Sad news broke this morning: Harvey Pekar, jazz scholar, literary analyst of rare insight, and famously cranky bastard — in the best sense of those words — died in the early morning hours at his home in Cleveland. Harvey paved the way for a hell of a lot of people in comics, and was particularly an inspiration for those who wanted to tell their own stories. It seems hard to believe that there could be a Bellen, DAR!, SMILE, Conversations With My Younger Self, or any of a hundred other These Things Happened To Me kind of comics without Harvey’s example.
Although it’s in the Fleen Manual of Style that people are referred to by last name after their initial introduction, I can’t help but use his given name. I was only privileged to meet him once (Harvey himself was gracious, friendly, patient, and erudite, and in that half an hour I learned more about jazz than I had in the prior 35 years), but having shared so much of himself and his life, I think that we all felt like we knew Harvey personally. He was the sometimes grumpy, always fascinating guy that lived a block or two over, even if “a block or two” was on the other side of the world. Now that we have lost Harvey and Studs Terkel, I wonder who will be the next chronicler of ordinary lives.
To his widow, Joyce, and daughter, Danielle, our deepest sympathies; you’ll never read these words and they would likely be only slight comfort, but please know that Harvey made all of our lives richer with his stories, his insight, and his honesty.
For everybody else, there’s a good collection of some of Harvey’s best moments at The AV Club. When you’re done watching those, go out and have an ordinary day that becomes an adventure.