Spain Rodriguez — Agent of Something Better That Never Happened
Once upon a time, 40 years ago now, in a world long gone, I was 10 years old.
Being unsupervised by adults, something I now thank G-d for, this ten year-old kid wandered the streets of a very small and small-minded Appalachian town. His mind, relatively uncontaminated by the surrounding ideo-sphere, wondered as much as he wandered: where did this come from, why are things as they are and not some other way, how did I get here, how can I get out, who should I be?
It was that wondering and questioning that made the ten year-old kid a weirdo, a stranger in a strange land, even in his hometown. And, like Steve Earle taught us, nothing will bring you down like your hometown. And that boy’s hometown was in overdrive to bring him down and keep him there — well, not so much him specifically (he was not that special and the world is not arranged around him, positively or negatively), but people akin to him. People who question, people who look for answers to uncomfortable questions… and all genuine questions are right uncomfortable for them that well fit in.
People who make other people uncomfortable, especially when very young and alone, tend to get the shit kicked out of them literally and metaphorically. So they go looking for refuge and allies and that child-on-the-verge-of-having-to-grow-up-really-quickly used to hang out at the saving grace of that town: the college.
Lo, and the college had a library well-stocked with classics, which he’d get into later, art books, which he began to explore, and some pretty hip titles — one of which turned out to be Les Daniels’ Comix: A History of Comic Books in America. Long story short, it was in those pages that our disaffected anti-hero discovered Underground Comix and their historical context… and the concept of “historical context.”
Where it would have been easy to fall for Robert Crumb’s art and humor — it isn’t as if the kid didn’t — the artist that really held his imagination and got his attention was Spain Rodriguez and his character Tashman, Agent of the Sixth International. Well, there was Trash — the kid wished he looked half as cool as that and understood what all this talk of revolution was about — and Trashman was there putting a knife through the neck of some futuristic Neo-Nazi SS son of a bitch.
“Wait! Didn’t we kill the Nazis?” the kid wondered.
At age 50, I now know we did not kill fascism or Nazism. We just barely managed to stomp the shit out of the vermin who espoused those beliefs the first go ’round and the beliefs still floated around even in that world the child was sent to live within — that was part of the problem with the closed-minded town he was in; he just didn’t understand at the time.
Yes, obviously I get it now. Thanks, in part, to Spain and his comix as I managed to discover more of them as I grew older and had opportunity to lay hands on them. I sit here now watching cops shoot black people, round up latinos, the for-profit slave prisons bulging with the incarcerated poor while Donald Trump does his best Mussolini impersonation and Ted Cruz whines his paranoid right-wing theocratic Nazi tunes for enthusiastic audiences who just don’t know any fucking better. And the RNC is starting to demand loyalty oaths from the voters who wish to participate in “their” primaries.
Seig heil, motherfuckers.
Where’s Trashman now that the future arrived?
Well, Marxism isn’t going to cut it — but Spain’s not here to disagree because he died. Marx had many damn fine ideas and his critique of the labor theory of value strikes me as having a great deal of truth. But Marx-ISM, like every other form of ISM is as dead as Spain — worse, ISMs ruin nearly everyone that gets sucked into them. But that’s a bete noir for a different day, gentle readers.
But the symbolic idea of resistance to evil that Trashman represents… there’s the crux of the biscuit. Spain’s generation, not Spain himself, but that generation, sold out back in the ’80s. And so, here we are. The only “revolution” that happened was the Reagan Revolution and that flushed the rest of us down the toilet, down, down into the sewers to scrape a living doing the muck work for low pay that the Boomers suck up in the form of stock investments and rent and lending. “I got mine. Fuck you!”
Spain remains one of my heroes artistically and intellectually because he genuinely hoped and worked for something far better and stood the test of time and the temptations of sheer ambition. Go look him up; this isn’t Wikipedia. Or better, just read his work and look at that powerful, expressionistic art. He died like he lived: with his motorcycle boots on. You can’t ask for much better than that.
And he influenced and fascinated a nobody kid in a nowhere town who grew up to be a philosopher, an artist, an essayist, and a damn troublemaker. Thank G-d and thank Spain Rodriguez for being there when I needed to find him.
Richard Van Ingram
30 December 2015