February 8, 2005

Crumb and Lileks.

Here's what James Lileks says today about Robert Crumb:
Never liked Crumb -- his work always gave off that foreign 60s vibe that was so beloved by a certain demographic of the Stoner-American community, the Loser Whom Time Passed By. By the mid-70s there was nothing so pathetic as someone who held on to 1968 as the ne plus ultra of civilization, and felt content to ride out the subsequent decade in a haze of genial aimlessness. I used to wait on these guys every night -- they'd get off work at the U, order up a pitcher of 3.2 beer, and wander over to the jukebox to play Janis Fargin' Joplin tunes, A sides AND B sides, with a little Marley to show off their spiritual side. Urgh. One of them drew Mr. Natural on the wall of the men's room. They were distinct from the other Stoner demographic, the guys who would play old Stones tunes and play pool and smoke the strongest cigarettes allowed by law and give you an Elvis sneer if you came back to empty the ashtrays. They hated, on sight, the other college stoner clique, the Sensitive Types who listened to complex progressive rock and ordered tea with six packets of honey. (Dude, pack the bong. This cut has 7/8 time AND a Mellotron!) But somehow, if you were a stoner, you were supposed to appreciate Crumb. I never got it.

Lileks really needs to see the movie "Crumb." He's mixing up people who like Crumb with Crumb himself, who can't stand those people either (and hates rock music). There are still plenty of despicable things about Crumb, but it's not that he's a 60s hippie -- it's something quite a bit more disturbing. Anyway, "Crumb" is a great movie -- far better than "American Splendor." I just watched "Crumb" again for about the sixth time the other day.

Actually, I see a similarity between Lileks and Crumb: both have a fascination with the styles of a bygone day. Lileks is fixated on the 60s and 70s, Crumb on the 20s and 30s. Crumb, though, is more horrified by the present and in love with the past, and it might be just about the reverse for Lileks.

This is as good a place as any to comment on Lileks' book, "Interior Desecrations," which did not make me laugh out loud a lot the way his earlier book, "The Gallery of Regrettable Foods," did. Here's why. I never had the experience of believing the kind of food in "Regrettable Foods" was good, so that book for me was entirely the experience of disbelief. How could anyone ever have thought that was a good idea?! But I vividly remember when plenty of people, including me, thought the extreme interior designs of the 70s were just fabulous. For me, reading "Interior Desecrations" was a very eerie, unsettling experience. Looking at those pictures, I could see that everything was a hideous, horrible mistake, but I simultaneously relived the feeling of loving those things and associating them with freedom, artiness, and good politics! For me to read that book was to see beauty and ugliness in the same thing at the same time -- far too intense of a confrontation with personal fallibility to make me laugh. So what I thought was going to be a big laugh -- and can recommend to you for a big laugh -- was for me a strangely profound experience.

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