Friday, May 2, 2008

Goneboy: A Walkabout

I don't read much fiction anymore. I can't suspend my belief when I think I'm being lied to....conned. So I scour the aisles for good non-fiction: from biography to True Crime. Where the hard edged characters hang out. So I'm in Santa Fe, at a small book store, and find an odd new book called "Hubert's Freaks." It's about the old Freak Show that used to be in Times Square, NYC. Lenny Bruce did a bit on it and Tiny Tim performed there. The book is by a guy named Gregory Gibson, and it's more deeply about a trunk full of Diane Arbus photos found in a storage bin by a book dealer. Good read if you're into Diane Arbus. She took photos like I used to write songs. Sorta twisted. I liked the book so much I bought the other two books the guy wrote. I just finished one of those. It's called "Goneboy: A Walkabout," and it's tragic, moving, and damn good. Gregory Gibson's son was shot and killed in a campus lunatic rubout in 1992, very similar to the recent Norfolk, Virginia shootings. The author digs deep and finds out everything he can about the circumstances, the murder weapon, and the Chinese kid who did the shootings. It's a dark pilgrimage that leads to a rather rugged form of catharsis. I admire the honesty and the conclusions he draws about guns. No simple solutions. The real villians here are the insensitive idiots who run Universities and have no clue how to relate to all the cut-off, psycho bent loners who populate the dormitories of academia. It's gonna happen again and again. I've been inside a maximum security institution, and in a cage with hand-raised wolverines, but dorms and student unions of college campuses have a scarier vibe. Death on the installment plan. Fear in 100 dollar running shoes.
The third book is about a mutiny on a whaling ship - I'm sure it's just as good. This guy Gibson seems to have wide tastes (he's a book dealer himself in Gloucester, Mass.) and he writes an honest sentence full of real emotion. Revolutionary act these days. We are a nation of zombies lining up at chain stores to be fed non-dairy creamer. Check out "Goneboy" and take it with you next time you leave the house.
You know what my mom said: "the secret to life is: never leave the house without a good book. Wherever you're headed, it's bound to be boring. Arm yourself with literature."
Your reporter.
In the trecnches of blood and dust. El Paso.


Saddle Tramp said...

TR . . . hate to be first in line and all but . . The photography of Weegee would lend itself well to your motif. Arbus fits well into your milieu though. A recommend for excellent noir film with fiction done right is anything in the noir catalog of the Criterion Collection. I spent 30 years in the blood, gut and bones industry. The one Bukowski wasn't tough enough for. It's tough for any genius though. In Chicago they got rid of an unpopular supervisor by running him through the works. All they found of him was his belt buckle on the tramp metal magnet. Manholes in hell, but who is competing. Anyway, ex cons from murdereres on down to every stripe populated the workforce. I worked the basement. The bottom of the bottom. No fiction about it. I guess that what always appealed to me about your work. I was a square peg in a round hole, but it worked somehow. I hit the road at 50 trying to buy back my soul. I have been over 4 years living in a box. I have become the road. We'll see what comes of it. Glad to share the road with you.

Road report from the streets of Bakersfield where Merle now has a street along with Buck.
Inexileonroad . . . -ST

dynawebb said...

Your mother was obviously a wise woman, Tom. I try never to be without a book but am always forgetting, always regretting....

Mudhooks said...

My problem with some NON-fiction is that I often have to suspend belief.

Whereas, good fiction you can just go with the flow.

I worked in the retail book trade for almost 15 years. I always had at least one book on the go at any one time. Since I got "a real job", my reading has dwindled to almost nothing and I just haven't kept on top of what's come out. While I don't miss the slave wages (and some of the "customers" -- I could tell you stories that would curl your hair), I sure miss the book discount and the experience of unpacking boxes of new titles (oh yes... and other things).

Nothing like handling the books all day long to give you the desire to read.

The current read is a non-fiction from a used bookstore "Hard Travellin': The hobo and his history" by Kenneth Allsop (New American Library 1967). My father (who I never really knew) hoboed for a time in the '30s so for me it's family history.

There are some great stories in it Tom. I'll pass it along to you next time you're in town. - Anneke

Neil Crabtree said...

Hubert's Freaks must be a fine book, you and John Dufresne recommend it in the same week. That's enough for me.

I look forward to the day when you have released your book, fiction, non-fiction, poetry or limericks. talk a man walking around with a book inside him. The world always needs enlightment, Tom. Anybody living bravely and keeping the faith offers hope to everyone else.
I hope you consider taking on the work.

editor said...

Current reads:

Non-fiction — The Texas Rangers and the Mexican Revolution: The Bloodiest Decade, 1910-1920. Race war on the Rio Grande.

Fiction — Goshawk Squadron. Acclaimed novel of the air war in the First World War. Totally deglamorizes the "gallant" air war, where the object was to hide in the sun and shoot the enemy in the back before he shot you.

Very funny book in a macabre sort of way. Squadron leader watches his squadron come into the landing field as his orderly identifies each one.

Johnson, sir.

Ah, Johnson. I hate that bastard.

You haven't met him, sir. He's a replacement.

Author took a lot of shit for spoiling the image of the fearless young men in their flying machines, but it's a great book and you end up feeling like you know a little about what it was really like: Cleaner than the trenches, but no less deadly and psychologically brutal.

Never leave home without a good book, a good pen, a journal. And a sharp knife.

rreiley said...

I am thankful to have discovered your blog. The book I am reading at the moment (crap-can't think of the title) concerns black Christianity in the south during the slave era. Such a deep and abiding faith in God while at the same time being worked to the bone and beaten to a bloody pulp. Wow!
Such uplifting spirit against such a ghastly backdrop......
In these days of Wal Mart worship, super sized, deep fried everything, neighbors disconnected from neighborhoods and each other it seems obvious to me that we are hopelessly outnumbered lot. Interestingly enough it fills me with peace to know I'm in such good company. And there's deep satisfaction in that.

Saddle Tramp said...


TR . . . I thought this was worthy of an extra round. You really breached a subject when it comes to ( in this corner ) we have " Fiction" ( and in this corner ) we have " Non -fiction. As with any contest you must have the best of both for a good fight. In non-fiction you have the unavoidable subjectivity of the writer and their choice with the assemblage of the (facts). Also , regarding Arbus' work ( of which I am a admirer) check out Susan Sontag's viewpoint. There is a tie-in here.
In fiction's (corner) to which I favor as the most difficult to write (well) , I would point out that any good artifice requires the highest of skills. Whereas non-fiction supplies the narrative and characters, fiction places the complete responsibility on the writer. When poorly done it won't carry you through to the second chapter. Remember what Twain said, and I paraphrase here " My facts may not be totally accurate . . . but I always tell the truth". My take is that truth without wisdom in the hands of a writer is . . . falseness. I have also:

Broken my back for a buck
and calloused my hand on the land . . .

but good writing is harder, much harder. Try writing the Great American Novel. You'll see.

Tom , keep up the great posts with continued revelations on your fine-tuned tastes regarding art and life. I am on the trail ( but many, many miles) behind you. I will try to restrain myself on quantity of posts, but you push so many of my buttons it is hard not to. I did check with Emily Post (sic) to determine blog etiquette on posting comments. Up to 5/day is acceptable. She should know. I will try to keep it at one per yours.
I might be listening to Maria Callas one minute and to Tom Waits on another . . . both are better than they sound. Oh , and alot of Tom Russell inbetween. I would never want you to suffer the dryness of footnotes or supporting documents to show you that I am (real) . . . but I could.
For recommended reading I am not going to offer my current or recently read book, but instead the advice given by Hemingway (that I followed) . . .
" Read all of the classics . . . but read all of Turgenev".
My entry was " Father and Sons " with lessons in nihilism.

Final thoughts on "True".
For those who would not renounce their views (cop a plea) at the risk or result of banishment, imprisonment or even worse, having hot molten lead poured down their throat and unlike Freddy Neil " Ain't nobody talkin' ".
Don't take me wrong. I love the song.

As far as me, I am travelling through the
" forces and fixtures " and like Dylan's mystery tramp " I'm not selling any alibis ".

All hours all days all weather . . .

All over -ST

Mudhooks said...

I finally tracked down the title of a book I have been searching for since... must be 1981, the year it was published. I read it and promptly forgot the title.

It was about someone who found a trunk and belongings in a cave in the Nevada desert. The find intrigued him and he set about trying to find out about the mystery-man. The title should have been fairly easy to find. It is (Duh!) "The Man From The Cave"...

However, before the miracle of Google, I had been unable to locate it until now.

"The Man From The Desert" was written by wilderness walker, and writer Colin Fletcher.

Fletcher discovered the cave and the long-abandoned belongings in the 1960s and was obsessed with discovering the man and the story behind them.

"Trunkman" -- as Fletcher calls him -- it turns out, was a man named William Simmons aka "Chuckwalla Bill", aka Blackie -- boozer, Army deserter, prospector, womanizer, loner.

I seem to recall that the man remains, in the end, a tantalizing mystery, despite Fletcher's decade-long research into his life. No doubt just the way "Chuckwallah Bill" would have wanted it.

Still, the story has stuck with me all these years and I am going to re-read it, now that I have the title, again.

I can recall, this being before my artist / former Beatnik / rolling-stone father reappeared in my life, imagining a man not unlike Dad. That fantasy was dispelled when Hutch did reappeared shortly afterwards... and proved to be VERY unlike "Bill".

Dad's "wandering spirit" was limited to the time he left Mom and me to got to Tahiti (a la Gauguin) and got as far as Montreal before his money ran out and he met another woman -- about 4 days.

Doug Gordon said...

You say you don't read fiction, but I find it hard to believe that you haven't read all of Cormac McCarthy, if in fact you don't know him personally. Lives in the same part of the country; wrote the "Border Trilogy" that fits in nicely with your "Borderlands" music. In fact, when I saw that the subject of a recent entry here was "The Crossing," I immediately thought it referred to the McCarthy novel of the same name.

dynawebb said...

I seem to recall Tom has met McCarthy and relates that they got on well until Tom mentioned the bullfights...

unless that was someone else entirely

Mudhooks said...

"Arrived in El Paso and walked over the border bridge to the Easter corrida. Bullfight. Finally it all came in focus. Cormac McCarthy once told me "they're never any good!" As he skittled away in a book store." From a previous posting by Tom in this blog (La Fiesta Brava)

...and from an interview with Bradley Mason Hamlin "I used to run into Cormac McCarthy in the book store here in El Paso and we used to have pleasant little conversations until I mentioned bullfighting once. He stepped back like I had slapped him. Maybe he thought I was tricking him. He muttered something about going a few times, but "they weren't any good.""

How is it EVERY time I have to use one of those word verification codes, I have to do it 4 times until I get it right???? An I THAT dyslexic?

Saddle Tramp said...


TR . . . a few more " true ones " for you (maybe). Once in awhile the egg teaches the chicken, but I doubt it.

" The Chicago School of Criminology ( 1914 -1945 )

" The Red Rose of Sing Sing "

Another true one . . .

Conrad Aiken at 11 years old coming home to discover both his mother and father shot to death, having to go report it to the police. It turned out to ne a murder-suicide with his physician father shooting his mother and then himself. Conrad was shuttled off to relatives. Trying crawling out of that hell. Was that the point of conversion of him becoming a poet / writer?

Johnny Mercer paying off all of his father's debts in Savannah after his father was in the grave.

Both Conrad and Johnny are buried in that garden of good and evil in that famous Savannah cemetery (Bonaventure).
I have been there and sat on the bench in front of Conrad's gravesite among the long grey bearded Live Oaks. Inscribed on it is :

Cosmos Mariner
Destination Unknown . . .

Conrad had seen this ship leaving the port and called the port to inquire of her destination and that was their reply.

Tom . . . I take the back roads whenever I can.

"The road as metaphor for . . .

Road report from Baker, Ca where the world's tallest thermometer is reading 100 degrees F. in the middle of May. Gateway to Death Valley.

P.S. Watch yourself in Juarez . . . it's getting worse, if that is possible.


Saddle Tramp said...

TR . . .
Another true one to add to the list:

" The Dust Bowl, the Bakersfield Sound

By historian Kathryn Burke who rec'd a B.A. at the age of 82 and a M.A. at 88 and was only denied a P.H.D. because Cal State - Bakersfield does not offer one in history.

Reading it at the California King Laundromat at the intersection of same where it is boring today. Last time here I was entertained with Spanish song by Raul and a $5 guitar. I know it was a $5 guitar because he tried to sell it to me for that amount. I declined and instead stuffed a five under the strings asking him to keep playing. He blessed my travels, stuffed the five in the " guitar hole for the poor "and played on and it sounded good in spite of the neck and body being held together by bondo. Raul lives in his pickup. A young girl picked a bunch of flowers across the street and walked by in front of us. A magical day. Today , I gave out another five to Robert who showed me fresh head wounds from a recent robbery and beating. They all have their stories. It goes on and on . . .

-ST from the sometimes magical and sometimes mean streets of Bakersfield

Saddle Tramp said...


TR . . .

For an excellent summation on Utah Phillips as well as his painted portrait go to:

Americans Who Tell The Truth website.

This was especially poignant to me as my grandfather " Zip " went to work in the coal mines at the age of 14, having to quit school to help support his family. This was in Coalville, Iowa. My great grandfather " Paddy " so nicknamed because he could imitate an Irishman perfectly even though he was 100% Swede became one of the first presidents of the UMW Union. John L. Sullivan's brother used to spend weekends in Coalville at my grandfathers. My grandfather went on to work in the gypsum mines
around Fort Dodge, Iowa until they went to open pit mining because of too many deaths from cave-ins due to poor shoring techniques. My grandfather went on to eventually run the Georgia Pacific gypsum board plant( along with boxing, tap dancing and semi-pro baseball ) retiring at 65 with 40 years service. Those days are gone. Steel Mill Blues. By-gone America. Mother Jones is gone and now sadly Utah Phillips has passed. Fortunately he leaves us his music and as he said " The Past Did Not Go Anywhere ". Let us hope, let us hope.
Keep telling us the truth TR. You have a wall to tear down and a formidable one at that. I have seen and worked with all sides of the issue both working with, and having pleasure with, mi amigos y amigas of the Borderland where ever it has reached to. Too much to tell . . .

From under the twin smokestacks in Cedar Rapids loading for Oregon