Monday, January 03, 2011

Crumb and the Blues and the Radio

Robert Crumb is enigmatic to say the least. Most people consider him a disturbed man. That said, his Book of Genesis illustrated is probably the most inspired and insightful biblical interpretation in the last thousand years. You can in fact be smart and crazy. It may even be easier to be creative and crazy. But I didn't come here to give my armchair diagnosis of Americas favorite savant comic book artist. I came here to write about R. Crumb and radio.

People that know Crumb, or even know of Crumb, usually know that he is a fan of dusty discs almost on par with Joe Bussard. Crumb has recorded his own albums and even a couple 78 rpm singles in the early 1970s. The Cheap Suit Serenaders are an old time string band mostly doing covers of song from the 1920s.  It's strangely wholesome. When he relocated to France, he started a new band Les Primitives du Futur.  But that was it so far as I know. He was a music geek, not a radio geek. He's always avoided discussing his work with the media and was very distant even in his own documentary footage. His discomfort is apparent. 

Then I found that in September of 2004, R. Crumb participated in a radio program.  He and host, U. Penn Professor Jerry Zolten produced a one-hour one-shot program on 91.5 WPSU. Crumb could have probably picked any non-com in America.. and he picked a 1,700 watt college station in State College PA. It's market # 249 of a possible 290. Even with the stations 3 repeaters: 102.5 W273BE Huntingdon,  104.7 W284AK Clearfield, and 106.7 W294AE Altoona... it's still one of the smallest and least dense markets he could possibly have selected.  The show was called "Chimpin' the Blues" and they spent it spinning old blues and gospel and discussing the various oddities and gems in Crumb's personal 78 collection. The program is archived online at prx.org. It is very much worth listening to.
But this was not Crumbs first foray into radio. But they are very rare. Like an endangered bird, there have only been two other sightings. In 1978, owing to some trouble with the IRS Crumb hosted a 90-minute program on 94.9 KSAN. He spun 78s, talked with callers and plugged a fund raiser to get himself out of debt.  Back then KSAN was a free form FM station that was wildly more interesting. It's impossible to imagine the modern KSAN, "The Bone" doing anything that novel. The event was as epic as you might imagine with wild mockery of all things modern. It's recorded in the book R. Crumb: Conversations by D.K. Holm. The KSAN-FM of the 1970s was on 94.9, the station that's now KYLD; they flipped calls in 1980.

He also hosted a half hour, four-part radio series on BBC Radio 3 as part of the Jazz File program. (one source says it had 5 parts) The Jazz File runs for half an hour on Saturday nights at 5:00 PM. BBC 3 mostly airs Opera and Classical so the program is a "specialty program" in the western sense. Crumb spun 78s from his own collection focusing on the 1920s and 1930s primarily. I cant find an exact date but it appears to have run in 2001 or 2002.