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.
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.
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."
When I reach cartoonist David Shrigley at home in Glasgow, Scotland, he's in the midst of cleaning up his computer desktop, which is cluttered with digital scans of his work. His routine involves filling notebook after notebook with sketches, so you can see how his desktop might feel overwhelmed. But he's tidying up for his own sake. "The computer forgets things," he quips. "Then it dies and takes your life with it."
It's an apt metaphor for an artist whose work is rife with perverse takes on death and dismemberment. But Shrigley, 44, isn't morose: His approach to such topics, while not exactly lighthearted, is often hilarious, compelling Dave Eggers to call Shrigley "probably the funniest gallery-type artist who ever lived."
"What LA is now is appalling and unspeakable," Ry Cooder says.
A stifling, stormy wind is blowing up a desolate Los Angeles beach. It's late, and the driver of the defunct 606 trolley, freshly laid off, stops his coach here, the end of the line on his last nostalgic trip down the rails. He is listening to the waves and taking pulls from a bottle of Old Stagg. A beautiful young blonde, distractedly grasping a handbag, approaches and asks for a lift back into town. As they pull away, a body in a heavy overcoat sinks slowly in the surf.
The year is 1954, and no one would be surprised if the next grim mug to appear on the scene were that of Philip Marlowe, squatting in the sand and sucking a Camel. But this isn't a story about a detective; it's a story about a trolley driver. The author, Ry Cooder, puts his stock in the blue-collar underclass of the City of Angels, and the stories he tells are about their hard, bewildering lives.
Yes, that Ry Cooder, the one with the guitar. And yes, he tells stories: Last week San Francisco's legendary City Lights Publishers, home to the likes of Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Allen Ginsberg, released Cooder's Los Angeles Stories, a collection of brooding short stories about the dark inner life of postwar downtown Los Angeles. The collection is a requiem to a city wherein the world's tides swept together an impossibly diverse culture that was quickly squandered and homogenized by Hollywood and hit-hungry record executives.
In his nearly lifelong career as an actor, 61-year-old Jeff Bridges has portrayed everything from POTUS (The Contender) to a surly US Marshal (True Grit). To fans of The Big Lebowski, of course, he'll forever be the Dude. The remarkable thing is that Bridges seems as natural loping up to the bowling alley bar for a White Russian as he does wooing vice presidential candidates. Born to an established Hollywood family, Bridges—son of Lloyd, brother of Beau—recently made his most surprising transition yet: walking off the set and into the recording studio. Following his Oscar-winning performance in Crazy Heart as whiskey-soaked country singer Bad Blake, Bridges—a lifelong guitarist—teamed up with his longtime pal and Crazy Heart music director T Bone Burnett to produce his own self-titled album of sensual country tunes. I caught up with the artist/crooner/star on the eve of a Lebowski cast reunion to chat about growing up Bridges, conquering stage fright, and how to play a drunk without drinking.