On Harry Smith’s Birthday

Harry Smith, June 16, 1988, New York – Allen Ginsberg, courtesy Stanford University Libraries / Allen Ginsberg Estate

Harry Smith‘s birthday today (born May 29, 1923), and we’re taking the occasion to announce the publication of a remarkable new book about him (or around him) –  Pacific-Northwest musician-historian Bret Lunsford‘s Sounding for Harry Smith, “a visually compelling oral history-based biography” that immerses the reader in local history, (“Salish Sea traditions and discord”)

“How can a small-town kid live”, Lunsford writes, “to become, as Allen Ginsberg said of Harry Smith “famous everywhere underground”—a shaman in residence for many profound cultural accomplishments—while remaining unknown or forgotten in the places he grew up? This book delves into the histories of Orcas and Guemes islands, Anacortes, Estacada and Fairhaven. Beginning over a century ago, we wade forward into marshy waters for a “frog’s eyes” view of biography, playing up the entire eco-system rather than the abstracted great man.”

Sounding for Harry Smith “offers itself as a meditation—an assortment of pieces that can be added to the incomplete puzzle which Harry Smith enthusiasts have been attempting to assemble. It is one of many studies and does not complete the picture. Harry’s habitat is described as it grows – wild. Be prepared to crawl off trail into understory.”

John Szwed:

“What’s striking about Bret Lunsford‘s portrait of Harry Smith is that it brings to the foreground what most arts biographers ignore or treat as scenery -the community in which the artist first emerged. This book is the fullest vision of Smith’s early years we’ll ever likely see. Lunsford writes as a native who knew people in Smith’s life who were still alive. As a local artist, he fathoms the deep history of the arts in Anacortes. Again, acting as a local historian he found documents, newspapers, pictures, scrapbooks, yearbooks, and letters that illuminate Smith’s childhood and also give us a biography of the city.”

Previous Harry Smith Birthday postings – see here, here, here, here, here and here

Allen Ginsberg on Harry Smith – here and here 

Ed Sanders on Harry Smith – here
Gerd Stern on Harry Smith – here
Harry Smith on Harry Smith:

The ubiquitous Harry Smith!  – unforgettable –  Happy Birthday, Harry!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *