JIM HAYNES

 

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The Listener, 16 February 1984
by Clancy Sigal
Karma and smarma

 

Jim Haynes, the Johnny Appleseed of the Sixties counter-culture in London, Edinburgh, Amsterdam and Paris, disarms criticism by dedicating this 'open newsletter' to me —and several thousand named others, from Abbul to Zwerin. Haynes actually knows this number of people (and more) whom he counts as personal, contactable friends. He is amazing, a true nature's child of the arts with extraordinary 'green fingers'. Almost everything he touched, from Edinburgh's Paperback Bookshop which developed into the Traverse Theatre to London's Arts Lab and beyond, burst into wild and glorious bloom. It is hard not to be swept along in the swift current of this Charles Bronson look-alike's vitality and sheer love of the cosmos.
Jim and I were around, solo and together, in those prehistoric days, the fabled Sixties, when the structure shook a little. (Did it, or were we just tripping out?) We recall it differently, of course. I almost became a victim of all that dope, booze, karma and smarma, alternative blues and politically-inspired schizophrenia, not to speak of my own drugged stupidity. I came to know the dark side of the mad moon. It wasn't so hot, Jim-boy. You could get hurt, badly. And hurt others. The American or Yankee-inspired 'Swingin' Sixties' ego was terrifying to behold in action. Like Donovan's Brain or Jaws in 3-D, it swallowed everything and everybody in sight. Some never did come up for air, while Jim and I hardly paused for breath, in our fruitful imperialising of the local culture—which needed it, to be sure.
I hope nobody ever draws up an accurate balance sheet of that period—the dead and walking wounded versus noteworthy productions of multimedia events. Jim certainly isn't the person to do it. His autobiography (and I use the word loosely for this entertaining and bitsy collage) reads like an avant-garde Elsa Maxwell's guest list for the longest party of the decade, which in some ways it was. It's also slightly depressing to be reminded it happened such a long time ago, and how bureaucratised or extinct so many bold experiments of that period have become. Part of me yearns for that strange time; part of me hopes I never see its like again.
So, although Jim Haynes drops okay names like the social climber he never really was, and salts his meandering narrative with enough naive enthusiasm to power the next Space Lab, I'm really glad to be reminded of how it all looked from the Chief Operator's viewpoint. He had a hell of a good time hobnobbing with Sir this and Lady that and the cream of the Western European artistic establishment-to-be. His solemn, genial tolerance for artsy-fartsy phonies is legendary. It doesn't matter to him as long as they're saying the Right Thing: screw the puritans, it's party time!
Haynes did well by us. Louisiana-born, he came to Britain in the early 1950s with the US Air Force. Even while in uniform, at Kirknewton AF base, he attended nearby Edinburgh University, where he started his fabulous paperback bookshop next to the campus. It burgeoned into an all-in meeting place which Haynes parlayed into the spectacularly successful Traverse Theatre.

Jim Haynes, photograph R.R.

Haynes: 'love of the cosmos'

It was very exciting, introducing talented writers like Heathcote Williams, putting on Pinter and Beckett before it was fashionable, and laying the groundwork for much of today's better dramaturgy. Haynes had shrewd instincts and even better contacts. His list of friends in the arts-favouring Harold Wilson regime is impressive: Jennie Lee was his darlin', Arnold Goodman his protector (until Jim began defending evil dopesters); there was Ken Tynan, Arnold Wesker, Uncle Tom Cobley and all ('... many, many quiet little dinners with Jennie...', a 'warm relationship' with His Holiness the Goodman, etc).
But Haynes has always hated routine. (And domesticity: one shudders to imagine his present sexual arrangements.) When something is successful, that's a signal to fit off and begin anew. Bored with the Traverse, he came south to London and started ITInternational Times—with its famous Theda Bara logo (it was supposed to be Clara Bow but they used Theda by mistake)—and the immortal Arts Lab. With some justice Haynes can claim to be the midhusband of at least the chic, artistic end of London's underground at the time it was the world's psychedelic capital. I remember him hawking IT copies outside the Aldwych, serving coffee behind a bar, lazily leading squats. Jim did everything himself, seldom stood on ceremony, and asked only if it contributed to his Emersonian ideal of a community of kindred spirits. An aristocracy of talent—Monica Vitti, Peter Brook, Antonioni, the Beatles—fluttered around him. Respectability rose like a beast from the depths to devour innocent Jim. The US ambassador's lovely wife platonically fell in love with him, he got phone calls from Buckingham Palace, and once he even escorted President Johnson's daughter to a do.
Jim isn't terribly political, even though little of this would have been possible without an infrastructure of protest to support his experiments. Partly because he's into sweetness, light and the bisexual revolution, he does not appear to understand the complex relationship between the volcanic outpouring of creative energy in the Sixties and the essentially square radicalism which was its natural manure. But no matter. The Arts Lab brought people together. You never knew what to expect. Underground film, futuristic theatre, 'happenings', chats by the lady next door—'It was like an enormous party night after night.' Great fun, and it probably produced more changes in more people's lives than many if not most of our marches. Well no, there I go again, borne downstream by the man's alarmingly open personality and restless generosity. The Arts Lab may have changed nothing at all. But it was wizard at the time.
Today, anticlimactically, Jim is in his 14th year as a professor (a what?!) at Vincennes University outside Paris. He keeps his hand in with magazines like Suck and playing around on the wilder shores of sex. A perennial 16, it's hard to believe he's fifty. More power to his arm, he did us a lot of good when the going was good.

 
 
 
 
Clancy Sigal © 1984 THE LISTENER
 

 

 

The Listener, 1984: Karma and smarma

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