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.

12 comments:

  1. Catching up on my weekly dose o' Fritz...and a quick correction: the much-more-interesting KSAN of the 1970s was on 94.9, the station that's now KYLD. That KSAN is probably worth a blog post or three at some point; it inherited the freeform legacy (and airstaff) of the original KMPX when the KMPX staff walked over union issues circa 1967-68.

    And remarkably, that KSAN was corporate-owned, albeit by Metromedia, which somehow had a good thing going with freeform radio in that era - WNEW-FM, WMMR, WMMS, KMET and KSAN.

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  2. damn. serves me right for being lazy and not looking that up in the first place.

    but yeah, I've written abotu KSAN a few times before and probably have a few more to go.

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  3. Thanks for this post. Am looking forward to hearing the radio show

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  4. Concerning the BBC series: there were four 30 minute shows, starting in December 2002. I reference this from the audio files that I have; each having a different theme. Dixieland, Weimar Republic jazz, French jazz before Django & American black string bands 1920's.

    I would be interested if you have any information concerning a 5th show.

    I just stumbled in and love your blog!

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  5. Thanks for pointing that out. My sole source was the book Rough Guide to Internet Radio By L. A. Heberlein. It said that a 5-part series ran in 2001. But it could be wrong.

    I've updated my post to reflect the ambiguity.

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  6. I've searched off and on for the last year looking for information and never did see anything about 2001. But after listening to my 2002 files again I would have to believe your guide is correct.

    An announcer introduces the first show by saying "we welcome back R. Crumb". In addition, Crumb mentions the letters he got since the first series asking about the meaning of sweet shellac, which he then explains.

    I just posted the audio files to my blog, if you interested.

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  7. Damn right I'm interested!

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  8. Jose. Great post! Loved the deprecating take on WPSU! Of course, Crumb did not choose Penn State Public Broadcasting. The show was a result of our longtime personal "chimpin'" sessions on rarities from both of our collections. R was in town on a visit and the thought occurred that maybe we could trick people into listening to the blues and such by packaging the material as an entertainment. It was, after all, supposedly "The Year of the Blues." So we did it and there you have it. Happy to report that soon the program will be released in both CD and Vinyl LP formats replete with Crumb illustrations and notes. Producer and label owner John Heneghan of the East River String Band has remastered the tracks so that the sound will be top shelf! Will keep you posted. Thanks for liking the show.

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  10. You never have to trick me into listening to the blues. Glad to hears it's all seeing a formal release. I didn't mean to denigrate WPSU... I just was surprised by the selection. He could really have gone anywhere and apparently he just did that on the spur of the moment. How very Crumb of him.

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  11. Jose....didn't take offense for one second about WPSU. In retrospect, it is kinda funny that the show was released on a small rural PA station. But I credit a number of people working there for giving us the greenlight - meaning a studio, engineers, etc etc. Wouldn't have happened otherwise!

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  12. I look forward to hearing it!

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