“Why a mandolin,” you ask. Why not a mandolin? Okay, yeah, by now it’s like, an antique instrument, right? One reason I took up the mandolin is that it’s a very easy instrument to learn, much easier than either the fiddle or the guitar. I gave up on the fiddle and took up the mandolin. You can play something resembling music pretty quickly, with only a little practice, on the mandolin That’s why back in the golden age of string instruments, the 1890s - 1920s, there were mandolin clubs all over the place. These clubs were full of ordinary people, lots of young people, kids, teenagers, as well as older people. There were also banjo clubs. They’d play together in huge ensembles, just for the pleasure. Electronic media killed all this; radio, movies, jukeboxes, then television. Television delivered the coup de grace to widespread, grass-roots, self-made recreations. They just sat and viewed, they were hypnotized... zombies... They watched anything that was on... It held them spellbound. That was another thing the hippies sort of rebelled against... for awhile at least... But the media is now more powerful than ever. We’re hooked... There’s no escape... It’s changed, though... Now it’s, you know, “interactive”...
9) What similarities and differences have you found in your creative process as a musician and as an illustrator?
Music and drawing pictures and writing... totally different things... I would not call myself a “creative” musician. I don’t compose my own music, I don’t do fancy improvisations on my instrument. When playing, I’m happy if I can play a tune smoothly, rhythmically, bringing out whatever beauty is in the melody itself... That’s enough for me. I’m not trying to “kick ass” when I play music, or anything like that. The drawing is something else again.
10) Among the illustrations included in the new book, R. Crumb The Complete Record Cover Collection are a series of portraits of jazz, blues and country musicians of the past. Some of them are taken from packages of cards you created. Where did the idea for these collectibles come from and were you able to choose who you included in each series? If yes to the latter what criteria was used for selecting who was to be included in each set?
I was inspired by the old baseball bubblegum cards to make those musician cards. Yes, I chose the performers, the categories, everything. I was looking for some way to pay tribute and to evangelize for this music that I loved, music that was so buried under the avalanche of later popular music. Some of those musicians or groups that I drew have never even been commercially reissued since the original 78 was made back in the ‘20s. Mumford Bean and his Itawambians, for instance. Are they obscure enough for you? They made one 78 in 1928, two sides. Never reissued. That’s how fanatic I am. The French accordion players are even more absurdly esoteric. Those didn’t even sell well in France. Nobody’d ever heard of them!