by Jeff Stevens
March 23, 1967: The Cocoon Breaks, The Helix Emerges
Seattle has a long history of alternative newspapers, some better
than others, all vital in the collective process of stirring the
complex pot of a healthy local media scene. Most, if not all, of the
past four decades worth of such endeavors--including and especially
the paper you're now reading--owe a great debt to Helix, the
groundbreaking chronicler of Seattle's counterculture whose debut
issue was published on the date in focus here.
Helix was conceived in late 1966 during discussions at the Free
University of Seattle, an alternative college located in the
University District. These discussions were inspired by the recent
flowering of underground newspapers in other counterculturally rich
cities, such as the Berkeley Barb, San Francisco's Oracle, and New
York's East Village Other. Helix's prime instigators included Paul
Dorpat, a wayward University of Washington grad student, and Paul
Sawyer, a Unitarian minister. This circle quickly grew to include
future famous novelist Tom Robbins, Seattle P-I cartoonist Ray
Collins, and Jon Gallant, co-founder of Seattle's legendary
underground radio station KRAB-FM (predecessor of today's KEXP).
Serendipitously named after Watson and Crick's description of DNA
during a particularly productive session of beer-drinking and
brainstorming at the Blue Moon Tavern in February 1967, Helix emerged
from its fertile countercultural cocoon to immediate success. The
first 1,500 copies of the 12-page, multi-colored tabloid were quickly
snapped up off the streets of the U District. During its three-year
reign of weekly publication, Helix would sponsor a number of
important countercultural events in the Puget Sound region before
finally folding in June 1970. It also launched the career of Walt
Crowley (1947-2007), the much-revered local writer, historian and
rabble-rouser, who joined the paper's staff, first as an illustrator
and later as an editor, in May 1967.
Today, Dorpat has also made a name for himself as a celebrated
Pacific Northwest historian. Meanwhile, Helix's heady brew of radical
politics and groundbreaking graphic design has rarely, if ever, been
surpassed locally, its closest competition arguably being The Rocket
(1979-2000), Seattle's greatest music-centric monthly to date.
Selected issues of Helix can be viewed online in PDF form at the UW
Libraries Special Collections website. Take this, sisters and
brothers, may it serve you well.
Source: Walt Crowley, "Rites of Passage" (University of Washington