Thursday, October 06, 2005

Henry Miller Cuts A Record, 1949

"Louis, I'm going to try to give you something from Black Spring. I'm getting a little tired of reading and reading text."
--Henry Miller ad-libbing on his 1949 recording, before reading from his book.

In June 1949, Henry Miller hooked up a wire recorder and cut a record of himself reading. He was 58 years old, married to Janina Lepska, with a three-year old daughter (Valentine) and a young infant, Tony, who'd just been born last August. The family lived in rugged isolation at Partington Ridge in Big Sur. He had just recently finished writing Plexus.

The recording was made at Nepenthe, a tiny community in Big Sur, and the one closest to Henry that had electricity. From this recording session came some rare recordings: Henry Miller reading New York, Third Or Fourth Day Of Spring, Jabberwhorl Cronstadt, and A Jazz Passacaglia (from Colossus Of Maroussi, p. 136). It's a casual session of narration, with preambles, pauses, ad-libs and creaking chairs.

This recording was released for sale on LP as Folio I/II. It's currently available for sale on CD through and ebay (purchase at your own risk). I don't own this packaged CD, but it appears to have a booklet with it that, I would guess, offers more detail about the actual recording than I am able to do here. That is one benefit of ordering an actual disk.

However, I am very glad to direct you to on-line MP3's of these recordings, for your listening pleasure. I found them at the website for The Bouquiniste, under their sub-heading Audio Poetry. [*UPDATE: This link appears to be dead. Go to UBUWEB instead]. The Miller material is part of an impressive collection of MP3's of writers reading their works. Of interest to Miller fans are clips by Lawrence Durrell, Louis Ferdinand Celine, and Blaise Cendrars.

"Calling Henry Miller. Calling Henry Miller....This is a long distance call from Villa Seurat." --Lawrence Durrell and Alfred Perles on a recording for Henry, 1952

At the end of this 1949 recording, on both the packaged CDs and the on-line MP3s, is a 1952 record sent to Henry by Lawrence Durrell and Alfred Perles. If you've never heard this before, it's a real treat, because it allows us into the intimate sphere of Henry's friendship with these two men. Larry and Fred--possibly drunk--do some seemingly half-rehearsed, half-improved bit, heavily laden with inside jokes. It moved Henry so much to hear this recording while his friends were in Europe and he in Big Sur, that he left for Paris later that year.

In response, Henry wrote the following to Fred ('Joey') [From Henry Miller, Happy Rock (p.4)] - "What a message! I laughed and I cried! Never had I felt so happy, nor so alone and melancholy. When you started speaking French, the robust and vulgar street slang of old pals and even of the one-legged whore of Montmartre, I almost had an attack. The effect it had on me was like champagne and caviar, and was diabolical on top of everything! Never had Paris been at once so close and so far away."

This recording is known as "Letter From London" and can be found at the end of the Jazz Passacaglia clip at 20:40.

Miller's improvisation about the act of recording and the future of communication can be found during the last ten minutes of the New York clip.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The "booklet" for the CD is just a one-page spread. The text on the inside cover does give a quick background on Miller and the recording of the CD though.

I've scanned the booklet from my copy and placed it online so you can have a look (it's a pretty large JPG). Unfortunately, the font is quite hard to read, but you should be able to make it out if you squint a bit.

4:43 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oops. I forgot to give the link in that last post. Here it is:

CD liner notes

4:47 pm  
Blogger RC said...

Kreg, thanks for the scan. I had little problem reading it. It's too bad it doesn't really elaborate on the details relating to the actual recording. But it's nice to see the original text. Thanks.

B, thanks for leaving a message.

4:55 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I mention this audio gem in a recent essay in the June 2007 edition of My essay is called "The Joy of Audiobooks" and I finish up with my experience of listening to HM read his own work.

9:59 pm  
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9:21 pm  

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