A collection of interviews and articles on R.Crumb's life and work written by Crumb himself.

CRUMB ON OTHERS, Part Nine

Crumb's comments on the famous and infamous, compiled by Alex Wood.

This is the ninth in a continuing series of discussions. In July, 2014, I asked Robert for his comments on another list of celebrities and artists. If you'd like to hear his opinion on someone we haven't covered in this or the previous interviews, please e-mail your suggestions to tom@rcrumb.com. We can't promise that we will get to all of them, but we will add them to the list for future interviews.

-- Alex Wood, Wildwood Serigraphs

J.D. SALINGER

Robert: I don't really know that much about him. All I know is that after Catcher In The Rye was such a big hit, he wrote some short stories which were compiled into books in the late '50's or early 60's, but then he just stopped publishing stuff. I remember hearing about him working on his next big novel, but then decades went by and nothing came out. I think he died just recently, didn't he?

Alex: Yes.

Robert: I wonder if he ever finished that novel... I guess he just lived off the proceeds from Catcher and became very reclusive. But Catcher In The Rye was so hugely popular. It was a good book. I went back and read it again a few years ago and it held up quite well.

Alex: What impact did it have on you when you first read it?

Robert: I must have been about 18 when I first read it. For any young person or late-adolescent at that time who was feeling alienated, the book really resonated. If you tended to look at society as a sham, then the book had meaning for you, because Holden Caulfield was always going around saying, ''This one's a big phony and that one's a big phony.'' You know, society is shallow and false and all that. He really captured that whole sensitive, alienated teenager thing of that time very well.

But in one aspect, I even felt somewhat alienated from the world of Holden Caulfield because he was this very urban, upper class, or upper-middle class kid. You could tell when you read the book that he came from that world. And I didn't come from that world. I came from the lower middle class which is a different kind of alienation. It's a different thing. Still, there was enough there that I could strongly identify with the character. And at that time -- the late '50s -- there wasn't much for an alienated adolescent in America to identify with in literature or the media. Everything was so dominated by the sensibility of the World War II generation. So Salinger was kind of culturally revolutionary in that way.

Catcher In The Rye came out, I think, in the early '50s, but it didn't catch on until later. I wasn't as impressed with his stuff after Catcher In The Rye. It became more mystical: Franny and Zoey, and all that stuff. The Glass Family, those stories were coming out in The New Yorker. But my brother Charles, he was deeply into that Salinger stuff, the mystical stuff. He liked it. Sure, it was good. It was all right. But it was also very Jewish. [laughs] The Glass Family. I don't know how close any of that was to Salinger's own family. I dunno.

Alex: In an earlier interview, you went on about some record that Holden Caulfield bought. You remember that?

Robert: Yeah, in the book Holden Caulfield goes to a second-hand record store in New York and buys this record by a young girl singer that Salinger called ''Little Shirley Beans,'' or something like that. Later, when I was collecting records, I found a record by a girl singer called Baby Rose Marie, who was very young -- like 10 years old -- who sings with this really gruff, bluesy voice. I'm sure it was the record that Salinger was referring to. It had to be that one, because it was totally unique for that period, in the early '30's. And he carries that record around with him until it gets accidentally broken. And Holden is all shot down because of that; his Shirley Beans record gets broken. [laughs]

Alex: Oh, by the way, are you enjoying your new Howard "Louie Bluie" Armstrong record you bought?

Robert: I didn't buy it, I traded artwork for it, for that and some other records. Oh, it's a wonderful record. The Tennessee Chocolate Drops, recorded in Knoxville, Tennessee in 1930. Just great, totally unique on both sides. It's basically just bluesy fiddling over a very strong rhythmic back-up, a very special record because here's this black guy playing string band music, and there were very few black string bands recorded back then. The record was issued on both the ''Race'' series and the ''Country'' series, which was for white, rural people. On the white ''Country'' series, they actually call the band something else, they don't call 'em The Tennessee Chocolate Drops, which implies African-Americans, but they rename them to give the impression of a white string band. They were trying to appeal to both markets. The copy I have is on the ''Race'' series. But yeah, I deeply enjoy that record, even with its worn, scratchy surface noise. Try finding a better copy. It is extremely rare, apparently. If you watch Louie Bluie, there's a scene where Howard Armstrong is playing at some public venue and this nerdy record collector approaches him during a break and proudly shows him his nice minty-mint copy of The Tennessee Chocolate Drops record. Howard takes it to look at the label, handling it rather roughly, then hands it to Ted Bogan, another old musician, to check out. Ted also is very casual about how he handles this rare, precious, fragile old shellac disc. The collector tries hard to conceal how nervous he is as Howard puts the record down on his lap to autograph the label. He was lucky to get it back in one piece.

ASTERIX

Robert: Nah, I'm not interested in Asterix, but it's hugely popular here in France. There's like an Asterix theme park somewhere that you can go to. I think it's in Belgium or France, I forget. Asterix is a Belgian thing, isn't it? The artist is Belgian.

Alex: I think the Tin-Tin guy is Belgian, right?

Robert: Yeah, Herge was Belgian. But I think the Asterix thing may also be. That strip doesn't really interest me.

Alex: But you didn't really read it when you were a kid, you probably weren't exposed to it. Only as an adult.

Robert: Yeah I only became aware of it as an adult.

Alex: Maybe if you were a kid you would have liked it.

Robert: Maybe, I don't know. But I don't think the stories are that interesting. It's not like Carl Barks or anything

CHARLIE PATTON

Robert: Charlie Patton -- one of the greatest blues singers ever. There're not enough superlatives to describe his music. You know, he came from the lowest rung of society at that time. The lowest. You couldn't get any lower in the United States than he was, as far as being disreputable goes. He was a guy from a Mississippi plantation who didn't like farm work; he became an entertainer in the juke joints and ''frolics,'' as they used to call them. It was for the low-life people. Because you know, down there, in those days, among the poor, black or white, you were either a sober, decent, church going, God fearing, hard working individual or you were a shiftless low life, midnight rambler tom-cattin' back-door man. You had two choices. And some people would switch back and forth, some of those blues singers eventually renounced the blues and became preachers and Christians, and the blues was just the way to hell, the road straight to hell -- the juke-joints and that whole scene. Some of those blues singers had violent, early deaths because of hanging around those places where there tended to be stabbings and shootings. People got drunk and there were a lot of jealousies and fighting about women.

Alex: Like Robert Johnson.

Robert: Robert Johnson, yeah. Some jealous angry husband supposedly poisoned him or something. Women were attracted to those blues singer/entertainers. They were sexy to the women who hung around those low-life places. And everybody was drunk, you know, so things got crazy. But Patton was great, he is one of the most rhythmically complex blues singers of that period. He had a wide variety of types of tunes he could play, and a powerful voice. Very interesting. He died in 1934 at the age of 41, I believe. One of his last records was called ''Oh Death,'' and he's singing with his girlfriend at the time, Bertha Lee, and they are singing together, ''Oh hush, somebody is calling me. Oh hush, somebody is calling me.'' And she sings, ''Somebody is calling you.'' And Charlie died two months later of heart disease or something, I forget.

Alex: When you say that a lot of the blues guys lived that kind of life and then they would renounce it, and then they would stop drinking and then read the Bible and stop doing music, and then they'd fall back into the music thing -- Robert Johnson would do that, he would renounce it and then he'd fall back into that life. Did Charlie Patton do that?

Robert: Well, according to one writer, Robert Palmer, he did. And he even made a religious record issued under the name ''Elder J.J. Hadley.'' Some kind of gospel singing and preaching record. I'm not even sure Charlie Patton was literate, I'm not sure if he could actually read. Part of being a preacher was kind of a racket. It could get you into places, get you a free meal. It was a kind of opportunism. But it was also about realizing that the blues life was the road to hell, that if you were smart, you would get the hell out of that world because it was too dangerous and unstable to live there. Robert Wilkins was one, he was a great blues singer. And he became a serious preacher after a misspent youth entertaining in those kinds of places. He made some wonderful records while he was still singing the blues. Listen to That's No Way to Get Along. Great! Tops!

I have some Charlie Patton 78's -- they are hard to get, though they sold better than Geeshie Wiley or Skip James. Skip James didn't sell well at all, so his 78's are almost impossible to find. And some of those blues records were only known to exist from old catalog listings. Sometimes one of these mythical records will turn up even now. For example, a Son House record that had never been found before just turned up recently, big news among the blues afficianados. [laughs]

JIMMY CARTER

Robert: Well, in recent times, probably one of the more decent men that we've had in the presidential office in the United States. But I remember after he was out, and Reagan came in, Aline's mother, who voted for Reagan, had said in response to me when I told her Carter is a much better guy than Reagan, she said, ''Carter was weak! He was weak!'' He was perceived as weak, and I'm sure the Republicans promoted him as weak because he couldn't turn everything around, as Obama can't turn everything around. I think Obama is basically a fairly decent guy also, but he just can't come up against the powers that be and Carter couldn't either. Carter really tried, he talked about limits to growth and pulling back and making ecological concerns stronger, you know, and all that stuff. But nobody wanted to hear that in the '70s except for a tiny minority of people. Carter was relatively decent for that office, relatively decent. You know if you think about the Republican presidents and the Democratic presidents, we had Kennedy, then we had Johnson, who was questionable -- I don't know about Johnson --; then you had Nixon the Republican who was just awful. And then Nixon resigned from his office. And then you had Carter -- well, before him we had Gerald Ford, who was probably not that bad of a guy but not very effective. And then we had Carter. And Carter really tried to do the right thing when he was president, but he couldn't do much. And then you had fucking Reagan. Ugh. I think Reagan was really bad for the United States, really bad. And then you had Bush the First, who was not very good either. And then you had Clinton who had his points. Hilary and Bill, they tried, but he was too much of an operator, too much of a player. And then you had Bush the Second, ugh. Another horrible regime, probably one of the worst administrations ever, that brought America down in the eyes of the world so drastically. They fucked up everything so badly. They really set America back. And now you've got Obama, who just can't do that much. It's too far gone. I don't know about Obama. But I think when he got in there he wasn't a total sell-out like Bush was. Bush was a complete sell-out to the powers that be. There's a great book about Bush when he was governor of Texas. He sold out everything to the oil companies and to whoever was paying the most, he would happily give them what they wanted.

E.C. SEGAR

Robert: Well, sometimes when he'd sign his name he'd put a little cigar after his name. So, I think it's pronounced SEE-gar. He's kind of an enigmatic character and maybe there's a biography of him, I don't know, I haven't seen any. But I think he was one of the great daily newspaper comic strip artists. And he died an untimely death around 1939. I forget what he died of. I'm sure it's known, I remember reading about it somewhere [leukemia]. Someone else took over the strip, but it didn't have his originality anymore. Did you ever read those 1930's Popeye strips? They're the greatest! They're funny, they're quirky and odd and imaginative, original and proletarian. He was a guy who, like a lot of those newspaper strip artists, started with an earlier strip called Thimble Theatre, in which the main character was called Castor Oyl, who was part of the Oyl family. Olive Oyl was his sister. And then in 1929, he introduced Popeye to the strip and Popeye immediately eclipsed Castor Oyl as the main character. I think Castor Oyl eventually vanished from the strip entirely. And then Max Fleischer started to do animated cartoons of Popeye in, I think, 1933, and they're also, in their own way, great. They were top-notch animated cartoons. Those cartoons were of course inspired by the comic strip, but the animated cartoon Popeye took on his own character as well.

Alex: I wonder if Fleischer's Popeye influenced Segar's strip from the mid-30's on.

Robert: Who knows. I don't see any change in Segar's strip as I read 'em, but who knows. Anyway, Popeye is one of my all-time favorite comic strips. You know, most of those old time comic strips aren't that well written. They may look great but the writing was kinda dumb. Popeye was one of the few exceptions. Another was the now-forgotten Bungle Family, one of the best-written newspaper strips of the late '20s -- early '30s period.

KARL MARX

Robert: Karl Marx? One of the extremely important, influential figures of history, that's for sure. Karl Marx. Groucho Marx. Sigmund Freud, Einstein... all Jews. I've never actually read Karl Marx. I should read Das Kapital, though it's tedious going. The problem with Karl Marx is it became a kind of scripture, orthodoxy for left-wing idealists. You had to understand Marxism to really understand what was going on in politics and economics, dialectical materialism, all that stuff. People like Lenin, and Trotsky, Stalin and even Mao, who were steeped in the Marxian thing, had a certain intellectual cache because they could apparently grasp the complexities of Marx, and Lenin even advanced on it -- Mao also. Maoism and Leninism were annexes of Marxism. I've read a little of Friedrich Engels. The Conditions of the English Working Class that he wrote in the late 1840's is a really interesting book. It's a short book but he takes you on a tour of a working class slum, I think it's Manchester, some industrial city like that, and describes in detail what he's seeing: the buildings, the people, the appalling funk and filth of the back courts and alleys, the looming factories. It's really a great book, I strongly recommend it. And he gives you a little bit of economic theory in there too, which he boils down to very simple terms. He was quite young at the time, he was only in his 20's. He gives you a simplified course on capitalism and the economic ups and downs produced by capitalism and he makes it very clear, very comprehensible.

I remember reading something about Marx, where was that? It talked about what a hateful guy he actually was in real life. It might have been some anti-Marxian propaganda. Maybe it was in J. Edgar Hoover's book, Masters of Deceit. Yes, I think it was in there where he talks about what a rotten guy Marx was personally. He was mean to his wife and was a crude, ill-mannered, unkempt slob of a Jew. [laughs] I don't know. But because he was Jewish, all the fascists, like Hitler, used to proclaim that it was Jewish politics, Jewish philosophy. All Marx did really was solidify and systematize ideas that had been floating around for a long time. Before Marxism, I think all the way back to the Middle Ages you had groups like the Levelers, who saw no reason why society should have a privileged elite and why everything couldn't be shared somehow, and why there couldn'’t be cooperation. Nobody knows how far back these ideas go because unfortunately for those peasant revolts and the people who led them, their voice is mostly lost to history. The Wat Tyler Rebellion of 1381, in which there was an itinerant preacher, I think his name was John Ball. There are a few short quotes from this Reverend Ball, who preached in churches in small peasant villages, talking about this leveling thing and why should there be an inherited privileged elite if we don't need them? They're just a burden to us and should be brought down. And Wat Tyler was a man of action, he took this Reverend Ball's ideas to heart and got together a huge army of peasants and they marched on London and there was a moment where it almost looked like they were going to overthrow the King, the monarchy. Fortunately for us, one of the chroniclers at that time, a Frenchman named Froissart, described the Wat Tyler Rebellion in some detail, although he was an ass-kisser to the Court and the Kings, so he writes about Wat Tyler in somewhat villainous terms. Still, it's an interesting account of how this horde of peasants swarmed on London, and the King and his court were besieged in the tower. Wat Tyler had a meeting with the King, who was young at the time, quite a young man. The King didn't know what to do, this was unprecedented. But he was brave enough to go out there and meet with Wat Tyler in the field. He said to his courtiers,''I'’ll go meet with him, just everybody stay here, stay cool and I'll go talk to him.'' Wat Tyler was talking to the King and then these other henchmen of the King, the mayor of London and some others, gradually kind of crept up toward the King because they were afraid that Wat Tyler might kill him or something. And then at some point, according to Froissart, Wat Tyler started behaving in an insolent manner to the King. He said, ''We don't need you! You're finished'' or something to that effect. The mayor became so enraged at the rudeness of this mere peasant that he pulled his sword out, rushed at Wat Tyler and struck him down and killed him. That kind of ended the rebellion. The peasant horde that had invaded London was not organized or sophisticated enough to know what to do then, they were completely demoralized and kind of just dissolved away. I think the authorities beheaded some people. The King and the court, they had to punish some people. That was the end of that. But there were a lot of rebellions like that over the centuries in England, France, Germany, there was a series of peasant rebellions that you just don't read much about, you don't hear much about. Marx just solidified those ideas that had been around for centuries before him.

MARILYN MONROE

Alex: I have another name for you, and I know that you don't really care about her but I get so many requests for her name, so many people want to hear you talk about her, I have to give you her name: Marilyn Monroe.

Robert: A lot of people requested that? They want to know what I think about Marilyn Monroe?

Alex: Yes.

Robert: Why do you think that is?

Alex: Because they're baby boomers and she had a large impact on their psyche, their development, so they're obsessed with Marilyn Monroe. They love Marilyn Monroe, and they want to hear you go on about how great she is but they don't realize that you're not really that interested in her.

Robert: No, I'm not that interested in her. I remember reading something that Shelly Winters, who was another glamorous actress of the '50s, said about Marilyn. She became sort of a character actress later. I think maybe she became an alcoholic or something, if I recall correctly. She ran around with Marilyn in the '50s, they were friends. And after Marilyn died everyone was going on about, ''Oh, poor Marilyn. She was really a tragic figure.'' But Shelly Winters said in an interview, ''You know what? Marilyn and I, in the '50s, we had a ball! You can't imagine... People were constantly requesting our company, and we had rich men wining and dining us all the time. We were on top of the world. We had way too much fun!'' That's what she said about herself and Marilyn, said she was tired of hearing all this ''poor Marilyn'' stuff. [laughs]

Marilyn, she just constantly had men fawning over her. She was worshiped as a goddess. I'm sure that she got jerked around by ruthless media hustlers and the producers and agents and paparazzi and all those assholes, I'm sure she got pulled every which way. And she was involved with big shot politicians and everything. I'm sure she had a great time, and then she just took too much drugs, or maybe somebody even killed her, who knows if she knew too much -- there's talk like that, conspiracy talk, that she was murdered. Who knows, maybe she was. We'll never know. It's the kinda thing the mob or the CIA would've pulled in those days.

Alex: Well, you were never really into her characters like Some Like It Hot where she plays this innocent, vulnerable, naturally sexy...

Robert: I'm not sure how self-conscious she was about that sexy routine. She seemed at times to be playing it satirically. She plays it so over-the-top. I'm sure she knew it was ridiculous at a certain point. She must've been aware that she was a caricature of herself. Did you ever see The Misfits? One of her last movies with Clark Gable. And there's a scene where she's just screaming at them. I'm sure that for her it was a great release. The screaming scene seems almost too authentic, too real. Screams at them what assholes they are. They're cowboys and they are doing something cruel to some animal; a cow or a horse or something, I don't remember. It was supposed to be like a metaphor -- They're trying to subdue this free, wild horse... A bit pretentious I thought. Whatever.

But Marilyn, you know she was considered this bombshell and everything, and so sexy and all that, but I was never turned on sexually by her myself. She wasn't earthy enough for me, too much of a confection or something. Yeah, she's cute, cute face and all that... I found this old book about industrial design, from the late 40's -- I think about 1949 or 1950 -- in which there are a lot of photographs showing streamlined cars, and trains and stuff and there's this one photo showing the interiors of the latest, modern passenger train, the sleeping compartments and the dining car, and in the photo of the dining car there are some people sitting at the tables smiling and looking happy, and there's Marilyn. She still had her red hair, and she's sitting at a table with these other people smiling... An early modeling job, when she was still Norma Jean Baker.

Alex: But I don't understand why you thought she was too much like candy: she had a beautiful bottom, she had beautiful legs, nice breasts, enormous sex appeal, I just don't understand-

Robert: Sure, she's okay. But she's not, I dunno, earthy enough for me or something. Not, I dunno, real enough. I have quirky taste in women that way. I like Betty Page more than Marilyn.

Alex: But I have to say that I see a lot of similarities between those two women, yet there's a big difference to you?

Robert: Not a big, big difference. Betty Page is a little more earthy. But even Betty Page is not my sexual ideal. I've seen women on the street that I would way much rather play with than either of those two. I see like buck-toothed, artless country girls in small American towns that make my heart go in my throat way more than either of them, or any movie star.

Alex: Fair enough. We're in the world of personal preferences, so there's no explaining it.

Robert: Yeah, personal taste... No accounting for it.

MARLON BRANDO

Robert: Somewhat absurd a character to me, Brando. I liked him in On The Waterfront -- ''I could've been a contender, I could have been somebody. Instead, I got a one way ticket to Palookaville.'' That was great stuff.

Alex: Yeah, interesting what he said about that scene. He said, ''You know, when the writing's good, just stay out of the way. Just read your lines and stay out of the way.''

Robert: He was a smart guy. Not a dumb guy, at all. I'm sure he understood a lot more than he let on. But another guy ruined by Hollywood. To me, yeah, he was kind of a ridiculous figure.

Alex: Why?

Robert: A lot of American actors, they become like a caricature of themselves in a way. Like Marilyn, Marilyn is an absurd, ridiculous figure also. Liz Taylor is a ridiculous figure. Clint Eastwood, lots of them. American actors, they become a persona unto themselves that then becomes like a caricature of itself. John Travolta...

Alex: I understand. What you're saying about all those people that you mentioned, they all act the same way in every movie, they just have a schtick. They're the same character. I understand your point, but then you have Brando playing a role in The Godfather, where he created that character -- he put the stuff in his jowls and he just becomes this other person. How do you explain that?

Robert:
Yeah, he was good in that. He departed from his normal schtick. And he managed to survive in Hollywood, even into old age, so then you play a different kind of person. He outlived that sexy, Adonis persona of his youth. Like I never saw A Streetcar Named Desire. I should watch that sometime. Stanley Kowolski...

Alex: Yeah, I think he changed the way people act, the craft of acting. There was acting before Brando, and then there was acting after Brando.

Robert:
Really? He had that much influence?

Alex: That's what a lot of people say. Did you ever read his autobiography? He writes a little bit about his movies, but most of the book is about all the women he screwed, it's all about sex.

Robert: Oh yeah?

Alex: It's funny. It just goes on and on about all the girls: he meets an airline stewardess from India, he takes her home; he's sleeping with his neighbor's wife, the neighbor comes home and he has to jump out of the window, and then runs naked between all the bushes trying to get home. One time he's having sex in the desert and it's close to an air force base where they practice flying, and he's having sex with this girl on his motorcycle and just as he was coming, a sonic boom from a jet goes off overhead. He was a big star on Broadway in 1948, he was the talk of New York City when he was what, 24 years old? Some rich girl on Park Avenue fell in love with him and she said ''Come over.'' So he drives up Park Ave. on his motorcycle, in his leather jacket and his jeans, and he walks up and the doorman says, ''You ca'’t come in here'' Brando says, ''I'm here to see so-and-so in the penthouse.'' So the doorman calls her up and she says, ''Oh yes, Roger, send him right up!'' Brando looks at the guy and says, ''Make sure no one touches my bike.'' And then he enters into a whole new world he's never been in. Fucks this girl, comes down, gets on the bike, takes off, free in New York City. To be on a motorcycle in New York City, 1948, 24 years old, on top of the world...

Robert:
Incredible. Amazing. What a life. What a difference from my youth! [laughs]

Alex: He was a good looking male.

Robert: Yes, he was a beautiful man. That's right. Did you ever read the Mad satire on The Wild One? Kurtzman's satire on that? Oh, it's great. It's hilarious. You should look at that sometime. The way Wally Wood draws Brando in that strip, the petulant, pouty expression, the cocky, slouchy posture. Brando was a Greek god on a motorcycle, a mythical male god for the 1950s. How could a guy like me hope to compete with that? A skinny, awkward goofball with thick glasses. Funny thing: in Brando's early New York days, he was roommates with Wally Cox,''Mr. Peepers.''


MAD MAGAZINE

Alex: So, what do you think of Mad Magazine after Kurtzman left? Did you ever read it in the '60s or...

Robert: Out of loyalty. Out of a sort of loyalty. It wasn't clear to me yet that it had been Kurtzman that made the early Mad so great, so I continued reading it for about another 2 years, maybe, after Kurtzman left. Kurtzman left in '56. His last issue was, I think, Number 30, which came out in '56. And then, Feldstein takes over and the magazine instantly becomes one tenth as interesting. Even though there is some good artwork, the satire just... Feldstein is just not the satirist that Kurtzman was, hate to tell you. So, the magazine starts to decline and I just gave up on it after a couple years. By the end of '59, it was over for me, I just couldn't read it anymore. But I still kind of admired the artwork, which continued to maintain a high standard.

Alex: Even when you were a youth, and you were in your twenties in San Francisco, hanging out, smoking marijuana, sitting around, and if there was a Mad Magazine around, you wouldn't read it?

Robert: You mean, like, in the late 1960s? No way, man! Mad Magazine was supremely uninteresting by that time, and, you know, totally unhip. Those guys didn't have a clue! They had this formula that was predictable and uninspired. They took Kurtzman's thing, which was always quirky and original and experimental and formulized it; targeted it at teenagers. It became a huge selling magazine, mostly for adolescents. It lost any kind of adult or sophisticated level of satire that it had earlier. For a teenager like me, that adult quality was part of the allure of Kurtzman's satire, even though I didn't always get it. I didn't always exactly get what it was about, but still I was very drawn to it and I would study it in detail, just trying to decipher the hieroglyphics of it. Here were some people telling the truth about the adult world, in the most satirical way. That was very enlightening, very subversive for a teenager. But when Feldstein took over, he and Gaines worked out this shtick. It sold very well, the formula was a big success, and they could crank it out on a regular basis, and they kept that Alfred E Newman image that Kurtzman introduced in Mad in 1955, and it's still going! They still use it. Incredible.

It's been successful for like 50 years, 60 years. They continued to have some good artists in there. In recent years they had somebody doing great covers on Mad, some of them were minor masterpieces. But the inside is very confusing to me. I can't tell if the ads are real or satirical. The pages are so dense and cluttered, the formula seems to have become fossilized. I dunno, maybe I'm just too old for it, for the youthful sensibility and orientation of it. You tell me. You read it, I can't.

BILLIE HOLIDAY

Robert: I don't really like her singing. It doesn't excite me much. It's alright, but it doesn't do much for me. I liked her first record she made in 1933 when she was 18. She sang with the Benny Goodman Orchestra and recorded a record called "Your Mother's Son-in-law." I like that record because she's young and her voice is really rough. She's still a shouter. Then later, she just kind of cooled down and... I don't know, not very interesting to me. But I like that first record.

 

MEMPHIS MINNIE

Robert: She's great, tops in my book. The greatest -- I wish I had more of her 78's. She made a lot of great 78's from the late '20s through the late '30s, actually. She made a lot of records and was quite popular. Howard Armstrong knew her and said, "She was the most foul-mouthed woman I ever met." [laughs] She's unusual, because she was a really good guitar player, but she also managed her own affairs, which was unusual in those days, the early blues days. There were other woman blues singers, but very few of them had the successful career she did, and some of that was based on her own management. Have you ever listened to Memphis Minnie?

Alex: I've listened to her. I like her sexy stuff. But the first time I heard of her was from your portfolio portrait with Kansas City Joe.

Robert: Kansas City Joe, that was her husband at the time, Joe McCoy. They did a lot of duets together in the earliest period of her recordings. When she separated from him, she sang with other bands, sometimes with another guy, sometimes she soloed with just herself on guitar, and her recordings continue to be good, off and on, until the late '30s. "Me and My Chauffeur" is from the late '30s and it's great. And she continued to make records even into the early '50s. But by that time, she's not that interesting to me. She's trying to be up-to-date and modern and sound smoother, so she loses that rough edge. And for me, I like that rough edge. [laughs] And a great guitar player. Joe McCoy just played the accompaniment ; she would play the lead. That was very unusual. Not many women who recorded in that early period played their own guitar, not to mention taking the lead like that, not many. Geeshie Wiley and Elvie Thomas, they were very unusual in that way too. But their records for Paramount, that came out in the early '30s during the depression, sold so few that they never became that well known. But those records are great. I think they made about six sides together. An article just came out recently in The New York Times about some research had been done on them, which had never been done before, and it turns out they were from Texas and a couple of lesbians. You should go to the internet -- on youtube, or I don't know what -- and try and find "Last Kind Word." It's just great -- fantastic stuff. The music is very unusual. The records sold poorly so there's only two or three known copies of some of their records. I think there are only 3 or 4 known copies of "Last Kind Word." But I do know that I don't have it! But Terry [Zwigoff], when he made the film Crumb, he kind of faked it like I do have it. He had me put on a record and then he edited in Last Kind Word, playing as if it's coming from my turntable, and he shows me listening to it as if I own it. But I never did. And it's not available. There are only 3 or 4 known copies and the guys who own it won't sell their's for love or money. I know where two copies are, but the guys who own 'em... fogetaboudit. If one ever did come up for sale on ebay or something, it would probably go for seven or eight thousand dollars.

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