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In Memory of Jim Haynes: End of an Era, but not of a Philosophy of Life

January 12, 2021
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Jim Haynes

Jim Haynes

PARIS – Not long into reading Jim Haynes’s autobiography, “Thanks For Coming!” in 1984, shortly after it was published, I said to myself, “I am certain I will meet this man.” I lived in Paris, as did he, I was interested in the expat literary and cultural world, and he was at the center of it, and my bookstore of choice was “The Village Voice,” on the rue Princesse, which it seemed impossible that he would not know. A meeting had to happen.

As it turned out, sitting in the back of that same bookstore, drinking a coffee and eating a brownie, and reading Jim Haynes’s book, who should walk in but Jim Haynes. With his big moustache, and slightly drawling accident, he was easy to recognize. I wasted no time in approaching him and telling him of the coincidence that there I was reading his book at that very moment and in he walks! So began a 37-year-long friendship that came to an end two days ago when Jim died at the age of 87. In fact, as anyone who knew Jim knows, it was not just Jim who left us, but a whole chunk of cultural life in Paris (and dare I add a cultural life of the 1960s and 70s in Britain too), and a living, walking, smiling philosophy of life.

Thinking about his life in the last few days since he left us on 6 January, it struck me that Jim was born in the same year that Hitler took power in Germany, and that he should die in a hospital in Paris at the same moment that the Capitol Building in Washington D.C. was being raided by violent haters, was very significant: Nothing could be further from Jim Haynes’s philosophy of life than the hatred that both Adolf Hitler and Donald Trump knew so well how to manipulate in their followers. Jim was all about love and togetherness and sharing; and if that sounds like some kind of 1960s hippie peace sort of dreamy approach to life, well, not only was it just that, but Jim successfully – and contagiously – lived by it right to the end.

I will not spend time on this blog post reiterating the events of his life. That has been well handled all over the place, including in this obituary about Jim Haynes published in The Guardian, or on Jim Haynes’s own web site. The only thing I feel I can bring that would serve any purpose beyond what everyone else – and he himself in that autobiography as well – would say, is my own experience of Jim. And I look forward to reading many more such accounts by the other legions of people from every walk of life who knew him.

Even so, in a nutshell: Born in the U.S., in Louisiana, after coming to Europe in the military, he decided to live in Scotland in the 1950s, where he created the first paperback bookstore, then helped found the now-famous Traverse theatre, before then moving to London where he founded the Arts Lab theatre space, and the International Times newspaper. He then came to Paris on a teaching assignment at the University of Paris, and stayed the rest of his life here, writing, holding Sunday dinner salons for more than 40 years, creating his publishing company, as well as many other manner of homegrown artistic thing.

Jim Haynes Autobiography

Jim Haynes Autobiography

Jim also, by the way, wanted to meet and know everyone in the world, and it was for that reason that I had no qualms about introducing myself to him in that bookshop. After that first meeting, we had many different kinds of meetings or communications over the years, never as close friends, but always as welcome friends. In the early years he would periodically call me up while I was working in the library of the International Herald Tribune – a newspaper that he read daily – in order to find some clip or other fact that he needed for whatever purpose. We would talk for a while, I’d find what he was looking for, and life went on.

I met him on occasion at the various book launches and small press nights at The Village Voice, at Shakespeare and Company or other meeting points during the period of the 1980s when it felt as if the literary expat world of Paris of the 1920s and 1930s or even the 1950s had returned. Several young expats from the English-speaking world decided to create their own literary magazines, and Jim, who had his own Handshake Editions at the time helped to encourage many of those young people with their literary magazines and actions. “Frank,” by David Applefield, was one of those, John Strand, who went on to have an excellent career as a playwright had another called “Paris Exiles,” and a woman named Carole Pratle had one called Sphinx. And, yes, Ted Joans, the famous beat poet was hanging around too. Jim had even helped advise AND occasionally work for Odile Hellier, the owner of that very same Village Voice bookstore where we met. (Applefield, by the way, who spent most of his life in Paris until he returned to the U.S. a couple of years ago, ran for Congress last summer, lost, and died suddenly the next day.)

One of the astounding things about Jim was just how many people he did indeed know. And the range of the kind of person they were. From the famous to the unknown, it didn’t matter who you were or what you did. He just liked people. But more important, even his act of knowing people was not something only for him: He loved to introduce people to each other, to make connections, to start relationships. One of his ventures was a global address book, comprising many of the people he met. And his famous Sunday dinners in Paris were always an occasion for Jim to introduce people to each other, and I mean in a really, outgoing, almost formal way: “Brad this is so and so; so and so, this is Brad.” That sense that we were all there to meet and share was one of the first signals you would receive upon entering the dinner.

On one of our early meetings at his home in the 1980s, I went because I learned he had some kind of recording studio at home and I wanted to record a couple of songs and a piece of prose writing I had done. I secretly hoped he would love it and use it in his then popular “Cassette Gazette,” a cassette tape collection of all kinds of writing and music and everything else you could put on tape. He showed no interest in the written piece, but he did sincerely and with some surprise in his voice, compliment my recording of the Raggle Taggle Gypsies song. At the time I was no longer playing music in public and had no ambitions to do so. So I was a bit pissed off he liked the song but not the writing!

That recording, by the way, was done by his longtime friend, Jack Henry Moore, who I knew nothing of at the time, but who I would eventually learn was also very much at the center of the underground of the 1960s. Jim wrote a Jack Henry Moore obituary for The Guardian when he died in 2014.

That, I believe in fact, was my first visit to Jim’s atelier at 83, rue de la Tombe Issoire, where one of his illustrious neighbours and friends was Samuel Beckett, by the way. Yes, Jim was friends with countless literary people, including Henry Miller, another one-time Paris expat, and he had a long running friendship with the book publisher, John Calder, with whom he founded the first Edinburgh international book festival. And to my delight and surprise, he had also corresponded with Colin Wilson, one of the original Angry Young Men of British literature, whom I would later meet, interview and befriend. I was delighted to be able eventually to give to Jim a copy of the interview book that I did with Colin Wilson. How strange the world is! (I recall now that I had also run into Jim at the Frankfurt Book Fair the one time I went there, which he attended regularly, and he introduced me to Calder.)

From a coffee and brownie meeting while reading his book, and him calling me up as a librarian at the IHT, soon he would be complimenting me on “writing half of the IHT newspaper,” or however he put it, while referring to all my regular Formula One writings and multiple-page special reports in that paper. He had treated me with the same respect as a support staff member of the IHT as when I became a regular journalist for the paper. Over the years we would meet in various circumstances, maybe at an organized play attendance followed by a dinner with a small group of people whom he had encouraged to see his friends’ play – or at a Sunday dinner at his atelier.

In another interesting Jim Haynes phenomenon, through the decades the number and kinds of people who I knew and who I learned also knew Jim Haynes grew and grew. They would, again, be from different countries around the world, and my relationship to them would vary completely, never being entirely to do with journalism or the arts, so vastly large was his relationship “footprint” around the world.

Jim Haynes and Varda Ducovny, with host Grace Teshima behind. Photo © Seamas McSwiney

Jim Haynes and Varda Ducovny, with host Grace Teshima behind.
Photo © Seamas McSwiney

One of our more recent meetings happened four or five years ago at a book launch of a friend of his, Varda Ducovny, in a home art space in Paris, in Montmartre. I had met Varda at one of the above mentioned dinners. At the end of the evening, he left a few minutes before I did, and as I descended the stairs of the building, I found Jim, sitting oddly on the bottom stair, with a couple of his friends either side. He had fallen and hurt himself; in fact, he had fallen before the start of the evening, and despite being in pain throughout, he stayed for the full launch and cocktail ceremony. By then in his early 80s, such a fall felt ominous. And as it turned out, it really was the beginning of a series of incidents that would remove from him his strong good health and easy mobility.

One of our last meetings I now see in a short recorded interview that I did with him for some research that Ornella was doing, was in January 2018. Three years ago. While he was 100 percent there mentally – and morally, ie, in his usual good spirits – I seriously worried about how many months he might last. That he lasted three more years is testament to his incredible inner strength, which I put down to that Jim Haynes optimistic, happy, loving and thankful philosophy of life.

Ornella found a key to that philosophy in the book he had given her that day three years ago, a copy of his book, “Everything Is!” She posted these words from the book on her Facebook page, and I agree with their profundity, so I finish this post with them too: “Some people say that when they are happy they sing and dance. But I say: when I sing and dance, I am happy!”

Another Story of French Crime Writers: Marc Villard

December 27, 2020
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Marc Villard

Marc Villard

PARIS – I decided to publish another instalment of my occasional pieces from the period in which I wrote all about the writers of the French crime novel. Adding to my interviews with Jean-Bernard Pouy and Maurice Dantec, I have now put up a feature interview article that I did with Marc Villard. Villard has written hundreds upon hundreds of short stories, as well as novels, poems and scenarios. He also had a double career as an art director at Givenchy, and for many years he was the rock critic at Le Monde! Now if that is not enough to draw your attention to looking at my story, “From the Bourse to the Banlieue: Marc Villard, a French Master of the Short Story, and then some,” then perhaps you might like to skip my story about him and click on the links I put in its introduction that will take you directly to his site and the short stories of his that I translated from French to English. That will give you the best idea of some of what he does. So check it out anyway! Today I also suddenly had the idea, by the way, that I might in future do a special page devoted to all of the writings I did about the French crime writing scene, rather than have to have you scrolling through the menu above about “blog stories rather than posts.” The centrepiece, of course, was always my roundup story from “The Armchair Detective,” that I put above under the simple heading, “France and the Crime Novel.” Anyway, check out Villard now!

Five Dials, a Much Nominated Book and an Optimist – at the Abbey

July 12, 2013
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marie deschampsPARIS – I had the Abbey Bookshop in mind yesterday when I posted that short story of mine on my new fiction area of my blog. I was readying myself to attend an event at the Abbey for the launch of the latest edition of an online literary magazine called Five Dials, which I have written about in the past, as well as of a book that is published in – at least – English and French and has been nominated for several of the top French literary prizes. But what I least expected to make the whole evening worthwhile for me was the meeting of an optimist.

The Five Dials, to recap on an earlier blog item, is edited by a Canadian named Craig Taylor, who lives in London, and who has done a book about Londoners. Five Dials has been running since 2008, and it is one of the top online only literary reviews. To quote directly from the Five Dials entry in Wikipedia, the review’s “notable contributors include famous authors living and deceased such as Raymond Chandler, Noam Chomsky, Alain De Botton, Zadie Smith, Dave Eggers, Jonathan Safran Foer, Hari Kunzru, J. M. G. Le Clézio and Susan Sontag.” It is published by the respected publisher Hamish Hamilton.

As to the book that was being presented by its author, Eric Reinhardt, it was “The Victoria System,” which the Nouvel Observateur called: “Dark, twisted and devastating. A big novel of amorous adventures in the era of the blackberry. Eric Reinhardt is the new Alexandre Dumas.”

But it was my unexpected meeting with a curious optimist that actually made the evening for me. This was the flower child-looking Marie Deschamps with flowers in her hair whom Brian Spence, the bookshop owner introduced me to. It was not long in our conversation before we realized that we had a point in common. The point was our basic belief in an optimistic approach to life – even when it’s trying to sink you. In fact, Marie told me that she had started a kind of association called “the curious optimists” and they get together once a month in Paris to meet and eat and talk and celebrate about how great life is. She said her Facebook page for the Curious Optimists had just exploded, so much did people want to be optimistic….

Philosopher of Optimism

Philosopher of Optimism

She also said she was about to leave Paris on a world tour that she will film, trying to meet other optimists and to spread the word. Marie told me her road to this philosophy really came after she did her degrees at Science Po in Paris and the London School of Economics, and she came back to Paris and found a little too much of the opposite of optimism…. I told her that her world tour was a little bit like my world tour and the film I’m working on about it in the world of the open mics and open jams. And, I also told her that she ought to read my interview book called: Colin Wilson: Philosopher of Optimism, as everything she was saying was part of the philosophy of that book.

Could I have asked for a better or more curious or optimistic evening than that at the Abbey Bookshop????

(No.)

Shakespeare and Company Literary Gathering, 3 Open Mics and the Most Beautiful Woman in the World

December 11, 2012
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It has been a very long time since I attended a literary event – if you exclude the literary events I partake of every time I read a work of literature, which is very often – and now that I am on vacation and staying at home in boring old Paris, I decided I would make an effort to attend as many literary events as possible. So it was that when I arrived at the Shakespeare and Company bookstore for the first of my planned literary events and I was being refused entrance by a young and somewhat helpless book worker, I was very upset. But the guy was kind of right to try: The bookstore was so full of people it was barely standing room only, with all corners of the shop being occupied by listeners for a panel of editors of literary reviews talking about the past, present and future of that genre.

I really insisted, though, and the guy could see as well as I could that there was just enough space on the inside of the door for me to stand – with my large Gibson J-200 in its bag, by my side. So I got in and nodded thanks to the guy. I was delighted to see also cramped in there in a little desk by the entrance the delightful Sylvia Whitman, who has in recent years taken over the store that belonged to her father, who recently died, nearing 100 years of age. Sylvia is doing amazing things at the shop, and this panel is an example, and I thoroughly enjoyed it, so much so that I bought three of the reviews discussed in the panel, and I will have to busk for a week in sub-zero Paris weather in order to pay for them at 16 euros each. Literature is not for the poor. (Oh, sorry, another of the reviews, Five Dials, is entirely free and downloadable on the Internet, supported by the Hamish Hamilton publishing company in the UK.)

But anyway… The panel was made up of … no, forget that. I will just paste in the full details from the Shakespeare and Company newsletter announcing the thing: “Please join us to celebrate the launch of The White Review No. 6, notably featuring interviews with China Mieville, Julia Kristeva and Edmund de Waal, fiction by Helen DeWitt, essays on J. H. Prynne and Bela Tarr, artwork by Matt Connors and poetry by Emily Berry. To mark the release of this new edition, editors Jacques Testard and Benjamin Eastham have put together a panel to discuss the past, present and future of literary magazines, including Christian Lorentzen (Senior Editor at the London Review of Books and editor of Say What You Mean: The n+1 Anthology), Craig Taylor (Five Dials, and the author of Londoners), Heather Hartley (Paris editor of Tin House) and Krista Halverson (former managing editor of Zoetrope).”

The panel was a probing and interesting look at what is on the minds of the editors AND the readers. IE, how it is so much more fun to create a review and publish your own stuff rather than looking for a “traditional” publisher or one of the top magazines; how doing that also allows for discovering much interesting stuff from foreign writers in translation; how difficult it is to go through a slush pile every day; where to get writers in translation the funding of which will come from foreign literary lobbying organizations; how to distribute such reviews in a time when book stores no longer exist – except in strange places like Paris, where there is a massive number of small non-chain stores that will carry such magazines; how, with “so many” such reviews a reader is to make a choice on which to buy (!! if you’re rich, I say, buy them all); how submission to the slush pile really, truly, DOES work for the good writing, etc. It was fresh, and I hope that I have not highlighted too many “negative” things. I recall having attended a similar panel at the Village Voice book shop in around 1984 at a time when there was quite a movement of local expat literary magazines in Paris like Frank, and other names I now forget(!), and last night’s panel seemed so much “larger.” Having started to read N+1 today, I think it is, in fact. (I thoroughly enjoyed the opening essay, an insouciant attack on other magazines: the Atlantic, Harper’s and…the Paris Review.)

I think I will quit that theme now. From Shakespeare and Company I headed off to the Coolin that has a new system for the open mic that will be the death of it for me. It is an 8:30 PM sign up before the music starts at 9:30. This brings it to the level of the Highlander, where I can never get early enough to get my name on the list in a comfortable position – my fault, and the fault of living in the suburbs and eating a meal at home and getting up at 4 PM. But anyway….

So I went and signed up for the Coolin, then went to a great Italian restaurant next door and sat beside one of those women that you want to say to them: “You are the most beautiful woman in the world that I have ever seen.” But you don’t, because they’ve heard the line 500 times and no matter what, they will think you are insincere. And since it has happened to you 500 times you probably are insincere – except it seems true at that moment. But there she was with a friend, and talking about being friends with Vanessa Paradis and having approached “M” over some proposition or other…and slowly you think, maybe she IS the most beautiful woman in the world. Anyway….

Left the restaurant after eating one of the most beautiful pizzas in the world, went to Coolin, played two songs – Steve Forbert’s “Romeo’s Tune” (fitting, no?) and No Expectations of the Rolling Stones. Then realized that having signed up early enough to be around the sixth performer, I had the time to drop in briefly to the Tennessee for its open mic and then go to the Galway for its open mic. So went to the Tennessee, recorded a couple of acts, but did not even think of signing up to play at that late moment of the night, and then went to the Galway and played four songs.

An amazing, amazing night, all things considered. Four rendezvous, three open mics and two sets. Oh, and a pizza beside the most beautiful woman in the world that I have ever seen. (At least at that moment.)



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