Telling stories

Posts Tagged ‘Collecting’

When the Stars Grow Dim

Posted by southwrite on October 12, 2014

The Rolling Stones on a recent tour.

The Rolling Stones on a recent tour.

One of the really jarring things about life is not waking up to realize that you’ve gotten old without knowing it. No, it’s that all your idols, inspirations and toys have too.

The passage of time really hit home to me a few weeks ago. I was reading about the death of ‘60s rock star Paul Revere (of Paul Revere and the Raiders.) Now I was never a fan. My sister was the one who adored him. She collected the band’s albums and even went to a concert. In fact, until I read of his death, I can’t say that I  really thought of him in the last four decades.

Yet, I had this image of Paul Revere frozen in my mind. He was always a young and vibrant rock star. The picture was clear of this larger-than-life dynamo, dressed in Revolutionary War uniform with neatly cut black locks, bouncing joyfully around the stage. The shock came in seeing images of a now aged man, long hair now gray and carrying the extra  weight that comes with passing years. There had been no adjusting to the fact that he had become an old man.

Of course, all the stars of my youth – such as the now 70 year old Mick Jagger or Paul McCartney who’s now a peer of the realm  – have settled into a more and less comfortable period of decline. These teen idols are now long past qualifying for Social Security. Some, like Jagger, still make a passable attempt at mimicking their former youthful fast moving presence on stage. Yet, I know, as do they, the days of performing are coming to an end.

Paul Revere  was still the showman in later years.

Paul Revere was still the showman in later years.

Aging brings change to everyone. For most of us, it’s not as public or as dramatic as it is with an  rock star who came to fame 50 years ago amidst the screams and fainting of young girls. There’s a certain irony to still singing songs of teen age love when you’re older than the fathers of those girls.

For the fans who have largely aged along with them, there also comes a need for acceptance. Neither they nor we are what we once were. Rock, the music of youth and rebellion, is now used to sell consumer products. Remember when Microsoft used The Rolling Stones’ “Start Me Up” as the soundtrack for the advertising campaign that launched Windows 95? (Of course, rockers have been promoting products for a long time and have never been anti-capitalism.) Bands like the Rolling Stones play Vegas casinos. (Could Frank Sinatra or the Rat Pack have imagined these rockers would be taking their place as draws to fill time between sessions at the craps table?)We’ve all sold out in one way or another.

Mick Jagger on stage and youthful.

Mick Jagger on stage and youthful.

Listening to the music is a way to recapture our youth and a particular time and place.

We also try to buy back the youth we’ve lost. I did that with comic books for a time. I grew up in a small town in Georgia in 1960s and ‘70s. In those days, one of my greatest delights was the weekly trip into town to visit the comics rack in the corner drug store. In their cheap, but colorful pages I found new worlds and delights of the imagination. Then in my late teens I gave them up and moved on to more adult pursuits.

I never forgot Spiderman, the Fantastic Four, Superman, The Flash and a host of other heroes of my imagination. Later in life I began collecting them again. Of course, the cheap paper was unchanged, but now they were considered collector’s items with high prices to match. I paid the price, but I couldn’t recapture those youthful moments. My superheroes were the same (even those their pages were now yellowing), but I wasn’t. I was older now and that young boy was just a memory.

My experience of comics, like rock and roll, was particular to a moment in time. As we get older those moments can’t be recaptured. They’re gone and for us the best thing is to let them go.



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You Can’t Have What You Already Own

Posted by southwrite on August 17, 2014

The familiar rotating comic rack.

The familiar rotating comic rack.

I decided to pay a visit to a local comic shop. You know the kind of store I’m talking about. If you’re a fan, you’re intimately acquainted with the racks of new books that line the walls surrounding tables filled with cardboard boxes of older books. There are also the glass cases filled with toy replicas of the super heroes now familiar to anyone who has visited a movie house in recent years.

Comics are big business now.

It’s been a long time since I had been inside a store like this one and it brought back a flood of memories – of childhood pleasures and adult years trying to recapture them. I thumbed through some of the new titles. They are quite different now than when they became part of my life in the mid-1960s. For one thing, they’re more costly (several dollars compared to the 12 or 15 cents) and much more adult in their story lines. The cheap paper has given way to quality stock and brighter, more vivid colors.

My visit also confirmed again for me a hard truth– owning is not the same thing as having. You might think that the two are the same. That owning is at least necessary for having something, but it’s not.

This is also why I’m no longer a comic collector – or collector of anything for that matter.

Oh, I do own a lot of things which might be considered collectible in one sense of another. Like most writers I have hundreds of books. Some I have with me, but most are in storage. I own, yes, but I don’t really have them. The difference between owning and having is in part about access, but it’s also an intellectual and even spiritual experience.

The realization that owning prevents me from actually having a thing really came home when I went from being a comic reader to a comic collector.

The colorful pages of comics were one of the delights of my childhood.

The colorful pages of comics were one of the delights of my childhood.

My love of this popular art form  began when I was a young boy spending  Saturdays in the small town of Eastman where I grew up. While my parents shopped for groceries and other items, I found my way to the corner drug store with its rotating rack of comics in the window.

I always faced an agenizing choice. With just 12 cents in my pocket, I could only have one. But which one? Superman? Spiderman? The Fantastic Four? The Challengers of the Unknown? Or maybe a western? With limited funds and wide choices, I leafed through each one carefully before making a choice.

I learned early on the loss that comes with each choice. By saying yes to Iron Man, I was saying no to Batman and all the other super heroes left in the racks. I would take a selection to the counter and carefully count out my coins. Then it was back home clutching the issue and eagerly devouring the latest exploits of my heroes.

Once read, it would go into the small cardboard box on the floor of my bedroom. I treasured each one. As time passed each comic book became well-worn as they opened up that world of excitement and wonder that every small town boy needs.

For one reason or another I lost most of those early treasures. They went to trades with other kids or were left behind as I moved on to other things – like college and non-comic reading friends. They were forgotten and thrown away – after all comics were designed to be quick and cheap entertainment.

Eventually, I ceased both buying and reading comics. Years passed and then I came back to them.

With a job and income, I could afford to buy back what I had once loved. And, I did. Comics that I had spent 12 or 20 or 25 cents for were now big money as they acquired collectible status of examples of the so-called Silver Age of comic publishing. I paid for them and began to amass a new collection. Instead of throwing them into an old box, I had to store them in special plastic bags. The cheap paper on which they were printed aged and faded quickly. In fact, finding a well preserved copy of older titles from the 60s and 70s was difficult. For those produced in earlier decades it was nearly impossible.

Today's comics have become more popular and more adult.

Today’s comics have become more popular and more adult.

As my desire to flesh out my collection grew, I began to acquire professionally graded issues encased in hard plastic. The cases certified their condition and value and also prevented further deterioration – the real enemy of any pop culture collectable.

The one thing I couldn’t do was read them. No creasing the spines as I lay in bed engrossed in epic battles between heroes and villains. I was a collector now – not the small boy clutching his beloved comics.

I assembled hundreds of comics. Many such as  a pretty decent copy of Fantastic Four #1 were quite valuable. At last I owned them, but I couldn’t have them.

One day, I don’t remember exactly when, it came to me – collecting is a profoundly disappointing experience. I only really enjoyed it when I didn’t have what I wanted. Hunting for a title was exciting. So was getting it, of course, but the thrill quickly faded.

Once I had a particular book, it was in a real sense lost to me. I had it, but I didn’t have it. The only thing left to me was to gaze at the collection and try to draw some excitement from the idea that a part of my childhood had been recaptured. It was a delusion. The thrill of comics for a young boy was in the holding, the reading, the talking with friends and the trading. After buying all those now valuable items, I was right back where I had started – I knew they existed, but I couldn’t touch them. I couldn’t recapture those days. They truly were lost.

With that realization came another. Owning something that I couldn’t use and enjoy meant not really having it. I stopped being a collector.

I haven’t given up on comics as I did before. I still read them, but in digital form on tablet. Most of the old issues that I had loved as a child can now be downloaded in electronic format. Once again I can read them as I did as child — without worrying about the horror of leaving finger prints on the cover. I can also see them through the eyes of an adult knowing that I can’t recapture that childlike wonder. That too has been lost, but in the process I’ve gained something else.

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