Friday, July 5, 2019

Farewell Mad, thanks for the skepticism

     The world was my father and mother, big sister and little brother. The single-level ranch house on Carteret Court, and a few blocks beyond. A mile away, Fairwood School, a couple dozen white suburban kids, led by the teacher—in 6th grade Miss Benson, who lived with school secretary Miss Palmer, an arrangement we kids never thought twice about, but whose significance would strike me about 25 years later in one of those “Ohhh...” moments. 
     Order reigned, and while life in all its messiness certainly roiled places far from Berea, Ohio—wars, protests, moon launches—even those were rational, understandable, delivered
in sensible reports each morning in the Cleveland Plain Dealer and at 5:30 by Walter Cronkite on the CBS Evening News. The little black and white TV was perched next to the dining room table, and we’d all watch, my father mandating silence.
     The first whisper of chaos, the bugle call that the cavalry was on its way to save me, was Mad magazine. The adult world wasn’t the temple of reason and dignity it pretended to be. It was a madhouse, a crazy anthill, seething with idiocy and hypocrisy. Not only could you laugh at it, you had to.
     I remember the first issue of Mad magazine that found its way into my hands. The June 1970 parody of “Easy Rider.” I can see that cover as if it were on the newsstand at Rexall Drug. Mort Drucker’s caricature of Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper—I didn’t know how spot-on it was because, of course, I hadn’t seen the movie; alongside, the magazine’s dimwit mascot, Alfred E. Newman, pedaling his bicycle.

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  1. Definitely a staple of my childhood but also something I no longer followed. Also want to point out "Bronson" next 2 the Easy Riders, from the TV series "Then Came Bronson." I hadn't seen the movie either but I definitely idolized "free-bird"-on-a-bike Bronson.

  2. I've always felt that those who find deep meaning and satisfaction in the drawn image form know something I don't. Whether satirical, political, comedic or literary the drawn image hols as little meaning to me as my dreams. Sometimes entertaining , mostly hard to understand and always of no importance or significance.

    My favorite is the one in the New Yorker where you write your own caption . Otherwise I dont understand why anybody takes the time to read them. Maybe it was the cocaine's effect on my dopamine receptors

    1. Sorry you're missing out. Sometimes a picture really is worth a thousand words. But different brains respond to different things.

  3. Not only was I an early fan of Mad Magazine, but I also devoured its gothic horror predecessors, which disappeared some time in the 50s, banned apparently or so I thought then.



  4. That famous "Paint-by number Alfred E. Neuman cover" was on the very first issue of Mad that I ever owned and read...Number 41,from the summer of '58. It was given to me by my cousin...I was 11 and he was nine. Never missed an issue for the next ten years, until 1968. Still have all of them in a box...most of them are in fair to good condition.

    Maybe I should finally sell them--but as a complete set--not individually. Wonder how much that would now be worth? A couple of grand, maybe? Or just peanuts? A friend says they will grow in value by the minute, and tells me to sell early. Wheeling and dealing can be lucrative...but you gotta know the territory.

    My wife says the prices for old issues of Mad will rise steeply in a hurry, and then the trajectory of a rocket. She learned that lesson when she tried to make some moolah on Beanie Babies. If you act too quickly, you cheat yourself. But if you snooze, you lose. And she did.

    I have a coffee-table book on the history of Mad, and I was not surprised to learn that at one point its sale and distribution was prohibited in Oklahoma, where it was labeled as a subversive (Communist!) publication. Oh, those humorless Okies! They're just Texans without the food--and the fun.

  5. Best mention of Mad I've heard was recently in an interview with Mayor Pete. When asked about Trump's comparison of Pete to Alfred E. Newman, he replied something like "I'm happy to be reason for Trump's first ever literary reference."

    RIP, Alfred.

  6. Sixth grade teacher asking us our favorite magazine. Boys Life? Not me, Mad Magazine I told the nun. She proceeded to point out my habit as sinful, demanding I read Gaines' product no more. I still remember a 2 panel Martin piece from that period. One of his hulking lumps is at a paper towel dispenser reading the instructions, "Pull Down, Tear Up". The second panel shows him standing over the remains of the dispenser that he has reduced to pieces. That I still laugh at that nearly sixty years on is why I ignored the Sister's demand. I did not become a godless communist as she feared despite devouring every issue of Mad and declining to read more than a few pages of "The Evil Tree".


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