Flashback: Henry Rollins via Henry Miller

[From May 13, 2006]

I started in San Francisco and picked up Jerri in Campbell near San Jose. Our journey to Big Sur was windy, the road narrow and twisted with spectacular views. We arrived at 6:30pm. We had time before the show, so we stopped at a restaurant nested on a cliff called Nepenthe for for a quick bite, some good wine and a breathtaking view — the perfect setting for two old friends to catch up. Jerri, aka Jerrilene, aka Mabel, is beautiful inside and out, and I’ve missed her so much. It’s been more than a year since we last saw each other, and five years before that. We used to work together back in losAngeles.

After dinner we headed back down the road to the Henry Miller Library, which is a small wood cabin surrounded by lawn, a short wooden fence and a family of tall redwoods. The place was set up for an intimate evening with Henry Rollins. There were rows of folding chairs on the lawn and blankets sprawled out in front of the makeshift stage. The stage was barely six inches tall, and was more like two wood pallets covered by an antique rug. We sat 10 feet away from the stage, so I warned Jerri — not only will we see the sweat of intensity rolling down the man’s face, we’ll be dodging his spit from time to time throughout the show. The sun had not quite set and people were making new friends over beer and wine. The library was open so we took a look around.

I’ll admit, I haven’t read any of Henry Miller’s work, but for the past 10 years I haven’t been the biggest reader, at least not novels. I do remember back in college my roommate Jen was reading Henry and June by Anais Nin. Turns out that Henry was Henry Miller. Some of Henry’s titles I recognized — Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn. But I couldn’t help but feel like the biggest poser driving three hours to watch a middle-aged punk rock icon rant and rave, while everyone else came to celebrate one of the greatest writers of our time. The show was actually a benefit for the Henry Miller Library. Jerri was not familiar with either Henry. She pulled me aside and said Henry looked so much younger in the email I sent her when I invited her to the show (see above). She didn’t realize Henry Rollins and Henry Miller were two different people. She lives in a bigger bubble than I do. Jerri loves Paris, so she was immediately drawn to Henry Miller’s books. I was reminded of Joni Mitchell’s song “California” — Sitting in a park in Paris, France … I’ll even kiss a sunset pig …

I’ve seen Henry Rollins perform live spoken word four times before, so I knew what to expect. The only thing Jerri knew about him was that he looks like one mean mad motherfucker. I knew Miss Goody-Goody from Silicon Valley was in for a bumpy ride, and I was happy riding shotgun. We were in the second row. It wasn’t quite dark when the show started, but it was eerily quiet, and there was a peaceful glow before it became dark. Magnus Toren, the library director, started by reading passages from what I think was either Black Spring or The Air-Conditioned Nightmare. From that reading, I learned that Miller too rants and raves, but in a very different way. Miller’s vocabulary is way beyond me, but his focus on detail after detail after detail intrigues me. The sun had set and small lights twinkled in the coastside tree-covered darkenss as Rollins took the stage. His voice didn’t echo but instead pierced right through us. Jerri’s shrieks and shrills were music to my ears. I smiled ear-to-ear and took mental pictures of her jaw dropping as Rollins let us have it. I love introducing new people to a Henry Rollins show. But this time, outdoors, that powerful distinct voice in the stillness of Big Sur, under mighty redwoods and a starry sky, it was something else, something very special.

After the show I grabbed Jerri’s hand and took her past the wooden fence behind the stage. It was pitch black except for a man with a tiny flashlight, and there was a short line of people waiting for autographs. It was our turn at Henry. We shook his sweaty hand. He had his Sharpie ready to sign something and seemed surprised that we weren’t after an autograph. We just wanted to thank him for a good show and ended up talking with him for maybe five minutes. He ran his mouth, and I loved it. That, on top of reconnecting with a dear friend, made the night oh-so-fucking nice.

I introduced Jerri to Henry Rollins.
And Rollins introduced me to Henry Miller.

On the drive home, I made some mental notes and promised myself to read at least one Henry Miller book this year. Any recommendations?

— — —

[Post-show notes]

That show up in Big Sur left me feeling tall, cocked and amped for more. When I got back to San Francisco Sunday night, I started reading BLACK SPRING. It took me several couple weeks to finish it — Miller is not the easiest read; his passages run on and on, and he has a unique way of delivering things raw painting pictures that aren’t easily unseen or forgotten.

HenryMiller — BLACK SPRING

[Fast-forward to today, 2015; 9 years later]

Miller remains today one of my favorite writers, and I’ve re-read BLACK SPRING a few times. Each time the story seems to gets darker and smell worse than I originally imagined. The last time I picked it up, I found myself re-reading pages over and over again til I fell asleep, exhausted. Or if I was lucky, I heard Miller’s voice in my head as clear and gritty as I did that first time.

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