is that you, sam

I was poking around the American Forests site today, looking for another historic tree to plant here in my yard, now that it looks as though my Abraham Lincoln White Oak is, after three years of struggling, finally strong and healthy enough to make it, when I happened across a listing for a Mark Twain Cave Bur Oak seedling. As a fan of the misanthropic author’s work, I considered it for a moment… until I noticed the photo of Twain, or, I suppose I should say, of Samuel Clemens, that they were using on their site, and became totally sidetracked. Maybe it’s just the angle at which the photo was taken, or maybe it’s the age of the author at the time it was snapped, but it looks absolutely nothing like the man, at least as he’s existed in my mind these past several decades. To me, it (the photo to the left) looks more like a Run Silent Run Deep-era Clark Gable trying desperately to smolder sexuality from beneath a bad white wig. (Actually, the more I look at it, the more it looks like a publicity shot from a turn-of-the-century Twain-themed adult film… I wonder if there was ever a production of “Huckleberry Skin.”)

I’m not a Twain scholar by any means, but I just did a Google image search, and ran through the PBS on-line scrapbook that was made to accompany the recent Ken Burns documentary, and looked at some of the materials at the Mark Twain House and Museum (until becoming sidetracked again by the fact that someone just booked the not-so-talented Henry Rollins to speak at the Twain House), and didn’t see anything that even remotely looked like that image being used at the Historic Trees site. (The lower two images are of Twain as I imagine him.)

What does it all mean? I have no fucking clue… What I do know, however, which is pretty fucking cool, is that almost everything Twain ever wrote is available for free on-line as part of Project Gutenberg. (And, in case you’re interested, Project Gutenberg has nothing what-so-ever by thick-necked screamer Henry Rollins.)

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  1. Posted September 17, 2005 at 11:56 pm | Permalink

    My favorite Twain quote:
    “Hain’t we got all the fools on our side? And ain’t that a big enough majority in almost any town?”

  2. mark
    Posted September 18, 2005 at 9:37 am | Permalink

    I love Twain… I’ve had “No. 44, The Mysterious Stranger” here in my stack of books to read for the last few years though and never seem to make the time… Fucking blog!

  3. chris
    Posted September 18, 2005 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

    You know, again one of the main reasons I love your site. I too HATE Henry Rollins. From the days I saw him acquire/demand total identity of Black Flag. Where at a concert in Seattle at Mariner Hall in 1982, he cold cocked a girlfriend of mine who was purportedly his ex, when she climbed on stage to take a pit dive. To his bullshit every man commentary on VH1/MTV. And finally, his poetry, well it just sucks.

    And I too believe that the first Twain photo is not him. In fact, when I read your blog headline and sa the picture I thought it was going to be about a character lunch at Waddo, or Iowa writer’s school. All of his hair seems glued on.

    My personal favorite Twain essays were his scathing review of the imperialism/colonialism of the Spanish American War.

    Where is our modern day Twain now…Mark?

  4. mark
    Posted September 18, 2005 at 7:44 pm | Permalink

    I think that Henry Rollins is our new Mark Twain, isn’t he?

    As for the hair looking fake, I thought that I might have heard somewhere that early in his career Twain wore a fake white wig when he went out on tour, but I just did some searching and couldn’t find any confirmation of it.

    I might, if I have the time, send a note of to the folks at American Forests and ask where they got this photo. I’ve got too many other things that I need to be doing, but it’s eating at me… well… like parasite on British fish’s tongue nub.

  5. Doug Skinner
    Posted September 19, 2005 at 9:15 am | Permalink

    “No. 44” is pretty wonderful. Among other things, it introduced me to the Twainian adjective “midnighty.” See if you can find the University of California edition, which has all the different unfinished versions. I’ve been working my way through some of the UC volumes, which print lots of Twain’s sketches and unfinished works. What an amazing mind, and what a way with words!

  6. Kristin
    Posted September 19, 2005 at 10:43 am | Permalink

    Henry Rollins is smoking hot. What is wrong with you people? I have 8th row tickets to see him at the Michigan. I hope he screams at me, and I hope it is about things that I am sensitive about. I’m sure I could do with a berating. I’ve been asking for it.

  7. Milton
    Posted September 19, 2005 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

    Kristen, you sound like a vile and worthless piece of gutter trash.

    (I hope that helped.)

  8. Tony Buttons
    Posted September 19, 2005 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

    You need someone like this in your life, Kristin.

  9. chris
    Posted September 19, 2005 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

    OK, I do not mean this in a homophobic way, but I am quite convinced that Henry Rollins is so in the closet that he might never come out, or be linked w/ a woman whose face he might be able to identify in a crowd.

    Like the gay lead singer of that European heavy metal band or the leader of the neo-nazi movement in Berlin in the mid 80’s who later died of AIDS.

  10. mark
    Posted September 19, 2005 at 9:50 pm | Permalink

    In all fairness, I’m basing my dislike of Rollins solely on the few times I’ve seen him being interviewed on television… and maybe one video that I’ve seen of his since the Black Flag days. I’ve never read his writing, or seen one of his spoken word performances. Maybe he’s a great talent. I just can’t seem to get around this image I have in my head though of him as punk’s Joe Piscopo.

  11. Posted September 20, 2005 at 10:57 am | Permalink


    I am curious if you have read Herman Melville’s ” Confidence Man.”

    I am about half way through it and have been reading a few pieces of literary criticism on line to fill out the reading. A few have mentioned the similarity to the “Mysterious Stranger” – a Satanic figure gaining one’s trust.

    There have also been many references to Milton’s “Paradise Lost.” One essay claims that Melville’s Satan is similar to Milton’s in that he attempts to gain power through fraudulently gaining trust, but that the evolution is different. In Paradise Lost, Satan slowly loses the ability to express himself- devolving from an eloquent speaker to a mute serpant. In Confidence Man, Satan starts as a mute writing writing passages from Corinthians 1:13 about Charity on a chalk board in a crowd and slowly evolves into a well dressed and eloquent con man winning people over one at a time.

  12. Teddy Glass
    Posted September 20, 2005 at 11:03 am | Permalink

    “Samuel Longhorn starring in the Ass-sterious Stranger.”

    Sorry. I have something like turrets.

  13. Anonymatt
    Posted September 20, 2005 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

    something like turrets? Minarets, perhaps?

  14. be OH be
    Posted September 20, 2005 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

    “punk’s Joe Piscopo” that’s rich.

    Although he always came off as an obnoxious jerk, I held a little respect for him because a lot of his music was pretty fun to listen to. Then I saw his ad for The Gap. Yes, that The Gap. Damaged indeed.

  15. Doug Skinner
    Posted September 21, 2005 at 8:45 am | Permalink

    Dave — I haven’t read “The Confidence Man”; I’ve been meaning to. How is it?

    Twain never finished “The Mysterious Stranger.” The sketches he left go off in many directions — in one, the young Satan is in school with Tom Sawyer, in another he’s a printer’s devil in Germany, etc. One of the basic premises in all of them is that the young and innocent Satan is baffled by human behavior. The version published after Twain’s death was pasted together by his editors, and is to be avoided.

    Is it possible that photo is of Hal Holbrook? He did a Twain show for years.

  16. Posted September 21, 2005 at 10:17 pm | Permalink


    I would say it is a good read in the sense that I am putting it down often to follow clues to what he is getting at. It is making me work. Although it might be considered cheating, I thought that this essay made the book a much richer read.

    I read half of the Mysterious Stranger last night. The version I have is set in Austria and Satan’s alias is Philip Traum. There is a chapter in the Confidence Man that is called “The Metaphysics of Indian Hating” that describes the backwoodsman’s mindset in a way that seems to lack the Moral Sense that Twain’s Satan is so critical of. Very interesting.

  17. mark
    Posted September 22, 2005 at 12:02 am | Permalink

    Maybe if one of you would volunteer to post every now and then, I could have some time to read… (I’m feeling sorry for myself tonight.)

    As for which version of the Mysterious Stranger to read, mine says right on the cover that it’s “the only official version.” (It’s from the University of California Press.)

  18. Doug Skinner
    Posted September 22, 2005 at 11:49 am | Permalink

    It’s confusing! More academic details: The U of C version, “No. 44,” prints Twain’s unfinished draft; they also put out a longer edition with notes, sketches, abandoned approaches, etc.

    “The Mysterious Stranger,” published in 1916, is an edited and rewritten version of “No. 44” done by Albert Bigelow Paine: tidier, but not what Twain wrote.

    There’s no telling where Twain would have gone with the idea; he often changed a book radically as he worked on it. And Dave: as you’ve probably figured out by now, Philip isn’t necessarily Satan. He’s mysterious!

    Now I want to read it again; it’s been a while.

  19. mark
    Posted September 22, 2005 at 9:06 pm | Permalink

    Maybe I’ll head up to bed early tonight and try to get through a few pages before I pass out…

  20. Dancing Man
    Posted August 1, 2011 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

    I dated a TNS (thick-necked screamer) once. It was awesome.

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