A Critic's Meta Review: 4/5

Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up To Me by Richard Fariña (REVIEW)

Gnossos Papadopoulos was truly the man for his time and place. He fit right in there. And so was his creator, a fledgling beatnik proto-hippie folk singer/songwriter, poet, and former fellow Cornell University classmate of none other than the elusive Tom Pynchon (he of Gravity’s Rainbow fame) named Richard Fariña. He may not have lived to see it, but with this book, he essentially unearthed the rumblings of what was to be the most revolutionary shift in generational consciousness since everybody figured out you probably shouldn’t eat potatoes without washing them first.

Just who was this illustrious Mr. Fariña? Well, he was a hell of a writer – that much I know for sure. He was also, apparently, a motorcycle enthusiast…or, at least, he was on April 30, 1966, the day that he rode one to his death.

Indeed, just two days after the publication of this novel, our man Dick Far-in-ya (to put it phonetically) went to a party to celebrate his wife Mimi (younger sister of iconic folk musician and peace activist Joan Baez)’s twenty-first birthday in Caramel, California, following a book signing event at a local bookstore. At this party, there was a man with a motorcycle by the name of Martin Chavez (I am not sure if that was actually his name, but I did not want to continue this story without giving him one) who decided to give the husband of the birthday girl a ride up Carmel Valley Road, thinking it might be a swell time for the two lads.

Well, it wasn’t.

As they approached a curvy turn, Chavez lost control; the motorcycle skittered over to one side of the road, weaved back on over to the other side, and then tore through a barbed wire fence, where it then stopped moving. According to the police (or, rather, what Tom Pynchon claims the police said), the motorcycle was moving at about three times what would be considered a “prudent speed.”

The crash killed Fariña instantly, but did not prove fatal for Chavez. No one knows what became of Martin Chavez; we do, however, know what became of Richard Fariña: he was buried in a modest grave at the Monterey City Cemetery in Monterey, California. Emblazoned on his grave is a peace sign.

Even when he’s down, he sees the up. Good ol’ Paps.

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