Saturday, January 07, 2006

Henry Miller And Bob Dylan

PLAYBOY: Do you think you have a purpose and a mission?
BOB DYLAN: Henry Miller said it: The role of an artist is to inoculate the world with disillusionment.
------- Bob Dylan in a Playboy interview, March 1966
I like Bob Dylan well enough, but I wouldn't say I'm a fan. The cultural mania to revere his every word and act seems like a trumped-up fuss to me. I suppose I could be accused of doing the same for Henry Miller, and I guess they'd be right. To each his/her own idol. But there's no denying the influence Dylan has had on pop culture and his significant role as an icon.

It's no little wonder that the ego that is Dylan and the ego that is Miller did not click when the two men met in October 1963.

Bob Dylan discovered the writing of Henry Miller in his younger days. In the same Playboy interview quoted above, he states: "I like Henry Miller. I think he's the greatest American writer." This appreciation was likely the catalyst for his visit to Henry Miller's house on Ocampo Drive in the Pacific Palisades in October 1963.

In 1963, Joan Baez was riding a career high. Dylan had just released The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan and was skyrocketing in popularity. Baez and Dylan met that year and played several concerts together. How the visit with Miller came about, I can only guess that Miller was brought up in conversation and Baez, who grew up in California, mentioned she knew where to find him. [Baez and Dylan pictured above in Sept 1963].
After Dylan (then 23) played a show one day in October (after the Hollywood Bowl show on October 9th?), Joan Baez and her sister brought Bob to meet Henry Miller. In the 1966 Playboy interview, Dylan describes the meeting like this: "Yeah, I met him. Years ago. Played ping-pony [sic] with him." In the early 70's, Miller recounted the meeting in more detail:
"You know, Bob Dylan came to my house ten years ago. Joan Baez and her sister brought him and some friends to see me. But Dylan was snooty and arrogant. He was a kid then, of course. And he didn't like me. He thought I was talking down to him, which I wasn't. I was trying to be sociable. But we just couldn't get together. But I know that he is a character, probably a genius, and I really should listen to his work. I'm full of prejudices like everybody else. My kids love him and the Beatles and all the rest."
The following year, Dylan released the album Another Side Of Bob Dylan, the liner notes of which contained several Dylan poems. One of them makes reference to the Miller meeting:
henry miller stands on other sideof ping pong table an' keepstalkin' about me. "did you askthe poet fellow if he wantssomething t' drink" he says t'someone gettin' all the drinks.i drop my ping pong paddlean' look at the pool. my worstenemies don't even put me downin such a mysterious way.
In 1966, Dylan still had Miller on his mind when he wrote the prose poem Tarantula, in which he writes in a stream-of-consciousness manner of the Beats, or, going back further, Henry Miller. Briefly in Tarantula, a character is confused about who Henry Miller is, to which Dylan's narrator explains: "he's a cavedweller-he's an artist-he writes about God."
In an interview with NME in July 1981, Dylan was asked what he thought about his Miller quote in the Playboy interview: did he still agree with it?
"(Laughs) That's pretty good for Henry Miller... maybe that would be good for what he wanted to do. Maybe that's the purpose of his art [...] What I do is more of an immediate thing; to stand up on stage and sing - you get it back immediately."
Even in Bob Dylan's senior years, Henry Miller seems like a ghostly wire inside the language portion of his brain. Reviewing Dylan's recent autobiography Chronicles, Rolling Stone magazine compared it to "Henry Miller's best personal writings." Uh..... I don't think so. Hey, I'm full of prejudices like everybody else.
In the banner art: Miller photo credited to Whitnah (1961), Dylan photo to Eugene Smith (1965), psychadelic Dylan graphic to Martin Sharp, and the blue face was painted by Henry Miller ("Mon Ami").


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for your hard work! Interesting stuff. I just found your cite today but will come back often.

2:21 pm  
Blogger RC said...

Thanks Anonymous.

6:21 pm  
Anonymous Eric said...

I am actually a huge Bob Dylan fan. But "Chronicles" is written quite poorly, besides focusing on the most boring parts of Dylan's life, and comparing it to Miller is bizarre. It just ain't so in any way.

8:49 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's not fair to compare Chronicles, a rock memoir, to Henry Miller, or chastise Dylan for arrogance, I'd be fecking scared if i met either of the great men! I once met Johnny Depp in a public toilet and was deeply affected for 2 or 3 days afterwards. Great site by the way, nice one

8:20 pm  
Anonymous said...

Great post. I'm a fan of both though leaning more towards Dylan.

Here's some more connections that might be interesting First a possible reference by Dylan:

"I feel like putting her in a wheel barrow and wheeling her down the street" (Dylan / Things Have Changed)

"Sometimes he's d stand her on her hands and push her around the room that way, like a wheelbarrow." (Henry Miller / Tropic of Capricorn)

It's not really an image to have been arrived at coincidentally by two different persons. There's also an interview with Miller in "Conversations with Henry Miller", in which the interviewer suggests that Dylan's songwriting style is partly derived from Miller's surreal writings (f.e. "Into the Night Life"), and in "Black Spring" there is a piece called "My Dream of Mobile", which bears a slight similarity to Dylan's "To be stuck inside of Mobile with the Memphis blues again". Finally, one of Miller's biographers suggests that the real inheritor of Miller's tendency to reference both high and low works of art and culture, on a purely personal basis, is Bob Dylan.

5:24 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting images come to mind here. Being a long time fan of both (me 57 years) I can only imagine a result of high egos (I mean no disrespect or judgement), not necessarily in conflict but maybe (famous) artists who just met feel a need to get the most rise out of one another... Maybe the setup was enhanced by other (also famous) artists doing the introductions. A little sad if a misunderstanding - but maybe not if they both thought about it for so many years afterward. (Anonymous makes it feel real with the story of J.P. in the W.C.): I would not want to famous.

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