The Watchtower of Destruction: The Ferrett's Journal - Cleveland Tough
The longer I live in Cleveland, the more I find it a tragedy that I never met Harvey Pekar. Because I don’t think you can truly understand Cleveland without understanding Harvey.
I’d say Harvey was the first blogger, desperately hunting down multiple artists and publishers to comic-strip-ize his mundane tales of Cleveland life in American Splendor, but that would be incorrect. Part of blogging is interacting with your audience afterwards, and Harvey never cared about that. Harvey’s audience actively seemed to irritate him at times.
He just had this burning need to talk about things that nobody else seemed to be telling. Tiny, street-level interactions. The mundanities and strangenesses of life. No superheroes, no grand story arcs, just a tiny, quirky little life lived at sidewalk level.
Yet somehow he made it fascinating. And back in the 1970s, when independent comics were underground, he self-published these weird little tales and found an audience.
Cleveland’s like Harvey: unapologetic, deeply loving of quirky things, the butt of jokes everywhere. Yet we don’t care. Hey, we have three thriving theater districts, one of the best classical orchestras in America, a wealth of fine dining. Did you know that? No? Well, who the fuck cares? You don’t live here. We’re not living our lives to impress you, we’re living it because we damn well like it – and yeah, maybe the economy’s a pisser and we’re all struggling for work and things are tougher than we like, but we’ll get by. We’re survivors, man. But being a survivor doesn’t mean you give up the shit you love.
Just like Harvey, obsessively collecting his jazz albums in his shithole of an apartment. A strange beauty, Cleveland is.
I mean, Harvey wasn’t afraid to open veins. He blogged about his deepest foolishnesses. And occasionally he lashed out in ways that even he considered embarrassing later on, going on strike in David Letterman and confronting him in perhaps one of the most uncomfortable TV moments in history.
But you know, what Harvey did, he never apologized for. He did what he thought was right at a time. Maybe he didn’t know better, but he did the best with what he had. And there’s a strength in that.
I dunno. I see parallels between myself and Harvey, but I could never take on his mantle. And yet, at one my point my girlfriend Bec called me “Cleveland tough” – which may be the greatest compliment I’ve ever been given. To be honest enough to endure the waverings of uncertainty is, in a way, the greatest strength. And to suggest that I’m a hardscrabble survivor, like Cleveland, like Harvey Pekar, is a glory.
I’d be proud to call myself Cleveland tough. For I’m in love with this city. This attitude. This way of being. Who we are is what we are, and maybe you think it’s silly or foolish, but fuck it. You know the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, fuck it, that’s commercial, if you’re distracted by that PR bullshit then you don’t deserve to know us.
I’m gonna watch American Splendor one more time today, and marvel at Harvey. I miss that crusty, unhappy bastard. Yet his legacy resonates still with me, with his city, and that’s something I’m proud to carry.
Here we are, funny voice and all, surviving. Thriving. Improbably creating beauty from the strangest things.
Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.
This entry has also been posted at http://theferrett.dreamwidth.org/199229.html. You can comment here, or comment there; makes no never-mind by me.
In my head, Cleveland will always be the city where cops drive Harleys.
I've only ever been there once, for a convention of a college engineering honor society. The Indians were in the playoffs, so seemingly every storefront had them plastered in the windows. And we Angelenos marveled at how clean the downtown streets were.
I only know Pekar from his infamous Letterman appearance (I thought it was a stunt), his appearance in Comic Book Confidential (about him stealing records from a radio station), and a strip on a wall in a record store in Montreal (about a cat urinating on his bebop albums). Since these events were all over 20 years ago, he was certainly memorable. Perhaps that's a sign of understated genius. One day I'll watch American Splendor. I'll try to connect it to Cleveland. Mind you, I'm so close to Michigan, I have an anti-Buckeye bias ;)
Edited at 2012-03-21 02:14 pm (UTC)
|Date:||March 22nd, 2012 01:06 am (UTC)|| |
>>about him stealing records from a radio station
Tangent - that's my radio station
You can have your bias. We all know how terrible Detroit is. :)
"We’re survivors, man. But being a survivor doesn’t mean you give up the shit you love."
~low whistle, slow grin, nod~ Yep. That one goes on the wall.
I love the movie American Splendor. Fourth wall? Fuck the fourth wall. I love that he comes on and talks about himself and the movie as if we weren't watching it along with him. I love that he just doesn't give a shit.
Also one of many reasons I fell in love with Paul Giamatti :)
Damn. Now I want to go watch it again myself.
He was great in The Illusionist and the only good thing in Lady In the Water. I really want to see Barney's Version. I loved the book.
Agreed on all counts. I really liked him in Man on the Moon too. I saw that and American Splendor before he was really well known and now he's a main contributing factor to seeing a movie for me (I saw Ides of March for him and Phillip Seymour Hoffman more than anything :)
I got it for three bucks in a clearance rack. That was a great three bucks.
I've had it for years - I have no idea where I picked it up now but it was probably similariy cheap. I've seen it since on cheap racks and I'm always vaguely offended. Like other titles that eventually get relegated to that section, I know it's too good to be there. But secretly I hope others find it there and are surprised by how good it is too :)
Come now. Mark Twain was the first blogger, if we want to go poking around. Pekar might have been the first Huffington or other aggregate...but no, really, publishers of independent town gazettes have been doing that since the printing press became affordable.
I loved Cleveland while I lived there too. I actually belatedly slipped one of my love letters to the city into my essay collection. But honestly, I've always disliked and been put off by Pekar's unending misery and misanthropy. That movie was just a miserable man being miserable at a camera. I can't bear that for too long without some poetry and flash of color, and Pekar never offered that, at least that I could see. Maybe it's a generational thing.
But Cleveland wasn't like that, to me. It had a heart, a secret, strange, kitschy, plastic, jeweled, frozen, beautiful heart. I know you love Harvey, but the idea that he represented Cleveland was part of what began to whisper to me that that was not where I belonged.
As someone who dated (and later married) a Cleveland gal, I would say that Cleveland has a serious problem highlighting the things that make Cleveland... well, worth visiting. When I'd ask most people what was worth visiting, they could only mention the Rock'n'Roll hall of fame, the orchestras (who cares? Most cities worth a damn have an orchestra), and Melt's. And maybe O'Malleys.
I'd almost say that if Cleveland is as "unapologetic" as you claim it is, then the flipside is that it doesn't like strangers. And surely no town/city wants to be that close-minded to strangers! from! the! outside! ?
So let's say a random LJ'er comes to Cleveland and says "Hey! Ferrett! Let's hang out a bit and you can show me Cleveland!".
Where would you take them?
Not to answer for Ferrett, but here’s what I wrote a few years back: Ten Things To Do in Cleveland Before You’re Dead (http://meyerweb.com/eric/thoughts/2004/09/14/ten-things-to-do-in-cleveland-before-youre-dead/).
Interesting. I'd agree wholeheartedly with four of the things on there (Blossom, the Lakeview Cemetery, Lake Erie, and the West Side Market).
My top ten list would also most likely include the Velvet Tango Room (of course), the Butterfly House at the arboretum, the submarine tour outside the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and the Vermilion Martime Museum. And a bunch of solid restaurants.
Plus in re-reading it (once I realized it’s 7.5 years old) I discovered a couple of things on it are no longer options. I definitely like your additions; I’d probably fold VTR and restaurants into a single entry, the way I did with University Circle.
|Date:||March 22nd, 2012 01:05 am (UTC)|| |
The submarine is great, but it's the same as all the other submarine tours in the US, so I don't know if I'd call it uniquely Cleveland.
I dunno. Having grown up near Mystic, Home Of Numerous Submarine Tours, I found this one uncomfortable and casual and not the rah-rah patriotism of most tours.
Having been to the West Side Market, I kinda fail to see the unique Cleveland-ness of the place. It's nice, but it's a posh market that sells food and fresh produce. Not much else to it, really.
Then again, my wife worked next to University Circle whenever I visited her. I'd spend all day on the Internet rather than explore Severance Hall, which is an astonishingly dull building when there isn't an orchestra playing.
Then you may wish to consider that Cleveland is not for you.
|Date:||March 21st, 2012 07:44 pm (UTC)|| |
I wonder sometimes if Cleveland is kind of the next big cool creative city in waiting... or if it's generally been like this.
So many people told me that Cleveland was horrible, a thing to be endured not to be enjoyed. But I've loved so much about it. When I first visited, I said it was a fairy tale city, very much in the Grimm's brothers sense, and that you just knew there were little match girls in the doorways at night, to slightly mix genres.
I'm told it's always been like this. I don't see it changing. We're not good at self-promoting, and our government is hideously ineffective at conveying any kind of message.
|Date:||March 21st, 2012 09:56 pm (UTC)|| |
Improbably creating beauty from the strangest things: things like even your inability to find peace in love, perhaps? Here's hoping you grow more and more into your inner Harvey.
We got to meet Harvey Pekar and his wife and daughter after a screening of "American Splendor" at our monthly Cinema Club event in San Jose. They were surprise guests for the Q&A after the film. Quite interesting. :-)