THE MAIL-INTERVIEW WITH NORMAN SOLOMON (Mr. Postcards).
(With the sending of the retyped answers I sometimes made typing-errors to which Norman Solomon reacted. Some of the reactions are worth mentioning, and I have done so with the footnotes)
Started on 21-3-1997
Ruud: Welcome to this mail-interview. First let me ask you the traditional question. When did you get involved in the mail-art network?
Reply on 8-4-1997
(Together with the invitation I sent a copy of the text of Ray Johnson’s unfinished interview. Norman sent me a photo of Ray Johnson at New York Harbor in 1958, and his answer is a reaction to Ray’s answers as well).
NS : Reply on : 21-11-94 RAY : THE MNO QP (mirror view) kind. What about Mimsy Star. She got pinched in the astor bar. RUUD: Was it a mistake that she got pinched………..
“Have you heard that Mimmsie Starr
Just got pinched in the Astor Bar?”
is by Cole Porter. The song “Well, Did You Evah?” was written, words and music, by CP in 1940 for a musical comedy, “DuBarry Was a Lady.” It was featured in a movie, “High Society” in 1956. WDYE was sung in “High Society” by Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra. The drinking in the study scene. The Astor Bar referred to was the one at the old Hotel Astor, owned by Vincent Astor, on Broadway near Times Square in new York City. this was not the newer hotel, the Waldorf-Atoria on Park Avenue. Vincent Astor, the well-known society playboy was a descendent of John Jacob Astor who founded the family’s fortunes hundreds of years ago trading trinkets to the Indians of Western Canada for furs, mainly beavers, whose pelts the British had learned to diminish for the making of felt for fine hats. The Astor family, later, continued their fortune-making wit holdings in New York real estate and banks.
In the 1950’s , Ray Johnson and Norman Solomon went to a lot of moviex together. They went to the Roxie, the Paramount, the Beekman, the 8th Street Playhouse and other famous theatres of that time. They probably saw “High Society”at the Loew’s State Theatre on Broadway.
Pinched had a double meaning here. It meant having a bit of one’s flesh held between a thumb and a forefinger which then got squeezed together hard. This might elicit a screech or a scream or an “ouch!” Or, maybe, not. Pinched also meant getting nabbed by the police, run in, arrested. If Mimmsie Starr got pinched in the Astor Bar by the police, for instance, she might have got her ass, or a small part of it squeezed (as above), or, she might have been for drunken, boisterous, outrageous behavior, or, more likely, for attempting to solicit an act of prostitution. It was, in any event, all in fun.
I have always depended on strange kindnesses for the nothings that I receive in the mails and I hope I can depend upon you to continue the same.
Ruud: When was the last time you talked to Ray? What did you discuss then?
next answer on 25-4-1997
(With his answer he sent a copy of a photo of Ray Johnson and Willem de Kooning, back in 1959, New York. Also the letter held some small papers with comments like: “Don’t make any corrections, Ruud. The mistakes are all part of the story……” and a photo from Ruth Kligman)
NS : Interview. II (pas de tout)
The last time I talked with Ray was the last time I saw Paris.
The Last Time I Saw Paris was the title of a book by Elliot Paul, an American newspaper person. It was published here during the early stages of WW-II ; there was a nostalgia kick. I read it then. EP wrote extensively about an upstairs Left Bank restaurant on the Rue de la Chat Qui Peche, which I visited in 1944. I had biftek and salad and wine and got so pissed that I threw it all up in the street. There still were cobble-stoned pavings.
I sent all of my Army money home to my poor mother. But, I could sell my PX ration of cigarettes for enough francs to enable me to eat well and to drink terribly. I was living, apperently, beyond my experience.
The Last Time I Saw Paris was used, then, as a title and theme for a song sung mostly by Hildegarde . She and it got famous and well-played together.
The Last Time I Saw Paris was made a movie in 1954. It starred Van Heflin and Elizabeth Taylor. They and it were dreadful. Walter Pidgeon, Eva Gabor (whose mother just died) and Donna Reed were featured in it. MGM had apparently decided that since An American in Paris had been such a great success and big hit in 1951, that they could redo the experience. They were wrong and they could not have been wronger. TLTISP was three minutes longer in running time than AAIP had been, but that didn’t help. Dreadful.
What Ray and I had discussed mostly at that time was that people, especially MGM movie stars, were looking puffy. Puffy, apparently, was coming in.
We also discussed the carers of Franz Kline and Bill de Kooning and the interstitial relationship of those artists with Ruth Kligman, and of hers with Jackson Pollock. I had photographed Ruth after she emerged from the hospital, from the crash results of 1956, and we recalled, looking at my pictures, how the stitches in her face had improved upon nature. She had begun to look like Susan Hayward. Beautiful.
We also discussed Ralph Di Padova. Now Ralph wanted to be a gangster, you know. He had also applied for employment to the CIA and to the FBI. They, neither of them, took him on, but — it was just as well. Gangsterdom was his first love, as a vocation. Ralph had an old-time Packard sedan that he sometimes took us around in. It was rather grand and very gangster. Ralph also had a sweet girl-friend of whom he took great and good care. She’d needed surgical operations for her bone problems and he took care of all that.
I notice, I should mention, some misprints or typical graphic errors in the Interview, I.
“fortune-making wit holdings” of course should have been “with” holdings though it obviously took much wit to make fortunes. All great fortunes are founded on great crimes, of course, but — what aren’t?
“went to a lot of moview” got printed for “went to a lot of moviex.”
See how simple it is?
Ray Johnson and Norman Solomon read a lot. They talked often and together about what they were reading and what it meant to them. Books of the 1950’s that got into their fields of vision were Zen intros by R.H. Blyth and Daisetz T. Suzuki. They read all of the early issues of the Evergreen Review, and discussed the cover designs of Grove Press books by Roy Kuhlman. They read Alice B. Toklas and they read Gertude Stein and they read Isak Dinesen. They read Edmund Wilson’s Memoirs of Hecate County. They read everything and anything by Yukio Mishima. They read the poetry of William Carlos Williams and even more by Wallace Stevens. They read the Story of O.
Djuna Barnes impressed them and something by somebody called Susie von Freulinghausen.
They went to a lot of movies.
In addition to Hollywood fare, they’d watch anything by Fellini, Bergman, Kurosawa. They went to the Museum of Modern Art in New York and saw a history of World film. This was two shows a week for three years. They liked particularly the early German Expressionism, especially the Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, which got incorporated into their work and attitudes. They saw everything French from 1925-1931. But, the very best of all, was everything ever made by Carl Dreyer and by Robert Bresson. They both considered The Diary of a Country Priest to have been one of the best movies ever made.
Their favorite painter was Mondrian. De Kooning called Mondrian “merciless” in his approach. Norman and Ray studied Mondrian’s Piers and Water, noting the movements of the little fishes.
They hung out with composers, musicians and dancers. John Cage. Merce Cunningham. James Waring. Katie Litz.Lucia Dlugaszewski. Morty Feldman. Earle Brown. Norman knew a lot of jazz musicians: Charlie Parker; Sonny Rollins; Bud Powell. Ray did not know any. Norman had connections in the world of Negro music. Ray had not, and did not care to. Often their worlds overlapped, but not always.
There was congruence and confluence and con alma. But not always. Although often enough. Ray sought out Butterfly McQueen and seemed somtimes to be talking endlessly about her. Norman could not have cared less.
Did Ray play games or music? Well, maybe not conventionally so. Norman played chess, drums and poker. For a while, there was a kitten at his studio. Once, after Ray had visited, the kitten was nowhere to be found. Finally, by crying, it revealed its whereabouts. It was inside a drum. Ray played jokes.
Ray enjoyed talking about the power plays in prison movies. Such as who’d be carrying the shit-bucket to be emptied in the morning, before, during, and after a relationship. Ray was also fascinated and open to discussing at any time, whipping, whipping and ritual torture.
Ray Johnson’s favorite dish (they had experimented at many of New Yorks’s international restaurants) was fetishini.
But, besides food, movies, clothing, make-up, mor