Everyone knows the classic diss that Capote laid upon Kerouac re: “On The Road,” saying, “that’s not writing; it’s typing.”
You can argue about that ’till the end of time (although it actually is writing), and in the process, acknowledge that the same can be said regarding Henry Miller.
One of the useful talking points we employ at the Library is to tell folks not to approach Miller as a typical “writer” in the classical Dickensian sense. Rather, consider him that brilliant ranting Brooklyn guy chewing your ear off at the end of the bar; his colloquial style, his nuggets of wisdom, his shape-shifting restlessness – that’s how he should be defined. If you bother trying to define him at all.
But we think Henry Rollins describes Miller even more eloquently. Now, yes, you could say we’re squeezing a lot out of this recent interview with Henry Rollins in Bookslut. That’s only because there’s much to be squeezed.
Like this juicy nugget, where Rollins describes the liberating effect Miller had on him. (Fun fact, Rollins first discovered Miller (through his mom!):
So anyway, one day I’m going through her bookshelves and there’s this odd copy of “The Smile at the Foot of the Ladder.” It’s a pasteboard edition. She said, “Oh, I bought that from him. He was selling his watercolors and going through the audience saying, ‘You wanna buy this?’”
I said, “You met Henry Miller!?” She let me have the book. Henry Miller changed my life. Lydia Lunch loaned “Black Spring” to me and said read this. November 1983. I was twenty-two years and seven months old. I read that book and I’ve never recovered. That was like the first Clash album for me. You’re allowed to write like that? It never occurred to me.
And he made me think writing was easy. I thought he was just a dude saying stuff. But then you try to write like that yourself and you realize he’s a black belt ninja motherfucker. It’s anything but easy. He only makes it look easy because he’s so good.
Isn’t it fun when you read someone or listen to a musician and say, “How, you can write like this? You can play music like this? You mean there are no rules?”
For Rollins, it was Miller and the Clash. For Bruce Springsteen it was Bob Dylan, of whom he famously said, “The first time that I heard Bob Dylan I was in the car with my mother, and we were listening to, I think, maybe WMCA, and on came that snare shot that sounded like somebody kicked open the door to your mind, from ‘Like a Rolling Stone.’”
How about you, loyal readers? Was it…Patti Smith? The Ramones? Emily Dickinson?