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


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.


I'm currently re-reading this book for the first time in at least a decade. It is still brilliant, funny, poignant and a lot of fun to read. Anyone that attended a liberal arts college has a high probability of recognizing in Gnossos Papadopolis (the main character) someone they knew (or possibly even *were*) in college. (Personally he reminds me of two people, one male and one female.) Although the book is set at Cornell in the late 1950's, it describes a type of counter-cultural, extroverted, young adult agent provocateur that could be found, in increasing numbers, on the campuses of colleges from the 60's through the 90's (I can't speak with authority for the college populations of the late 90's and last 13 years, but I highly suspect that the archetype persists). The story of Gnossos' travels and adventures both echos and rivals that of a previous book, "On the Road" by Kerouac. "Been Down So Long..." deserves a prominent place among the Beat Generation to Sixties pantheon alongside writers such as Burrows, Ginsberg, Kesey and Brautigan. It might be helpful to someone starting the first two pages of the book to be aware that Gnossos has just arrived in Ithaca, New York (home to Cornell), a beautiful town that is known for it's deep gorges (as in the bumper stickers, "Ithaca is Gorges") and is in the Finger Lakes region of upstate NY. I suspect that if one knew nothing of Ithaca, NY, or that the character has just arrived back there after a long, adventure-filled time away, that the references to Homer's "Odyssey" might be a bit confusing. Thomas Pynchon's introduction is not to be skipped (though as with most introductions may be put off until one finishes the book)! Pynchon is not one to provide blurbs for other authors and it is clear that his friendship with Farina is coincidental to his admiration of his writing, not because of it. The story of Fariña's death in 1966 at the age of 29 is deeply tragic. After a book party for this, his first and only novel, Fariña was in motorcycle crash and died. (My father told me that the day Fariña's death was announced, the flag at Bard College was flown at half mast.) One can only lament the books that Fariña would have gone on to write. [Note: I may come back here and revise this review after I finish re-reading the whole book. I just read a sampling of the many, many reviews on this site (wondering if I should have bothered with mine...) and while most seemed to enjoy the book as much as I did, I noted a number of objections to the "misogynistic" depiction of women in the novel. I can't say I ever thought of this book as sexist, but I will keep those opinions in mind as I reread it. I don't spend a lot of time at Goodreads, so any revision may be a long time coming (and a long time gone).


"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.


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.


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.


A campus novel - a great voice, husband to Mimi (Joan Baez's little sis)and college pal of Pynchon. Great stuff - like a literary animal house, hip, clear-eyed, quick, maybe Kerouac's kid brother - both Ivy League btw.

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.


I think Farina's editor was as stoned as the protagonist Gnossos in this rambling bizarrer rant. It reads like a pedantic, sophmoric coke- fueled binge that can only be understood or enudred by someone in an equally intoxicated state. This book features some of the worst dialogue imaginable. Verbal finger painting. It's like the intermission of a Grateful Dead show at the two hour mark where they pluck weird notes to roust hopelessly spaced out audiences. But at least the Dead will eventually play great music the we all love and sing with. This novel never leaves the zone of weirdness. It's no surprise that the movie flopped. I don't mean to diss a sixties icon who died too young, but had he lived, Farina could have used a lot of editing and some basic writing instruction. Apologies to the cult who worship this guy but you can't pay me to read this stuff.


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."

Ryan Chapman

This is my hands-down, desert-island favorite novel, and like all favorite novels, my own adoration is rooted in such particular tastes I understand why very few of my friends like the book. Farina was a successful folk musician, playing with his wife Mimi Baez and touring with Bob Dylan and her sister Joan in the 60s. The Cuban-Irish author was also a published poet, and wasn't known for his fiction until this novel, his first and last. Three days after its publication, Farina was killed in a motorcycle crash.This novel stands on its own even without the coincidental pedigree of its author (friends with Pynchon at Cornell). Essentially a 60s campus novel set at a veiled Cornell in the 50s, our perspective is a unique third-person limited omniscience written in the same tone and voice of the protagonist, Greek itinerant Gnossos Pappadopolis. There's a level of farcical allusion and playful lyricism that put off many readers, but rewards close reading. It allows Farina to encapsulate a wide range of topics without appearing false: the youthful hubris of immortality, here called Immunity; the naive spirit of protest and general counterculture billowing on campuses nationwide in the Age of Aquarius; the outside world, a place of spurious rules and authority figures best ignored as long as possible; and even, despite the protective bubble of the college setting, real consequence and sadness. Farina tackles almost every American issue in this beguiling text, all through the eyes of one of Kerouac's "mad ones." Of course, the bubble of Immunity pops in the end, grounding the book in a reality all too familiar for 60s children. The journey there, with its unforgettable characters and set pieces (and that language!), is one I take at least once every year.


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).


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.

Brad Spurgeon

After reading A Severed Head by Iris Murdoch it would be hard to find a book so diametrically opposed in style and in content. I enjoyed the Murdoch so much that getting into this one is more difficult. It too had been sitting on my shelves for decades (it's a fourth printing from Dell, 1968). But the more time I give it, the more rewarding it is becoming. It does strike me as probably being more outrageous at the time it came out than today. Dealing with university students, it's a sort of Brat Pack of the mid-sixties. But I'd always associated Richard Farina as a bit of a Beat kind of guy, and I suppose in some ways he was, but this has a very certain sophomoric feel to it, as the main character goes from party to party and observes life from a more or less stoned point of view. Too bad Farina died at age 29 just after the hardback came out. Would have been interesting to see where he could have gone from there. I'm still waiting for this thing to open up and sing. .... In the end it did not sing for me and I put it down. Didn't finish it. Probably just not the right time of life for me to read this. Might have worked better a long time ago.... Not enough time to waste reading books to the end that don't really do it for me.


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.

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