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

Jeff Thomas

Cool. (Memory from long ago.)


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!


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.


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.


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.

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.

Bob Schnell

Not sure how I missed this book in my college years. This book should have been right up there with the Fear & Loathings, "Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test", Vonnegut, Kerouac, Hesse and "Stranger in a Strange Land". Reading it 30 years after college (and almost 45 years after its publication) dilutes the shocking impact of the hipster-guru inner dialogue and outrageous acts of the main character, Gnossos. On the other hand, I get more of the cultural and historical references now than I would have then.This semi-autobiographical work of fiction (by Richard Farina, a person I knew nothing about until reading "Positively 4th Street") follows the antics of a man too smart, worldly, spiritual and drug-addled to still be in college. I think we all knew that person, or someone like him, who seemed to get good grades without studying and was always impervious to consequences for actions that would get others thrown in jail. There are the now familiar scenes of drug trips, mystical experiences, an orgy, a trip to Cuba during the Revolution and a student uprising. All told in prose that is occasionally inpenetrable but always "hip". Overall, I found this to be hilarious fun and would've given it 5 stars but for the misogynist scenes that are quite out of fashion in this day and age.


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).

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.

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.


After attending a book signing party for "Been Down So Long..." Richard Farina climbed onto a guest's motorcycle to attend his wife's birthday party, but he was killed in an accident before arriving. Though his wife had been upset with him at the signing because he had failed to get her a present, she returned home days after his death to find the apart they had shared filled with flowers he'd arranged to have delivered. Much like these forgotten blooms, Farina's sole novel should be considered precious. Friends of Thomas Pynchon and Bob Dylan, a patron of the White Horse and protest folk singer, married to Joan Baez's sister, Farina was entrenched in 1960's New York bohemian and beat scene. It is this that lends a certain authenticity to his caricature as character, Gnossos Pappadopoulis. Gnossos is a controversial, bombastic, drug-addled dreamer, hip to the point of modern myth amongst his peers and at the same time, utterly peerless. He becomes entangled with political protest groups, dope pushers, spacey neighbors, and one certain femme fatale, and Farina takes us along for the ride. The result is a comic trip and shimmering, secret, psychedelic gem. Not as well known as the work of Farina's counterparts, "Been Down So Long" waits patiently to be discovered, much like the blossoms he'd seemingly sent to Mimi from beyond the grave. It is by turns outrageous and brilliant, and Gnossos is as frustrating and awful as he is lovable, surrounded by a cast of mad geniuses and impassioned coeds. While "Been Down So Long" is written in a very specific setting, the larger picture it creates is one of youth desperately searching for meaning in a possibly random world. Of course, it is not the only novel to explore this, but it deserves a place alongside the greatest of its ilk. It's hard to say what Farina might have added to his legacy had he not met his end so prematurely, but if "Been Down" is a true indicator of his talent, it makes his passing all the more tragic.

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.


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.

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