[Marxism] Pekar and Kupferberg obits
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Tue Jul 13 06:20:05 MDT 2010
NY Times July 12, 2010
Harvey Pekar, ‘American Splendor’ Creator, Dies at 70
By WILLIAM GRIMES
Harvey Pekar, whose autobiographical comic book “American Splendor”
attracted a cult following for its unvarnished stories of a depressed,
aggrieved Everyman negotiating daily life in Cleveland and became the
basis for a critically acclaimed 2003 film, died on Monday at his home
in Cleveland Heights, Ohio. He was 70.
A spokesman for the Cuyahoga County coroner’s office said that no cause
of death had yet been determined. Capt. Michael Cannon of the Cleveland
Heights Police Department, which was summoned to Mr. Pekar’s home by his
wife, Joyce Brabner, told The Associated Press that Mr. Pekar had
suffered from prostate cancer, asthma, high blood pressure and depression.
Mr. Pekar (pronounced PEE-kar), who toiled for nearly 40 years as a file
clerk in a Veterans Administration hospital, applied the brutally frank
autobiographical style of Henry Miller to the comic-book format,
creating a distinctive series of dispatches from an all-too-ordinary
life. His alter ego, introduced in 1976, trudged on from episode to
episode, quarreling with co-workers, dealing with car problems,
addressing family crises and fretting over money matters and health
“Harvey was like the original blogger, before there was an Internet,”
said Dean Haspiel, an artist who worked with Mr. Pekar on “American
Splendor” and “The Quitter,” his memoir. “He was ‘Seinfeld’ before
‘Seinfeld.’ Comics, which had been power fantasies for 12-year-old boys,
could now be about anything.”
Since he could not draw, Mr. Pekar enlisted top comic-book artists to do
the illustrations, notably R. Crumb, who had encouraged him to publish
and contributed illustrations for the first issues of “American
Splendor.” Later issues were illustrated by Gary Dumm, Greg Budgett and
“It dawned on me that comics were not an intrinsically limited medium,”
Mr. Pekar told Interview magazine in 2009. “There was a tremendous
amount of things you could do in comics that you couldn’t do in other
art forms — but no one was doing it. I figured if I’d make a try at it,
I’d at least be a footnote in history.”
Harvey Lawrence Pekar was born on Oct. 8, 1939, in Cleveland, where his
parents, Jewish immigrants from Poland, ran a neighborhood grocery
store. The neighborhood, once white, became mostly black in the 1940s,
and Harvey was the target of local youths who called him “white cracker”
and routinely beat him up. The experience, he later theorized, instilled
a profound sense of inferiority.
After the family moved to a white neighborhood, Mr. Pekar found that the
constant fighting paid off. In one-on-one combat, he usually emerged the
victor, and he became a respected street scrapper. At the same time, he
nourished deep-seated anxieties and compulsions that made him fearful of
taking on any challenge, one of the major themes of “The Quitter” (2005).
A series of dead-end jobs led to enlistment in the Navy, which
discharged him when his anxieties made it impossible for him to pass
inspections. Mr. Pekar resumed working a string of low-paying jobs,
usually clerical. In 1965 he found a permanent roost with the Veterans
Administration, where he turned down all offers of promotion and
remained a file clerk until he retired in 2001.
On the side, however, Mr. Pekar began writing articles for Jazz Review
in the late 1950s, and later for British jazz magazines and Downbeat. He
also struck up a friendship, in 1962, with R. Crumb, a fellow jazz
enthusiast and record collector then living in Cleveland. In Mr. Crumb’s
early work he saw new possibilities in the comic-book form.
He began sketching out stories with stick-figure illustrations. Mr.
Crumb, impressed, encouraged him to publish and showed his work to other
artists, who also saw what Mr. Crumb saw. Mr. Pekar’s humble tales “from
off the streets of Cleveland,” as the subtitle to “American Splendor”
has it, resonated with enough readers to keep the experiment alive.
“I always wanted praise and I always wanted attention; I won’t lie to
you,” he told Interview magazine in 2009. “I was a jazz critic and that
wasn’t good enough for me. I wanted people to write about me, not me
The cantankerous Mr. Pekar, who published the first 15 issues of
“American Splendor” himself, became a regular on “Late Night With David
Letterman” for two years in the late 1980s, until he went on a memorable
tirade against General Electric, the parent company of NBC, and was
dropped for several years from the show’s guest list.
Wider fame came with the film, a quirky blend of documentary footage,
animation and fiction. Mr. Pekar and his wife were played by Paul
Giamatti and Hope Davis, but Mr. Pekar provided the narration and
slipped into several scenes in both live and animated form. He wrote
about the film in “Our Movie Year” (2004).
In addition to “American Splendor,” Mr. Pekar wrote several biographies,
including “American Splendor: Unsung Hero” (2003), about the Vietnam War
experiences of Robert McNeill, a fellow worker at the VA hospital.
Mr. Pekar’s other books include “Students for a Democratic Society: A
Graphic History” (2008), “The Beats” (2009) and “Studs Terkel’s Working:
A Graphic Adaptation” (2009) as well as “Our Cancer Year” (1994), an
account of his treatment for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, which he wrote with
Mr. Pekar’s first two marriages ended in divorce. In addition to his
wife, he is survived by their daughter, Danielle.
Success did not seem to ease Mr. Pekar’s existential predicament. “Of
course I don’t think I have it made by any means,” his alter ego said in
a cartoon in Entertainment Weekly in 2003. “I’m too insecure, obsessive
and paranoid for that.”
NY Times July 12, 2010
Tuli Kupferberg, Bohemian and Fug, Dies at 86
By BEN SISARIO
Tuli Kupferberg, a poet and singer who went from being a noted Beat to
becoming, in his words, “the world’s oldest rock star” when he helped
found the Fugs, the bawdy and politically pugnacious rock group, died on
Monday in Manhattan. He was 86 and lived in Manhattan.
He had been in poor health since suffering two strokes last year, said
Ed Sanders, his friend and fellow Fug.
The Fugs were, in the view of the longtime Village Voice critic Robert
Christgau, “the Lower East Side’s first true underground band.” They
were also perhaps the most puerile and yet the most literary rock group
of the 1960s, with songs suitable for the locker room as well as the
graduate seminar (“Ah, Sunflower, Weary of Time,” based on a poem by
William Blake); all were played with a ramshackle glee that anticipated
With songs like “Kill for Peace,” the Fugs also established themselves
as aggressively antiwar, with a touch of absurdist theater. The band
became “the U.S.O. of the left,” Mr. Kupferberg once said, and it played
innumerable peace rallies, including the “exorcism” of the Pentagon in
1967 that Norman Mailer chronicled in his book “The Armies of the
Night.” (The band took its name from a usage in Mailer’s “Naked and the
The Fugs was formed in 1964 in Mr. Sanders’s Peace Eye Bookstore, a
former kosher meat store on East 10th Street in Manhattan. By then Mr.
Kupferberg, already in his 40s, was something of a Beatnik celebrity. He
was an anthologized poet and had published underground literary
magazines with titles like Birth and Yeah.
He had also found notoriety as the inspiration for a character in Allen
Ginsberg’s poem “Howl.” As Ginsberg and Mr. Kupferberg acknowledged, he
was the one who “jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge this actually happened
and walked away unknown and forgotten,” a reference to a 1945 suicide
attempt (off the Manhattan Bridge, not Brooklyn) that had been
preciptated by what he called a nervous breakdown.
The fame that episode earned him caused Mr. Kupferberg a lifetime of
chagrin and embarrassment. “Throughout the years,” he later said, “I
have been annoyed many times by, ‘Oh, did you really jump off the
Brooklyn Bridge?,’ as if it was a great accomplishment.”
The Fugs’ first album, “The Village Fugs Sing Ballads of Contemporary
Protest, Points of View and General Dissatisfaction,” was released in
1965. The band became a staple of underground galleries and theaters, as
well as antiwar rallies. In concert Mr. Kupferberg was often the group’s
mascot or harlequin, acting out satirical pantomimes — an American
soldier who turns into a Nazi, for example — or sometimes not singing at
On subsequent albums the band changed its lineup many times and acquired
a more professional sound, though its scatological themes got it kicked
off at least one major record label.
With his bushy beard and wild hair, Mr. Kupferberg embodied the hippie
aesthetic. But the term he preferred was bohemian, which to him
signified a commitment to art as well as a rejection of restrictive
bourgeois values, and as a scholar of the counterculture he traced the
term back to an early use by students at the University of Paris. Among
his books were “1,001 Ways to Live Without Working” — and for decades he
was a frequent sight in Lower Manhattan, selling his cartoons on the
street and serving as a grandfather figure for generations of
Beneath Mr. Kupferberg’s antics, however, was a keen poetic and musical
intelligence that drew on his Jewish and Eastern European roots. He
specialized in what he called “parasongs,” which adapted and sometimes
satirized old songs with new words. And some of his Fugs songs, like the
gentle “Morning, Morning,” had their origins in Jewish religious melodies.
Naphtali Kupferberg was born in New York on Sept. 28, 1923. He grew up
on the Lower East Side and became a jazz fan and leftist activist while
still a teenager. He graduated from Brooklyn College in 1944 and got a
job as a medical librarian.
“I had intended to be a doctor at one point, like any good Jewish boy,”
he recalled to Mr. Sanders in an audio interview in 2003. Instead he
began to write topical poems and humor pieces, contributing to The
Village Voice and other publications.
After the Fugs broke up, in 1969, Mr. Kupferberg performed with two
groups, the Revolting Theater and the Fuxxons, and continued writing.
The Fugs reunited periodically, first in 1984. Recently, Mr. Sanders
said, Mr. Kupferberg had completed his parts for a new album, “Be Free:
The Fugs Final CD (Part Two),” and had also been posting ribald
“perverbs” — brief videos punning on well-known aphorisms — on YouTube.
Mr. Kupferberg is survived by his wife, Sylvia Topp; three children,
Joseph Sacks, Noah Kupferberg and Samara Kupferberg; and three
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