A look into the music featured in American Splendor

As a record collector myself I found the amount of information provided in American Splendor to be profound, Harvey had embeded an intro to Jazz and blues into the pages of his books. He provided little tidbits here and there on how to get a collection started, the value of most vinyl and the details that go into collecting and maintaing vinyl. I decided to look up all of the artists that he had mentioned throughout the book and have presented a collection of them below, Each image is a direct link to a song that was mentioned or popular for that time and era.

-Bushra Mahmood

Sonny StittSammy Davis Jr.

The Jazz in American Splendor

The idiots book to Jazz says that Jazz is not classical music, or folk music, or black music, but, rather, American music. (Axelrod, 39) Thus it is appropriate that Pekar emphasize the importance of Jazz in not only his own life, but his characters as well. In ‘How I Quit Collecting Records” he explains how he fell in love with Jazz at the age of sixteen and eventually became so obsessed over collecting records that it consumed him entirely. He leads the reader into an antidote about a botched attempt he once had trying to steal rare records from a radio station. He hides records in the men’s washroom so that he can later sneak them out, however when he tries to fetch the stolen goods, he finds himself locked outside. He then compares himself to a junky by exclaiming how “no matter how many records I get, I’m never satisfied; I gotta get more. I’ve tried to quit but I can’t.” This obsession is later satiated by the guilt he feels from attempting to steal them in the first place; the feeling is powerful enough to rid him of his habit and even allows him to save enough money to self publish American Splendor.

He then creates a character known as Jack The Bellboy as a representation of his addiction (had he not stopped collecting). Jack is a bellboy who becomes obsessed over hustling records at his work, so much so that it even threatens his job. As an author, Pekar uses Jack as a representation of himself in dialect, imagery and habits, However we know that unlike Jack, Pekar managed to dig himself out of the grasps of ‘collector fever’; a state in which the collector finds himself trying to attain records regardless of his or her financial mean.

Even with this darker side of record collecting, It is apparent that Jazz means something very personal to Harvey since he drops names and performers throughout his stories, this adds an extra dimension to American Splendor for the reader since it intrigues them into searching for the mentioned singers. I found myself doing the same and compiled a list of all of the musicians he had mentioned. Upon further research I realized that in listing the music, he creates a reference for people trying to get into Jazz. When the bellboy is telling people in his office about certain records they need to have, It’s actually Harvey telling the reader about music they must listen to. This reminded me of music critics in this day and age and the power of blogging.

There are many influential bloggers who don’t need a public platform such as a major magazine or corporate endorsements to be considered excellent critics. A great example would be Pitchfork Reviews Reviews. A website where a music fan decided to become a third person commentator and do reviews on reviews done by (A site that recieves over 30 million viewers a month). In commenting on critics and fans of music, The author simply known as David created a new perspective on analyzing music, not just from a critics view, but a second party that analyzes the critics themselves. To read more there is an excellent NY times article on David and his website here 

-Bushra Mahmood


3 Responses to Music

  1. Hey Bushra,

    I’ve always considered Jazz to be America’s first cultural export which finally differentiated them from any sort of European trappings along with other exports of the “Jazz age”. I like the connection you’ve made between America’s music and Pekar’s series, it makes total sense.

    There is something compassionate about the exploration of addiction through the near metaphor that Pekar uses (since he’s actually talking about Jazz). Everyone can identify with an impulsive need to collect or consume something, whether it be physical or psychological. We are all addicts of something. It may be collecting music, food, narcotics, texting, video games, even a bad behaviour.

    The complexities of addiction were beautifully rendered in Tarsem Singh’s “The Fall”. Bellow is a link to a trailer for the film. If you haven’t seen it, then i strongly recommend it. Not only is it visually stunning, but it actually has a pretty good driving plot behind it.

    The Trailers:

    The Opening Credits:

    The opening credits are worth seeing just for the sheer beauty of it. He matched the visuals to the tone of the music so well that it feels like Beethoven composed this piece just for Tarsem.


  2. Hi Bushra,
    I think it’s really interesting how Pekar was able to portray so much of himself in American Splendor. By creating characters from parts of his personality, as you said about Jack the Bellhop representing his addiction, as well as inserting information into the speech, as he named off records he thought were important, he was revealing more of his thoughts and fears. I think doing those kinds of things helped Pekar engage American Splendor readers, it’s like getting to know someone slowly and naturally as you start to pick up the nuances of the book.

    This short clip is Harvey talking a little bit about collecting records, and mentioning his “favourite unknown guy” is Sonny Berman (Click here for video – he’s playing the trumpet). He also says near the end “the story of jazz, in some ways the story of America”, which coincides with what you had stated at the beginning of your post.


  3. Allen says:

    Hi Bushra,

    In reading your entry on the music behind American Splendor I was intrigued by the influence of Jazz music on the comic and how it added another dimension to the story. To read about Pekar and his love of Jazz expanded my appreciation of his work and willingness to share and discuss music with the reader. In listening to Graham Central Station and reading an excerpt of one of the stories, it created a more engaging and thematic experience.

    There is something to be said about music accompanying comics or the combination of the two entities. It adds an emotional height much like a film, but in the static form of a comic, it engages and compels the reader to ask questions that are not answered by the panels alone. On the surface, it could be compared to friends trading records or cd albums, and expanding their appreciation of their taste in music. .

    As an appreciator of music and the constant desire to find something different or something new, to read Pekar share his love of Jazz was very enjoyable.

    Here is a link I found of an interview with comic creators Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie discussing about the influence and the ‘magic’ of music on their comic, Phonogram

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