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


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."

Joe Gola

A promising first novel by a guy who didn't live to write a second. Weird, funny and intense...set in a Northeastern college town in 1958, it chronicles the adventures of larger-than-life hipster iconoclast Gnossos Pappadopoulis, a young man retreating back to school after wandering America and not liking what he found. The prose is thick and ambitious, but also playful and sly, and somehow it all works. While a bit juvenile at times, on a whole the book is deeper and richer than one might expect given the subject matter, though it's not an unqualified success; it feels to me like the author ran out of steam coming down the home stretch and that the final events of the novel are hurried along in a forced march, leaving some parts unsatisfying and others just plain bewildering. Readers might also find it hard to not giggle at the hipster slang in the dialogue. Regardless, it's a unique book and one worth reading, flaws and all.

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.


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.

Steven Felicelli

likened (legitimately) to Kesey & Kerouac, which I admit was not really a selling point - likened (somewhat deceptively) to his friend, Thomas Pynchon, which wasFarina was an interesting, talented guy, but maybe a bit self-indulgent - or maybe I just don't have the stamina for this kind of book any more (my attention span shrinking with the rest of the tech age nitwits)

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.


My favourite book. Like getting lost in the middle of filthy, psychedelic, bluesy rock number. Full of the sillyness of seriousness, tackling politics, history, mythology & magic as through it were a drinking game & the only outcome is to end up lying on the floor in a pool of vomit. The oddly named & nicknamed characters mean it's confusing to get into. Initially it is difficult to tell if there is indeed a plot. Then something slots magically into place & you are right there with Papps & his rag-tag following. Like an intellectual Mighty Boosh one hapless adventure leads into another & another. You are entering the genius of nonesense, enjoy the ride.


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.


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.


Well, if you ever want proof of how sixties totems don't really age well, this is the book for you. The cult following has been long if somewhat subterranean, its duration due in part to the unfortunate circumstance of its author dying in a motorcycle accident only a couple dozen hours after its publication (and only a few months before the mythological motorcycle accident of Farina's "brother-in-law," Bob Dylan). It also helps your literary endurance to have gone to Cornell with both Thomas Pynchon and C. Michael Curtis of Atlantic Monthly fame. Readers will be forgiven for wondering, in fact, if Pynchon didn't have a hand in the book since its manic energy and style are simpatico to both V and The Crying of Lot 49. When I first read this the summer before I went to college (right after the edition with Farina's face on it came out---the new edition with the upside down crotch shot doesn't do much to sell the legend) there were even rumors that Pynchon WAS Farina, or Farina WAS Pynchon. Or something like that. In the end, reading the book is a lot like watching WILD IN THE STREETS or maybe even VILLAGE OF THE GIANTS (best scene: thanks, MST3K): it's best enjoyed with tongue in cheek. Maybe in the end the important thing this book documents is how the youth rebellion associated with the sixties had a hard time rising about juvenility. (Suffice to say that a moral stand in this plot revolves around flipping off the evil campus VP). All that said, you can still watch clips of the Berkeley Free Speech days and appreciate why aggressive generational politics was necessary back in the day: old people really acted like mean old people before 1966. Nobody above 25 gave two shits about being cool or hip. So the book really captures the late 50s period when weed, premarital sex, and long hair were indeed considered threats to the social order. That makes for an interesting if not always sympathetic document. As many commentators have remarked, rebellion here is a boys club---you can draw a straight line from the humor to Animal House and realize frattiness was in the blood even if you were vehemently anti-frat. Anyway, worth a gander for nostalgia's sake. Farina's musical career is actually more emotionally engaging if you aren't put off by the sort of folk music that prefers dulcimers to acoustic blues noodling and has titles like "Reflections in a Crystal Wind." Personally, I dig it, baby. RF's wife was the gorgeous and highly underestimated Mimi Farina (Joan baez's kid sister). She survived her husband by thirty-five years but still died way too young, nearly a decade ago now.


(My how I could ever use a half star... ahem)This is a really uneven but charming book. That charming part might be a stretch given the amount of drug (ab)use, vulgarity and domestic-flavored violence, but I think it lends a gravity to the book that would be otherwise absent. Oh who am I kidding, drug use and vulgarity are naturally funny, they suck you into a ridiculous world you wish you could be a part of! Ahh, but the escapism is quelched by tragedy, major and minor.I was gripped by one word ethoses; freaked out by the monkey demon; intrigued by the mysterious "Motherball". I am not sure what happened in some parts of this book. Sometimes this is due to sloppy writing, but at other times, it felt like intentional drug-soiled narration/shared perception. Very Pynchon-esque.Farina does a couple things rather well. First, he fluidly integrates the third person narrative with the uncensored thoughts of our self proclaimed anti-hero, Gnossos. He also makes sure to finish and start each of the two books with compelling happenings and crisp prose. Overall, I felt the raw emotion of Gnossos and the era, when I wasn't a little bit bored. (I think this is more appropriately set in 60's, but whatev.)I'd rather read something alternately fun and boring that finishes strong than even keeled mediocrity+1. Almost worth a distant-future reread.


I think there is a reason I never heard of this book before. I was expecting an early Fear and Loathing. While the blurbs make this look like a book about the Sixties, it is actually set in 1958. Therefore, it more closely resembles On the Road, a book I didn't care for because nobody ever seemed to have any fun (and the women in the story were there only to serve snacks). Interestingly, the characters and situations in this novel are supposed to closely resemble the author's actual experiences at Cornell. However, I found none of this story to be comprehensible, let alone believable. The reader is constantly thrown into alien situations with little explanation in anything but a half baked hallucinatory jive talk. And I found that most of the characters were extremely unlikable (especially the protagonist).The best parts of the story took place off the college campus. Maybe that is because the narrator seemed too worldly to worry about student government.It was interesting, but I can't recommend this as good story telling.


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.


I read this in the spring, when various things were going on that delayed my finishing it or writing about it, so my comments cannot be as specific as if I had just read it.A few things stick out to me: when in the midst of it (usually on an airplane), I was immersed in it. It kept me reading along. Yet as I didn't read it in one fell swoop, I occasionally had trouble keeping track of characters and events. Not major trouble on characters, but some. It's written in an idiosyncratic style that I recognize as being much like one I developed in my own twenties (long after this was written, but independent of it), somewhat stream of conscious, somewhat poetic, somewhat hermetic, altogether energetic and breathless. I'm still capable of writing like that, but it's no longer suitable for very much of what I write, and so, reading this, I pondered the idea of youthful voice. Few young writers employ a voice anything like this, but for some of us it was just right, conveying our voracious appetite for life and experience. Most of what I write now employs slower, more contemplative voices, which I suppose is suitable to my slower age, but more importantly, I hope suitable to the particular stories and characters I'm working with now.A thing that really struck me while reading, which hasn't (as far as I can tell) been much addressed by other readers, is the protagonist's astonishingly poor treatment of women. Gnossos is generally described as being much like the author, and both are generally described with admiration. Yet Gnossos basically rapes the British woman whose apartment he takes, and when he finally falls in love, his behavior toward the beloved rapidly becomes abusive and disgusting. Yes, he does think she's turned against him, but he seems to think it's appropriate to treat her very strangely. I might have thought some of his actions amusing when I was 18, but now he just seems like a real jerk, even if a jerk who's interesting to read about.Much more could be said about the book--and it's well worth reading and thinking about--but I'd have to reread to get further into its prefiguration of the 1960s (and what nonsense that the book jacket talks about it being about the 1960s; it's set in the late 50s, even if a version of the late 50s that has much in common with the mid-late 1960s).


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.

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