Monday, 3 October 2022

Celebrity Jukebox #39: Henry Miller

As an English teacher, I'm often called upon to pretend I know more about famous writers than I actual do. So what do I know about Henry Miller? Erm... he wrote some mucky books? Oh, wait, no, the U.S. Supreme Court cleared him of obscenity and declared his novels "literature" in 1964, so he wasn't just another sex-obsessed scribe. He did get through five wives though, and spent most of his 80s writing pen pal letters to a Playboy model called Brenda Venus. Make of that what you will. On his death in 1980, the Grauniad declared, "As chief literary anarchist of his day, Miller was a kind of low priest celebrating the last rites of what he regarded as a doomed civilisation"... which might almost persuade me to give his books a go, if someone would be willing to cover my eyes when I got to the mucky bits.

In truth, most of what I know about Henry Miller has been garnered from these songs. Then again, most rock 'n' rolls stars are a bunch of sex-obsessed narcissists too, so no wonder they dig this "low priest of a doomed civilisation".

I'd love it if Doris Day was singing about our Henry Miller in The Deadwood Stage, but as that's set some time before the author was born, it's unlikely. Still, the Henry Miller in question is the owner of The Golden Garter saloon, so he was probably a bit of a perv too...

Introducing Henry Miller
Just as busy as a fizzy Sarsparilla
Ain't a showman any smarter 
Operates the Golden Garter

Jewel is undoubtably referring to the correct Henry though...

My, you remind me of a man I used to sleep with
That's a face I'd never forget
And you can be Henry Miller and I'll be Anaïs 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

Anaïs Nin and Henry Miller were, of course, lovers. Nin financed the publication of Miller's first book, Tropic of Cancer, in 1934. You might be surprised to learn that I have read some Anaïs Nin. There was a copy on a bookshelf I used to frequent as a boy. E knows what I'm talking about...

She hides in the library reading Henry Miller books
'Til they flash the lights, it's time to go
When she was a little kid she said
"Dad, I don't know why I feel so penniless inside"

Still in the library (or not), here's a surprising dose of social commentary from The Turtles...

Nobody is ever un-American in Suburbia, ha!
Nobody is ever un-American in Suburbia
Everybody has a list
Of Negroes, Jews and communists
And checks it off before their daughter marries
Ginsberg is a socialist
He can't write poems like Edgar Guest
And Henry Miller's not in their library (too bad)

Followed by a little literary criticism from Of Montreal, who are not from Canada, but Athens, Georgia.

I have the sense you wanna be the female Henry Miller
Cynically referring to your lovers as your pricks
And exploiting other people's madness

For an actual Canadian band, look no further than The Lowest of the Low. This is from an album called Shakespeare My Butt, which apparently is one of "the ten greatest albums in Canadian music history". I'm not sure what Neil Young and Joni Mitchell have to say about that.

I want to take a streetcar downtown
Read Henry Miller and wander around
And drink some Guinness from a tin

Still in Canada, this is Raine Maida, lead singer of the band Our Lady Peace.

Her bedroom is her temple
The books and the stereo her muse
She feels humbled by this equation
And sets fire to all her shoes
Not because of Henry Miller
She's just not leaving anytime soon
And as the smoke pours out her window
An image forms behind the moon
And it looks like the face of Jesus
But if it's Jesus she needs proof
At the heart of the matter, and a matter of fact
The science of matter
She hopes that it's true

Back to the literary criticism with Jason Gots, who I know nothing about. I mean, he might be Canadian, but the internet has let me down on that. I like his song though... 

The city's sleeping, I can't sleep, it feels like I won't ever sleep again
A sense of urgency so keen, unknown to science and to medicine
I thought that this was settled, that I'd settled into some kind of routine
That I gave up all that Henry Miller bullshit for Joseph Goldstein

But now something's happening to me
Oh, something new is happening

I guess I'm not a novelist I never could sit still for very long
And I guess there's supposed to be a verse, a chorus and a bridge in every song
And I only ever had one thing to say but you get bored so easily F
I said it fifteen hundred ways in hopes that one would make it through eventually

Meanwhile, here's another artist I'm hearing for the first time, even though he's made a shedload of records and has at one time or another collaborated with Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel, David Johansen and the Violent Femmes.

I was in Sicily reading Henry Miller
You were in New York City you were getting thinner
I was in discos I was listening to Madonna
You were in sweat clothes looking like Jane Fonda

If you're wondering why I do such long posts for this feature (and you're really not, because nobody reads this far), it's because I get to unearth gems like these...

Some say my songs are long and over complicated
But they're very personal I say they're underrated
This is the last thing I expected to be
A broken-hearted troubadour in sunny Sicily 

Oh look, here's an artist I have heard of. David Lee Roth. Fancy seeing you here, David!

How 'bout a little Henry Miller
With your Huckleberry Finn
Assume the position, honey
Let's begin

And in the "even less surprising" category, here's Jane Birkin...

Amour pervers
Me susurre Henry Miller
Dans son Tropique du Cancer
Du Cancer

In case you're wondering, "Amour pervers" means exactly what you think. That clip's worth watching just to hear the way Jane pronounces "'Enri Millay" though.

From France to Mexico, and a song that actually mentions Henry Miller in its title. A very cool slice of Guadalajaran garage punk...

Your gums
On wind of
Dirty feathers
My death
Asphyxiates your
Golden matter
Henry Miller
Goes in deeper
Deep like a scab

And here's another titular win... although as with Doris Day, this might well be a different Henry Miller...

And I know that he feels bad
’Cause he is my best friend
And I know that in the end
Henry Miller is dead

And I hope he’s not
And I prey he’s not my best friend

As might this... although 1891 is the year our Henry was born.

Phew. This could go on all night.

Let's take a 13 minute break for this week's token Mark Kozelek stream-of-consciousness ramble...

I don't know what to read now. 
I'm going to open Henry Miller's Moloch, see how it makes me feel. 
But nothing makes me laugh like John Fante 
I don't have any of his other books here with me right now
I just watched a little news. 
There were fires today. 
One in Gilroy. One in Fairfield. 
And one right under the George Miller bridge at 2 pm.

If you're interested, Henry Miller gets name-dropped in a bunch of other Kozelek rambles. Email me and I'll send a list.

Speaking of lists, I'm going to have to stop there... but the list of songs that name-check Mr. Miller certainly doesn't stop there. I just picked out a bunch of the ones I liked. 

To be honest, when I chose him for the 39th edition of this feature, there was only one song I had in mind, so here it is. 

Dan Bern has a fantasy that if Marilyn Monroe had married Henry Miller rather than Arthur Miller, she'd have lived a happier life. I'll let him explain in detail why he believe this to be the case. He is, however, at pains to point out that...

This is not a knock against Arthur Miller
Death of a Salesman is my favorite play
But Marilyn Monroe
Should have married Henry Miller
And if she did
She might be alive

This is taken from Dan Bern's 1997 debut album, which I'd really recommend checking out, especially for the song Jerusalem in which he proclaims himself the second coming of Jesus Christ. (He's right about Death of a Salesman too.)


  1. Henry Miller: Max Cady's favourite.

  2. I saw Dan Bern once but don't have any of his albums.I must rectify that

    1. Yes. Start with this one. Then New American Language.

  3. Bob Dylan never mentioned Miller in song, though he does document meeting him in the rebelliously punctuated, stream of consciousness sleeve notes for the 'Another Side of Bob Dylan' LP in 1964.
    '...henry miller stands on other side of ping pong table an’ keeps talkin’ about me. “did you ask the poet fellow if he wants something t’ drink” he says t’someone gettin’ all the drinks. i drop my ping pong paddle an’ look at the pool. my worst enemies don’t even put me down in such a mysterious way...'

    1. The more I read about Henry Miller, the more I conclude he was an enormous tool.

  4. I have this urge to read some Henry Miller now - I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing.


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