Cover art for podcast Open Source with Christopher Lydon

Open Source with Christopher Lydon

50 EpisodesProduced by Christopher LydonWebsite

Christopher Lydon in conversation on arts, ideas and politics


The Cosmic Scholar

Harry Smith was the oddest duck you never heard of in the art underground: an unsightly, often obnoxious genius. Only the artists knew him, but it was a multitude: Bob Dylan, who sang the roots music that Harry Smith collected; Thelonious Monk, who talked him through the bop era; Patti Smith, the songster—no relation; the poet Allen Ginsberg, who looked after the homeless Harry Smith.

John Szwed.

And now the historian/detective John Szwed has filled in a thousand details in his portrait of the cosmic scholar and catalyst of our culture, Harry Smith. He was a compulsive worker who never took a straight job, a heavy drinker and a druggie, “a social outcast with time on my hands,” he called himself. He was a working artist in film, a mystic and a philosopher who said late in life that he had had the thrill of proving Plato right. Music, he declared, can change the direction of a civilization.

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