The Thousand Autumns of Gene Smith

Tomorrow morning I depart Raleigh-Durham for Newark, NJ and then 30 days with these stops along the way:

Tokyo, Hitachi City, Yokohama, Nagasaki, Minamata, Okinawa, Saipan, Tinian, Guam, Iwo Jima, and Honolulu.

Smith made tapes in Tokyo in 1961-62, a lot of tapes.  No jazz jam sessions, but many intriguing conversations and things off Japanese radio and TV.  Yesterday JLP Research Associate Dan Partridge pointed me toward some notable recordings and I spent a few hours listening.  It was something to hear Smith working with photographer Jun Morinaga in the darkroom, with Morinaga speaking almost no English and Smith no Japanese, yet they seemed to get along perfectly.  The movements and sounds of the darkroom are universal.  Lots of laughter.  A few years later Smith wrote the introduction to Morinaga’s legendary, impossible-to-find book, River: Its Shadow of Shadows. When I was working in Smith’s archive in Arizona three weeks ago I found several warm letters from Morinaga to Eugene-san.  He’s still active in Tokyo and I hope to see him next week.

Close readers of the JLP book will recall that it was the night before Smith left for Tokyo in late September 1961 that Sonny Clark and Lin Halliday were shooting heroin in the hallway while Smith was playing vinyl records of Edna St. Vincent Millay reading her poetry and actress Julie Harris reading Emily Dickinson.  You may remember that drummer and loft resident Frank Amoss was out and about that night.  On the tapes you can hear Frank offering to give Gene a ride to Idlewild Airport.  Knowing of my looming trip this week, Frank emailed me from southern California and asked, “You need a ride to the airport?”

I’ll blog as possible from the road.  Dan Partridge will offer a series of posts about what he’s hearing on the tapes.

-Sam Stephenson

p.s. The great Durham band Superchunk is playing in Tokyo on Monday night.  I first saw them at the Cat’s Cradle in Carrboro, NC in 1994.  What a small world.


  1. Don Getsug Said,

    February 18, 2011 @ 2:48 pm

    love it….bon voyage, Sam

  2. Frank Amoss Said,

    February 19, 2011 @ 6:14 pm


    I enjoyed the 2/18 post about my offer for a ride to the airport. It’s sometimes hard to grasp that it was 50 years ago that I resided at 821 and shared daily experiences with Gene Smith.

    Where does the time come from?

    Have a safe, productive and enjoyable trip.