RIP Harvey

Local-news site reports that comic-book writer, jazz critic, and curmudgeon Harvey Pekar died overnight at his home:

Pekar, 70, was found dead shortly before 1 a.m. today by his wife, Joyce Brabner, in their Cleveland Heights home, said Powell Caesar, spokesman for Cuyahoga County Coroner Frank Miller.

I can’t help but think Harvey would be amused that his career’s end was presided over by a guy named Frank Miller.

I got to know Harvey a little bit about five years ago while writing about comics for various publications. Harvey loved to talk on the phone, as he often depicted himself doing in his work. He never failed to remind me that he was always available to talk – any time, he would emphasize.

Harvey always depicted himself as a guy who was bothered by stuff, who got bound up in grouchiness by obsessing over this or that. In his unsparing self-observation he laid bare the mechanics by which he was capable of making himself miserable. Despite this, it seemed to me that by the time I spoke with him he had got beyond this.

What struck me about Harvey on the phone was his profound generosity of spirit. I don’t think he saw it, and he probably would have been made uncomfortable by the observation. I do think the film American Spendor, starring both Harvey and the perfectly-cast Paul Giamatti, managed to capture that side of Harvey’s personality at the same time as remaining true to the source material. I love the film; Harvey liked it too.

Goodbye, Harvey. I’m so glad I got to spend some time with you, over those long circuits. I did know you were always there, ready to talk. Any time. I’m sorry I didn’t take you up on it as much as I should have.


So, I finally got around to reading Philip Pullmann’s celebrated “The Golden Compass,” and did enjoy it. It was a little odd reading a book that was clearly intended for a pretty young audience for the first time in many years, but it was carefully written and a story that would surely have struck powerfully had I read it as a kid. Both “Watership Down” and “Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH” strike me as similar in ways to Pullmann’s book and each of those books were profound reading experiences for me at, what, ten?

Anyway, I put the book down last night to start reading the April 19th issue of the New Yorker and came across Alec Wilkinson’s “The Ice Balloon,” a recounting of “S. A. Andrée’s ill-fated attempt to fly over the North Pole with two companions in a hydrogen balloon in 1897.”

Huh, I thought, there’s a balloon in the Arctic in “The Golden Compass.”

Then, in the article, Wilkinson notes that the balloon’s base of operations was a felt-lined hangar in Svalbard, Norway.

Svalbard is the location of the kingdom of Pullmann’s intelligent, talking polar bears, and the locale of the finale of the book. It seems clear enough to me that Pullmann was looking to Andreé as he chose certain images for his book. It was fascinating, and unsettling, to come across the likely source of these images while consuming them at the same time in their reified form.

All along the Watchmentower

I’ve been amusedly following the reviews for Zak Snyder’s “Watchmen.” The news, it seems, is not so good. Most of the negative reviews have been by relatively thoughtless reviewers, a few have been reviews that contained worthwhile critiques, and a vanishingly small number have been by folks who understand the brilliance of the original comic and have consequently approached the film with a strong sense of trepidation.

Only The New York Times‘ A. O. Scott, however, included this sentence:

Indeed, the ideal viewer — or reviewer, as the case may be — of the “Watchmen” movie would probably be a mid-’80s college sophomore with a smattering of Nietzsche, an extensive record collection and a comic-book nerd for a roommate.

As it happens, in 1986 and 1987, when the original series was coming out and i was hungrily devouring it (and The Dark Knight Returns and the first run of Love and Rockets, among others) I was:

  • a college sophomore

I had

  • an extensive record collection
  • a smattering of Nietzche
  • a comic-book nerd for a roomate

For the record, I preferred and continue to prefer Debord, thank you very much. Also it should be well-noted that I actually roomed with several comic-book nerds, including yours truly, and perhaps ‘nerd’ fails to capture the social and sexual dynamism of that household.


As a child, I intensely desired the Endless Book. Now that it flows through my computer hourly, I see that I was quite mistaken in my desires, exactly as forewarned.

Reread redeemed

For reasons unknowable to myself, I was drawn to excavate the Sherman Alexie short story What You Pawn I Will Redeem first from the recesses of my mind and thence from the archives of the New Yorker. It remains as astonishing and moving as it was on first reading. I so want to read it aloud to Viv, but I shall refrain. I know I did at the time that it first appeared in the magazine. While I read to her now and again this was the hardest thing I have ever read aloud.

Independence Day

Endzone was the livejournal of SF writer Tom Disch, a master of dystopian SF and a treasured early reading companion of mine. The books that I remember best are 334 and Camp Concentration. Appropriately, he also executed the novelization of The Prisoner.

His perfect cynicism and hopeless view of the human condition are certainly the aspects of his work that remain with me most resonantly. Whenever I have returned to these works, I have always found myself chuckling in appreciation of the perfect blackness of the worlds he wrote of.

He ended his own life on Independence Day.

“But he would not stop screaming.”

The New Yorker’s fiction issue includes a longish, elegantly written tale of the baby-trade which interweaves themes of new life, death and loss, sex, and the things we Americans do in service of our desires. It seems unlikely that the piece, written in the form of a companion’s memoir of the expedition to Addis to save some tot or other, oh that one will do, from darkest Afric, is intended to prompt identification in the reader with, respectively, the child or the Alzheimer’s afflicted and now-passed hubby. It’s aggravating to learn I can’t share it with you.

I have spent my life between worlds, and imagine that will continue interminably until terminated. Friends, you have no idea of the distance I keep.


Since I know at least two of the authors in the series, and love the idea, I suppose I should really man up on 33 1/2.

Ant King

I chuckled myself to sleep last night reading the 2001 Hugo-nominated (man, I have no concept where the hell that idea came from) short story “The Ant King: A California Fairy Tale.” I found the story via, or rather, via, the mobile-oriented skinning of the site.

The author, Benjamin Rosenbaum looks to be a fairly celebrated current SF writer, and based on what I can only describe as the perfection of the story (a satirical take on the Orpheus myth that applies Silicon Valley and text-based computer games to the legend) I concur.

Josh Bell rocks (?) the DC Metro

WaPo recasts Josh as busker. He’s game. DC commuters? um. Point: JOSH!

I really, really liked this. I sent this note to the WaPo team responsible for the piece.

Thank you all for making my day.

I knew Josh, distantly, as a kid when we were growing up in Bloomington. I haven’t seen him except to be aware of his career in years and years. However, I have heard about his openness and groundedness through the hometown grapevine from others of that cohort. I have no doubt that he is as open to and welcoming of the brilliant and crazy stunt you crafted with his kind cooperation and as sanguine and full of humor as you capture in the story.

In the years since I left Bloomington, I have become friends with more than one busker, but only one who might be characterized as a profoundly gifted professional musician. If I read him correctly, he has come to hate the busking portion of his work, primarily because in order to gather that money-generating crowd, you must rely on set pieces, little two minute magic tricks that confound, excite, and inspire, and which can be executed over and over, once every thirty minutes, to capture the crowd and engage them into the one-or-two dollar donation, or even better, the CD purchase.

Despite what I read as his frustration, his pursuit of the technique has resulted in a spellbinding performer who is unafraid to use his magic tricks to capture the audience’s attention before he proceeds with a piece he may regard as a more subtle and challenging expression of his talents as a songwriter and performer.

I flatter myself I would have had the time and openness on that morning to recognize the preciousness and hilarity of the gift Josh and your team offered the DC commuters at that, incredibly busy, station. I don’t mistake my desire for self-regard with a probable account of my notional interaction.

I can, however report this: your sensitive reportage and careful attention to craft in the prose of your final piece successfully echoed the tragic colors of Josh’s ‘Chaconne’ on the printed page, or more accurately on the internet, and moved me to tears. Kudos to all of you, and my tears are for the tragedy of our national culture of isolation and overscheduling. Thanks for a kickass reading experience, and great work with the multimedia documentation. Simply outstanding, entirely worthy of every participant, from the DC commuter though to Josh and his violin.


Two days later, Wiengarten notes that this is his largest-response-generating piece, and that at least 10 percent of the thousand or so correspondents note, as I do, that we wept.