissident workingclass intellectual community in the U.S. Hobo, Wobbly, Soapboxer, housepainter, humorist, and chief architect of the scandalous Beatnik Party during the 1960 elections, Brundage was very much a maker of the history he writes about. "Slim ran a lively place-livelier than most. He's an ingenious sort of guy... good at talking and getting people to talk"-Jack Conroy. Franklin Rosemont's introduction discusses the college's roots and outlines the Janitor's radical (and Dadaist) critique of traditional education.