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American Routes Shortcuts: R. Crumb

R. Crumb
R. Crumb

This is American Routes, I’m Nick Spitzer. We’ll be traveling to southern France to meet that most American of cartoonists: the often beloved and sometimes reviled Robert Crumb, with his social criticism, politically incorrect and sexually explicit characters: Fritz the Cat and Mr. Natural, Flakey Foont and Angelfood McSpade–drawings and earthy dramas that made him the comic book king of the high hippie era. But R. Crumb is also deeply drawn to the nostalgia of old America heard on 78 RPM records. He’s collected over seven thousand of the platters.  


Nick Spitzer: Here’s a song that Crumb quoted on the cover of his first ZAP comic in 1968. It’s Blind Blake’s “I Wish Somebody Would Tell me What Diddy Wah Diddie Means.” Sung here 1982 by an old friend, the late Virginia songster, John Jackson, on American Routes.

“Diddy Wah Diddy” John Jackson
Country Blues & Ditties (Arhoolie)

NS: It seems like some of your noted characters had some musical taste. I mean Mr. Natural, he seems to always be whistling as I recall.

RC: Well, I even did some strips where I have him singing songs and everything–old songs. I couldn’t help but stick my love of old music in my comics sometimes. I even did a couple of stories about old time musicians. Did one about Jelly Roll Morton and one about Charley Patton. And I did one that was just a rant about whatever happened to all of the great old time music.

NS: Right.

RC: Very angrily it shows me stomping on some modern snot-noise rock and roll punk guy.


NS: You can get away with that in cartoons. Well, let me ask you this: where did you first come across the expression “Keep on Truckin’”?

RC: That’s an old song, but then somebody like Donovan or somebody like that made a record of it in the ‘60s, mid-‘60s.

NS: Oh really?

RC: Yeah it was around.

NS: You mean Donovan Leitch, the British folkie?

RC: Yeah.

NS: I didn’t know that.

RC: Yeah I think it was him, “Keep on Truckin’,” yeah.

NS: I mean, yeah I’ve heard old songs about truckin’, keep on truckin’.

RC: It comes from 1935 from Blind Boy Fuller.

NS: Ah.

RC: But Truckin’ was a dance, you know, and then they started–it became popularized, and it crossed over to white culture. You can see old films from the late ‘30s where people were Truckin’.

NS: Yeah.

RC: It was a dance.

NS: Well, did the dance involve somebody with a skinny upper body and huge feet and lower legs stepping in the air?

RC: That was just my cartoon style that I applied that song to in an ironic sense that kind of got lost when the thing became popularized. The irony of it kinda got lost.

“Keep On Truckin” Donovan  
What’s Bin Did and What’s Bin Hid (Pye)

To hear the full program, tune in Saturdays at 5 and Sundays at 6 on WWNO, or listen at americanroutes.org.