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PRANKS! Excerpt: Mark McCloud

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R/S: Can you tell us some pranks from the sixties?


MARK MCCLOUD: I love that movie, Tribes, about the hippie who gets inducted into the Marine Corps. He gets his whole troop meditating, and there’s this battle of knowledge between himself and his platoon leader, who’s played by Darren McGavin. He finally wins McGavin over to his way of thinking. In its way, it’s as important a film as Apocalypse Now.


In the sixties, Alfred Hitchcock threw a weird little party to test a theory he’d long cherished. For years he’d noticed there was a sweeping lack of blue food. Finally he decided to hire some top chefs and host a Cordon Bleu (literally) dinner in which everything would be dyed blue—from the meat to the dessert.


Although theoretically the dye was tasteless and the food was certified gourmet, there definitely seems to be some kind of built-in aversion to eating blue food. None of the guests could finish their dinner.


Then there was a “black” prank that happened in San Francisco in the late ’60s. A record album mysteriously appeared with an all-black sleeve that simply said, The Masked Marauders. A giant rumor spread that it was the Beatles jamming with the Stones! KSAN played cuts from it, and a lot of people scurried about trying to find copies—quickly it attained tremendous value as a collector’s item. People would pay a hundred bucks for it, saying, “Yeah, that’s Mick—I could tell Mick’s voice anywhere. And that’s definitely Paul’s style of bass playing,” etc. However, that record was a complete fake.


The one book I can recommend, which should be reprinted, is Trashing, written by a woman who called herself Ann Fettamen [Straight Arrow Books, 1970]. It describes hardcore Yippie pranks pulled all over Manhattan, ending with the bombing of the 9th Precinct police station which forced everybody underground. At the time the Yippies were working on an ultimate prank which ended in just Abbie and Jerry burning money at the Wall Street Stock Exchange. But originally that was to be a diversion tactic while somebody else fed 15,000 fake computer cards into the Wall Street master computer system. They had spent months programming cards, working out the plans to create this fake “Crash,” but when the shit hit the fan they all had to go underground.


There were a lot of pranks in this book, like the time they rolled something like 4000 joints and mailed them to people picked out of the phone book as a “Halloween Treat.”


The Yippies had a sub-section called the Motherfuckers, who didn’t want to discuss politics or talk about anything, they just wanted to burn everything down and break windows—raise hell now. The Motherfuckers were incredibly energetic and their activities led to bombings. The only problem was: the person who provided them with the explosives was from the FBI . . . Trashing is basically about Ann Fettamen graduating from college, coming to New York as a “straight” girl to get a job, donating a little time to the local peace movement headquarters, after which she gets indoctrinated and becomes “committed.” The book captures an idealistic, anarchic spirit of “free love and revolution” which is difficult to imagine happening again in the near future . . .


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