Che Che Rider

Che 04

I always had a bit of a man-crush on Che Guevara, since way before I knew who he was properly or had read any of his writings.  I first heard the name in the David Bowie track ‘Panic in Detroit’, ‘He looked a lot like Che Guevara’, which had been around me since I was a child.  I’d be willing to bet that, in my left-wing household I would have seen Che’s image on badges on friends of my parents, or at the very least on the various marches we attended every so often*.  Later I had a brilliant portrait of him laughing by Henri Cartier-Bresson on my wall for years and then not so long ago I remember laughing ruefully when a) my mum bought me Che Guevara cufflinks for work and b) Che T-shirts went on sale in Gap.

Poster I had, possibly still incarcerated in my bourgeois attic.
Poster I had, possibly still incarcerated in my bourgeois attic.

So it goes, there hasn’t been anything so angry, so iconoclastic, so revolutionary that it can’t be co-opted to make a fast buck for someone further down the line.  Maybe that is the ultimate socio-economic truth** Nazism aside, you can commodify everything after 50 years.  Especially when it comes wrapped in a package as cool looking as Che, let’s face it the man looked like a rock star and it’s very easy to see how he became the very personification of revolution; not only that but young revolution – whether against entrenched perceived capitalist injustices in South America, or your parents not lending you the car at the weekend.

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But I digress, I’ve read big chunks of Che’s writings and writings about him, The Motorcycle Diaries remains a classic, the front cover quote ‘Easy Rider meets Das Kapital’ sums it up better than ever I could, it’s such a young man’s book and such a great read too.  My other favourite is a really good book by Patrick Symes called Chasing Che, where he recreated his motorcycle journey almost 50 years later, looking at his legacy – a great piece of travel writing and more.

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Now don’t misunderstand me I’m no revolutionary Marxist, I’m a fully paid-up member of the bourgeoisie and I’m well aware of Guevara’s failings; his of-the-time-but-even-then-very-dodgy views on racial characteristics, the fact that he liked to live up to his own image, the fact that after the revolution he was of little use in Cuba other than as a figurehead – the minutiae of running a nation, was either beyond him, or just flat-out bored him^ and the fact that he was arguably not much of a tactical commander in the field either.  I’ve no interest in hagiography.

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Which brings us by a long, tortuous process to Spain Rodriguez Che: A Graphic Biography, from 2008.  I knew Rodriguez work with Harvey Pekar on my beloved American Splendor series, so when I spotted this one going cheap I grabbed it.  I have always loved the clean, neat lines Rodriguez brings to his work, his compositions are always great.  What I really like about this graphic novel is the fact that Rodriguez, whilst obviously admiring Che very deeply, resists the temptation to worship.

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Gratuitous rude frame
Gratuitous rude frame

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I really enjoyed this one as a biography, a comic and a cultural history.

Hasta la Victoria Siempre!

508 Down (still)

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PS – Spain Rodriguez having written the comic Zodiac Mindwarp, where a certain love dictator took his name from.

*one result of which is that I could say ‘Nuclear Power? No Thanks!’, in 7 different languages before I was 10.  That’s a proper education.

**as I sit here drinking coffee from my Sex Pistols mug.

^I’m simplifying hugely, as is my want.

35 thoughts on “Che Che Rider

  1. In that frame about the motorcycle’s name, it says:

    “… La Poderosa II,’ or ‘The Powerful One'”… now, looking at that, I’d say they messed up. How is it Poderosa II and the Powerful ONE? Unless it’s The Powerful One II.

    I think I think too much.

  2. Have you seen Steven Soderbergh’s ‘Che’? It’s in two parts, each three hours long. Benicio Del Toro plays Che Guevara. I have not seen it. I haven’t found the gumption to do it just yet.

    Either way, what that man’s face did to novelty t-shirts…well it’s never to be forgotten.

    1. Sorry missed this – no I haven’t seen it yet, but I love Benicio Del Toro unreservedly. Plus there’s the whole 6 hours thing going on – what’s wrong with the usual truncated approach with no regard for historical accuracy?

  3. I have to admit, I am a complete Che ignoramous. My friends go to Cuba, and take a picture of themselves with that iron-rod facade sculpture of Che’s face, fist in the air, (posting to FB upon return) but I haven’t looked into what he means in pop culture or anything!

    That said, I like Spain’s artistry – very cool.

  4. Interesting, enjoyable, informative. Three ticks Mr 1537.

    The co-option of culture by commerce is inevitable (if depressing) isn’t it? I recall a few years back, not long before I resigned from Melbourne’s northern university, chuckling disturbingly in public at a female student sporting a designer Sex Pistols t-shirt with gracefully deployed safety pins and artistically arranged slashes.

    BTW, WTF is a bourgeois attic????

    1. Thank you.

      The Victoria siempre is always commerce’s. You’re right it is depressing how it all gets commercialised, but just look at all those medieval types fleecing pilgrims – where there’s worship and awe, there’s always a chance to score a quick groat.

      It’s just so interesting and more extreme in this case. I did love my Che cuff links though.

      And a bourgeois attic? It’s where I keep my alienation from the means of production, it’s dryer there than in the shed.

  5. Having spent a hefty portion of my adulthood and career to date in Latin America, being married into a Latin family, and having gotten myself all a-flutter over “progressive” ideas in college (Trotskyite student group, anyone?), I’ve had quite a bit of Che in my life. I recently spent three years in Bolivia where the current government shills for Che worship regularly, something I found especially interesting since it was in Bolivia where Che’s legend started to fall apart as he found the act of revolting to be quite different from (quite wonderfully and inspirationally) “blogging” about it, so to speak, and where his less-than-egalitarian views of “racial characteristics” of the Andean indigenous folk who make up the majority population of Bolivia were put on display. (They’ve erected quite the interesting scrap-metal statue of Che symbolically stepping on the head of an eagle at a crossroads all visitors pass as they head down into the capital city of La Paz after arriving at the airport up on the altiplano – See

    “You are only killing a man… you are however powerless against the merchandising and co-opting possibilities.” Pant Puff indeed…

    1. The statue is pretty gnarly – it wouldn’t look out of place on a metal LP cover; a communist Eddie? What on earth could that eagle be symbolising I wonder?

      I did think of you when I was looking at this one actually and thanks so much for bringing some informed comment to the table. He just started to believe his own legend too much, especially by the time of The Bolivian expedition (having not learned much from the Congo).

      Mind you I’m just a dweeb who read all this, New York is the closest I’ve ever got to South America!

      Che’s lasting appeal I think is to that young, overly-simplistic rebel in us all who wants quick, dramatic solutions to, usually, complex situations.

      Plus he had great hair. Oh and was clearly using a really good stylist too.

  6. I love the Rutles three! Very interesting post! Here’s a shocker for some, when I came to the UK in 1986, I was going through my ‘angry at America’ phase and even began reading Marx. Che was something I was always going to study about but never did.

    1. That is really interesting, especially for an ex-serviceman. I’d like to read you blog about it.

      This would work as a really good Che primer. Revolution 101.

      1. Oh, I will definitely be talking about it as my tour of the 80s continues. For now, all I will say is that by that time, I felt like I had three years of shit following giving four years to my country.

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