Robert Crumb is probably best known from his career as a comic book artist, specifically from the world of underground comics in the United States in the late 1960s and early to mid 1970s. Characters such as Mr. Natural have assured Crumb's name will endure amongst comic fans for years to come. However, talent like his does not pass unnoticed and his work has graced more than just the pages of comic books. Aside from illustrating Crumb has another passion, early twentieth century popular music. Over the course of his career drawing comics he has also been steadily amassing a portfolio of music related art work. He's designed everything from record covers to business cards and letterhead for small companies to promotional material for concerts and record stores.
However, he's not limited his passion for music to just illustrations and is not only an avid collector of old 78 RPM records of his preferred music. He has also become an accomplished musician in his own right. Most recently he lent his talents as a mandolin player to the Eden and John's East River String Band recording Be Kind To A Man When He's Down, but he's been playing music since his days as leader of the Cheap Suit Serenaders back in the late 1970s. While some of that music is readily available the same can't be said for his music related illustrations. But that's all about to change with the forthcoming release of The Complete Record Cover Collection from Norton Books in November of 2011.
I had the good fortune to be offered the opportunity to put some questions to Mr. Crumb regarding this new book and the music that inspired it. I forwarded my questions for him by email, and what you're about to read are his answers exactly as he wrote them. A fascinating man with an amazing talent, hopefully the following interview will provide you some insight into how his passion for music developed and how that translated into his artwork. I'd just like to thank Robert Weil at Norton Books for setting the interview up and Robert Crumb for taking the time to answer them. Enjoy.
1) When did you first discover music? What was it about the music you heard that captivated you?
When did I first discover music? I first discovered music on April 23rd, 1947. No, just kidding. I don’t think people “discover” music, as there is always some kind of music around from the time we are born. We just become gradually more aware of it as we grow. In the modern world with its pervasive mass media, the first music most of us become aware of, aside perhaps from nursery songs, is mass-produced popular music. I remember as a kid in the late 1940s — early ‘50s hearing the popular music of the time coming from radios. I recall that it had a mildly depressing affect on me... Perry Como, Rosemary Clooney, Vaughn Monroe, Frankie Lane, Patti Page, Teresa Brewer. There was something unspeakably awful and dreary about this pop music of the time. In general I have had a loathing for popular music all my life, except for the period of early rock and roll; 1955-1966. I liked some of that music, and still do. I really lost interest after about 1970.