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Michael Cleverly: Cleverly or Not

I suspect that the twenty-first of January was as close as any of us will get to knowing how the peasants of old felt when they got rid of a particularly unloved monarch. Elation of course, but some of us particularly unlovable peasants are a little upset about not being able to take part in the traditional “off with their heads” ceremony that would follow. I can dream.

I first confronted these dark thoughts on Inauguration Day. Shortly after wiping the last tears of joy and pride from my eyes I said to myself, “What’s going to happen to those Bush guys? Is there any hope for some kind of justice?” I concluded this was probably futile and thought, “We’re in the second Great Depression, there’s a new order, there’s bailout money, what’s in it for me?” a far more productive line of inquiry. I decided that my best hope for getting a piece of the action would be to attach myself to one of the upcoming government make work projects.

In the ’30s there was the WPA Federal Art Program. That program nurtured many artists, some of whom remain household names ” Jackson Pollock, Adolph Gottlieb, Isamu Noguchi, Diego Rivera and Grant Wood are a few. Rivera, by the way, is a nice precedent for giving visitors from other lands a little taste. I figure if Vice President Cheney was allowed to create a situation in which he and his buddies at Halliburton could make countless billions of dollars, there’s no reason why the deadbeat artists of America who supported Obama can’t make a couple of bucks. I can’t speak for all artists, but my artist friends and I would be perfectly happy divvying up countable billions.



The WPA artists of the Depression were best known for their murals in public places. A lot of these murals could be described as “American socialist realism” although the “socialist” part was of a benign variety, mostly celebrating industry and the working-class hero. Diego Rivera was a little edgier and, predictably, got himself into trouble. Being a close bro of Trotsky probably didn’t help.

I think this is the area where I could make my killing… I mean benefit the nation most, murals in public places. I’ve already got a couple of good ideas and God knows that politically I’m way to the left of both Rivera and Trotsky and everyone else. One idea is something that could grace the first public building created with federal dough and built by the unemployed. A mural depicting all the different ways that former members of the Bush administration could be executed. Fun! I understand that this subject matter might be a touch difficult for some people, and that traditionally art in public places should be “G” rated, but some things have to be said, dealt with, there’s something called catharsis. I figure we could run some preliminary sketches by Malia and Sasha, and if they didn’t freak out, we’d be good to go.




My other idea is closer to home. It’s for the Pitkin County Courthouse. A series of murals lining the halls that I call “The Blanning Saga.” Woody Creek legend, author Gaylord Guenin, has graciously given me permission to subtitle it “Aspen: The Unquiet Years.” The murals would trace the life of Jim Blanning depicting major events along the way, the arch of his life being a metaphor for the decline and fall of Aspen, Colo.

In case you don’t know who Jim Blanning is… ha! Just kidding, you know who Jim Blanning is.

I could start with the young Jim learning at the knees of wizened old miners while mom earned a questionable living out of the Hotel Jerome. Then we could see the teenage Blanning poking around dank mines and musty tomes in the courthouse, expanding his expertise. There could be renderings of him reanimating long dead companies and snatching up untended property. I could depict the lovable eccentric on the roof of the courthouse with a noose snugged around his neck, objecting to his persecution at the hands of the courts and cruel bureaucrats. I could show Jim in The Cantina with the huge prosthetic penis, having a chat with the county commissioners. This would be something of a cautionary image in that, if that were all it took to be judged a sex offender, there but for the grace… There could be a colorful panel of Jim doing his stretch, resplendent in prison orange. The alleged bank jobs will provide some panels of high drama. A final panel would depict that last desperate night when a lot of little people got screwed out of a big payday and we were reminded that the terms “lovable” and “eccentric” don’t always go together.

Since New Year’s Eve, pretty much everyone with a computer or a half sharp pencil has had something to write about Jim Blanning. Some of the people who wrote about him knew him, and some never laid eyes on him. That’s OK, the final act of his life was, as many events he choreographed were, theater, and he got the audience he demanded. I guess everyone who was part of that audience is allowed their two cents worth.

I am currently at work on the libretto for my opera “Tales of Blanning.” I’m sure the United States government can afford one little opera.

The last time I saw Jim was a year ago when he turned up at a book signing that was being thrown for the sheriff and myself by The Tattered Cover Bookstore in Denver. It was nice to see him and he seemed well and happy.


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