Courtesy of A.D. Winans
John Bryan-writer, editor valued underground press.
The following obituary was published in the Sunday February 11 edition of the San Francisco Chronicle.
John Bryan, a mainstay of the alternative press in San Francisco and Los Angeles in the 1960s and later, died at his San Francisco residence after a long illness. He was 72 when he died Feb. 1.
In his last years, Mr. Bryan supported himself by working part time in a Mission District bookstore, but in his heyday he was a noted writer, editor, publisher and author for several alternative newspapers and underground magazines.
He was a hands-on editor and publisher, performing most of the work, including the production, himself.
"He was a one-man band, and the printing press was his musical instrument," said Paul Krassner, founder and editor of the Realist, one of the most famous of the counterculture magazines.
"He was an activist who believed strongly in justice for all," said A.D. Winans, publisher of the Second Coming Press in San Francisco. "He was a strong union man and very political."
In Mr. Bryan's view, the government of the U.S. needed to be changed. He despised injustice and felt the mainstream press was full of reporters and editors who censored themselves to present an establishment view of the world.
"He felt...that America needed an underground press with real teeth, wildness and fearlessness both in language and in content," said author Gerald Nicosia.
The results were underground newspapers and magazines written, edited or published by Mr. Bryan. They all featured bold content and a strong political slant. Mr. Bryan was the first person to publish the prose of underground poet Charles Bukowski.
Bukowski's weekly column, Notes of a Dirty Old Man," ran for years in Open City, a paper Mr. Bryan ran in Los Angeles.
Mr. Bryan believed in leftist politics and a free life and his writers and his papers had few taboos. He was fined $1,000 by a Los Angeles judge in 1968 for "preparing and distributing obscene matter." It was a picture of a nude woman that appeared in an ad. He was also arrested on other obscenity charges about the same time, but charges were dropped when noted writers and poets came to his defense.
John Bryan was born in 1934 in Cleveland. He was trained as a conventional journalist and worked at the San Diego Tribune, the Los Angeles Mirror, the Los Angeles Herald Examiner, the Houston Chronicle, and both the San Francisco Examiner and the Chronicle.
He quit the Chronicle in 1964 and started Open City Press, San Francisco's first alternative paper. In all, Mr. Bryan put out three literary journals and four newspapers in San Francisco, was managing editor of the Los Angles Free Press, and founded Open City, another Los Angeles weekly.
In 1981, the Chronicle called him "The King of the Underground Press," a title he thought inapt, considering his views on royalty.
Mr. Bryan was a one-man newspaperman, " Warren Hinckle wrote in the Chronicle in 1981. Hinckle described how Mr. Bryan lived and worked in a basement apartment surrounded by printing equipment.
"His living room was crammed with paste-up boards," Hinckle wrote. "The dining room was full of IBM typesetting equipment. Bryan never slept...He couldn't pay his witers, so he managed to get them drunk instead.
Hinckle called him "the Peter Zenger of the underground press...unconquered and ungovernable by the puny laws of Journalism."
Mr. Bryan was a conventional author as well. His biography of Joseph Ramiro, a Vietnam War Vet who joined the radical Symbionese Liberation Army, was well received. He also wrote a book about Timothy Leary, the counterculture guru, and sold it on the streets outside halls where Leary lectured.
Mr. Bryan never made any money from his various enterprises: he paid his own salary out of the quarters he got from his newspaper sales. Most of his publications were economic failures. One of his last was called Appeal to Reason, a title used by Thomas Paine, a great patriot of the American Revolution.
"He was a man in the tradition of Tom Paine and LF Stone, " Krassner said.
His final newspaper effort was called Peace News, which he published with the late Allen Cohen, the publisher of the Oracle. It came out not long after the events of September 11, 2001, and was distributed at anti-war rallies.
The Peace News was a one-issue paper; Mr. Bryan, who by then had health problems, had finally run out of steam.
"In his last years," Nicosia said, "he worked the sales desk at the Abandoned Planet bookstore, where I'd sometimes drop in and see him and chat about old times. I used to tell him, "You're the forgotten warrior," and always get a big smile from him."
Mr. Bryan was married, but he and his wife separated and she died some years ago. He is survived by five children - Shauna, Eve, Lisa, Jason and James - and several grandchildren.
A memorial service is pending.
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