The Twenty Greatest American Weirdos of the 20th Century – Part 8

So in the vast dissertation that is the Twenty Greatest American Weirdos of the 20th Century, here is where we list the also-rans, the folks who were considered and rejected because they simply could not cut it as great weirdos. In all cases, these people were offbeat or quirky enough to at least have their names come up in the conversation. But alas, they fell short.

Here you can find parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7.

In this installment we discuss those who were undoubtedly great, but just not weird enough.

Tammy Faye Bakker (1942-2007)

TammyFaye

Much maligned as a member of the Christian Right, Tammy Faye is best remembered these days for the mascara-black tears she cried when her husband and PTL Club co-founder Jim Bakker was convicted of mail and wire fraud in 1988. This however does not do the woman justice. With irrepressible charm and a voice big enough to fill a cathedral, Tammy Faye was a pioneer in Christian broadcasting in the early 1960s and a vital force in the Holy Rollin’ Empire for over 25 years. She co-founded the Trinity Broadcasting Network and the PTL Club and basically wrote the book on how to spread the word of God over the airwaves. And she meant every bit of it. Despite a taste for opulence and ostentatious makeup, Tammy Faye really was a sweet, caring, sympathetic individual who earned the love of millions. She also preached understanding and compassion for homosexuals and especially AIDS victims during the 1980s, a time when such topics were strictly taboo among serious Christians. For this alone she would deserve a spot on the list…if only she were weird. And weird she wasn’t.

So in the vast dissertation that is the Twenty Greatest American Weirdos of the 20th Century, cialis here is where we list the also-rans, remedy the folks who were considered and rejected because they simply could not cut it as great weirdos. In all cases, cheap these people were offbeat or quirky enough to at least have their names come up in the conversation. But alas, they fell short.

Here you can find parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7.

In this installment we discuss those who were undoubtedly great, but just not weird enough.

Tammy Faye Bakker (1942-2007)

TammyFaye

Much maligned as a member of the Christian Right, Tammy Faye is best remembered these days for the mascara-black tears she cried when her husband and PTL Club co-founder Jim Bakker was convicted of mail and wire fraud in 1988. This however does not do the woman justice. With irrepressible charm and a voice big enough to fill a cathedral, Tammy Faye was a pioneer in Christian broadcasting in the early 1960s and a vital force in the Holy Rollin' Empire for over 25 years. She co-founded the Trinity Broadcasting Network and the PTL Club and basically wrote the book on how to spread the word of God over the airwaves. And she meant every bit of it. Despite a taste for opulence and ostentatious makeup, Tammy Faye really was a sweet, caring, sympathetic individual who earned the love of millions. She also preached understanding and compassion for homosexuals and especially AIDS victims during the 1980s, a time when such topics were strictly taboo among serious Christians. For this alone she would deserve a spot on the list…if only she were weird. And weird she wasn't.

Let's see: She had highly questionable fashion sense, she was addicted to Diet Coke, and she had permanent eyeliners tattooed to her face (quite possibly because she was a cancer patient). She also had an almost surreal ability to bounce back from embarrassment. Nah. If you think Tammy Faye Bakker was God's own weirdo, you picked the wrong holy roller.

Lester Bangs (1948-1982)

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Commonly considered one of the greatest if not the greatest rock critic of all time, Lester Bangs was certainly great enough to make the list. He was a brilliant, if somewhat undisciplined, writer who cared passionately about music and cultural matters. He was a driving force in the growing critical consciousness of rock fans, writers, and artists throughout the 1970s. Punk, classic rock, disco, heavy metal, didn't matter. Any major band caught resting on its laurels would get pummeled by the blistering prose emanating from Bangs' typewriter.

Bangs approached music criticism with a kind of profane urgency that's still being imitated today. Aesthetics was almost literally food and drink for him, and he applied his own brand of it in ways that were startlingly original. Check out his series of interviews with Lou Reed or his long expose on the Clash for some of the best music criticism you can find. And his take on Van Morrison's Astral Weeks truly does that beautiful record justice.

Thing is, however, Lester Bangs wasn't weird. He had demons to face, sure. He drank too much, had a temper, and abused drugs in order to survive the emotional roller coaster that was his life. But these failings are relatively common. Further, as he got older Bangs did make honest efforts to come clean and get his life in order. Lester Bangs would only be considered a weirdo because he was a great champion of weird music. But that, to be sure, is not the same thing.

Roy Cohn (1927-1986)

CohnEsquire

Roy Cohn was a piece of work. A brilliant piece of work, no doubt. I pity the attorneys who had to face him across a courtroom during his 35-year law career. Cohn rose to prominence during the Red Scare in the 1950s when he served as chief counsel to Senator Joseph McCarthy. To his credit, Cohn was instrumental in convicting many suspected communists and Soviet operatives. Ever hear of what happened to Julius and Ethel Rosenberg? That was Cohn's handiwork. As a result, Cohn became a champion of the Right and the bane of the Left.

It is said he had a photographic memory and practiced law as if it were total war. As a result, people lined up to get on his good side, and Cohn, party animal that he was, enjoyed every bit of it. Cohn liked his friends like he liked his clients: rich and famous. In private practice his clients included big time Mafiosos, the New York Yankees, and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York. Want to know where Donald Trump found his abrasive personality? Look no further than Cohn, who represented The Donald in the 1970s.

As one might expect, Cohn wasn't exactly a choir boy. Once in 1975 he entered the hospital room of a dying millionaire, put a pen in the poor man's hand, and tried to get him to sign a will naming Cohn as a beneficiary. Sleazy episodes like this eventually caught up with him and got him disbarred in the mid-1980s.

In 1986, Roy Cohn shocked the nation by dying of AIDS. Yes, he was a homosexual and had been closeted for decades. When he worked with McCarthy, he had targeted government officials and celebrities for their homosexuality. But homosexuality (closeted or otherwise), hypocrisy, and sleaze does not make one a weirdo. The only weird thing about Cohn I could find was that he never admitted he had AIDS. To anyone and everyone he talked to, even up to his dying day, it was liver cancer. Got that? Liver cancer.

There is really no bottom to the resentment the American Left harbors against Roy Cohn. In the end, however, it was Cohn who had the last laugh. He died completely broke and owing the IRS millions. No way you can ever call a guy like that weird.

Charles Fort (1874-1932)

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What is it like to be the skeptics' skeptic, the person who is open minded about everything, the guy who entertains any theory no matter how outlandish? Well, to answer these questions, one need not look much past the biography of Charles Fort. Because the truth is out there. And maybe they just don't want you to know it.

Charles Fort was a highly influential writer of supernatural and unexplained phenomena. In fact, he invented the genre. UFOs, crypto-zoological findings, poltergeists, disappearing people, frogs falling from the heavens, you name it. Fort literally spent years in the New York Public Library amassing data on strange, mysterious events occurring throughout history. Then he published highly original (if somewhat ridiculous) theories to explain them. For example, he once posited that the reason why extra-terrestrials never visit Earth is because we humans are their property, and they control us unseen. Go ahead and try to disprove that one.

His books were considered non-fiction thrillers and were enormously popular. They question everything, and use the paranormal to challenge the fundamentals of science. Fort was always on the lookout for facts hidden within facts. As such, his books have almost never gone out of print. The term “fortean”, as in the Fortean Society, is defined as “Pertaining to extraordinary and strange phenomenon and happenings.” So, yes, when you have a word and a society named after you, you are great enough for the list.

Despite writing about weird things, Charles Fort really wasn't weird himself. By all accounts he was a shy, polite, and, well, normal guy. After traveling the world, he lived a fairly conventional life. He was unassuming and did nothing to encourage his cult status which materialized around him. He wouldn't even join the Fortean Society despite their invitations. Furthermore, there are many who believe that Charles Fort didn't take himself very seriously and indeed was conning us all. Perhaps his theories really weren't theories. Perhaps instead they were satire of our abject deference to science and its all-encompassing claims. So even with the author himself, not all is as it seems. How's that for a fact within a fact?

Steve Jobs (1955-2011)

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If Steve Jobs had truly been weird, he would have been number one on the list with a bullet. It can be argued that no single man has had such an positive impact on so many lives in the past 40 years than Jobs. As the co-founder of Apple Computers in the late 1970s, Jobs' genius for design and computer interfaces initiated the personal computing age. He anticipated users' needs and instincts with the friendly, intuitive, point-and-click environment of the Macintosh. It is well known that Microsoft, erm, absconded with much of the technology that went into the Macintosh in order to build the Windows operating system.

Later, as the CEO of Pixar in the 1990s Jobs was an integral part of the digital film revolution. Great films such as Toy Story, Finding Nemo, and The Incredibles might not have happened at all if not for Jobs.

These accomplishments alone would have been enough for Jobs to top our list, but he was just getting rolling. Throw in how he revolutionized the music industry with the iPod and iTunes, throw in the marvelous iPhone, throw in the iPad and the incredible array of apps that you can get for it, and you have a man who pretty much characterizes the culture of the early 21st century.

Jobs' enemies may consider him weird but he really wasn't. Yes, he had a thing about not bathing. Yes, he was a prima donna. Yes, he was obsessive about his organic diet. Yes, he could be much the autocratic asshole. Yes, he was a pathological perfectionist. His biographer often referred to his “reality distortion field”. This could serve him well when pushing his engineers to nearly break the laws of physics to meet a tight deadline. It didn't serve him so well when it prevented him from treating his cancer as early as he should have.

Steve Jobs had eccentricities to be sure, but they never really morphed into weirdness. In fact, they only got better over time. If I ever get over this weirdo thing and start compiling a list of plain old great Americans, then I will reserve a very high place for Steve Jobs.

Timothy Leary (1920-1996)

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Highly influential proto-hippie, Timothy Leary was a groundbreaking psychologist who experimented with LSD and other hallucinogenic drugs during the 1950s. And, well, let's just say that where most scientists become absorbed in their work, Leary's work became absorbed in him. This, and some rather unethical behavior involving undergraduates led to his abandoning academia altogether in the early 1960s. He then set himself on a mission to corrupt the nation's youth with his hedonistic ideals.

“Tune in, turn on, and drop out” was his mantra, and soon he became the godfather of the hippie movement, the anti-war movement, the summer of love, you name it. His California home became ground zero for all sorts for chemically assisted high jinks, including parties, orgies, further “experimentation”, and getting arrested by local DA G. Gordon Liddy. Later antics involved a run for the California governorship against Ronald Reagan, a bed-in with John Lennon and Yoko Ono, a daring jail break with the Weather Underground terrorists and a stint in Algeria as a prisoner of the Black Panthers, yet another terrorist organization. Overall, Timothy Leary saw the inside of 29 jails worldwide.

To Leary's credit, he wrote a lot, publishing 20 books. His topics went beyond psychology and drugs and covered philosophy, mysticism, space travel, and other far out topics. In the 1980s he became pals with arch nemesis G. Gordon Liddy, and the two hit the lecture circuit to great success. He also seemed to have a sense of humor about himself and remained popular until his dying day.

Does this all sound like an interesting life? Well, that's because it was. But that doesn't make Leary weird. He was into psychology. He was into drugs. And he was into spreading the word about both. He never really wavered from that. Given his albeit whacky parameters, most of what Leary did and said was perfectly consistent and rational. As a cultural icon he was certainly great enough to make the list, but he didn't come out of left field often enough to be considered weird.

H.P. Lovecraft (1890-1937)

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Any conversation about great American weirdos will sooner or later get around to H.P. Lovecraft. Lovecraft was a major pioneer of weird fiction, and the world he created was so intricately and convincingly weird that one would have to assume that Lovecraft was weird as well.

Lovecraft certainly would be great enough to make the list. He is still read with great interest today, and unlike his contemporaries such as Bram Stoker and Edgar Rice Burroughs, there is very little that is considered dated or quaint about him. No one, and I mean no one, evokes foreboding better than Lovecraft. His most famous creation, Cthulu, is this malevolent, tentacled cosmic entity that threatens to destroy mankind. Cthulu also causes a tremendous amount of anxiety, an idea which Lovecraft capitalizes on beautifully. What also separates Lovecraft from the horror writers of his day was his inspired and theretofore unheard of use of astronomy and mythology. This and a rather florid style of writing enabled him to create a wholly original mythos that made him one of the most influential writers of the 20th century.

Throw in the six film adaptations, the widespread Lovecraftian themes found in heavy metal music, the dozens of gaming appearances from Dungeons and Dragon to World of Warcraft, as well as Lovecraft's immortality on the internet, and you'd have a great American weirdo…if only Lovecraft had been weird.

Well, Lovecraft was a bit of an oddball and he was certainly uptight. He suffered a lot from anxiety, especially when it came to money. Coming from New England, he had a thing about immigrants, the loud, swarthy southern European types who seemed hell bent on taking over his pristine Anglo-Saxon world. Then again, he married a Jewish girl, so go figure. His racism is well known, but hardly out of the ordinary considering the time period. If Lovecraft was weird, he did a real good job of keeping it in check. I'm more inclined however to believe that he simply wasn't weird.

Harvey Pekar (1939-2010)

Harvey Pekar

There is an old Yiddish saying that goes something like, “better a false good morning than a sincere go to hell.” I have a feeling that Harvey Pekar didn't agree with this sentiment very much. Pekar's story is well known. He worked as a file clerk at a Cleveland hospital for 30 years. Meanwhile he self-published his own comic book American Splendor which was the ongoing saga of his life. It was a critical success if not a commercial one, and gained Pekar worldwide fame and respect in the indie comix world. It also made him the subject of the excellent biopic American Splendor in 2003.

Pekar's talent was making the mundane interesting, and it helped that he was thoughtful and sufficiently introspective. And when the subject matter was heavy enough, he could be downright poignant, such as in 1994's Our Cancer Year. Team him up with great artists like R. Crumb or Joe Sacco, and you got yourself some good reading.

In public, however, Harvey Pekar often came across as a crank. He seemed to want to dispense with niceties and just get to the point. There was zero pretension about Harvey Pekar, and that may have lead to some odd and brusque behavior. Check out his series of David Letterman interviews to get a feel for how trying Harvey Pekar could be when he thinks he can knock you down a peg. This no nonsense attitude may have helped Harvey Pekar become great, but did it make him weird? Nah, just honest.

Man Ray (1890-1976)

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Born Emmanuel Radnitzky, Man Ray figured out early on that he was an Old World kind of artist. And by Old World, I mean cutting edge modern. After World War I he moved to Paris and hung out with a who's who of cubists, dadaists, surrealists, whateverists. Basically, he was front and center among the art avant-garde. Marcel Duchamp, Pablo Picasso, Salvadore Dali, Antonin Artaud, Rene Clair, Luis Bunuel, they all knew and worked with Man Ray.

Ray made his bread and butter as a fashion photographer. He was also an accomplished painter and illustrator and he directed a number of noteworthy surrealist short films. But it's his work as a photographic artist that constitutes the bulk of his reputation today. Ray was a master at manipulating the photographic medium to control the unsettling tone of his images. He was known for rendering images by placing objects on photosensitive paper and he perfected a darkroom process called solarization to add a bizarre, ghostly quality to his work.

Many celebrate the work of Man Ray as embodying the spirit of revolt against bourgeois aesthetics of the day. Others however see his work as just plain weird.

Consider the following. “The Gift” is nothing more than nails glued to the business end of an iron. Ray would put little wooden dummies in sexual positions and photograph them. He would do the same with humans and dare you to draw the line between eroticism and porn. Torture, amputations, self-flagellation, erotic rituals, these were some of his themes. Others included nudes with gunshots wounds, nudes in bondage, nudes as musical instruments, nudes as ocean waves, nudes as nudes. He was really into this nude thing, you see. And he was good at it, so he never failed to make a strong impression.

Oh, and he was really into women's armpits, the hairier the better.

So with output this weird you'd think this guy's gotta be weird too. Well, not so fast. Other than genius and a strange obsession with the Marquis de Sade, Man the man seemed like a relatively normal guy. I searched everywhere and couldn't find anyone complaining about the weirdness of Man Ray. It seems he left it all in his work.

Joseph Rhine (1895-1980)

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Joseph Rhine was a botanist who became the world's first parapsychologist. In other words, he scientifically studied what’s known as Extra Sensory Perception, or ESP. His methodology included putting designs on the backs of cards and having people guess what they were. Anyone who could attain positive results at a greater rate than chance would be considered having ESP. Rhine was spoofed in the movie Ghostbusters, just so you know.

Rhine founded the Parapsychology Department at Duke University and for a time was considered a legitimate scientist. It was a weird discipline, sure, and you'd think that the guy singlehandedly spearheading it would be pretty weird too. But apparently not. I poked around and couldn't find anything weird about him. He was inspired to do all this extra-sensory stuff by an Arthur Conan Doyle speech about speaking with the dead. It is said he falsified his data and selectively published his findings in order get the results he wanted. Other than that Joseph Rhine seemed like a pretty normal guy, that is, if you consider making a science out of hocus pocus to be normal.

Next up, Weirdos Part 9: More also-rans. The undeniably weird who missed the cut because they were undeniably not great.