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on December 30, 2006
I was compelled to read this book. I had just read David Hajdu's wonderful biographical book, *Positively 4th Street: The Lives and Times of Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Mimi Baez Farina, and Richard Farina*, a book that I highly recommend to readers generally interested in Dylan and Baez and the cultural phenomenon of the 60s zeitgeist, or to readers wanting to know more about the U.S.'s fascination with folk music during the late 50s and early 60s.

I'll get to Farina's book in a second, but first I want to say something about Richard Farina. Hajdu's seductive account of Farina--his manic ambitions, peripatetic wanderings, multiple artistic talents, brilliant conversations, spontaneous insights, Lothario lifestyle, and con-artist bravado--compelled me to read Farina's one and only book just to see what he produced as a writer. Similarly, I was compelled to find Farina's two recordings for Vanguard Records (he made two very hip folk records with his wife Mimi Baez).

Farina was a character. He used others callously to gain opportunities for himself. In that respect, he was a lot like Dylan, and other successful artists, letting his self-centered ambitions guide his actions, regardless of how they affected others. Using others as stepping stones, he furthered his career, first as a writer and then as a singer/songwriter and musician, and then again as a writer. Having learned from Hajdu's book about Farina's talent for self-advancement, I was not surprised while reading Farina's novel to see he is uninterested in following established conventions of novel writing for his time. He had his own style. His writing has been called self-absorbed or solipsistic, and those criticisms are true. An example of Farina's self-absorbtion is that he is hardly interested in providing readers with the usual or conventional cues to orient the reader to the setting, plot, and point of view (the point of view exasperatingly alternates from first person to third person at the whim of the author); moreover, he provides no clear hierarchy of characters (e.g. major and minor characters).

Indeed, there is only one major character in *Been Down...* and he is Gnossos, whose life is oddly similar to Farina's: travling out West, to Cuba, Ireland, New York, and in the South; racking up numerous sexual conquests, experimenting with esoteric drugs and living the high life; manically seeking new experiences; in short, doing everything that supposedly defined coming of age in the U.S. during the sixties.

Readers rightly complain that the book is self-indulgent. Self-indulgence and narcissism were obvious guideposts in Farina's own life: he was ambitious and did not follow the rules. It fascinates me that his self-indulgence is manifested in his writing, which is experimental, self-pleasing, self-affirming, and self-interested.

Another reason this book, written between 1959 and 1965, is worth reading is that it presaged the coming Gonzo style of writing, later practiced to great effect by Hunter Thompson, Tom Wolfe, and a few others. The sixties bent the rules for what was allowable, indeed possible, in popular and artful writing, and Farina was riding that experimental wave long before others who eventually got the credit for "inventing" Gonzo style. If Farina hadn't died suddenly and at such a young age, he would probably be esteemed among the writers I mention above, as well as Norman Mailer, George Plimpton, Truman Capote, and a host of journalists like Lester Bangs and P. J. O'Rourke, all of whom experimented with Gonzo style or New Journalism, an offshoot of the Gonzo style of writing.

So, it seems to me, the value in reading this book is to understand how literary tides were changing in the Sixties. This book is a prime illustration of how those turbulent waters and winds of change altered the shores of contemporary literature. Although Gonzo "literature" never really amounted to a viable "school" of writing, elements of it are now evident in mainstream writing; for example, the birth of creative non-fiction as a genre of writing owes something to Gonzo "literature." Moreover, the Gonzo style opened the door for much more personal experimentation in writing, and Farina, as I said, was at the forefront. Farina may not have been interested in leading the Gonzo fight as Thompson did a couple years later ("Gonzo" was not even a word at the time of Farina's death), but he had tapped into a new experimental style of expression, and I like to speculate that he would have become every bit the artist and changeling that Dylan has become. Hajdu's biography of Farina et al. tacitly concludes that Farina in 1966, at 28 years of age, was already a remarkable, multi-talented, and accomplished artist whose potential was cut short by accidental death, just as he was coming into his own.

In my opinion, there is one other characteristic of Farina's first and only novel that makes it a worthy read: it has a remarkable similarity to Thomas Pynchon's first novel, *V*. Everything that I've said above about Farina's book equally describes Pynchon's first novel, too. Both writers were buddies at Cornell and read each other's stories as undergraduates. They were both autodidacts and injected their first novels with passing bits of arcana from countless esoteric subjects, from nuclear fission to Rennaisance art. Curiously, one song on Farina's first album of folk music, *Celebrations for a Grey Day*, is titled "V" and is a tribute to Pynchon's novel. I think it's fair to say that, even though Pynchon's novel was published in 1963 before Farina's novel, the writers were equally influenced by one another at that early stage in their careers.

So, I have given a number of good reasons to read Farina's book. But aside from these reasons, the question remains: Is Farina's novel a monumental work? Reading the rest of the reviews here in Amazon, I have to conclude Farina's novel annoys as many readers as it pleases. *Been Down...* probably will never be considered a great American novel, maybe not even a minor classic, but its sales will remain steady as long as readers are interested in socio-cultural history of the U.S. during the sixties; and the literature and music of that period will be appreciated for what it tells us about those times and its people. While it is true that Farina's book deviates significantly from conventional standards of good literature, that deviation is exactly why it is worth reading: it is an exemplary novel of artistic experimentation at a critical period of change in U.S. culture.
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on December 2, 1999
Okay, so it's got an introduction by Thomas Pynchon and it brings back a lot of memories for people-who-were-young-during-the-Sixties, but what about those of us who were "unlucky" enough to be born after that halcyon decade crashed and burned? Is the book really any good? Yes. Farina was, for my money, one of the best writers of his generation, even though one novel and an out-of-print (but, if you can find it, surprisingly good) collection of short pieces isn't much to go on. Although the book is actually set around the turn of the decade, 59-61 or so, there's an eerie impression that it was written twenty years later. For all the drink, drugs and college high-jinks, Death, War and that other lost horseman of the apocalypse, Responsibility, are never far away. The main character, Gnossos Pappadopolis, is a rucksack-wearin' hipster who attempts to maintain his Cool in an atmosphere of student demos and faculty corruption. Farina makes no attempt to sanctify Gnossos, and nor would we want him to, yet we end up sympathising with him. Pynchon's famous jacket quote says that the book comes like "the Hallelujah Chorus being played by 200 kazzo players with perfect pitch" - make that Barber's Adagio being played by a jug band and you're about right.
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Richard Farina was a consummate songerwriter, poet and hopeful novelist, until his first and only novel burst onto the scene. Although a later book was released that was a compilation of some short stories, poems, and articles about him, this was the only book he had to stretch toward the literary heavens with. And it was indeed a smash!
Unfortunately, Farina, who was married to Joan Baez' younger sister Mimi, with whom he had forged a folk duo that played and recorded some of his wonderful poetry put to music, never lived to experience his own wild success, as he fell off the back of a motorcycle on the way home from the publication party for this book, and was killed instantly. But the book lives, indeed it flourishes, and the paperback version has never been out of print in all this time, which is ample testimony to its continuing power, verve, and its timeless message, as well as to its beautifully written story.
This is a wonderful book, one that has grown in reputation and stature over the intervening decades, and as another, much younger reviewer commented, it is one for everyone, not just for us greying babyboomers who were lucky enough to have discovered and experienced Richard in his prime. For all of us who have read his work, or listened to his music, or experienced his poetry, or for those of us who were lucky enough to see Mimi and Richard perform at the Newport Folk Festival, one can still hear the faint echoes of their haunting guitar harmonies and vocals, and we truly know that he is still with us. We know that he has truly left us a present, his evocative "reflections in a crystal dream".
Although set in a time before the changes of the sixties started to roar, one soon recognizes teh signs and spirit of the times in his words and the storyline. Enter Gnossos, soul of the road, keeper of the eternal flame, and a pilgrim on an endless search for the holy grail of cool, and the college town of Athene (read Ithaca, NY, home of Cornell) will never be the same. Nor will you after digesting this wild, extremely readable parable. So, friend, don't hesitate; buy it, read it, but do so slllllloooooowwwwwllllly, savoring every gorgeous moment of it. It's all we have left of him, the only legacy of an incredible talent and a wonderful spokesperson for the otherwise indescribable sixties.
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VINE VOICEon August 4, 2004
Gnossos (i.e.Richard Farina in disguise) is a young man obsessed with vision, women, drugs, and faking his way into college as a means to all these things. His cohorts' names are often as ludicrous as the fruitless, ominous adventures they embark upon; but for some reason I liked this better than Kerouac's "On the Road". There's something more sincere about it. Think of it as "The Basketball Diaries" of an earlier generation with a little more art thrown into it.

We get a sense of Gnossos early in the tale as a young man with something to prove, his philosophy of Exemption--complete individuality, maintaining his cool in the face of extreme adversity--bringing him into closer and closer contact with the authorities as the novel goes on. He consistently defies tradition, morality, and all forms of institutional orthodoxy through pranks, his obsession with criminals and 'degenerates' of every sort, mind-expansion (and, let's face it, simple drug abuse) through hallucinogens. For all his heroic and daring qualities, however, Gnossos is not a nice guy. He screws a girl with a fiancee, unblinkingly telling her that he is wearing a condom when he is not, and handing her an enema bag after he is done. He is abrasive and unnecessarily cruel, giving the finger to every person he sees simply because he fails to get laid in one scene. All the while, though, his desperate search for 'something more' comes across even as his darker and more despicable qualities surface. The ending is shocking and sad, but predictable. Pynchon's introduction is telling about the actual Farina.

One of the only beat novels I'd take the time to read.
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on July 19, 2001
I read this book in one sitting the day that it hit the bookstores. Being a fan of Farina's music, I had anxiously awaited its publication, The first edition, which I have read over a half dozen times (about once a decade after three readings in it's year of pubication,) sits on my bookshelf next to his posthumously published Long Time Coming And A Long Time Gone. They are a part of the cornerstone of my Modern American Fiction collection. Since I still have my first edition, I have never read the Pynchon introduction. Farina must have known something as the book's opening quotation from Benjamin Franklin is " I must soon quit the scene." Farina died on the day of the autographing party for this book. Bottom line, it is a wonderful read. It is a portrait of the time, yet transends that time in many ways. If you do not find wonder in this book, there is something that you just do not get. I still mourn his death and all the music and prose that he did not write. So many talented people leave us too soon.
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on March 13, 2010
I first read this book when it was newly published and I was young. To follow Richard's thoughts again after 40+ years brought back much; memories, hopes, joys and fears.
Is it still pertinent to everyday living after all this time? For myself the answer is yes.
Perhaps only so because I remember and realise all the things my generation attempted to begin or to change in that world and time.
A few at which we succeeded and many at which we failed.
But even now I continue to beleive that to attempt something and fail is far better than never attempting at all.
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on March 19, 2014
Richard Farina's book is in reality a prelude to the 1960s that recalls the late 1950s in the U.S. It was the time that the corrupt Cuban dictator Batista was about to be overthrown by the young firebrand, Fidel Castro. The book mentions Castro's residing in the mountains of Cuba and his eventual descent from those mountains with his fervent supporters to start his revolution. The star player of this very humorous and personally written book is Gnossos Pappadopoulis, half Cuban as was Mr. Farina.

Gnossos is loosely based on the book's author. Gnossos was a college student and a fairly successful one at that, who had many like-minded friends and followers, They may be considered pre-hippies, the successors of the beatniks. _Been Down So Long..._ foretells the various student protests of the 1960s. Gnossos is a very bright and colorful individual who deserves much of his fame. The book also discusses in detail the rise of alcohol and drug use, as well as the promiscuity and/or sexual freedom of that era. Unhappily, much of Gnosso's problems are related to these very issues. That should not detract from the hero's popularity and, perhaps, greatness. Being a college student at that time period, I richly remember the student protests of the 1960s, especially related to the never ending War in Vietnam and the so-called generation gap.
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on September 22, 1998
I was handed this book when I was a freshman in college in 1966 and I never looked back. It introduced me to a world I would soon inhabit in more ways than one. I will always be thankful for the friend who gave it to me, a little Ohio girl who had a lot of theory to get through. The characters, their dreams, nightmares and paranoia are those of the times and I think understandable to the young of today who, although the material world they inhabit may be different in many ways, their responses may be similar. Dreadful though it may be that Richard Farina died so young, he left us this rich novel and I thank him.
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on September 15, 2011
This is one of the best books of it's genre, along side On the Road, Electric Acid Kool-Aid Test. One guy's pre-early 1960's college student/hard core party-man, Greek to the bone, experience. Not for everyone, but a must have for Kerouac fans, and those who find, or look for, enlightenment with the help of organic psychedelics and wandering for 40 (or more) days and nights,and sex and fun.... and also for anyone who misses having a helluva good time in school! At the same time it might be meaningless for those who don't fit the footwear.
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on June 8, 2002
Unrefined at times as it is, for a first novel this is far better than anything I could ever do. Say what you want about Farina, but this novel swaggers with the confidence that only a young punk can have, daring you to deny that it's not the greatest novel ever written. It's not, but it is highly entertaining and evocative of the spirit of the times (or any time, really) even if the events and characters are almost comically outlandish. Set mostly around a college campus just as the Sixties are dawning, it tells the story of Gnossus, a man who just wants to be Exempt, who makes his way through the turbulant times by simply trying to do his own thing, whether other folks care or not. It's a credit to Farina that he can make the reader even sympathize a little bit with a character as obtuse as Gnossus, who tends to act only for himself, treat other characters in a random fashion and spend more time as a bystander than a participant. Yet care we do, if only because we want the things that Gnossus wants, to be apart from everything, to try and live life to its fullest while remaining above all the nasty chaos that life tends to throw at you. This is a novel that succeeds mostly on atmosphere and sheer determination, since the plot can at best be described as ramshackle, not quite episodic but not quite directed either, it bounces from scene to scene with apparent purpose but also like a hyperactive toddler, which can be engaging or very annoying depending on your tolerance for that sort of thing. What makes the book really work for me though is Farina's prose . . . maybe it's meaningless babble but for me it really hopes to set the mood, with odd shifts in sentence rhythm, witty asides and strange play on words, but at the same time he's utterly capable of imbuing a scene with great emotion and care and his descriptions are wonderfully different, off kilter but still able to convey vibrant images. In the end, it's the spirit of fun that infuses this book that makes me look so fondly on it. It's the work of someone who felt he could do anything and if he had lived, maybe he would have shown us that he could. Either way, this book stands to show that the possibility was there. Most people who read this probably came by way of Thomas Pynchon's recommendation (that's the way I came) but their styles aren't similar at all. This is equally enjoyable, just for the different reasons and stands on its own as a hallmark of literature from the last half century.
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