Friday, April 20, 2012

Crazy Arthur's "Strait Comics"

A Remembrance of College Characters Past

Arthur Campbell
Arthur Campbell was the coolest - and strangest - guy I met during my time at Towson State University in the late 1970s. On a campus teeming with clearly defined black-and-white stereotypes (Normals, Hippies, Jarhead Jocks, Date-Raping Frat Boys, Freaks, Geeks, Joe College, Future Suburban Housemoms, Future Young Republicans, Souless Business Majors, Artist Manques), Arthur was always foggy gray - though occasionally rays of candy-hued dayglo-bright primary colors burst through when he strapped on his electric guitar to play those weekend Electric Anachronism Parties at Ward Hall where the Kool-Aid was both spiked and electrified. To paraphrase Buzzcock guitarist Pete Shelley, if Arthur Campbell was a painting-by-numbers picture, you'd be hard-pressed to find the colors with which to fill him in.

I didn't even know his real name until my Senior year, as he was nominally referred to by a slew of nicknames - Crazy Arthur, Wallflower, Wall, Boomer, Boomer Z. Wallflower, Wally Gator - and seemed to talk in code, his conversation filled with parables, word games and obfuscations. He was a true enigma, a guy who answered the call of all the classical muses - he spoke Latin, wrote poetry, read philosophy, painted, played electric guitar (influenced in equal measures by Jerry Garcia, Jorma Kaukonen, Manual Goettsching and Captain Beefheart's Zoot Horn Rollo) - yet also lifted weights (he had bulging biceps), boxed and studied martial arts, rode a motorcycle, and owned and regularly practiced shooting a veritable arsenal of firearms (I'm pretty sure he had Samurai swords and machetes, too).

He lived in a low-rent house behind the Burger King in East Towson that he christened The Embassy of the Dripping Moon (from a Captain Beefheart line "The moon was a drip on a dark hood" on The Spotlight Kid) where he played crazy experimental electronic tapes he called "Insect Fear Music" and where he parked his bullet-strewn VW Bug (which he shot full of holes with his beloved Beretta 9mm to provide DIY air-conditioning in the summer). In short, he was an intellectual with biceps who could not only verbally undress you with his wit (in multiple languages, to boot), but could literally kick your ass, as well. His head may have been up an Ivory Tower, but his body was primed to do battle in the ring with the American Gladiators. He dressed and acted "Columbine" before anyone knew what Columbine was. And those of us who hung out with him soon adopted a similar look - favoring long dark wool trenchcoats (we called them "Deathcoats") in summer, sunglasses, cordoroys (never jeans!), fingerless gloves, etc. Needless to say, he scared me when I first met him.

His brother Jimmy (aka "Astroboy" or just "Astro") also went to TSU, and his other brother Patrick (aka "Dr. Waste") once sang his tune "I Wanna Die On a DC-10" with TSU-based punk band Thee Katatonix; like Arthur, they were wild country boys, feral hellraisers reared out in the boonies beyond Monkton where their folks (Igor and Morticia Campbell) had a big spread. Somehow we connected through a shared affinity for William Burroughs novels, Grateful Dead music (yes, I was a Deadhead back then, but mainly for the drugs!), cynical German philosophers like Nietzsche and Schopenhauer, underground comics, Blatz Beer, and a mutual distrust of all collegiate institutions from the glee club to mixers to Fraternity Row.

Anyway, by 1976 I became the Features Editor on TSU's student newspaper The Towerlight, mainly because the previous editor thought I was a dope-smoking, Hunter S. Thompson-reading Gonzo journalist with potential for subversion) and I used my new bully pulpit to publish Arthur Campbell's "Strait Comics." "Strait Comics" were anything but straight! These were not funny little Ziggy or Cathy strips, but more like confrontational attacks on the whole Joe College mindset. They caused a stir and Arthur even started adding the subhead "He's Hated by Thousands!" to his masthead.

Following are some Towerlight clippings I saved from "Strait Comics" in its late '70s heyday.

Arthur occasionally penned a music review and, being a Deadhead (admittedly, the most unstereotypical Deadhead imaginable - he'd shoot himself before he'd ever wear a tie-dye t-shirt!), it was inevitable that he'd review the Dead:

Arthur's Dreadful Grate review

Sometimes Arthur would submit a Burroughs-influenced piece of narrative fiction, which I published under the column heading "Crazy Arthur." Following is one called "Nova! Nova! Nova!"

There is no awareness calculator because Mom's robots killed the poets!

I lost track of Arthur after college. Like he wrote in one article, "Mom's robots killed the poets" after graduation. Last I heard he moved to Pennsylania was a hotshot creative director at some advertising firm, with his perforated VW Bug now replaced by a fancy BMW. Good for him!

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

His 2007 book "Sun Burn" is well worth a glance. On Amazon. Get the paper version...can be found on ebay too. Fascinating stuff.

7:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No BMW car, man, though he has a Black BMW cafe racer BMW bike, circa, 1975. He drives a black Mercedes S600 V-12 sedan.Lives in Charleston, SC.

5:37 PM  
Blogger Rad said...

No way! The guy at Peninsula Grille with the ascot? Looks like Kevin Spacey?

6:33 PM  
Blogger Rad said...

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1:02 PM  
Blogger Rad said...

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1:02 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I worked with Arthur in Williamsport during his time with the Herald. I was the backdoor Gruenberg/Lunaire Mfg sales rep in NY. Everything was 100% commission. I made a lot of $$ working with Arthur! I am retired now living in Syracuse and really do miss him. we enjoyed many a night drinking wine and enjoying a manhatten or two. I was sometimes invited to his house after a night on the town to enjoy a scotch single malt. I could walk back to my hotel from there.

I also had dinner at his house once were all we had was wine and hot dogs. Arthur had a special toasting appliance which was made expressly for that occasion.
Dave Quilter

3:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Arthur was a friend Met him on campus Jammed w him and Rich Popino at the basement of Ward Hall Lived with him and Andy Brass at the embassy When I moved on on Jimmy took my room Have read and given away Sunburn several tiimes

5:53 PM  

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