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Village Voice offered peek at 'real world'

Michael Carey

My 19-year-old friend was ecstatic, and an ecstatic driver is not a safe driver. He was ecstatic that October 1964 day because as he approached the George Washington Bridge from the Jersey side of the Hudson River, he could see New York City shimmering in the late afternoon sun. The kid from Fairbanks had fulfilled a dream. He made it to Manhattan after driving the Alaska Highway.

The question was: Could he calm down long enough -- stop reciting poetry, stop rhapsodizing, stop wildly gesticulating -- for us to reach Manhattan alive? He did, and having safely parked the car, resumed his Whitmanesque wonderment at the glory of the city.

An hour later, we couldn't find the red Hillman Minx covered with bumper stickers that said "All The Way With LBJ."

Welcome to New York.

Our belief that New York City was the center of the universe had been shaped by books, movies, magazines -- the multiple manifestations of popular culture. The Village Voice was one of the most influential.

I began reading the New York weekly when I was 16 or 17. In the pages of the Voice, a teenager discovered urban (and urbane) news and cultural analysis he would never find in Alaska papers. I don't remember who had a subscription, but I am certain the news was a month old before the Voice reached Fairbanks.

The people who appeared in the Village Voice -- even the ones who participated in a rent-a-beatnik program that sent beats to parties on Long Island -- were so sophisticated, so advanced, so hip to a teenage Alaskan.

New Yorkers were living real life!

Fairbanks was not real life.

Except it was real life to one of the three founders of the Voice, Edwin Fancher, who attended the University of Alaska in 1941-1942. The 18-year-old Fancher made the reverse decision my friend and I made -- he left the east for Fairbanks.

I recently interviewed Mr. Fancher by telephone at his Greenwich Village office. He is now a psychoanalyst who, approaching 87, continues a private practice. He sold his interest in the Voice, which he founded with Norman Mailer and Dan Wolf in 1955, some years ago.

Edwin Fancher was born in Middletown, New York, north of the city, and attended boarding school in Lake Placid, where the 1932 Winter Olympic Games were held. He skied and played hockey while a student.

His father advised him to pick a college that offered ROTC: War is coming, become an officer. Young Edwin selected the University of Alaska, and in August 1941 he traveled to Fairbanks by train and steamship. "I loved Jack London stories," Fancher said.

"Fairbanks was a city of 4,000, an interesting city, and the university was fascinating. Students came from all over, and it was one of the few places you could make good money to pay your way through school. In those days, you could make $1,000 pounding points."

I suggested he could walk from Greenwich Village to Central Park without finding anyone who knew the meaning of "pounding points" -- part of a process to prepare mining ground for dredging.

Fancher laughed and went on to say he majored in English and had a wonderful archeology course taught by Froelich Rainey (with help from other scholars) in the university museum.

"One of the inspirations for the Voice was Jessen's Weekly, the Fairbanks paper. I wrote for Jessen's. I wrote a column about the university." Ernie Jessen, a career newspaperman, ran the weekly for close to 30 years.

Fancher returned east in the summer of '42 after floating the Yukon River from Circle to Tanana. Pearl Harbor confirmed his father's prediction about war. Now Edwin knew he would be drafted -- and was, eventually serving in a mountain division in Italy.

He completed his education after the war and in his thirties was present at the creation of the Voice in a village apartment. "Anyone who went to the University of Alaska in 1941 must have been crazy, and it must have been crazy to start the Village Voice. We thought it would be fun -- and had very little money." The Voice is 55 years old, and for most of that time has been the model for the American alternative weekly.

Edwin Fancher has returned to Alaska twice since 1941, most recently three years ago when he took a cruise north from Vancouver.

As we concluded our conversation, I thought: "I know you weren't writing for 16-year-old boys in the sticks, Mr. Fancher. But we were reading you. Throw a stone in a pond -- you never know how far the ripples travel. Your ripples reached the banks of the Chena River where my friends and I dreamed of crossing the Hudson to meet your readers who, we were certain, included the most beautiful girls in the world."

Michael Carey is the former editorial page editor of the Anchorage Daily News. He can be reached at mcarey@adn.com.


MICHAEL CAREY
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