Hello again. Many of you have been asking questions about “C-Town Blues,” either via email or sudden campus encounters, like the one I had the other day, in which a student accosted me while I was crossing the Arts quad, and asked, in a voice bespeaking of wonderment and undergraduate angst, “Where is this thing going?”
With six installments down and three to go before Book I’s exciting conclusion, I thought I would take this opportunity to answer and respond to this, and other, question regarding my novel-in-progress. To wit:
What are you trying to accomplish?
Well, I’m not sure. I think one needs to beware of novelists who claim they are trying to accomplish something besides getting this thing called the Novel out of their system.
That said, I would like to think that I am creating a reliable, if not definitive record of what it was like to be young and mixed-up and liberal and experimental — in short, dear readers, not much different than most of you — while passing through the whirlpool of the late ’60s and early ’70s. A tell-it-like-it-was, unromanticized testament to my fucked-up youth, and perhaps, just perhaps, the first halfway decent novel about the Cornell student experience since Richard Farina ’62 published his still classic “Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up To Me.” The world will be the judge of that when “C-Town” is published in book form, hopefully sometime next year. Meantime, to lapse into countercultural lingo, call this a toke of the future. Pass that pipe, please!
Your publishing history is as a journalist and biographer. Why are you suddenly veering off in to fiction?
Because the times I describe, and the experiences my circles of friends lived through (or didn’t) demand it. If historicity was my primary concern, then I would write a history or memoir. My primary concern as an artist, however, is to be true to the experience, in all its freaky-wowness (so to speak). The only way to do this, I believe, is via fiction. Besides the fact that no one would believe some of the stuff that happened to me, or should I say, my alter ego, Harold Rothman. Do you know anyone who managed to rack up a 0.0 cumulative average, and was suspended, and was sent into exile, and was given a going-away block party before taking the midnight bus home to see his crushed parents? Or was set upon while crossing the Arts Quad and pinned down by a mad Irish setter? Or had someone give him acid instead of the “mild up” he thought he was taking the night before his first prelim?
Yet all of these things happened. For better or for worse, I had the strangest, most interesting, and most enlightening (in its own bent way) “career” of any Cornell undergraduate I know of (i.e., of anyone who actually graduated). And the best way, I feel, to both convey the larger parameters of that experience, and the wonderful, stupid, hideous, hazy-crazy-street-fighting-power-to-the-people-today-is-the-first-day-of-your-life essence of it, is via fiction. You dig?
How much of “C-Town” is autobiographical?
A lot, if not quite as much as you might think. Harold Rothman, obviously, is modeled on me. Most of the other characters, however, are either composites or invented. I still expect to get some angry emails from former classmates-cum-freakmates who recognize themselves. (Actually, already have.)
Why do you think there have been so few, if any, worthwhile novels about the ’60s?
I don’t know, man. Maybe for the same reason there are no good movies, either. It seems that most of the people who went through that period are still living it — witness the aging ponytail-times among us — or want to forget about it. Or, like a few of the crazies I knew, the ones who were really close to the center of the Youthquake (as the media called it), literally didn’t survive it. You will not that I am not romanticizing the period. Basically, i want to get it out of my system.
Who, pray tell, is J.J. Manford?
J.J. Manford ’06 is a brilliant and talented Fine Arts major, now in the Cornell Rome program, who has graciously agreed to illustrate C-Town Blues. We are taking the illustrations Reginald Marsh did for John Dos Passos’ USA as our inspiration.
Okay, now that we have you pinned down: WHERE IS THIS THIING GOING?
Well, among other things, in the remaining three installments, Harold will take that first, involuntary acid trip and hallucinate his next-door-neighbor as King Kong. And he’ll spend a lot of time hanging out in the Echo Chamber of Hortense Ridgeway Hall (Anabel Taylor, to you folks), playing harmonica and singing songs with the other lost souls who gather there. And he’ll start hanging out with radical SDS-ers, for reasons as much political as social (including the fact that it was just about the only way a freshman could get laid in those days), before our discombobulated hero watches on as Florence Bent Student Center (a.k.a. Willard Straight) is taken over by black militants, and mysterious fires break out, and sound truck go around telling students to turn in their guns, and hundreds of state troopers assemble downtown waiting for the word from frazzled President Rankin to come up the Hill and crack some longhaired heads. Stuff like that.
Thanks! Hang tight, and keep those emails coming!