Robert Crumb on collecting: it's "creepy"

Robert Crumb, artist and 78 record album collector, talked about the "creepiness" of collecting in a book titled Vinyl Junkies: Adventures in Record Collecting by Brett Milano.
“Collecting is creepy. Record collectors put each other down for their various fixations. Everybody is convinced that his way of collecting is superior. They look down on casual collectors, who are just accumulators -- the kind who’ll just pick up anything and let it pile up. A true collector is more of a connoisseur, and that’s the good thing about collecting. It creates a connoisseurship to sort out what’s worthwhile in the culture and what isn’t. Wealthy art collectors in this country have sorted out who the great artists are. If you’re collecting a lot of objects of one particular kind, you develop a very acute sense of discrimination.”

“Any of the younger guys who get into collecting are quirky and oddball types, pretty maladjusted people. They’re not into hanging around in bars and picking up chicks or nothing. If they have a girlfriend at all it’s amazing. And the older collectors I know, a lot of them just have their little room down in the basement where they go and listen. They don’t share it with anyone, and their wives don’t know anything about it. So when they die, the vultures start descending.”

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  1. “It creates a connoisseurship to sort out what’s worthwhile in the culture and what isn’t. Wealthy art collectors in this country have sorted out who the great artists are.”

    I hope there’s some irony there that didn’t come through in the text. I think it’s nonsense that anyone has some sort of superior view on what is and what is not worthwhile art, and even more nonsense to say that that superior view is the result of merely having bought a lot of art.

  2. collecting/collectors seem best exemplified by Jeff “Comic Book Guy” Anderson, or Android in the Simpsons.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comic_Book_Guy

    most things in the life is graded as Best or Worst. the joy comes from critiquing others.

    I’m amazed at the collectors passions, and the savings and archiving of culture, history, brilliant. But? what happens when the collecting leads to hoarding, and it’s never shared or displayed?

    to steal from the comic book guy,

    Boing Boing? Best Blog EVER!

    :)

  3. Of course they’re not into picking up “chicks”. That’s why they’re collectors. It’s how human sexuality works.

  4. waitaminnit — CRUMB calling other people “maladjusted”? hello, pot, collect phone call from kettle…

  5. Crumb, miserable? NO WAY!

    Seriously, there are a few different types of collectors. And I see them as being divided into two camps. One, adults who try to recapture part of the past (their past) with objects. And two, people who do just accumulate to accumulate.

    What Crumb doesn’t actually acknowledge is that there are some collectors that are well adjusted and are happy to share their objects. To me, those are the most well adjusted. Yes, the ultimately hoard, but they still share. And that is a sign of it being healthy.

    Also as an armchair litmus test, if you cannot share your collection/passion as part of your public life—at least in your home—you have problems. People who have “secret stashes” are a tad creepy. At least people who integrate their objects into their lives acknowledge their own needs.

  6. I guess I’m creepy — I collect first edition first printings of scientific and mathematical books!

    BTW, still looking for 1st ed. Vols 1 and 2 of Knuth AOCP, no ex-lib, no owner sig. Contact me and prepare to be creeped out :D

  7. #1
    “I hope there’s some irony there that didn’t come through in the text. I think it’s nonsense that anyone has some sort of superior view on what is and what is not worthwhile art, and even more nonsense to say that that superior view is the result of merely having bought a lot of art”

    There has to be expert opinions in these matters or there would be no great art, pure and simple. But you are right about the second part; collectors aren’t the one’s determining value or greatness, especially not just by investing.

  8. “CRUMB calling other people “maladjusted”? hello, pot, collect phone call from kettle…”

    Ah, what makes you think Crumb isn’t critiquing himself along with his fellow record collectors? Read any random Crumb comic and you’ll see he’s his own harshest critic.

    And though he does mention art collectors, he seems mainly to be making generalizations here about vinyl and shellac record collectors, not people buying up metal lunchboxes from their youth or vintage cars or what have you.

    Every collecting specialty, from stamps to guns to Beanie Babies, seems to attract a slightly different personality type, broadly speaking. Pre-War record collecting is a world Crumb knows very well…I’m sure he’s been in a few of those basement rooms full of rare blues, country, and pop 78s from the 1920s/early 30s, and analyzed the characters he meets in them and at collector gatherings.

  9. “Collectors aren’t the one’s determining value or greatness, especially not just by investing.”

    That brings up another interesting point…when Crumb and his peer group got into collecting 78s, it was still a hobby that required little cash and more sheer dogged determination, combing through thrift store bins, going door to door in Black neighborhoods looking for the old people who had records they hadn’t played in decades, etc. I know Harry Smith had done the same thing 15 years before, but his Anthology of American Folk Music didn’t, by itself, create a big market for old 78s from the 20s/early 30s. The collectors like Crumb in some ways did determine value/greatness simply by listening to stuff otherwise regarded as quaint trash and inspiring record labels like Yazoo to reissue it. It wasn’t about wealthy people distorting a market with their questionable tastes, it was more about nerdy hippy types rediscovering forgotten masters and restoring them to circulation. That is in a way determining value, though not by leveraging large sums of cash.

  10. I gotta admit- since I started collecting vinyl when I was 14 (I’m 35 now) I’ve come across my share of flakes. There’s something about record collectors….

    Luckily, I’m in the camp of buying the record to actually listen to it, as opposed to owning it for it’s own sake…you know what I mean… Yeah, I like my Captain Beefheart or obscure 60’s psych/70’s prog/Kraut bands or whatever- but I don’t really care if it’s the first edition vinyl. And I can’t be bothered to pay $150+ for it. Especially since obscure vinyl rip blogs (eg- Mutantsounds) are out there now…

    That said, I did recently start collecting 78’s from the SallyAnn and mp3’ing and blogging them….

  11. Crumb is all about self-critique. All you have to do is read one of his comics to see that. So yes, he’s lumping himself in with the mal-adjusted people he talks about. He may be self-depreciating, but he’s also so comfortable with his quirks that he’s able to poke fun at them and laugh at his own social behavior.

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