Justin Green’s Musical Legends

« My father had a lifelong interest in helping musicians. I even encountered his presence when reading the autobiography of Anita O’Day. She said that there was a real estate man in Chicago who always made sure her band had a place to stay. That was Pop. » – Justin Green

How did Justin Green, one of the Founding Fathers of the Underground Comix movement, wind up holding down a regular feature for a decade (1992-2002) in Tower Records‘ in-house magazine, Pulse!? The whole chain of events began with a strip about his dad’s drinking. Of course.

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« It was my father’s spirit that instigated this cartoon project…. this was ’91 (Blab No.6, Summer 1991, Kitchen Sink Press), and I was living in Sacramento. Mark Weidenbaum was then an editor at Pulse! Magazine, published and distributed by Tower Records, which had its headquarters in West Sacramento. He had just seen the piece when he found out I lived nearby. He wanted to explore the idea of an ongoing musical biography cartoon feature. »
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The second instalment (April, 1992). A little Einstein on the Beach, anyone?
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August, 1992. Elvis certainly had his faults, but racism or ingratitude were not among these.
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My own introduction to the Reverend’s music came, as it surely came to many others, through Jackson Browne‘s fine cover of his Cocaine (Running on Empty, 1977). « I was talking to my doctor down at the hospital. He said, ‘Son, it says here you’re twenty-seven, but that’s impossible — you look like you could be forty-five’. »
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The strip frequently appeared in colour. Here’s my favourite example, from April, 1994. And here’s a fine Venuti performance. No, he wasn’t *always* joking.
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Ah, Rodd Keith, the main man behind those infamous Song Poems ads, comic book fixtures in the 1970s. The weren’t a scam… not in the traditional sense. November, 1996. Lend your ear to his «Ecstasy to Frenzy».

While Green isn’t a native virtuoso draftsman like, say, R. Crumb or Rick Griffin, and he’s only fair-to-middling when it comes to likenesses, he *is* a born storyteller, and that’s really what’s most needed for an endeavour of this nature. Compressing a lifetime, or at least a career, into a single-page strip (two at the most!) is remarkably tricky and demanding, and if it looks deceptively easy here, he’s succeeded.

In selecting strips for this post, I didn’t lean towards my own favourite musicians, opting instead for what I felt were the strongest pieces, regardless of topic. However, I’m reserving my very favourite for a special New Year’s Eve post. Hope you enjoyed these musical time capsules! If you did, you’ll be happy to learn that the fine folks at Last Gasp collected the set in 2003.

-RG

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