This interview is also listed with images at the About Crumb category at RCrumb.com.
RCrumb.com announces our latest "Crumb on Others" interview, where Crumb talks about Trump, Castro, Napoleon, John Lennon, Henry Ford and his 78 collection.
RCrumb.com announces our latest "Crumb on Others" interview, where Crumb talks about Trump, Castro, Napoleon, John Lennon, Henry Ford and his 78 collection.
As the interviewer, I would like to apologize for the format of several of the profiles where it's more of a conversation than an interview. I realize that people are interested in Crumb's opinion, not mine. However, with several profiles, especially Trump's and Castro's, Crumb preferred a conversation than simply dictating his thoughts to be transcribed later. I tried to edit and reduce my comments and opinions to the absolute minimum while still keeping the conversation intact. I sent the interview to Crumb for his approval and he included the Epilogue went he sent it back to me.
Alex: Considering I woke up this morning and saw that Castro died, let’s start with that guy.
Crumb: He died? How old was he?
Crumb: Wow, he really hung in there. I wonder what’s going to happen in Cuba now. Do you know? Have any idea?
Alex: Well, I think Castro has been out of it for the last 6 or 7 years. His brother’s been running things, and I think his brother is interested in slowly opening it up. Most of the island is undeveloped, and they realize that they really don’t want to do like everyone else has. Maybe 1/3 of the island is going to be geared towards niche marketing stuff, you know, like environmental tourism.
Crumb: Oh yeah, like nature parks and stuff like that?
Crumb: That’d be nice.
Alex: Yeah, but who knows. Hopefully they’ll be able to continue with that idea. But I don’t think anything is really going to change too much, I think his brother’s been running things for the last six or seven years anyway.
Crumb: Huh. He must be pretty old too. He must be in his 80s or something.
Alex: Probably mid-80s.
Crumb: Incredible. Hmm. It’s amazing that those guys hung in there all those decades. It’s kind of impressive actually. I mean, they achieved some kind of relative stability. You went there yourself and you said it was really poor and people were asking you for ballpoint pens and stuff. But, all things considered, keeping the global economic system away, out of there, there’s something to be said for that – perhaps easier for a small country, but even so.
Alex: So that’s all you have to say about Castro?
Crumb: Well there’s just so many different, conflicting stories about Cuba. Castro did this, Castro’s regime did that. Real nasty stories that you can find in like, Wikipedia. It can get very negative about what happens in Cuba. I don’t really know what to believe, I don’t know. I mean, you went there. You said you didn’t like it at all.
Alex: Well, there were some good things about it, but it was also very repressive.
Alex: Yeah, guys with machine guns on the street corners. You couldn’t be openly critical of Castro or you’d be put in jail.
Crumb: Did you see the guys with machine guns?
Alex: Oh, absolutely, right there on the street corners. And I saw people arrested because they were saying critical things.
Crumb: You saw them being arrested?
Alex: Yes, I did.
Crumb: Wow. What, were they giving like public speeches or what?
Alex: No. One bookseller, who had a small cart on the street, was talking to me and complaining about Castro and Cuba when all of the sudden two soldiers came up to him and said, ‘Come this way.’ I was so shocked. I started following him to see where they were taking him, and they spoke in Spanish to him to tell me to go away. He turned to me and said, “I’ll be all right. You should leave.”
Crumb: Are you kidding me?! Wow!
Alex: That’s one of many stories.
Crumb: Wow, that’s pretty fucking graphic evidence of repressiveness.
Alex: Robert, you’re surprised by this? When we all knew what was happening.
Crumb: Well, you say ‘we all knew’ but what do we know? We know what the media tells us. And the media in America has consistently been so anti-communist, so it’s very, very hard for Americans to get any kind of straight story about what goes on inside communist societies. Although you know, stories have come out that are very bad about all these communist societies, and there are stories that have come out that are not strictly part of the propaganda machine, so it can be very disillusioning for any left wing idealist to read about the shit that Stalin did, or Mao. Terrible things, awful stuff. The cold-blooded disregard for human life, the presumption that history was on their side. Very disheartening to learn about.
Alex: Well, let’s go on to somebody who’s associated with Stalin, let’s go to Lenin.
Vladimir LeninAlex: What do you think about that guy?
Crumb: Well, those guys… I just recently read a book called Blood Lands about what the Soviets did in what the author, Timothy Snyder, calls “The Bloodlands” in the 1930s –- Ukraine, Lithuania, Belarus, a chunk of Poland and then the Nazis came in and pushed the Soviets out, and they were even worse than the Russians. But the Soviets behaved very badly in those countries. They caused millions of people to starve to death in Ukraine in the early 30s, the peasants, you know. They just took all their grain away from them, and if they protested, they sent them to the Gulag, or just killed them, shot lots of people. But most of these people starved to death. But Lenin comes before that, in another book I read about Trotsky, Trotsky and Lenin were both corrupted by very suddenly having all this power in 1917, 1918. It just made them dizzy, There was one account where, I think it was Trotsky, reminiscing about just after their successful take over; he and Lenin were sharing a room together, they’re about to go to sleep and Trotsky says to Lenin, “I can’t believe we actually pulled this off, we’re actually in power now.” And Lenin replied that it made him light in the head. It made his head swim to contemplate the power. And they became very ruthless and cold-blooded immediately! After taking over the government, they immediately began repressing any newspapers that criticized them. And arresting people, you know, hard ass. But then my friend Spain used to say, ‘Yeah it’s always been a tough neighborhood over there.’ [laughing] That was Spain’s way, his kind of like apology for the behavior of the Bolsheviks. Spain was very sympathetic towards the Soviet Union. I used to talk to him about it and discuss it with him, to try to see what his reasoning was for being sympathetic. And when you talk to someone who is very informed like he was about the Soviet Union, you realize you’ve just been living in a sea of propaganda in the United States. On the other hand, it was definitely not pleasant over there, they were extremely repressive. And Russia today is still no picnic. You know, still fairly repressive. And China, still a pretty un-Democratic government. So, I don’t know. Democracy? I don’t know. Democracy is a very, very hard thing to pull off.
Alex: Well, we’re not doing it so well in America either.
Crumb: Some writer pointed out that in democracies, you get the con man, as personified by Trump. You get this kind of demagogic politician, and this started to happen right away, as soon as the Republic of the United States was founded. You started having these hustling, con men politicians with all their dirty little tricks and ways to fix elections. That’s a grand tradition in the U.S.A. Right from the get-go there appeared these smarmy, glad-handing politicians who played to the ignorant vote, who knew how to get them all emotionally ramped up. “Yeah! We’re not gonna take it anymore. We’re gonna kick out all the crooks. We’re gonna drain the swamp!” That’s the demagogic line since 1800.
Alex: That leads us to the next guy on the list. Do you want to talk about him at all? Donald Trump?
Crumb: All I can do is just pile onto what everyone else says, you know? It’s all people talk about. It’s an endless subject of conversation and has been since he started running for president. The media of course loved him -- loved him! They couldn’t get enough of Trump. He really shot their ratings up. People were either morbidly curious, or outraged, or they supported him–all of ‘em. All the people I know that despised him, they just couldn’t help but watch him and gasp in indignation at his latest outrageous statement. “Did you hear what Trump said yesterday?” [laughing] That sort of thing. And of course his supporters just lapped it up. The more outrageous the better, as far as they were concerned.
Alex: Well, sadly, I think it was kind of a breath of fresh air for many Americans, because for so long the politicians were so scripted. They would just stick to the script created for the certain group of people they were standing in front of. Everything got to be so artificial. And then, all of a sudden, you get this lunatic that just said whatever came into his mind. I think that was so real and refreshing for so many people.
Crumb: Yeah, but I would watch him and find him so offensive, so obnoxious and hateful. How could anybody just looking at him and watching his behavior think for one second that he’s anything but a sociopath!? I just couldn’t imagine how anyone could think he’s a viable candidate for the presidency. On the other hand, Bernie Sanders who was out actually speaking some truth – I thought he was great. You see that’s what happens when you get a politician who actually tells the truth— nope, can’t have him. The Democrats made sure he didn’t get nominated. They reaped what they sowed, the Democratic Party operatives, when they fixed it so Bernie would lose the primary votes in New York and California.
Alex: Also, a lot of people are just biologically wired to be really taken in by authoritarian people.
Crumb: That’s true, you’re right. You’re right. They just want a big, strong chief who will take care of everything, lead them into battle and provide the big feast afterward and parcel out the spoils. Yep.
Alex: And the weird thing is, it doesn’t have that much to do with education. You can be a very educated person but a very pro-authoritarian person and you’re really going to be sympathetic to Trump.
Crumb: “We’re going to take care of this.” Yeah. “We’re gonna get this straightened out and kick out all the parasites and lock some people up, etc.”
Alex: Some eggs are gonna be broken when you make an omelet, you know? And that’s just the way it is, and he’s gotta take charge. A lot of Americans like that. A no nonsense kind of guy, who’s just gonna take charge, because it simplifies their world. They just feel someone’s going to take care of the problems that are just too complicated for them.
Crumb: Yeah, that’s right. Hitler explains all that in Mein Kampf. He’s very straight forward about it. If you want to galvanize the population behind your political cause you’ve got to speak simply to them, you’ve got to keep it black and white and you’ve got to have an enemy that’s very obvious, that you can point to. Hitler was kind of a genius that way. I wonder how soon it’s going to be before the general run of the supporters of Trump start to feel betrayed. I wonder how long that’s going to take.
Alex: He’s already proposed his tax plan: he’s gonna bring the tax rate for the top 1% from 39% down to 33%. Can you believe that? That’s exactly what we need, to increase disparity.
Crumb: What about everybody else? What about the common herd? What’s he gonna do about their taxes?
Alex: I don’t think anything is going to change substantially. He’s up front about it. He’s shameless about it.
Crumb: That’s one thing about Trump—he’s utterly shameless. He’s not embarrassed or self-conscious about himself. He’s kind of sociopathic that way. There was an article in The New Yorker that was interesting, in which the journalist talked to Tony Schwartz, the guy who ghost-wrote Trump’s book, The Art of The Deal, in the late 80s. That was the book that I read that inspired me to do my comic strip about Trump in HUP #3 in 1989. In The Art of The Deal, Trump comes across as such an arrogant, reprehensible, total dick even after Tony Schwartz’s gloss over job. I found him so offensive that, you know, I was inspired to do that strip. And Tony Schwartz now regrets that he wrote it for the money. He admits he put a positive spin on Trump, that he bent over backwards to make Trump look like a halfway reasonable human being. But he says that if he had to do it over, if he was writing that book now, he wouldn’t call it The Art of The Deal, he would call it, “Sociopath.”
Alex: Yeah, he came out recently and said, ‘I put lipstick on a pig.”
Crumb: Wow, Tony Schwartz said that?
Crumb. [Laughing] For me, when I read that book, Trump still came off as an utterly reprehensible asshole. We had some friends visiting here from New York for Thanksgiving. And one of them is a doctor and a couple of his patients are wealthy guys involved in large scale construction in New York who had some very interesting things to say about Trump’s business practices. For instance, he is notorious for stiffing anybody he owes money to! You’d finish a big construction job for him, and he just wouldn’t pay you. You have to get your lawyers to fight with his lawyers, and maybe you’ll come out of it with some fraction of what you were owed, but he’s notorious for stiffing people in business dealings, apparently. Now why didn’t the Democrats talk about that shit? How can you trust a guy who doesn’t even pay people who do work for him?
Alex: After the election, he had to go to court facing charges of fraud for his University.
Crumb: Trump University, right, they settled for 25 million.
Alex: Why wasn’t that brought up?
Crumb: I don’t get it, the Democrats were so soft on him, I don’t get it! Just watching that guy, he’s so repellant I can’t imagine how anybody could give him two seconds of credibility. It’s so obvious that he has no relationship to integrity or the truth. You can just see it, the sleaze, the thuggish aspect, the nastiness… I thought it was rather lame that they made such a big issue out of Trump’s crude sexual remarks. I don’t think that’s one of the main things to be concerned with Trump. He’s one of those “deplorables” who can’t help himself but talk that way, and as he said, it’s just “locker room talk,” and 90% of heterosexual males can be caught talking that way. Ok, you don’t want your president talking that way, but in private, who cares? It’s like Clinton, who cares about Monica Lewinsky? I couldn’t give a shit about any of that sexual behavior unless he’s raping women, which he’s not doing . Trump is not actually raping anybody, to my knowledge. I mean, some woman said he behaved inappropriately. I’ve been inappropriate, and I’m sure you have at times in your life, you know? That shouldn’t be the main issue. But the Democrats tried to make such a big deal about that. And the media, “Oh, how terrible that he said those things,” grabbing pussy, or whatever. People’s sex life, unless they’re committing rape or doing something like that, should be nobody’s business as far as I’m concerned. To make that an issue, and not talk about what a fucking crook he’s been in his business transactions? What’s that about?
Alex: But Robert, it is an issue. Because what woman are saying is you can’t treat me this way, you can’t talk to me this way, and you can’t take your hand and grope my body this way. It’s an issue for woman, and they’re half the population. It may not be an issue for you, but it is an issue for most women.
Crumb: Yeah, but it’s crude talk. And I’m sure…
Alex: But it’s more than talk. He fondled them. He would go and fondle their breasts. He would actually put his hands on them, he would accost them. And he also did it verbally. From a woman’s point of view, they shouldn’t have to put up with that.
Crumb: I totally agree with that, but on the other hand again, it’s like 90% of the heterosexual male population has behaved that way some time in their lives, and I’ve done it myself when I was young, I was out of control sometimes. If you’re not raping people or molesting children, that’s like a minor issue. It’s not the main reason for not electing somebody, because they’ve said some crude things about women in a private conversation which someone happened to be recording. I don’t know if he really grabbed women’s pussies. I don’t know. I wouldn’t put it past such an obnoxious s.o.b. Some say he kissed them when he was not invited to and stuff like that. Almost all men in high positions of power are guilty of that stuff. It’s a huge hypocrisy that’s just not talked about openly.
But, how did this happen? That’s the big question that is hanging in the air, how did this happen? Like how did Hitler get to be chancellor of Germany? How the fuck did that happen? It’s the same thing with Trump. And he’s got these evil guys like Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner-
Alex: Because the people were so poor in Germany in the ‘30s, and because of the growing disparity in America. Disparity created by the Republicans. They’re the ones who created all the mess and now they are blaming Obama for it? It’s ridiculous.
Crumb: Yeah, it’s incredible. Incredible bunch of hypocritical liars. But the Democrats haven’t been much better. They just don’t have a strong enough vision. And then here comes Bernie Sanders–but he’s accused of being a Socialist or a Communist because he’s just too far left, because he addressed the real problem, the inequality of wealth, the business set-up laissez faire Capitalism. Bernie Sanders was much clearer about it than anyone when he talked. He was just right on! He was so clear and on the mark. But no, he’s a Socialist, a – a Communist! Can’t let him get the highest office in the land. They made sure of that.
Alex: The system is rigged. And one good thing about Trump running his own campaign was that it became very clear that the primary system is rigged. Donald Trump said it. And he even said the stock market is rigged. That was an interesting part of the campaign.
Crumb: Yeah, and when the media tried to put him down for saying the system is rigged, I’m sure that just fired up his supporters. That the media said, ‘Oh, he’s saying the system is rigged. That’s just a conspiracy theory and paranoia.’ That just probably fired up the supporters of Trump, that the media tried to downplay his statements about the system being rigged. But the sad fact is, he just said that to suit his own purposes at the moment. Trump is a demagogue. He’ll say anything to fire up his supporters. A lot of the time it’s off the top of his head. He’s just wacko. Anybody with a hairdo like that, gotta be crazy, right? That’s got to be a crazy person! [laughs] He might as well be walking around with a fucking Napoleon hat on. [laughs]
Trump’s behavior reminds me a bit of Mussolini, but Mussolini was actually an intellectual who, unlike Trump, read books occasionally. Gosh, I hope the Donald doesn’t end up like Mussolini, hanging upside down by his ankles, with a raging mob beating his head to a pulp.
Alex: Hey, did we ever do Napoleon? Do you know anything about that guy?
Crumb: He was an asshole. [laughter] Alexander The Great… Napoleon … all the great military heroes of the world, they were just complete assholes. You know, power crazy guys, you know, you get hundreds of thousands of men to march behind you and risk their lives for you. Boy, that’s some kind of power.
Alex: You know that story where he escaped from the island of Elba, and started marching up to Paris. The allies quickly sent in army, which was a French regiment, to meet and stop him before his march to retake Paris could proceed. Napoleon walks right up to this army unarmed and basically says, “I am you, you are me, we are one.” And the regiment threw down their guns and they hugged each other. "Vive L'Empereur!” ‘n’ all that. You know that story?
Crumb: No, I never heard that before. But a big part of what Napoleon had behind him was the momentum of the French Revolution. These guys believed they were going to bring that revolution to all of Europe. The men behind him, the common foot soldiers, you know? We’re gonna liberate all of Europe from those fucking crowned heads and the church that we despise so deeply! But Napoleon, you know, he was… as with other people with that level of power, it just went to his head and he blew it. Just as Hitler blew it. They spread themselves too thin. You just can’t take all those countries by force. They are going to rally against you, you know, eventually. No matter how powerful your fucking military is or how much burning enthusiasm your army has for liberating Europe from it’s tyrants…. You know, and then Bonaparte declares himself Emperor, grabs the crown out of the hands of the Pope and puts it on his head himself.
Alex: I think that’s when Beethoven became disgusted with him. Beethoven was excited, like, ‘This guy’s gonna change things!’ But when Napoleon crowned himself, Ludwig said, ‘Oh, fuck you.’
Crumb: Yeah, that’s no good. That kind of goes against the whole idea. What happened to the Democratic ideal?
Crumb: I like Orwell, I like his early writing particularly. 1984, it’s ok, a polemic, but I like his earlier stuff like Road To Wigan Pier and Down and Out in Paris and London. Those are great. The stuff he wrote when he was young and he fled from his bourgeois origins and refused to accept any help from his family, and was living in abject poverty. It was great. He did great writing then. But I think he got kinda weird later. I wanna read his book about the Spanish Civil War, I haven’t read that yet. Hommage to Catalania, I think it’s called.
Crumb: He wrote some interesting songs. There’s a documentary that came out about him recently –- I haven’t seen it –- I saw a trailer. It seemed to be about how there was some kind of conspiracy involved in his murder. Lennon was coming out with these inflammatory political remarks and then he was killed.
I was never terribly sympathetic or felt that badly when he was murdered. But then, recently, I saw a big book of photos taken by Linda McCartney, mostly of her family and their kids. Then there are these photos of John Lennon hanging out with them. And when I saw those photos, it was the first time I ever felt a real sense of sadness for the premature death of this gifted man. He was a guy with still a lot of promise. He could have continued to be a creative force in that generation–my generation. But no, murdered.
Alex: I know you don’t have that much interest in Billie Holliday.
Crumb: No, I don’t. I like her first record. She sings the vocal chorus on Your Mother’s Son-In-Law with The Benny Goodman Orchestra in 1933. She was only seventeen years old and she had a raw, strong, rough voice. But then she didn’t record again for several years after that. And then, well, I’m not that interested in what she sounds like later. I’m not very interested in that period of popular music, starting in the mid ’30’s and into the ’40’s. There’s still some good country music and blues, but it’s over for popular music by 1934, as far as I’m concerned.
Crumb: I like some of her records but, y’ know, you hear a couple of her records, you’ve heard ‘em all. She made a lot. She had a certain style of singing and she had a certain type of tune she’d like to do, so it all sounds pretty much alike. But she was a rough customer –- she was a character. There are a lot of stories floating around about her. There was someone named Ruby who knew her and when this Ruby was interviewed she claimed that Bessie had a bunch of lesbian relationships, that she had temper tantrums where she would punch people out n’ stuff. [laughs] Yeah, the Queen of the Blues. She liked to drink and had a mean fist. And then there’s this whole thing about her death. The story goes, although who knows what the truth is, that she was in a car accident in Mississippi. She was seriously injured and bleeding, so they drove her to some hospital but the hospital wouldn’t accept her because she was black. So they had to drive her to another hospital where they accepted “colored” people, but she died by that time from loss of blood. That happened in 1937, I believe. She was on the road, traveling from show to show. But she was kind of over the hill at that point. Her glory period was in the 1920s. There’s also a film of her, made in 1929, an early Soundie, doing St. Louis Blues. That’s kinda great, a great film. It’s a short. It’s only like, a fifteen minute short.
Alex: What other black female singers did you enjoy more than Bessie Smith?
Crumb: Well, up there at the top is Geeshie Wiley and Elvie Thomas, but they only recorded six sides in 1930 or ’31. And the records sold so poorly and so badly that there’s only a few remaining copies of them. They did a song called The Last Kind Words that’s just…it’s the greatest female vocal. There are many other black women singers that are just as or more interesting than Bessie Smith. There’s Memphis Minnie who made a lot of records over a long career – she’s great. And then there were a whole lot of them who only made a few, or maybe even only one 78 – Mattie Delaney, Lottie Kimbrough. Listen to “Rolling Log Blues” by Lottie Kimbrough, a deeply moving record.
Alex: I’m angry at you. I told you to buy that damn record, that damn Last Kind Words, and you just won’t part with your money. You still don’t have that record.
Crumb: [laughs] It’s not for sale. I got news for you, no one’s selling that record. Who’s selling it? You know anyone who’s selling it?
Alex: If someone were selling that record for $10,000, would you buy it?
Crumb: No. I’m not going to spend that kind of money on 78s. I just can’t do it. I would trade a piece of artwork that’s worth $10,000, but I wouldn’t pay that kind of money. I can’t do it. Psychologically, I just can’t do it, pay money at that level. But there are only three or four known copies of that record and none of the owners that I know are interested in trading it for artwork.
Alex: You know the different owners who have the record?
Crumb: Yeah, I think know pretty much everyone who has a copy. I think there are only three copies, maybe four.
Alex: What are they going to do with these records? Maybe they should sell them now before they get too old to enjoy the money?
Crumb: But Alex, they enjoy the prestige, the collector thrill of possessing the record. It’s the most pleasurable thing that tickles the inner heart or soul more than anything else–more than money or anything. What are they going to do with money? If they had the $10,000, they’re just going to go out and look for more records to buy. [laughs]
A couple of years ago, there was a big article that came out about Geeshie Wiiey and Elvie Thomas [The Ballad of Geeshie and Elvie, The New York Times, April 13, 2014, by John Jeremiah Sullivan]. It was a good article, an in-depth investigation into the two women. The author found out that they were probably lesbians. Their lives were not easy. Anyway, while the author was working on this article, I was contacted by a woman journalist who was assisting with the article. She asked me questions about Geeshie and Elvie, like, “How do you think they changed American popular music forever?” [laughs] I replied, “They had no effect whatsoever on American popular music.” Their records sold so poorly. They were only known locally, in Texas or wherever, in a couple of towns, and then only by a portion of the black community. The white people didn’t have a clue that these women even existed. So, they had zero effect on popular music. Zilch.
Alex: Are you still adding to your 78 collection?
Crumb: Yeah, I am. Yeah.
Alex: With just American 78s or 78s around the world?
Crumb: I collect music from around the world. Like Indonesian Krontjong music from the 1920s. I wish I could find more Krontjong music. It really surprised me. It’s string band music, but if you didn’t know where it’s from, you’d never guess it was from Indonesia. It sounds surprisingly European –- the harmonies and rhythms. But then they sing in the Indonesian language. It was a very popular, working class music in the colonial city that used to be called Batavia (now Jakarta) and was strongly influenced by the Portuguese and Dutch who passed through there, and Western harmonies. It’s interesting and whacky.
Alex: Any 78s from Mexico or Brazil that you’re interested in?
Crumb: Oh yeah! Are you kidding? I wish I could find more Brazilian stuff from the ’20s and ’30s, the early ’30s– a lot of fabulous music from Brazil at that time. But it’s hard to find because none of it was exported anywhere, except maybe a little to Portugal, because of the common language. I was in Portugal recently and I found a couple of nice Brazilian records there.
Alex: Why don’t you go to Brazil, the center of the world for amazing ass and Brazilian 78s?
Crumb: Yeah, I know there are great 78s there, both in Rio and Sao Paulo. But I was in Sao Paulo in 2010 or 2011, something like that, for several days, and I asked some people in a publishing house I was working with if they knew where I could find 78s. They didn’t know anything about it. Completely clueless about where I could go or even who to ask. Somebody there knew of a second-hand record shop. They took me to this shop which had hundreds of 78s stacked up, not even in sleeves. But they had been picked through. There was nothing good. They put the word out there –- I was having a public appearance with Gilbert Shelton at some bookshop –- and hundreds of people showed up. And about five people brought 78s and gave them to me. I was touched, but of course none of them turned out to be any good. They weren’t old enough, they weren’t from the right period. On the other hand. I have a 78 collector friend in L.A. who has a Brazilian girlfriend, so he goes down there and he told me, “Oh, I found lots of great records.” And I know he did, because he sold me a few of the duplicates he had. And they were great! Great music. But if you just go there cold like that, not knowing anybody, no inside track, it’s kind of a waste of time and money. You gotta have a connection, at least some place to start.
Alex: Well, we’ll put the word out. Maybe with this interview we’ll find a new connection in Rio.
Crumb: I’ve already put that word out. And there are guys that are fans of mine in Brazil and they tried to find something. They came up with a couple of records that were interesting,. But I went to Buenos Aires on that same trip and I had the names of two dealers there -- well, one in Buenos Aires and the other in Montevideo in Uruguay. And they both had thousands and thousands of 78s. I found fabulous records from Argentina, Paraguay, Bolivia, Chile – all great records, but only a couple from Brazil. Both great, in fact.
Alex: So you collect 78s from all over the world.
Crumb: Pretty much, yeah. There are some countries that I don’t really have a lot of 78s from; Japan not so much, a few. China, I don’t know very much about. I have a few wacky records from China, but I know very little about the music of that country. Then there’s Iran, from which I have a few great records, but they’re really hard to find. And there’s great stuff from all the Arab countries and North Africa: Tunisia, Egypt, Algeria, Morocco –- great music recorded in the ’20s and ‘ 30s. And then Sub-Saharan Africa, there are great 78 records from the 1920s into the 1950s. Because in Africa they hadn’t developed a dominant business-controlled culture of commercial pop music, so all the music recorded in the 78 era was very local and regional up through the ’50s. The Golden Age of African recordings is the 1950s, which I turned up my nose at for a long time because I assumed that it had to be over by the ’50s, as it was in most other regions of the world. But in Africa, in fact, it wasn’t. They were still recording authentic, regional music all over that continent through the 1950s, even into the 1960s. Hard to find the 78s, but recently I tapped into a couple of sources. One source is in Paris. This guy goes down into Africa just for the express purpose of hunting for old records, mostly LPs. He says some of these African jazz LPs from the ’70s are worth hundreds of euros apiece. But he also picks up 78s when he can find them. I’m impressed by this French dealer in old African records. It takes stamina to go traipsing around in Africa. He started out as an anthropologist but found the quest for old records there and dealing them out of Paris more to his liking.
Alex: So how many 78s do you have now? You’re constantly adding to the collection.
Crumb: Yes, I am. I think I’m over 7,000 now.
Alex: Oh my God…
Crumb: [laughs] That’s not a big deal. I know some guys who have 20,000 or 30,000 records in their collection. There are collectors with 100,000 records, plenty of them!
Crumb: He’s the classic American tinkerer, but also a business genius, like Thomas Edison, another 19th Century go-getter who figured out how to make a million bucks off of tinkering. It’s being in the right place at the right time, but also with the right idea: the assembly line and all that. But the assembly line was also a very bad idea from the workers’ standpoint. It just reduced the work to a simple, repetitive task that had to be so stultifying, boring and tedious, to do this same, simple movement over and over again. Before that, cars were made in shops. A group of men would all work on one car together, they’d finish that one and then start another one. It was probably less efficient, they produced fewer cars that way, and cars were more expensive, but the assembly line, the conveyor belt, whoa. And then Ford became very paranoid about the Jews, the Jewish financiers, and all that. And he was sympathetic to Hitler. I think for a while anyway. When did Ford die?
Alex: He died in ’47.
Crumb: Yeah, in 1947. He was a 19th Century guy.
Alex: He was born in 1863, so he was born during the Civil War. And he died just after the 2nd World War, so he saw a lot.
Crumb: Yeah, he was 80 something.
Alex: Can you imagine being born during the Civil War and living through the Atom Bomb?
Crumb: Not to mention witnessing the things that you started change the face of society right in front of your eyes. And when he brought out that cheap Model T Ford, then all the other car companies realized they had to get on the bandwagon, selling cheap cars to the hicks, of course! The people out in the rural areas, they are the ones who need the cars. The people in town, they can take the trolley car but out there in the country, those are the ones who need cheap automobiles. And then that inspired them to improve the roads, and change the face of the country. Fucking cars. And now we’re stuck with this curse.
I remember reading that Ford was shocked when his factory workers went on strike in the 30s, because he had given his workers a better deal than a lot of industrialists. He had this slogan around 1920 for a “5-dollar work day” or something like that, where he gave his workers a better wage, and somewhat better working conditions than others. He was very paternal that way. So that his feelings were hurt in the 30s when they went on strike. The strike turned violent when Ford sent in the police and club-wielding thugs to put them down. There are photographs showing these battles between the club-swinging goons and cops and workers at the Ford plant. But also in the 20s Ford organized old-time music festivals and fiddle contests. I guess he was repelled by jazz music and the Charleston and wanted to preserve the old way that people used to dance, square dances and quadrilles and the old Virginia reel. There are even some old records from the 20s by a band called Henry Ford’s Old Time Dance Orchestra. They are very stodgy. They’re not nearly as interesting or lively as the old time string bands that had just emerged naturally out of the working class environment. Ford’s idea of “old time” music was so rhythmically stiff and subdued, basically bourgeois respectable is what it was. Not the real music of the real working classes, urban or rural.
Alex: One of his famous quotes is “History is bunk.”
Crumb: He said that? I kind of agree with that. Because, just look at how most histories are written. And what they leave out, making heroes out of guys like Napoleon and Alexander the Great. It’s very hard to find the truth about the past – even about last week, let alone decades or centuries ago.
Alex: Yeah, but I’m not sure that’s what he’s referencing. I don’t think he’s making reference to how history is written. I think his point is what’s happened in the past isn’t important, because he actually revolutionized the world. I think he was more…
Crumb: I’m not sure that’s what he meant. Because he was definitely a paranoiac, I mean this thing about the Jews was basically paranoia, that there’s a Jewish finance conspiracy to control the world. When people like that say history is bunk, they mean we’re being lied to. It’s the big lie and all, history. I suspect that Ford was more along those lines. That kind of paranoia about ‘The Big Lie’.
Alex: I think he would have said, “How history is written is bunk,” if he wanted to say that.
Crumb: Also, a man in his position of power probably had an opportunity to see how things really work and realized that what we’re told about how things work and how things really work are two different things. I’m sure he could see that, and witnessed that. Your interpretation just doesn’t sound right to me. Because he used the word “bunk.” To “debunk” something is to take away the bullshit story that’s being told and tell the real story. That’s what the word bunk literally means: it’s a phony story that someone’s trying to put across; it’s a bullshit story; it’s a misleading impression, a con job. That’s what it originally meant. That’s how I would take it. And that’s what little I know about Henry Ford.
Alex: In regard to Henry Ford’s quote, we debated our interpretation of “History is bunk.” I think your interpretation that he meant the writing of history is not accurate is interesting and you make good points. But I think my interpretation of his quote that the past is not important and only the present and future are important is actually what Ford meant to imply.
I’ve done some research since we spoke and it confirms what I previously thought. See below:
One of the best known quotations of the inventor and entrepreneur Henry Ford is “History is bunk.” Oddly enough, he never said exactly that, but he did say something along those lines many times during his life.
“Say, what do I care about Napoleon? What do we care about what they did 500 or 1,000 years ago? I don’t know whether Napoleon did or did not try to get across and I don’t care. It means nothing to me. History is more or less bunk. It’s tradition. We don’t want tradition. We want to live in the present and the only history that is worth a tinker’s dam is the history we make today.” May 25, 1916, interview with Charles N. Wheeler in the Chicago Tribute, cited in Butterfield. According to the historian Jessica Swigger, the reason there are so many versions of the statement floating around the internet is that Ford spent years trying to reframe and clarify the comment to himself and the rest of the world.
“We’re going to start something! I’m going to start up a museum and give people a true picture of the development of the country. That’s the only history that is worth observing, that you can preserve in itself. We’re going to build a museum that’s going to show industrial history, and it won’t be bunk!”
Crumb: This quote from Henry Ford is very revealing of the car baron’s character. “…I don’t know… and I don’t care. It [history] means nothing to me. It’s tradition. We don’t want tradition.” Here is the classic attitude of the upward-striving go-getter on the rise, making things happen, big things, and getting obscenely rich in the process; Ironically, later, in the 1920s, as described earlier in this interview, he spent a lot of time and money trying very hard to recreate a mythical fairy tale kingdom of the America that was lost partly due to his own actions. So it goes with these type of men.