Friday, April 17, 2009

The Santa Fe Social Pages

About half-way through Henry Miller’s American road-trip, which was to become The Air-Conditioned Nightmare, he stayed over in New Mexico for a short stay. It was April 1941. Only a few weeks earlier, Henry had returned to the South, after having interrupted his adventure and flown to New York due to the death of his father. He hoped for a “pleasant and picturesque” stay in New Mexico [1], as his 1932 Buick sedan rolled him towards his new destination.

On April 12, 1941, Henry wrote to Anais Nin from Sante Fe, NM. He had recently been in Santa Rosa, where he mailed her a letter and bought a new pair of shoes, as his old pair was practically coming apart off his feet. He arrived in Sante Fe in the morning, anxious to receive more money through Western Union, since he only had $5 left. “Can't say yet what I think of Santa Fe. It's 7200 ft. high and makes you very nervous. I'm jumpy. The last 300 miles were quite grueling.” [2]

On April 19th, he writes Anais from Albuquerque, where he is thinking of staying on for a week. “Can work in peace here,” he states. “This place in itself is nil. They tell me Taos is fine” [4]

“On the license plates in New Mexico it reads: ‘The Land of Enchantment’. And that it is, by God!” writes Miller in Air-Conditioned Nightmare [p.239]. Once he hits Tucumcari, the desert terrain disorients him: “there is nothing but enchantment, sorcery, illusionismus, phantasmagoria.” He goes on to describe the general area shared by Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona as “the land of the Indian par excellence. Everything is hypnagogic, chthonian and super-celestial.” In New Mexico, Henry has found that he “cough[ed] like hell” due to the dust in the atmosphere [3].

1941 New Mexico license plate. Source: Plate Depot
Beyond these things, Miller has left very little behind about his fleeting experience in New Mexico. But his stay was enough to make the Santa Fe social pages. Under the “Village Gossip” column of the Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper, for April 26, 1941, there is mention that Miller is “coming back” to Santa Fe (his original arrival was April 12th). This is possible. But, by April 30th, he was posting letters to Anais from Arizona [4].
The Santa Fe New Mexican column mentions that Miller has recently come from Europe and Greece, and quotes him as saying “the present way of life, which is America’s, is doomed as surely as that of Europe.” The quote would appear in The Colossus of Maroussi [p.236] when it is first published in October 1941 [5]. The paper could not have the book yet, but offers this clue as to its source: “Mr. Miller has four columns in the special section called ‘American Writing’ in the April 21 issue of the ‘New Republic.’ It is entitled ‘A Peroration to a Book on Greece.’ Mr. Miller points to the wonderful effect a visit to Greece had upon him.” [this essay appeared in New Republic just as the column says, and is listed under Shifreen & Jackson as C87].

While in Santa Fe, Henry apparently made the acquaintance of newspaper writer Brian Boru Dunne, if his gossip column in 1945 is any indication. “Miller … is an interesting writer, who visited Santa Fe about three years ago, after he got out of Crete and Greece” (Santa Fe New Mexican, March 16, 1945, p.6). “He told me how he dodged the chief of police in Crete, fearing he would be asked about passports he did not possess. Later, Miller discovered the chief of police had been requested by Mother England to show him about. Miller might have saved $100 to $200 in taxi fares if he had not been so suspicious, Miller wrote eloquently in ‘Colossus of Maroussi,’ about his visit to Greece.” Dunne implies that Miller told him this story himself. It would not have been hard for Miller to have found Brian Boru Dunne in Sante Fe. He appears to have worn a hat like a dandy, and pursued every female in Sante Fe, giving them gold watches he bought in bulk for cheap: “BB Dunne gained fame as the town's society reporter and all-round eccentric” [6].

At left: The header graphic used for Brain Boru Dunne's social column.
Dunne mentions Miller’s new book, “The Murderer,” whose title he finds “disagreeable.” Maybe he would have appreciated it more if he named it correctly: Murder The Murderer, a 70-page book published in October 1944, and subtitled “An Excursus on War from ‘The Air-Conditioned Nightmare’” (not then released). Dunne goes on to complain: “Unfortunately for this Villager, Miller forgot to send a copy—merely sent a publisher’s blurb with two big-lettered words, ‘Cash’ and ‘Charge.’ It would require a plumber’s income to buy all the books brought to the attention of this columnist. Miller is now living in Big Sur, Calif., and he asks: ‘What do you know about the magazine Circle?’ Frankly, this is one magazine I have missed.” Throughout 1944, Miller’s essays and artwork had appeared in a new magazine called Circle.

“Miller is a super-sensitive writer,” continues Dunne. “[He] could not sleep in a room at a hotel in Lourdes as he wondered: 'Who has occupied this room, and which of the 500 diseases left germs in that wallpaper?'” Miller, accordingly dressed, and shoes in hand, tiptoed down to lobby. Slept on two chairs and 'beat it' out of Lourdes.”

The Air-Conditioned Nightmare was first published in December 1945. Miller, “a Santa Fe visitor some time ago,” once again appears in the Santa Fe New Mexican gossip page ("Paso Por Aqui"), on February 1, 1946. Instead of giving Nightmare a proper review, the anonymous author chose to quote a negative “slating” the book had received from the New York Times, by Bernard De Voto: “Miller’s dissatisfaction with America [would be] understandable in the Twenties, but ‘in 1946 it looks less like young innocence and youthful idealism than arrested development.’”
The Santa Fe is quoting De Voto’s “Mr. Miller's Chthonian Nightmare,” New York Times, January 27, 1946.
[1] Miller, Henry, and Anais Nin. 1965. Letters to Anais Nin. Ed. Gunther Stuhlmann: p.246; [2] ibid: p. 247; [3] Miller, Henry, and Anais Nin. 1987. A Literate Passion. Ed. Gunther Stuhlmann: p.326; [4] Letters to Anais Nin (1965), p.256; [5] Shifreen & Jackson. Bibliography of Primary Sources, Vol. 1: Item A26a; [6] La Farge, John Pen. Turn Left at the Sleeping Dog: p.109-110.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Vintage Miller

In 1996, the Kenwood winery of Kenwood, California, released a Cabernet Sauvignon with a watercolour painting by Henry Miller on the bottle’s label. The painting, “Clown” was part of the vineyards’ Artist Series that began in 1978. Miller had approved the use of his artwork shortly before he died in 1980.
In 1973, Miller painted two pictures of clowns, apparently referred to as “Clown A” and “Clown B” [1]. One clown is described by Miller as having the “head up and turned backward.” The other is described as the “most famous one,” which he had in his personal possession in 1979 [2]. In a letter dated 2/14/79, Miller is not sure which is A or B—neither am I. But the “famous” clown—now seemingly referred to as “Le Clown”(1, 2)—seems most certainly the one featured on the bottle of Kenwood wine. This image is widely available today as a lithographic print. In 1978, Miller had won first prize for this painting at the Tel Aviv International Art Fair [3].

(see Karl Orend’s Henry Miller’s Angelic Clown for an explanation of Miller’s interest in clowns, which were featured in his Smile At the Foot of the Ladder.)

Sometime after the Israeli award in 1978, and before February 1979, Miller received a letter from a vinyard owner named Marty Lee. Lee was co-founder of Kenwood winery in 1970, along with his brother Mike, college roomate John Sheela and winemaker Bob Kozlowski (a brief history). In 1978, to commemorate their first reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (from 1975), they used artwork by California-based artist John Goines. The image of a naked woman lounging on a hilltop was rejected by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms for being “obscene and indecent.” But the “notoriety and rarity of the original design (which was released in a limit of 80 cases) launched the Artist Series in a big way,” states their current website.

I wonder if the issue of censorhsip is what brought Henry Miller to the minds of the Kenwood team. Miller, who was living in Pacific Palisades, was not doing much writing or painting in 1979. His eyesight was failing him in one eye, and had left him blind in another. For this reason, when Marty Lee’s letter arrived to his attention, he had to decline their request for a commission of original artwork for their new Artist Series of wine [4].

On February 9, 1979, Lee wrote Miller again, to suggest an alternative. He asked for permission to use a lithograph of Miller’s “Clown,” which already existed and would be easier on Miller. In exchange for a copy of the lithograph, Lee would offer several cases of wine, plus five cases of the “Clown”-labelled wine once it was bottled—probably not until 1981 or 1982.

In reply, on February 14th, Miller tells Lee that the “proposition sounds OK”---but “God knows if I’ll be alive in ’81 or ’82.” Miller died on June 7, 1980, but the Kenwood winery continued working with Miller’s estate towards the inclusion of his artwork as part of the Artist Series. But it would take another decade before the project was begun.

In October 1992, after a long, cool growing season, Kenwood gathered grapes from the Lindholm and Montecillo vineyards on the hills of Sonoma Valley (details). “It was aged in small French Oak barrels and bottled in March 1995," after being blended with Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Unlike previous Artist Series wines, this one was held off market a year longer than usual, until Autumn 1996. The recommended drinking time was 2000-2005. According to the wine review website, Snooth, this Miller-labelled batch of wine should be good to drink until 2018.

The 1992 Kenwood Artist Series batch received some high praise (Snooth). Although Miller did not live to sample this particular wine, his opinion of Californian wines in general was not one of high endorsement. In the documentary Dinner With Henry, Miller says “I really don’t care much about California wines, they don’t taste much different, one from another.”

The Kenwood Artist Series continues, with their last edition (bottled in 2006) featuring artist Shepard Fairey, newly famous for his Barack Obama "HOPE" poster.
[1] Facsimilies of some of the correspondance between Lee and Miller was made available on a Kenwood promo flyer in 1996. Lee is the one to refer to a "Clown A" and "Clown B." Miller does not remember which was which; [2] Miller's letter to Lee, dated 2/14/79; [3] This is claimed by Miller in his letter to Lee--I haven't been able to substantiate it otherwise, although his artwork was on exhibition at this Art Fair in Israel; [4] Lee's letter, dated February 7, 1979, in which he is commenting upon a letter I have not seen.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

The Annotated Nexus - Page 60

60.0 Miller recounts several details about living with Stasia in the basement, including secret meetings in her room with Mona, her poems, wall painting, and wrestling. Sometimes he would go out to meet with a friend like Osiecki or Curley, to avoid the basement’s “loony atmosphere.”

60.1 a benefactor
Henry is asked sometimes to leave the basement apartment so that Mona and Stasia can entertain a “benefactor”“who brought a supply of groceries or who left a check on the table.” The women would use various kinds of secret communication to discuss these arrangements without Henry’s knowledge. See 51.1 about the allusion that Mona and Stasia sometimes used sex to raise money.

60.2 the poems Stasia wrote
Miller comments that Stasia’s poetry has been becoming “more and more unintelligible.” On page 48 (48.3), Miller makes reference to Stasia (Jean Kronski) writing poetry. In Nexus: The International Henry Miller Journal, volume 4, Karl Orend presents two poems attributed to Jean Kronski, including one that was published in the Paris edition of the Chicago Tribune.

60.3 Rimbaud’s influence
Jean claims that it may be Arthur Rimbaud’s influence that has made her poetry, in Miller’s eyes, “more and more unintelligible.” “Rimbaud set out to transform his art, and language itself,” writes Penguin Classics of the French poet, “by a systematic ‘disordering of all the senses,’ often with the aid of alcohol and drugs.” In Miller’s study of Rimbaud, to come much later in his life (Time of the Assassins), he criticizes modern poetry (circa the beatnik era): “They justify their impotence by deliberately making themselves unintelligible” [p.59]. On the previous page of Nexus (59), Miller discusses Jean’s interest in Rimbaud.

60.4 Osiecki
A bit of social relief from the happenings in the apartment (including wrestling matches between the women) comes from Miller’s neurotic Canadian friend, Osiecki. We first saw reference of him in Nexus at 9.9. He is portrayed in Plexus, and will appear in an extended scene in Nexus starting on page 133.

60.5 a funeral parlor, a few blocks away
Osiecki takes Henry out for a few beers, to a speakeasy above a nearby funeral parlor. On page 239, Miller will make reference to an “Italian” funeral parlor, but its location is not specified—it may not be the same. According to a Brooklyn directory of undertakers in 1922, a man named Bernard Reilly worked as an undertaker at 9 Henry Street (at Fulton), which was six blocks north of the apartment. I’m not sure that an undertaker’s address necessarily means that a funeral parlor existed there. Nor does it mean that this was the parlor that Miller was talking about.

60.6 wandering about … Hoboken
When Osiecki wasn’t available, Miller would sometimes “forlornly” wander through Hoboken, New Jersey: “I’d try to convince myself that it was an interesting burg.” Perhaps Miller decided to go to Hoboken because it reminded him of the time he and June were married there in 1924. At that time, he’d thought of Hoboken as “a sad, dreary place. A city more foreign to me than Peking or Lhasa” [Sexus, p.452].

60.7 Weehawken
As an alternative to Hoboken, Miller would sometimes visit Weehawken to catch a burlesque show. The town is compared to Hoboken as “another God-forsaken place.” Weehawken, New Jersey borders Hoboken. “Weehawken was then [in the 1920s] a town of 14,000 nestled on the cliffs of the Palisades, and familiar to most New Yorkers only as the other end of a short ferry ride” (Greg Lawrence, Dance With Demons: New York Times excerpt, 2001). I wasn’t able to identify any burlesque houses in Weehawken for this time period.

A postcard of West Hoboken, showing lower Weehawken in 1913. Source:

60.8 continual chanting of love songs
Mona and Stasia’s constant singing (“in Russian, German, even Yiddish”) is one of the things creating a “loony atmosphere” in the basement apartment, which Henry sometimes wants to escape. See 57.4 about Mona and Stasia repeatedly singing Let Me Call You Sweetheart. They sing it again on page 151.

60.9 dreary talk of drugs
Miller also gets tired of Mona and Stasia talking about drugs. Drug use is not something I’ve found much reference to in Miller’s books. According to Anais Nin, June talked often of drugs: “June talked constantly about drugs, like the criminal who returns to the scene of the crime. She needed to mention the subject while violently denying ever taking drugs (two or three times, perhaps).” She then summarizes Henry’s opinion of drug use: “taking drugs denoted a deficiency in one’s nature” [Henry and June: from the unexpurgated diary of Anaïs Nin, p.201].

60.10 caricature of Stasia
Sometimes, when bored, Miller would borrow paint and brushes and make a caricature of Stasia directly onto a wall in the apartment. In response, Stasia (Jean) would make one of Henry. Henry also tells of painting a skull-and-crossbones over Stasia’s door, to which she added an image of a knife. I assume that he borrowed the paints from Stasia (as the active visual artist of the three).

This reference establishes that Miller was at least casually painting in 1926. It would be amazing to somehow find a photograph of this wall caricature, because it would not only let us see an image of “Jean Kronski,” but also reveal an early example of Millers’ painting abilities.

60.11 pearl-handed revolver
As a random point of interest, Miller mentions that Stasia once showed him a small revolver she owned, “just in case.” In screenwriter Bernard Gordon’s memoir, Hollywood Exile (p.12), in which he writes about his wife Jean Lewin’s younger years (I believe that this Jean is at least in part the basis of “Jean Kronski” a.k.a. Stasia), he mentions that Jean left New York with another woman, hitch-hiking to California, dressed as boys. While doing so, they ran into some trouble, remedied by a revolver produced by Jean’s friend. Maybe the gun actually belonged to Jean?

60.12 Polish section of Manhattan
During one of Miller’s local wanderings, he ends up at a pool-hall in the Polish section of Manhattan. As far as I can tell, the traditional Polish neighbourhood of New York is Greenpoint, in Brooklyn, with a couple of others in Queens (see this Newsday article). As for Manhattan itself in the 1920s, all I can really dig up as a possibility is the neighbourhood around St. Stanislaus's Polish Roman Catholic Church, in Seventh Street, between First Avenue and Avenue A” (New York Times, Oct. 15, 1922, p.16). Maybe some of you New Yorkers know better?

60.13 Curley
While in the pool-hall mentioned above, Miller happens to see a young man he knows named “Curley,” who is with a strange young friend just out of prison. They want to go back to Miller’s apartment to hang out. On the subway there, Henry tells Curley about his strained situation with Stasia; Curley reacts as if this is a familiar scenario to him.

In Tropic of Capricorn (pp.111-119), Miller describes his young friend Curley, who applied to Miller as a messenger boy when he was 14, back in Miller’s Western Union days as an employment manager. In Capricorn, Miller states that Curley lives in Harlem, and has no moral sense or shame, which made it easy for him to act as an opportunistic thief. His parents were carnival folk who were always traveling and had no use for him. Henry liked the young lad, but he never trusted him: “He would do anything in the world for me and at the same time betray me” (112).

In Sexus, where Curley makes frequent appearances, Miller describes him twice (pp. 16, 47) as his “little stooge.” Throughout the novel, Curley is mixed-up in Miller’s tangled love life.

Even in Plexus, Curley re-appears. When we last see him (Plexus precedes Nexus chronologically), Henry and Mona try to reason with him to not lead a life of crime, nor to kill the step-father that he loathes (p.521-525). Hearing Miller describe Stasia as an unwanted 'third person' probably reminds Curley of the intrusion of his hated step-father.

In Nexus, the psychopathic Curley will be in the basement apartment for the next couple of pages, fixated on the idea to help Henry “rid” himself of the troublesome Stasia.

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