[Seven by Nine Squares home page] [Neoism] [Dr. Al Ackerman]

Origins of Neoism Illuminated

by Dr. Al Ackerman
In answer to your question, "Are you the inventor of Neoism?" I can only reiterate that in no way, shape, or form can I be credited on this account. I have no idea how this rumor ever got started, except that I happened to be in the same general vicinity (Portland, Oregon) when the deed got done (the late 1970s or thereabouts), and I was in close daily contact with the two principals in the case - David Zack and Istvan Kantor. Otherwise, my conscience and hands are clean. A word of amplification, however, might not be a young unmarried woman (i.e., a miss).

In the late 1970s the city of Portland and environs was a hotbed of feverish Spanish Art activity. Musicmaster, Eerie Billy Haddock, Rhoda Mappo, Patty Blaster and myself were all on hand at the time. Moreover, Cees Francke, the great Dutch Spaniard, was living on our sofa and being sought by the postal authorities in connection with the so-called "lewd post cards", although, as Patty Blaster remarked to two of the postal inspectors who dropped by our house (Cees and I had stepped meantime into the hall closet): "These cards are child's play compared to some of the ones he's done." Genesis P. Orridge and Cosey Fanny Tutti had also been in town, part of their cross-country American tour. Shortly after this, the Zack family - Dave, Ruth, and the four kids, Sleepy, Happy, Sneezey and Zeke - arrived in a bulging station wagon from Canada. They set up light housekeeping on the N.E. side of the city, in a charmingly dilapidated mansion ("Monderlay") in whose upstairs halls the wallpaper hung in festoons. Dave decorated the place entirely in Jack Chick posters. There was an Abyssinian Baptist church directly across the street and my memory of those days always includes a lot of rousing spiritual choruses floating in through the windows and mingling unutterably with Zack's cello playing, which by & large was incessant. A follower of Geo. I. Gurdjieff, Zack often played his cello upside down.

Another Zack boarder who soon joined the household was Jerry "The Pinheaded Baudelaire" Sims, a popeye from 42nd St. in NYC. He moved into the basement. A dwarf, Jerry, who could abide no music later than Al Jolson, was almost pathologically concerned about his tiny bone structure. "I'm very concerned about my tiny bone-structure," he told me the first time we ever met. "Don't worry," I said, trying to buck him up, "your bones are larger than a chicken's." Jerry, however, was not to be consoled. He spent many hours in his basement room brooding over his tiny bone structure. About the only time anyone saw him was when he would scuttle up, out & into the parlor to put a Jolson platter on the turntable. Generally at these times he snarled rather than spoke. A rare glandular oddity, and no mistake.

This, then, was the scene when Istvan Kantor arrived from Hungary (via Canada) and moved in with the Zack family. Zack had met Kantor a year or so earlier in Budapest, where Kantor was known as "The Hungarian Bob Dylan" on account of his musical abilities, which then as now were keen. When Kantor arrived in Portland he could speak very little English. About the only phrase he knew in English was "Do you know where I can buy some opium?" Zack gave him some home-made raisin wine instead, and in about five minutes Kantor was singing in the Zack's front parlor. I was on hand for that historic meeting. It was great. I remember that Jerry scuttled into the room, snarled, put a Jolson 78 on the victrola, and scuttled back out again. Kantor was a little startled by Jerry's abruptness but Zack told him not to worry. "Jerry's going to be your business manager," he told Kantor. "He'll arrange all your lounge and club bookings while you're here in town." In this way Zack saved Kantor from ever playing in the dives of Portland. In understand that because of the language barrier it was 2-3 months before Kantor became aware that Jerry hated his music. Later on, of course, this became the music of Neoism. Kantor later told me that he was also unaware that Zack had made Jerry his manager. So there were never any hard feelings in the matter.

Now, this may be where I played a part - at least negatively - in the early beginnings of Neoism. My custom in those days was to use a lot of different names when I did my mailings. I had abut ten different pseudonyms or personas that I operated under. I'm sorry I can't reveal any of them here. Mainly my use of multiple names and aliases was a practical rather than a theoretical matter - a question of covering my tracks and throwing my enemies off the trail. Zack, who had matriculated at the University of Chicago and was strong on art theory, took this and reversed it. Instead of one person operating under a lot of different names, Zack came up with the concept than one name could be used by a lot of different persons. He proposed, at one of the meetings of The 14 Secret Masters of the World (a deeply secret organization that met in his front room) to bestow this general all-purpose "name" on Kantor. The name that Zack had come up with was "Monty Cantsin." The idea being that anybody could become "Monty Cantsin" and in this way achieve pop stardom. Thus Kantor became "Monty Cantsin - Open Pop Star." It was a deeply historic moment. A Tuesday, as I recall.

I'm not really clear on just when the term "Neoism" was actually first used, or who should be credited with it, but my impression was that it was mainly Kantor's brainchild. That is, Zack supplied the "Monty Cantsin" name and Kantor, having adopted it, went on to found Neoism. As I remember it the first major Neoist activities were the Portland Convenience Store Mysteries. Originally it had been hoped (by Kantor) that "Monty Cantsin" would get some club dates to play around town. For $$s. But of course since Jerry Sims, as business manager, hated Kantor's music and never left his basement room except to put on Jolson records, this didn't pan out. Instead, "Monty Cantsin" and Zack began by initiating the Portland Convenience Store Mysteries. These always took the same general form. Kantor, in the role of "Monty Cantsin," would enter a convenience store, go to the back and pretend to have a heart attack; he did this primarily in Hungarian which added a good deal to the confusion and uproar that would then ensue, and when the store manager and the other customers were being distracted sufficiently by "Monty Cantsin's" "heart attack" at the rear of the store, Zack would dart in at the front and carry out as many cases of beer or soda pop as he could manage to lift and exit with it. Then "Monty Cantsin" would pretend to recover from his attack, get up and beat it out of the store. This went on for many months, on an average of 4-5 times a week, at different convenience stores around town. This is what was meant, later on, when an art critic on one of the San Francisco papers said that "Neoism was born in the convenience stores of Portland." (Too true.)

And thus we come to the end of this memoir, and can see that, even in this enlightened day and age, the old spectre of unfounded rumor and hyperbole still runs rife in some form or other. Some of us go on thinking that if we call ourselves "Neoists," and run in and out of convenience stores, we can recognize certain material benefits. Others are perfectly convinced that "Neoism" implies some sort of vague art activity. As I said at the beginning, I, personally, would rather steer the middle road and view it all as something that happened a long time ago, but that is because when it comes to Neoism the part that I'm personally in charge of is the branch known as "SalMiNEOISM", which is in the past, always in the past. Best wishes to you, Lloyd, and trust this clears up some of the base canard.

Published in Photostatic no. 38, October 1989, p. 1415-6