Saturday, May 31, 2014

Harvey Pekar

One of my favorite contemporary writers is Harvey Pekar. And he mainly wrote in comics format, gaining much deserved fame from his comic book AMERICAN SPLENDOR. That fame later translated into mass market books, television show appearances, and a movie based on his life and his experiences in translating his life stories into comics format.

I have pretty much never been disappointed in anything he wrote. It didn't matter what it was or what it was about, I always got a kick out of his work. He has been described often by the overused term "Everyman", but in Harvey's case it was true. His background may have been a little out of the norm (he was a Jew), but his life experience as a regular guy from the working class is familiar if you are also from the working class (as I am).

Harvey Pekar was a guy who wrote effectively about his day-to-day life in a manner that was truly engaging and often inspiring. In the past couple of years I've read a couple of his posthumous works, CLEVELAND, and NOT THE ISRAEL MY PARENTS PROMISED ME. And even now there are still a few of his works that I haven't read, but I've pretty much glommed everything of his that's out there.

Last week I was in a used bookstore and saw a Pekar book that I'd not only never encountered, but had never heard of. It's EGO & HUBRIS, The Michael Malice Story. Hey. It was new (to me) Pekar material, so I grabbed it. Now, normally I wouldn't have bought it used, since I like to support authors and used books don't give anything back to the writer. But it was only $4.95 and looked never to have even been read. Plus, as I discovered after I got it home, it's autographed by Harvey. I don't have anything autographed by him, so if it's the real deal, I scored. I've seen his signature, and this one looks genuine. (Somehow I think Harvey would approve of the deal.)

So. To the contents.

For the first time in my experience of reading Harvey Pekar, he wrote something that totally lost me.

The book is about a genuinely annoying fellow named Michael Malice. Initially I figured with a name like that and the self-important attitude generated by this waste that he was something invented by Pekar. Not only do I find the guy intensely unlikable, I cannot imagine Harvey Pekar having any interest in him whatsoever. He is the opposite of Harvey Pekar. The appeal of Pekar's work is that he cared about other humans, but the title character of this yarn is the epitome of selfishness and monstrosity. It had to be some kind of horror story that Pekar was writing.

So, in the midst of the book, I looked the guy up on our favorite contraption, the Internet. And, sure enough, he's real. An Ayn Rand-loving, right wing, pro-corporate, government-hating blowhard.

The book at that point became even harder for me to follow because...well...stinking asshole. His story was boring (beyond his description of his origin and ethnic upbringing), and I still can't fathom why Harvey Pekar thought that this fellow's ego was worth putting down on paper. Because it really isn't. He's a dime a dozen. He's one of the hordes of young Republican/Libertarian/Objectivist thugs who kiss rich ass hoping that some real money will be tossed their way by the owners of the asses they are lubing with their slimy tongues.

I don't get it.

Was Harvey being subversive? Was he presenting this guy's story, playing him for a fool to show us what a real creep Malice is?

Fuck if I know.

All I can tell you is that I had to put the volume down for a couple of days and let the toxins drain out so that I could finish it. As a biography (or autobiography), the book is truly boring. The fellow's life has not been interesting and why anyone would want to read about it, or empathize with this right wing clod is beyond me.

Oh, well. I guess not even Harvey Pekar could hit one out of the park every time at bat.

EGO & HUBRIS by Harvey Pekar and Gary Dumm.


Lawrence Roy Aiken said...

Great minds and all that -- I was thinking of doing a post on Harvey Pekar. Yeah, I've read this one. I'm under the very powerful impression this gasbag paid him to do it. The best of Pekar's later-years stuff was _Our Movie Year_. Most of the shorter stuff, even the one about the black soldier -- hell, I can't even remember it, which tells you all you need to know.

What I would be interested in seeing is a collection of Pekar's jazz criticism, of which he supposedly did quite bit, especially for the renown _Downbeat_ magazine. I'm not a huge fan of jazz, but I enjoy his no-bullshit critical approach.

James Robert Smith said...

I've heard that his jazz criticism is stunning work. Pekar, referring to that work, said that looking at it and appreciating it made him feel like an idiot savant. From what other people have written about the material, I have always taken it to be great writing. The kind of thing that would make you appreciate jazz if you didn't care for it before.

James Robert Smith said...

And you know what...I think it very well COULD have been a case of Harvey being hired by Malice to write that hack job! It all makes sense! I recall Pekar saying that when he retired he thought that the pension and the movie money and savings would keep them going, but that it was not proving to be working out! He would have been, in that position, open to doing something like this for a fat fee! Their introduction even SOUNDS like that kind of gig going down!

Good ol' Roy! Always opening the doors of logic!