Sunday, April 10, 2016

Robert Crumb Hates You

With this generation of overfed, spoiled-brat writers, every long, arduous journey into uncharted territories is called a Heart of Darkness—GPS and lack of war notwithstanding. The man that I’m looking for in the bowels of France is thankfully deprived of any irony. Robert Crumb has been living in a godforsaken medieval village, where cars are banned and spotty Wi-Fi has only been recently discovered. This true American has been locked up in self-exile—in an unlocked house—for the last 20 years.

There’s a direct line of salt-of-the-earth, irony-free, all-American icons, passing from the painters Thomas Hart Benton and Reginald Marsh, the musicians Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan, all the way to Crumb. America, for them, wasn’t its flag, but its dirt. They eluded political and religious affiliations and labels: Guthrie liked the K.K.K. in his youth and Dylan became an evangelical Christian, for instance, yet they all fought against the oppressive American conformist machine. The Kennedys slept with Marilyn Monroe; Crumb did Janis Joplin’s friend Pattycakes.

“Can I smoke?” I asked Robert Crumb, sure that he would say no in his studio, where we spoke off and on for more than three days.

“Yes, I don’t care,” he said.

There’s an extraordinary Crumb comic, 1988’s Memories Are Made of This, that made a lasting impression on anyone who read it. He takes a long bus ride under the rain to go to this attractive woman’s house. She is his type: stocky with big, fat calves. She doesn’t really seem interested at first, but she gets drunk and he ends up having destroying sex with her from behind. He then looks at us and tells us that from now on, no woman will want him because he copped to this story. The drawing is precise, sharp, simple, straight to the point—until it reaches the sex part, and all hell breaks loose. The eyes are popping, the tongues are erupting and the orgasm transforms the woman into a Cubist bull.

“That story is an extremely unromantic view of love and sex,” Mr. Crumb said. “Any normal, intelligent, college-type woman would find this story disgusting, would say look at how he’s portraying this woman. She gets drunk and then puts out, this guy is a creep, that’s just hateful to women. It’s very unromantic; they want romance. Some writers have a talent for seducing women through their work, you read their stuff and you know they are seducing women. It’s an art. Some men know how to talk to women and I just don’t have that.”

“Writers like Martin Amis or Christopher Hitchens are like that, you can tell that their writing is meant to bed women. They used to hit on everything that moves,” I told him.

“My publisher told me that women don’t buy my stuff,” Mr. Crumb said. “When I do book signings and I spot an attractive woman on the line I know she’s gonna ask me to sign the book for her husband or boyfriend, who is a big fan of my work. I tell you, it’s almost 100 percent predictable!”

“I know many women who like your work. Some women don’t care about romance; they know that the guy who gives them flowers, carries their shit and holds doors will end up cheating on them.”

“Yes, in private those are the guys who say the worst things about women,” Mr. Crumb said.

“I was in a restaurant with this very attractive woman once and I could tell I was losing her,” I said. “I was so intimidated, insecure and meek. I was broke but invited her to Nobu, just that in itself was ridiculous. I decided to flip the script and go for broke. I was getting weaker by the moment, she was sensing my weakness and probably saw me as this almost effeminate guy.”

“Yes, you were castrating yourself,” Mr. Crumb said.

“Exactly. I knew she would never see me again anyway, so when she came back from the bathroom I told her: you have the most beautiful ass, I would love to eat it—and it worked. In one of your comics, you say that women will always go for the most obnoxious guy.”

“They will protest and say, ‘I hate that kind of offensive, arrogant male,’ ” Mr. Crumb said. “Many women will tell you that what they really like in a man is a sense of humor. The two funniest men I know with the best sense of humor are these bitter, self-deprecating Jewish guys, with a very negative, ironic sense of humor. They are total losers with women. Women see the self-deprecating part—you point out a weakness about yourself; they might laugh, but they perceive the weakness. Even if it’s hard to generalize, if you make a joke about yourself that you are awkward or a failure, that’s what sticks in their mind.”

I responded, “I once asked a gorgeous guy if he had ever been rejected, and he told me, ‘All my life.’ He said what women don’t realize is that by the time we find one who says yes, we bring to her the 50 nos we got before, with all the angst, bitterness that comes with it, the prior rejections that destroyed our self esteem.”

“I have tried to talk to women about that very issue of male domination, power and feminism many times before to no avail. They don’t wanna hear about it. One rejection and that’s it for me. That just kills me,” said Mr. Crumb. “I couldn’t take all those nos so I don’t do anything. I’m just paralyzed. Women expect men to take the initiative, to be forceful, assertive; they expect to be courted and seduced. In spite of feminism, women still want to be the object of attraction, and the male’s confidence in courting her is a test that he must pass in order to win her.”

“So, before you became famous, how did you get laid?”

“I didn’t.”

by Jacques Hyzagi, Observer | Read more:
Image:Brill Ullstein/ Getty Images