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Robert Crumb—Live Online: The Interview That Didn’t Happen

I wanted to follow up on Kim’s question with one of my own related to what he asked. I marvel at your ability to have such a consistent vision of what constitutes quality in popular culture and your refusal to cave in to the brute force of pop culture. It’s my experience that as you get older, pop culture just wears people down [Crumb laughs] you know what I mean? It’s just…

Absolutely. Oh, it’s relentless. Relentless. [Laughs.] I kind of went through a phase where I was taken in

But as far as I can tell, you haven’t.

In my hippy days, I was taken in somewhat by popular culture, in that period.

When? When was this?

In the hippy days, in the late ’60s.

But you’ve been incredibly consistent, even dogmatic, in your tastes. And that’s what I’m talking about, people’s tastes just tend to collapse in the face of the relentless tidal wave of pop culture, they just give up. They just start liking shit that they wouldn’t have liked 10 or 20 years earlier, or at least becoming indifferent, numbed to it.

Well, that’s because what they liked 10 or 20 years ago was probably shit. [Laughter.] Which makes it easy to let go of it. I’ve known lots of people like that which kind of amazed me, that they let go of their liking of punk rock or something when they got to be 50. [Laughs.] They start seeking something different, or even repudiating their earlier likes. But I think I was so fucking alienated when I was in adolescence, so extremely alienated, that I developed very strong tastes and a very strong vision of my own, because I was such an outsider. I think that’s what it is, and also, I’m just neurologically odd. [Laughter.]

That’s the secret to it. But, you haven’t wavered.

No, the stuff that I got onto in my teens, to me still has so much substance, that I’ve just gotten into it deeper, the same things but deeper, like the old music that I like, I’m more deeply into it than ever. Or even other stuff of the culture like that.

This may sound like an odd question, but did you not like Janis Joplin’s work?

I thought Big Brother and the Holding Company was a really terrible band, but that she was a good singer.

Original cover for Cheap Thrills (1968)

I was going to say, what about her singing?

I first saw her at the Fillmore auditorium in San Francisco circa 1967-’68. She was with this stupid band, and then, later, Gilbert Shelton played me these old tapes he had of her in Austin, singing like old-time blues and old-time country music, and I thought she was really great at that. I thought, “Oh of course, she’s just a Texas redneck, it just comes naturally for her to sing in that shouting, nasal, hillbilly voice.” She was really natural at that.

But when she got famous with the rock ’n’ roll she saw that the audience loved her to scream and stamp her feet and just shriek and howl. Basically, she ruined her voice doing that. And then, she was also getting a lot of bad advice from people in the pop music business, and so she starts to try and sound more like the latest Aretha Franklin-type stuff, she’s trying to pick up more on that because that’s what people thought was the hippest, sophisticated, cool thing. So she lost touch with that thing that she started with. And then she just got lost; she was a lost soul. And then she became a heroin addict and overdosed. Died facedown in her own vomit in a hotel room.

Well, you escaped that fate.

Miraculously, yes. A miracle.

[Laughs.] So far.

A miracle. I think I have Aline to thank for that.

Yeah, you’ve said that before, that she saved your life.

Stabilized me.

Which I guess is also a miracle.

Yeah, but I was no rock star or anything, I wasn’t adored that way. [Laughs.]

No, but you had plenty of opportunities to fuck up.

Oh I did, yes. [Groth laughs.] I walked down many foolhardy paths. And was pulled back from the brink many times. [Laughs.] Sometimes I feel like the guy, the sleepwalker who walks out the window of his apartment and steps onto a beam being lifted to a building under construction. [Groth laughs.] And then walks off the other end of the beam, onto another beam that’s being lifted, that whole cartoon thing. My life’s been like that. Some how I’ve just managed to bumble through and keep going.

Right. Your life is like a Harold Lloyd routine.

Yeah, exactly. [Laughs.] It’s a metaphor, Harold Lloyd, Buster Keaton.

Drew Freidman has the last, possibly rhetorical question. He wrote: “Robert, Drew Friedman would like to know if you think Rupert Murdoch’s old nutsack hangs down to the floor.” [Crumb laughs.] You probably don’t even need to respond to that. [Laughs.]

Classic Drew Friedman stuff. I hope he draws a picture of Rupert Murdoch.

Maybe I could get him to do it for this.

He’d be good at doing Rupert Murdoch.

Actually, I’d be surprised if he hasn’t already.

Yeah, he might’ve already done it.

I realized he submitted that question three days after the Murdoch paper wrote that piece about you.

That Australian nonsense?

Yeah, yeah.

Evil guy.

Yep. [Crumb laughs.] Did you read the transcript of his testimony in front of Parliament?

No.

Oh, you should Google that. He and his son appeared before Parliament about three or four weeks ago, trying to do a little damage control after the phone-hacking scandal, and it was just a classic performance of dancing and weaseling.

Huh. I’ll look for it. I like to read stuff like that. Years ago I saw a documentary done about Fox News.

Outfoxed?

Yeah, I guess that was what it was called, yeah. It was somewhat badly done I thought, unfortunately. But there was some good information in it. One thing was that this guy that had worked for Fox News was talking about how Rupert Murdoch would actually send down directives, almost daily, directly from him. He really had an active hand in that Fox News thing.

Yeah, he’s an evil fucker.

Yeah. But you hate the sin not the sinner. The sin, what’s wrong there is having that kind of centralized personal power, that one man can own a media empire. That’s no good. If I owned a media empire I’m sure they’d hate me too. [Groth laughs.] I would ban all modern popular music immediately. [Laughs.]

Well, all right. I appreciate you submitting yourself to this.

Well, you know, it’s easy to tempt me into shooting off my mouth.

That’s great. [Crumb laughs.] We could do this once a week.

God. Forget about it.

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42 Responses to Robert Crumb—Live Online: The Interview That Didn’t Happen

  1. Chance Fiveash says:

    It’s always a pleasure to read an interview with Crumb as interviewed by Groth. Wonderful.

  2. Tom Stein says:

    Truly inspirational thoughts and comments for R. Crumb! It gives me courage to stay on the rightgeous path, despite all adversity that’s out there!

  3. Pingback: Robert Crumb and Gary Groth on almost everything | Robot 6 @ Comic Book Resources – Covering Comic Book News and Entertainment

  4. I’m impressed Crumb is so politically informed. Naomi Klein. Wendell Potter. Food, Inc. The guy could do a Pacifica show and guest blog for digby.

    But we’d rather he’d draw another book.

  5. Ron Wilkinson says:

    Great interview. Lots of parallel experiences in my life. Of course I’m close to his age so that’s a good part of it.
    I appreciate that he put it out there and mixed it into his art and story telling.
    It, his comics, definitely gave me something. They are entertaining and give me a sense of relief- that it is not that bad, this life is not that bad.
    Ha ha!!

  6. Linda says:

    Loved it.

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  8. Uland says:

    I’m sorry, this just comes off as whiny and entitled, as though it’s “manipulation” to print a story containing opinions not shared by Crumb and Groth.As though Crumb believes he should be treated differently than any other artist.

    I mean, Crumb used to own being a sleaze-merchant, and clearly did his best to offend middle-America sensibilites. That Conservatives might be alarmed at their Federal government sponsoring ( paying Crumb, I’m sure) a show of his comic art…Well, yeah.

    And for him to back down— as though he’s above the kind of cultural stew he’s exploited for decades— is just wimpy and lame.

    If any federal grant/funding went to any artists that offended the Cultural-Left’s sensibilities, we’d see the same sort of Huff pieces coming from their side of the fence.

  9. tom clifford says:

    Robert Crumb was a great 60’s countercultural artist and all that, but thinking he’s going to get assassinated by some Mark Chapman type nut is plain ol’ daft. Nobody gives that much of a fuck about him, except a coupla hundred TCJ online readers…

    Let’s face it, all that old blues musician art and Bible interpretation is a boring as batshit. Nobody cares about his later stuff.

    Can someone tell him to start talking lots of drugs again?

  10. Kim Thompson says:

    My rebuttal: (1) No, we wouldn’t. (2) If we did, the lefties would be assholes, it wouldn’t clear the righties of their assholishness.

    To see this as anything other than a political hit (in which Crumb was just collateral damage) pandering to the public, using that child-abuse lady as a blunt instrument, is a little naive.

  11. TimR says:

    “Well, in the case of global warming, OK, I don’t trust the scientific consensus myself, because there’s too many other areas where scientific consensus is also a put-up job. Nothing is on the level is the problem.”

    So true, and such a pleasure to see Crumb saying this. So many people seem to take science, well, as a matter of faith, without any skepticism whatsoever.

    I’m more in the global warming skeptic camp, but I appreciate that he’s at least aware of all the weird politics and machinations behind the popular science blatted out through the news organs.

    “And what money interest is there for the people who believe in global warming, the scientists and all them? What possible money interests — OK, maybe some minor thing, perhaps an alternative energy source is a minor possible way to make money.”

    I have read that there is a potential to make money through the carbon credit trading scheme — that it would be another potential financial bubble for G Sachs and the other vernicious knids to stick their feeding maws into. Al Gore was heavily invested in companies having to do with this. Search for a blog under key words “activist teacher” for more details. Also “rkmdocs.blogspot.com” and scroll to the bottom of his (early in the archive) post about global warming:

    Cap-and-trade has nothing to do with climate. It is part of a scheme to micromanage the allocation of global resources, and to maximize profits from the use of those resources. Think about it. Our ‘powerful factions’ decide who gets the initial free cap-and-trade credits. They run the exchange market itself, and can manipulate the market, create derivative products, sell futures, etc. They can cause deflation or inflation of carbon credits, just as they can cause deflation or inflation of currencies. They decide which corporations get advance insider tips, so they can maximize their emissions while minimizing their offset costs. They decide who gets loans to buy offsets, and at what interest rate. They decide what fraction of petroleum will go to the global North and the global South. They have ‘their man’ in the regulation agencies that certify the validity of offset projects, such as replacing rainforests with tree plantations, thus decreasing carbon sequestration. And they make money every which way as they carry out this micromanagement.

  12. George Bush (not that one) says:

    Dose Crumb and put him in a room with Jodorowsky. Fritz the Metabaron !

  13. Uland says:

    How many films,books,etc., come under fire for promoting values the left doesn’t approve of? Ivan think of plenty. Now imagine they received Federal funding.Do you really think Slate would be cool with Gibsons The Passion getting NEA funds, or ,say soething like Friedkins Cruising?

    I don’t see it.

    Also, I think it’s often difficult to draw a line between “hit piece” and genuine concern.You might think the lady is nuts, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t believe what shes saying. Crumb is nuts too, of course. It’s his bread and butter. That anyone would be surprised at people thinking his filth is filthy…

    Any state thinking they should send tax money his way seems insane to me.

  14. Greg says:

    Uland – Why are you even here?

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  16. Uland says:

    “And what money interest is there for the people who believe in global warming, the scientists and all them? What possible money interests — OK, maybe some minor thing, perhaps an alternative energy source is a minor possible way to make money.”

    70 billion in the last 15 years in Federal funding alone went to researchers wanting to study APGW. That’s a pretty good reason to “hide the decline”.

  17. Uland says:

    Two uninformed guys blathering. There’s no incentive to promote Global Warming? — Cap and trade, Carbon offset markets (the largest energy companies not having to worry about competition because they can gobble up “carbon credits”), billions in research money, alternative energy scams ( Solyndra). Come on guys.

  18. Well, you’re the expert.

  19. DiamondDulius says:

    That’s still minor when compared to the oil industry, which is the point, I think… and I don’t believe you can legitimately call a “scam” an incentive…

  20. kim deitch says:

    Tom. Speak for yourself when you say things like that. I find your manner to be totally offensive. Where do you get that stuff anyway? Let’s hear your idea of what’s good.

  21. patrick ford says:

    I notice Fantagraphics is going to reissue Crumb’s “Your Vigor For Life Appalls Me.”

    What are the odds that collection of letters could be brought up to date, at a minimum the letters to TCJ would be wonderful. The Mineshaft letters would be tremendous to collect, but I wouldn’t want to see their back issue sales affected.

    Thanks again for a great interview, and I’m really happy this worked out in print as opposed to having to watch it on video.

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  23. Charro says:

    ” Whiny and entitled”, for not liking what this conglomerate controlled, corporate media churns out? Your point of view has no validity in this respect. We have every right to expect the news to address the whole of an issue and not just sensationalism, soundbytes, or propaganda, ‘right or ‘left’.

  24. patrick ford says:

    So I’m coming out of the drug store with a can of almonds and a newspaper, and there is a guy outside talking about how the moon landing was faked.

    Me? I walk on by.

  25. Anthony Thorne says:

    A great, thoughtful interview full of interesting commentary and funny observations from both Groth and Crumb. Lovely stuff.

    “thinking he’s going to get assassinated by some Mark Chapman type nut is plain ol’ daft. Nobody gives that much of a fuck about him, except a coupla hundred TCJ online readers…”

    You sadly overestimate the mentality of angry tabloid readers down here in Australia, who could easily be provoked to lynch Nelson Mandela if they were persuaded that he’d interfered with their daily diet of sport, beer, and letting working-class Aussies receive a ‘fair go’. Rabble-rousing commentary surrounding the exhibition of the Andres Serrano photo ‘Piss Christ’ led to one reader attempting to carry the picture out of the gallery, and two others attacking it with a hammer. I doubt either had heard of Serrano or his photo before the ‘appalled’ newspaper and TV stories got going. Readers of The Daily Telegraph and Herald-Sun would neither have known nor cared about Crumb’s status as an artistic treasure – they would have viewed him as a perverted Yank who blithely drew pictures of pedophilia for jollies, or worse. Add Government funding of left-wing art exhibitions to the mix – taxpayers having their money spent on ‘sick filth’ – and the controversy could quite easily have run for the entire duration of Crumb’s stay, plenty of time for some red-faced lout to try and make his point to Crumb face-to-face. Australia’s most vituperative shock-jock, Alan Jones, commands a huge Sydney audience and was able to start race riots in the streets a few years back. If he’d started up on the subject – and I guess he would have eventually – Crumb’s visit would have been an ugly one. I’m sad that the event was affected, that Crumb pulled out and the conversation between Groth and R.C wasn’t able to occur before an Australian audience, but if we [Australians] are happy to have our public discussion become increasingly shrill and conservative and right-wing, we can’t complain if others not gripped by the same mindset decline to go along for the ride.

    If Crumb’s still drawing covers for book anthologies, one more I’d like to see comes to mind – THE COMPLETE HUP. That said, if ZAP is getting the deluxe hardcover treatment, can someone [Fanta?] gather the complete WEIRDO issues next, whacked-out photo montages, editorials and all?

  26. Great stuff. Too bad the comments section isn’t trollfree though.

  27. They didn’t say anything disagreeing with Crumb was manipulation, Crumb was saying it was manipulation to send some woman who doesn’t know anything about his work pictures that they know she’ll be offended by out of context and then use quotes by her because they know it will look bad to offend somebody in her position, since she’s supposed to be an advocate for a good cause. And obviously, that is manipulation.

  28. Groth says:

    Thanks to Anthony Thorne for elevating the level of discourse in the Comments section. I was getting worried that my interview was being read mostly by idiots — always a depressing possibility.

    Crumb very explicitly said that he himself wasn’t that worried about physical harm, but that his wife and daughter were, and that he didn’t want to put them through a week of worry. Crumb wanted to go but not enough to put his family through that stress. He put his family’s interests before a public event. What a sick pervert.

  29. TimR says:

    I think I know who you’re directing that at, but for all I know you might be talking about Crumb..?

    Quote: “Well, in the case of global warming, OK, I don’t trust the scientific consensus myself, because there’s too many other areas where scientific consensus is also a put-up job. Nothing is on the level is the problem.”

  30. patrick ford says:

    Tim, Your first thought is correct. It absolutely isn’t Crumb I was talking about.

    Substitute “flat Earth” or “Jesus told me in a dream the world will end in seven days” for “fake moon landing” if you like.

    I agree with Crumb’s sceptical view of modern science (particularly where money is an issue). but I think there are some things which are beyond dispute.

  31. patrick ford says:

    As pointed out by Anthony, Crumb very well could have been in danger. Absolutely a possibility. No one said it was a certainty. It is almost certain that had he gone the trip would have been a very bad experience.

  32. TimR says:

    Mainly being rhetorical, I just wasn’t sure you had noticed that Crumb practically endorses the “conspiratorial” view you were mocking.

    I think there are various economic/ideological pressures on *both* sides of the global warming issue, not exclusively on the big oil side.. This whole carbon credit trading regime sounds like a bit more than chump change to me, not to mention the additional control it would offer to ruling class interests over virtually every human activity.

    Another thing that gets me about the global warming issue, as long as we’re on it.. (and as unpleasant and vitriolic as the conversation always seems – not you Pat, I just mean in general) — My intuition (I won’t pretend to be able to speak to the science, I’m annoyed when laypeople make authoritative claims on it as if they could speak to the science of it) is that we would be better served to focus society’s efforts on the pollutants that cause straightforward health problems in the population – very direct cause and effect ill effects, for instance the problems in my part of the country with coal-fired power plants. Clean that stuff up! But the very tenuous claims that are much more arguable (given the *natural* climate shifts that have occurred over the aeons), about global warming, strike me (again as an admitted non-scientist) as much more easily prone to ideological bias infecting the science on all sides.

    (hope this writing isn’t too unpolished.. just my 2 cents here)

  33. patrick ford says:

    A couple of things Crumb said in the interview reminded me immediately of a quote from Jack Kirby.

    Crumb:

    “We haven’t come that far since Hitler, and the concentration camps, and the gas chambers, Stalin and Mao, all the people they had killed or sent off to Siberia or whatever. You can go on and on.”

    “Well, as compared to in the past when you had brutality and cruelty and everything, and we still have, so what’s specifically detestable about the modern world that’s different from times past is that now they’ve developed such a very clever way of perception management and persuasion and deception, that this has become huge and elaborate.”

    Kirby:

    “We always try to fix our faces. Don’t we look great today? Do we look like the people who built Dachau? No we look as if it never happened. Do we look like the people who committed atrocities in WWII and all the wars before that? No we don’t look like those kinds of people.

    I think we are living in medieval times. It’s only 40 years ago we cooked people in ovens. How sophisticated is that? We can pat ourselves on the back, and say we’re living in a high tech age, but I think we’re still medieval.”

  34. patrick ford says:

    Tim, I really was commenting on avoiding bufoons.

    Let’s just say if I come out of the drug store with a can of cashews and a newspaper, and see a guy dressed in a Batman costume I give him a wide berth.

    As to global warming. Crumb was clear he thought there was a very legitimate concern.

    I think he was more interested in saying people should be sceptical in situations where money plays a role. As he indicated the really big money is interested in disputing the role of man made air pollution.

  35. TimR says:

    You disposed of those almonds pretty quickly. j/k…

    “Crumb was clear he thought there was a very legitimate concern.”

    Not at all! He said he doesn’t trust institutional science one iota, basically, just that if there’s the slightest chance they could be right, it’s too catastrophic to risk it. I suspect that if he read some of the risks of implementing a carbon trading regime, and who the interests are behind doing so, he might weigh the risks

    differently.

    Quote: “I don’t trust the scientific consensus [on global warming] myself, because there’s too many other areas where scientific consensus is also a put-up job.”

    That you call a view of global warming science as “very legit”?

  36. TimR says:

    … let me edit that.. I agree he thinks the “concern” is legit. Not necessarily the science though.

  37. indig says:

    Love Crumb. Love Groth.

  38. Good interview, gentlemen. That was a good idea, getting questions from other cartoonists. It is always a pleasure to hear from Groth or Crumb, and the interaction here was especially stimulating. Thank you!

  39. bjenny says:

    Fantastic interview!

  40. julian says:

    Great interview, informative and insightful..R. Crumb’s work has been a touchstone over the decades for many fans, fellow artists, etc– He’s devoted his time and talent to pursuit of his own unique vision of life, warts and all, and the world is a better place for that. ‘Nuff said.

  41. Andrew MacDonald says:

    Thanks for this wonderful interview. I had tickets to see Crumb and travelled interstate to see him. So this makes up for it somewhat. (Am I bitter? Just a tad.)

    Terry Zwigoff, though, is wrong. There wasn’t a hoople head or ageing hippie in sight, just a lot of nice folk who were interested in comics as an art form.

    He can check with Jim Woodring if he doesn’t believe me.

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