Cultural Studies. This collection of interviews spans Harry Smith's long and influential life in American arts and letters. They cover a quarter-century, touching on the full range of Smith's activity as a groundbreaking experimental filmmaker, obsessive collector, folk music anthologist, visionary painter, student of Native American lore, anthropologist, cosmographer, alchemist, hermetic scholar, occultist, autodidact, classic American eccentric, and all-around explorer of the possibilities of human consciousness and creativity. Jordan Belson writes, "THINK OF THE SELF SPEAKING is the next best thing to being with Harry himself-perhaps better, certainly safer. The interviews are remarkably similar to his collage films. A brilliant mind unhinged." Includes an introduction by Allen Ginsberg.
Perhaps it's better to read
about talking with Harry Smith than it was to actually talk with him; given the choice, most of us might prefer our Smith-viewing from a safe distance. Famous for assembling the brilliant, idiosyncratic Anthology of American Folk Music
, Smith was an avant-garde filmmaker and painter, occultist, anthropologist, alchemist, compulsive collector of music, books, textiles, paper airplanes, and string figures--in short, the original interdisciplinary scholar, all without benefit of formal training or degree. He was also a notoriously difficult person. Brilliant, irascible, perpetually drunk or high, he hit up every acquaintance for money, borrowed movie cameras then pawned them, bragged about spending grant money on heroin. According to his own account, he first tried peyote just outside the trailer court of legendary hillbilly singer Sara Carter, then proceeded to make the understandably perplexed Carter identify which of her quilt designs resembled which of her songs.
Smith wasn't an easy interview. He browbeat his interviewers, eluded their questions, then announced he was on speed and therefore not to be trusted. ("Smith: Would you like me to read your fortune? Gary Kenton: Later. HS: It's bad. GK: Now, talk to me a little bit about... HS: It's bad.") But his was a mind of the most unusual sort, capable of forging connections between the most esoteric and far-flung subjects. Ukrainian Easter eggs, Kiowa chants, Oz, Aboriginal bark paintings, the Kaballah, Levi-Strauss, Thelonious Monk, surrealism--seemingly no field was outside his range of expertise. Over the years, Smith destroyed many of his creations and, in the end, denigrated the others, including the hugely influential Anthology. Perhaps it was his life itself that became his greatest work. As preserved in these interviews, it's the final and most enduring tall tale from the greatest intellectual trickster of his time. --Mary Park