Disclaimer: It turns out I did not actually meet R Crumb! In a bizarre case of mistaken identity, I was fully convinced for several weeks that Montana artist Rich Lande was R Crumb. You can read about that foolishness here. But you should still totally check out Crumb! He’s awesome!
When you unexpectedly meet a celebrity, do you immediately think of what not to say? Such as…
- Can I take your picture?
- Can I have your autograph?
- Oh my god, you are just so great, I can’t even believe you’re standing here, like, you’re unreal, gush gush gush…
- Oh man, I love [that long-distant thing that the person is known for and that they are probably extremely tired of hearing about].
- Hey, will you [sing/do an impression/perform like a trained monkey]?
It is much harder to think of what would not be stupid and annoying. This is on my mind because on April Fool’s Day, I met R Crumb. (If you are also my Facebook friend, you may have witnessed my explosive gushing about the evening. Sorry.) If you are not familiar with R Crumb, well, you surprise me – I thought everyone knew his work. He’s one of the founders of the underground comics movement, and a fine illustrator and artist. You may remember him as the creator of Fritz the Cat, Mr. Natural, and that ubiquitous “Keep on truckin'” t-shirt (the mention of which would probably fall under What Not to Say #4).
In fact, the gigantic, locally owned health food store where I work was originally a tiny, hippie, health food co-op known as Mr. Natural’s Good Food Store. His illustrations of Edward Abbey’s “The Monkey Wrench Gang” are sheer perfection, if you can find a rare copy – most editions, inexplicably, are text only. Lately he has made a serious graphic art version of the entire Book of Genesis. If you are curious, DO NOT google his images at work, because a lot of it is obscene. Do, however, watch the movies Crumb and American Splendor.
So, on First Friday, April 1, I was strolling past the Downtown Dance Collective and noticed that the lights were on and the place was full of R Crumb original ink portraits of jazz and blues musicians. Weird. That venue wasn’t even listed as having an opening this month. There were only about seven people inside.
I spotted a guy I know and said, “Hey, wouldn’t it be wild if R Crumb were here?” …and John says, “He’s right over there.”
I have to scrape myself off the ceiling. He is one of my art idols. I will kick myself forever if I don’t say hello, but all I can think of is What Not to Say. So I just look at the drawings and pretend not to be having an aneurysm.
When I finally summon the courage, he is very nice. “Hi, I’m Rich,” he says. He looks nothing like his self portraits, which often depict him as miserable. He’s laughing and talking with friends. We talk about art and paper and jazz and hand-made stuff. I ask him about some thin goop on his portraits that looks like white-out. He uses fine point Sharpies, nothing fancy. On a large scale, india ink with sable brushes. Sonny Boy Williamson’s portrait, he shows me, is drawn on the back of the piece of glossy paper that comes with a ready-made frame – the page with the happy family printed on it. That kind of paper is less porous. Why let it go to waste?
He drew these musicians’ portraits so people will know where the music came from. Everything comes back around, he says. We just don’t know how long it’ll take. I tell him that I paint windows and I have noticed that although vinyl sticker signs are convenient and popular, a lot of people want something that looks like a person actually touched it at some point. “Yes! Human DNA!” he says. He’s hopeful for the future of hand-made. “Never give up!” he says. Awesome.
So perhaps R Crumb is not a celebrity by most standards. But it was a thrilling evening for me. And if you’re in town, his work is up for the rest of April and May – worth a look!
In other news, within two weeks, my main squeeze J. will be hitting the trail. Heading from the Mexican border to the Canadian border via the Continental Divide Trail. It’ll take him about four months, god willin’. He is so excited and ready to go, it is nearly intolerable. But it is also hard to give him up!
Maybe I should include a bit about his progress when I write. It is likely that he won’t be keeping a trail journal of his own. He loves the privacy and undiluted solitude of long-distance, wilderness hiking. I think it is a joy for him to just live it, and a chore for him to write, though his writing is fine. So perhaps I will spill what I hear. And he has promised to photograph some wildflowers…
Thus I’ll be on a journey of my own this summer. My own solitude, albeit surrounded by friends and cityfolk. Missing one’s sweetheart sounds like great fodder for art, no?
I plan to join him for two weeks along the way, as well as personally deliver a passel of delicious care packages once he hits Yellowstone and points north.
Au revoir, intrepid Zippy Morocco! May your hike be beautiful and amazing.
P.S. One more goodbye: the Brink Gallery is closing. What a gem it was! Not intimidating or stuffy or jargony, just friendly and fresh, and whoever chose the exhibitors was willing to go out on limbs. A person may not always like what’s in the Brink, but it is always interesting. I guess the woman who runs it wants to do art of her own, and now she will get her chance. I had very privately dreamed of one day having a piece in a group show there. That will not be happening – except that in a very minor way, it will: If you visit the Brink this month, you’ll see stacks of self-addressed, blank postcards. Take one, make something, send it back. All the returned postcards (Postcards to the Brink, ha ha) hang in the window, spinning slowly as the air moves. So I took one home and inked a panther slinking off the edge, out from behind bars of dripped watercolor paint. “Slink off to stalk your passions.”
It’s not too late for you to get in on the action!