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Bohemian New Orleans

It was through my love of the work of Hunter S Thompson that I came to watch Wayne Ewing’s films, and through his films that I came to learn about Loujon Press and the Outsider.

The story of the Webbs and their press is a fascinating one, and certainly one of which Beatdom has lapped up any and all information. After all, it’s not easy starting up and running a small magazine.

So when the opportunity arose to review the beautifully presented Bohemian New Orleans: The Story of the Outsider and Loujon Press, I was as eager to read it as I was to travel to Denver and back for The Outsiders documentary.

Bohemian New Orleans is well researched and informative, yet intimate and charming. Before coming to the creation of the press and magazine that made the Webbs famous, we are taken through their lives separate and together, but always fascinating and romantic in the face of constant and almost comical hardship.

The introduction takes us through the history of the small press and of the underground literary magazines that began with the modernists, stumbled in forties, and flourished post-war with the Beats and the ‘mimeograph revolution.’

We’re then taken through the life of Jon Webb – his constant aspiration to be a great novelist, followed by his ingenious armed robbery.

And then there is the story of Jon and Lou, the two lovers who would sit and get drunk together every Thursday and tell the other exactly what they didn’t like about them. If either of them was not entirely honest, or got angry at the other’s complaint, then they weren’t allowed to drink.

Weddle presents these unique characters beautifully, using their story to weave the history of magazines, and then of New Orleans. When they move briefly to Hollywood, their lives again become the story against which an informative history is narrated.

When the Webbs return to New Orleans, we are given stories about Whitman, Faulkner and Williams’ escapades in the city, building a picture of the city’s artistic and literary heritage.

Then through Lou and Jon we are presented with the artistic output of the French Quarter as Lou begins painting, becomes Gypsy Lou, and Jon takes the role of editor and founds Loujon Press.

Against all this we are given a frightening and literary picture of the racism prevalent in even the most liberal parts of the city. Lou and Jon’s run-ins with the New Orleans police are stark departures from the usual comedy of their tragedy, as Lou’s comments and outlooks always lighten any situation.

The Outsider published the work of Charles Bukowski, Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Robert Creeley, Denise Levertov and Walter Lowenfals, and stories about the their relationships to the Webbs abound in the latter half of this excellent book.