[Marxism] Coca Crystal, Avatar of Counterculture, Dies at 68
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Sun Apr 3 15:14:54 MDT 2016
NY Times, Apr. 3 2016
Coca Crystal, Avatar of Counterculture, Dies at 68
By WILLIAM GRIMES
Coca Crystal hosted “If I Can’t Dance, You Can Keep Your Revolution,” a
quirky cable TV show. Credit Jill Diamond
In April 1977, the conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly was about to
be honored by the Women’s National Republican Club at the Waldorf
Astoria hotel in Manhattan when she was hit by a well-aimed apple pie.
“A group called the Emma Goldman Brigade claimed responsibility,” The
New York Times reported. It went on:
“A woman identifying herself as Coca Crystal, who telephoned The New
York Times, said the group was anarchist, had five members and had had
the pie thrown by Aron Kay, who she said was a professional pie-thrower
who previously had hit Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan and E. Howard
Hunt, the convicted Watergate burglar.”
The caller’s name might not have been familiar to the Times reporter,
but to New Yorkers south of 14th Street, Coca Crystal was a
countercultural celebrity, a Holly Golightly for the Aquarian age.
A onetime fixture at the alternative newspaper The East Village Other
and a Yippie provocateur, Ms. Crystal, with members of the militantly
feminist Emma Goldman Brigade (named after one of America’s most storied
anarchists), also infiltrated the Waldorf to disrupt a Republican
luncheon honoring Pat Nixon, the wife of President Richard M. Nixon. On
cue, two of Ms. Crystal’s associates released white lab rats that had
been concealed in their handbags, touching off pandemonium.
Ms. Crystal, who died on March 1 in Rochelle Park, N.J., at 68, went on
to gain cult celebrity as the host of “If I Can’t Dance, You Can Keep
Your Revolution,” a variety show on public-access cable television that
ran for nearly 20 years. It attracted a devoted audience — David
Letterman and cast members of “Saturday Night Live” counted themselves
as fans — and prompted TV Guide, in a 1980 article, to call her “the
smiling Queen of New York City cable.”
She died of respiratory failure, her sister, Jill Diamond, said. Ms.
Crystal had received treatment for lung cancer for several years.
Continue reading the main story
Ms. Crystal was born Jacqueline Diamond on Dec. 21, 1947, in Manhattan
and grew up in Mamaroneck, N.Y. Her father, Jack, owned J. Diamond Furs.
Her mother, the former Rita Dunn, was a fur model who, after marrying,
stayed home to raise her children.
Jackie, as she was known, attended private grade schools before
graduating from the West Nottingham Academy in Colora, Md.
She first gained public notice in 1966, when, as a film student at
Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey, she was arrested for
marijuana possession and then spied on by a police informer masquerading
as a student.
The undercover aspect of the case attracted considerable press
attention, especially after the informer quit her job. “I just couldn’t
do this,” she told The Associated Press. “Jackie was too nice.”
Soured on higher education, Ms. Diamond headed to Greenwich Village,
found work as a waitress at the Cafe Figaro and dived headfirst into the
turbulent cultural and political waters of the 1960s.
In January 1969, she boarded a flight to Miami that took an unexpected
turn — literally. As she described it in “Flying High,” an article in
Avant Garde magazine — her first appearance in print, under the pen name
Jeanne Devries — she awoke from a pot-induced slumber to stare down the
barrel of a pistol. A man wearing a dashiki and beads, described by
newspapers as a black-power militant, told her, “We’re going to Havana,
Ms. Diamond was unperturbed. “To me this statement was a dream come
true,” she wrote, “and I said, ‘Out-a-sight, man!’”
She added, “I was actually delighted to take part in the festivities,
and offer assistance, if necessary.”
The plane landed in Havana, and after a few hours, the Cuban authorities
sent the passengers on to their destination. The hijackers stayed behind.
Around this time, Ms. Diamond visited the offices of The East Village
Other. After acknowledging that she knew how to type, she was asked to
type up classified ads — “Dominant iguana seeks submissive zebra” was
one — while sitting on the lap of the publisher, Allen Katzman.
Hired at a salary of $35 a week, she assumed multiple roles. Seated at
the front desk, she was part gatekeeper, part concierge and part social
director, responsible for entertaining rock stars passing by from the
Fillmore East, which was downstairs, and an honor roll of political
“I was in a wonderful position to meet and greet everyone who walked
in,” she told the blog The Local in 2012. “Everyone from our landlord,
Bill Graham, to Timothy Leary, Jerry Rubin, Allen Ginsberg, Ed Sanders
and Abbie Hoffman, who chased me around the stat machine.”
Adopting the pen name Coca Crystal, she wrote about politics, women’s
issues and random personal events: a burglary at her apartment that she
foiled by serenading her intruder on the guitar; the myriad obscene
phone calls that she fielded at the office. The newspaper honored her,
in one issue, with her photograph over the title “slumgoddess.”
“She was the epitome of the flower child,” said Lynda Crawford, a
colleague at The East Village Other. “She was sexy, she was young, she
was very smart — she was cool.”
After The East Village Other ceased publication in 1972, Ms. Crystal
wrote briefly for its successor, The Ace. Her future, however, lay in
In 1977 she reserved a one-hour slot each Wednesday night at 10:30 on
Channel D to present “If I Can’t Dance, You Can Keep Your Revolution,” a
mix of politics, culture, music, audience call-ins and spontaneous
nonsense. She often described the show as a visual version of The East
Ms. Crystal, who in addition to her sister is survived by her son,
Gustav Che Finkelstein, had an unflappable, slightly spacey demeanor and
an incongruous la-di-da accent that added an extra layer of ineffability
to an already bizarre persona.
“So, before I go too much further, saying absolutely nothing at all, I
would like to tell you that I, Coca Crystal, TV star, have been taken
off the food-stamp rolls, even though I make a mere $40 a week and my
poor child will be left to starve,” she told the audience in one of her
impromptu monologues. “Send in those food stamps to me, here, care of
On another show, after denouncing American intervention in El Salvador,
Ms. Crystal summed up her position in a typically offbeat formulation.
“I don’t want my 18-year-old friends having to fight in El Salvador,”
she said. “The mosquitoes are awful.”
She opened each show by reaching for a marijuana cigarette. After
lighting it and inhaling deeply, she held forth on various topics before
welcoming guests to her spartan set. Over the years, she assembled an
eclectic lineup that included the composer Philip Glass, Debbie Harry
and Chris Stein of Blondie, Tuli Kupferberg of the Fugs and Ponderosa
Pine, the bark-clad animating spirit behind the All-Species Day Parade.
At the end of the show, she danced with her guests.
It all made for a beguiling blend — she once called the show “an hour of
talk, telephone and technical failure” — that lasted until 1995, when it
lost its time slot.
By then, in any case, times had changed, and cable television was
mainstream. Ms. Crystal was not.
“I live a crazy life,” she told The Local. “I am crazy, and I probably
always will be — and that’s fine.”
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