Author Archives: Alan Bisbort

About Alan Bisbort

Alan Bisbort is a longtime contributor to the Advocate Newspapers. He is the author of, most recently, Beatniks: A Guide to an American Subculture (Greenwood) and "When You Read This, They Will Have Killed Me": The Life and Redemption of Caryl Chessman, Whose Execution Shook America (Da Capo). He teaches at Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of Connecticut-Waterbury

Revolting Developments

Engelbrecht book

A group called Youth for Peace and Democracy has some words for Sen. John McCain and Sen. Lindsey Graham, both of whom are rattling the sabers for more and bigger wars in the Middle East.

“We are the most disillusioned youth in history. You can’t kid us. The nations value their gold more than their sons. Again they rearm for war and youth marches to death while their elders cheer. You talk always of peace. There is no peace. Wall Street booms to the tune of European war preparations. The Dance of Death is on and prosperity returns to America on the promise of another World War.

You say we can’t keep out? Who will fight you next World War? We, the American youth? We protest. We don’t want your white crosses! We don’t want your wreaths and tears on Armistice Day or your two minutes of impatient silence! We don’t want your medals and your long eulogies for the murders we shall commit! We don’t even want the bonus! We want Peace and Democracy!”

There’s only one caveat. These words were said in 1937. They appear in a book called Revolt Against War by H.C. Engelbrecht, who adds, “More or less openly [financial and industrial leaders] have used the state for their own purposes—to erect tariff walls behind which they could increase profits, to protect monopolies by the right kind of regulation, to subsidize semi-public enterprises on a lavish scale, to bail out unprofitable undertakings by public ownership.”

Does anything really change all that much in America?


Tiananmen Plus 25

tank man 2

June 4, 1989. Chinese troops massacred several hundred, if not thousands, of peaceful, unarmed pro-democracy protesters in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.  Somehow that same government is still in power, still lying and covering up. At least for now, Chinese government officials can scrub the Internet tubes of all mention of the massacre of its own citizens, but the rest of the world will always have this photograph.

Thank you, Tank Man, whoever and wherever you are.

Farewell to a (Rare) Bookseller


Elaine Sargeant, the face (and voice) of Whitlock Farm Booksellers, one of the state’s most beloved and oldest used book venues, died last Thursday. She had been battling health issues for years, a battle she kept well hidden from customers at the barn, where she held court for more than 30 years as the book buyer and unofficial shop greeter. That is, Elaine’s unmistakable smoky voice—the voice of an eccentric but always entertaining aunt, it seemed, or perhaps, as her name suggests, a female master sergeant—would offer a greeting to every customer who walked in the shop door. She had a certain genius for pointing you in a direction that would, inevitably, uncover literary treasures you hadn’t known you wanted until you walked in the shop.

I have written about Whitlock’s many times over the years, but I have a special fondness for my memories of Elaine Sargeant. She watched my son grow up over the years, pointing him toward the books he would like when he was a toddler and, on each visit afterwards, finding new age-appropriate treasures for him, too. I was taken aback today, when I entered the shop and Elaine wasn’t there and then nearly floored when I found out she’d died after a brief final illness.

A fitting tribute to Elaine Sargeant would be to head out to Whitlock’s this weekend and browse among the literary treasures there. They are all affordably priced and most were acquired and put on the shelves by the always astute and perspicacious Elaine Sargeant.

Whitlock Farm Booksellers, 20 Sperry Road, Bethany CT, 203-393-1240,



Cleanse Those Doors

Doors of Perception Design

As William Blake once wrote, “If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite.” This thought, contained in Blake’s poem The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, inspired Aldous Huxley who, in turn, inspired Jim Morrison, whose band took its name from Blake.

Six Summit Gallery in Ivoryton is using the quote as inspiration for an exhibition of three painters, “Doors of Perception: Hollis Dunlap, Nathan Lewis and Susan Stephenson.”

Leo Feroleto, Six Summit Gallery’s tireless owner, says that the show “focuses on three artists’ unique entry into perceptual painting. All three share a deep-rooted investment in looking closely and an inherent dedication to painting.”

Particularly impressive are the emotionally-invested paintings of Nathan Lewis, who has set his visual narratives in abandoned factories. As he says, “These spaces, without any intervention of mine, speak naturally to our present, and to what has passed…It is in this in-between state, the factories, much like paintings, serve as a window between worlds; worlds of the present and possible futures, or worlds of the physical and the metaphysical.”WarBells_oil_2600_26x24_Lewis

Lewis’ paintings have been exhibited worldwide and appeared on the covers of books and journals. He is a professor at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield.

“The Doors of Perception: Hollis Dunlap, Nathan Lewis and Susan Stephenson” runs from May 9 through June 22.

Dates for the opening reception weekend:

May 9: 6:30-10 p.m.

May 10: 5 p.m.-9 p.m.

May 11: noon-4 p.m.

Six Summit  Gallery, 6 Summit Street, Ivoryton, CT, 860-581-8332. For more information and directions, go to




Let’s Get (Meta)Physical

Johnes forum

The world needs more philosophers and less philanderers, more oracles and less oligarchs. If you agree with this, then the Philosophical Forums in Connecticut has a two-day event designed just for you at the Kasbah Garden Café in New Haven this weekend called “Metaphysics in Art, Architecture, Poetry and Science.”

The forum will combine discussion and readings with formal presentations by scholars like Julianne Davidow (author of Outer Beauty, Inner Joy: Contemplating the Soul of the Renaissance), Scott Olsen (author of The Golden Section : Nature’s Greatest Secret), Kathleen Damiani, Steve Bass, Dee Rapposelli, and artists Ebenezer Sunder Singh and Don Axleroad.

Other participants include:
Ray Coutant
, filmmaker & Philosopher, PhD.Communications, Bear, Delaware
Prof. Robert J. Cuneo MFA, arts educator, University of Bridgeport (retired) 
Christine V. Miller,
Magda Mraz
, educator & artist of large allegories, student of Spiral Dynamics , originally from the Czech Republic;
Mariellen Champdelaine, artist
Maxwell Clark, artist & essayist, New Haven.

For more information, contact the forum’s organizer, the tireless Johnes Ruta, independent curator and art director of the New Haven Public Library’s Azoth Gallery. His email is

For more details on the forum, go to 

Friends of the Earth?


Every spring, right around Earth Day, I am astonished, astounded and humbled by how Mother Earth pushes forth new growth. Despite everything we do to her. Despite all that we take for granted. Despite the perpetual spew of carbon into the atmosphere and so on and so forth. In my collage, above, I try to convey that feeling.

However, the Lizard King, Jim Morrison, said it best—this from the Doors’ song, “When the Music’s Over”:

“What have they done to the earth?
What have they done to our fair sister?
Ravaged and plundered and ripped her and bit her
Stuck her with knives in the side of the dawn
And tied her with fences and dragged her down…”

Here’s one of the best videos of the Doors performing the song:

BP: Beep Peep

BP: Beep Peep


Exxon will forever be linked with the Valdez spill in Prince William Sound, Alaska that netted a record fine and still taints the formerly pristine waters and shores there 25 years after the fact. This is as it should be, of course.

However, British Petroleum (BP) caused an even bigger environmental disaster in American waters only three years ago at the Deepwater Horizon oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico, a leak that was as horrific as the attempt to plug it was botched. While Exxon is no friend of the environment, its record since the Valdez spill has been far better than BP’s, which has a history of environmental crimes, cover-ups, corruption and just plain lies.

Who can forget BP’s then-CEO Tony Hayward’s pity party over the blowback from the Deepwater Horizon spill.

Poor guy, just wanted his life back.

Now, after a veritable slap on the wrist, BP has been cleared to begin pumping oil out of the Gulf of Mexico again. Greg Palast, an American investigative journalist based in Great Britain, has followed the trail of tears left behind by weepy Tony Hayward.

Conclusion: The arrival of electric cars can not come any sooner.

Free Junk


Do you need to furnish a new apartment or even an entire house? Do you need to BUILD an apartment or even an entire house? How about a lawn mower, slightly used, to go with these projects? And a plastic sandbox and a bicycle in need of a wee bit of elbow grease? Garden hose? A stuffed animal or three hundred?

Well then, please come to Cheshire in the springtime, because April is the coolest month for junk hereabouts. The town has, after a three-year hiatus, revived its bulky waste pickup program. Consequently, every home in the town has emptied out the contents of their basement and put the detritus at the curb.

In theory, the material awaits pickup from the trash hauling company contracted by the town. But, in practice, enterprising trash pickers arrive from miles around and leave Cheshire with their salvaged loads tottering like the Clampett family in Beverly Hillbillies.

Come join the fun. It’s the ultimate in recycling and reusing and it goes on all month.  Do NOT let this stuff end up in the landfill when it can FILL your house!

Cat Stevens??!!??!!

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame will induct another crop of musical icons this Thursday night in Brooklyn. At least this year they’re giving nods to deserving folks like Nirvana, Peter Gabriel, Brian Epstein and Andrew Loog Oldham.

Some of the “undercard” at this year’s ceremony seems dubious at best but, hey, it’s their museum and they can induct whoever they want. Besides, everyone keeps their own private rock ‘n’ roll museum locked inside their hearts. However, the RRHOF really scraped the bottom of the barrel this year with Cat Stevens. Wow, nothing says “rock ‘n’ roll” quite like “Cat Stevens,” ya know?

Cat stevens

When last we saw this Cat (aka Yusuf Islam), he was still refusing to admit that he backed the Ayatollah’s 1989 fatwa on the novelist Salman Rushdie for the “blasphemy” of having written the novel The Satanic Verses. But this piece of video, proof that Stevens/Islam did in fact call for Rushdie’s death, just won’t go away:

Perhaps sensing that the ceremony had become more of a wake or an entombment than a celebration, the Hall has opened the event to the public for the first time, and is holding it in a basketball arena (Barclays Center, where the Nets play). In years past, the induction ceremony was for high-rollers only, with seats and tables going for king’s ransoms. They’re not exactly giving the seats away this year, with prices ranging from $55 to $576.40. But still, you can go:

The highlight of the ceremony in Brooklyn will, no doubt, be Bruce Springsteen inducting his former E Street Band, and performing with them, and perhaps the well-deserved, belated salutes to Epstein and Oldham. Every inductee’s presenter has been decided and announced (e.g. Michael Stipe will induct Nirvana, Tom Morello will induct KISS, etc.). Everyone but poor Cat Stevens.

Might I suggest Salman Rushdie be given the honors? Turnabout is fair play. And it just screams “rock ‘n’ roll”!




Japan Before The Last War

Shigeru Mizuki

Shigeru Mizuki is one of Japan’s masters of animation and cartooning. He specializes in yokai, cultural anthropology tinged with the supernatural and filled with animals thought to possess magical powers, some of them taking the form of monsters (think: Mothra, Godzilla, etc.). At age 92, however, Mizuki has turned his gifts on the even larger, stranger animal of his homeland, to create a four-volume portrait of twentieth-century Japan thousands of pages in length (this volume alone has 560 pages). Daunting as that sounds, Mizuki is as playful as he is thorough, using a narrator named Rat Man, who serves as his guide through the wreckage.

Showa 1926-1939: A History of Japan, the first volume of this epic, has just been published by Drawn & Quarterly, which published his stunning look at World War II from behind Japanese lines, Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths, two years ago. That book was drawn almost entirely from his own experiences during the war, in which he lost his left arm to an Allied bombing, nearly died from malaria and was a prisoner of war on New Guinea.

Showa is as brilliantly drawn and meticulously footnoted as Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths. It is also a chilling reminder of the relentless plodding toward world war that began as early as the aftermath of the “Great War” (World War One). Showa takes Japan right up to the brink of Pearl Harbor.

Showa 1926-1939: A History of Japan by Shigeru Mizuki, Drawn & Quarterly, 560 pages, $24.95,