I wish I had known Harvey Pekar. Heck, I wish I’d read some of his books before he died. I’ve seen the words “American Splendor” in passing many times, but for some reason had never investigated. Silly me. And then, just a couple of months ago, me and TheWife™ rented the movie from Netflix. It sort of knocked me back a few steps. There was just something about Pekar that resonated. I’d love to say that there’s commonality between me and him, at least as far as his story arc goes, but that’s mostly not the case.
Pekar led a straight-ahead blue collar existence that, in the end, allowed him time to dig in to what was important: the stories. What made me sit up and take notice was his passion and single-mindedness of purpose. He saw the glory in the everyday and had to share it with the world. Too bad so few people listened. I guess that’s my point of resonance. I have not led a blue collar existence, but I do have a passion for music, one that I have only recently begun to share. Is there an intersection between a story about somebody who pissed Pekar off in the checkout line and my love for a newly-discovered singer-songwriter? I think there is, though it might not be obvious.
Before I get to that point (and because honestly, I’m not sure how I’m gonna describe it, though I can promise that the word “oeuvre” will not be used), I have to say that the fact that I lived in Cleveland for a time seems to have something to do with my belated attraction to Pekar. By “for a time,” I mean that I lived there for a couple of summers during my college years. Yes, I “summered” in Cleveland (a phrase as weird to type as it is to read). West 85th Street, to be more precise. I didn’t do a hell of a lot. Slept late. Listened to records. Read books. Bought more records (at a shop out in Lakewood). Listened to the new records. Read some more. It was your typical slacker existence. I think the low point came during the viewing of the Major League All-Star game. We rolled the tee-vee out onto the front porch, filled a cooler full of Blatz beer, and reveled in the American pastime. The problem is that I reveled a little too much in the Blatz. When coming back outside from a bathroom break I miscalculated the line between my drunk backside and my chair, ending up on the white styrofoam cooler…which of course exploded, sending ice and bottles of beer tumbling down the front steps and onto the sidewalk. Somehow, this was all a lot funner back in 1982.
So is there a connection between me and Pekar? I’m not sure. Pekar took a stab at his dream and I’m only taking baby steps. Learning of his success (via the film) inspired me. We’re often bombarded with all manner of self-help advice. So much so that we become jaded to its message. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that good things do indeed happen.
I’m torturing the inside of the Subaru this morning with the not-so-soothing sounds of pianist Cecil Taylor. Somehow, I did not know that one of Pekar’s other passions was jazz music. He was incredibly knowledgeable and was not afraid of letting his opinions fly. Check out his review of the Ken Burns jazz documentary. Entitled “Better Than Nothing,” Pekar let Burns and his enablers have it. He was right to point out that the series pretty much ignored any modern jazz. Explanations for the oversight were offered but it was pretty obvious to me (and to Pekar) that people like Wynton Marsalis and Stanley Crouch had no use for the stuff, especially anybody coming out of Chicago’s AACM. Sorry guys, you don’t get to decide what is or isn’t jazz, no matter how many times you find “new” ways to recycle Ellington.
Well… so long, Mr. Pekar. We all loved you, and deep down inside, you knew it. Thanks.