There's a cat living in my house just now. She's not allowed out, she's an indoor cat. She's been de-clawed, so even if she did go out she doesn't have the tools to defend herself. She is always trying to make a break for it though. You have to be careful not to leave the door open too long when you're coming or going. It's a terrible shame. She sits at the window and looks at the exciting world outside. Birds, squirrels, dogs, other cats. It's almost cruel to show her the freedom she's missing. She retains some of her natural instincts though. She paws at the furniture¬–in her imagination I'm sure she's shredding it with phantom claws. At night she goes on the prowl, padding from room to room on the trail of imaginary prey.
I watch her and I feel a common bond. We're all a little like de-clawed cats. We sense there is something better out there, but at some point along the line someone closed the door on us and took away our ability to defend ourselves. Or maybe we willingly gave it up in exchange for the comforts of domesticity.
From an early age I wanted to be a cartoonist. I read the comics in the paper every day, and used to check out collections of cartoons from the library. I used to draw all the time, copying popular characters and trying to come up with my own. I managed to get a couple of cartoons in school newspapers and such but my own efforts were always unoriginal and derivative. Still, I could adequately recreate all the greats and was always getting requests for Popeye, Snoopy, etc. As a youngster, the Peanuts cartoons were far and away my favorite. I would get completely swept up in their world, devouring collection after collection of Charlie Brown strips. Naturally, I related to Charlie Brown: the morose, awkward, and unpopular, but reliable, down-to-earth, nice-guy hero of the comics. The funny thing is, I think everyone relates to Charlie Brown in some way. Isn't that the key to the strip's massive and enduring popularity?
The point of all this is to somehow illustrate what a hero Charles M. Schulz was to the youthful McNaughton. As time went by and I got older other interests took over. As you can probably tell, I never became a cartoonist. But I remained a fan of Peanuts all along. One time after I had moved to California, I read in the paper that he actually lived just an hour or two North of here. The article talked about the ice rink he built so that the kids in his adopted hometown of Santa Rosa would have the opportunity to enjoy skating and hockey as much as he had as a boy in Minnesota. Apparently he often ate breakfast in the cafe attached to the ice rink. I always told myself that one of these days I was going to go up there and meet my childhood hero face to face. I'd read that he was a fairly private person, but all I wanted to do was shake his hand and thank him for the years of pleasure.
Of course, you've probably guessed where this was going. I never did get around to going up to Santa Rosa and trying to meet the great man, and in February 2000, he passed away. I was too late.
Today I finally did make that trip, to visit the Schulz Museum that was built to celebrate his life and work. There were some great original cartoons on display, as well as Peanuts-inspired works from many other famous artists. One of the highlights for me was the recreation of his studio. The room had his desks laid out with work on them, as if he'd just stepped out moments before. The shelves are lined with what I imagine were his books. On one shelf sits a nice turntable with a Brahms LP on it, ready to play (or just finished). I couldn't help but check out the small selection from Sparky's record collection that sat next to the turntable. Among the jazz and classical sat two Buck Owens LPs and the Best Of ABBA. I couldn't picture Charles Schulz sitting there sketching away to the strains of "Knowing me, knowing you", but it probably happened.
I never thought I'd see the day. But when Empress Carolyn informed me that the one and only Roky Erickson was going to be performing at this year's Noise Pop festival in San Francisco, I knew I had to secure a ticket as soon as they went on sale. In the 12 years I've lived in the Bay Area, I think this is the first time I've actually attended a Noise Pop event. It's just never appealed to me - usually the headliners are big time indie rock acts that I don't care about. If, by some bizarre instance of mate-rock nepotism actually coinciding with decent musical taste and a band I like makes it into the lineup, I would generally prefer to see them the next time they play, when the ticket price isn't $25 and the venue isn't full to bursting with 'industry' bottom-feeder laminate monkeys.
Anyway, I digress... Roky Erickson. I was not cool enough to be rocking out to the 13th Floor Elevators in my nappies. I first heard Roky after my mate Angus (as mentioned a few columns ago) heard me listening to the Minutemen's cover of "Bermuda" (as recorded over the telephone) and told me what it was. I dispatched myself to his record collection forthwith and taped all the Roky records he had. I've been a fan ever since, but after reading up on a bit of Roky's bizarre history, I'd long given up on the possibility of ever seeing him live. Even after I started hearing about his sporadic performances in his hometown of Austin, it seemed unlikely that he'd get a full-time band together again and go out on tour. Well, he did, and am I glad. Roky Erickson brought the house down at San Francisco's Great American Music Hall the other night, and while the set list wasn't my dream collection of hits from his back catalogue, I was in no way disappointed. When he and the band kicked in to "Starry Eyes", the smile on my face was splitting me in half. He didn't say much up there; he looked a little bewildered by the adulation at times, but he managed some decent guitar shredding and his singular voice was in strong, if not perfect, form.
I saw many familiar faces in the audience that night, as well as many more I'd never seen before, but by the end of the show they all shared the same elated expression. It almost felt like we'd all witnessed a miracle. In a way maybe we had. From the sounds of things, Roky Erickson has all but recovered from decades of mental illness, and is back to share his music with us for good. Let's hope.
"Bermuda/The Interpreter" singles and signed, original Peanuts strips to: PO Box 22971, Oakland, CA 94609. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Columns are archived on my blog at www.dropout.cc (now RSS-enabled!).
(For more background on the strange tale of Roky Erickson you can visit some of the many excellent websites that exist, or you can wait for the release of the new documentary on his life, "You're Gonna Miss Me.")
For the record, I am against de-clawing cats. But at least she won't kill any songbirds...