Michael Herr



If you read Dispatches and you weren’t obsessed with learning everything you possibly could about Michael Herr, we are different!

Read it AGAIN just recently after reading Mary Karr yank out its gears and examine them in her:


Also recommended.

Just a sample of Dispatches:

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What about?:IMG_6005


In my search for info on Herr I read this 1990 profile for the LA Times by Paul Ciotti:

Friends of friends invited him to dinner. Strangers wanted to meet him. Once, Herr recalls, he got a phone call from a guy who said he was standing in a phone booth in Nebraska in the middle of the night. “I could hear the wind blowing. He hadn’t read the book.” The caller said, “Time magazine says this. What does this mean?” Herr reversed the question: “What do you think it means?” “Oh, ho! Now that you’re rich and famous you don’t want to talk to people like me.”


One inspiration was Ernest Hemingway. “When I was a kid, I was obsessed with him and made some pathetic teen-age attempts to imitate him in my life. And I reinvented myself as this outdoorsman, hard-drinking and everything with it. I dare say that influence put my foot on the trail to Vietnam. Which is why that book is about acting out fantasy as much as anything.

“I had always wanted to go to war. I wanted to write a book. It was something I had to do. The networks kept referring to this as a TV war, which I didn’t believe it was. I sent a proposal to Harold Hayes. I was to write a monthly column, but once I got over there I realized this was not the way to approach the story. I wired Hayes. He said, ‘You do what you want to do. Have fun. Be careful.’ “

What do we make of this?:

What sets Herr’s book apart is the authoritative sense he conveys of the terror, ennui and ecstasy of what it felt like to be there. In a chapter about the siege of Khe Sanh, he offers a long series of conversations between two friends, a huge, gentle black Marine named Day Tripper and a little naive white Marine named Mayhew. The exchanges ring so true that one wonders, simply on a journalistic level, how he ever managed to record them.

He smiles. “They are totally fictional characters.”

They are ?

“Oh, yeah. A lot of ‘Dispatches’ is fictional. I’ve said this a lot of times. I have told people over the years that there are fictional aspects to ‘Dispatches,’ and they look betrayed. They look heartbroken, as if it isn’t true anymore. I never thought of ‘Dispatches’ as journalism. In France they published it as a novel.”

But, Herr says, “I always carried a notebook. I had this idea–I remember endlessly writing down dialogues. It was all I was really there to do. Very few lines were literally invented. A lot of lines are put into mouths of composite characters. Sometimes I tell a story as if I was present when I wasn’t, (which wasn’t difficult)–I was so immersed in that talk, so full of it and so steeped in it. A lot of the journalistic stuff I got wrong.”

My hunt for more Herr led me to this Dutch (?) documentary, First Kill, interviews with vets interspersed with film of contemporary Vietnam.  Herr is interviewd first at minute 27:40 or so.

The story he tells starting around 40:20.  Jeez.

I forget where I learned that Herr was living in upstate New York or sumplace, practicing a rigorous Buddhism.  My trail on him brought me to this book:


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What to make of this Buddhist-type idea:
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part of your life

On the lighter side: there’s great stuff too in Michael Herr’s book about Kubrick:

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He’d tape his favorite commercials and recut them, just for the monkish exercise.  




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