Counterculture RIPs

Two crucial figures from outside the mainstream of American culture have died.

Tuli Kupferberg (1923-2010) has been hanging around, writing about and stirring up trouble in New York’s Greenwich Village since the 1950s as a writer, poet, occasional political activist and rock ‘n’ roller. First in the late 60s and early 70s and occasionally thereafter, he was one of the Fugs (named after the faux-expletive from Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead) singing both the poems of William Blake as well as “Slum Goddess of the Lower East Side”. Since then, he kept writing, occasionally reformed the Fugs with his partner Ed Sanders, but had suffered a series of strokes in the last year from which he never fully recovered.

Harvey Pekar (1939-2010) was a bit better known. For the last few decades, he had been writing a series of autobiographical comics, “American Splendor“, illustrated by some of the best comics artists of the last few decades, from R. Crumb and Alan Moore to Gilbert Hernandez, Chester Brown and Joe Sacco.They chronicled his life in Cleveland, Ohio, from the tedium of his day job as a hospital clerk, a bout with cancer (in the excellent graphic novel “Our Cancer Year”), and his occasional run-ins with fame — in the 80s, he was occasional guest on David Letterman’s late-night talk show (until he famously decided to use his slot to lambaste GE, the owner of the NBC television network), and in this decade was memorably played by Paul Giamatti in a movie, also called “American Splendor”, based on the comics. Only a couple of weeks ago, I discovered The Pekar Project, devoted to getting and keeping his newest works online. He was always surly, too high-maintenance for his own good, dependably dissatisfied with whatever his life threw at him. And will nonetheless be missed.