Even though I read all those articles and interviews, I was never less than hungry for information about Harry Smith. Where could this guy have possibly come from? He seemed to play with interviewers when it came to talking about background, which seemed to only add to his myth. His movies hinted at a knowledge of be-bop, the Kabbala, the music of Kurt Weil, while his collecting, from records to objects of various sorts, were clearly the work of someone with a deep knowledge of American music and indigenous life. Not to mention his work as a sound engineer, recording Native American peyote ceremonies and music by groups like the Fugs and his interaction with Kabbalist Lionel Zirpin, and recordings, for the most part unreleased, of Zirpin's grandfather, Rabbi Naftali Zvi Margolies Abulafia (according to Raymond Foye, due for release at some point, likewise Smith's Naropa lectures on Native American cosmology).
|Gouache on black paper, circa |
For a concise overview of Harry Smith, could do worse than check out Raymond Foye's on-line entry which can be found here.
Finally, here's a trailer of sorts for Lunsford's book preceded by what is for me a memorable extract from John Cohen's 1969 interview, republished in Singh's Think of the Self Speaking, of Smith revealing something of his past, while, at the same time, revealing his puckish sense of humour.
"John Cohen: Someone once told me that you were thinking for a while that your father might have been some English mystic who was travelling through.
Harry Smith: That was Aleister Crowley, and as a matter of fact, my mother did know Crowley at about that time. She saw him running naked down the beach, perhaps in 1913 or 1915. I wish I had gone more into the chronology of my antecedents.
JC: But he's not your father.
HS: I don't know.
JC: Oh, you mean there's a possibility?
HS: Sure. I suppose there's a possibility that President Coolidge was. Because of my father's and grandfather's interest in mysticism, the basement was full of books on whether Bacon wrote Shakespeare's plays, alchemy, and so forth. I had a whole blacksmith shop. I spent a lot of time trying to transmute lead into gold. My father was in the salmon fishing business, and during the war they fished the Fraser and Columbia rivers dry, so the canneries closed, and that was my playground as a child."