A Large & Startling Figure
March 29, 2012 7:27 PM   Subscribe

"How do you like your blue eyed boy, Mr. Death?" Harry Crews has died at the age of 76. He was an author, a teacher, a boxer, a raconteur. But mostly, he was a writer.
posted by Optamystic (30 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
Don't forget sonovabitch!

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posted by bendybendy at 7:31 PM on March 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


If you're familiar with life and his work, "sonovabitch" pretty much goes without saying.
posted by Optamystic at 7:35 PM on March 29, 2012


RIP.
posted by penduluum at 8:17 PM on March 29, 2012


A coworker and friend was very close with his son. Harry tried - poorly - to commit suicide late in his life with a samurai sword, and inexplicably missed all of his vital organs. My coworker said the doctors couldn't believe he didn't hit anything vital, and that it was almost as if he tried to miss.
Almost as an attention thing.

The other stories involved a lot of drugs and seedy characters coming in and out of Harry's life. It was pretty wild to hear, and hard because of the difficulty it brought to his son.

A remarkable writer and a large figure for sure. Thank you for posting.
posted by glaucon at 8:17 PM on March 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


Fuck. Harry Crews wrote like a devil with a quill pen plucked from an angel's wing dipped in sharecropper's blood.

Many years ago I got drunk as shit and called information and lo and behold they had a listing for him so I called him up just to tell him I thought he was a genius and turns out he was sitting at home drunk too and we chatted for a few minutes and he invited me down for a pig roast but I had to work so that was that.

Harry Crews willed himself into being. And in all his ugliness and pain he plucked something true out of the mess of the world and shined it on his jeans and held it out for us to see.

There's a hole the size of one tough motherfucker in my heart tonight.

Bye, Harry. Sorry we never had that drink.

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posted by BitterOldPunk at 8:28 PM on March 29, 2012 [24 favorites]


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posted by drezdn at 8:36 PM on March 29, 2012


o.o

x.x
posted by tzikeh at 8:42 PM on March 29, 2012


My first exposure to Crews was in the documentary "Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus" & I had no clue who this person was, introduced as just some old southern man ambling down a dirt road with stories to share. But I was so captivated by what came out of that man's mouth I had to know who he was. Which led me down the Crews Rabbit Hole, starting with the autobiography of his childhood, which was so grim & painful, yet perfect in its qualities somehow.

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posted by Hesychia at 9:16 PM on March 29, 2012


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curious about the e.e.cummings buffalo bill line, and the connection, not knowing Crews?
posted by chapps at 9:21 PM on March 29, 2012


chapps - he has (had? has....) that line tattooed on his arm.
posted by tzikeh at 9:22 PM on March 29, 2012


"Truth of the matter was, stories was everything and everything was stories. Everybody told stories. It was a way of saying who they were in the world, it was their understanding of themselves. It was lettin' themselves know how they believed the world worked the right way, and the way that was not so right."

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posted by Kandarp Von Bontee at 9:23 PM on March 29, 2012


thanks!

Once saw that poem performed as modern dance, always liked it. good tattoo choice!
posted by chapps at 9:23 PM on March 29, 2012


He came to my undergrad campus once, and my only memory of that visit (I didn't go hear him speak/read) was seeing Crews, a huge, tough-looking guy with a kind of Mohawk haircut, being led on a tour of campus by a male student who was the biggest goody-goody in the English department. It was such an interesting juxtaposition.
posted by jayder at 10:22 PM on March 29, 2012


Goddamn. My dad is (was?...is) pals with Harry.I hung around him a time or two, and he was such a singularly large thing to be in the presence of. His writing is such a true and perfect representative of the man himself. I'm sure my dad is weeping right now for the loss of another of his tribe of American writer: with Kesey, HST, and now Crews gone, we should all weep. We are losing our most unique and natural storytellers, and they are of an irreplaceable breed. Me, I'm gonna watch film of Harry until his ways are burned into my head forever.


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posted by broadway bill at 10:58 PM on March 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


"A Night at a Waterfall" is a great place to start with Crews, I think. Few stories as far removed from my life and temperament have cut as deep a groove in me, like water flowing endlessly over a streambed. The need to tell can be a powerful blessing, for all the ways it fucks us up. May his memory be that blessing.

Now it's off to the ferry dock to catch the 7am to Orient Point. With any luck I'll be in the Hamptons in time to piss in James Frey's Wheaties.

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posted by Kinbote at 11:48 PM on March 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


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posted by From Bklyn at 1:07 AM on March 30, 2012


Many years ago I got drunk as shit and called information and lo and behold they had a listing for him so I called him up just to tell him I thought he was a genius and turns out he was sitting at home drunk too and we chatted for a few minutes and he invited me down for a pig roast but I had to work so that was that.

HA! I'm glad I'm not the only one that did that. This would have been about 15 years ago. He answered the phone, I asked if I could buy him a beverage when my friend and I passed through Gainesville later that day. He very politely declined, saying "Thank ya very much for the offer, son, but I got the head cold, the chest cold, the neck cold, and every thing else that goes with it. Maybe I'll catch up with ya next time you're in town". Rather gentlemanly, considering how often he must have gotten that phone call.
posted by Optamystic at 1:54 AM on March 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


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posted by Obscure Reference at 4:14 AM on March 30, 2012


From the UGA library:
Hear excerpts from tapes of Crews teaching a creative writing seminar at the University of Florida, interviewing tough-guy actors Charles Bronson and Robert Blake, and describing how he approaches his own writing and what kind of an impression growing up a poor tenant farmer's son in Georgia made upon his novels.

My ex brother-in-law knew him and really liked him. This from a person who knew a lot of people and secretly didn't like many.
posted by readery at 4:26 AM on March 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


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posted by photoslob at 5:02 AM on March 30, 2012


Tonight, we'll feast on snakes.
posted by Eideteker at 5:31 AM on March 30, 2012


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posted by soundguy99 at 5:56 AM on March 30, 2012


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A story I heard about those classes he taught at the University of Florida:

One day Crews is late. Five minutes, ten minutes go by. The student are starting to whisper.

The door opens. It's Crews, and he's carrying an enormous black revolver. He stalks up to his desk, slams the gun down on top of it with a clack, and takes his seat.

A silent moment; him regarding the students, unblinking.

"Today," he says. "Today, we're going to learn about fear."
posted by Iridic at 7:27 AM on March 30, 2012 [9 favorites]


I learned of Crews through the underground (at the time, anyway) 80s music types, Kim Gordon, Hank Rollins, Lydia Lunch (Nick Cave, as well, I think, and actually Exene Cervenka might be the one who started the Crews craze with Punk-types to be honest...) who venerated and would mention him in interviews (Especially Gordon), as being the bees knees of hard real spiritual Americana genius and I tracked down Classic Crews, and inhaled it along with the included autobiography and never looked at a pot of boiling water the same way again (When he was six, during a pig slaughter celebration in south Georgia (border with Florida) of a very white southern kind, he fell, bodily, into a huge pot of it boiling in a hole in the ground they'd prepared for a pig, and although he was quickly pulled out, his skin came off. Yeah. Amazing.), but also it began to give me an inkling of how a shit poor background might not be so bad a thing.

Crews had gone on to write modern classics like the Feast of Snakes, that made southerners seem as intense and grounded in traditions of honor as the Japanese (I think some critic did make a parallel between Mishima and Crews in the reviews of that book), and the side-splittingly funny, strange, violent, ground-breaking Body, which takes the confluence of elements of body-building, Southerners, the Vietnam war, psychosis, sex, violence, drugs and body image issues and boils it up (pardon that), into one heck of a party, including one scene involving a muscle-bound body builder falling head over heals in love for an extremely overweight (proudly so) young woman (with an associates degree in "domestic science" or somesuch) who represents to him all the excess he's disciplined himself against, and it's truly a thing of rare glorious sublime beauty. It's one of my favorite courting episodes in all of literature.

Crews, needs to be up there mentioned as a true modern master, and I was just thinking a few weeks ago how little I'd heard about the guy in a few years and how I needed to read him again and what a shame it was I had no Crews on hand.

This is a huge loss and but as true sign as there can be that the Harry Crews Renaissance is upon us. Long may he live in his fantastic books.
posted by Skygazer at 7:25 AM on March 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


Goddammit. At least we've got the books.
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posted by Francis7 at 7:54 AM on March 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


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posted by OrangeDrink at 5:53 PM on March 31, 2012


Iridic, you sure that revolver story wasn't about Barry Hannah at Alabama? A similar tale was oft repeated about Hannah's boozy exit from that English department, at least back when I was in Tuscaloosa in the late 80s/early 90s.
posted by uberchet at 4:04 PM on April 4, 2012


If it ain't true, it should be.
posted by Optamystic at 7:29 AM on April 6, 2012


I admit I got the story second or third hand (from this guy, an old creative writing teacher of mine.) I'd just read Feast of Snakes at the time, so I was prepared to believe anything about Crews.
posted by Iridic at 7:57 AM on April 6, 2012


I suppose it's not at all unrealistic that more than one crazy Southern writer was at the center of a pistol incident, either, eh?

Godspeed to both of 'em.
posted by uberchet at 8:55 AM on April 10, 2012


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