Another casualty of the Winter of 2017

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TIMBER!!

On this day in 2017 this big tree on the Berkeley campus collapsed and died. It was a casualty of the brutal rainstorms of the winter of 2017. We ended up getting 38 inches of rain that year — about 15 more than usual. The tree got water-logged and rotted out and died.

And it was symbolic to me. Because a week earlier Hate Man had collapsed and died, too. Another water-logged victim of the winter of 2017. A mighty tree and the mighty Hate Man. Gone gone gone.

Then they buzz-sawed the tree into a big pile of sawdust and left it sitting there. And whenever I looked at it I felt this weird synchronicity. Because Hate Man too had been reduced to a pile of cremated ashes.

Trying to write my goddamn ACID HEROES book

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Writing my ACID HEROES book was a fairly painful experience. It took me 7 years to write the damn thing. 2002 to 2009. And I wrote like 7 different drafts. But the weird thing was, every draft improved it in some ways, but made it worse in other ways. Which was maddening.

I had never gone through anything like this before. With all my other projects, the more I worked on them, the better they got. It was like carving out a sculpture. I’d slowly but surely cut out the parts I didn’t want. And the image I was trying to create would get clearer and clearer. Until I was finally done.

But with the ACID HEROES book, the more I worked on it, the worse it got. It was like I was going around in circles. Flailing away blindly.

Part of the problem was that the subject matter didn’t play to my strengths as a writer. Generally I like to take a small thing, and extrapolate that into a bigger thing. Like with my previous book — SURVIVING ON THE STREETS. I’d write about a little thing, like the best kind of boots to wear when you’re on the streets. And extrapolate that into a larger meaning about life on the streets.

But with the ACID HEROES book I was coming from the opposite direction. I was taking this big thing — 50 years of my life, and 50 years of the cultural history of America — and trying to boil it down to this little thing, this concise little book. It was like making a documentary where you got 50 years worth of footage, and you got to edit it down to a 2 hour movie. So it required some pretty precise editing. Which didn’t play to my strengths as a writer, which tends to prefer a more meandering approach.

Adding to the problems, when I finally got down to working on the final draft I was homeless and living on the streets. Try writing, editing, and self-publishing a 300 page book while living out of a sleeping bag in the middle of the rainy season. No easy task.

And by that point I had already written and re-written every sentence 7 times. And I had gotten lost within it. I could no longer tell which was the best take.

On top of that I was going through an extremely stressful period in my personal life. I was in the middle of on-going wars with 4 different street people — lunatics all — and the kind of feuds that involved physical violence and dealing with the police. So that distracted my attention. On top of that I was dealing with my best friend who was in the process of dying a hideously painful death. On top of that I was working full time at my job as a street vendor, which was another source of stress. On top of that I was diagnosed with glaucoma and the docs were telling me I could blind at any moment. So it was like, what the fuck?? A complete over-load on my senses. Meanwhile I’m still striving to create immortal literature.

So it was hard to distinguish the forest from the trees. I was so immersed in the details of trying to get every sentence exactly right that I lost sight of the bigger picture. The actual concept of the book. And the pacing and the structure of the things. And I made several crucial mistakes on the final draft that irk me to this day.

Oh and one more problem. I was trying to write about the psychedelic experience and hallucinations. Which any writer will tell you is difficult to capture in words.

When I finally managed to get the damn thing published — almost exactly 10 years ago from this day — I was so stressed out that I contracted this disease, Shingles. Which is largely caused by stress. Half of my face was covered with these incredibly painful festering sores and scabs. I still have the scars from it to this day.

In a way I never really recovered from the experience of writing that book. I had spent the previous 35 years doing one artistic project after another after another. But after ACID HEROES there would be no more projects. I was fried.

People often say to me: Ace you should publish another book. Or put out another CD. Or do another calendar. Or publish another zine. And I’m like: “No. I don’t think so.”

The Clyde “Jim” Gearwar Story

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And then there’s the other odd thought that sometimes crosses my mind. If old Jim hadn’t happened to have met Nanna on a whim around a 100 years ago, I wouldn’t even be here right now typing away on my goshdarned website and none of this would even exist and you wouldn’t be reading this at this exact moment, you’d be off somewhere else doing something different and maybe your life would turn out completely different because of that.

 

This is my mother’s father. And I can see my resemblance. We both have the slightly gawky long arms and legs. And the crazy leer in the corner of our eyes.

He was half Injun, half Canadian French. His name was Clyde Gearwar, but everyone called him “Jim” because apparently “Clyde” wasn’t enough Indian-sounding. Go figure.

His father was a full-blooded Iroquois Injun who used to go loco on the booze and beat up the whole family and terrorize them his shotgun. One day when Jim was 16 his father was threatening to kill his mother. So Jim shot him in self-defense, seriously wounding him. Jim’s sister helped to smuggle him out of the country to Canada because they knew their father would kill him when he got out of the hospital.

Later Jim returned to New Hampshire and married my mother’s mother (good old Nanna — what a miserable old coot she was) and they had 3 kids. Jim continued the Gearwar tradition of going nuts on the booze and terrorizing the family with his shotgun. Often Nanna would have to lock herself and the kids in one of the bedrooms while Jim was on one of his drunken rampages. Not daring to unlock the door until Jim finally passed out.

The Clyde “Jim” Gearwar story finally came to a spectacular conclusion in 1946 when an irate husband caught him screwing his wife. And shot him dead outside a local bar. The End.

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Clyde “Jim” Gearwar (1894-1946) still resting in peace.

A time capsule back to the Berkeley Inn

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Some songs are like time capsules. They take you back to a period of time. And when you hear them again, decades later, it’s like all the memories of that time are somehow encoded in the music. And when you hear it again you might start crying and crying and never stop.

I used to listen to this song on this one album by Peter Green in the summer of 1982. I was staying with my friend Duncan at his hotel room in the Berkeley Inn. And my big dream At the time was to publish an underground newspaper. And as I worked on laying out the lay-out pages for what would be TWISTED IMAGE #1 on Duncan’s desk — rubber cement, x-acto knife, white-out, etc, the tools of the trade — I used to listen to this song over and over. “When Kings Come Home” was the title. It’s an instrumental, just one guy playing an acoustic guitar. And It was like soothing background music that helped me concentrate on the work at hand.

Duncan had this dusty little hotel room. It must have been about 20-feet-by-20 feet. It had a big brass bed, and a desk, and a sink, and one window that looked at to the back corners of Telegraph Avenue. And that was it. I can still see Duncan’s hotel room clear as a bell. I even remember his room number. 414. On the fourth floor. And he had a bunch of posters on his walls. A beautiful blue photo of a whale leaping out of the water. A poster of Princess Diana (go figure — Duncan was English). And he had xeroxes of all the covers of his underground zine TELE TIMES on the wall behind his bed. Every time he published a new issue he’d immediately scotch-tape a Xerox of the latest cover on the wall. Like a trophy. I think he had about 25 covers on his wall at that point. All posted in chronological order. Like a history of his on-going accomplishments.

And Duncan also had this cheap record player. It was just a box that folded out with a handle and a tinny little amplifier built into it (if you were a kid in the 60s you probably had one of those record players in the days before stereos). And he had a stack of records. I remember he had “Bridge Over Troubled Water” by Simon and Garfield. And, oddly an album by Laverne and Shirley — the TV sit com actresses — singing the rock songs from the’ 50s. That was one of his favorites.

And he had this one too. It was a quirky compilation album by John Fahey and Leo Kotke and Peter Lang. And I used to play it over and over back in June of 1982 in Duncan’s little hotel room.

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Decades later I was trying to remember what that one particular song was that I used to play over and over back in 1982 in Duncan’s dusty little hotel room. All I remembered was that it was a compilation album with John Fahey. I couldn’t remember the song title or the album title or even who did it (Peter Lang). Finally — thanks to the wonder of YouTube — I was finally able to find it. And as I listen to it now, it’s like I’m back in Duncan’s hotel room and it’s 1982 and we were young and everything was starting. And then in a blink of an eye it all came and went.

 

When Kings Come Home: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LocAHVcuROU

THE BOOK OF WEIRDO: Some random thoughts

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Was looking through the different artwork in THE BOOK OF WEIRDO and was struck by the rawness of a lot of it. One thing that distinguished WEIRDO from most of the other comics anthologies was that a lot of the contributors wouldn’t be considered “professional” cartoonists. Norman Dog referred to it as “outsider art” — which was his reason for disliking the magazine. And the lack of a polished sheen probably turned off a lot of comics fans. But that was also a big part of it’s appeal. The contributors were primarily concerned with expressing their unique personal visions. And it gave the magazine a dynamic, free-form quality

I was also struck by the excitement of those times. We were all young and almost feverishly trying to make lives for ourselves. THE BOOK OF WEIRDO truly shows that the lives the artists were leading was just as interesting — if not more so — as the art they were producing.

THE BOOK OF WEIRDO is available from Last Gasp: https://lastgasp.com/products/the-book-of-weirdo

WEIRDO #1

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I vividly remember this image. It was the first thing you saw when you opened up the first issue of WEIRDO #1 back in 1981. R. Crumb’s opening editorial. And it was like a call-to-arms from the Cartoon Commander in Chief himself. Come join the Weirdo Army. The few. The proud. The weird.

It was like an invitation to join Crumb in his personal playhouse and play with him. The Photo Funnies set the tone right off the bat. That WEIRDO was like one of those whacky, old-time burlesque shows. Put on goofy costumes and big shoes, with one of those hand-horns that went HONK HONK when you squeezed it. And you were invited to put on your own show and send them to Crumb and join in the fun. The only limit was the human imagination. And your ability to draw the damn thing.

And R. Crumb was such a hit-or-miss genius that anything seemed possible with WEIRDO. The sky was the limit.

 

THE BOOK OF WEIRDO available from Last Gasp: https://lastgasp.com/products/the-book-of-weirdo

THE BOOK OF WEIRDO by Jon B. Cooke: A goddamn book review

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The stories behind the stories behind R. Crumb’s WEIRDO magazine.

Just an incredible accomplishment by Jon B. Cooke. He must have worked like a bastard on the thing for 15 years. A true labor of love. And the loving details he labors over on every page of the thing proves that point. Even R. Crumb — who famously hates everything — has reportedly loved the damn thing.

Exquisite details are given to the individual stories of virtually all the artists, writers and crackpots who lovingly became known as part of the WEIRDO family. Proud fucking weirdos all of them. How Jon managed to track them down is a mystery. Many of whom ended up in jail or mental institutions or living in the woods feeding feral cats.

How can I sum up this incredible accomplishment by Jon B. Cooke. As well as the fantastic cover and Introduction by Drew Friedman — which perfectly captures the tone of all which will follow in the proceeding 300 or so pages. The thing must weigh at least 10 pounds. And worth every ounce.

What can I say. I’ll be reading and re-reading this thing for years to come.

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You can order direct from Last Gasp https://lastgasp.com/products/the-book-of-weirdo