Friday, November 8, 2013

Intro: Who Was Jerry the Bird?

Self-Portrait on the phone, Jerry the Bird, 1975 (approx.).

Jerry, commonly known as Jerry the Bird, was an author, painter and poet, best know for his memoir Among The Humans. The book was a minor hit when it was published in 1974, and briefly made Jerry a minor celebrity. Among The Humans was especially important to the several thousand birds and animals trying to live in human society as equals, as it detailed the frustrations and prejudice often felt by non-humans trying to adapt to human life.

Not much is known about Jerry's early life, although it has been estimated he was probably hatched around 1944, likely to normal bird parents. Like many animals who have chosen to live in human society, Jerry determined at a young age that he didn't "fit in" in the natural world, and started hanging around small towns. He learned to speak English and spent most of the 1950s and early '60s as a bum, crossing back and forth across the United States, as well as travelling in Canada and Mexico.

During his time "on the bum" as he called it, he was encouraged by a fellow traveller to learn how to read and write. After that, Jerry began to visit the libraries in whatever towns he passed through. With the help of other transients he learned to read and became a voracious reader, trying to gain insight into aspects of human life that were otherwise inaccessible to him.

As he settled into his twenties, Jerry realised that he wanted a more stable life than the homeless road. He also recognised the need to earn a steady income. Animals and birds were not welcome members of American society in the early sixties, and employment for non-humans was hard to come by. He decided to try his hand at writing for pulp magazines to earn cash. He read widely, but found the clockwork nature of detective and mystery stories the easiest to imitate, and after a long period of trial and error, he began making sales.

Encouraged by his first successes, Jerry tried his hand at writing novels, and began producing dime-store paperbacks under a variety of pen names. These cheap thrill books did not earn him much, but after a life of destitution, the small checks seemed like a fortune. For the first time he was able to rent a place of his own. He lived in a variety of small apartments, moving often, always looking for a place where he felt like he fit.

The turning point in his life came when he met and fell in love with a young woman. She became his friend, but never quite returned his love. Despite this, she had a profound effect on him, and after meeting her, he tried his hand at both poetry and painting. These artistic outlets would become important parts of his life. He later recounted this period in Among The Humans.

Among The Humans was published by a small press in 1974 and was reviewed by several national papers. It sold well, and Jerry was finacially stable for the first time. He was interviewed by magazines and briefly became an important spokesbird for animals like himself.

He did not wear the success easily. Like many outsiders and transients, Jerry dealt with loneliness, depression, and substance abuse. The attention he recieved made him feel more isolated than ever, and he dealt with his negative feeling through heavier and heavier drinking.

Jerry the Bird died in 1977.

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