Monday, September 19, 2011

Harpo Speaks! Harpo Marx with Rowland Barber, reviewed by BL Kennedy

Harpo Speaks!
Harpo Marx with Rowland Barber
Limelight Editions
New York, NY
482 pgs
ISBN: 0-87910-036-2

I don’t know whether my life has been a success or a failure. But not having any anxiety about becoming one instead of the other, and just taking things as they came along, I’ve had a lot of extra time to enjoy life.

One thing I am not now and never have been a Celebrity. Strangers never stop me in the street and ask for my autograph. People don’t’ recognize me out of costume.

I’m a lifelong Marx Brothers fan. Like Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassidy, I just could not get enough of these classic clowns. How can you pass up a movie with Groucho, Chico, Harpo, and Zeppo? How can you pass that up, I mean, we all know that Groucho was the celebrity of the group. He was the Led Zeppelin of Comedy, the Jimmy Page of freeform laughter. But its like Kerouac always said: the real poet of the Marx Brothers was Harpo. How can we not delight in his pantomime antics? He was always knowing that there was a danger and that silence does indeed scream.

So here we are with this great book Harpo Speaks! Written by Harpo Marx with Rowland Barber, although I suspect that was probably Mr. Barber that did all the writing and shaping of this particular text, being that Harpo, by his own admission, dropped out of elementary school, and is always a tad insecure about his education. In a way, that is kind of funny in and of itself; here is an insecure clown as a true cultural genius. In a sense, its like the poem which writes the poet, which is one of my many theories about Allen Ginsberg.

I found this copy of Harpo Speaks! at the best used bookstore in Sacramento, Beers Books, which has been stomping the literary scene in my city since 1939, and I’ll tell you, finding this book, Harpo Speaks, was like finding Meyer Lansky lost treasure. It was like tapping into the mother load of pure oral poetry. So for all you fans of the Marx Brothers, for all you cats who dug Kerouac’s poem about Harpo Marx, for all you mothers who fantasize about traveling with the Merry Pranksters, I highly recommend locating a copy of Harpo Speaks!, be it on EBay or whatever. Find a copy of this book. It is in my opinion one of the most important American cultural statements ever put to paper.


Vince Gotera said...

I love this book. Someone lent it to me when I was about 20. You're absolutely right. The stories about lip syncing for $, the pickle barrel, the faulty booby trap in the toilet paper ... comic genius. Thanks!

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