Been Down So Long it Looks Like Up to Me

ISBN: 0140189300
ISBN 13: 9780140189308
By: Richard Fariña Thomas Pynchon

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About this book

Fariña evokes the Sixties as precisely, wittily, and poignantly as F. Scott Fitzgerald captured the Jazz Age. The hero, Gnossus Pappadopoulis, weaves his way through the psychedelic landscape, encountering—among other things—mescaline, women, art, gluttony, falsehood, science, prayer, and, occasionally, truth. A portrait of an explosive decade, sparkling with inventive writing and conveying the essence of a generation, Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me, as Thomas Pynchon writes in the introduction, "comes on like the Hallelujah Chorus done by 200 kazoo players with perfect pitch." "A marvelous storyteller, Fariña is fit to join the company of Kerouac, Kesey, and Pynchon." —San Francisco Chronicle

Reader's Thoughts

E

It reads like every psychedelic rock song of the era - "Tomorrow Never Knows," "Rainy Day Women Numbers 12 & 35," "She's A Rainbow," etc. - played endlessly on a loop until you cannot tell whether you're high or have a headache.From an intellectual and historical perspective, I admire Farina's gift for writing and respect his story's place in hippie history. Many of the moments are as lyrical as the title, and I can imagine how radical if not first-of-its-kind the topics must have seemed to a reader in 1966. But in 2010, its beatnik battlecry is far too dated. While ultimately calling for a sexual revolution, the men view the women they know personally either as opaque obstacles or shining accessories to which they are entitled. The protagonist does not treat one single female with any degree of respect let alone tenderness, and is often downright abusive. Misogynistic paranoia is not radical, and nowhere are the reasons for its persistence explained but for the protagonist's central belief in his radical Exemption. Having met one too many real-life college boys convinced of their own Exemption, said state of mind strikes me as an adolescent phase no more radical than having an STD.

Aaron Arnold

Most likely few people, perhaps militant fans of mid-tier 60s folk, will come at this book from any other direction than from the Thomas Pynchon connection, like I did. Pynchon's Introduction to my copy has a lot of interesting things to say about the background behind the novel - the inspirations for the characters, Fariña's storytelling abilities, how stultifying life during the mid-50s was - but whether it's due to his sentimental memories, its similarities to his own early work, or perhaps some ability to see things in the book I can't, he rates the book much more highly than I do ("like the Hallelujah Chorus done by 200 kazoo players with perfect pitch", in his infamous phrase).It's at heart one of those books that's almost more a reaction to the artistic conformity of the 50s than it is a work of its own. The plot is a mix of the kind of cheerful antisocial hooliganism of Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas and Animal House, while the writing style is more reminiscent of contemporaries like Ken Kesey or Jack Kerouac; think fast, irreverent, funny, loose, filled with drinking and drugs and friends breaking rules. There's a lot of overlap with the Whole Sick Crew from Pynchon's V. So much of the book is obviously based on Fariña's personal life, like the setting, the characters, the stories like the wolf one, and probably the dialogue, that it comes off like he took "write what you know" extremely literally. The Gnossos Pappadopoulis is not completely a Mary Sue protagonist, but his overwhelming coolness - like the climactic rally scene where Gnossos is adulated for seemingly no reason at all - says perhaps more than was intended about the author's self-image. I'm willing to believe Pynchon that Fariña was a better person than his hero, however there are a few scenes in the book, such as the resolution with the Kristin character, that are repulsive and not in a good way (then again, the same is true of Pynchon's books as well).Another reason why the book seems a bit lighter than, say, one of Pynchon's novel's from that period, is that the novel isn't really about much. Gnossos doesn't grow or change much; his self-image of Exemption from the nastier sides of life come off as much more juvenile or adolescent than McClintic Sphere's "keep cool but care" mantra from V. Also, though there's tons of drug use in the book, there isn't the same fascination with druggy/nerdy ideas that his friend had; compare the scene with L'Hôpital's Rule here to the brilliant band-pass filter scene of Kilroy in V. In terms of writing style, there are many sentences with lists like in V., but they don't have the same kind of ring to them even though both authors have an affinity for the same Miles Davis and Mose Allison tunes that permeate their respective atmospheres. I don't mean to compare the two novels or writers so much, yet they are so nearly similar in so many ways that it's almost unavoidable - there's even a fun raga instrumental called "V." on one of Fariña's folk albums.Ultimately, Been Down So Long It Seems Like Up to Me comes off like a fascinating alternate take or set of demos from a band that was in the same scene as a more famous group yet whose career never took off in the same way. Fariña's tragic death obviously affected Pynchon deeply, and maybe that's why his books published after the accident do treat death and mortality a little more seriously than Fariña's does. I'm not sure the famous writing advice that dealing with death is required to be a "serious" writer is really true since there's no one way to write a novel, but this one seems to lack something that would put it in the first tier of novels from the time. Maybe if he'd lived this book would be seen as the beginning of something great instead of the merely acceptable half-forgotten relic it is now. Still, it is filled with the kind of exuberance that's moving at times and delivers its own brand of enjoyment, so if you've sworn an oath to track down every piece of literature connected to Pynchon, like I have, then this is a decent stop after Oakley Hall's Warlock.

Olga Kowalska

The beginning of the 60'.United States of America. One of the "cult" stories of the postbeat generation - in the greatest country in the world, where freedom is one of the most cherished values there is only ONE man truly free. A visionary. A rebel with a cause. Seeker of the truth. Gnossos Pappadoupoulis aka Papps. Almost psychedelic journey through the most important changes happening that time in US. New youth. New laws. Nothing is permanent. Everything floats. And to understand this "better" world, a real guide is needed. Someone who KNOWS. Someone who at the same time IS and IS NOT a part of it. Truly unique.

Paige

"Been Down So Long It Looks Up To Me" is a pretty odd book. I'm not sure if I can wrap my brain around all the events that happened without it imploding. Maybe I'll understand more after 10 more years of life, but for now I know the following: Gnossos is Greek. He would rather not be the figurehead of a campus wide revolt. He's back from soul searching and finds that his friends think he died somewhere in New Mexico. He's been hunting a famous drug lord (?) and is apparently rather good at hot-wiring cars. I can also say that I think the book has delivered an excellent piece of 60's feeling. Although I'm still not sure I caught on to everything the book was trying to tell me, but I did enjoy reading it.

Jeff Thomas

Cool. (Memory from long ago.)

M. Cornelis van der Weele IV

A gang of barely-defined magic hipsters engage in a miasmatic sequence of random encounters with one-dimensional antagonists while possibly suggesting that repeated sexual assaults are a perfectly acceptable way of keeping troublesome and high-spirited women in line. Redeemable only for providing a vague blueprint upon which Pynchon would spend the next seven years furiously improving and offering hope to struggling authors of every ilk that if this got published, they surely must have a shot as well.

oriana

before Picking this up seems like a very logical progression from Stone Junction: both mystical journeys, both introduced by Thomas Pynchon, both books I remember loving a decade ago but don't really remember. I'm a little nervous re-reading this, because it shines in my mind as one of the best things I ever read, and I certainly don't want to prove that untrue. But I'm sure it's as amazing as I remember it, right? Right????after Spoiler: wrong.This past summer I went to a "Summer of Love" exhibit at MoMA. Let me just make it clear that I was raised by hippies and even lived on a hippie farm for the first few years of my life; Grateful Dead was my favorite band until I was 13, and I still compost every single carrot peel and eggshell, even though it means schlepping a gross drippy bag of rotting fruit bits on the subway twice a week. So yeah, I obviously went to the "Summer of Love" exhibit at MoMA with very high hopes.Turned out I actually found it really confusing and depressing. Not because the art was bad; it was great. But all the "trippy" neon and psychedelic tie-dye and black-lit swirls just felt so silly to me, so overdone and clichéd and kind of pathetic. But here's the thing: none of that stuff was clichéd. It's just that every freaking thing that's been done since ripped it off, reducing and devaluing it all by sheer oversaturation into something cloying and mass marketed and hokey. And so it is with Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me. I know that in the '50s when this was written, the jargon, the attire, the struggles and quests were groundbreaking and awe-inspiring and amazing. But now... it's just been copied ad nauseum, more and more reductively and simplistically each time, by so many awful wannabes, that the whole thing feels stale, a little clunky, a little sad. And so oh la. This is still an amazing book, but in a crushing blow I've had to demote it from my "perennial favorites" shelf to "formative reading." I mean, this book had a dramatic effect on me as a teenager, but -- though it grieves me to admit -- it just didn't blow my mind as a semi-adult. For those who've never read it, it's absolutely worth a look, as long as you're prepared to be kind to it, and meet it on its own terms: serious psychedelica, spirit quests, campus unrest, an inevitable road trip to Cuba, and lots and lots and lots of drugs.

Steve

Singer/ songwriter and Pynchon-pal Richard Farina was also a virtuoso novelist. Sadly, he died in a motorcycle crash before turning out more marvels like Been Down So Long... Here is untamed wildness, wandering, college hijinx, wanton Bohemianism and confrontations with the terrible Monkey Demon. This is one of the funniest novels I've ever read but it also has plenty of profundity and pathos. If the meanderings of Kerouac bore you, let Farina show you how it was once done. Worth rereading every few years. Absolutely essential- really!

Judy

Gives a good idea of college circa 1960, reflecting the sexist nature of school life, rules and limits. HOWEVER, a self-centered, self-absorbed view from a drunken sot & stoner. Don't bother.

Marc

Yet another book that got me on the road or led to my staying there for 20 years. Manages to convey very well some of the madness that was myh own life for about the first 18 of those 20 years. Wahoo. Read most of it to Mary, my late wife, when we were engaged, just so she knew what she was getting into. She believed about half of it until...I had been to San Francisco throughout my road years but had been absent from there for about 20 years. Mary went out for a convention and I joined her at the end. One of the first places we went to, Enrico's in North Beach (tragically gone now), the bartender looked, said, "Hi, Marc. How've you been?"Poor Mary just looked between the two of us and said, "My God. Those stories are all true."

Craig Tyler

Quite possibly the worst book I've ever read. Pretentious prose, horrible douche bag of a main character. I lost respect for Thomas Pynchon for writing a forward to this book.There's a scene about halfway through this book where a bunch of the supporting characters crowd into the bathroom to look on in awe and admiration of the gigantic turd Gnossos had left in the toilet, so much so that they decide to fish it out to take a bronze casting of it. This is perhaps a good metaphor for the publication of this book.

Patrick Wensink

One of the most fun books I've read in a long while. Part blueprint for Animal House/part homage to Farina's famous buddy, Thomas Pynchon. It's a shame this was his only book.

Jenny

Whoa. Dude. Pretty fabulously trippy novel. I'm quite positive I missed all sorts of things, but the literary references I caught were great, and the general vibe of it all (which strikes me as being more important than any one intimate topic) was easy to sink into. Whenever I had time to read, I found myself utterly absorbed in the novel, partly because it took a certain amount of concentration to follow, but partly because its lyrical structure soothes the reader and makes it easy to tune everything else out. That was particularly cool. So! I never would've picked this up without my girl sending it to me, but I am wicked glad I read it.

John

Richard Farina led an interesting life in the 1960's. He was a writer and folksinger who played the dulcimer, toured with Bob Dylan, married the sister of Joan Baez, went to Cornell and was an aquaintance with the soon to be reclusive author Thomas Pynchon. Farina died too soon in a tragic motorcycle accident. This book is based on his college life at Cornell where he was involved in various student protests and humorous college shenanigans. The book is hard to follow in some places, but overall worth the effort.

Jesse

Richard Farina is something of a role model to me. If I could model my life after his I would - all except the dying in a motorcycle accident two days after my first novel is published. But besides this I would like to:1. release acoustic driven music with my beautiful girlfriend/wife2. Publish a novel centered around a smooth-talking, fast-living, drug-ingesting protagonist named Gnossos (yes, that's right his name is Gnossos and you don't even wanna know his last name)3. Participate in campus demonstrations against draconian campus policies.and 4. Be Thomas Pynchon's best friend and have Gravity's Rainbow dedicated to me; I mean how fuckin' cool would that be.But all personal coolness aside, "Been Down So Long.." is actually a good novel. While a bit dated (as this was written in the sixties), and a bit misogynistic (he lies about using a contraceptive just so he can get some), the novel is buzzing in style, dripping in a sixties coolness and an extemporaneous desire for change. Gnossos, while sometimes loathsome, is also entertaining to be around. This is not a novel I would recommend to most women; they might like it if they are into Bukowski or something similar, but most probably will not. I think I like the novel more than I think it is actually good. When I picked it up the title struck me as something so modern, like the title of some indie rock band's second album, and when I read the first chapter it was written with such verve and humour that it immediately had me hooked. More so than that the ending threw me for a loop and showed me that this was more than an "On The Road" wanderlust excuse to drink and take drugs (although there is a rather large element of that) But more so it was about the effects of trying to maintain a detached cool in the midst of so much cultural change; and even more universal than that, it's about trying to go through life and never be embarrased or made foolish, and only portray the most laid-back, witty, and insouciant calm that no real person actually has. And, of course, anyone who drinks, takes drugs, lies and sleeps around is the complete opposite of these things; he's an insecure man who has been down so long that it starts looking like up.

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