September 12, 2017

It’s a good day to just sit around Menckin’


You may just have woken up hungry for bananas, because today marks the 137th anniversary of H.L. Mencken’s birth. A legendary journalist, critic, linguist, world-class cigar-chomper, bathtub counter-historian, real-life Gene Kelly character, democracy critic, religion-non-admirer, and Melvillean avant la lettre, Mencken was the proud owner of one American letters’ great wild minds.

And, it turns out, wild voices. While Mencken, who died in early 1956, lived in an age of radio, movies, and later television, he made it his habit not to be recorded by any of them. In fact, it’s believed that this 1948 interview, with Baltimore Sun columnist Donald Kirkley for the Library of Congress, may be the only good recording of Mencken’s voice in existence today. He sounds just exactly as gruff, curmudgeonly, and whiskey-cured as we might hope. The discussion ranges over themes including the “American lust for the hideous,” how much more he learned about journalism from printers than editors, “psychologists and other such frauds,” and, of course, Baltimore, the great American city with which he is forever associated. Give it a listen: