The Male Mystique of Henry Miller


Credit Illustration by Joe Ciardiello


NYT Book Review

When Miller sailed for Paris, he had a copy of “Leaves of Grass” in his luggage.

He left behind him an ex-wife and small daughter for whom he had made no provision, and a current wife, June, who was his lover, muse and banker, until Anaïs Nin in Paris was able to take over those essential roles.

Turner never troubles himself or the reader with questions about Miller’s emotional and financial dependency on women. Miller was obsessed with masculinity but felt no need to support himself or the women in his life. Turner sympathizes with the Miller who must sell his well-cut suits on the streets of Paris for a fraction of their worth, but is apparently indifferent to the fact that June was selling her body on his ­behalf.

Indeed, Turner tells us that Miller had to endure “the most awful humiliation a man might suffer.” This, presumably, is June’s lesbian affair, one she brought home to their apartment, so much so that Miller wrote a novel, “Lovely Lesbians,” one of his lifelong rants against women, written around the same time as “Moloch,” his rant against Jews.

Miller realized with these failed novels that hatred alone was not enough to sustain a work of fiction. He had plenty of hatred, toward Jews, foreigners and especially America, the newfound land that had spoiled itself and a once-in-a-species opportunity to really begin again.

For Miller, Turner writes, America was “more mercenary than the meanest whore.” This is an ugly image, and while it is certainly true of Miller’s mind, it seems indicative of Turner’s own unconscious thinking. But it usefully presents us with the fused object of Miller’s hatred: the body politic of America will be worked over and revenged through the body of Woman.

Miller had attended political meetings as a young man, but he was uninterested in political activism — and when the war broke out, he left Paris to return to America. Not for him the heroics of Resistance. Yet his lifelong pose was as a warrior fighting with homemade weapons against an indifferent, crushing industrial machine for which nothing mattered but profit and every­thing was for sale.

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Gaylord Guenin, the ultimate ‘Woody Creature,’ passes on

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Gaylord up to his usual comedic antics.
Stephen Collector photo credit.

Gaylord Guenin — the longtime voice of Woody Creek and the co-author of a definitive book on pre-Paepcke Aspen history — died Sunday afternoon, according to multiple friends.

Guenin was a longtime writer and editor who happily retreated to Woody Creek and Lenado after he lost his comfort zone in Aspen.

Guenin was an instrumental character in the Mountain Gazette magazine in the 1970s and later wrote the “Letter From Woody Creek” column for The Aspen Times, writing from the perspective of “Woody Creatures.”

He also was a bartender and manager of the Woody Creek Tavern when it was the frequent haunt of Hunter S. Thompson.

“There was really nobody like him,” said longtime friend Frank Peters. “He was utterly irascible and quintessentially sweet.”

Guenin forever etched a place in Aspen history by co-authoring “Aspen: The Quiet Years” with Kathleen Daily. The 1994 book chronicled the rich heritage of Aspen life after the silver boom was long gone but before the post-World War II rebirth as a ski resort. Guenin and Daily interviewed scores of Aspen residents, most of them seniors, with family ties back to the mining era.

“That was a timeless piece of work,” said Guenin’s longtime friend, George Stranahan, who founded the Mountain Gazette in Aspen with Guenin at the helm in the 1970s. “He was a really good writer-editor.”

Friends helped Guenin move to the Woody Creek trailer park from Lenado two years ago while he was dealing with various ailments. Stranahan said Guenin passed peacefully. “It was just old age,” he said. Guenin was in his 80s.

Guenin was regularly encountered outside his cabin by anyone who passed through Lenado during the warm-weather months. Peters said Guenin trained his dogs to chase motorcycles that went by. Guenin smoke Pall Mall cigarettes though he once stopped because he feared his dogs would suffer from secondhand smoke.

He was a keen observer of life in Woody Creek-Lenado and frequently wrote in his column about developments that affected the area as well as Aspen politics.

“Over the years I have made a concerted effort to disassociate myself from Aspen, which is less than seven miles from my beloved Woody Creek,” he wrote in an April 2009 column. “That was the problem — I slowly discovered I enjoyed Woody Creek and its easy, rural character more than the endless energy of Aspen.”

Guenin was a key figure in helping Stranahan and others establish the Woody Creek Tavern in 1980. In a 2005 article in The Aspen Times, he recalled that people were reluctant to visit the watering hole in the early days.

“When this place first started, people were afraid to come in. It had a rough reputation,” Guenin said in the 2005 article. “We still had the working cattle ranches around here, so we had the cowboys (coming to the tavern). It was dark and it was out of the way. The people in town and families weren’t comfortable.”

He worked there in various capacities for 10 years, then took a leave of absence to write the book. He wrote in a column that he found he couldn’t return to the tavern, at least not as a worker.

Former Aspen Times editor and publisher Loren Jenkins recruited Guenin to write a column for the paper.

“He represented the old Aspen that doesn’t exist anymore,” Jenkins said.

Guenin told it like he saw it and didn’t care about ruffling the establishment’s feathers — be it Aspen Skiing Co., the county commissioners or neighbors in Woody Creek. His columns had a decidedly liberal bent. One from 2004 was titled, “Global warming: A hoax that is happening.”

Guenin was always game for conversation, quick with a smile and, as Stranahan said, “a gentle person.”

Former Aspen Times editor Andy Stone said he didn’t know Guenin as well as a lot of people but has a definitive memory of him.

“He had a legendary status,” he said.

Remembering Nicanor Parra, the Almost Immortal Chilean Poet ~ The New Yorker


Even in his old age, the poet Nicanor Parra, who died recently, at a hundred and three, had a following that any rock band would envy.

Photograph by GDA / El Mercurio / AP


I met Parra in the early 80’s while wandering around Barrio Bellavista known as Santiago’s bohemian quarter, with restaurants, avant-garde galleries, bars and clubs. Many of the city’s intellectuals and artists lived in Bellavista including Pablo Neruda.  

220px-La_Chascona_Santiago_de_Chile.jpg    Neruda’s house

We met entirely by happenstance near Neruda’s house La Chascona.  I was of course, slightly lost asking directions … we talked a bit then decided to have lunch at a nearby place, Restaurante Zingarella. We shared a carafe or two of vino tinto.  I vaguely knew of him from Billy the Poet, an old friend in the states but meeting Parra was really just dumb luck.  rōbert


“He’s going to die any minute now,” a college classmate of mine said in 1994, when the Chilean poet Nicanor Parra had just turned eighty and we were eighteen. I asked if the poet was sick or something. “When people are eighty, it’s highly probable that they’ll die at any minute,” he replied. We were on campus in Santiago, doing nothing, pretty high. Someone said that there was an event at Cine Arte Alameda to celebrate Parra, and the usual four or five of us headed over—uninvited, of course, but we managed to sneak in. I remember almost nothing about the event. The place was packed. Any rock band would love to have half the fans that Parra did.

Almost a decade later, in 2003, I went to Nicanor’s house in Las Cruces for the first time. I was pretty much uninvited then, too, but Nicanor knew that his friends were bringing with them a professor and aspiring poet, still in his twenties, who was longing to meet him. When people are almost ninety years old, it’s highly probable that they’ll die at any moment, but Nicanor was still going strong.

Conversations with him were always an adventure. They began with an exchange of pennants, followed by a few loose, exploratory phrases that were really his most recent poems, his thoughts from the week. During lunch, he’d talk about the joys of wine, the unbeatable pork roll from Las Cruces, the interesting color of the tomatoes. The best part was the conversation after the meal, when the script would take off in unexpected directions and he didn’t seem to be trying to teach anything, although one always learned a great deal.

The press and the academy demonstrated a persistent, sometimes insistent, interest in digging around in his life, but the truth is that, except for the usual enumeration of children and romances, we know little about Nicanor Parra. His relationship with interviews was complicated. “Every question is an impertinence, an aggression,” he declared, with paradoxical warmth. Sometimes he refused interviews outright; at other times, he would open up with long preambles that led to nothing. But a skilled observer would always leave Nicanor’s house with enough material for a good article. Interviewing Parra, in fact, became a kind of elective but important rite of passage for cultural journalists in Chile.

~~~  READ THE PIECE  ~~~

Four Meals with Jim (Harrison) By John J. Healey ~ Huffington Post

“Fate has never ladled out hardship very evenly, and this frequently trips our often infantile sense of justice.” — Jim Harrison

“We Americans are trained to think big, talk big, act big, love big, admire bigness but then the essential mystery is in the small.” -Jim Harrison


Photo by John Goecke

During my teenage years Joyce and Hemingway drove the train. In my twenties Thomas Wolfe and Marguerite Yourcenar came on board along with Proust, Flaubert, George Eliot, Pynchon and Nathaniel West. But sometime in my thirties I discovered Melville and Jim Harrison. After living many years abroad, they brought me home. One, long deceased, got me there by sea, the other, very much alive, guided me deep into the North American heartland. Both were poets who also wrote prose. Melville’s Ahab cautioned that “The truth shall drive thee mad.” But Jim rested by a river to say, “Love doesn’t conquer all, but it conquers a lot.”

So when Will Hearst invited me to San Francisco to meet Jim three years ago I was excited — and nervous. They were going to make a film about Gary Snyder. Will thought I would be a good choice to direct it but we needed Jim’s approval. Jim flew in from Montana and I was summoned all the way from Spain. The meeting occurred over dinner at a place we each knew well by then, also thanks to Will, the Zuni Café on Market Street. I arrived early and waited at the bar with a glass of wine until the two men came in, turning many heads as they did so. It was basically a Dockers meets Eileen Fisher crowd and these two gentlemen stood out considerably. Will favors an old-world sort of elegance not seen much these days, a la Gary Cooper as Frank Flanagan in Billy Wilder’s Love in the Afternoon. Jim, his one good eye wandering, his deep Upper Michigan Peninsula voice thundering, carried a large American Indian walking stick and wore outdoorsman clothes. Nothing was pressed and all of it was made in the USA, including the leather button-less vest he wore over a T-shirt and the wide, rugged, large-pocketed sport coat.

We were seated immediately. They were fussed over by the wait staff and then the owner. An educated wine discussion took place well over my head and two different bottles of Burgundy were ordered. It was taken for granted the signature roast chicken dish would be the way to go for the three of us. During all of this I did my best to smile and toss in a few positive/humorous comments neither of them paid much attention to. Then, after the first bottle was inaugurated Jim turned to me and said, “So John, why do you live in Spain? Is it for the women?”

An hour later I realized I’d never been grilled with such grace and charm. Apart from Will’s vote of confidence I said two things I suspect helped seal the deal. The only other film I’d made was a documentary about Federico García Lorca, one of Jim’s favorite poets (along with Antonio Machado and Rene Char). He asked me what it was I most liked about Lorca and I said, “His toughness. So many people who read him and who do his plays project sticky sentimentality onto the man, but he was one tough writer with a brilliant mind.” I hoped Jim liked this because he didn’t add anything. Then at one point I took the risk of proclaiming that the only other restaurant I’d been to with roast chicken as good was in Paris at the Rotisserie du Beaujolais, which, it turned out, was one of his favorites. By the time a third bottle was opened he put his hand on my forearm and said, “You’ll do just fine.”

~~~  READ ON  ~~~

Ladies of the Canyons: A League of Extraordinary Women and Their Adventures in the American Southwest by Lesley Poling-Kempes

“If you like women and you like history and adventure read this book” rōbert

WILLA Literary Award, 2016
Reading the West Book Award for Nonfiction, MPIBA
Silver Medal, US History, 2016 IPPY Awards
Western Writers of America Spur Award finalist
Ladies of the Canyons is the true story of remarkable women who left the security and comforts of genteel Victorian society and journeyed to the American Southwest in search of a wider view of themselves and their world.

Educated, restless, and inquisitive, Natalie Curtis, Carol Stanley, Alice Klauber, and Mary Cabot Wheelwright were plucky, intrepid women whose lives were transformed in the first decades of the twentieth century by the people and the landscape of the American Southwest. Part of an influential circle of women that included Louisa Wade Wetherill, Alice Corbin Henderson, Mabel Dodge Luhan, Mary Austin, and Willa Cather, these ladies imagined and created a new home territory, a new society, and a new identity for themselves and for the women who would follow them.

Ladies of the Canyons is the story of New Women stepping boldly into the New World of inconspicuous success, ambitious failure, and the personal challenges experienced by women and men during the emergence of the Modern Age.

 “Poling-Kempes’s command of social history, cultural anthropology, and prehistorical archaeology is evident throughout this volume. The lives depicted in “Ladies of the Canyons” is yet another narrative of lives well lived and a reminder that no person is an island.” — Canadian Journal of Archaeology
 “Poling-Kempes is an experienced writer of both history and fiction, and deftly weaves a clear and engaging narrative from what could have become an overwhelming barrage of people, places, and events”–The Journal of Arizona History

“This book fills an important niche in the history of the Southwest”– New Mexico Historical Review

“The members of her ‘league of extraordinary women’ come together in the Southwest much like the members of television’s A-Team assemble for their maverick adventures”–Western Historical Quarterly

Posthumously Published ‘Sea Maiden’ Affirms Denis Johnson’s Eternal Voice


Author Denis Johnson, pictured here in 2013, died in May of 2017. The new posthumously published collection, The Largesse of the Sea Maiden, features five of Johnson’s short stories.

Cindy Lee Johnson/Courtesy of Random House


Denis Johnson’s posthumous short story collection, The Largesse of the Sea Maiden,is full of last calls to his readers signaling, “Hurry up please, it’s time.” Take these eerie sentences spoken by the narrator of a story called “Triumph Over the Grave”:

It’s plain to you that at the time I write this, I’m not dead. But maybe by the time you read it.

Of course, those sentences leap off the page because Johnson himself is now dead, carried off by liver cancer in May of 2017 at the age of 67.

Johnson always named Walt Whitman as one of his core influences and you can hear Whitman throughout this whole collection. Like those direct addresses to his future readers that Whitman scatters throughout Leaves of Grass, Johnson, in these stories, anticipates talking across the abyss that separates the quick from the dead.

In his gritty way, Johnson was a believer in transcendence. His 1992 collection of linked short stories, Jesus’ Son, which many critics and readers have anointed as his masterpiece, is about junkies and losers, crashing their way along American highways, searching for redemption and finding it — sort of.

The five stories in this new collection are stand-alones, but they all share an explicit awareness that Death is in the neighborhood. Most of these stories are terrific, and two — the first and the last — are out-of-this-world.


~~~  READ/LISTEN  ~~~

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The Story Of How Otis Redding’s ‘Dock Of The Bay’ Got Released


Otis Redding’s posthumous hit “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” was released 50 years ago today. But it almost never got out of the recording studio.

~~~  LISTEN  ~~~


This year marks 50 years since Otis Redding died. He’d ignited the crowd at the Monterey Pop Festival in the summer of 1967; later that year, he and his band were en route to a show in Madison, Wisc., when their plane hit rough weather and crashed in an icy lake. Redding was 26 years old.

Half a century later, Redding’s influence as a singer and spirit of soul music remains. Author Jonathan Gould, who’s written a new biography called Otis Redding: An Unfinished Life, joined NPR’s Scott Simon to discuss the singer’s relatively short, yet profoundly impactful career. Hear their conversation at the audio link, and read on for an edited transcript.


~~~  READ  ~~~


Nixon’s Manhunt For The High Priest Of LSD In ‘The Most Dangerous Man In America’


Dr. Timothy Leary, an advocate for LSD, working at his desk.

Hulton Archive/Getty Images


In the early 1970s, with a counter-cultural revolution in full swing, an unlikely figure became the No. 1 enemy of the state — Timothy Leary, the so called “High Priest of LSD.” Leary was a former Harvard psychologist who left the ivory tower behind to spread the gospel of psychedelics. After breaking out of a California prison, he went on the run, sparking a madcap manhunt for a bumbling fugitive.

Steven L. Davis and Bill Minutaglio’s new book asks if Leary really was “the most dangerous man in America,” as President Richard Nixon claimed. The story follows Leary as he hops from country to country, trying to stay one step ahead of the Nixon administration.

“He’s kind of, you know, a Mr. Magoo on acid, if you will,” Minutaglio says. “He’s just tripping his way through life, and circumstances happen. He opens one door and then plummets nine stories but somehow or other lands on a trampoline and goes to another floor.”


He’s a 50-year-old, middle-aged guy, not in the greatest shape in the world, and he manages to escape from a pretty strong security prison in California by dangling over a wire — a telephone wire — and pulling himself out of the prison that many others tried to escape from. He gets picked up by underground activists, he puts on a disguise that allows him to escape the country, including using fake passports, and then embeds himself in the most unlikely way with extremely scary, dangerous, tending toward violence, members of the Black Panther Party who are living in exile in Algeria, of all places. … He escapes to Europe and then suddenly turns into this other sort of wild, living above the cloud-line, European aristocrat experience, where he’s hanging out with Andy Warhol, royalty … Allen Ginsburg shows up for a split second. His life was — you know, in our acknowledgements in the book, the first line says, “We’d like to thank Timothy Leary for leading a very interesting life.”

On why Nixon viewed Leary as the ‘most dangerous man in America’

You know, a lot of people had called Nixon that, so maybe he was doing some diversionary politics there. Nixon needed a poster child — someone to vilify in his burgeoning war on drugs.


‘Spalding Gray,’ the Color? It’s a Long Story ~ NYT


I took that water glass after his performance years ago in Santa Fe and have it on my kitchen shelf.. rÕbert


This is a story about a man, a dog, a color and the name they share. Hang on. We’ll get there.

The Man

Spalding Gray did not originate monologue as theater, but he perfected and popularized the form; in one-man performances like “Swimming to Cambodia” and “The Terrors of Pleasure,” his onstage props were a desk, a glass of water and a mic. With those he dazzled. “He took the anarchy and illogic of life and molded it into something we could grab a hold of,” said the actor and fellow monologuist Eric Bogosian. Gray received widespread recognition when the movie version of “Swimming to Cambodia” was directed by Jonathan Demme and released in 1987. This year marks 30 years of his fame. Particularly during the 1980s, Gray was the embodiment of wit and self-awareness to a certain breed of urban male. As one friend put it, “I took a lot of first dates to his shows, figuring that if she loved Spalding Gray, she would love me.”


Gray’s former Sag Harbor cottage, repainted in his honor. Credit, Cole Wilson for The New York Times

Sadly, Gray had a history of family depression — his mother killed herself at 52 — and he ruminated frequently about suicide in his work. His depression deepened following a ghastly, disfiguring car accident in 2001 in Ireland, and then there was the horror of the World Trade Center attack. “Real life has always let me down,” he once said. “That’s why I do the monologues. I have always said I would rather tell a life than live a life. But I have to live a life in order to tell one.“ He finished living that life in January 2004, at age 62, when he vanished; in March his body was pulled out of the East River. It is believed he jumped off the side of the Staten Island Ferry.

The Dog

John Williams is an architect from Cleveland, and has always been an ardent fan of Spalding Gray’s performances. “I was just struck by everything: his writing, his delivery, his presence,” he said in an interview.

Mr. Williams also happened to be a fan of Weimaraners, a dog breed which, let’s face it, looks like it was designed by an architect — all angles and sleekness and graceful lines. When he and his then-wife Marcie Goodman, the executive director of the Cleveland International Film Festival, got their first Weimaraner in the early ’90s, they took one look at that magnificent gray coat and named him Spalding Gray. “He was our fur child,” Mr. Williams said. “He had the best nature and soul I’ve ever experienced in a dog.”

 The canine Spalding Gray was also a local celebrity even in the years before Instagram. Ms. Goodman always worked Spalding and eventually his brother, Jackson (Brown — do you sense a theme?) into her film festival guides. Mr. Williams listed Spalding (and eventually his other Weimaraners) as staff members on his company website. Because the dogs hung out in Mr. Williams’s office all day, a number of clients would point to them and say, ‘Can you paint my wall that color?” “It was a surprisingly frequent request,” Mr. Williams adds.

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