I've tried being bad. Never convincingly evil, more stubbornly contrary - just bad enough to get expelled from school in the '60's, imprisoned for skinnydipping in Greece in the '70's, busted in the '80s. Small-time bad. Criminally naughty.
So I quite like big-time bad guys. Naughtiness that goes global. And last week, and last month, and last year - three major good-time bad-boys have stuck their heads up over the parapet, and got some Major Recognition. By that I mean that they hit some minor headlines.
Last week Maurice Sendak refreshingly said this about worries surrounding the film of Where The Wild Things Are -
Reporter: "What do you say to parents who think the Wild Things film may be too scary?"
Sendak: "I would tell them to go to hell. That's a question I will not tolerate."
Reporter: "Because kids can't handle it?"
Sendak: "If they can't handle it, go home. Or wet your pants. Do whatever you like."
Last month Robert Crumb [cf Fritz the Cat and Mr Natural, and currently residing nearby in the south of France ] published this -
"To take this as a sacred text, or the word of God or something to live by, is kind of crazy. I don't believe it's the word of God," he told Associated Press, referring to the Bible. "At the same time, I think the stories are very powerful."
Asked about his next project, he replied: "I guess next I'll tackle the Qur'an. See how that goes over."
Last year? That brings us to Tomi Ungerer - “the most famous children’s book author you have never heard of.”
Brought up French in Strasbourg before the war, he underwent schoolboy Nazification for 6 years, which then meant ostracization when the city was reclaimed as French, in '44. He says of Nazism: "They had the strongest songs. And the best graphics."
Today, Tomi Ungerer is among Europe's best-known commercial artists but has been largely forgotten in America, and is unknown in the UK. He made his reputation in the US in the 60's, initially as a children's book author-artist and then as a magazine illustrator, advertising artist and political cartoonist.'Tomi influenced everybody,' says Maurice Sendak. 'No one, I dare say, no one was as original as Tomi Ungerer.'
Those Sgt.Pepper uniforms from WW1? Tomi was wearing one in New York in '64 when the Beatles turned up . . . And those Blue Meanies from Yellow Submarine owe him a nod, too.
But his anti-Vietnam art - and his erotic drawings - lost him his publishers - though not his readers.
He was effectively banned in the States, and never appeared in the UK. His name and his books and his 'brand' [from tea-towels to underwear] are still popular all over Europe and in Japan.
« My anger is essential to my work. Humour is a defense mechanism against the evils of society».
« What interests me is the no-man's-land between good and evil : each side can learn from the other. If hell is the devil's paradise, there is no reason for God not to spend a few weekends there from time to time ... »
Tomi was expelled from school - for being 'perverse and subversive'. But went on to win many awards for his work in bringing together French and German culture. A bi-lingual school has recently been named after him.
Not everyone appreciates Ungerer's rude, lewd, skewed sense of humour. I do - but my Mary doesn't. As an artist she respects his skill, but as an early associate of The Women's Press, she finds his work misogynistic. She understands the BDSM game, but still feels his work is anti-women. We agree to disagree.
He finally settled in Ireland, on a farm on the south-west coast with his wife, Yvonne. Which is where we came in. We had just decided to sack ourselves: we were bored with our ceramic design business. Tomi wanted to set up a museum in Strasbourg while Yvonne wanted to explore her inner and outer Tibet. Their schoolboy son liked the idea of living with us and doing his exam years together with his friend, our Daniel. Tomi and Yvonne then wondered if we'd like to look after their farmhouse and horses and dogs, for a winter. It's Ireland's most westerly point, and Three Castles Head was on their land. If you asked me 'What man and what place has most affected you? - I'd have to say Tomi, and here.
Here's Tomi in his studio (with Maurice Sendak) ten years on since we were there, and just as caustic about 'the Establishment - of hypocrisy' - video
And last year on the eve of the opening of the Museum that Strasbourg has donated to him, to house the 9000 artworks and 4000 mechanical toys he's collected over his lifetime and donated to the city. Here.
If this has whetted your interest in his life or his art then there are some good articles, like this NY Times piece
or blog posts like this or this will tell you more.
And this is the official Ungerer/Strasbourg website
Arte [the French/German culture channel] did a two hour retrospective on him in the late '90's. He phoned the farmhouse to make sure I was taping it for him. [As if they hadn't given him the gold-plated box-set already. Exasperating man.] It's a worthy testament to an extraordinary life.
And when I look at the Baaad Boyz of our cultural times - I think of rats in a maze, eyeing the cheese, eating eachother. And their shootings and crashes and overdoses - mere statistics.
Now - I'm sure I've forgotten something . . . someone being a bit bad . . . oh yes
I was going to paste Crumb's version, with the Cheap Suit Serenaders, featuring
R. Crumb : Banjo and Vocals. Allan Dodge : Mandolin, Mando-cello, Violin, and Vocals and Robert E. Armstrong : Guitar, Accordion, Banjo, Saw, and Vocals
- but Crumb's already had his go. Everyone should have their turn at being bad.
NB It looks as if I have a thing about bottoms. In fact, I've just been sparing you the other bits. You'll just have to go looking for them (may I suggest that seedy bookshop on Charing Cross Road?) in you own spare time. You bad thing, you.