Saturday, January 21, 2006

Henry Rollins On Henry Miller

"I read Henry Miller and I never wanted to sleep again."
---- Henry Rollins

In 1998, punk-rocker/writer/actor/spoken word performer Henry Rollins published an anthology called The Best of 2.13.61, in which appears excerpts of letters from Henry Miller to Brenda Venus.

Rollins began his life in the spotlight as a member of the California punk band Black Flag. During this period, he began his own small press, 2.13.61 Publications, as a means to distribute his own writings. Around this same time, fellow musician Lydia Lunch made a reading suggestion to Rollins:

ROLLINS: "[Lydia said] 'I think you’ll like this guy,' and I’d heard of Henry Miller, but I never had read him. And she gave me Black Spring, which I devoured and that book was hugely influential to me. And like I said before, I had never read anything that brave, and his bravery and his lust for life that comes through in the writing was just so strengthening to me. It just, I don’t know, really gave me a big shot in the arm.
(in an interview on

In Rollins' 1994 memoir, Get In The Van: On The Road With Black Flag, a published diary excerpt from 1984 makes reference to this experience: "I read Black Spring by Henry Miller for a few hours today. This is the coolest book I have ever read." As the book progresses, we see Rollins grow into a big Miller fan, collecting his books from various cities while on tour.

In Black Coffee Blues, (1997) Rollins described Miller's place in his daily life during these years: "I rarely went on the road without one of Miller's books in my backpack. A man I never met kept me company and became my traveling companion and friend."

Years later, he was visiting his mother's house and "I pulled off The Smile at the Foot of the Ladder by Henry Miller from her shelf. I was a big Henry Miller fan, but never had seen this edition. She said, 'I bought this from him at an art opening.' I said, 'Mom, you met Henry Miller?' She said, 'Yeah, and he hit me up for money.' " (Cincinnati CityBeat - Jan 19, 2005.)

While putting together a collection of writings for Best of 2.13.61, Rollins was made aware that the publishing rights to Dear, Dear Brenda--the collection of Miller letters to his young girlfriend, Brenda Venus--were coming up for option (the son of the original publisher was also a friend of Rollins). Here's how Rollins tells it in his Modern Word interview:

"[My friend] says, 'Well, you’re going to have to talk to Brenda.' I said, 'Okay,' and I had a meeting with Brenda, and she was incredibly cool – we’re still friends. I said, 'Let’s do this. But let’s make it unique. Let’s do something different with the book, let’s go through some of Miller’s letters and let’s see if we can add something to the book to make it different than the previous version.'

"So I went to her house one day, and had this amazing afternoon of going through six-inch thick file boxes of letters, written in like a flair pen on a legal pad. It was incredible. In one of them – she was an aspiring actress – she said, “I’m trying to get you a meeting with Coppola, but he’s in the jungle shooting some movie with Marlon Brando.” Like, oh my God! And that letter went in the book."

This interview was conducted in November 2005. But this story of easy acquision sounds quite different from the press conference Rollins gave in Toronto in 1996, two years before he re-printed the Venus letters.

"All of a sudden Brenda Venus called up and went "You don't own the rights to that book. I own the rights to that book." So Josh [Sindell] called me up and said "Ummm... I don't own those rights anymore. I just out. I got a very angry call from Brenda. Ummm... Here's Brenda's number if you want to talk to her." I called up Brenda. Went and had lunch with her. Brought her to my house. Showed her my Henry Miller collection. She said "My, you really like Henry don't you?" I went "Yeah man, he's the man." "Well you love Henry Miller so much, and you're an exceptional young man. I think it'd be wonderful to have Henry's book come out on your label."

And so we did it. And I went through the letters with her. There's 1400 letters of histhat she has. And she threw about five inches of them in my lap one day at her apartment.. Ijust went through these letters. And we found another twenty, thirty pages of stuff to put at theend of the book. So there's unreleased Miller stuff in this new edition. So that was lucky."

Still a happy ending, but probably much more accurate.

The photograph of Rollins with the microphone was taken by Steven Sandick. I found no credits for the other photos. The Rollins Toronto press conference was originally transcribed by Steve Wicary.


Blogger Blue Collared Snob said...

Henry Rollins was the man that put me onto Miller in the mid-90's. I was in my early 20's trolling for interesting books and Rollins mentions Miller so many times that I just bit and bought Tropic of Cancer and have been hooked ever since.

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