Monday, November 20, 2017

Lucy, Charlie Brown, and 43 Footballs Part 3: 1965-1969

1965-1969: The Girl without Kaleidoscope Eyes

11. October 17, 1965

Lucy has turned this ritual into a yearly holiday as she calls out "It's that time of year again!" She sings with happiness in the first panel with an extended end note on her call to "Charlie Brown-n-n-!" She sings in the second panel as she sets up the football and awaits the answer to her call. "Tum Te Dum Te Ta De Dum" with a pair of linked eighth notes. When Charlie Brown appears and simply says "Okay!" to Lucy's entreaty, we can assume that this year he has a plan. And he does. He walks home and sits in a big comfy chair to make Lucy wait. "If I have to, I'll  sit here in the house until midnight and make her wait!" Lucy has the football set in the next panel, but she knows that something is wrong. Her mouth is a small straight line, and her eyes seem slightly unfocused as she looks silently at the football. Charlie Brown looks out his window, into the darkness, both hands pressed against the window. He is Franz Kafka's man looking out a window in hope of some connection. "Whoever leads a solitary life and yet now and then wants to attach himself somewhere, whoever, according to changes in the time of day, the weather, the state of his business, and the like, suddenly wishes to see any arm at all to which he might cling - he will not be able to manage for long without a window looking on to the street." He sees just what he hopes to see. The full moon has risen; under its light, Lucy still holds the football ready to be kicked, but her eyes are shut and there is a "Z" over her head. She is asleep. Charlie Brown sneaks out, checks that she is indeed sleeping and walks away gingerly to gain the space necessary for his run. As he runs he says "She really slipped up this time!" Lucy simultaneously opens her eyes, smiles, and pulls the football away. "WHAM!" In the final panel, she stands over Charlie Brown, who we can see from the zig zag of his shirt up to his head. Like in 1961, his head is turned outward; he frowns toward the reader, his plan ruined. Lucy looks down and says "We fanatics are light sleepers, Charlie Brown!" Was she truly asleep? Would Charlie Brown's plan have worked if he just been a little quieter in his run up to the football? Unlikely. But who is the fanatic? Fanaticism runs in the van Pelt family; think of all the Halloweens Linus has spent in a pumpkin patch awaiting the arrival of the great pumpkin. Think, too, though, of the number of times he has fallen asleep while waiting. Maybe fanatics are not light sleepers after all. One should also consider why Lucy defines herself as a "fanatic." The simplest answer might be that she feels a compulsion to celebrate this football ritual every year. Of course, Charlie Brown, in his desire to kick the football is also a fanatic. Is the whole football routine a secret ritual between two fanatics? Holidays have been established on less. As I write this, it is 27 days until Beethoven's birthday.

12. September 25, 1966
This year starts of in the realm of the mundane.  For the first time, Charlie Brown stands alone in the first panel. He utters a succinct "Oh, Brother!" The second panel changes the perspective so we can see that he has been looking at Lucy, who has the football ready. She simply asks "Well?" We can not see Charlie Brown's reaction. There is no argument, no attempt to convince. They both know what is about to happen. Lucy finally asks the question, "How about it, Charlie Brown?," with the now familiar grin that accompanies it. He crosses his arm in aggravation and Lucy resorts to a variation of her ploy from 1960. She tells Charlie Brown that only"an involuntary muscle spasm" will make her pull the ball away this year. She continues "the odds must be astronomical against such an involuntary muscle spasm occurring at the very moment you try to kick the ball. . ." Charlie Brown agrees and walks back and begins his run. "WUMP!"In the last panel Charlie Brown lies on his back, his head turned facing the reader, a pencil swirl of disorientation floating just above his ear. Lucy sits, her arm resting on the football, and produces a document from which she reads that the odds of an "involuntary muscle spasm occurring at that precise moment were ten billion to one!" Let us put aside the question of how Lucy was able to look up this fact and produce a document in the brief moment when Charlie Brown flies through the air and lands with a wump. More importantly, in the third to last panel, the one where Lucy pulls the football away, something happens for the first time in 1966. Lucy is not smiling. She looks perplexed; her mouth is a small line and her eyes look at Charlie Brown in the air with surprise. Every other year, Lucy has looked gleeful, with a smile, usually an open-mouthed grin on her face as she pulls the football away. She has only looked perplexed twice before, both in 1952 when she does not intentionally pull the football away. Even then, though, she grins at the result of Charlie Brown flat on his back. Here, her perplexed look continues as she reads aloud from her research in the final panel. Either Lucy is a very good actor, or she actually had an involuntary muscle spasm at the exact moment Charlie Brown tried to kick the football. By this point, though, we know that if Charlie Brown's and Lucy's actions are not voluntary, they are at least compulsory.

13. October 1, 1967

The summer of love has just ended and Lucy looks ecstatic as she holds the football with two hands and with eyes closed sings out "Charlie Brownnnnnn." She continues to smile as Charlie Brown heeds her call and responds "Oh, No . . . Not Again!? But Lucy tells Charlie Brown "I have a surprise for you this year." Charlie Brown holds his hand to his chin and smiles. He takes her promise of a "surprise" to mean "she isn't going to pull it away." He smiles in profile as he leans forward with determination as he walks away from the ball. He runs toward it, teeth bared in intensity while Lucy sticks her tongue out of the corner of her mouth, concentrating as she adjusts the ball. The Beatles released the song "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" in 1967. John Lennon claims that the song's title has nothing to do with LSD. Instead, he found his inspiration in a drawing done by his three year-old son Julian. "My son came home with a drawing and showed me this strange looking woman flying around," Lennon said. When asked what the drawing was, Julian told him "It's Lucy in the sky with diamonds." Paul McCartney has compared Julian's drawing to a Chagall painting "with people floating around . . . I think it's something to do with kid's not realizing that people have to be put on the ground." Oh. Wait. Lucy is a child but she is not a flower child. She knows that people have to be put on the ground. Her surprise is of a different sort. The last panel shows us a television monitor connected to a camera. Lucy says, "And now for the surprise . . . Would you like to see how that looked on instant replay?" Charlie Brown lies on the ground like last year, a pencil swirl above his head. Even with the tools of mechanical reproduction at hand, neither Lucy nor Charlie Brown will be satisfied with the repetition of instant replay. They will come back, again and again, to produce both repetition and difference.

14. September 29. 1968

Once again cradling the football, Lucy gleefully sings out "Charlie Brownnnn" with three eighth notes in her speech bubble. We actually see Charlie Brown walking toward her this year in the second panel, even as he says "She must think I'm the most stupid person alive." After the usual exchange, Lucy tries a new appeal. "Don't I have an innocent look about me?" She leans on the football, looks up at Charlie Brown with a smile and continues "Look at the innocence in my eyes . . ." Charlie Brown is convinced. "She's right . . . If a girl has innocent-looking eyes you simply have to trust her . . ." But he does not look convinced. He says these lines with a neutral expression as he walks away from the football, standing straight and neither smiling nor frowning." He begins his run toward the ball with a determined look but with nowhere near the intensity of 1967. "Wham!" For the first time in a few years, Lucy leans over a prone Charlie Brown in the last panel. She tells him that what he has "learned here today . . . will be of immeasurable value to you for many years to come." Charlie Brown responds with a "Sigh!" He knows the game is not over. There are no high-growing flowers or rocking horse people here. It is a mistake to try to ground the kicking of the football in a world of love and innocence. Or is it?

15. September 28, 1969

In the most despairing and unrealistic opening panel yet, Charlie Brown stands in the shadow of a giant football at least three times his height. Panel two brings us back to the real world. Lucy holds a regular football and with a small grin simply calls out "Charlie Brown?"She doesn't sing or string out her pronunciation of his name. She makes the same proposition; Charlie Brown rejects her with the wave of a hand as he turns away. And then things really turn. Lucy turns her head toward the sky; her mouth becomes a gigantic black shape as she cries out "WAAH! YOU DON'T TRUST ME!"Charlie Brown stops abruptly and turns his head, seemingly in shock at Lucy's emotional reaction to his words. He kneels down next to here, arms out, and says "I'm sorry . . . Please don't cry." He begins to walk away, and stunningly, he says Lucy's words for her, with only a change in pronouns. "You hold the ball, and I'll come running up and kick it." In response, Lucy can only "Snif." The panel of Charlie Brown running toward the football is drawn smaller, as if from a further distance than usual. He says nothing as he runs. Lucy's smile returns as she pulls the football away. "WUMP!" Another pencil swirl floats above Charlie Brown's head, this time punctuated with a single star, he looks outward, confused, as Lucy leans in only slightly and says "Never listen to a woman's tears, Charlie Brown!" She offers him a variation on last year's point. The world is changing. Women and girls are neither innocent nor weak. The 1960s are over. The attempt to kick the football is not. And to jump ahead to the 1980s and 2010s for a moment, these 1960s strips show why putting Smith's lyrics into the voices of Peanuts characters is neither clever nor telling. I love the Smiths, but Charles Schulz had mastered maudlin irony long before Morrissey had ever found a job.

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