Is It Really One of the Top One Hundred Novels of the 20th Century?
An info(bullshit)-commercial for the movie Watchmen caught my attention when the narrator said, "This movie is based on a novel critics rate as one of the top 100 novels of the 20th Century." Whoaaaa, I sez to myself. One of the top 100 novels of the 20th Century and I've never heard of it? I checked it out. It's a novel written by a Brit American-culture-lover, Alan Moore. I just read Alan's Wikipedia listing. Born in 1953--OK, a baby boomer. Became a comic book artist/writer after he got kicked out of high school for dealing LSD. Lucky he wasn't born in the USA, he'd be still doing time in a US prison for even possessing LSD, much less selling it. But you don't find that in any comic books. Alan, born in '53, yes, a teenager during the 6os, and with contemporaries like the Beatles, Moore soon found himself believing he was a Hippy, a drug-taking, anarchy-lovin' Hippy. His level of reading interest: US comic books. He became fascinated with superheroes and superhero comic books. My nephew, now a middle-aged artist, was born in 1952 (Moore 1953), and I can see some parallel lines in my nephew's life and this Brit dude's. Both got into illustrative art; both consider themselves also writers. Both were also druggies; my nephew (and me, too) loved LSD, pot, and hippy women, very loudly played Johnny Winters, while he read antiVietNamWar comic books and R Crumb comic books and he maintained a fascination with superheroes, too, something he developed after reading books about Vikings as a little kid. Later as an artist, he painted very realistic almost comic-book-like human figures doing fabby things on billboard-like canvases that were so large you couldn't possibly hang them in an ordinary home or apartment.
I just missed being a Baby Boomer by the hair of my chinny-chin-chin. I was at the bottom of the barrel of the Beat Generation, in what I call "the Forgotten Generation," a generation that influenced these Baby Boomers more than they knew. The Beats-Hippies gave us LSD, for instance, Timothy Leary sending Alan and Jack some of the first samples of quality LSD, very much legal at the time, and of course Jack and Alan tried it. And Leary sent some to Aldous Huxley out in L.A. and Aldous tried it; hell, he loved it so much, his mistress--or wife--shot him up with 5 cc of lab-produced LSD as he lay dying--can you imagine, a mainline hit of liquid LSD! Don't you know Aldous visited every Heaven and Hell known to the legends of man as he passed on off the coil.
Comic books never interested me. Oh, I wanted to read comic books as a kid because that's what all my friends did, but my parents forbade them in THEIR house. I would see them when friends brought them to school and they'd slip them to me to look at during study--and it was a dangerous thing to do in school, too, bringing comic books to school was against the law. Or when I would go to my friends's homes I'd take a look through their collections. Also my friends who were comic book reader-freaks loved to narrate the panels while I tried to read them for myself--that sounds funny: "reading comic books." I guess looking at pictographs and interpreting them as word images in your brains is reading--reading in a rather perfect sense as I see it. Strangely, it was OK for me to read the newspaper "funnies" in my parents's (THEIR) house. My dad especially got huge pleasures from reading his favorite "funnies." I would read his funnies and not really understand them--with the exception of the Nut Brothers, Ches and Wal Nut, which ran over one of my dad's other favorites, Our Boarding House, especially when it featured his favorite cartoon character, Major Hoople. Officially (newspaper style) these cartoon strips were called "the comics." They started way back a century or more from today, we all know that, but the Americanization of the comic strip both artistically and literarily has been to its benefit raised to cultural heights, both comic books and comic book artists--raised to heights of great critical praise, culminating in the paintings of Roy Liechtenstein and Red Grooms and especially my generation's favorite comic strip artist and writer R. Crumb. And while this American culture was at its height so were American-created superheroes, and this aspect of American culture so took hold of this Baby Boomer Brit dude, Alan Moore, critics say he successfully raised the comic strip/book world to a truly remarkable stance, that is if his novel really does belong among the 100 best novels written in the 20th Century.
Back in my hometown, when I was home from college one summer, I met this guy named Jodie at a party at a local university one night. At that time I was a junior in college and a just-published poet--2 poems published in the Piggott, Arkansas, newspaper--accepted by a woman poetry editor who claimed she was related to Ernest Hemingway's 2nd wife, Pauline, who was from Piggott. I knew by then that Hemingway was connected to Piggott and that he had visited Piggott a lot and liked Pauline's father a lot and hunted with her father all over that area of Arkansas, which is up in the northeast corner of the state, up by the Missouri line. So I was strutting around the babes at this party bragging about being a poet and dreamer and thinker and about how "you beautiful ladies" liked that in a man--I didn't consider myself a pretty boy, never have, so I always used my charm and wit to lure women into my romantic trap (speaking comic book: unfortunately, I've trapped several black-widow-spider-type women in my trap, even marrying a couple of them, and, yes, I've been eaten alive by every one of them--but I have been reborn at least four times (at least 3 more times than Jesus)--but then that's a story for a later day.
One of these college babes who I came onto as a poet told me, "You should go meet that guy Jodie over there with your friend J.D.D. He's braggin' better than you. He's world famous he says and you say you're just a poet. Get a life, Wolfie." Whew, that slammed my poet ass down to the mat. I didn't cry "Uncle Dick" though but rather walked right the hell over to my friend J.D.D. and demanded to meet this Jodie dude who thought he was world famous. And this rather older-looking kid said, "Hey, man, I'm Jodie, who you?" Sticking out his hand as he said it.
Turned out, Jodie was famous alright, I don't know about world famous, but he was famous. Since the age of 11, Jodie had collected every comic book ever published, and by the time I met him, he had the most complete up-to-date comic book collection in the USA. Turned out, too, Jodie loved beer and soon Jodie, J.D.D., and I were out in J.D.D.'s Chevy heading for Impact, Texas, a "wet" district just outside my "dry" hometown--wet and dry referring to whether you could buy booze in the area or not. "Wet" meant you could "get something to drink" and "Dry" meant you couldn't get a drop to drink. A couple of flim-flammers from my hometown came up with the idea of buying up several acres of land outside my hometown's city limits, building a big liquor store with their own homes on each side of the liquor store. Then these sharpies applied to the state for their area to be designated a chartered city, which it became, and they named it Impact, Texas. Impact's very first election was on the issue of whether the town would be "Wet" or "Dry." The Impact, Texas, City Council voted 2 to Zip in favor of going "Wet," and soon these guys were rakin' in the bucks by the beer barrels and quart and gallon whiskey bottles.
After we killed a six pack out on a back farm road, Jodie invited us back to his house for a chicken dinner and a look at his room. After we devoured every piece of Jodie's mother's fried chicken (she used crushed-up saltine crackers in her flour & milk batter just like I later learned to fry chicken from Dandy Don Meredith once a great quarterback at SMU and then for the Dallas Cowboys).
Jodie's room turned out to be crammed, all four walls, even arched over his bed, some in makeshift bookcases made out of fruit crates, shelf after shelf of arranged and tagged comic books and then I noticed there were shelves crammed with other kinds of books, paperbacks, thousands, and on closer inspection, you saw all of Jodie's paperback books were science fiction books! Turned out Jodie had read every science fiction book ever written--that's what he claimed, and by the time a couple of braggarts like Jodie and I were bombed on beer we thoroughly believed each other. During our jiving together, I heard Jodie say he thought television shows had evolved out of comic books--family sit-coms based on comic-book families like the Bumsteads, Dagwood and Blondie, with their kids, and Dagwood's job (Mr. Dithers his boss), and Blondie being the perfect middle-American housewife. Or "Happy Days" kids evolved out of the Archie comics, where Archie, Jughead, Veronica, and Betty lived the good all-American life in wherever it was they lived--Riverdale?--Jughead a Fonzie-like character and certainly Richard Cunningham was Archie. The superheroes at that time, the ones that later would so influence this Alan Moore, were first introduced on the radio, the comic books developed first then exploited and sold through their characters through radio shows--especially those that came on on weekday afternoons around 4 pm, just after the schools let out at 3:30. Every 15 minutes until 5 pm, there were radio shows for kids, shows in which I first met Superman, Batman, The Green Hornet, Plastic Man, Spiderman, Captain Midnight, Captain Marvel, Terry and the Pirates, Hop Harrigan, Jack Armstrong the All-American Boy, Wonder Woman, Captain Easy, Mandrake the Magician, Straight Arrow. They came off the radio. I remember the Superman radio shows were sponsored by DC comics. Then came the crimefighters, Boston Blackie, Dick Tracy, Mr. Keen Tracer of Lost Persons, The Shadow, Sam Spade, the Lone Ranger, Sergeant Preston and Yukon King--"On King, on you Huskies." Then came the sit-com comics, Dagwood and Blondie, and the kids shows like Henry, Nancy and Sluggo, Little Orphan Annie, Little Annie Roony. From comic books and strips to the radio then from radio to the comic books and both radio and comic books carried over into the fifties--and then there were the movie cartoons and most of them, the Looney Tunes the Merry Melodies, Mickey, Donald Duck, Goofy, all came to teevee as cartoon shows--and so many teevee shows were based on comic-book characters, the most successful of all based on Superman and starring the ill-fated George Reeves as Superman.
So American, eh? And so attractive to Baby Boomer Brits. These kids were born after WWII, after the American soldiers had brought American culture to Britain when they were stationed all over England during World War 2--you know my chauvinistic attitude is that we saved the people of Britain and then were major rebuilders of war-ravaged England, especially London, so they should respect our culture rather than seeing a chance at ripping it off and coming to the US and blowing it right back in our faces--as in the case of this American-culture-lover Alan Moore--and of course I'm jealous of his ass--he's crazy about the American culture that I'm a part of, whether as a comic book character or the character of an ongoing daily-posted novel of New York City reality or as an early rock 'n roller, an early white blues musician, then jazz musician, then composer, then songwriter--and I've, like I've said, been a published poet, and I've published short stories, and I've written 35 Catholic church parish histories in my day, and I've written two books on an RC Pope, one of which was a semi-bestseller on which I made a cool 75 grand--pretty good bucks in those days, so I think I can qualify as a defender of "my" American culture as it's being invaded by foreign Baby Boomers (actually the Beatles and Rolling Stones are older farts than Baby Boomers--John Lennon born in 1942? Just think, half of the Beatles are dead and gone now--and probably most young music lovers have no idea who the hell the Beatles are now) who confiscate it as their own and are able to then turn that culture into a novel that even American literary critics say is one of the 100 Best Novels Written in the 20th Century. I begin to again ponder over why we American Whites still feel so much respect for Brits and kowtow to them and give them credit for American things they don't deserve and we so admire anything they do--and we so respect their accents and consider them speaking so much more sexy and elegant than the ways Americans speak--hell, shouldn't a typical American accent be a Spanish accent by now? or a Native-American accent?--and there are Native Americans remember from the Arctic Circle down the length of the Americas to Tierra del Fuego--like the accent I heard once in the Yucatan and then heard that same accent later in Guatemala City; or the difference between the Spanish I heard in Mexico City and the Tex-Mex I heard in San Antonio, Texas--the accents all sprinkled about like confetti--confusing.
later got his "Whites playing Mexicans on teevee are embarrassing to me--like the famous White guy who played Jose Jiminez on the Danny Dumbass (Thomas) teevee show--or even Mel Blanc when playing Speedy Gonzales--or when playing the character of Pedro on the Jack Benny radio show, a routine that Gibert Gottfried got his "Sy" "Si" "Sue" "Si" routine from. "Seeeee!" said nasally and mockingly. It's the same as I feel when I used to hear those two White guys who portrayed Amos 'N Andy on the radio--who, by the bye, and I know people hate my "by the byes" 'cause they know I'm fixing to brag about something related to me--except, like old Walter Brennan (one of my favorite actors, by the bye) used to say on his teevee show (he died during making this show?) The Guns of Will Sonnett--like after old Will Sonnett, portraying the elderly and crickity-looking father of a famous gunslinger, would outdraw some dude who'd challenged him to a gunfight and then blown his ass away he would blow his breath on the gun barrel to cool it down, then look up at the townspeople watching the fight and say, "No brag, folks, just fact"--so really I'm not bragging about this but the White dudes who invented Amos 'N Andy were from my neck of the woods--from a town nextdoor to my hometown, a town my own greatuncle on my father's side, his name was Blue, was once sheriff and then mayor of that town at the time the two White Black impersonators were born and raised there.
All of this after I heard about this Alan Moore and this novel Watchmen--a novel about a gang of old used-up superheroes who are told they are the last hope for the saving of the world, all taking place in New York City--sorry, folks, I suppose, and I really don't want to, I know nothing about comic books and superheroes (remember I don't believe in God and I certainly don't believe in supernatural human beings (human monkeys)), but I am curious enough to attempt to read this novel--and maybe I'll come out of it in one of my better sarcastic moods and give it a good drag across a big West Texas mud puddle.
If you would like to read a novel written in my hometown with my grandmother looking over the young author's shoulder advising him and who she considered her protege, read Thieves Like Us by Eddie (Edward) Anderson. Robert Altman made a movie out of Eddie's novel after it was "rediscovered" and made a bestseller in the 70s, long after poor Eddie was dead and gone.
So until I read Alan Moore's great novel....
Just discovered, on my recording studio floor, all covered in dust and god-knows what else, a cassette tape given me by my brother back in the late 80s, on a label called CompactJazz, a Polygram Records division, and it's called Dinah Washington. That's it. And Holy Christ Child'a Flyin' Home, it's a winning, five-star series of recordings Dinah made in the 50s and early 60s--she died in 1963--she modeled her life and styling after Billie Holiday and had just as tragic a life--a life that should have been full of awards and rewards and pedestal sittings but instead was full of racist rebukes, rip off white artists, denied fame, and eventually a drug overdose.
This great little cassette tape features a lot of one of my favorite pianists, Winetone (Wynton's his real name--he being for whom Wynton Marsallis is named, by the bye) Kelly--especially on a live track from the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival of Bessie's "Backwater Blues," with Max Roach, Paul West, and Winetone in the rhythm section backing Dinah, Blue Mitchell, Melba Liston, Harold Ousley, and Sahid Shahab--just a god-damn cool, cool version of Bessie's classic blues. And then, say whoaa to wild horses as you listen to Dinah in a 1954 jam in L.A. backed by Clifford Brown and Clark Terry, Keeter Betts, Max Roach, and Junior Mance on piano--Clifford Brown is dazzling on this--and Clark Terry tries his best to outdazzle Brownie and does a pretty good job of it, too. Clark Terry is a damn good underrated jazz trumpeter. Also on this cassette is Dinah at that same Newport Jazz Festival in '58 doing "All of Me" with long-time overlooked great musicians, Don Elliott--playing the mellophone and Terry Gibbs, the amazin' Terry, on vibes, and old steady Urbie Green on trombone. [Back 5 years ago now, JESUS!!!!, I did the Delaware Water Gap Jazz Festival (started by Phil Woods) with this band I made a recording with and I followed Urbie Green and his family band (his wife sings and his son Jesse plays the piano). As I was going on, I went up to Urbie and tried to schmooze with him but he kept his distance and was very unfriendly. Fuck him, I said, and went out on stage and blew the bastards away--don't diss my ass and think you're dealing with a nobody, I was yelling at Urbie under my breath--sorry, folks, but my lines run parallel to so many influences on my life--like Urbie Green, and I did like that White son of a bitch's way of playing the trombone--he's especially great on those wonderful Columbia recordings issued on LP as The Buck Clayton Jam Sessions--two of the coolest LPs issued in the '6os--and it's Urbie's solos with oldtimer trombonist Henderson Chambers, interchanges, that add a superblue coolness to these jams--check out "Robin's Nest" and "The Huckle-buck"--yeah, that's right, Paul Williams's old Savoy record hit.
for The Daily Growler