Henry Miller In Rock
In a recent article in The Times (U.K.), Barry Miles has suggested that it’s possible that Paul McCartney had Henry Miller or Hubert Selby “at the back of his mind” when he wrote the line “the dirty story of a dirty man” in The Beatles’ “Paperback Writer.” Miles attributes this to the fact that a young McCartney had worked at his London bookshop, Indica Books, where they “had imported American paperback copies of a number of popular titles that were not yet published in Britain: these included Henry Miller's Sexus and Hubert Selby's Last Exit to Brooklyn.” Of course, the lyrics don’t hold up that this is Miller, as it mentions that this “dirty man” has a “clinging wife” and a son “working at the Daily Mail.” John Lennon, apparently, was a Miller fan. A biographer writes that, when Lennon was at art school, he and one-time Beatle Stu Sutcliffe (who died at age 21) used to “sit for hours at Ye Cracke discussing Henry Miller and Kerouac and the ‘beat’ poets, Corso and Ferlinghetti …”  “We used to go to Paris,/ and everybody would buy Henry Miller books,” wrote Lennon in a poem called “On Censorship And Henry Miller,” which is posted as a Miller tribute on Valentine Miller’s website (although I couldn’t identify the source or context for this poem). In the end, it would be ludicrous of me to suggest that Miller really had much influence at all on The Beatles, especially since they didn’t honour him as one of the collage of famous people on the cover of the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band LP (yet they chose comedian Max Miller—the nerve!)
Although Dylan never wrote any songs about Henry, he was inspired by him and wrote about him in a couple of his free-form poems. See my full posting about Miller and Dylan.
As with Dylan, I’m not sure of any songs directly about Miller, but punk rocker Henry Rollins is a huge fan who speaks and writes about Henry a lot. See my posting about Miller and Rollins.
Country Joe and the Fish
“Hungry Miller & the Hungry World” (instrumental) is just one of the songs composed by Country Joe and the Fish, for the soundtrack to the 1970 film adaptation of Quiet Days in Clichy. The title track song opens with the lyrics, “Come on people and listen to me, I'll tell you the story of Carl and Joey, The girls they fucked and the women they laid, This is the story of the love they made.” The sequel to this song contains all of the expletives one might find in a few Miller novels (and which the filmmakers exploit with glee), along with French accordion and a chorus of “Oh quiet days in Clichy, Oh quiet days in Clichy.” Add a song about Henry waiting for “Mara,” and you have a group of songs more explicitly about Henry Miller than anywhere else. On the DVD edition of the Quiet Days In Clichy film, there is an interview with Country Joe about the writing of these songs. You can buy the songs right now on iTunes, if you like (if you're already registered with them).
Country Joe records may not be flying off the shelves these days, but you can be sure that alt.country rockers Wilco still draw the adoration of thousands of fans. How else to explain how a band can get away with putting out a book? The Wilco Book (2004) helped explosed Wilco fans to Henry Miller with its inclusion of Miller’s art essay, The Angel is My Watermark, along with some of his paintings. Front man Jeff Tweedy told RES magazine about his reason to include it; how it reminds him that they, as artists, are just “making shit up,” shifting the “burden of importance” onto the critics. The Wilco band biography, Wilco: Learning How To Die (Greg Kot, 2004), mentions that Tweedy carried Tropic Of Cancer around with him for eight years. Tweedy approached their album Summerteeth (1999) like a Miller “autobiographical novel” [p. 137], quoting Miller from his Books in My Life, where he states that he is not interested in the “flimsy truth of facts” but instead the “truth of emotion, reflection and understanding, truth digested and assimilated” [Books, p.169; Wilco, p. 138]. In 2004, the Wilco album A Ghost is Born contained a song called “Hummingbird.” Miller is alluded to in the title (for his essay collection, Stand Still Like The Hummingbird), and in the lyrics, which drop lines like “His goal in life was to be an echo,” and “Remember to remember me.”
...And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead
Jason Reece is a member of the Austin band named above (Trail of Dead for short). In interviews, he sometimes talks up Miller, as he did in this 2001 NME Q+A: “When he wrote, he wrote from the gut, he was very visceral. He acted on impulse, but also analysed things, delved in to the truth of the matter. He wanted to feel life.” The following year, Henry’s mug ended up on the back of (and right on the disk of) Trail Of Dead’s album Source Tags & Codes.
A verse from Jewel’s “Morning Song” (from 1995’s Pieces Of You) goes, “You can be Henry Miller and I'll be Anais Nin, Except this time it'll be even better, We'll stay together in the end, Come on darlin', let's go back to bed.” Can’t find anything with Jewel talking about Henry, but clearly she knew something about his biography.
In a Newsday interview with Rafer Guzman from September 13, 2007, Interpol vocalist and guitarist Paul Banks had the following to say: “[Henry Miller] is my absolute favorite. There's a kindred spiritship to it. It's not about his craft or anything. I just identify with his tone."
Mission Of Burma
Post-punk outfit Mission Of Burma named their song “That’s When I Reach for My Revolver” from a Henry Miller essay. The tune appeared on their 1981 EP, Signals, Calls & Marches, and was later covered by bands such as Catherine Wheel and Moby. Bassist/singer Clint Conley admitted in a Jim DeRogatis interview that he “cribbed it from Henry Miller." In Miller’s “When I Reach for My Revolver,” (published in Stand Still Like The Hummingbird), he begins by stating that he had cribbed it himself from John Dudley, who had once “chalked up over my door: “"When I hear the word Culture, that's when I reach for my revolver"." Both Mission of Burma’s Conley and (I assume) Miller did not realize until later that the quote was popularized by (if not originated with) Nazi swine Hermann Göring.
There are a few more minor references, i.e. a Montreal band called Villa Borghese, and a woman named Danielle Lubené with a song called "My Henry Miller." Feel free to add any other references to Miller in Rock in the Comments section. There is also a posting about references to Henry Miller in the Popular Culture, which is still accepting new discoveries.