Thursday, July 15, 2010

Tuli Kupferberg (1923-2010); Harvey Pekar (1939-2010); George Steinbrenner (1930-2010)

My wife, a good Episcopalian who believes in astrology, tarot, and ghosts, also believes that deaths always come in threes. The past several days have seen the deaths of three disparate but, for me, important men.

Tuli Kupferberg

What amazes me most about Tuli? That he became a rock star in his 40s (something I still fantasize about doing in my 60s)? That he was on the countercultural cutting edge through the hipster/beatnik/hippie/punk/grunge/hipster phases? That he could sing about swimming in a river of shit, then do another song the lyrics of which were a Blake poem? He and Ed Sanders named their group the Fugs, with inspiration from Norman Mailer's The Naked and the Dead. In 1948, Rinehart and Company wouldn't publish a book that contained the word "fuck", and Mailer couldn't write dialogue among American soldiers in the Phillipines in World War Two without using that word liberally, so Mailer compromised with a misspelling. This led to Tallullah Bankhead's saying, upon meeting Mailer, "Oh, so you're the young man who can't spell 'fuck'."

The clip above, courtesy of tulifuli, is described in its accompanying notes as follows:

Some time in the mid or late 1990's, before it's [sic] release on the Fugs Final CD part 1, Tuli performed "Where is My Wandering Jew?" on Coca Crystal's Manhattan public access TV show, "If I Can't Dance You Can Keep Your Revolution." Charming hostess Coca introduces Tuli who introduces the song and explains some of the references. "The Wandering Jew is a figure from medieval Christian folklore whose legend began to spread in Europe in the thirteenth century. The original legend concerns a Jew who taunted Jesus on the way to the Crucifixion and was then cursed to walk the earth until the Second Coming. The exact nature of the wanderer's indiscretion varies in different versions of the tale, as do aspects of his character; sometimes he is said to be a shoemaker or other tradesman, sometimes he is the doorman at Pontius Pilate's estate."(Wikipedia)
Harvey Pekar

Harvey Pekar was a very neurotic guy who lived in Cleveland all his life, dropped out of college because math courses gave him too much anxiety, and, until his retirement at age 62, worked as a file clerk in a Veterans' Administration hospital. In the early 1960s, he became friends with R Crumb, who was then living in Cleveland and working as an illustrator for American Greetings. Crumb had just begun experimenting with drawing comics, and when Pekar gave him ideas for his own strip, Crumb drew them for him. Pekar's strip evolved into American Splendor, which was about the everyday adventures of a file clerk living in Cleveland who looked a lot like Harvey Pekar. His work has been compared to that of Chekov and Dostoyevsky.

The clip above, courtesy of TravelChannelTV, describes Pekar's meeting with celebrity chef and TV traveloguist Anthony Bourdain, which resulted in one of Bourdain's most popular shows.

George Steinbrenner

Anyone who's read this blog knows that I loathe the New York
Yankees. You might suppose that I also loathed their principal owner, one of two Americans commonly known simply as "The Boss". Actually, my opinion of him was complex. I inherited from my father a visceral dislike of people with "overinflated egos". However, I came to realize that without such people, life would be--let's face it--dull. The societal dough needs the gas given off by leavening to rise.

Years from now, I suspect, Steinbrenner will be remembered less for the seven championships his team won during his incumbency than as the man who destroyed the House that Ruth Built (see photo above). While I was fond of the old Yankee Stadium, if not of the team that made it home, I found some perspective in this piece by New York Times sports columnist William C. Rhoden, who lives near the Stadium, in an apartment allegedly once occupied by Babe Ruth.

Some words of Steinbrenner's that should be remembered (other than "Billy, you're fired!") were uttered thirty seven years ago, when he had just become the Yankees' principal owner. Asked by a journalist if he intended to get involved in the day-to-day management of the team, he said, "I'll stick to building ships."

Update: The American Bar Association Journal notes that, by dying in 2010, Steinbrenner may have saved his heirs about $600 million.

Today's Times has a fond reminiscence of a dashing young Steinbrenner by a high school girlfriend.