That was sort of a peak period for me artistically, too. 1991 (I’d have another peak in 1994 and then in 2001, and that would be pretty much it for me) (Darn!). I was reaching about a million readers every month with my comic strip. And I was getting featured on the frontpage of newspapers and on the TV news. So I felt like hot shit. Somebody even printed up a bunch of t-shirts with my cartoons on them and they were selling in malls in New Jersey (I remember thinking; “That’ll show all those bastards from my high school in Joisey that I wasn’t a loser after all!”). So it seemed like the sky was the limit.
It felt even stranger. More unreal. Because just a few years earlier I had been an acne-faced, homeless bum drifting along like a ghost on the mean streets of Skid Row in the Tenderloin district. With every reason to believe I’d spend my life there. So it felt sort of like Cinderella, where I half-expected at the stroke of midnight my royal carriage would turn back into a pumpkin. In truth, my life always seemed like a weird series of accidents that was happening to somebody else. With me as sort of the hapless observer of the whole spectacle. I’ve never felt like one of those “captain-of-my-fate” kinda’ guys, that’s for sure.
Like a lot of the idiots from my generation, rock stars were my role models. They were living the fabulous lives (suppposedly) that I was aspiring towards. I considered myself sort of a John Lennon-wannabe back then. And if you took John Lennon, R. Crumb and Charles Bukowski and threw them in a blender, that’s who I was kind of aspiring to be.
Every year I co-published a photo-calendar: The Telegraph Avenue Street Calendar. And it was kind of like putting out a rock album every year. It was sort of my statement about what my life had been about that year. Then when it was published it was sort of like a record release party. Then you got interviewed and reviewed by the press, and went out on sort of a promotional tour. So it was like living out one of my fantasies. And even though the calendar primarily documented the Berkeley street scene, it was also highly personal and even autobiographical in a way. Because it was basically a picture of what my world looked like through my eyes every year.
Another guy I was really fascinated with back then was the rock star David Bowie. Particularly how he constantly “re-invented” himself. He was like a car and every year he came out with a new and updated model of himself. I decided I wanted to never repeat myself artistically if I could help it. One year I published an underground newspaper. The next year I did a comic strip. The next year I wrote a novel. The next year I did photo-documentation. The next year I wrote and recorded music. Etc. It was exciting and it kept things fresh. But it was probably a disaster from a commercial point of view, from a career point of view. It was like every time I started to get a little traction in a certain field, I’d quit it and start completely over at zero in another field.
It also had an adverse affect on me, psychologically. All that David Bowie shit. I had this dumb idea that I could constantly completely revamp my personality. That there was no basic core to who I was. I felt I was like an actor who could just pick a different role to play every year. Like I could just pick and chose my character traits. Instead of my personality developing and progressing in a linear fashion, my psyche was more like a series of abrupt and jarring jump-cuts. Like one moment I’m starring in a sci-fi movie, the next moment its a horror movie, the next its a comedy, the next its a tragedy. Its probably more a form of schitzophrenia than anything else, what I was doing to myself back then.
Still . . . I don’t know about you guys, how you look back on your lives . . . but when I look back at my past selves I look back with a certain fondness. Sort of like how you might look at a “likable” character in a movie. Where you’re kind of rooting for the guy. Of course I’m rooting for myself. I’ve got a vested interest after all in whether I succeed or fail. Its me after all. At any rate, I sort of look back on myself as a lovable, but bumbling, well-meaning fool.
But I also look back at myself with a certain self-loathing, too. Like: “Oh fuck, its HIM again!” Because I think back on all the stupid and foolish things I did, and all those regrets. And plus its tiresome. I get tired of being myself. I mean, I’ve got to be myself 24 hours a day, and after all these years of being me I could use a break every now and then. A vacation from being me. You’d think they could set it up so we could be somebody else for awhile. A “Prince and the Pauper” kind of deal. Oh well. . .. I guess that’s why they invented drugs.
But mostly when l look back on my past selves I get this gnawing sense of incompleteness. It was like I was always rushing to get somewhere else. Like, where I was at was never enough and I was mostly focused on trying to get to some better place that never really existed. Like I never fully appreciated what was going on while it was going on. You know? Like when you’re on a long bus ride and you’re bored with looking out the window and you just want to get to your destination. That feeling. And yeah, yeah. Its quite true: “Tis better to travel well than to arrive.” But some times that attitude is hard to pull off.