Farina, Richard. Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me. Penguin Classic, 1996.
Reason read: I just finished the biographies of Farina, Baez, and Dylan. This seemed like the natural choice for the next book to read.
Which is better? To know more about the author than his work or vice versa, especially when starting to read his debut novel? I had just finished reading a biography that included Farina and it seemed like a natural progression to dive into his novel. But before I began I questioned, was this a good idea? What if my reading and interpretation would be skewed by knowing Farina’s life more intimately than not? Pynchon admits Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me is transparently autobiographical. Gnossos Pappadopoulis (“the G is silent”) is Richard Farina in more ways than probably the author intended. Art imitates life in this case. There is a collision of blood with the manic boo to make everything a little more celestial in its demise.
In addition to being autobiographical, Been Down So Long is a tribute to the culture of the late 1950s. Drugs, relationships, music, college, sex, religion, all show up and parade past the reader waving their colors of glory. Amidst the electric blue imagery seethes black comedy. There is a jaunty style of half lying that simply cannot be believed. Buzzy. I am sure with all the farmland there are plenty of rainbows and you should not forget about the umbro horrors rocks in the roots that fall down like marshmallows in cloudlike wisps. Gnossos, like Farina, was the king of tall tales, as he says “ovarian doom waiting to be fertilized” (p 12).
Quotes to quote, “Wise mother, though, hanging on in Athene, existence through academic osmosis, eluding the asphalt seas outside” (p 106). Amen. Another, “In the cobalt night he dreamed of disaster to come and cursed her sweetly into the sulfur cauldrons of hell” (p 233). Sure. Last one, “The loose beads of perception seemed to be falling through a hole in the tangible surface of the world and spilling all over the four-dimensional floor” (p 303). My favorite.
Author fact: Farina died in a motorcycle accident two days after the publication of Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me.
Book trivia: Thomas Pynchon wrote the introduction to Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me.
Playlist: Harry Belafonte, Corelli, Dave Brubeck, Miles Davis (the best of all the jazz cats), Peter Yarrow, Peter, Paul, and Mary, Buddy Holly, Leadbelly, Mose Allison, Weill and Breck, and of course Mimi Baez. “Peggy Sue” and “Silent Night”.
Nancy said: Pearl mentioned Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me because he is the subject of a memoir from the 1960s. Been Down So Long… shouldn’t be in More Book Lust (or at least the chapter on the 1960s).
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “The 1960s In Fact and Fiction” (p 178).