Fish Cheer Q&A

A Discussion with ‘Magic Pat’ About Pensacola’s Underground Press of the 1970s
by Jeremy Morrison, Inweekly

In the early 1970s, Patricia “Magic Pat” Bint was helped put out the Gulf Coast Fish Cheer — Pensacola’s contribution to what was at the time a nationally thriving underground press. Publishing a total 14 issues, the local newspaper dug into issues such as the war in Vietnam and women’s rights and also attracted the attention of the FBI.

This month, the 309 Punk Project explores the Fish Cheer with an exhibit entitled “War Against Conformity: Pensacola’s 1970s Underground Press.” The exhibit features corresponding discussions with both Bint, as well as Aaron Cometbus, a publisher of punk zines.

Bint spoke with Inweekly ahead of 309’s exhibit, discussing the paper’s origin, purpose and the challenges it faced. The discussion provides valuable insight into Pensacola’s underground press of the Seventies.

INWEEKLY: So, yeah, the Fish Cheer — the Gulf Coast Fish Cheer — I had actually never heard of this. And I’m kinda fascinated that it existed. Can you start off by telling me, what was the Fish Cheer?

PATRICIA BINT: The Fish Cheer was an underground newspaper published in Pensacola, which was quite a brave thing to do at the time because we weren’t exactly known as a hotbed of radicalism in this area. It kinda evolved out of the summer of ’70. Some of my friends and I, one of our parents donated an old building downtown on Government Street, on the edge of the bay, before Bayfront Parkway, of course — and we set up a coffee house and we called it the fied urch, F-I-E-D, U-R-C-H, because it had been a church and there was neon sign outside and the ‘sanct’ of ‘sanctified’ was burnt out and the ‘ch’ or church, so the sign would light up saying ‘fied urch.’ We had it open for several days a week. We had popcorn and lemonade. There was no drugs, no alcohol. But it was wide open, local bands would come and set up and play a set, we’d have open mic poetry readings. We got a lot of cool donations, we hung parachutes from the ceilings and carpeted the floor with little [inaudible] and stuff underneath the carpet. We had a big party before we opened and invited a bunch of local artists who came in a painted murals on the wall with day-glo paint, and, of course, the whole thing was lit with black light. It was quite a great scene. And this was just our fun project between high school and college. And it became hugely popular. In fact, we had to ultimately shut it down because half the population of young people in Pensacola were showing up, and then they’d be doing drugs out in the parking lot and that got the police coming.

But a core group of us were going to be going to PJC and the University of West Florida in the fall and we realized that we were very likeminded on politics and the Vietnam war. So the group I was in, when we started at PJC we formed a political party and took over the student government. Won almost every office in the election. And we were originally going to be an SDS chapter, and we found a sponsor in the faculty, but then the president of PJC put out directive that any staff member who sponsored the club would be immediately fired. So, we formed our own little group —

INWEEKLY: And to put that in context, nationally what is the SDS doing at this time?

PATRICIA BINT : SDS was organizing protest against the Vietnam war. Some chapters were taking it pretty far, with firebombing and taking over campus buildings and things like that. It was pretty radical, but everyone at that point — you know, we’re talking about 1970, Kent State had happened that spring — and a lot of people were just ready to do whatever we had to do to try to put an end to the Vietnam war. And it sort of started an underground movement and that’s what so many of the underground newspapers evolved from.

INWEEKLY: Is this pre-Weather Underground?

PATRICIA BINT: No, it’s concurrent with that. The Weather Underground was kind of a branch of the underground movement, they were really radical, I mean just hardcore. They were more for revolution than — you know, most of us it’s just, ‘stop the war, get our people back‘ — they were anarchists, basically. We weren’t that radical down here.

So, anyway, we formed a group called the Students for Civil Liberties, SCL, at the beginning of that semester in the fall of 70. And we all hung out at this coffee house up on Nine Mile Road called The Establishment and we had guest lecturers there who would bring in films, you know, sort of propaganda films of the Vietnamese being slaughtered and they would talk against the war. And this sort of core group that formed during the summer — and we were all in the Students for Civil Liberties — it was just like, in December of that year, it was kind of like, ‘hey, let’s do a newspaper,’ because we were receiving underground newspapers from other cities at that time and we knew that was going on. It was like ‘Do you really think we could pull that off here in Pensacola?’ So, we had organizational meetings and —

INWEEKLY: If we could pause for a second and if you could just talk about for a minute, what was the media landscape in Pensacola at that time. And you use term ‘underground,’ what did that mean at that time and then what is that comparable to these days? Or, is it even comparable considering media is so different than it was?

PATRICIA BINT: Well, the media landscape in 1970 here was the News Journal and nothing else. And they roundly, after our first issue, were doing editorials just absolutely trashing the underground newspaper. You know, we had a lot of harassment from them. ‘Underground’ meant that you just weren’t dealing with the mainstream. It accepted points of views, things that the News Journal would never publish. The women’s movement was really starting to pick up around the country at that time, so we did a lot of women’s liberation stuff. And, of course, a lot of anti-Vietnam stuff and, you know, it was almost like the resistant movement. There isn’t anything these days that I would really equate with being underground. Even the resistance movement around now, like — well, we have the Occupy Wall Street, and there’s been things since then, and a lot of the issues with the Trump government — is still in its own way a little bit more mainstream. For one thing, we have social media now, where you can tap into that stuff. Of course, in 1970 there was no such thing. There was no way of getting alternative information out to other people when it was unpopular with the government or it was unpopular with mainstream society. And that’s why the underground newspapers arose.

INWEEKLY: And how did something like that — I mean, this isn’t Berkeley — how did something like that go over here?

PATRICIA BINT: At first, we had a very positive response with what we considered the Freak population. We really had more people interested in alternative living and in protesting the Vietnam war than I really thought we would attract. Our sales were good, we started getting actual paid advertisers. A lot of our support came from the military, the military actually had officers against the war, there were enlisted men groups that were actually, they even published some of their own little internal underground publications that they distributed amongst military members — they were very supportive. Of course, we had so much military here at the time.

No one would have really expected Pensacola to have an active enough scene to publish a newspaper like that. And we had a collective of people. We didn’t have any titles. Nobody was the editor or anything. We had a core group and a lot of sort of floating people who were in and out.

INWEEKLY: How would you describe your role with it? Did you write articles or —

PATRICIA BINT: I wrote some articles. I really was not an editorialist. I worked mostly in graphic arts doing illustrations, hand-drawing the ads for our advertisers, I did cartoons and I also did all the layout, pasteup and everything. But the editorial content, all of us would read it in advance and approve it yay or nay. But I spent so much work doing all of the graphics and layout and production that I didn’t do a lot of writing.

INWEEKLY: So, you said it was received fairly well at first?

PATRICIA BINT: Yes, it was. We had 14 issues, so we published our first one is January of ’71. And they came out roughly monthly. Toward the end it kind of fizzled out for a number of reasons. You know, at the beginning everybody wanted to be involved. And you know how that is — of course, nobody’s getting paid, we sold advertising that covered our printing costs, but, of course, none of us could actually get paid for the work we were doing. And we were all students, as well. So, we were all carrying full course loads and doing the paper in our free time. And after a while you just didn’t attract as much outside attention. Another factor was in the summer of ’71 the FBI started 24-7 surveillance of us. We had a house on Gadsden and 8th that had been donated to us. We called it the Fish Market and that’s where we put the paper together, you know, sort of semi-communal, a lot of us lived there, it was also kind of a gathering place, but the FBI got very aggressive. Never did pin anything on us because we were probably the cleanest living people in town at that time because we knew we were being watched. And people would drop by, they’d get two blocks a way when they left and the FBI would pull them over and interview them.

People were starting to get reluctant to sort of come around and help because they didn’t like the idea of the surveillance. Local law enforcement — sheriff’s department, police department — basically ignored us, they never messed with us at all, but they also know that the FBI was watching us.

INWEEKLY: So, talk about this a minute — that house, that guy, you know, who was this guy that rolls into town?

PATRICIA BINT: Oh, Jack Hoffman. If that’s his real name. Yeah, prior to him coming in town and actively seeking us out, we were like meeting at various houses of people who were on the editorial staff and that’s where we’d have our editorial meetings and put the paper together and do all that. He breezed into town with his bright, yellow Corvette Stingray and told us that his grandmother owned this house and she wanted to put it on the market, but it needed a lot of work and he really believed in our cause and if we would work on the house we could all like there rent free or use it as our offices. So, he hung out a lot. He’s kind of sleazy, actually. But, you know, he’s doing us a huge favor. And went back to Miami at one point and he called me up and said, ‘hey, I’ve got a package coming to me General Delivery at the post office.’ He said, ‘I need it, will you go pick it up for me and just send it to me down in Miami.’ I said, ‘sure,’ you know, I’ll do the guy a favor. And my car broke down. So, another guy who was hanging out at the Fish Cheer house said, ‘Oh, I’ll go get it for you.’ So, he went to general delivery, picked up the package, was immediately arrested. It was a set up. And it was full of a whole bunch of tabs of acid. And he went to prison. And Jack was never seen or heard of again. I suspect it was a set up to get information on us, or try to get us arrested for drugs or whatever.

INWEEKLY: You don’t just take it at face value, he was a drug dealer and then he disappeared?

PATRICIA BINT: I think he had been nailed in Miami for drugs and did a plea bargain, you know, got out of his sentence by agreeing to come up to Pensacola where nobody knew him and infiltrate this cell of radicals putting out the newspaper. And then it turned out his grandmother didn’t own the house, he didn’t have a grandmother, there’s no record of anyone named Jack Hoffman, it was listed as vacant.

INWEEKLY: How did y’all find out about the house? So, you’re just staying in the house at this point?

PATRICIA BINT: Right, we’ll we only found out about the house because when he came into town he started hanging out at the places that we all normally hung out at and got to know us, he started dating some of the women that were involved, and he says, ‘you know, I’ve got this house I’m fixing up for my grandmother and if you guys want to use it —.’ Because when he got to know us he knew we didn’t have a central location. Like, ‘you can live here if you maybe do some —’ like, we were scraping paint, old paint off and fixing woodwork and repainting and everything. So, that’s how we found the house. And then once he disappeared, nobody owned the house according to the city. So, we just stayed in there until the whole paper dissolved.

INWEEKLY: Interesting.

PATRICIA BINT: Yeah, it was a very strange situation.

INWEEKLY: You said the paper, it did it’s 14 issues and then kind of waned. Why?

PATRICIA BINT: I think the momentum was lost. People weren’t coming around like they use to. Because we always needed to have a lot of extra people circulating to help out with stuff. Like distribution, we needed people to go out and sell the papers places. We did have some, like, headshops and things like that. A couple of places at the mall that were a bit more hip stores would have the Fish Cheer in them. Some of our advertisers carried them. We ended ultimately, by the end, we had people who were carrying the paper all the way from Panama City to New Orleans. Anyway, we didn’t have that manpower. Plus, a lot of the people that were in the core group were heading off, they were going to law school, so they had to leave Pensacola. So, we lost a lot of really core people who were prime movers on the paper. And the FBI kind of wore people down to.

INWEEKLY: Was this prior to the ’72 election, or were y’all active during that?

PATRICIA BINT: This was prior to the ’72 election. Some of us from the Fish Cheer group did work as volunteers for McCarthy, which was very depressing in Pensacola. You didn’t get much positive response. But, yeah, this was prior to that election.

INWEEKLY: So, looking back on it, what was the Fish Cheer’s value, what did it bring to the community and what kind of purpose did y’all serve when you were up and running?

PATRICIA BINT: I think the purpose we served was that it lets people know that there is a way to express your alternative views, that there potentially was a community of like minded people who opposed the war, you know, believed in women’s liberation, believed in human rights. And, you know, it created a sense of community for a period of time. Unfortunately, it wasn’t sustainable. But it kinda made Pensacola look like a happening place for a while. It always seemed like stuff about the Vietnam was and counterculture issues were something that was out there and in other places, you read about it in Atlanta, L.A. and New York and bigger places. And, it’s like, ‘no, you know, there are people that feel the same way right here in Pensacola. And it wasn’t a popular opinion with the mainstream, but you know, I think it gave people permission to consider some alternatives to what they were being fed by the mainstream.

INWEEKLY: And also how do you think, not just the Fish Cheer, but also the underground press movement in general — how do you think that influenced or impacted both the world of media and of, you know, politics and of left-leaning politics particularly.

PATRICIA BINT: I really think it had influence in politics, particularly in larger cities because you’ve got some really powerful papers in L.A., New York — Atlanta had The Great Speckled Bird, which I got invited, two of us went up to Atlanta the summer of ’71 and interned at the The Great Speckled Bird for a while. And there was also Liberation News Service, where we were all connected with each other, you know, sharing articles, sharing graphics. But they could rally enough people to get out and protest and get out and vote and it just made it a more cohesive movement.

For media, it sort of created a type of irreverent media, like the National Lampoon and things like that, that published satirical and lighter things, that it made it a little more acceptable to criticize the government and criticize politicians. I mean, mainstream, truly mainstream, will never change. Pensacola News Journal will never change.
But, you know, it had it’s moments. I was surprised at some of the people that read the Fish Cheer. You know, it just let people know it’s ok to express some of these things and it’s ok to disagree, but it’s also ok to agree.

INWEEKLY: And how do you feel about — I guess it’s broader than Fish Cheer, it’s about hippies — but how do you feel about Fish Cheer’s inclusion in the Punk House exhibit and discussion?

PATRICIA BINT: Oh, I think that’s great. I’m really looking forward to the event that we’re having next month. I hadn’t realized how much of an influence that we did have on the punk movement and their zines and all of that. They looked to us as the generation before them, and they were inspired, like, ‘hey, they could publish this newspaper in Pensacola. You know, we can do our publications.’ And, you know, I really like the idea of this sort of — I hate the term hippies — but the hippies and the punks gathering together. It makes me feel like there is an actual legacy to the work that we did during that time. So, I’m pretty excited about that. And I also had the complete set of Fish Cheer, I had every issue. Which I gave to Scott, I gave him a whole bunch of the ephemera and the stuff that I collected during that time and that will be in the exhibit.

INWEEKLY: Yeah, that will be very interesting. I’m assuming a lot of people have not heard of this and will be pretty interested in it.

PATRICIA BINT: Particularly some of the younger generations. And, at the time, if you didn’t consider yourself to be a hippie or a radical, it probably wasn’t on your radar. I mean, you had the News Journal calling it ‘disgusting,’ ‘filth,’ ‘children scrawling things on toilet walls and calling it a publication.’ Oh, the News Journal was just awful. So, I don’t know how many people were put off by that, but you know within a particular community here, a community that we cared about, it was very, very well received.

“I can’t believe people are kind of looking back at that time and — I don’t wanna say nostalgia, but — that it’s very, very overlooked as a period of time and an influence and everything. And it just kind of tickles me that there’s interest in it now.

INWEEKLY: Well, good. I’m glad you’re tickled.

WHAT: An exhibit and discussion series
WHEN: Exhibit open for viewing 4-7 p.m. Saturday, April 9, Bint discussion at 7 p.m.; exhibit open for viewing 2-6 p.m. Sunday, April 10, Cometbus discussion at 6 p.m.
WHERE: 309 Punk Project, 309 N. Sixth Ave.
COST: Events are free and open to the public. Donations are welcome.