Friday, 6 August 2010

ROGER IN AMERRYKA! (Leonard Fitzroy, 1959)

I announce: I have discovered a country: Amerryka!

And with it, life as anecdotal drift. For example: It was 1940; It was 1950; It was 1960. I formed a rock'n'roll trio with two regulation gas attendants, and mewed kicking non-hits like 'Destination Cerebrum', 'Damn Cat' and Pigeon Porch Blues' all over Kentucky and Tenessee, my extracted claws making a screeing guitar holler but lacking subtlety to make pretty chords. Our sets lasted for minutes, but I always charmed a female into taking me home. I always wore a bowtie onstage, and I discovered that cats dressed as humans gets girls all giddy and a flutter. During those years I made love to thousands of cats. I made love with hundreds of human women. I tried it with males, I tried it with dogs. It was an itch I couldn't scratch; I remained candlewick dependent. I swam through ages, never getting older; I drank up the new years while still being able to see, smell and taste the old ones. My double vision became trebled, quadrupled; Olefactory calamity captivated my bronchioles, until I convulsed thrice-nightly. My dreams, seperated from waking by no film of unreality, began to multiply together, spawning horrific orgies between a pantheon of inter-human species, cat people with wings instead of heads, dancing notions pressing gruesome members into each other in an endless diorama of fur and flesh intercourse, sweating, endless and sickening. And in all of it, in my sleep and in my day, I knew I was being watched. The fairground, under the lights, I began to realise I was either being followed or was tailing an unknown suspect for an unknown crime. I was a Trojan Hoss of heightened language, embedded with chiselled horrors and cocaine brained fancy.' Roger the Cat, 'Roger in Amerryka!'

Leonard Fitzroy's Roger the Cat is but one in a long line of feline protagonists with an urbane demeanour. But no cat has surely gone as far as Roger, whose beat prose and sexual neediness marks him apart. The Roger the Cat stories, part science-fiction, part experimental fuzz, part 'awwdon'thelooklikealilman' cuteness always confound and delight equally. Too risque, perhaps, for many sensibilities; for after having the stories rejected by every magazine, periodical and newspaper going, Fitzroy finally self-published the Collected Roger the Cat stories in 1953, and managed to get some attention reading them aloud in Greenwich Village cafes.

The origins tale, Roger and the Author, caused a riot at the Semblance Cafe in Prospect when several of Fitzroy's inebriated writer friends grew annoyed at the implicit criticism of the self-deluding romantic ideals of the titular scribe. They took it to be a mocking of their scene, and flounced accordingly. This led to Fitzroy recording the jazzy single 'Too Beat for Two Beats' under the name 'Roger the Cat', with Landon Horny providing the voice of Roger for the unforgettable chorus:

Too hep for those cats
I'm feline groovy
Blue eyes, no cataracts
My relationship with myself
Is merely platonic
But I'd be lying if I said
I didn't want to take it further'

The success of the song drew attention from Hollywood. Mogul David O Selznick wanted to make an animated picture, telling Fitzroy that his 'cussin' cat causes kids to cry and I want a piece'. Arguments abounded as to the format, before settling on a quite spectacular mixture of tinted live action footage an animation, a psychedelic inversion of the yet to come real-people-in-toontown Roger Rabbit principle.

The film flopped. 'It wasn't Roger's horniness, his affair with Joan Fontaine, his taste for the swears or even smoking that Americans didn't like,' claimed Fitzroy. 'It was the fact that he was an intellectual, and talked alot.'1 Roger's poetic thrust, sexual clamour and propensity for cod-philosophy (and cod philosophy) found him an audience among students throughout the sixties, enough for a sequel Roger Gets Hep (1967) to be made, this time with no attempt to charm the kiddies. His iconic presence was seen on pin badges and banners at Vietnam protests across campuses in America, and in Paris in May 1968. It seems his constantly open spirit and questioning attitude will always find fans, albeit sporadically: A character named Roger the Catt appeared in Cheech and Chong's I Started A Toke (1981), and Roger appeared heavily in Jean-Luc Godard's Mickey Mouse biopic La Souris d'Hollywood (1987). The original film has been remastered and re-released several times, earning praise from Peter Cook who called it 'the result of a boozy seance between Doctors Seuss, Freud and John'. 2

'The truth is, Roger will always be quicker than me,' Fitzroy said in 1994. 'I never managed to pin him down in any story, strip or film. He was always too clever.' 3

'Bewitched by the Americas. Inca cats. The earth is soiled by tattooed spells. There, I was plugged into full cat voodoo, inserted into the mainframe, dispelled to a swirling hexed vortex. The Native Americans claimed that ancient cats, Gugols, were there, in North America, before humanity. They receded when Humans came. If your hive was Africa, ours was America. Inspired, giddy, lovestruck, I saw a ghostly cat that I followed. It looked pretty, pretty as me, and had a familiar gait that I attributed to a wombic memory of motherhood. When I saw her in an alley, I scared away another cat, shadowy and evasive, that slipped into the swampy indeces of the drugged city. The object of my affection did not acknowledge me once; just sidled away, with a follow me turn of the tail. Motherlode, They became expert at disappearing; they became attuned to the wind,. and took off in invisible flights. untailored modes. In the hollows of the man-made fortifications, in the call of the trees, they sing quietly. Dire tunes, terse and bitter some of them, but to a cat those hallowed meccas retune the brain like a lightning rod to the tail. exonerated spirits, The city was a used book, even when fresh metal. It's fifty-storey mountains came retro-fitted with hexes and chants, and weaved in the wind accordingly. Nectared breezes send bitter ghostly spells up Manhattan streets, before expiring in the salt of the Harbour. I was, reader, in a lather. Clutching at the West Virginian meterologies like they were tangible personages, Tom Rain, the firebrand, honest, brave, Lucy Sun, shy, alert, mating in their woozy troposphere boudoir, where further weathers are made, eternal variables of their uncles and aunts who spawn rainbow offspring with mixed metaphor jism. Awakened in a Louisiana hotel to perverse ecosystems, twitching my synapses like arcane texts, to be read aloud, to a matful of bovine schoolherd who would sink into a magical slumber and arise sainted and holy, handsome and wise.'

Roger the Cat, 'Roger in Amerryka!'Roger in Amerryka! Directed by Leonard Fitzroy Produced by David O Selznick, Tom Lord Written by Leonard Fitzroy Starring Landon Horny (voice), Joan Fontaine, Sid Caesar, Milton Berle Selznick International Pictures 92 mins Release Date US: May 1959/ UK Aug 1966 Tagline: 'The Cool Cat's Cool Cat Strikes Back (Hatless)'

1. Paris Match interview, 1986
2. Times interview, May 21 1992
3. The Guardian interview March 1994

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