It ain’t over till it’s over – Michael Herr

“Sitting on a garden bench – the sun, dappled by trees, streaming onto the lawn – it all seems impossibly far away. It is impossibly far away. The corpse was the worst thing we’d ever seen, utterly blackened by now, the skin on the face drawn back tightly like stretched leather, so that all his teeth showed. A light, warm breeze blows into his face and Michael Herr, master of war journalism, pulls down the peak of his baseball cap. It’s not just that those who line up to praise his book, Dispatches , above all others include John le Carré, William Burroughs and Tom Wolfe, it is that he invented a genre, a new way of writing about war, the cruelty of war, the pity of war and the savage, hollow laugh of the warrior. It was at this point that I began to recognise every casualty, remember conversations we’d had days or even hours earlier, and that’s when I left, riding a medevac with a lieutenant who was covered with blood-soaked bandages. He’d been hit in both legs, both arms the chest and head, his ears and eyes were full of caked blood, and he asked a photographer in the chopper to take a picture of him like this to send to his wife. Now, Herr says, he has ‘cleaned it all out. People keep asking me to go and write about war for them. I say: ‘Haven’t you read my fucking book? What the fuck would I want to go and do that for?’ Publishers keep sending me books about Vietnam; I wish they’d stop. I’m not interested in Vietnam. It has passed clean through me’. Instead, Herr has just produced a book about one of the most remarkable encounters to come out of his time in Vietnam – his friendship with Stanley Kubrick. It thereby blends the two boldest influences in Herr’s living past (family apart). The third and present influence, and the most intriguing, is ‘the reason why I did clean out and why I’m not crazy any more’ – that will unfold later on during the conversation on the garden bench, with Herr swirling a mug of coffee round and round, and smoking half a cigarette at a time. Kubrick is Herr’s first volume since his strange and brilliant book about the life and death of the radio broadcaster Walter Winchell. Kubrick is a captivating little book rather like an Arthur Miller play: it plays out on a small scale, but invokes the epic themes of friendship, art, sex and war. It is intimate, honest and affectionate to the point of being able to say: ‘I don’t want to give the impression that I didn’t get extremely irritated, that I never thought he was a cheap prick that his demands and requirements weren’t just TOO MUCH.’ …”
Guardian (July 2000)
“Is that you, John Wayne?”: Michael Herr’s Dispatches and the Vietnam War (Video)
My Thoughts on “Dispatches” by Michael Herr (Video)

About 1960s: Days of Rage

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