Still Down So Long: Appreciating Richard Farina

American Fiction Postmodernism Summer Of Love Tributes

(One of our many missions here at Litkicks is to call attention to a particularly neglected period in American literature: the experimental/postmodern fiction of the 1960s. Here's the debut appearance on this blog of April Rose Schneider of Ohio, Tennessee, Florida, California, Bangkok and New Mexico, telling us about a favorite novel by a writer who died too young. -- Levi)

An old adage says lightning never strikes in the same place twice. Don’t believe it. In the electric, eclectic atmosphere of post World War II academia, a series of refreshing lightning bolts sparked a new genre of American literature beginning in the early1950s. In the afterglow of the last Great American Renaissance [1950-1975] the fading light of those embers -- named Kerouac, Burroughs, Ginsberg, Pynchon, Brautigan, Thompson, and Kesey -- still shine over the ragged, rutted-out roads of the American Dream.

Yet, one brilliant star of this latest explosion of new American writers burned out in a brilliant flash, barely noticed by the rest of the illuminati. This real-gone star’s name was Richard Farina, and he was as Beat as Beat would ever be. Farina’s only claim to fame, Been Down so Long It Looks Like Up to Me was in many ways the 60’s complement to the rollicking, wide open classic On the Road. If On the Road was a careening, pedal-to-the-metal sort of hopped-up, amphetamine driven travelogue through a burned out Freudian landscape, Been Down So Long was a stroll through a Jungian meadow where Farina’s archetypes asked deep, pot-inspired philosophical questions of life and love and raged against the machine.

Young Gnossos Popadoppoulis, furry Pooh Bear, keeper of the flame, voyaged back from the asphalt seas of the great wasted land: oh highways U.S. 40 and unyielding 66, I am home ... See me loud with lies, big boots stomping, mind awash with schemes.

So begins the epic travels of the central character in this gonzo-esque account of Gnossos Poppadopoulis, clearly a projection of Farina’s alter ego. The novel is an episodic account of Gnossos’s return from a long-wandering, backpacking journey to a Midwestern college where he was occasionally enrolled. But first, he must find a place to rest his road weary bones. Thus the story opens with Gnossos creatively regaling his potential landlady with an impromptu pseudonym who ad-libs on his experiences as the heroic adventurer -- a central theme repeated throughout the novel.

“You came about the flat?”

British. Murderess of Cypriot peasants; innate antagonist. Be careful. Lie: "My name is Ian Evergood, miss, you’re quite correct. Could I have a look?" ... "Been on a bit of a hunting trip,. The Adirondacks. You’ll have to forgive my appearance" ... "There was a wolf, you see. A marauding bear." ... "Quartered three children before I got him. Ghastly business. Made a topping shot, though."

"Are you British?"

"Greek."

"Oh."

Set in the late 1950’s-but not published until 1966-this sprawling, colorful, richly textured, if not terribly disciplined, novel takes the reader on a raucous, ribald trip on a day-glo painted highway that runs from the American West to the northeastern coast, then down Cuba way- - back when Cuba was still The Great American Island Casino. Been Down is full-tilt hippie paean in the noblest sense of the word. And though it does on occasion admittedly feel like the reader is peeking in on Farina’s psychotherapy, his novel succeeds in painting an impressionist portrait of a culture in flux with characters (whom Kerouac would have appreciated) like Fitzgore and Heffalump, Monsignor Putti, Blacknesse and the Rajamattus from India, all of them in perpetual party mode fueled by a wide variety of booze, mescaline, the ubiquitous Cannabis, and of course the Paregoric Pall Mall. In the following scene, Gnossos, in desperate need of food, finds himself at a fraternity pledge supper-unable to resist a couple of hits from the paregoric Pall Mall:

(NOTE: paregoric: Greek origin, meaning a camphorated tincture of opium, taken internally for the relief of diarrhea and intestinal pain.)

Poppadopoulis picking up the steak in his hands and tearing away a huge chunk with his incisors.

His shoulders hunched, his eyes bulging, the house officers beginning to mumble uneasily, someone coming over to talk to Fitzgore, report me. Exhale. Beautiful, no smoke. Another puff, almost gone. Fitzgore sniffing.

"What’s that you’re smoking, Paps?"

No time to talk. Saturate lungs. All that spongy fiber swilling. Listen to your nerves hum. Yes. Oh yes.

"Woooooooo-HOOOOOO."

"Paps!."

"Shazam." He was up on the table making a noise like a thunderclap, then with a bound into the middle of the living room, pointing a finger at Harold Wong.

"Beware the monkey-demon Wong!"

Great writers, like giant oak trees, cast long shadows over the Great American Highway. And it was on that dappled road that Farina met his “dead end” fate.

He never quite emerged, after his sudden death, into the sunlight of renown. With the sort of life irony befitting an aspiring, almost famous author, Farina died on a beautiful stretch of highway named Carmel Valley Road on April 30th, 1966 while celebrating the publication of Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up To Me. It was his wife Mimi’s birthday when the road called to him one last time for one last ride. So he hitched a ride on the back of a friend’s motorcycle. Less than a mile down the road, the driver took a mountainous curve at ninety miles an hour. The motorcycle was destroyed, the driver lived ... and Farina died.

And a young, talented star winked out for good.

Rest in Peace, Gnossos.

19 Responses to "Still Down So Long: Appreciating Richard Farina"

This book, On the Road, V, and Naked Lunch were required reading when I was at college. Not required by the English faculty, but required to be a human being and part of what was happening in the late 1960's.

A little known fact - Richard Farina's roommate at Cornell was none other than Thomas Pynchon.

Farina recorded two excellent albums with his wife Mimi- Celebrations for a Grey Day and Reflections in a Crystal Wind. There was also a posthumous record whose name I can't recall. You need to listen to these records.

A friend of mine in college tried to make a Paregoric Pall Mall, but we didn't really get a buzz off of it. We soaked the Pall Mall in the Paregoric and let it dry, but the result was underwhelmning. Methinks Farina made this up as a joke.

by Bill_Ectric on

Top notch review! The writing shines, and what a "find" - I've heard of this book before, but wow, now it sounds like required reading for a gnosis hound like me. Thanks.

p.s. Nice book cover, too.

by Bill_Ectric on

Michael, you probably didn't feel it because you were already high. Didn't you also correct something I once wrote about paregoric? You sure seem to know a lot about the subject. Is this all you did over in France, Mr. Random Walker?

by Levi Asher on

I have one of the Richard Farina/Mimi Farina records Mike Norris speaks of. It's very sweet-folkie-harmonic (Mimi was Joan Baez's sister) and I don't listen to it a lot, but I do like the dulcimer and I think "Reno Nevada" is pretty fun.

I believe Richard and Mimi Farina are also among the fictional models for the characters of the once-married aging folksingers in the great folk music parody movie "A Mighty Wind". Though sadly Richard never got to be an aging folksinger, or novelist.

by Dan on

Great review and interesting comments. Everyone, if you haven't seen the movie "A Mighty Wind," do so immediately. "There's a mighty wind a-blowing, and it's blowing you and me!"

Thanks, Bill. I appreciate the compliment from another writer.

by kurtzisdead on

'...barely noticed by the rest of the illuminati.'

I dont know if thats strictly true, Pynchon dedicated 'Gravity's Rainbow' to him and wrote of Farina's influence on him in his own introduction to newer editions of 'Been down so Long'. Theres also a book about Farina, Mimi, Joan Baez and Dylan called 'Positively 4th Street'. Havent read it though, just know about coz im a Pynchon freak and he did a rare fax interview for it

And, weirdly, out of all those writers it was Farina's sole book that was made into a movie (!) Apparently it sucked, but it had that guy who played Kowalski in 'Vanishing Point' in it, i think, which is pretty cool

Also, I always wondered if Morrison lifted the title for the lyric to the Doors' song 'Been down so long' on 'LA Woman'?

Anyway, it is a wild novel, and that bit you cited about his destruction of the dinner party is really interesting - for me anyway, coz I once tried the technique but couldnt really pull it off in my own writing - Farina switches from past tense to present as if it were an accelerator pedal, which Ive not seen much elsewhere myself but really has a wicked effect here

by Steve on

Jim Morrison and The Doors wrote a song entitled Been Down So Long. When sung, Jimbo slung a goddamn in there. Second line to the song was: That it looks like up to me. Gotta feeling he was inspired by said Farina.

by Levi Asher on

I have always assumed that the Doors song (from their best album, in my opinion) was based on Richard Farina's novel, but I don't know.

If anybody out there is in touch with Ray Manzarek, maybe he could fill us in ...

by R. W. Watkins on

According to two or three different biographies, Morrison lifted the title from Farina's novel. He also based 'The Spy' on Anais Nin's Spy In The House Of Love, and 'End of The Night' on Louis Ferdinand Celine's Journey To The End Of The Night. There are several other examples of literary influence if I could remember them.

by ge on

Yes, once BDSLILLUTM has woven you in its spell…I guess I have read it joyously 10 times since ’67….it’s a heck of a shame that the movie was such a stinkeroo---do I hear ‘Re-make!’?
Jonah Hill as Oeuf!...Megan Foxx as Kristin?? Shaq as The Buddha! Hell we’ll even get Pynchon as mise-en-scene Advisor!
a-and we’ll let that Justin Bieber can make a cameo as Wong the Coxwain of the crew team
Farina wrote the visuals-rich ‘Screenplay’ already---it’s just that it’s about 80X too long. -SUCH an important book in my Piscean life---like pisces Kerouac turned out to be, waiting until my 30s to get into him… like ditto-fishy Farina. My older brother stuck around long enough to recommend I check this book out, and it did become like a Bible. One thing younger readers may not notice: It seemed to me [born 1952] that RF slyly set his clock about 4-5 years earlier/hipper/hippie-er than actuality; he put trends drugs styles of the mid-60s as part of a 1959 world, making his characters & scenes seem positively pioneering. BDSLILLUTM was probably the first place I ever saw the words ‘organic brown rice’.
What a book!!! What a loss of such a mind~ not mentioning his great talents as dulcimerist & singer-songer-- A-a-a-r-r-r-r-gh!

Please note the spelling of Gnossos: "Gnossos," not "Gnossis." I might have gleaned something from your review, but encountering this consistent misspelling of the main character's name really put me off, to the point where I stopped reading.

Also, Pynchon and he were never roommates. They knew each other at Cornell, but if you read Pynchon's 1983 introduction to the book you'll know that they were casual acquaintances while in college.

by Levi Asher on

Robert Turner: thanks for the spelling correction. I've corrected the article.

by cf on

This has to be one of my all-time favorite books. And it describes a certain upstate school very, very accurately.

by Michelle on

I know this is kind of late, but I am reading the book at the moment. Paregoric is used for diarrhea, and Gnossos is constipated for a big part of the book. Definitely a joke.

by R Sue Dodea on

I read "Been Down So Long" the summer of '68 when I was 14 and making the transition from Paul Revere and the Raiders to Frank Zappa. Richard Farina was my first doomed romantic hero -- I was too young for Buddy Holly and Hendrix was still on his way -- so it hit me hard that such a vivacious young man could be simply gone. Poof! The novel was my first experience of a hipster attitude and the origins of a Counter Culture. I treasured it for years as though it was a secret doorway to another life. Bought all the albums, of course, as part of embracing the author whose promise was only about to be fulfilled. Or so it seemed at the time. Tried to read "Been Down" a few years ago and just couldn't do it, life and I had changed too much. David Hjadu's book was a revelation and confirmation of what I suspected, Dick was a talented poser but so young that he might have really developed into something. Still sorry he left us too soon before he coukd really fulfill his abilities.YK

yeah, maybe dick farina was a poser...but who the fuck is David Hjadu? I read "Positively 4th St" and it seemed to me that he was hoping Dylan read it too. "Hey Bob, look at me...I said all good stuff about you and I buried that other guy..." Come on "folks" (har!), name your favorite book by Bob Dylan.

Been Down So Long is, as mentioned, incredibly textured. I find myself constantly drawing from one remembered passage or another, much like that other richly textured book: the Bible. (again, har!) But really, the boy deserves praise.

I am sorry, but I thought the review was not worthy of the book. If I can ever sober up long enough, I will turn you (non) cats on to the references, the imagery and the nuances (both orchestral and jazz) of what little dick was up too.

Meanwhile, you can find me down at the Black Elks.

tj

by steve marino on

This book was a gift from the gods the day I walked into the Stop N Rob mini market in possibly 1969 in Gulfport, Ms. I walked in, took one loooong look at that paperback cover, swiftly pulled up my shirt, and stuffed that sucker into my pants before walking out of the store sorta sideways to keep it from falling down my pants leg. To say it made an impression on my 16 year old mind is an understatement. Thank you Richard Farina.

Wow, man, what a read! I still go back and read it here in my 60's, and it has not lost one ounce of juice. Incredible dialogue, slap happy pacing, and more fun than a freshman on her back w/ her legs in the air. It seems perfectly fitting that he wrote this, and right away got killed, as there was never a chance in hell he would ever write anything better no matter how long he lived. A master work, flawed though it may have been. Ironic that the first book by Farina was better than most writer's after 30 years of slogging away. Pure genius. I have it right here in front of me, although w/ a much inferior cover. Thanks for the mini review of a maxi writer who knew what was up even if it was down. The book is a very accurate litmus test for friends too. If they didn't like it or didn't understand it, move on. If they totally got it, you knew you had a friend for life.

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