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  The text of Darger's Simplex letter:
Free Distribution of Orchestrations
1531 Broadway
New York

Oct. 10, 1921

H.J. Darger.
1035 Webster Ave.
Chicago, Ill.

Esteemed Friend:-

You have been referred to us as having written a song which would appeal to the orchestras throughout the country, if presented to them.

Our business is to bring your song before the public without any cost to you. The orchestras are badly in need of new material.

Having your song played in public places is one of the quickest ways of introducing it to the public.

Please bear in mind that this service costs you absolutely nothing. Now if it is possible please send us orchestration of your song, by return mail.

Thanking you in advance for your prompt attention to this matter, we are

Very truly yours,
[signed] Irving Edwards

  Letter reproduced courtesy the Collection of the Museum of American Folk Art, New York. Copyright Kiyoko Lerner.

Henry Darger: Outsider Artist ... Song-Poet?

by Phil Milstein

Henry Darger, the most important Outsider artist America has ever produced, may also have been a song-poet. Although known primarily for his paintings, Darger was equally consumed with his writings, which included the 12-volume, 15,145-page In The Realms Of The Unreal, called by art critic John M. McGregor "the longest work of imaginative prose ever written, and a work of pure obsession." Among the mass of materials found in Darger's one-room Chicago apartment upon his move to a retirement home in 1972 (where he died six months later) was a song-poem form letter.

Dated 1921, the letter is from The Simplex Company of New York City. The brief boilerplate text unfortunately obscures the details of Darger's submission. However, a reading of what is there, informed by some understanding of the tricks of the song-poem trade, can lead us to a few assumptions about the nature of Darger's correspondence with Simplex.

The opening sentence reads, "You have been referred to us as having written a song," which suggests that Simplex had initiated contact with Darger; he may never have written to them at all. One of the prime means of song-poem deception is for a company to take out an ad soliciting song material, and then follow up submissions to that ad with an encouraging response under the letterhead of an entirely different company. The prospective customer is thus led to believe that the company to which he'd sent his song has already located a publisher with interest in it. This scenario fits the wording of Simplex's letter, and is the likeliest possibility of how they came to write to Darger.

Although The Simplex Company is otherwise unknown to us, and the use of the word "orchestrations" (an obsolete term for what is now called "arrangements") may seem to throw their letter into an arena other than song-poem music, Darger researcher Matthew Michael has located copyright records for 11 songs registered from 1922 to 1925 either by Simplex or the affiliated Lenox Co., Inc. that underscore the likelihood that they were indeed involved in song-poem activity. Irving Edwards, the signer of Simplex's letter to Darger and apparently the company's owner, wrote the music to ten of the 11 songs, with lyrics contributed by a variety of individuals scattered around the country. (The eleventh is a waltz written exclusively by Edwards.) A distribution of this type is one of the surest signs of a song-poem situation.

Alas, Henry Darger's lyric is not among the Simplex/Lenox registrations. Michael Bonesteel reprints in his book Henry Darger: Art And Selected Writings three poems Darger included in In The Realms Of The Unreal. It's possible that one of these, either in altered form or intact, constituted his song-poem submission.

The fact that Darger lived just above the poverty line suggests a scenario, speculative though it may be, of him initially falling for Simplex's repeated assertion that "this service costs you absolutely nothing," only to bail out when the hidden cost was finally revealed. Supporting this is the fact that no Henry Darger lyric has turned up in the U.S. copyright records despite exhaustive searching by Michael, and despite the fact that Irving Edwards was registering other songs completed by his companies. Unless and until something does turn up, all we can do is imagine how wild Henry Darger's song-poem might have been.

With the gracious cooperation of the Museum of American Folk Art, holders of an extensive Darger collection which includes the Simplex letter, we reproduce the text of that letter here for the first time anywhere.

For providing the materials that led to this piece, my heartiest song-poem thanks go out to Cliff Doerksen, Angela Genusa, Michael Bonesteel, Don Bolles, Janey Fire, Brooke Anderson and Matthew Michael. For more on Darger I recommend Bonesteel's book (link above); an excellent introductory site to Darger's work; and Matthew Michael's comprehensive set of links to other Darger websites.

All design and uncredited content of this website ©2004 Phil Milstein