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Darrin Daniel & Harry Smith

harrysmith_poster harrysmith_coverharry_smithHarry Smith was a Portland native who led a very colorful life and produced an incredibly important and diverse body of work. He’s probably best known for his seminal collection of American pre-war American folk, blues and gospel music recorded between 1926 and 1932, The Anthology of American Folk Music. He was also an important ethnomusicologist, starting at a young age, recording Lummi Native American rituals when he was a teenager near his Bellingham home. He went on to become an influential experimental filmmaker, artist and occultist.

Smith’s connection to Stumptown reaches far beyond the Portland connection — our green coffee buyer Darrin Daniel got to know him in the late 80′s at Naropa University under the tutelage of Allen Ginsberg,  when he helped to look after an ailing Smith over a fateful winter break. Darrin writes of his first entry into his living quarters on campus:

“Entering his place was like no other experience I have ever known. One was not to touch certain books or sit in places that were not designated by Smith himself. His fridge contained road kill and other undesirable mold cakes. There was cat shit throughout the entire bathroom floor and tub. We came by periodically to help clean and stock Harry up on things like baby food (which he could only stomach when he first arrived in ’88). After a few visits, Smith’s apartment had become the stopover before or after a class. Along with the carnival-like feel his apartment took on, Harry had slowly amassed a group of us who went in to hang out, assist with errands and basically spend time talking.

Our time together culminated in a couple of interesting projects… The last project was his allowing me to use four of his drawings for my first chapbook of poems, Methane Cocktail. He was drawing border art all the time and had really done some beautiful pen and ink works. I used one for the cover and three other pieces. I was a little shocked but also excited that he would allow me to use his work, considering his obsessive nature about his books and other projects. After giving a copy to Ginsberg, Allen seemed perplexed and asked, “Harry let you use his work?” Soon after the lecture, Allen made his way over to Harry’s place—book in hand. Either Allen wanted to have Harry sign it or ask what the hell he was doing giving his work away to Naropa writing students for free.”

Darrin later went on to publish Harry Smith: Fragments of a Northwest Life and Think of the Self-Speaking: Harry Smith — Selected Interviews. Several events this week celebrate the Oregon-born legend, starting with the Harry Smith Seance at Hollywood Theatre on Thursday, May 16 at 7 p.m., where Darrin will speak along with Rani Singh, director of the Harry Smith Archives at the Getty Institute, and writer-director of the the documentary The Old, Weird America: Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music. Sheldon Renan, who wrote about Harry in his groundbreaking work An Introduction to the American Underground Film will also speak.

Also, this week don’t miss The Harry Smith Free For All at The Cleaners at the Ace Hotel, a series of short, interactive presentations about Smith’s life and work, including a screening of Kaveh Askari’s new experimental documentary about Harry’s years in Bellingham.

Read Darrin’s full article “Hypnotist Collector: The Alchemy of Harry Smith” here.

“The world is far more fulsome if you imagine it to be full of churches that can fill your mind and your heart. One goes to mass; one says the rosary. One goes to help those who most need it. One consumes those things–liquid or smoke or powder–that allow one to walk among the world calm and receptive. One sits–as I have–in cinemas, happy and stoned, and allows images to invade the mind and push its contours farther and farther back. That used to be a fine way to spend an afternoon. Harry Smith, Maya Deren, Kenneth Anger, Stan Brakhage. Smoke in the air, candy wrappers on the floor, Anais Nin in the lobby, proclaiming genius in the Village. Churches everywhere.” Tennessee Williams to James Grissom, 1982