A Conspiracy of Inanimate Objects
I’d love to meet Roz Chast. Who? If you can’t answer that pick up a copy of the New Yorker. Since 1978, the cartoonist has written fuzzy, anxiety-fueled cartoons about the insecurities of New York life. It’s filled with equal parts of schadenfreude and inadequacy, with a seasoning of guilt and superstitious panic. That’s the world according to Rosalyn Chast. I looked at pictures of the lady and she looks like what you’d expect from her cartoons: a little neurotic-a lot New Yorky, smallish with a Brooklyn accent. Well, that came naturally. She grew up in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn, the only child of George Chast, a high school French and Spanish teacher who subscribed to the New Yorker, and Elizabeth, an assistant principal in an elementary school. Her Jewish parents were children during the Great Depression and she has spoken about their extreme fragility. (As an aside, my current friends continue to talk about that, too). Chast graduated from Midwood High School in Brooklyn – not far from my school, New Utrecht High School. She studied at the Rhode Island School of Design. Aside from receiving a BFA in painting, she holds honorable doctorates from Pratt Institute and Dartmouth College. She’s a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Chast’s subjects often deal with domestic and family life. Her comics often reflect a “conspiracy of inanimate objects.” She credits that to her mother. Three years ago, I spotted her book, “Roz Chast: Cartoon Memories” at the wonderful Norman Rockwell Museum (a great place to visit). In recognition of her work, Comic Alliance listed Chast as one of twelve women cartoonists deserving of lifetime achievement recognition. When asked about New York, she said that “looking at the buildings and noticing the little details inspires me to create fuzzy, anxiety cartoons for the New Yorker.” P.S. She did move to suburbia as a kind of exile. She has a certain kind of idiosyncratic weirdness. It was said that even decades later she carved out a space for a more personal brand of humor that attracts people who are similarly off the map.
Some say about the New Yorker, “I only read it for the cartoons.” Some others say that she brings solace, insight and humor. To quote the NY Times, “Roz Chast is a post-laureate of urban neuroses.” Chuckle. Chuckle.
Pen and Paper
It surprised me to learn that the Morgan Library Museum in New York City had an exhibit called, “The Magic of Handwriting.” Being an old-school devotee of pen and paper I’m supposing that the cursive is going the way of the old school folks of pen and paper (I don’t think they teach it any more). I’m guessing that it seems part of nostalgia that luxuriates in the humble, intimate and sometimes, messy way it was for true expression. But, take a look at the way of some of the great figures of the history of our country that they left behind, a true history of eras gone by. Before I was a teenager, I was given a five-year diary. In high school, I wrote in it each day to record today’s happenings. My cousin Shirley also received a five-year diary and I overheard this remark, “Shirley will keep it up but I’m not sure about Junie.” Well, they were wrong. Shirley gave it up after two years. I not only kept my five-year diary filled but also received a second one. It ended up as ten years of my very young life. When in college, I took a course called Greek Words in English, I was happy to use the Greek words so that my roommate would not understand what I was writing. Only one caveat: years later I tried to read what I wrote in Greek script. What you might have guessed by now is that it was not understandable to me. Yes, to quote William Shakespeare, “Words are not deeds.”
The Life of Willie Nelson
Learning about Willie Nelson was dizzying. He was born in Abbott, Texas during the Great Depression. His mother left soon after and his father remarried leaving him to be raised by his grandparents. Nelson’s grandfather worked as a blacksmith while his father worked as a mechanic. But many thanks to his paternal grandfather for buying him a guitar when he was six and even taught him a few chords. He wrote his first song at age seven and at nine, played and started singing at local dance halls. Years later Nelson moved to Nashville, Tennessee. His first two successful singles as an artist were released in 1961 when his song “Crazy” became the biggest jukebox hit of all time. I’m fast forwarding to 1988 when his first book, “Willie, an Autobiography” was published. “The Facts of Life and Other Dirty Jokes Followed” is a personal recollection of tours and musical stories from his career. He followed with several additional books which included biographical details as well as family pictures. More followed. In them he explored genres such as reggae, blues, jazz and folk music. Nelson uses a variety of music styles to create his “unique sound.”
Willie Nelson has married four times and fathered seven children (when did he have time to write?) Following divorces, he married his current wife. They have two sons. Nelson is widely recognized as an American icon. He was inducted, among many other awards, into the Country Music Hall of Fame and in 1998, received the Kennedy Center Honors award. Willie Nelson uses a variety of music styles using a relaxed, behind the guitar beat. Personally and of course, with many others, I enjoy his nasal voice and jazzy off-center phrasing. His wide appeal has made him “a vital icon of country music.” Nelson has even released an election year song with a straight forward refrain. It has a honky-tonk bounce that’s more joyful than angry, observing “if it’s a bunch of clowns you voted for last Election Day, you’ll find it completely non-partisan – just anti-incumbent.” There’s no question where Nelson’s sentiments lie. I have one hope – trim your beard. My son, James Adlai, also enjoys Willie Nelson’s music. I don’t know if this is relevant but if you remember Fran Lebowitz, she enjoys Willie Nelson’s music. Me, too, but “you’re only as good as your last haircut.”