Sunday, April 10, 2011

"a hero is a celebrity who has actually done something"

that's what a teacher told her first grade class. i hope at least one of those tots understood what she said, took it to heart, and put it in practice.

alas, my heroes tend tend to be those characters who seem to have been unable to do otherwise. yes, i've been hot on the trail of eccentrics. last night up til two a.m. i first haunted the web for traces of the blues singer skip james. years ago i had one of his albums 'the devil got my woman.' he sang in this eerie high voice that took me off to someplace else, and it didn't sound like he'd sucked in some helium. no, it didn't have that comic quality.

track him down yourself. he first took the train north in 1930 and recorded in wisconsin 18 blues tunes, stomping his feet, pounding the piano, and battering his guitar. he thought he'd be famous - ah, how many of us make that mistake! not heard of again for thirty years, he resurfaced during the blues craze of the sixties. that's a long time to wait, but better late than never.

and after skip, i got caught up in the performances and story of tiny tim. long ago i had his first album and played it into the ground. another performer singing falsetto, what's that all about? and i've always wanted to master the ukulele. my god, tiny couldn't do that much on it and look how far he got. on youtube you can find a touching video tracing the day of his death.

fifteen minutes of fame, is that what it's all about? perhaps, perhaps. better sometime than never. these people may not be the epitome of personality. i certainly would want to share an apartment with them. what i love is their exceeding the boundaries of behaviour and good taste and making it work for them, at least part-time.

i've already mentioned the movie '32 short films about glenn gould' and videos online of janis joplin, and the documentary about the very strange recluse henry darger, who created a 50,000 page graphic novel where pieces of it now clutched by the faithful as though relics of the true cross.

in the end i hate being so ordinary. true, i've attempted at times to be a clown, a worshiper of charlie chaplin and buster keaton, secretly feeling i'm really a comedian who wants to be taken as seriously as einstein.

i have uploaded several talks, bits of forty hours of entertainment created by myself, talks given at california state university in the distant past. you can download them here: