Friday, July 03, 2009


Reading biographies of great artists is always a humbling experience. It can fill me with jealous rage, of course (I'm a genius, too - those accolades are rightfully MINE!) but mostly I am just fascinated to learn where a person learned what they learned to become who they were and why the public did - or did not - respond to their work.

Especially with the biographies of graphic artists, it is so valuable to learn what they learned, who they emulated, what their inspirations were - what the mold was, exactly, that they broke. And also to appreciate how so much of great artistic success springs from not talent alone, but the nexus of talent and history.

Charles Schulz reimagined the comic strip, using a modern, simple line juxtaposed with deep, emotional sadness. Putting the words of adults into the mouths of children. Knowing, unpretentious, stylish, self-aware. And he became the most successful - by any reasonable account - comic strip artist in history.

But he could not have done that in 2009. He had to start in 1950, and not a day later. Where would such a piece of daily art make such a wide-reaching impact today? He was in thousands of newspapers a day, great many of which no longer exist, with more folding every day. You can become a well-known comic artist today, but without the daily habit of reading the same newspaper, millions of people will never become attached to the same storyline for so long. Not in the funnies, not on TV, not in film, not in novels, nowhere.

Like so many my age and those older than myself, I read PEANUTS a lot. We had so many collections of his strips, and there were the other books, the toys, the TV specials. And like so many my age in particular, as the strip moved into the 80s and 90s (and I moved into my teens and twenties) I stopped reading it. It just seemed too sweet and uncomplicated. And no longer funny.

As a young adult, with a mortgage and a job and a daily paper I read them again, and I learned to appreciate them again. He stayed in the same place, but I had moved. Twice. In the late 90s, when I had no children in my house, there were a large number of PEANUTS strips clipped from the paper and taped to my fridge. Comic strips never motivate me to clip them and put them on my fridge anymore.

I understand there was a bit of controversy when this book came out, that Schulz family members were disappointed that Michaelis presented their patriarch as a less-than-perfect man. But it's hardly a hatchet-job. It makes sense. Happy men rarely make history. Or art.

Distance: 4.25 miles
Temperature: 69ยบ
Weather: cool & overcast, down by the river - PERFECT

pathetic  [puh-THET-ik]

–adjective 1. causing or evoking pity, sympathetic sadness, sorrow, etc.; pitiful; pitiable: a pathetic letter; a pathetic sight.
2. affecting or moving the feelings.
3. pertaining to or caused by the feelings.
4. miserably or contemptibly inadequate: In return for our investment we get a pathetic three percent interest.

Among our crowd, "pathetic" was the worst epithet we could wing. I am sure the first time I read the word it was in Peanuts, or heard it in the Charlie Brown Christmas special. When we said it, it was tinged with contempt - the way Rik on The Young Ones would say it, really nailing each syllable. It was a term reserved not for merely pitiable people, but people who were pitiable because they thought themselves great.

Someone who strives for great things and fails is not pathetic. Someone who likes to give the impression they strive for great things, but don't, they are pathetic.

I quite often feel pathetic.

Back in the day when we made mix tapes (oh my god, the sheer amount of TIME men of my generation spent crafting mix tapes) I created an (unintentional) three year project which I affectionately called The Pathetic Trilogy. In 1993, shortly after staring my first theater company and starting my first marriage, I was feeling ... less than satisfied. That sounds wrong, what I mean is, I was unsure. Unhappy. Anxious. I felt pathetic.

I decided to make a mix tape for myself that contained every song that a) I really really liked that b) made me feel worthless and small. And as I was preparing for this weekend in Athens, site of so many of my crimes, literal and figurative, and as I have been feeling a little unsure these past two days (nothing to be concerned about, oh no) I thought I would put together an edit of those tapes, at least the music with some kind of beat, for running to.

These are songs from that first tape. Their content should surprise no one.

pathetic (1993)
digging in the dirt * - peter gabriel
sanctified - nine inch nails
m - the cure
like the weather - 10,000 maniacs
hard day - george michael
what have i done to deserve this? - pet shop boys ft. dusty springfield
the mayor of simpleton - xtc
bring on the night - the police

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