Robert Crumb

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Robert Dennis Crumb (born August 30, 1943)—known as Robert Crumb and R. Crumb—is an American artist, illustrator, and musician recognized for the distinctive style of his drawings and his critical, satirical, subversive view of the American mainstream.

  • In the movie Crumb, he cites his use of LSD as being the catalyst for transforming his work into something more than the sum of his influences. This was when his career really took off, with Zap #1, accompanied by a strange stylistic change, which Crumb attributes to the drug.
  • "Well, it had a huge effect on me. It wasn't all positive. I'd say LSD is one of those things that's so powerful that's it's bound to have a negative as well as a positive effect on you. It's like the old, ancient tradition of the powerful being that you wrestle with in the night, as Jacob did in Genesis. This being is called an "angel" in the bible, but it's basically a dark, power entity. So Jacob comes out of the battle with the entity as an ally, his name has changed to Israel, he's a changed man, he's acquired powers but now he's also permanently crippled. That theme exists in many different cultures. It's the same tradition as in the American world of black blues where you go to the crossroads at night and a big black man teaches you how to play the guitar; kinda the same thing. LSD is like that. You take that stuff and it might give you revelations but it might also leave you a little mentally impaired in some ways. It's almost impossible to measure or outline in specific ways, but I think it did that to me anyway. I'm gradually, over the decades, slowly recovering from the negative effects of taking LSD. It sort of impaired my ability to cope in a practical sense with just living and surviving. When your mind is blinded with this other-worldly experience, that makes you see the whole of life in a completely different and larger kind of way, it makes your everyday life of just struggling to make it seem like a sort of sham. The first time I took LSD was on a weekend and that Monday I had to go to work at American Greetings. This was in June of '65. As soon as I walked in there, the whole place seemed so artificial and cardboard. I thought, "What am I doing here? What's everybody doing here? This is absurd. This modern world, the conventional reality is completely ridiculous." And that's what caused all those hippies to wanna drop out and go back to living in nature which seemed more real, genuine and authentic; what humans are supposed to be doing. Instead of living in cities with cars and going to some dreary, meaningless job everyday just to earn this money that you put in this bank. Then you go to the market with this money and you buy groceries which you eat, and then you get up and go to work the next morning... it just seemed insane. [laughs] Not to mention the politics and the threat of nuclear holocaust. Omigod, they're nuts, they're out of their cotton-pickin’ minds. All the leaders and politicians were crazy and totally discredited. There was no longer any possible or reasonable argument they could present to you once you had taken LSD. [laughs] But about the negative aspects, I took very questionable kinds of LSD also. Some of it was speedy, unpleasant and sometimes very abrasive. One time, in late '65 I took some stuff that made my brain go fuzzy for six months. But then, six months later, the next spring, I took LSD and the fuzz went away.
  • I read an article in The Atlantic about some fellow who hit his head diving into a pool and it changed his brain and all of a sudden he can play piano like never before. It seemed to open up new doors in his brain. Yeah that's right. And then they hit their head again and it goes away. The mind, the brain, it's all very mysterious, we don't really know how it works. But I took lots of weird drugs. I was young and impetuous and played recklessly with my nervous system as a lot of young people do. That drug that made me fuzzy, the guy who gave it to me called me the next day and asked me, "Did you take that drug yet?" I said, "No." He said, "Don't take it. There's something wrong with it." I said, "Hmmm, OK." But that night I took it anyway! And sure enough, it started to come on with all the psychedelic visions and all of a sudden everything went fuzzy, like when old TVs would go fuzzy and make that static noise. And during the following six months, it was very difficult for me to cope with reality. I would be just sitting on a bus or on the couch at Marty Pahl's place and if no one was talking or I wasn't engaged, my mind would just drift into these electrical visions that were just crazy. But it was during that time that I created all those cartoon characters and that whole cartooning style that I borrowed from the '40s, it all came out of that period. Mr. Natural, Flakey Foont, The Old Pooperoo, Angelfood McSpade, the Snoid — they all came from that period. I kept seeing Snoids everywhere, giggling at me and then running behind things. I was in like this state of delirium. It was very, very weird. But, you know, my ego was shattered, and that shattering of my ego allowed these new visions to impose themselves on me without any interference. So of course it did me a favor, in a way. It was like shock therapy.
  • What were the positive effects? Robert: Well, you're basically knocked off your horse on the road to Damascus by this powerful visionary experience. It's like Jesus just spoke to you or something, it's so powerful. It just opens up and expands your mind. The first time I ever took LSD was the Sandoz pharmacy version of it. My first wife, Dana, had gotten it from a psychiatrist in 1965, when it was still legal. It was made illegal the following year, in 1966. It's too bad they did that, because when they made it illegal, all serious, scientific and professional experimentation with that drug suddenly came to a halt. I suppose bad things could have come from more research by the military or CIA, so who knows. But when I first took LSD, I was so depressed, I thought, "Oh, what the hell. I'll try this." I mean, I was thinking about suicide, so the decision to take it was somewhat nihilistic.
  • Alex: Do you remember the last time you took it? Robert: Yes I do. It was in the summer of 1973. I used to get sick on LSD often, sick to my stomach and throw up, so I remember I was in Potter Valley where we lived and I was outside on the ground, on my hands and knees, throwing up, and a voice in my head said, "You don't need to do this anymore." [laughs] "You've done this enough. You're not going to learn anything new from this. You don't need to punish yourself anymore." I never took LSD again.
  • Speaking about quitting LSD, didn't you stop smoking pot soon after? It was about two years later that I completely stopped smoking marijuana. It took a long time for me to figure out how to refuse it, because everybody around me was smoking morning, noon and night. Everybody! They lit up first thing in the morning and then passed it to you without even saying anything to you. It was just assumed that you and everybody there would smoke it. It took a long time for me to figure out a reason to refuse it, because everybody else was doing it. But it was making me paranoid, and getting “high” was becoming increasingly unpleasant. And if I got stoned early in the day, I'd think, "Well, another day and I'm not going to get any work done." [laughs] "Forget about getting anything done, too stoned." I had to stop."
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