“It was twenty years ago today, Sergeant Pepper taught the band to play”. No, wait a minute, it wasn’t, it was twenty years ago today that Harry Smith died. We already made a pretty comprehensive posting, which we would draw your attention to – here, but wanted to mark the occasion with more Smith mischief and miscellany.
Allen on Harry: “So he died at the Chelsea (Hotel). Rani Singh, the secretary, was with him all day trying to get him to go to a hospital and he kept saying , “No, I’m dying, I’ll die”. And then Sandro Chia.. his ex-wife Paolo Igliori.. came to see him, who was very upset. So she went out to get her car. (Or) Rani went to get her car. Paolo went to stay with him, and suddenly he said, “I’m dying”, and then he threw up blood, and then fell over. I went that night to the St Vincent’s (Hospital) morgue as soon as I’d heard about it. They’d already put him in the morgue. I got permission to go downstairs in the morgue and pulled him out of the wall on this giant drawer. His face was somewhat twisted up, there was a little blood on his whitish beard. So I sat and did the traditional Tibetan liturgy, refuge litany, and then spent an hour meditating . And there were several memorial services for him at St Mark’s Church, and the effort to get his stuff together..” (for the rest of this extended memorial note, in conversation with record-producer Hal Willner, see here).
Allen also speaks at length with Paolo Igliori.
And here’s a transcription of impromptu remarks from a 1975 NAROPA class: “Harry Smith (Harry Smith) who is a classical sort of archivist, anthropologist in music, who published a great anthology of American folk and blues, early folk and blues music, on Folkways Records (Smithsonian-Folkways) which I would recommend to anyone who’s interested in music or poetry to get a hold of, or look up, or listen to.. Harry Smith.. The exact title, I don’t know. Let’s see. Do you know? – Anthology – four records, two boxes, I think..”Anthology of American Folk Music – Folk and Blues Music“, I guess it is. It’s a Folkways record. He’s done two sets of Folkways albums, records. One, the blues and folk music, which, incidentally, was issued in the ’50’s, the early ’50’s, and was a major influence on (Bob) Dylan and all American pop music. It was the recorded anthology of all the important things that people like (Woody) Guthrie and Pete Seeger had been interested (in) but hadn’t actually explored, totally. Harry Smith presented and Dylan picked up, or Dylan told me that that was one of his major arcanum, or major educational sources. It turned out to be, for me, a great introduction to American blues poetry and I started writing my own songs out of a couple of blues in the.. Richard “Rabbit” Brown’s “James Alley Blues”, which I’ve not seen recorded anywhere else. “I’ll give you sugar for sugar and you’ll get salt for salt. Which is great, a great line of poetry. Do you know the rest?
Student: “Sugar for sugar and salt for salt”, (Bob) Dylan went, “If you go down in the flood, it’s gonna be your fault” – AG: Yeah. Well he was paraphrasing that. Richard “Rabbit” Brown, New Orleans, 1928. “But, baby, if you don’t love me, it’s your own damn fault” “Sometimes I think that you’re too sweet to die,/ Other times I think you oughta be buried alive!”. That’s the end of it. Which is as good as “The Twa Corbies”. It’s as good as any of the old English ballads.”
We’ll come back with more from this 1975 class in the days ahead.