Tim McDonnell

Tim McDonnell

Climate Desk Associate Producer

Tim McDonnell joined the Climate Desk after stints at Mother Jones and Sierra magazine, where he nurtured his interest in environmental journalism. Originally from Tucson, Tim loves tortillas and epic walks.

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R. Crumb on Album Covers, Charlie Patton 78s, and Occupy Wall Street

| Mon Nov. 7, 2011 6:00 AM EST

Don't go bothering Robert Crumb. The renowned cartoonist and American expat lives somewhere in the south of France, but when I call him to talk about his latest book, he steadfastly refuses to tell me where: "I don't want people coming here looking for me," he says, "so I don't tell the name of this town." He won't elaborate on whom he might be hiding from, but it's easy to believe that Crumb, 68, has a cult following. Over his nearly lifelong career, this icon of 1960s underground comics has created beloved characters like Fritz the Cat and Mr. Natural, was the subject of a Terry Zwigoff documentary, and even illustrated the book of Genesis. ("First I was gonna make a satire," he told me. "But the original text is so strange by itself you don't have to satirize it.") In 1991, Crumb was inducted into the prestigious Will Eisner Hall of Fame. Maus creator Art Spiegelman has called him "a monolithic presence, who rewrote the rules of what comics are."

But behind the overt sexuality and anti-establishment riffs that characterize Crumb's comics, his muse has always been old-timey American blues. He's a die-hard collector of 78 rpm records from the likes of Memphis Minnie and Robert Johnson. Crumb himself is an accomplished banjo player, and made a splash in the 1970s underground folk music scene with his Cheap Suit Serenaders. He began drawing album covers and cartoon portraits of musicians while living in San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury neighborhood during the 1960s, and has since created an extensive portfolio of illustrations of classic rock figures like Janis Joplin, his old blues heroes, and his own band. This week WW Norton releases The Complete Record Cover Collection, a compendium of Crumb's greatest music cartoons and album covers. I spoke with Crumb about trading records for art, Janis Joplin's fatal quirks, and getting the hell out of the United States.

To view a selection of art from the book, check out our slideshow.          

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Book Review: Blue Nights

| Tue Nov. 1, 2011 6:00 AM EDT

Blue Nights

By Joan Didion

ALFRED A. KNOPF

In 2005, Joan Didion won a National Book Award for The Year of Magical Thinking, an account of her husband's sudden death while Quintana, their only child, languished in hospitals, stricken with a bevy of life-threatening diseases. (She died before the book was released.) Blue Nights is also about Quintana, but it isn't nostalgic. Didion interrogates herself ruthlessly about her own mortality and maternal abilities. What materializes is a heartbreaking portrait of the family's implosion. Of the church wall where her husband's ashes were interred, Didion writes: "There had been two spaces remaining, the names not yet engraved. Now there was one."

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