Robert Crumb Is Dead—to Me

Cage match pits legendary cartoonist against enfant terrible profiler

American cartoonist Robert Crumb shows one of his paintings at the Museum Ludwig in the western town of Cologne, 27 May 2004. (Photo credit should read TORSTEN SILZ/AFP/Getty Images)
American cartoonist Robert Crumb shows one of his paintings at the Museum Ludwig in the western town of Cologne, Germany, May 27, 2004.

I didn’t like Robert Crumb. Straight off the bat. He was wrong because he was ugly, Nietzsche said about Socrates. I always had this theory that as much as I sided with and tried to protect dorks and rejects in high school these were the very same people who, given a chance to shine, would espouse the ethos of the worst jocks. Exhibit A: Howard Stern.

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Crumb is lanky and smelly. His B.O. was rough but strangely he wore pressed Egyptian white cotton shirts tucked into high-waisted slacks, which makes you think twice. Does this guy smell? Is it me? I am half-French, after all. Same goes with his personality. We know he doesn’t like blacks, but during the interview he let slip the usual anti-Semitic subtlety we’ve all heard so many times before. We were talking about his latest opus on the Bible and he let it out, like the occasional gas geriatrics can’t help releasing at the most inappropriate time. Jews, you see, had been persecuted since the dawn of time, forbidden to do many types of work and therefore turned to the only trade left to them, usury.

Vermin have a chemical way to sense their own kind. (Mind you, I don’t think I have ever liked anyone I’ve met yet. A functioning psychopath, an ex-girlfriend former writer at the New York Observer once called me.)

The true story of this piece is why didn’t I go back to New York and write the entire thing about that. Why did I leave it out and pretend I didn’t hear anything? The answer to this question can be found in Primo Levi. It is terrifying, devastating. We use denial. We choose to pretend we just didn’t hear you when we should be saying: just hold on, don’t move, hold that thought, I’ll be right back, gimme a sec, lemme just look for my gun.

But let’s go back to more trivial matters, that’s what we have been doing, maybe wrongly, since the Beginning whence confronted with such violent, gut-wrenching stupidity. So without transition because none can be found here, here we go: He’s the guy who classically challenged America’s middle class’ puritanism and yet is he a narc? Yes, he’s the guy who, while you were occupying Wall Street with him, was taking your cell number Cointelpro style to the FBI. The Mick Jagger of cartoons, rock and roll straight out of the London School of Economics. In the interview he gave me he mentioned other graphic artists who were more talented than he was but who never made it because they were not “readable.” I remember asking him if his success had been due to a certain mercantile opportunistic adaptation to a system he was supposedly fighting against. I noticed him shifting position in his chair. “This sack of shit is trying to get close,” he was thinking. I’m always wary of geeks who spend hours in their room like he does studying fringe topics with the zeal only anti-OCD and ADHD drugs can give you. It is fair to say that most nice kids with OCD and ADD want to kill you. Crumb is Norma Desmond, he was somebody in the ’70s, but now he’s rotting away in this small desperate village in the south of France, in jail. He spends his days looking at his old comics and fucking that disgusting wife of his which might very well explain why every man over 70 is looking for his Tadzio.

His wife, Aline the star fucker, is vile. She is what you would imagine the screaming brunette standing at the stage door of the Ed Sullivan theater on that chilly day on February 9, 1964 who left with one of them would look like today. She hated me on the spot. Vermin have a chemical way to sense their own kind. (Mind you, I don’t think I have ever liked anyone I’ve met yet. A functioning psychopath, an ex-girlfriend former writer at the New York Observer once called me.)

I arrived at Crumb’s house late at night straight from London ready to collapse. From the airport I drove this electric rental car 110 miles per hour on dirt roads hoping that no Petainist would stop me on the way. As soon as I arrived in Crumb’s small village, I sat at his kitchen table as Aline his wife shoved some rabbit ragout in my plate and Crumb sat next to me and started to critique my recent Julian Assange interview in minute, precise detail. Dude, two hours ago I was at the Tate with this delicious blonde Texan girl as she explained to me the fascinating restoration of this Rothko painting that a crazed performance artist had defaced a few years prior. I was sad that she had ditched me to fly back to rat-infested Austin, so disgusted she was that I made her stay at this mice-infested musicians’ drug pen near the subway stop for Turnpike Lane, where the fundamental Islamist terrorists live.

I sat at Crumb’s kitchen table as his wife shoved some rabbit ragout in my plate and Crumb sat next to me and critiqued my recent Julian Assange interview in minute, precise detail.

“Boy, you tore this guy a new asshole,” the uptight, pervy, demented cartoonist with the appalling face ravaged by millions of hours of onanism told me as I was putting to my mouth what looked like a tomato-covered rabbit’s anus. My editor at the Observer—yes, there is such a thing as editors, and just because something reads as though it wasn’t subjected to Hearst’s five rumens of copy digestion doesn’t mean it’s “unedited”—was putting his career on the line sending me, after I had harassed him for weeks, in the land of the Sorrow and the Pity to talk to this has-been. Crumb, of course, like all cranky Primitivist old coots, doesn’t believe in computers so his assistant, a church mouse maid, had properly printed and stapled my piece on Assange for him.

“Wow,” he said, “you didn’t spare him.” I was about to flip tables but at this very time his wife Aline started to rant about their daughter, who had become a heroin addict. I had the misfortune to use the word “junkie,” half-listening to what she was yakking about and that was that. Apparently in the world of expats soaked in Pangloss’ philosophy, the word junkie is taboo. From now on I was dead to Aline. I talked for hours to the cartoonist. Crumb is not that interesting. Please don’t unleash the races of Dungeons and Dragons on me, I’m already running away like in this 1925 Buster Keaton film Seven Chances from thousands of women bloggers from Brooklyn who decided that they should write for ELLE not me. (If you look closely, you can see the power and gender conflating skanks from Guest of a Guest and Manrepeller as well as Jezebel, The Cut, Paper, Flare, Wdish, Racked, Fashionista and other Twiter twats.)

Like every person wearing Depends, Crumb is convinced that the antiviral HIV drug AZT is the cause of AIDS. Big pharma is responsible for the virus. Some gays in San Francisco suffered from some strong pneumonia and were given AZT, which depleted their immune system and afflicted them with AIDS. I had to sit there for hours listening to this OCD lunatic explaining to me why when it came to AIDS the whole wide world got it wrong. I wanted to ask him when had the dementia sunk in but you have to be proper and appropriate. I researched extensively, Professor Calculus told me, and judging by the hundreds of conspiratorial books piled up on the subject, I believed him.

The View
The view from Crumb’s window.

I took a break on the balcony overlooking a stagnant river, dormant but not dead, trust me, as the Front National is now the No. 1 party in the land of that cunt Louis Ferdinand Celine. Listen to these scum French people saying to you that Journey to the End of the Night is a great book and you can see in their eyes their parents on their way to the Gendarmerie to snitch on their Jewish neighbors. Aline was sitting there, with her old flacid flesh dangling, saying I’m not eating today, I fast to lose weight, darting at me a mean look. Amazing how even when we’re decrepit we still believe we have a shot. I thought, “Does that mean no more ass rabbit or that I should leave the house pronto since I had the misfortune of using a forbidden word from this pouffiasse’s lexicon the night before?”

“Bob, bring him to the other house now,” she said three times in a row.

I flew back to New York and the piece was published last October in the Observer. The interview in the piece truly happened but by omission I didn’t report on the Crumb conspiracies and lunacies I had witnessed. Why? Because, of all the demons, he is the last one standing. John Cassavettes is dead. So is John Fante. Anne Sexton. John Coltrane. Charles Bukowski. Malcolm X. Chelsea Manning might as well be. Because we in the media think we are above you all. By journalistic deontology we believe that we are moral decency’s last levy, the self-appointed guardians of the Delphic pithy. We don’t report the news; we package them as nice suppositories. Because if only you knew you would either cry or burn your supermarket.

I sent Crumb a first draft because, let’s face it people, I don’t know what I’m doing.

I sent Crumb a first draft because, let’s face it people, I don’t know what I’m doing. And the old pro started to rewrite his answers. “Hyzagi,” as he was now calling me, “I can’t have you print that I said David Remnick is a hateful guy. I will never work at The New Yorker anymore.

“Are you a sell-out then?” I emailed him back. “Shouldn’t you be happy that I saved your image by not writing about your idiotic conspiracy theories? Whatever happened to your lefty principles?”

“I beg of you, don’t put it in,” the old coot replied.

“Who cares if you never work for Conde Nast,” I sadistically answered. He was beside himself. I probably took four years off this guy’s life.

“I never said that about him,” Crumb said. By that time I was so mad I was calling him an old coot: you are on tape saying it, Grandpa.
“Maybe I was just rambling,” he said. “I can’t sleep at night,” the old timer beseeched. “Please don’t leave in there that I called for more banks to be bombed, I love banks,” he said, “I have many bank accounts, many banks, in this environment it might bring me so much trouble.”

Now the assistant transcribing the emails was getting involved. “How dare you abuse an old man,” she said, “this is elder abuse.”

I stood firm and nauseating and as a fervent lover of the Marquis de Sade I left in the final piece most of the “embarrassing” quotes. The system had won now, the rebels were censoring themselves. So my revolutionary hero was a corporatist? I would have none of that. I’m a true believer. In the ’60s I would have been a Maoist. In the ’50s, a Stalinian. In the ’30s, a Trotskyist. In the ’20s, a Leninist. Right before that, a Bakuninist.

Crumb had raged against the world of PR taking over the world for hours to me and here he was doing just that, taking advantage of a young innocent buck and attempting to pull a fast one on a hick and reformat his interview according to the rule book of corporate America media training. But I was like a turd that wouldn’t flush. I wouldn’t let him totally destroy the myth of unconformity he had bestowed for all these years upon us. “Please take out my answer to your question about my favorite sexual position,” he begged. What? The real Pepé Le Pew a prude? A puritan? I had little mercy. I would stand up to convention. I would not let the author of “keep on trucking” give in to the forces of the Mephistopheles of milquetoast caca.

What is it about me that had him lower his guard and give me probably the best Faustian interview he had ever given? I think people when they meet me perceive me as this young dumb French fuck. Insecure but enthusiastic, meek and harmless. I don’t tell them that I’m also a cynical American citizen, it might throw them off the scent. Crumb published his blog attacking me but by then the harm had been done. The piece had come out. He said in his stupid blog that he rewrote the whole piece since it was written so badly but when you look at it closely it is a big Q&A so what he attempted but failed to do was to rewrite his own answers. How sad.

Crumb, you asshole. The guy from Zap and Weirdo underground comics chasing down his legacy like a Skull and Bones reject. Who do we have left? The Weather Underground members? All behind bars, kale growers or academy shills. Emma Goldman? Rosa Luxemburg? Lenny Bruce? Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick? William F. Buckley? Hunter S. Thompson? Andy Kaufman? Gore Vidal? Robert Crumb? All dead.

Robert Crumb Is Dead—to Me