Author Larry “Ratso” Sloman was appearing on ‘The Howard Stern Show’ plugging his book “Steal This Dream,” a biography of activist Abbie Hoffman. During the course of the interview, Sloman declared, “Well Stew Albert likes my book,” to which Stern replied, “Who the hell is Stew Albert?” Answering this question in full would take me well beyond the scope of this thought provoking memoir. In retrospect, ‘Stew might have continued to be an “almost”-nice, blonde haired, Jewish boy living in the basement of his mother’s house in Brooklyn, but something very important happened’ – we called it “The Sixties,” and no one has ever been the same. It has been suggested that “if you can remember the sixties, you weren’t there,” — Stew Albert was most certainly there, and “there” for all of us who longed for social change. Change is hardly the most descriptive word for the complete dismemberment of the existing socio-political hierarchy, and Stew placed himself squarely on the then radical front line in Berkeley.
Those of us who were there in any capacity can well remember the smell and feel of the intriguing air surrounding the little card tables set up along Sproul Plaza. Madeline Murray (O’Hare) was there in the first support for abortion rights, Mario Savio was there warming up for the moments that would freeze the university system and much of the nation in free speech, as Stew was there representing The Vietnam Day Committee (VDC), which became the prototype to anyone and everyone with the sand and heart to step up against our government’s illegal war in Southeast Asia. The trenches were not very deep in those days and suffering the consequences of freedom at the end of a billy club breathing tear gas was not an uncommon way to end the day. Stew was there for the rest of us – and didn’t give in to the strain of being under the gun. The fun was only just beginning.
It was the Pranksters, the Hippies, Diggers, Yippies, Pacifists, Provocateurs, Black Panthers, Alternative Press, Beat poets, the Weather Underground, the FBI and finally, the CIA who were making and molding the scene, LSD was the sacred ritual of transit, money was a grand illusion, a pig named “Pigasus” was about to make a run on the presidency, and Chicago was just around the corner. All history now, well documented in the past, yet as I read Stew’s more than reasonable accounting I became so incredibly angry I had to put the book down at least twice — remembering so clearly how I felt about the government, conscription, the war and its benefactors at a time when my own revulsion was far more than an emotional rebound.
Stew‘s personal rendering of socio-political upheaval, as an anti-establishment consort standing up for the betterment of mankind with his shoulder hard-pressed to the wheel brings back to life the emotional roller coaster experienced on so many levels throughout the sixties and seventies. And there is a rejoicing here as well, tempered to the page in humorous vignettes including many of the visionaries, poets and pundits of the day, all garnered from out Stew’s unrelenting participation, and courageous leadership in the agit-prop bringing down the house within the rather psychedelic comedia del arté that filled our lives on a daily basis.
This is a timely and important memoir.
So “Who the hell is Stew Albert?” He is a gentle and honest man of his times, harboring a politically astute, intuitive mind – a collaborative man with a Marxist’s edge on the past, and a Futurist’s eye on the heartbeat of (r)evolutionary change.
© 2004 Hammond Guthrie