Fred W. McDarrah: “New York Scenes”

A superb hardcover presentation I am proud to own.

In sunny moments, I remember how seeing many of these for the first time on microfilm at Montana State University Library thrilled and excited me — this was how this world hidden by my isolated Montana culture looked!

In dreary afternoons like today’s, it can suggest not only a vanished world but a broken, or at least unfulfilled, promise: American bohemia would last forever; there was always going to be places, more and more maybe, where you could run wild and break the rules if you did it with grace and style. But true mass bohemia ruins the phenomenon. And the decline and fall of the Establishment made the rebellions empty.

In calm evenings like this, I can settle on being grateful that I met Beat writer stars Gregory Corso and Allen Ginsburg and found the latter to be especially funny, entertaining, wonderful in a rowdy Montana bar and even a wise, guru-type person. He conveyed a lasting impression of the freedom Beat and Hippie granted youth.

Oh, and the book includes a marvelous photo I had not seen of Leonard Cohen right before his first NY performance.

R.I.P.: Neil Simon

Shaped my TV-teen years as much as anyone.  Plus, Barefoot in the Park is one of the supreme on-screen chemistry couples. And Felix, in whatever incarnation, got me used to the idea of a lot less rough-edged male character than I had known. And, sure, funny to die for — but with that little burr of sadness buried down there. (I did not know the aptly-surreal incident where the audience member died laughing at the premier.)*

*Ok — this is down to allegedly now. But it was a event reported in the New Yorker back when they had serious fact checkers.

Screamin’ J

I see that Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’s ’90s albums are going to be reissued. Back in the day I had a real mixed response: I was glad they were out there because he could use the moolah; these numbers were just (sometimes good) jokes — his earlier renditions had been both jokes and not-jokes. And this is one of my all-time favorite Hairy Who paintings (very sad to see it is not on display — first discovered it visiting the museum in Chicago):

http://www.artic.edu/aic/collections/artwork/109886

 

Mervyn Peake — A Major Lapse By Me

Captivated by Lord of the Rings in junior high, I discovered the Ghormenghast Trilogy early in high school and spent a good deal of my sophomore year reading Titus Groan. Some of my (ahem) less intellectually-evolved classmates thought it was weird that I read thick paperbacks alla time and would ask “You still readin’ Tight Groin?” (hyuck hyuck hyuck). Perhaps because of all the shit I got, I never did finish the three books, but went crazy about the illustrations, which I thought were a superb example of a writer who was also an illustrator being the ideal person to do the visuals.

Then I screwed up and forgot about Peake for decades until after his passing I learned he was primarily an artist. Then I continued to screw up and only got a version of Alice in Wonderland that he illustrated (since he seemed like an unquestionable descendant of John Tenniel).

Just a while ago I stopped screwing up and got a copy of Mervyn Peake: The Man and His Art compiled by Sebastian Peake and Alison Eldred, Edited by G. Peter Winnington (Peter Owen, 2006). I am beyond enchanted. Among dozens and dozens of prized new pictures, I think I now have the definitive rendition of Algernon Blackwood’s Wendigo.