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."
"(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").