The Simpsons, the Only Real People on T.V.: Rolling Stone's 1990 Cover Story

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Bartholomew J. Simpson, who is ten, whose conception forced his parents into wedlock, who speaks some French and at least one phrase in Spanish ("Ay, caramba!"), who has based his life on the teachings of Krusty the Clown, who excels at the game What's That Odor?, who has his mother's fortitude and his father's forehead, is at present (if not usually) imprisoned in his bedroom. At Springfield Elementary School, where he feigns interest daily, Bart is celebrated for his philosophical writings, which he inscribes repeatedly each afternoon on chalkboards at the behest of his superiors. A sampling of his work: "I will not draw naked ladies in class." "I did not see Elvis." "They are laughing at me, not with me." "I will not instigate revolution." "I will not waste chalk." On the day I meet him, he says he has just been detained (unjustly, he feels) to write out the pledge "I will not claim reporters are coming to see us."

The secret origin of "Don't have a cow, man!" (Bart's preferred expletive): "Oh, man!" he says, inimitably perturbed. "Don't have a fish. Don't have a pig. Don't have a cow. What would you say?"

From Bart's rules of unacceptable Behavior: "Make sure there are plenty of escape routes."

Lisa Simpson is all pearls and conscience, brains and blues. She is eight, a second grader of daunting intellect, a virtuoso on the saxophone. "I'm not precocious," she announces, almost stridently. "Precocious is the word that adults chauvinistically use to diminish the fact that you're reasonably intelligent!" She is, in this regard, the opposite of her brother. "Oh, Bart," she will soulfully moan, "you're just like Chilly, the elf who cannot love." Or: "It's up to you whether you confess to Mom and Dad, but I just want you to know I'm going to tell them myself in six minutes." It is Lisa who greets us at the Simpson domicile, who regales us with insane, plaintive riffs on her sax. ("Are we wasting our money on lessons?" Homer says during Lisa's performance. "Is it worth all those blisters she gets on her lips?")

It is also Lisa who shows me her mother's novel in progress, a secret writing endeavor unearthed from a drawer of large hairnets, a historical opus based on the lives of Marge Simpson's own mother and grandmother. It is a book about denial, servitude and suffering. There are recipes, too. ("Recipes are the quilts for people without thread," Marge states.) The first sentence of her prose work: "She rises in the morning, concealing before her first breath the pain she feels for her children."

The book is tided simply The Color Orange.

Marge Simpson's secret Pork-Tenderizing Tip: "The extra ingredient is care."

It is God's gift," Marge says Demurely, "I Can't take any credit for it." She's speaking of her hair, that magnificent azure alp, a soaring monument to follicle power and genetics. It is the biggest of big hair, engineered with a single bobby pin and silent prayer. It looms. Maintenance time: one hour to shampoo, one half-hour to comb out, six hours to dry.

"Do you have to print that?" she asks me later, meaning her hair-care regimen. "It seems vain. I don't want people to think I'm that indulgent. Can you make sure they know that, at least?"

From Bart's rules: "Kids, stay in school! Otherwise you'll have to go to work. I plan to stay on the educational gravy train until they kick me off screaming."

When Homer met Marge, a love story:

Homer: I remember our first kiss. Three guys pinned her arms, and I kissed her. Right on the cheek! Hey, I was twelve!

Marge: Will you stop telling that story! He wrote me poems, too. Like this one: "Roses are red, violets are blue, sugar is sweet, and so are you." It's not original, but it was in his own handwriting.

Homer: There's only one word to describe her; that word is toasty. Marge' is the toastiest woman I know. Whoopee! Whenever I question whether we're a civilized society and we're not just beasts, I just think of how all men restrain themselves when they see my Marge!

Maggie Simpson suckles. that's about it. She pacifies famously. Few have seen her infant lips; always her mouth is corked, obscured by contentment. She sees everything, however, and perhaps understands more. "We let our children develop at their own pace," says her mother. "In many ways, she's very advanced."

"You hardly even know she's here," says her father, "unless...stinky pants! Let me tell ya, you hope they're burning tires over at the dump when she does that!"

I ask Bart, once he is liberated from confinement, to show me what's in his pockets.

He pulls out $300. In tens and twenties.

"Where did you get this money?" says his father.

"I'm collecting for underprivileged kids," says Bart. "I only take a thirty-percent cut; United Way takes forty. Call me a saint, man!"

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