BIRMINGHAM, John




Author Tags: Fiction

Suprisingly little fiction has reflected the heyday of hippiedom in B.C., making John Birmingham's novel The Vancouver Split (Simon and Schuster, 1973) something of an historical work over time.

Born in New York City in 1951, he mailed the manuscript of his first book, Our Time is Now: Notes from the High School Underground, to Kurt Vonnegut, who obligingly supplied an introduction to it. At the time, high schools throughout North America were producing their own semi-underground newspapers beyond the realm of administration censorship. Birmingham collected and edited such writings for Our Time Is Now (New York, Praeger, 1970; Dial Press, 1972). Given that Birmingham was only in his early 20s when The Vancouver Split was published, it's surprisingly free of self-glorification and posturing. A young American narrator with the self-described "face of an angel and the heart of a devil" recounts his escapades in Vancouver and at Long Beach, as seen in retrospect from a New York sanitoriom. The drug-trafficking narrator frequents the Travellers's Hotel at 57 West Cordova and the notorious Gastown Inn (later called the Cambie Hotel) to sell drugs to transients like himself. He visits the Children's Aid Society on Broadway, the Catholic Charities Hostel, the Beatty Street Armoury hostel, a Jethro Tull concert at the Agrodome, the Cornwall Street feed-ins, Kool-Aid, the White Lunch cafeteria on Hastings and watches a Laurel & Hardy flick at the Magic Theatre while he's high on acid. Vancouver is described as "an easy place to live with little money. No jobs were available and everybody seemed to be on welfare. The conservative mayor was trying to change the situation; run the hippies out of town; but in the meantime there were two feed-ins in a schoolyard every days, and the town was loaded with free hostels."

[Alan Twigg / BCBW 2003] "Counter-culture" "Fiction"