“Been Down So Long…” I’m not sure but I believe it was Mick White who gave me a copy of Richard Fariña's novel Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me and I fell under the spell of Gnossos Pappadopoulis.
Bigger than life, the portrait of that rambling wastrel who followed in Kerouac’s footsteps, stands out in my mind to this day. With the title taken from a line in the 1928 blues song "I Will Turn Your Money Green," by Furry Lewis, Fariña sculpted composite characters from the people of his own life to create a story that his Cornell classmate Thomas Pynchon described as "coming on like the Hallelujah Chorus done by 200 kazoo players with perfect pitch... hilarious, chilling, sexy, profound, maniacal, beautiful and outrageous all at the same time…"
With the name of Gnossos (in my mind a homophone for the Greek gnosis - knowledge) Fariña’s protagonist grabbed my attention while getting drunk and stoned at a frat party when he quoted poetry, "Dear to me is sleep...While evil and shame endure, not to see, not to feel is my good fortune," and then followed that up with, “I've been on a voyage, old sport, a kind of quest, I've seen fire and pestilence, symptoms of a great disease. I'm exempt.”
It was the concept of exemption through cool that put the hook in me, "I am not ionized and I possess not valence…" and I read the book twice without ever putting it down. Then I read Pynchon’s preface and discovered the sheer poetry of Fariña’s death. On April 30, 1966, two days after the publication of his novel, he left his wife’s 21st birthday party on a late night joy ride down Carmel Valley Road. At the S-turn less than two hundred feet from the spot where on the Carmel River where John Steinbeck sent his denizens from Cannery Row on their infamous frog hunt, the driver lost control and Fariña fell from the back of a motorcycle, “…traveling ( by police estimates) at 90 miles per hour even though "a prudent speed" would have been thirty…”
“No use crying, talking to a stranger,
naming the sorrow you've seen
Too many bad times, too many sad times
Nobody knows what you mean.
But if somehow you could pack up your sorrows
and give them all to me
You would lose them, I know how to use them
Give them all to me.
The lyric and chorus seemed to fit my state of need:
… and My First and Only Trip to the Half Baked Shrink: I don’t remember how it happened. All that I can recall is that somehow, “Mac” persuaded me to go see a psychiatrist. I have no recollection of who he was, what he looked like, what we talked about or what, if any, diagnosis he may have prescribed; except…
…that while we sat in the waiting room of his office listening to inane Muzak, I scribbled this bit of verse in the margin of whatever book I was reading:
for his own sickness.”
And now let’s skip over Joni Mitchell’s more famous cover and go to the original Twisted source: Lambert, Hendricks and Ross, for some perspective on the scene:
Next up on JMac1949 - Memories, 1969 – March - Driving on PCP & the Art Museum, Dan & Mick, Marxist Philosophy Professor & Black Panthers.
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