Monday, October 26, 2009

If You Want to Sing Out...

Upon seeing the film Harold and Maude for the first time, I remember telling my dad how much I loved it and how refreshing Maude's viewpoint was (it really appealed to me at the beginning of my "what am i doing and why?" phase) to which he replied "Yeah, but it was kind of selfish of her to act that way in the end" (I won't spoil the end for those who may not have seen it. But I suggest to anyone that they see it.) That was the first time that I can remember that I realized I had a bit of a different take on things than some or most people.
This fact also came up when Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind came out. I thought it was a romantic story, but everyone else shouted me down saying it was horribly and irrevocably depressing.

My first college video project told the story of a man who kills himself and then find himself in a strange limbo/afterlife in which he is stuck forever in the same surroundings, while others who died naturally or by accident get to see what would happen to them or see how their significant others are getting on. Almost everyone took it to be incredibly depressing, but I had meant it to have a positive message...namely, don't kill yourself because you never know what's going to happen. Admittedly there's a lot of dark to sift through before you find that, but I never intended for it to be depressing...I think a lot of my family had a hard time with it because there were certain similarities between my surroundings and the main character's (most of which were due to the fact that I had no budget and used what I could). But, anyway, you get the idea.

Flash forward to 2003 or 2004 when I saw the film American Splendor at the UW theater. It's a biopic based on the life of Harvey Pekar, author of the underground comic series by the same name. Harvey is a staunch pessimist and is almost constantly grumbling, but he had the overwhelming yearning to do something with his life and so started writing comic stories about himself, his life, and those around him. He couldn't draw to save his life so he would lay out the text with stick figures and then convince artists he knew or found to illustrate the panels for him. This film and the character appealed to me on many levels. I love cartoons, music, writing, reading, and pay most attention to the small, seemingly mundane details of existence...I also tend to be somewhat depressed. Anyway, the movie led me to start reading the comics, which are also fantastic. Something about them that is always fascinating to me is, whenever Harvey mentions/complains about mainstream exposure or a wider audience, he's always saying how people tell him that people don't want to be depressed or be reminded of their troubles. But, if you read the comics you'll find that in nearly every story Harvey ends his four page depressive worry-filled thought bubble monologue with a phrase like "oh well, it could be worse. It's not like I'm in Calcutta or anything." or "at least I got a job." or "If I can just keep thinking ahead and not focus so much on myself I'm doin' alright". And, for every story about how neurotic or depressed or frustrated he is, there's a quick 1-3 pager about a bus driver that likes to pull over on slow days and figure out what kind of trees are on which boulevard. That to me is the definition of optimism...Harvey may not be optimistic about himself, but he is optimistic, or at least appreciative, about life.
I often walk away from reading American Splendor feeling fairly jealous because, in spite of his attitude, Harvey Pekar has fairly large group of acquaintances that he talks with in a very friendly manner, he writes jazz music reviews and is a free lance writer, and he's incredibly intelligent. He has an instinct of self-preservation that can definitely lead him to selfishness and egotism, but it also drives him to put himself out there and really dedicate himself to his passions.

Without getting to much in to myself, I do not often possess that trait. There are many things I love and am even obsessed with, but I'm never pushed to that "I want to do that all the time" level that really requires sustained and focused effort.

I have been drawing all my life. I was horrible at it and well-known to be so until around sixth grade when, for one reason or another, I found my style...cartoons. Since that point I've never stopped drawing but also never really developed technically. Around 2006 or so I began drawing a cohesive series of odd cartoon portraits entitled Slice Of. After finishing the first few I had the unusual perception that this was something that could be something bigger and so I collected ten or so of them and xeroxed thirty or so handmade booklets and left them around local bookstores to be picked up for free. I never got any feed back about it other than from friends and co-workers (which was uniformly positive), but for whatever reason my motivation faded once again.

The point of my writing this today is that, when depressed it's good to keep yourself busy and I have been drawing again quite a bit...the problem with drawing just to keep yourself occupied is that you're rarely working toward a cohesive whole and so planning or drawing something on purpose is somewhat out the window. My sister asked if I would draw some things for my niece and nephew's wall, but I have yet to begin that as that would require some planning...Anyway, this post is beginning to emit the sickly scent of soul-baring so I'll cut it short with this...keep busy until it leads to something more productive.

Here's some of the stuff I've been drawing lately.

I found this one interesting because it started out as completely formless doodles, but, about half-way through, I realized it had some kind of structure and purpose. I then continued drawing with intention...meaning that each subsequent mark I added with reason and precision...which was odd and a fairly rare experience as far as abstract doodles go...when I was done I had a feeling almost akin to pride about it so now it hangs in a cheap plastic frame in the office.

This one is pretty's bigger than this actually, but our scanner is not.

This guy I think technically falls under the Slice Of category as he follows the format...although it's bit stranger than most of them...He's saying "If they get within fifteen feet they're in trouble."
and his name is Jack Timber aka The Naval Stump. I think I was originally trying to create a superhero of some sort, but it evolved in to what it is.

This is, apparently, a demon or monster of some sort taking a bath...I'm as confused as you are...

This I just did last night...I'm really proud of how realistic his shoes are. I can see him being a recurring character in a strip-like capacity were it not for my inability/lack of desire to continue to draw the same character over in different positions....

"Solitude" by Duke Ellington from Monkey Jungle (with Charles Mingus and Max Roach) from 1962. No one does-or did-elegance with soul like Duke Ellington and this is one my favorite examples. While I realize the chronology makes no sense, I think of Duke Ellington as the intellectual link between Jelly Roll Morton and George Gershwin. I love this CD because it shows off Duke sans big band (and because I'm a huge Max Roach fan). This track is a little slower and more melancholy than the rest from the session but it is wonderful. It could be the soundtrack to a walk in the fall in Southeast Minnesota, or, like it often is to a ride on BART. It's simple enough to be relaxing, but also has enough depth to be intellectually stimulating. It's hard to analyze really, just a wonderful song by a talented group of men.

(as always, click the pic for a listen)

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