American illustrator Robert (R) Crumb, creator of Fritz the Cat and the ubiquitous Keep on Truckin’ logo, is remarkable in at least two ways. He is the most famous and collectable artist of the Sixties and Seventies comic underground (proved by the fact that in the 1990s he obtained his current home in the Languedoc in exchange for six of his notebooks). He is also a rapacious collector of pre-Second World War music, nearly all of it on 78rpm platters.
Crumb believes vernacular music (both American and that from across
the globe) is humanity’s greatest creation and his passion for music leaps out of his art – he has issued three series of playing cards that feature musicians (now collected into book form as R Crumb’s Heroes Of Blues, Jazz & Country), drawn a series of strips on early blues and jazz that are collected as R Crumb Draws The Blues and illustrated many album covers: these are finally gathered in his latest opus, The Complete Record Cover Collection.
Crumb also plays music, having started out with The Cheap Suit Serenaders – an old timey string band whose efforts seemed willfully out of sync in the 1970s but now appear very hip considering almost every young American and British musician is attempting to play banjo and dress in 1930s gear. When he relocated to France, Crumb joined Les Primitifs du Futur, an eclectic string band who ranged across Gypsy jazz and Latin music, who issued two fine Crumb-illustrated albums. He has contributed to several other bands and is now a member of McCamy’s Melody Sheiks, a four-piece whose latest album, There’s More Pretty Girls Than One, was recently released on Arhoolie Records, the Bay Area roots music label run by Crumb’s old pal (and fellow 78 collector) Chris Strachwitz. Unfortunately, this effort does not come with a Crumb cover.
Crumb first came to wide public attention when Janis Joplin asked him to illustrate Big Brother & the Holding Company’s Cheap Thrills album. His brilliant cover (knocked off in a single night’s sitting “on speed”) won Crumb a wide audience for his “head comix.” True to form, he turned down offers from The Rolling Stones and other rock bands to do their covers (as he loathes loud rock music). Instead, Crumb documented San Francisco hippie culture as it briefly flowered then crashed and burned.
Since then he’s proven a droll satirist of rock culture while championing the timeless beauty of acoustic music largely created pre-World War II. He agreed to this interview so long as we focused on vernacular music and I didn’t pester him with questions like “didn’t you once meet Jim Morrison?” or “do you still take LSD for inspiration?”
What first got you interested in music?
There were no musical influences around me at all but I remember having this really strong urge to make music. I was always fooling around with music. When I met my first wife she was part of the folk music scene in Cleveland so I kind of appropriated her guitar and started figuring out a few chords. Then when I moved to San Francisco in ‘67 it was the first time I got together with other guys who were serious about playing old time music and it was still the folk era, so the jug band thing had some popularity. So I started fooling around with these guys and we became
The Cheap Suit Serenaders.
I was never comfortable with performance that much. Once I stated playing with these guys in the ’60s they saw that we could get paying gigs because I had a name by ’68 and I went along with it. Often the comic fans would turn up and they’d tell me, “Boy, your music is terrible!” Laughs. “Hey, how about Mr Natural? Can you draw me a picture of Mr Natural?” [laughs] Often we got that response. But ironically on the other hand every once in a while I get a letter with a CD from young musicians who have been inspired by The Cheap Suit Serenaders. To them we’re like what the old time musicians were to me. I rarely go out to flea markets these days, partly because the supply of 78s has really dried up.
I’m a great fan of Hot Women and Gay Life In Dikanka, the compilation CDs of obscure ethnic artists you have put together from your 78 collec-
tion and illustrated beautifully. The old music that I love inspires me visually. That said, I’ll never do a compilation CD like Hot Women again. It’s way too much work! When you take on a project like that the producers want you to write extensive album notes. I had friends doing research on the Internet but a lot of these people are very obscure. It took months of work – and all the artwork! And getting the 78s re-mastered. I’m nervous about lending out my 78s and I had to give them to this guy who took them to somewhere and then had to get them back.
Speaking of collecting, I’m guessing you knew both John Fahey and Joe Bussard (the Virginia based collector whose 25,000 78s constitute the world’s largest collection of pre-WW2 American roots music).
John Fahey – he was a crazy asshole. A psycho. Joe Bussard – a total madman! [laughs] He’s completely obsessed with 78s. His wife finally left him. She put it to him – “either me or the 78s” and so he chose the 78s. He’s the most obsessed guy I know.
HEARTS OF DARKNESS: A FILMMAKER’S APOCALYPSE
How lucky can a master filmmaker get when the tide is against you smacking you & your new movie deliberately in the face? Legendary director Francis Ford Coppola certainly knows. This documentary, probably one of the most fascinating & insightful examinations into the craft of filmmaking and the creation of art, chronicles Coppola’s three
year odyssey filming the surreal Vietnam War epic “Apocalypse Now”.
Directed & narrated by his wife Eleanor, who accompanied her husband throughout the entire shooting of the film, this is THE most splendid “making-of” documentary I’ve ever seen. The finished version of “Apocalypse Now” that we’ve come to know is a strange, mystical journey – which probably evolved out of Coppola’s own bizarre experiences while making the film.
Most of these strange occurrences on the set of “Apocalypse Now”
served to hinder the completion of the film. The fact that such a brilliant film was even salvaged from the wreckage that was Coppola’s life at the time is a miracle, but the film also serves as a testament to the genius of Coppola that was already established with the massive success of the first two “Godfather” films. Plagued by constant typhoons, a mercurial Marlon Brando, an unreliable Phillipine army, a cast of actors whacked out on drugs & alcohol (especially the maniacal Dennis Hopper), endless financial woes, and Coppola’s own self-doubt & inner demons (“I don’t have the movie yet!”), there is no surprise in the eventual photo shown of an exhausted Coppola standing on the set of his film in a damp raincoat, pointing a revolver at his own head. This may be an experience other directors have experienced (many David Lean films were logistical nightmares), but how many directors can testify to enduring these types of repeated misadventures for three years, and still manage to find the light at the end of the tunnel?
The entire cast is interviewed (years afterward) about the making of the film – except, of course, for Marlon Brando (Larry Fishburne doesn’t get much screen time in the documentary, but his character was relatively small anyway). Martin Sheen, Dennis Hopper, and Frederic Forrest provide the most insight. Sheen & Hopper seem particularly direct at disclosing the grim nature of their excessive drinking at the time. Actors Robert Duvall, Sam Bottoms, Albert Hall, co-screenwriter John Milius, and the Coppolas themselves also reflect back on the construction of the film. The film is loaded with deleted scenes, extended takes, and much behind-the-scenes footage (Coppola angrily berates a stoned Dennis Hopper for forgetting his lines). Eleanor Coppola must really love her husband, because it takes a strong person to document – on film, nonetheless – three years worth of strife & turmoil as you watch your spouse in their craft, fearful they are creating the genesis of their own demise as an artist. A powerful, absor-
bing documentary on the creation of one of the greatest films ever made.
FOTOREPORTAGE: DE LEKKERKERKSE FOOTBALL CLUB
Foto’s van zo maar een zondagmiddag op een voetbalveld. In het dorpje Lekkerkerk in de Krimpenerwaard (vlakbij Rotterdam) speelt de plaatse-
lijke trots LFC (Lekkerkerkse Football Club) een wedstrijd, zoals die door heel Nederland op zondagmiddagen wordt gespeeld. Gewoon lekker de wei in. Het is 1965. Het zijn privé-kiekjes, geschoten door de vader van Staantribune-lezer Bram Borsje uit Rotterdam. Hij heeft een talent voor fotografie, dat is duidelijk te zien. Lees het hele artikel door onderstaande link aan te klikken.
DEVILS TOWER ’Close Encounters of the Third Kind’
Did you know..?
In Crook County, Wyoming, a cylindrical tower more than 1,000 ft. (300 m) tall stands alone in an open plane. The structure, known as Devils Tower, is recognizable to anyone who has seen Steven Spielberg’s 1977 movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind. In the climax of the film, several characters –
who have been so unknowingly obsessed with the structure that they have sculpted it in mashed potatoes and repeatedly sketched it – descend on Devils Tower, where they greet a gargantuan alien mother ship. Yet the stone tower was famous long before its association with UFO’s. In 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt named Devils Tower, a sacred symbol to several Native American tribes, the U.S.’s first national monument. I visited this ’magical mystery monument’ during one of my USA trips in 1992. ’Close Encounters of the Third Kind’ also inspired me to visit Devils Tower, which made a profound impression on me watching as kid of 12 years old.
KEITH HARING KUNSTHAL ROTTERDAM
This autumn, the Kunsthal Rotterdam is proud to be presenting a major exhibition on the life and work of influential American artist and activist Keith Haring (1958 – 1990). ‘Keith Haring The Political Line’ is the first exhibition in the Netherlands to highlight in detail the social and political aspects of his life’s work. One hundred and twenty artworks reveal an underexposed side of this world-famous artist. To personally experience these imposing artworks is a visual spectacle that has great impact. Twenty-five years after Haring’s death, his art is as influential as ever.
A protégé of Andy Warhol, Keith Haring spawned a revolution in art during the 1980s with his unmistakably unique style. In New York, during the conservatism of the Reagan era, the openly-gay Haring made it his mission to highlight social evils in his work. He took a clear stance against the excesses of capitalism and was committed to nuclear disarmament, environmental protection and equal rights for all, irrespective of ethnicity, skin colour, religion or sexual orientation. Together with diary excerpts and other archival material, the thematic collection of works in ‘The Political Line’ illustrates just how committed Keith Haring was to the socio-political issues of his day.
Inspired by street culture
Keith Haring held a leading position in the New York ‘downtown’ community of painters, performers and musicians whose creativity took its cues from urban street culture. Keith Haring was inspired by graffiti, comic strips, music, dance, fine art and popular culture. Haring considered art to be a public right. The much-criticised commercialisation of his own work on T-shirts, badges or stickers was an integral part of his philosophy that ‘Art is for Everyone’. Haring had a tremendous influence on his generation, and although his career spanned just over one decade, the effects of his visual vocabulary still reverberate.
Many of the works in ‘The Political Line’ are on loan from the Keith Haring Foundation in New York, supplemented with important works from international museums and private collections. The diversity of Haring’s work ranges from the early chalk drawings created in situ in the New York City subway stations (the ‘subway drawings’), to his large-scale paintings on canvas and vinyl tarpaulins, innumerable works in Sumi ink on paper, unique objects and sculpture. Documentary material from the Haring Foundation’s archival holdings completes the picture of artist and activist Keith Haring. As Kunsthal director Emily Ansenk emphasises, ‘We are delighted that this exhibition is taking place in Rotterdam, the city in which Keith Haring had his very first exhibition outside the USA, in 1982. Throughout his career, Keith Haring pursued his ambition to make his work accessible to everyone, not only to the art world. He shared his work through every channel possible. The Kunsthal Rotterdam is therefore the best place in the Netherlands for this exhibition; we are making his work accessible for a wide and new public audience.’
The exhibition is the result of a collaboration between the Kunsthal Rotterdam, the Kunsthalle der Hypo-Kulturstiftung in Munich, guest curator Dr Dieter Buchhart and the Keith Haring Foundation in New York. ‘The Political Line’ is based on an exhibition of the same name held at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris and Le Centquatre (2013) and the Fine Arts Museum in San Francisco (2014, de Young Museum). Exclusively for the Kunsthal, this exhibition has been supplemented with material about Haring’s visits to the Netherlands.