Lee Wochner: Writer. Director. Writing instructor. Thinker about things.


Happy birthday, big influencer

In my adolescence, I was fortunate to meet the right person at the right time. I’m speaking of my mentor, Rich Roesberg.

There’s no one who has made a greater influence on my cultural life.

Growing up in the Pine Barrens and surrounding environs of southern New Jersey made artistic and intellectual engagement hard to come by. People who, last decade, abhorred the encroachment of big-box chain bookstores, to the supposed detriment of small independent bookshops, had no idea what it was like growing up in a place with no bookstore nearby. If there had been a Borders bookstore anywhere near me when I was growing up, it would have been a godsend.

As it was, though, I had my own godsend. One day my mother went into a Hallmark greeting-card store in a strip mall to buy some cards. The store also carried books — in fact, it was called Blatt’s Books — and I found in the back some secondhand comic-books. What I discovered when I took them to the front counter was the assistant manager, an elder in his late 20’s named Rich Roesberg, and a conversation about comic books that over the 35+ years since then has broadened into art, music, politics, and much, much more. “Uncle Rich,” as my gang and I started calling him, became my oasis.

Here’s an abbreviated list of what I found through him during my impressionable adolescent years:

  1. A deep admiration for Brian Wilson, Van Dyke Parks and the Beach Boys
  2. An appreciation for dada and surrealism
  3. R. Crumb
  4. John Cage
  5. Cut-up (Brion Gysin’s technique)
  6. Soupy Sales
  7. The Bonzo Dog Doodah Band
  8. Jean Shepherd
  9. Bob & Ray
  10. Steve Ditko (it was Roesberg who made me see how wonderful his work is)
  11. Bill Irwin
  12. Ernie Kovacs
  13. Steve Allen
  14. Uncle Floyd
  15. Charles Bukowski
  16. John Fante
  17. Alfred Jarry
  18. William S. Burroughs

I could go on in this fashion:  Roesberg introduced me to many of the best comic-book artists, painters, musicians, writers and comedians. Everything he recommended turned out to be provocative, fascinating, and deeply weird. I remain grateful!

I’m saying this here because it’s important to acknowledge your mentors. Especially on their birthday.

Thank you, sir! Today is your birthday, but I’m the one who has received the gift.

5 Responses to “Happy birthday, big influencer”

  1. Kelly Carruolo Says:

    Uncle Rich…No amount of praise would be enough. Happiest Birthday wishes always!

  2. Uncle Rich Says:

    I have always prided myself on being a bad influence to as many folks as possible. And of course Lee has introduced me to good stuff like ERASERHEAD and Bill Irwin live on stage. Plus, he’s not half bad to talk with.

  3. Dan Says:

    A man whose wit and comic timing have been compared to those of Cpt. Ahab.

    Many Happy Returns, Rich!

  4. Joeon Says:

    Rich is also amazing in having given the gift of his kids, who continue in his tradition of genuine wackiness and authenticity.

    The zany gene is therefore carried on, given the additional and lovely twist of Aunt Ruth.
    Justin and Tara are great kids.

    Recently (to add to your laundry list contained herein, Lee – ((of course, how could there not be one)) ), Rich and I were musing on the genius of Iggy Pop.

    (add The Marx Brothers somewhere north of Iggy on that list though…)

    Love the story of your meeting, I walked into an auto parts store, in 1986 or so, with a similarly serendipitous outcome.

  5. Joe Says:

    Happy Birthday RICH … btw.

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