RIP Harvey Pekar
I always imagined Pekar as one of those Wonders of the World, an immovable force, railing against the idiocies of the world; he’d would always be there, ready and willing to look the darkness of life up its claws and not be afraid of what he saw. But he’d always be there, you know? Because it’d give him material. I imagine that’s what kept him going, what staved off his depression: If he could present it, and give his thoughts, and still make it a realistic and true, that’d be enough to get by.
I’m no artist, I didn’t know Pekar, I came to Pekar through the film American Splendor, which I imagine fans of his comic would look down on. After I saw the film, which is in my discriminating top five, I bought the anthology of his work, which “true” fans would also look down on, and devoured it. Each “story” was life. Some had no continuity—no connection with the last. They was just there, on the paper. Some of his thoughts I agreed with, some not at all, but he seemed honest—there wasn’t a story, even the ones that didn’t feature him (so how could he have been there?), had a spontaneity of truth.
And that was Harvey. He had an eye for truth, the most common theme that runs throughout his chronicles. If he overheard a conversation he didn’t agree with, he’d record it, because it was spoken with conviction. Even if the speakers were wrong but spoke believing that they were right, he knew that there was truth in what they said—lies being the a thing we try to convince ourselves are true, which is a deeper form of truth we leave unsaid. He recorded it. And it never felt untrue.
Born in 1939, in Cleveland, Ohio, Harvey Lawrence Pekar worked as a file clerk for a Cleveland hospital for many years. Reports of his death say he expired at 1:00 a.m. this morning, after going to bed at 4:30 p.m. yesterday, EST. He had prostate cancer, and high blood pressure and depression, but they say he left in high spirits, so they say. They say he was 70.
I thought the cancer was in remission, and depression is seldom fatal unless it takes its own life, but the first time I ever heard of Harvey was on a drive to work when NPR did a piece on him, they say he was writing an opera. And then I heard my godfather mention him offhand. My godfather also lives in Cleveland, and he recommended the movie to me. I saw it and loved it and thanked him for the recommendation.
He gave credit to his friends—Toby Radloff stands out as a joke, but he’ much more perceptive than people imagine. Among others.
In the ’80s he became infamous for his appearances on David Letterman, which soured him for the rest of his life.
Still, I imagine that you’ll always be there, peering over my shoulder, arranging my thoughts, checking out the structure (is there any?), and making sure I speak the truth. I imagine…