Rock Gods #6: Adventures in Our Little Music Scene

By Artie Capshaw

Last time the Spitters played, they were goaded into actually spitting on a guy. One barely dodged civil lawsuit later, which you’ve read about to death already in other publications (stories through which you can barely discern whether they’re talking about a band or a street gang—honor the music, journos!), the band has paid the fine (a dry cleaning bill) and done the time (writing an apology). But the temptation to live up to their name remains, since they’re not changing it. Any publicity is good—or is that gobbed?—publicity. Spot The Spitters at Hamilton’s Wednesday, and hopefully you won’t be seeing them in court on Thursday….

Another high-security band battle:

Cop till you drop: a benefit for Friends of Police Statewide (FOPS—seriously, they couldn’t be Comrades and not Friends, for the sake of the acronym?) at the VFW Sunday. Five bands!: The Hassetts, Barney, Edgewood Day, The Howard Winchester Band and I Would Rather Not Be Using My Gun. What, they couldn’t get the Carey Mahoneys?

At the end of it all, the winner of a popularity contest gets an hour of recording time at Bolt Studios and a police escort to shows. (Kidding, kidding—a band-friendly police force only goes so far.)

Six-Year-Old Sally Watches the First 15 Minutes of the American Music Awards

On what she imagines Rihanna to be singing about: “You’re a dirty rat, and so am I. I love you, even though you’re a boy in a bikini and you look fat.”

On Usher: “He looks like a cool man. Does he have a gold earring?”

On the announcement that Miley Cyrus will perform next: “Oooh! Hannah Montana! She has a purple streak in her hair. I wonder if she has golden earrings!”

On the Black Eyed Peas: “What?! I wouldn’t put them in a bowl and eat them up!”

On the Black Eyed Peas winning a trophy for Favorite Pop/Rock Band: “That guy has a cool baseball hat. He must like Legos. Is he a cool guy? Does he have a gold earring?”

Rock Gods #5: Adventures in Our Little Music Scene

By now you’ve all seen the shows where bands play out of the backs of cars, plugging the guitars and amps into the lighter socket or wherever. Last week we glimpsed (and a glimpse is all you get) the latest intimate acoustic trend; closet concerts. You go to someone’ s modest house, wander about in the corridor, then get to figure out where  the music is coming from.

Jordan Crew, whose tunes are so gentle they already sound like he’s singing them under a pile of sweaters, has done a number of these gigs, to crowds ranging from one to four. He tells us “that hide and seek element is something I choose to bring to it. Basically, you know, these shows exist because that is the space you’ve got to work with, right?”

Bathrooms have better acoustics, as all us shower singers know, but Jordan quickly points out the disadvantages: ‘people need to use the behind, man. No better way of pissing of the housemates than not letting them piss, plus, you know, we’re talking about crowded houses here. Like, no maid service. Rooms can be rank. I mean, if we could play in a living room or a bedroom we would, but the houses are so  crowded.”

Counterintuitive modern social instinct: Embrace the closet. Next big venue of choice: under the bedsheets with a flashlight.

Bigger rooms, shorter sets:

Somebody finally got it together and stuck Firestone and Bridgestone on the same bill, Friday at the old (even better) fire station on Station Avenue (they were so clever with street names back in the day). Their names pile up neatly like bricks, but the bands also sound alike in other ways. They even shared a bassist, “Pladdy” Ver Planck, for a while. Discover and Destination complete the blow-out, though expect one or two  sets to get truncated since the hall’s only booked for three, count ’em three, hours. Whoever thought they could cram such auditory extravagance  into a mere 180- minutes  must’ve been -stoned… University Properties unveiled two new songs last  Tuesday at the Bullfinch: ‘Yo world,” a parody/rip-off of Liberry’s ‘Tasty Delite”: and “Gant,” about  scarf-clad college kids hanging on the corner where the convenience suite used to be….

A Bat at the Opera

Der Rosenkavalier

Comic opera by Richard Strauss, libretto revised from Hugo van Hoffmannsthal. (Closed). Performed last week at the reopening of the Thomas and Martha Wayne Performing Arts Center, Gotham City.  www.tanwpac.com.

Gotham City has a grand tradition of aggressively updated classics, and several of the better ones have invariably been interrupted by the city’s best-known superhero. Batman sometimes seems to be as inveterate a first-nighter as is local philanthropist Bruce Wayne himself.

It was at the reopening of the Thomas and Martha Wayne Performing Arts Center, named for Bruce’s deceased parents, that Batman’s most recent crime-fighting cameo appearance took place. By crashing this one, Batman was doing the audience, and Richard Strauss, a favor.

Batman, not to mention fellow caped party-crashers Catwoman and The Cavalier happily upstaged the allegedly “avant-garde” production of Der Rosenkavalier. Where the production was overdone and overprocessed—body mics! For a Strauss opera?!—the onstage abduction of the show’s rose-gartered diva was visceral and thrilling. (The diva in question, whom I won’t name since it would be unfair to criticize a performance marred by a sword pressed against her neck, survived the attempt on her life and is likely signing a deal for a major tour as I write this.)

We will defer to other authorities as to the relative villainy or heroism of the three interloping members of the alternative nightlife set. Batman, Catwoman and The Cavalier have all been accused of serious crimes, mitigating circumstances notwithstanding. Regarding their stage presence, however, The Cavalier is clearly the most openly ingratiating, and the only one who, in the midst of a real-life battle, acknowledges the entertainment aspects of the encounter and considers the aesthetic interests of the audience.

Certainly his rivals were more appropriately dressed for modernized opera. Their leather attire (Vinyl? It’s hard to tell in that lighting) matched the Madonna-esque or Moulin Rouge-retro costumes worn by the principal characters, while The Cavalier looked like a stereotypical supernumerary from William Tell. But it was the musketeerish Cavalier who had the most assured swashbuckling style.

Not only did The Cavalier ultimately escape through the backstage flyspace and catwalk,  getting the best of Catwoman and Batman, The Cavalier was in far better shape than this sorry Rosenkavalier. Bad blocking, overblown projections, rose imagery that would make Bette Midler vomit—where do we begin? Fortunately, we don’t have to, since no one will remember the show now, just the kidnaping attempt.

This is not to say that some shows do not stay with you even after serious crimes have become associated with them.

An outdoor production of Macbeth conceived by Dennis O’Neill and designed by Irv Novick and Dick Giordano in July of 1972 also featured an unexpected appearance by the Batman at one performance. But for those of us who saw that production again on nights when it was not uninterrupted by non-Shakespearean murderous intent, its own dark side (a condemnation of the drug-addled extremes of the Peace & Love era) resonated strongly.

The Batman himself, it’s been suggested, could be seen as a living tribute to the title character in another comical Strauss work, Die Fledermaus. That operetta, which has its own criminal justice overtones, was a particular favorite of Thomas Wayne. One wonders what the late Wayne would make of this Rosenkavalier, at a theater named in his honor. For that matter, what would Thomas Wayne think of Batman?

In any case, could we humbly request that the next time Batman interrupts a Gotham City performance, could it be something a bit more upbeat and modern and godfearing, for variety’s sake? Bruce Jay Friedman’s SteamBATh, perhaps, or Bat Boy—The Musical?

For further coverage of the opening of the Wayne Center, consult Batman/Catwoman: Follow the Money #1 by Howard Chaykin (January 2011, DC Comics.)

Rock Gods #4: Adventures in Our Little Music Scene

By Artie Capshaw

“I have this friend,” Augustus tells me. “A big movie star. If I told you his name, you’d know it right off.”

Don’t you hate guys like that? Like we’ll endanger Augustus’ tenuous grasp on friend-of-celebrityhood  if he deigned to reveal this secret identity. It’s namedropping, only just the dropping part.

Anyway,  this unnamed name, Aug sez, “had to do what they call a cape and tights movie” [we’re pretty sure that’s NOT what they call them], some agreement with his manager that he couldn’t get out of, and I’d hear him whine for months about this crappy popcorn movie he didn’t want to do. Then he actually goes and makes the thing, and his whole mood changes. ‘I think this will be one of the good ones,’ he says. ‘It’s OK if it’s one of the good ones.’ and that’s my new attitude about this project—as old Augie segues  smoothly into the latest facet of his own checkered career, his sense of his own importance amplified through his news-item’s proximity to an anecdote about a famous pal.

“It’s one of the good ones. Yeah, I’m sure of that.”

Which, to make a meaningless and detail-free anecdote short, means that old Aug is now fronting a tribute band. Yes, he needs a few self-delusions and justifications just now. Given the other talent in the band (who are all pretending to be the talent from a whole other band, naturally), there’s a good chance this will in fact be one of the good ones—unlike Augie’s friend’s film, by the way. Thing is, Augie won’t let us reveal who his bandmates are yet. Says he’ll save that surprise for their first gig sometime next month at Dollaires.

Can we even hint at what band is being tributized here? Sorry, but we’re sworn to “Secrecy.”

Enough with the obfuscatin’—here are some notes with a purpose: Whiskey Bar is at Daniels’ (ahem) whiskey bar every Wednesday until folks stop noticing… Train Kept a Rolling has a similarly serendipitous house gig at Klink’s Rink…. Happy birthday to Czar Cygnus! What, no public party this year? Oh, yeah, you stopped drinking that time…

Book Marx

Hail, Hail, Euphoria! Presenting the Marx Brothers in Duck Soup, The Greatest War Movie Ever Made

By Roy Blount Jr. !t Books (HarperCollins) 2010. A mere 145 pages. $19.99.

Any book on the Marx Brothers is a joy, but if there’s one warning that should applied to all such endeavors, it’s: NEVER TRY TO WRITE YOUR OWN MARX BROTHERS ONE-LINERS. DON’T TRY TO BE ONE OF THE BROTHERS.

Roy Blount Jr. should know better. He’s a clever chap—I greatly admired the cryptic crosswords he used to set for Spy Magazine. But this extended essay on Duck Soup—constructed as a sort of DVD commentary in text for, free-associating on the film as it unspools—is undone by his distracting attempts to insert his own jokes, which he annoying puts into the Marx’s mouths as if they were reading over his shoulder. The only time  that method has worked is when Arthur Marx added footnoted rejoinders, in his father’s voice, for Life With Groucho. Writing about the Marx Brothers in a supposed Marx Brothers style has undone other worthwhile books before Blount’s: Joey Adamson’s Groucho, Harpo, Chico and Sometimes Zeppo—A Celebration of the Marx Brothers and Simon Louvish’s Monkey Business, two of the very best books about the brothers, lapse occasionally into egregious puns and silly descriptions, but those are 500 page books and Blount beats both in such indulgences.

Here’s one of his unwarranted interruptions:

But all is not well with the commonweal. Its economy is dowager-based, and you know how that goes—you get $20 million from a dowager and you’ve got to have more, you’re addicted, you’ve got a dowager jones.

CHICO: Watch-a the puns. Before you know it, you got a punsy scheme.

Blount’s casual writing style is plenty entertaining without having to compete with the witticisms of his hallowed subjects. But he doesn’t stop with his own wince-worthy wordplay. He goes through Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby’s original script for Duck Soup (originally entitled Firecrackers, and available on the Marxology website) and continually excoriates gags which didn’t make the final cut. This seems deeply unfair to Kalmar & Ruby, longtime Marx associates who clearly knew the brothers working style—a loose method which would be further loosened, as Blount helpfully illustrates, by the direction of Leo McCarey—and probably had no expectation that all their jokes would get in. Many of the unfilmed lines Blount sniffs at seem like first-draft placeholders. What’s more bothersome is how Blount bends out backwards to justify odd moments that are in the movie, while professing that these errant moments from the early script were all wrong for the characters.

Still, Blount is a genuine fan of this film and its makers. His passion is what propels Hail, Hail, Euphoria! The book’s very title is a rarely related factoid which validates the least-celebrated Marx Brother, Gummo. The book is full of details and insights drawn from the best-known Marx books, but Blount’s enthusiasm and his focus on just this one film make them stand out all the stronger.

Sometimes that enthusiasm gets the better of him. Blount’s research is commendable, but like a lot of Marx biographers he wants to believe the wildest version of any anecdote, or the pithiest rendition of any quote. And without an index or bibliography or scholarly footnotes (which are usually good ways to pad out books as short as this), it’s hard to double-check his research.

At one point Blount writes “George S. Kaufman, who found [Margaret] Dumont for the Marxes, wrote of her in his autobiography…” This is a revelation, since Kaufman never wrote such a book. The quote is actually from the autobiography of Kaufman’s collaborator Morrie Ryskind.

Mostly, such trivia is not so much sloppy as offhand. That’s the real pleasure of this book. There’s a lot of original scholarship clearly done out of love and an abiding fascination with this film. Blount has Googled every member of the cast he could, down to uncredited players and rumors of future stars who appeared in crowd scenes. He’s made a point of seeing a lot of movies which pertain to Duck Soup—earlier and later works of director McCarey, dramatic turns by some of the supporting players. It’s this sense of studiousness that prevails, not the puns.

Hail, Hail, Euphoria! is in a long line of “appreciations” of great motion pictures. Such books were common in the mid-20th century, when the films themselves were not as accessible. This made such text tributes valuable, but the limited access extended to the scholarship as well and such books could be full of misremembrances, misquotes and other mistakes. Roy Blount Jr. has revived this faded format and has the advantage of being able to surf oodles of scholarship, freeze-frame DVDs and consult shelvesfull of biographies.

It’s brisk and brash, yes, but adds quite a bit to an already well-studied film. Blount’s blunt punny interpolations will quickly be forgotten, but his fresh factual tidbits and insights are bound to inform my own frequent rewatchings of Duck Soup for years to come.

Rock Gods #3: Adventures in Our Little Music Scene

By Artie Capshaw

They call him “The Old Soldier,” though he never went to war. But did he serve! O.S. was in 8:15 From Manchester, Ace of Wands, Andy Pandy, Animal Magic, Bagpuss, Balamory, Basil Brush, Blue Peter, Bod, Bodger and Badger, The Box of Delights, Biker Grove, C.A.B., Camberwick Green, Captain Pugwash, Catweazle, Children of the Stones, Chocky;s Children, Chucklevision, Clackers, Crackerjack, The Family-Ness, The Flumps, Going Live!, The Herbs, Jackanory, Jimbo and the Jet Set, Jossy’s Giants, Kerching!, Knightmare, Metal Mickey, The Paper Lads, Playaway, The Playdays, Play School, Press Gang, The Record Breakers, The Sooty Show, T-Bag, Thomas & Friends, Vision On, We Are the Champions, The Woodentops and Woof!… plus a few bands he never learned the names of. All were “signed” to Playday Records. And Old Soldier only worked there for three years!

“If we didn’t arrange an entire album in the morning and record it in the afternoon, we’d think it was a poor day’s work,” the grizzled veteran recalls. “The session players at the other studios would make fun of us. Even some of our own guys—it was Jack Briggs [aka Jonny Briggs] who first called Playday “The Swill Building. Me, I didn’t have any problem with it. It was a fun job, cranking out covers of all the latest hits. But what I liked most about it was that if you had three tracks people had heard of, you could do anything you wanted with the rest of the album.

We would just play—jam for a few minutes, then put a title on it and add it to the album.”

Today, those Playday records are worth, well, nothing. No “name” player ever appeared on one, as far as any feverish scholar’s research has proven. You can find them pretty easily in the trashy stores where dead people send their heirlooms. Old Soldier’s built up a pretty sizeable collection himself, just from picking through the bins. (Playday was too cheap to actually give copies of the albums to the artists who played on them.)

“I’m proud of that stuff,” he says. “I mean, I wince sometimes—we’d mess up, and it’d still get printed. But as far as I’m concerned, we were really playing rock and roll. You don’t get much truer to the spirit of the thing than just getting a bunch of rowdy kids in a room and turning on the mics. I played a lot…and I learned a lot. There was nonstop creativity—naming the bands, naming the songs, writing the songs. You can’t say it wasn’t a class operation.”

Sure you can. This was the dregs of the music business at the time, a way of coopting the labor of true musical pioneers, right? Only Old Soldier doesn’t see it that way.

“That was my childhood, in some magic far-off land, a long time ago,” O.S. waxes rhapsodic. “We were in it. We weren’t the cool kids, or head of the class or whatever. But we had it too. We had the spirit. We had the spirit.”

So Soldier took the skills he’d learned at Playday and applied them to classical composition, ultimately getting a master’s in Music from that big university in this very town. He taught music in the public schools for 30 years. He’s now retired, and stops into the Bullfinch once a week after picking up his pension check.

Any royalty checks from Payday to add to that pension bounty?

The Old Soldier laughs so hard the beer almost spurts out his nose.

***

Battle of the one-name bands Tuesday at Hamilton’s: Garden vs. Constance vs. Baker vs. Motley vs. Corner. … Deaf Child Area is the first band top be booked at the Substation restaurant on Edgewood. The plan was to have Open Mic and noodly jazz fodder, but tastes chance quick when the owner’s kid joins a band. (Yes, Beefy is DCA’s latest, and best, bassist) … We hear the Thanksgiving marathon at the Bullfinch is already fully booked. No drumstick for you…

Theater Book of the Week #1

(A new feature for every Monday, when most theaters are dark.)

The American Stage—Writing on Theater from Washington Irving to Tony Kushner. Laurence Senelick, editor; foreword by John Lithgow. Library of America, 2010. Nearly 900 pages!

I took several theater and film classes from Laurence Senelick at Tufts University in the early 1980s. It’s common to be enrthralled by one’s college professors, and to judge their work too lightly, so I’ll add that I wasn’t some naive student pushover—I’d grown up around theater scholars all of my life, and one of Laurence’s colleagues in the Tufts Drama Department (and its chairman for seven years) was my father Peter Arnott, no slouch as a lecturer and

I was an unruly, hard-to-please, authority-questioning student, and it took a lot to impress me. Laurence Senelick always did.

I dug Laurence’s lectures because they didn’t just tell you why that’s week’s subject was historically important. Through the accustomed theatrical tools of sensationalism, hyperbole and dishy rumors, his classes made you realize why people outside the classroom cared about these things.

His lectures on Antonin Artaud are the stuff of legend. Laurence would enter the lecture hall (the actual stage of the Tufts Arena Theater) brandishing a batch of recent test papers. Railing violently about how poor the work was, he would insult the students and destroy their work before their astonished eyes. Those lectures brought tears, dismay, even threats of lawsuits, despite their clear puncline: That’s what Artaud was going for.

Prof. Senelick’s great strength as a scholar (he’s also one hell of a director and translator) is his range of interests and his lack of snobbery. He’s written extensively 0n decadent European cabaret, drag culture and the clown George F. Fox. One of the best classes I took at Tufts was Laurence’s on the history of silent film, a subject in which I was already versed, until he exposed us to everything from Nizimova’s Salome to vintage pornography.

His everything-goes sense of theater as a popular art form, not one to stultified by academic overkill, distinguishes Senelick’s compilation The American Stage just as it does his lectures. All the accepted Drama 101 critic/historians are in it—Eric Bentley, Edmund Wilson, George Jean Nathan, Stark Young, John Mason Brown and my personal idols Carl Van Vechten and Gilbert Seldes. But unlike so many comps which include essays by these guys to remind us why they were “important,” the picks here prove they were clever and influential and readable. They’re helped by Senelick’s own short intros to each pick. He tells us how John Lahr’s career as a critic picked up after he published Notes on a Cowardly Lion, about his father Bert, and has this to say about Walter Kerr: “With his academic background, he was unimpressed by what he considered intellectual pretension, so that the later works of Stephen Sondheim and Samuel Beckett often met with his disfavor. He fancied himself speaking for the middlebrow position and endorsing what his readers would approve.”

Then there are the surprises: bestselling novelists who dabbled in theater crit, like Gore Vidal and Langston Hughes and Willa Cather and even Mark Twain (with commentary on minstrel shows.) Bits by writers who were sniffed at by the theater fraternity because they were considered outsiders are gleefully excerpted:  William Goldman’s The Season, Susan Sontag on Marat/Sade.

Playwrights and directors not generally known for offstage pontifications are applauded: Edward Albee’s essay on Absurdism (required reading for those who enjoyed the recent Yale Rep production of his A Delicate Balance), Sherlock Holmes portrayer William Gillette’s “The Illusion of the First Time,” Elia Kazan’s “Audience Tomorrow: Preview in New Guinea,” Charles L. Mee Jr. on “The Becks’ Living Theatre.” As the subjects from this subset alone shows, The American Stage delves into a diversity of theater activities that bring you far beyond the Great White Way. You meet Luis Valdez, Djuna Barnes, Anne Bogart. There’s radical historical Hutchins Hapgood on Yiddish theater in the Bowery and Ed Bullins’ “A Short Statement on Street Theatre.”

Don Marquis’ archy & mehitabel poem about “the old trouper” is happily included, as is golden age radio star Fred Allen’s essay on his vaudeville roots.

The Algonkuin Round Table is represented not just by Dorothy Parker and Alexander Woollcott. There’s also a litany of Robert Benchley’s hilarious one-line dismissals of Abie’s Irish Rose from theater listings he compiled, and a Ring Lardner one-act which parodies modernist theater proclivities of the 1920s. It ends:
FIRST GLUE LIFTER: Well, my man, how goes it?

SECOND GLUE LIFTER: [Sings “My Man,” to show how it goes.]

[Eight realtors cross the stage in a friendly way. They are out of place.]

Senelick’s whole dazzling centuries-spanning The American Stage collection closes with a progressive sense of the potential for theater to continue to make noise and evince revolution, with essays from Spalding Gray, Nation critic Tom Disch (“The Death of Broadway”), Charles Ludlam, Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (on “The Chitlin Circuit” which gave us Tyler Perry), David Mamet (must have been hard to just pick one example of Mamet’s disdain for contemporary theater; Senelick went with “The Problem Play”) and Tony Kushner writing about his wordy tragedy-scribing forebear Arthur Miller. Its opening line: “Arthur Miller died on Bertolt Brecht’s birthday.”

Drama departments nationwide, toss out all your textbooks and replace them with this collection, which redraws the canon and rewrites the definition of what’s cool. Or just treat it like the real involving book it is and curl up by the fireside with it. It’ll make you feel a passion for the American theater which you may have thought you’d never feel again, and which you almost certainly never expected to get in book form.

I’m just thrilled, after all these years, to sit in on another Laurence Senelick lecture.

Rock Gods #2: Adventures in Our Little Music Scene

By Artie Capshaw

Last year, somebody stole Tommy Vixen’s guitar. Which led him to write a song on his classical- loving uncle’s clavichord. Which led him to get the resulting recording played on the university’s classical radio station, which led to a concert at the School of Music. Which led to a tour which led to an album which has now been on the classical charts, we’re told, for 43 weeks. Tommy plays the music school again tonight, in their big symphony space this time.

Last week, The Slamps got all their instruments stolen out of their van. Fellas, we expect great things from you. In the meantime, there is a benefit, Friday at the Finch.

Also noted: Composition, 11.4 and Narrow Rule at Hamilton’s (early show, 7 p. m.)… Top Flight and Paper Planes in a dorm lounge on campus somewhere, we’ve heard– private show, but we all know how to sneak in, don’t we?… Made in Vietnam at the stadium, of course, insisting as always that three local rock-improv acts open the show. Chattanooga and 80 Sheets got the call…

Doonesburied

Do we need more evidence that comics are routinely denigrated and underappreciated by the media? When Garry Trudeau’s strip Doonesbury turned 40 last month, a headline in the local daily paper marked the occasion, but labelled it “Doonesbury.” An article in a campus publication at Trudeau’s alma mater repeatedly called the strip “Doonsebury.” And an alt-weekly misspelled the title too, in its table of contents.

Four decades to learn how to spell the name of a popular feature that actually runs in some of those very papers, and they still get it wrong. Magazine articles haven’t been much better. The Atlantic got Trudeau to write his own reminiscences of the strip, then lessened the impact of that coup with a shoddy layout. Vanity Fair devoted only a few paragraphs to the milestone, perhaps unaware of how seldom Trudeau allows himself to be interviewed. The only worthwhile interview of a decent length was with Rolling Stone, which has long understood Trudeau, dating back at least as far as its Jimmy Thudpucker cover story of 1978.

Most of the media coverage has had to do with two elaborate coffee table books which marked the anniversary. But again, the angles generally taken have shown a casual dismissal of the strip and its continued relevance and impact. The intimation was that these books were somehow legitimizing Doonesbury by reprinting it in such large quantities. But that overlooks the fact that Doonesbury has been regularly compiled into book form since its very beginnings as an undergraduate offering in the Yale Daily News. Doonesbury books have routinely been bestsellers. And the bigger of the two new coffeetable tomes, the anthology “40,” was surpassed years ago by a volume which included a DVD-Rom of the strip’s entire history. Doonesbury is also comprehensively archived online.

No, Doonesbury has earned proper tributes from properly appreciative writers, and deserves better treatment.

The longevity is indeed astonishing. Of the long-running top-flight strips which essentially died with their creators (as Trudeau has promised Doonesbury will),  George Herriman’s Krazy Kat klocked 31 years, Milton Caniff’s Steve Canyon flew for 41 and Charles Schulz’s Peanuts punted eight months short of a full 50. If Trudeau stays as fit as he looked when speaking at Yale earlier this month (he’s 60, and looks mid-40s) it’s a safe bet that Doonesbury will last another decade and surpass Peanuts. That’s assuming, as Trudeau worried in his talk, that there will still be newspapers around to print the strip.

But Doonesbury’s continued popularity, relevance and controversies are even cooler than its turning 40. The Simpsons is 23 and lost its cultural cred many seasons ago. Saturday Night Live? Aside from Tina Fey’s guest shots, forget it. Doonesbury remains some of the most vital social satire to be found in the mainstream media, regardless of when it began.

Trudeau, it appears, takes both the kudos and the cluelessness in stride. He’s too humble, or modest, or reclusive, to show concern about how his work is being perceived in the media these todays. He’s fought battles with editors, publishers and feature writers in the past about how the strip is represented, but rarely and only when his reputation seemed at stake.

After all, it’s clear that the cartoonist’s millions of readers get it just fine. Their polite yet passionate adulation was unmistakable when Trudeau and his biographer Brian Walker signed books at the Yale Barnes & Noble bookstore prior to his Nov. 3 lecture at the Yale Art Gallery.

That talk, a prepared presentation which dovetailed with another tribute to Trudeau—the “Doonesbury in Time of War” exhibit at Yale’s Beinecke Library—didn’t alter its war themes for celebratory remarks. So maybe Trudeau’s happy to downplay his own achievements as well. Perhaps I shouldn’t even point out the final indignity—that when the Beinecke held a post-lecture reception for Trudeau, it was clear across the building from where his Doonesbury strips were being exhibited.