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

January 12, 2021
bradspurgeon

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!”

Holiday Week Musical Round-Up – and a Billy White Acre Video

January 3, 2011
bradspurgeon

I did not intend to, but it turned out I took more than a week’s break from the blog – and actually from most musical adventures. But it was the period covering Christmas to New Year’s and so that makes sense, at least once in a while.

That did not mean I was without music. I carried my guitar with me just about everywhere I went, and played in people’s houses, in down moments, in moments of post-Christmas and New Year’s blues etc. The only things that really stand out for me in this whole blur as I enter the new year were a dinner at the home of Antoine, one of the members of the Euks rock band. The Euks is made up of four musicians, of whom one is my son Paul. So we went over and had dinner at Antoine’s place and the two members of the Euks played music and sang songs, and so did I. In fact, for two or three hours it seemed, we passed the guitar back and forth and exchanged music. It was great. The one thing I like about doing that kind of thing as opposed to performing on a stage is that I can read lyrics and chords and do all sorts of songs that I have not memorized for performance, and no one cares about the reading.

The rest of the week is something of a blur – or something of a secret, even perhaps from myself! – and it was on the first day of the year that I received a link from an old friend of mine showing off a new video he had just put online playing his wild and original guitar music. This was Billy White Acre, and I am putting the video below as any guitar loving music lover has to see and hear this cool video.

Billy and I met in the late 70s at an open mic – or a bar where he was already hired to play and sing – and eventually ended up living in the same rooming house, or co-op house, in Toronto in the Annex area. Billy was just starting out with his music, and I was just coming to the conclusion that I would quit mine…. For one thing, just looking at how Billy already played the guitar at that point after only a couple of years made me ill. He had picked up the guitar at 18 and was something of a maestro with his own sound by 20. He also had a great singing voice, as he had been a choirboy in a school in England – where he was sent on a choirboy scholarship, if I remember correctly – and he was writing some cool music and introducing me to the music of people like Egberto Gismonti!

Later, I went off to live in France, but Billy and I remained in contact over the years, and I visited him in 1997 on a trip to Los Angeles, where he has lived for a couple of decades or so and where he made some albums and music for films and television. His 1997 album, “Billy’s Not Bitter,” actually won a prize in the LA Music Awards as the best album on an independent label, if I remember accurately. Earlier, he had won in 1994 the singer songwriter of the year award at Billboard Magazine, when Frank Zappa was one of the judges, if I remember that one correctly (it would have been just before Zappa died). I love the Billy’s Not Bitter album, by the way, which he sent to me at the time. A fabulous mixture of every feeling from the Beatles to Hendrix to the grunge of the time – and his inimitable guitar playing and singing and haunting lyrics.

This new video is fabulous, and I see that Billy has lost nothing of his innovative guitar playing technique. Oh, and before I sign off on Billy – an inspiration for the new year – I must mention that his daughter Asia Whiteacre, is also a rising talent.

Also, check out the other video of Billy, “The Apple,” in which he sings a song from the Billy’s Not Bitter album and he plays a tiny guitar. Very coool….. Billy was also the subject of a front page story in Guitar Player magazine in 1994 as well, for his innovative guitar playing. “Bill White Acre’s solo acoustic playing invites comparisons to Hedges–highly percussive pieces based around moving chord shapes, open tunings, and careful counterpoint,” said the writer.

Oh dear, I almost forgot another high point of the Christmas and New Year’s week, and one that has a musical connection. I had for years been intending to go to one of Jim Haynes’s New Year’s dinners, and this year I finally did. I could write a book about Jim Haynes – who knew and helped the early career of David Bowie, by the way – but as it turnst out, Jim has himself written a book about his life, called “Thanks For Coming,” and published by… T.S. Eliot’s old company, Faber & Faber. So look him up!!! Suffice it to say that the evening was fabulous. I left to go to another party, and then a bar.

Happy New Year’s to all readers of this blog and thank you for your lecture over the last nearly one year that I have run it. I plan to continue the musical adventure around the world this year.

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