A collection of interviews and articles on R.Crumb's life and work written by Crumb himself.

CRUMB ON OTHERS, Part Ten

Crumb's comments on the famous and infamous, compiled by Alex Wood.

This is the tenth in a continuing series of discussions. In June, 2015, I asked Robert for his comments on another list of celebrities and artists. If you'd like to hear his opinion on someone we haven't covered in this or the previous interviews, please e-mail your suggestions to tom@rcrumb.com. We can't promise that we will get to all of them, but we will add them to the list for future interviews.

-- Alex Wood, Wildwood Serigraphs

CHERYL BORCK - THE DEVIL GIRL

Robert: In a way, and I realized this later, that character Devil Girl is just another in a long line of dumb American woman caricatures of The Bad Girl. This archetype pops up a lot in low-brow entertainment: comic books, low-grade movies and TV shows and the pulps - the bad girl. The thing the male likes about the bad girl is you can do anything you want to her, because she's bad, she has to be, shall we say, disciplined.

The Devil Girl is like Tura Satana in Faster Pussycat! Didja ever see that? That stupid Russ Meyer movie? You gotta see it, you gotta sit through it. It's a good of example of the sensibility of a WW II generation guy who likes big tits. Russ Meyer is the embodiment of a certain set of American male attitudes. And Tura Satana is totally Devil Girl. And of course she gets hers in the end, sprawled out on the ground with her big tits jutting up into the air. Yeah man!. But she's really sexy. She has big tits and dresses in black boots and a tight black outfit and she's very bad. She doesn't have anything to do with reality, there're no women like that in the real world. [Laughs] I mean, there are women who commit evil acts and do bad things, but it's not like that, not like the flamboyantly sexy bad girl you get in that kind of literature or movie. That's just a male fantasy. That's what Devil Girl is, basically, a fantasy of the big, sexy, bold n' brash, slightly menacing woman who always gets hers in the end, one way or the other. She never wins, she always loses. [Laughs] Just a stupid, American male fantasy; yeah, a masturbation fantasy completely. She's big, she's sexy, she's got a terrific body and she's so obnoxious that you just want to annihilate her. And she allows herself to be annihilated. She even likes it. She likes being annihilated. And it's always Mr. Natural who puts her mind and personality out of commission. And then you can claim her body for a while, you can get your pleasure off her body after you annihilate the personality. It's a sex fantasy.

Alex: Why did you decide not to draw her any more?

Robert: Oh, I don't know... I made this giant, life-size statue of her in the '90s. Did you ever see photos of that statue? And while I was working on it, I started to become erotically involved with the thing, this life-size wooden figure. [Laughs] It was almost like I was an artist of ancient times constructing an Idol that was then imbued with a powerful, demonic spirit, kind of like one of those demonic Hindu goddesses of destruction and chaos, or Sekhmet, the Egyptian goddess; I mean, terrible, fearsome, female energy. She became very real to me as her form emerged from the inert materials. That statue became increasingly imbued with some kind of vivid, weird spiritual energy. It came from me, or through me somehow, through the intense focus and devotion I put into it. Can an inanimate object hold psychic energy? Who knows? But it was so strange. And it sat around our house for a long time, a couple of years. I had to put a sheet over the thing, because she was too disturbing to see, to look at after a while. And we had a really hard time selling it. It took, I think, about 15 years to finally sell that thing. A couple times some wealthy rock star or other wanted to buy it, but when it came time to write the check, suddenly it was, "Sorry, the wife doesn't want it in the house." [Laughs] Finally Mark Parker, the CEO of Nike, bought it. I wonder if he actually has her on display, or if she's sitting in a big wooden crate in a warehouse somewhere.

I worked on that statue for about six months, very intently, really getting into the details and everything. I just got so deeply involved, it was weird. It was sick! [Laughs]

Alex: You told me, when you stopped drawing her, that a person has to be careful what they conjure.

Robert: You do, you really do.

Alex: You told me at one time that she was trying to take over, and was becoming too powerful so you didn't want to deal with her anymore.

Robert: Yeah, well, when I was working on that statue, I started hearing her voice in my head telling me what to do, like, she told me to put little hearts on the socks n' stuff. [Laughter] I did, I started hearing her voice in my head. I have no idea where it came from. I have no idea how it works. It's all very murky and weird, all that stuff. Yeah, "Put some hearts on the socks and make them pink."

Alex: [Laughter] It's like going into some mysterious world that's unexplainable...

Robert: Like voodoo. And you know, I would work on her for hours and then, at the end of the day I would wanna go home, and she would say, "Hey, where are you going? Don't leave! Don't leave me." And the voice had a particular tone to it, an abrasive, glass-cutting edge, insistent, pushy…. I was greatly relieved when it was finally finished and I could, you know, separate myself from her. Then when the statue was sitting in our house and I had to walk past it I got the feeling that she was angry at me. She was feeling neglected. She wanted my attention again. Once in awhile I'd go up to her and stroke her, fondle her big legs, or even sit on her. She liked that. I'm telling you, it was sick! I had to put a sheet over her.

Alex: Is that why you stopped the Hup series? You'd had it with her? Or were you tired of Mr. Natural and Flakey Foont as well?

Robert: I don't think I ever made a conscious decision about it. I had plenty of ideas for Devil Girl stories, more ideas of things you could do with her, you know? But the formula, where she always gets hers and all that, I couldn't get away from that. That's just part of the fantasy, and I think most people have seen enough of that, they don't really need to see any more, the same fantasy, the same thing over and over again. You know, she comes in, she's really obnoxious and loud-mouthed, striding around, making demands, clomping around in her big high heels, and then she gets hers, gets sexually done, put through some paces, ravaged while in totally passive trance states, by either Mr. Natural or Flakey, and they have their way with her. Yeah, it was fun to draw that stuff. It gave me a real charge.

But that one story about the headless Devil Girl, where Mr. Natural brings her over to Flakey's house and her head's not there, that came out of a vivid dream I had. I felt compelled to make this powerful dream into a comic story. So I started laying it out and then I thought, "Oh no, I can't do this. This is too sick." So I threw it in the wastebasket. Then I mentioned the whole episode and the dream to Aline and she said, "No, no, you have do it. You can't throw it away. You have to do it." [Laughs]

But I really enjoyed drawing her. I really enjoyed drawing her, her body, her facial expressions. I guess there's a little bit of Aline in her, that strong Semitic type, you know. Although her name, it's unclear whether she's Jewish or what she is: Cheryl Borck. But she's totally a male fantasy. Women can't relate to Devil Girl at all. To them it's just another male fantasy of the bad girl like Tura Satana in Faster Pussycat! Embarrassing but there it is.

But there are some females, and I've known some like this, who are really loud and obnoxious, and at the same time want a man who will put them in their place, subdue them in the arena of sex play. They want the man to push them down into some kind of subjugated and annihilated state. But temporarily annihilated, you know, so that the personality is subdued. Even Aline has some of that quality. She's a very bold woman and she likes the man to do that to her in the sexual act, but absolutely not in the rest of her life. In the rest of her life, you better look out and not try and subdue her. [Laughs] But sexually, she likes that. And I've known others who are more extreme than Aline. A couple of them were actually too extreme for my taste, wanted violent actions enacted on their bodies that I couldn't bring myself to do.

JOAN OF ARC

Robert: I've read about her, and I also saw a quite good film about her. Both portray her as having gotten screwed, she became a political football between the French and the English. The French government handed her over to the English who tried and executed her. They quickly pronounced her guilty and then burned her at the stake, I think. She thought she was fighting the good fight, for her country, for France. But the government -- in those simpler times, the "government" was the king, his most powerful nobles and bishops of the church -- they arranged some complicated deal with the English. This was during The Hundred Years' War when England was trying to take over a big part of France. She died young, like 19 years old or something I believe.

MARILYN MONROE

Robert: Remember a long time ago you asked me about Marilyn Monroe? At that time I told you I thought she was ridiculous and that she didn't interest me much. I just recently read a book called, The Assassination of Marilyn Monroe, a really interesting book about her. I have a somewhat less dismissive attitude about her since reading this book. The author does an in depth study of her life and her work and what happened to her. And of course he's kind of worshipful of her, so you have to take that into consideration, kind of thinks she can do no wrong. Apparently she had some sort of powerful, special aura about her that everybody that knew her recognized and saw. She had something going there. She had a very fucked up, sad childhood. She came from a dissolute, white trash family. Her mother was a certified mental case. So, the fact that she was very beautiful, stunningly beautiful, and sort of exhibitionistic but at the same time had this poignant waif-like quality, evoked a strong sympathetic response in people.

Alex: Her vulnerability.

Robert: Yeah, that's right, vulnerability. I haven't really examined her in the films she was in. I should do that. When I said I thought she was silly and ridiculous, I was just reflecting on the most mainstream, public image of her. That was kind of ridiculous. Even she kind of hated it. She grew to hate that public image of herself, what everyone expected her to be, all the journalists and the public. That's what they wanted, demanded, expected, and it just drove her nuts. And the sad thing is that towards the end, the last few years of her life, she was taking a lot of drugs just to get through the day. The whole system, the media, the film business, they just ground her up. They were merciless. Poor Joe DiMaggio. He wanted her to quit, to get out of show business altogether, but in fact Marilyn was very driven and ambitious.

Alex: I remember reading about how she'd just be waking up and she'd be groggy so she'd have to take uppers to come off from all the sleeping pills. And just as she'd start feeling normal again, she'd be sitting in front of the mirror, and as the makeup artist would be putting on her base, she'd look up at the person who was interviewing her, and she'd say, "You wanna see her?" Like, this is Norma Jean talking about Marilyn Monroe. And the guy would say, "Yeah," and she would suddenly turn on a switch, and it would just come out of her like a light. She would turn it on and she would just glow.

Robert: Yeah, I read about that in that book, that exact thing. When she was involved with Arthur Miller and she was going to the Actors' Studio in New York, run by Lee Strasburg, where all these intellectual New York theater actors would go to learn "method" acting and stuff. Marilyn showed up there and someone who was there at the time said, "This person came in, just this scruffy person sitting there, nobody noticing her, and suddenly, she turned into Marilyn Monroe. Just all the sudden she became Marilyn." This person said it was astonishing! Like a light going on, as you said.

Alex: It's amazing. And this comes across on film. When you watch her in just about any film, you can't take your eyes off her. She just had it. There's just something magical about her and it translates in her films, which is why people are still talking about her.

Robert: Like the film, Some Like It Hot.

Alex: Yeah, she's the best thing about that movie.

Robert: The book describes how she had to fight with the director for every inch of her appearance in that film, I forget who the director was...

Alex: Billy Wilder.

Robert: Yeah, that's right. And he wanted her to play the part really broadly, play the dumb blonde. And she said she just wanted to give the character a little more depth, and she just fought him and fought him and the scenes took dozens of takes, and afterwards Billy Wilder said, "She made the film. She fought me, and she was right." He said whatever's good about that film was because of her.

Alex: Absolutely. But everyone was exasperated with her. She was always late, she never had her lines together, she was messed up on drugs. She hated Tony Curtis and Tony Curtis hated her. He later said kissing Marilyn Monroe was like kissing Hitler.

Robert: According to that book, Tony Curtis tried later to explain that at the time, there was nothing remotely pleasant about it, because she had turned the whole thing into such an ordeal.

It's very interesting what happened to Marilyn, how she died - was murdered, in fact. The book goes into great detail and provides lots of documentation; Bobby Kennedy was at her house the day before the night she was found dead. He had been at her house yelling at her. There was a tape that surfaced thirty years later. A private detective had installed a bugging device for somebody, possibly Jimmy Hoffa who knew that the Kennedys were messing around with Marilyn and wanted to get the goods on them so they'd leave him alone. And you hear this screaming argument between her and Bobby Kennedy, he keeps saying, "Where is it?! Where is it?! My family will pay a lot of money for it!" and she's yelling, and then there're sounds of violence, scuffling and stuff. And apparently what they did was, they injected her with some heavy dose of barbiturates and some other drug. The autopsy report said it was enough to kill ten people. But then the autopsy report also disappeared, and didn't turn up 'til thirty years later. It was hidden in some retired L.A. policeman's garage. After he died they found this autopsy report in a trunk in the garage. It had vanished a few days after the coroner had written it.

In this book he talks about all these people who just were so afraid of the power of the Kennedys that they kept quiet, they kept quiet for thirty years - a lot of people. Her housekeeper finally came out and told the truth, like in the 1980s. And there was a guy who ran a high-priced private chauffeur service in L.A. who was secretly flying the Kennedys in to visit with Marilyn and other women that they would see in LA. And this was kept secret until thirty years later, the guy that owned the company finally admitted that yeah, we used to fly them in regularly. But people kept these secrets. They were so afraid that this power could destroy them, destroy their lives, or their careers. And people with big, fancy careers are more vulnerable, in a way. If you're a police commissioner or a mayor or something like that you're gonna shut up, you're gonna keep quiet.

Alex: Another thing about her: she was a highly sexed person and I enjoy that about her. She fucked a lot of people.

Robert: Yeah, she did. She was rather loose that way. But one thing that surprised me in that book was that for a while in the mid 50s Marilyn was telling people that she hoped that Frank Sinatra would marry her. She was hanging out with Frank, and I guess Frank was fucking her.

Alex: Oh Lordy, say it ain't so.

Robert: (Laughing) Yeah, 'fraid so. Frank fucked 'em all. I think he had them all. All the beautiful women in Hollywood. (Laughing).

Alex: Well, I don't like that guy very much.

Robert: No, he's a hateful guy. Hateful. You ever read His Way, by Kitty Kelly about Frank?

Alex: No, but we might as well move on to Frank.

FRANK SINATRA

Robert: Ol' Blue Eyes...[Laughs]. Aline's mother, who was a Bobby-soxer back in the '40's and a loyal Frank Sinatra fan, camped out overnight with lots of other teenage girls in front of the Paramount Theatre in Brooklyn to see Frank Sinatra in person. [Laughs] The best book about Frank Sinatra is His Way, by Kitty Kelley. I recommend it. I think it shows what a true monster that guy really was. I wasn't really interested in Frank Sinatra, but someone recommended that book to me. I do have a sort of academic interest in popular culture and mass media. There's the image of the person as portrayed by the media and then there's the real person lurking behind the public image. Frank was hugely popular. Jackie Mason tells a story in His Way where in his younger days as a stand-up comic, one of the on-going jokes in his act was about Frank Sinatra and his connection to the mob. One night, after his act, two thuggish characters came up to Mason and said, "Frank don't like that joke you tell about him in your act, so leave that joke outta your routine, okay?"

Mason said, "I don't take orders from Frank or anyone in his entourage. I say what I want to say in my routine. You can tell Frank that and tell him to go fuck himself."


They said, "We'll, you know, something bad might happen to you if you tell that joke again."

So, he told the joke a couple of nights later in some night club and then, on his way to his car afterward, out in the parking lot, he got the shit beat out of him by those same two guys.

Because, you know, Frank just loved the mob. He just really admired those guys. There's another story told by Barbara Marx, who was a good-looking woman and had been the wife of Zeppo Marx. Apparently Frank lured her away from Zeppo. Anyway, she tells a story of how she was sitting in a club with Frank and Phil Silvers when some big-time, well-known mobster came over to say hello, and she said, "You should have seen the look on their faces. Both Frank and Phil just lit up like two kids meeting Mickey Mantle or somebody. They were so full of dazzled admiration for this mobster, thug." She was really disturbed to see that. [Laughs]

Frank's mother pushed him when he was young. Kitty Kelley went and talked to these old guys in Hoboken who remembered when Frank was just getting started in the '30's. They said in the beginning, Frank couldn't sing worth a damn, but his mother, who was well connected with the political machine, was able to force Frank on these club owners around Hoboken, they had to take him on to sing in their clubs. Finally, after years of this, he became a decent singer. And then he managed to get hired as a vocalist with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, one of the major big bands of the late '30s - early '40s.

Another great story is how all the guys in that orchestra hated Frank. Because guess why? Because wherever they went, wherever they performed, when Frank came on to sing the girls would just go crazy. And Frank had his pick of all the beautiful girls. The girls just loved Frank, even though he was a skinny runt. There was something just so cocky about him that teenage girls found attractive. Go figure. So because he got all the girls and he was so cocky about that, and of course bragged about it, the other band members just hated his guts.

There was an incident at one of these big theaters where he was performing, a group of girls who started screaming and carrying on. So his press agent, who read about it afterwards in the newspapers, realized that this might be a very effective publicity stunt. So he began paying girls at Frank's shows to scream. Give 'em each $5 bucks or something to scream their heads off. Once you had half a dozen girls screaming, the rest of them would take it up. [Laughs] That was the beginning of the whole screaming thing, which was followed later by Elvis and the Beatles. The Beatles were the culmination of the whole screaming girl thing.

MEDITATION

Robert: Yeah, I meditate, or try to. I don't do TM. I don't do any particular style of meditation. I just sit without any distractions, just sit for 35 minutes. I try to do it every day but sometimes it's just not possible because there's too much going on. But I try to do it in the morning when I'm most alert, if I can. If I try and meditate in the evening or in the late afternoon, I get drowsy.

When I meditate, I sit in what's called the Egyptian pharaoh position, just straight up in a chair with my hands on my knees like the statues of the pharaohs, with eyes closed. I've been doing this for so long now, some things have become automatic, like my breathing. At first, you have to concentrate on your breathing - calmly and deeply. In the beginning I had trouble with that, learning how to breathe and relax. It's strange, at first you become anxious while trying to breathe consciously, but with time and practice it's become easy. And relaxation was also rather complicated, but now that's become pretty easy too. I can relax myself fairly quickly, let go of all the tension in my body. I've been doing this for so long, almost twenty years now.

I always seem to have certain key thoughts that will occupy me for a couple of months, like a realization or a revelation that becomes the matrix for the meditation. The latest one is, the one that comes into my head as soon as I become relaxed is that reality is a unified field. I meditate on that for a while, think about that. And sometimes that gets me to that place, you know, that place outside of the daily, petty shit. But sometimes the daily, petty shit occupies most of the meditation, thinking about the things that are occupying my mind lately. You're supposed to banish those thoughts, or get past them or let them go. But it's sometimes hard to let 'em go, depending how urgent the things are pressing on you.

But it's always a positive thing to do - always. It's always beneficial. I recommend it. But I don't recommend any particular kind of style. About ten years ago, like around 2002 or 2003, I was practicing a technique I read about in a book on meditation, which is standing up the whole time, and at that time I was meditating for 45 minutes. And I got very used to standing the whole time, just standing there. After a while, it got easy to do. But at some point, I lost interest in that and started sitting again, in the Egyptian pose.

I first tried daily meditation in early 1981, but then when Sophie was born, I just couldn't do it anymore, there was just too much going on every day. I didn't start meditating again until 1996. I remember very clearly when I started again, because I thought about it for years and years and then finally one day my inner voice said to me, "OK, just start, just start doing it." Because a lot of people toy with the idea of meditating but then they think, "Oh, I don’t know how to do it." They think you need some kind of training or formal instruction on how to meditate or something. But you don't necessarily need to do that. You can do it that way, if you want, but you don't have to. You can just sit. Sit in a quiet place for 15 minutes, 20 minutes, 30 minutes, 40, whatever, whatever you can stand to do everyday. But the thing is to do it regularly, you have to do it everyday if you can, otherwise, if you just do it sporadically, it's not going to have much effect. If you do it everyday it takes effect. It's a subtle effect.

In the first years, I thought the effect was going to be some spectacular, blinding revelation, that I was going to be transformed by the great white light or something. But that doesn't happen, at least not to me. Some books claim great, spectacular things happen from meditation, but I've never had any such spectacular moments like that. I've had some power meditations from time to time - very powerful. And at times you have revelations that are quite surprising. The inner-self is as profound as the outer-world. The inner universe is as deep and infinite as the outer universe. And humans are different from other animals because we can do that, we can actually go within ourselves in a very conscious, deliberate way. And I think it's very helpful and productive for an individual to practice that. Then again, who really knows what porpoises and whales are capable of?

Then I'll read something about how, like, Rupert Murdoch meditates, so how about that? [Laughs] Meditation can help you become a bigger asshole if that's what you want to be in life.

But I recommend it to anyone who wants to calm their mind, or center their mind. It helps to sort out the anxieties you might have. Just stop doing, stop reacting, and reflect. Sit and reflect for 35 minutes in a very deliberate way. Stop all interaction with the outer world and just sit in a quiet place with no distractions, I think it's a very useful and helpful thing to do. You know, people who go fishing, just sitting there with a fishing line dangling in the water. For many people, I think that's a meditative thing to do, without even realizing it's meditative. And prayer, people pray and that can be a form of mediation too, if you're chanting or praying.

ELVIS PRESLEY

Robert: [singing in Elvis' voice] 'Well since my baby left me, I found a new place to dwell.' Elvis. Sad case. Musically, such a talented young man from Mississippi. He had the feel for that synthesis of white hillbilly music and black rhythm and blues. He was one of the founders of rockabilly. He and a bunch of other young white guys in that same generation from the south. Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis and others, they all kind of took this black rhythm and blues thing that they were drawn to and synthesized it with their own white trash country western background. Rockabilly was a great musical innovation of the '50s. But then what happened towards the end of the '50s, of course is the music business people got a hold of this wild new music and just wrung all the life out of it. So by 1965 it was pretty much over. There wasn't much life left in it by then. It's interesting, rockabilly even took off in England. It was a white, low life, working class thing. I mean, even The Beatles were very good rockabilly musicians in the beginning, before Brian Epstein got a hold of them and turned them into something digestible for the middle class and put those cute non-threatening mop-top hairdos on them. The thing about rockabilly, early Elvis and all the stuff is that it was very threatening to the bourgeois. I'm old enough to remember the hostile reaction of teachers, parents, churches, even the upper elite of the music business. They hated it. They despised rock 'n' roll in the beginning. It was low life and menacing. It was contributing to juvenile delinquency, it was bad music, crude, raucous. They hated everything about it - the insolent, swaggering gestures and movements of the performers. These greasy haired young guys, obviously they were just disreputable low lifes. I remember in the mid-'50s, when I was like thirteen, fourteen, we used to go to this teenage dance hall called The Canteen. It was like a roadhouse outside of town there in southern Delaware. I went with older guys that had cars. And they had this rockabilly band there, Jimmy Stayton & the Rebels. They came on surly and greasy and antisocial. They looked unhealthy, sallow... They hunched over their instruments and didn't smile. That was very appealing. And they played pure rockabilly and you know, the kids would dance and hang out. Sometimes there'd be fights in the parking lot. Kids were drinking alcohol that they got hold of somehow, you know, fifteen and sixteen year old kids, but the people that ran the place didn't seem to monitor the behavior very much. It was kind of a crazy, wild place. You had to drive down a dark road that went deep into the backwoods there to get to it: The Canteen. It was only open on the weekends. Friday and Saturday night. Jimmy Stayton & the Rebels: they made a couple of 45 rpm singles on obscure labels.

But Elvis, you know, in the beginning he was part of that and then, as with The Beatles later, the music business got a hold of him and made him into something quite digestible to a wider audience. Aline went to see him when he was in his fat stage in that white suit, ya know? She went to see him at Lake Tahoe or some place. Not too long before he died, like mid '70s. She said he was still a great performer. I like his early records, on the Sun label, for me they're in the same category with a lot of other hot rockabilly that was being produced in that period, but not necessarily any better a singer than a lot of the other ones.

Alex: Like Jerry Lee Lewis?

Robert: I like him a lot and there are lots of obscure guys from all over the South and the Midwest on very small labels, very local and regional stuff. It was raw. It was outside the mainstream of the music business, you know, it came up from the bottom, from out of nowhere, and the people who were running the music business at that time, the Mitch Millers and all them, their reaction was, "What the hell is this?" They didn't want to touch it. They didn't want to get anywhere near it. They hated it, Frank Sinatra hated it. But then, guess what? It looked like it was going to be a moneymaker. All these small labels like Sun, that were willing to take it on and produced it in the beginning were making money. They were making too much money to be ignored. So then the big guys, Columbia and RCA Victor, Decca, Capitol, they then realized they had to buy into it. Buy the performers, and then their A&R people set about trying to make these rock 'n' roll singers into something more acceptable to a wider audience, polish the music up a bit, take some of the menace and anarchy out of it. You end up in the late '50s with Fabian and Frankie Avalon and Paul Anka, Bobby Rydell, all those Philadelphia and New York Italians. Some of them were good, Dion was great, Dion & The Belmonts. I liked some of that, I used to listen to it. But, you know, Elvis, he didn't know what the fuck was happening to him and he ended up dying on the toilet. There's a book, a really nasty book about him written by some guy named Goldman. A book about his life and the author keeps ironically referring to him as "The King," Yeah, the King died on the toilet... Sad.

CHARLIE POOLE

Robert: He was a cotton mill worker from North Carolina who turned professional musician. Apparently he had a charismatic personality as a performer. It was the 1920s, a prosperous time, lots of venues for live music. Poole quit working at the mill and became a full time entertainer. He traveled around and entertained in North Carolina, Virginia and South Carolina. I'm not sure how far and wide he traveled. I think he recorded mostly in Atlanta. Made a lot of records. And then around 1931, he got an offer to appear in a film in Hollywood. He signed a contract, him and his band were gonna go to Hollywood and they were gonna get paid a lot of money. They were so thrilled and excited about this, and Charlie Poole was already a heavy drinker, and he went on a three week long drinking binge. I think he was only pushing 40 years old, and he died. The binge killed him.

But he was a great country singer and made a bunch of good records. Years ago I was in touch with a nephew of his, Kinney Rorer. One of the musicians in Poole's band was Posey Rorer, a very fine fiddle player. They were cousins or something. Kinney Rorer had lots of stories from the family about Charlie Poole, what rough character he was. Funny story was one time Poole and Posey Rorer were getting into an argument at the dinner table and Charlie just jumped up and punched Posey in the face from across the dinner table, upsetting the table, and they ended up rolling on the floor, fighting.

He was also a great country fiddler. Kinney Rorer was either Posey's grandson or nephew or something, I forget. He's still around, he's become a scholar of old-time music from that region, North Carolina. That's a very rich region musically. A lot of great country music came from that area. A lot of cotton mills, textile mills.... Most of the musicians from that region were mill workers living in these mill towns, which were very rough in those days. Rough towns. Great music came out of those mill towns.

WINSTON CHURCHILL

Robert: I read a book recently in which Churchill is expounding about various people, each chapter is about a different historic figure that he's discussing. It was great. This book was published in the early '30s. He has great reflections on different people. I remember particularly his chapter on Kaiser Wilhelm. He describes what kind of man Kaiser Wilhelm was. And then he says, "Ok yeah, you can hate the Kaiser. You can think he started WWI, but let's look at the kind of upbringing he had, the kind of world he lived in. Would you have turned out any differently from the Kaiser if you had been brought up the way he was?" And then he describes the world that produced the Kaiser. Great, it's a great book. A friend of mine lent it to me. It's an old book, I don't know if it’s ever been reprinted or not; old book from the early '30s.

Churchill was a brilliant guy, a brilliant man. You gotta respect him. He did some fucked up things, too. I've read a book about WWI in which the author shows how Churchill, he had some high position with the British navy where he was in charge of dispatching these battleships to various regions of the world by radio. Radio had just been introduced, and Churchill went crazy, the power went to his head that he had with this radio. He was sending ships all over the place and kind of fucked things up. Like sending them to far corners where they weren't really in the right place at the right time and he really screwed a lot of things up because the radio was such a new thing. We could order these ships all over the place.

Alex: I think he was Lord of the Admiralty at the beginning of the First World War, and many people believed that he was responsible for recalling battleships that were supposed to escort the Lusitania off of Ireland in hopes that she would be sunk by German submarines, forcing America to join the war. So he recalled that escort from the ship hoping it would be sunk, sacrificing over 1,000 people that died on that boat because it was torpedoed.

Robert: Yeah. There are other stories about Churchill doing things like that in the Second World War, sacrificing thousands of people for the greater, ultimate purpose of victory that he envisioned. That was a tactic of his. Like when they broke the German military code, it took a long time to break it and Churchill was willing to sacrifice lots of troops in the interest of not letting the Germans know they had broken this code.

Alex: The Enigma Code. And they decided to utilize only a certain percentage of decoded messages, because if they utilized all the decoded messages, the Germans would figure out that they had broken the code.

Robert: Can you imagine the responsibility that you would have to take on to make a decision like that?

Alex: Who's going to live and who's going to die.

Robert: A friend of mine was reading a book about Churchill recently that told how Churchill was the only one in England who kept the morale of the people up from feeling like they had to submit to the Germans or surrender, or make some kind of deal with the Germans, as the French did. And again, he was going to sacrifice lots of troops. According to this book, he knew the British could not win these battles but they had to send the troops in anyway, to fight the Germans, just to show they were not going to give up. But he knew they didn't have enough military might and that the Germans had built up this unbeatable military, until they had spread out too thin with too many fronts and finally they blew it when they went into the Soviet Union, into Russia, they really blew it. So Churchill was very far-sighted. But the fortitude it must have taken to make those decisions, to sacrifice human life. Most people...very, very, very few people would have the guts to do that. Maybe it was those cigars he smoked. I don't know. For a long time, I didn't know what to think about Churchill. But when I read that book where he's assessing various personalities of his time and the few decades before his time, it was so brilliant. Very astute observations about those people. So it made me realize that he was actually an exceptionally far-sighted man. Not just a power broker, he was actually a very smart man.

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