The Magic Locals
by James Johnson
“The only way to end the brain drain of artists and other free thinkers is to make an end of present politics, invite the wild ones back, give them lots of money and set them loose on the town.” — Allen Ginsberg, Wichita, 1966
Allen Ginsberg was drawn into the Vortex. A fate known by the original Magic Locals, the people who are called “the Wichita Group”. They were the first to repeat the myth of the Vortex, the story that became both a description of dire circumstances and the name of a place.
Bruce Conner, David Haselwood, and Michael McClure were/are “the Wichita Group”. They met in the time of Truman and began practicing magic that would expand our minds. They didn’t invent the Vortex, but they gave it real meaning. It came from Streiff’s science-fiction, Ezra Pound, the Wichita University Homecoming, and way too much cheap wine. They described a physical force that held the Outcasts against their will in a culture that didn’t want them. It explained their presence in a place that was alien to their desires and thoughts.
Soon, one by one, each found the formula for escape — McClure in 1953, Conner in 1954 and Haselwood in 1955. Looking for a place where they could practice their magic, near others like themselves. After many travels and searches each, independently, found home in San Francisco.
The myth of the Vortex grew as the words and the images of the Wichita Group gained fame and stature. Hipsters spoke of it often in the shrines of North Beach and the galleries of the Haight. So when another wave of Magic Locals arrived in the Bay Area, (Branaman and Pewther, Todd, Plymell, and more) they found recognition and a common bond — each had escaped the Vortex.
But not all made it. Many could not find the formula of escape. Of those who stayed, some recognized the myth of the Vortex and named a holy place, a beanery, to signify it’s power — The Magic Theatre Vortex. There, the remaining Magic Locals practiced the words and the images of their earlier kin. It was here that Allen Ginsberg found the “center of the Vortex” on his Guggenheim road trip of 1966. A place of magic in the midst of the “radio aircraft assembly frame ammunition petroleum nightclub Newspaper streets.”
Ginsberg knew of the myth of the Vortex from the Magic Locals in the Bay Area. He wanted to see the city that produced so many great minds and so many weapons of Death. “On to Wichita to Prophesy ! O frightful bard ! Into the heart of the Vortex,” he cried, for he knew well the forces he would encounter. The poet entertained police at the beanery, and Birchers in the roadhouse Showboat. At the University that would not pay him, he chanted his newly completed WICHITA VORTEX SUTRA. Calmness prevailed. His words stumped the establishment and lifted the spirits of the Resistance. Now all that read know Wichita as the Vortex.
From the science-fiction minds of young poets, spinning through collegiate illuminations and abuse, going public on the streets of San Francisco and in the words of Our Great Poet, the myth of the Vortex is now a part of our American history. “Proud Wichita, vain Wichita cast the first stone!” — JWJ “And that’s the Vortex in Toto!“ — Bruce Conner, 1987
© 2001 by James Wallace Johnson. All Rights Reserved.