My introduction to the work of David Greenberger came in the form of a CD called The Duplex Planet Hour featuring David’s monologues along with music by Terry Adams of NRBQ, one of my favorite bands. This was in the mid-1990s. (I would soon discover that I had actually been introduced to his art years before, as there were album covers in my library bearing his handiwork.) From there I found the Duplex Planet magazine, a marvelous little zine entirely based on David’s conversations with folks in the later stages of life. Then there were books, CDs, and videos. Some under the Duplex Planet banner, some moving into other themes and concepts. There were no bounds.
When Canopic Jar was born in 1985, among my stated objectives was to include two elements similar to what NRBQ offered with their music: always put the art first, and never take yourself too seriously. David Greenberger is the master of these concepts, whether his output is in the form of reading, writing, drawing, or performing; whether in comic books, softcover anthologies, albums, stage shows, or trading cards—whatever media or genre. The art is always in front of the ego. And it’s always genuine and purposeful. This was a great influence on my ambitions as an artist.
Then it got personal. In 2007 my mother moved to a nursing home, and then to a series of assisted living residences. For the next five years she would live out her life in such environs. And I was there, too. In the years before her dementia completely took hold, we spent most afternoons socializing with other residents. Through these conversations I made some true friends, and my intimacy with the work of David Greenberger allowed things that may have otherwise been overwhelming to slip into focus. And, of course, my ability to communicate with my mom was enhanced as well. The art provided education—a good example is the essay “Losing Personality”—and it certainly provided entertainment. But mostly it provided nourishment. That nourishment fed the sort of growth that keeps the coming dawn in sight. And as I continue to grow and learn from those experiences, the pieces continue to slide into place—a little here, a little there. The art of David Greenberger remains a big part of that process.
One of the surest keys I’ve been given—by my father, whose shoes were comfortable on my feet though they never fit (see “My Father’s Shoes“)—is that asking the right questions is the path to wisdom. The answers are secondary. As an artist, David Greenberger asks the right questions.
Born in 1954 in Chicago, Illinois, David Greenberger was raised in Erie, Pennsylvania. In 1974 he moved to Boston to attend the Massachusetts College of Art. The Duplex Planet magazine, based on his conversations with nursing home residents, started as a periodical in 1979 and over the years evolved into a limitless forum unhindered by the constraints of media. Encompassing recordings, performance, visual art, and books, his work holds up a mirror to reveal that aging is not a broken version at the end of a life lived; it’s a continuum, a vital and up-to-date version of the self.
Besides creating The Duplex Planet, David Greenberger has written in a number of other forums. There have been commentaries for NPR’s All Things Considered, essays for a variety of books and periodicals, as well as book and music reviews (Rolling Stone, Creem, Pulse, Spin, Paste, and elsewhere). He has been a consultant for a Norman Lear television project and wrote scripts for Cartoon Network’s Space Ghost Coast to Coast. Greenberger has been the subject of four documentaries, and his work been adapted into comic books, short films, and one act plays. His essays and performances have frequently been broadcast on National Public Radio. He continues to be a keynote speaker at universities, museums and conferences on aging. He lives and works in upstate N.Y.