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Thomas Pynchon wears a Roky Erickson shirt on ‘The John Larroquette Show’ (sort of)


 
An item that caught my eye in a Sunday issue of the Los Angeles Times 20 years ago remains the strangest story I’ve yet come across in the entertainment section of a newspaper. It said that the novelist Thomas Pynchon, who has never consented to be photographed or interviewed by a journalist in his adult life (unless this 2001 Japanese Playboy interview is authentic), had given script notes to John Larroquette of Night Court fame for an episode of the actor’s new TV series. Stranger still, one of these notes revealed Pynchon’s preference for the great rock’n'roll singer Roky Erickson over Willy DeVille. What a marvelous time to be alive, I thought, with what remained of my mind. Remember, this was ten years before Pynchon appeared in an episode of The Simpsons looking like the Unknown Comic, and in company so incongruous as to beggar belief.

Unlike some sitcom actors you could name, Larroquette likes to read books. (He has an impressive collection of first editions with a particular focus on the work of Samuel Beckett.) For one episode in the first season of The John Larroquette Show, in which Larroquette played John Hemingway, the alcoholic manager of a bus station in St. Louis, the actor had an idea for a story about Pynchon. He sent the script to Pynchon’s agent—who I believe must have been Melanie Jackson, to whom Pynchon has been married since 1990—and the author obligingly replied. I’ve never seen the episode, “Newcomer,” which had aired several months before the article appeared, but I hold out hope it will turn up on YouTube.

Here’s the meat of the story reported by the Times:

Pynchon has a special love for the losers lost on the wayside of the American dream. So co-executive producer Larroquette decided to feature Pynchon in a script and sent the work-in-progress to Pynchon’s agent for approval.

“We made up a novel that he hasn’t written—and he gave us permission to say that he had written ‘Pandemonium of the Sun,’ ” Larroquette says.

The mysterious, never-photographed Pynchon refused, however, to let a “Larroquette” extra, in a plaid shirt, be videotaped from the rear and represented as Pynchon.

One scene called for Hemingway’s antagonist, the lunch counter operator, Dexter (Daryl “Chill” Mitchell), to reveal, quite casually, that he’s a longtime pal of the much-traveled writer.

“You must have seen him, he was sitting here last night!” Dexter insists. The script says Pynchon was wearing a T-shirt with the picture of a certain, obscure musician.*

“Pynchon, through his agent, wrote back and says, ‘Would you please make it a picture of Rocky [sic] Erickson on the T-shirt?’ ” Larroquette says.

“I looked up Rocky Erickson. He was a psychedelic rock ‘n’ roll musician in the ‘60s who was institutionalized shortly thereafter and spent most of the rest of his life in an insane asylum. Somebody that Pynchon liked, I guess.”

*Willy DeVille of Mink Deville
 

Dr. Timothy Leary talks about his wish to meet Thomas Pynchon

Posted by Oliver Hall | Leave a comment
‘Bin Laden may not exist’: Did Thomas Pynchon give this 9/11 interview to Japan’s Playboy… or not?
06.20.2014
08:29 am

Topics:
Books
History
Media

Tags:
Thomas Pynchon
Osama bin Laden

Pynchon & Bin Laden
 
Novelist Thomas Pynchon has a slightly overstated reputation as a literary recluse. After three ambitious novels between 1963 and 1973—the last of which, Gravity’s Rainbow, has a pretty strong claim as the best and most important U.S. novel written after 1970—Pynchon took a break from publishing new work that lasted 17 years. There are only a handful of existing photographs of Pynchon, and they’re all grainy black-and-white shots from early in his life. Despite living on the Upper West Side of Manhattan for many years, not many people know what he looks like.

But he’s no J.D. Salinger. Since 1997 he’s published four novels; measured by number of pages, his post-1997 output must far outstrip the three novels and handful of short stories that established his reputation. He pops up here and there, lending liner notes to Nobody’s Cool, an album by the indie rock band Lotion, or Spiked!, a collection of tunes by Spike Jones, whom Pynchon has cited as a key influence on his work.

Pynchon’s cult of personality is strong enough that the question of his extra-fictional writings is no casual matter. So when a brief piece by Pynchon pops up in, of all places, the Japanese edition of Playboy a few months after 9/11 urging readers to regard Osama bin Laden as a “symbol,” that’s the kind of thing that sets the Pynchon obsessives to speculating. There’s not any obvious reason to believe that the article was faked, save Pynchon’s track record of pranks and the unlikely venue. It’s just barely mysterious enough that you might see it referred to as Pynchon’s “interview about bin Laden”—complete with skeptical quotation marks. Its very existence is a bit of a puzzle.
 
Japanese Playboy
 
The item exists, for English readers, in translation only, one executed by the diligent “Naoki” of the Pynchon-L newsgroup. It’s important that the piece is billed as an “interview,” because only that would explain the relatively pedestrian quality of the words. (Try to imagine James Joyce translated into Japanese and back into English again. The original text and the outcome might not be all that similar.) The text does seem tolerably Pynchonian. He remarks that he’s afraid to use the subway; there’s more about anthrax than you would find in a remembrance of 9/11 written today; he says that he can’t trust the New York Times anymore; he discusses the anomic qualities of the CNN newscasters.

Most interesting is his plea to stop taking Osama bin Laden so seriously. It’s one of those insights that’s obviously correct but also functionally useless: we were always going to take Osama bin Laden very seriously. As he says, “Even if the United States succeeds in killing him that would mean that there are still 19 bin Ladens left. Even if there is only one, there are probably many people who would take his place once they kill bin Laden. ... If we look at this from a different point-of-view, we should look at bin Laden as a symbol rather than a man. Bin Laden may not even exist.

Here’s Naoki’s translation of the “interview,” with a few typos corrected:
 

Most News Is Propaganda. Bin Laden May Not Exist.

All people who live in New York today have been talking about recently is whether they have been to the site of the World Trade Center. This is because it has become a “trendy” topic. Personally, I still cannot find myself wanting to go see the site.

The main thing that has changed in my life-style recently is the fact that I do not ride the subway anymore. Before, I got on the subway wherever I went but today, I never ride the subway in fear of biological weapons. After all, there was the case with the Tokyo Sarin Gas. I believe that the damage that can be caused by the biological weapon called anthrax is increasing and we are in a situation where someone could use biological weapons at any time.

The media station that is consistently giving reports on this terrorist case is CNN. Because everybody watches CNN, it would be safe to say that the news being watched by all of the citizens is the same. However, it is dangerous when people start to believe that what they see is real news.

For the television stations this kind of situation should be a great chance to express their individuality. However, the only thing the newscasters do is read the news in a monotonous voice or when the news comes on during the report, all they do is spit out the words they receive. In any case, they talk with the mere intention of filling up the time they have on air.

The adjective “affect less” best fits the way the newscasters talk. It is a way of expression that has no connection to the human being and no emotional power at all. I deprecate this way of expression. If you listen closely to those words, it doesn’t sound like real news. It sounds more like propaganda.

Talking of propaganda, what changed the most due to the terrorist incident is The New York Times. Until recently, I would wake up an hour early to go buy this newspaper but now, there it isn’t even worth the time to sit down and read it. Even before I place my hips in the seat, I am already finished reading it by flipping through the pages. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that there is hardly any useful news. It is mostly propaganda.

The news on how there are more antibiotics to anthrax other than cipro was a little useful, but that kind of useful news has become a rarity. The New York Times is usually known to be the most reliable source of media when doing research on something that happened twenty to thirty years ago. However, that is no longer the case. The most reliable newspaper that is read by educated people today is probably England’s The Guardian. Everyone is reading it on the internet. I also believe that a lot of the information coming out of the White House is also propaganda.

The problem is that common people cannot make a distinction between news and propaganda. On the contrary, the news sent out from Israel is extremely reliable.

In any case, once a war happens, the war for media becomes a great significance and even the newspapers that look decent at first glance, you can no longer trust. About a hundred years ago, the man who started publishing the Daily Mile said the following: “News is something somebody wants to suppress. Everything else is propaganda.”

Therefore, all information that can be obtained without difficult coverage, even though it may be from the White House, you can think of as propaganda.

Bin Laden should be looked upon as a symbol

The United States has always had a tendency to look for an enemy. It is a country that cannot stand not having one. Even for this terrorist incident, it is already determined that the villain behind all of this is bin Laden, but in reality they are saying that because they cannot stand not doing so. I believe that bin Laden is someone’s clown for a rodeo.

Although my thoughts are always paranoid, I believe that I’m the only one who feels this way. It is said that NSA is on a lookout for him but I think that like an onion, new layers will be discovered. No matter how I look at the situation, it doesn’t seem like bin Laden is doing this independently. The only impression that I get is that he is some kind of star actor.

Honestly speaking, we cannot even tell if the face that comes out on television and on the newspapers is his real face. I remember someone saying right after the terrorist incident, “Come on, you want bin Laden? We’ll give you 20 of him.” Even if the United States succeeds in killing him that would mean that there are still 19 bin Ladens left. Even if there is only one, there are probably many people who would take his place once they kill bin Laden.

If we look at this from a different point-of-view, we should look at bin Laden as a symbol rather than a man. Bin Laden may not even exist.

The other day when I was surfing the net, it said that the punishment that suits bin Laden the best is to catch him alive, bring him to a hospital, give him a transexual operation, and send him back to Afghanistan. He would then understand the disservice done to the women in Afghanistan.

We cannot forget that many of bin Laden’s brothers were partners with George Bush Jr. for the purpose of oil ventures in the past. The doctor who is known to be at bin Laden’s side at all times was a member of the group who killed Sadat. When that assassination happened, Egypt became involved and there must have been people who fled to Afghanistan.

What is often said is that it is the United State’s wealth that is the cause of the terrorists’ hatred. I can understand their feelings well. When I see a wealthy person, I instinctively feel anger deep in my stomach. If you think about how Afghanistan is one of the poorest countries in the world, it is only natural for them to feel hatred toward the wealthy United States. They have no other choice but to detest them.

Even if the United States stops their support for Israel, I don’t think that everything will become peaceful. However, from their point-of-view this is the origin of all Israel’s mistakes.

On a final note, if I were to vigorously invest in something right now, I would invest in the tobacco industry. After that incident, people who had stopped smoking before have started it again.

 

On the Pynchon Wiki, two presumably well-informed commenters offer their opinion that the bin Laden piece is authentic. The reasoning of commenter “Bleakhaus” is fairly persuasive.
 

I for one am inclined to believe its authenticity. It expresses many of Pynchon’s longest- and deepest-held thoughts:

Paranoia - afraid to ride subway.
Extended thoughts on his distrust of news media - mentions CNN in particular (same station that tracked him down at one point).
He suggests that he used to like the New York Times - in fact, he wrote numerous articles for the Times.
Bin Laden as a symbol - 9/11 is treated symbolically in Against the Day.
sense of humor - consistent with Pynchon’s sense of humor in Against the Day.
The Playboy Japan article also quoted John Updike, Thomas Friedman and others. It would be odd that a bogus Pynchon interview would end up mixed in with those legitimate interviews.
Hating the rich - a very strong theme in Against the Day.

Finally, like Pynchon’s Simpsons appearance, the whole thing is just too unusual to be invented. Playboy Japan, of all things?

 

Obviously, 9/11 is an ideal subject for a writer who plumbed the subject of paranoia so thoroughly in The Crying of Lot 49 and Gravity’s Rainbow. What “Bleakhaus” couldn’t have known when he or she wrote this is that, while Against the Day (2006) may touch on 9/11 symbolically, his 2013 book Bleeding Edge deals with it literally—it’s part of the book’s plot.

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
The Thomas Pynchon Songbook?
01.20.2014
08:32 am

Topics:
Literature
Music

Tags:
Thomas Pynchon


 
Dangerous Minds pal Michael Backes writes:

Thomas Pynchon is the reclusive author of Gravity’s Rainbow, V, The Crying of Lot 49, Vineland and…  Forget that.  All the Pynchon stuff starts that way.  Cut to the good stuff.  Thomas Pynchon is a very, very smart and extremely funny writer and one of the greatest novelists of all time.  He values his privacy.  Pynchon loves history, women, science, song and weed.

His brilliant novel, Gravity’s Rainbow, is filled with song lyrics.  Very funny song lyrics.  Daniel Couch  organized the Thomas Pynchon Fake Book Project to embark upon setting Pynchon’s lyrics to music.  Thirty-seven people from four states helped the project become reality.

Have a listen here.

Aside from the fact that my uncle was the lawyer in The Crying of Lot 49 (just kidding) I actually know not one, not two, but in fact four people who have met Thomas Pynchon. One of them even made him a curry!

Below, the speculative (for what else could it be?) Pynchon documentary A Journey Into the Mind of P

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Thomas Pynchon punctures preposterous plagiarism accusation, 1966
09.26.2013
06:37 am

Topics:
Literature

Tags:
Thomas Pynchon

Thomas Pynchon
 
In 1966 Thomas Pynchon published The Crying of Lot 49 to moderate acclaim. Groovy and jazzy, the novel, which centers on Oedipa Maas’ wiggy uncovering of the machinations, if such they be, of the malign Thurn und Taxis postal network, has proven over the years to be one of Pynchon’s most accessible and popular works. (It’s the one to start with, if you haven’t read any Pynchon.)

A year earlier, a Lithuanian-French writer named Romain Gary, known to me exclusively as the author of the source material upon which Sam Fuller’s late masterpiece White Dog was based, published a book called The Ski Bum. Gary noticed a discomfiting synchronicity: one of the characters in The Crying of Lot 49 had the same name as one of the characters in The Ski Bum.

This annoyed Gary, so he wrote to The New York Times to complain about it.
 

To the Editor:

With reference to Thomas Pynchon’s book “The Crying of Lot 49” I feel obliged to point out that the name “Genghis Cohn” has been borrowed by this author from my novel “The Ski Bum,” published one year ago. The name appears also in the title of my forthcoming novel “The Dance of Genghis Cohn.”

ROMAIN GARY

Paris.

 
On July 17, 1966, Pynchon’s reply appeared as follows:
 

To the Editor:

In a recent letter to the editor, Romain Gary asserts that I took the name “Genghis Cohn” from a novel of his to use in a novel of mine, “The Crying of Lot 49.” Mr. Gary is totally in error. I have never read, skimmed, or otherwise seen any of his novels. I took the name Genghis Cohen from the name of Genghis Khan (1162-1227), the well-known Mongol warrior and statesman. If Mr. Gary really believes himself to be the only writer at present able to arrive at a play on words this trivial, that is another problem entirely, perhaps more psychiatric than literary, and I certainly hope he works it out.

THOMAS PYNCHON

New York City.

 
Romain Gary and Thomas Pynchon
The 1966 exchange in The New York Times

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V: A musical tribute to Thomas Pynchon by Richard and Mimi Fariña


 
Novelist and folk singer Richard Fariña is the missing link (or “Kevin Bacon” if you prefer) connecting author Thomas Pynchon (the best man at Fariña’s wedding to Mimi Baez) and Bob Dylan. Some have called Fariña an out-sized influence on the young Dylan, who allegedly aped the older man’s world-weary bohemian attitudes and persona. (It was also Fariña who allegedly suggested to Dylan that he hitch his horse to a then-rising star Joan Baez (his sister-in-law), ditch the folk thing, and start a new genre of music: poetry that people could dance to).

Richard and Mimi Fariña (along with Bruce Langhorne on tambourine), recorded this vaguely Near East-sounding dulcimer drone on their 1963 album Celebrations for a Grey Day, as a tribute to Pynchon’s first novel, V. Fariña said of the song, which seems like it was inspired by the Alexandria of V‘s chapter five, in the liner notes:

“Call it an East-West dreamsong in the Underground Mode for Tom Pynchon and Benny Profane. The literary listener will no doubt find clues to the geographical co-ordinates of Vheissu, the maternal antecedents of the younger Stencil, and a three-dimensional counter-part of Botticelli’s Venus on the half-shell. May they hang again on a western wall.”

Fariña, whose claim to fame was the “road” novel Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me, died tragically on April 30, 1966, in a motorcycle accident. It was his wife’s 21st birthday.  Fariña was just 29. Thomas Pynchon later dedicated his classic 1973 novel, Gravity’s Rainbow, to Richard Fariña.

Thomas Pynchon on Richard Fariña
 

 
Thank you, Elixir Sue!

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
The Amazing Circular Rainbow
10.08.2009
11:41 am

Topics:
Science/Tech

Tags:
Thomas Pynchon
Rainbows

image
 
Thomas Pynchon has suggested a rainbow’s true shape is not parabolic, but circular.  Well, thanks to this photo taken from the window of a Thai Airways jet, we now have some documentation:

The picture shows the ring-shaped spectrum against a backdrop of cumulocirrus clouds.  Rainbows are formed when sunlight strikes the curved inside of a raindrop at a specific angle and is reflected back through the water, creating a prism effect.  The apparent semicircle of a normal rainbow is only limited by the horizon.  The full circle could be seen if the viewer were standing on a sufficiently high cliff, although it is more easily seen from aircraft.

Rainbows are long said to have had a profound religious and mythological significance.  Before they were explained scientifically, they were described in the Bible as a symbol of God?

Posted by Bradley Novicoff | Leave a comment
Rudy Wurlitzer: Two-Lane Blacktop And Beyond

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In reference to Rudy Wurlitzer‘s ‘69 debut, Nog, none other than Thomas Pynchon said: “The novel of bullshit is dead.””  A not bad start for Wurlitzer, the sole member of the piano-making clan who never saw a dime (or not many) from his family name.

Tracing the often-psychedelic wanderlust of its title character who was either insane or drug-addicted (or both), Nog brought Wurlitzer a certain degree of fame as a novelist, but he’s perhaps best known, and celebrated, for his screenwriting.  His collaboration with Sam Peckinpah yielded the Bob Dylan-scored Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid.  Two years before that, though, he and Monte Hellman pulled off one of my all-time cinematic favorites, Two-Lane Blacktop.

Starring James Taylor and Dennis Wilson (both looking shockingly boyish) as eternally drifting drivers, Two-Lane featured sparse dialogue and even sparser performances.  Visually, though, it’s pure poetry, and, to me, a still-vital piece of American existentialism—especially in its final moment.  The trailer for Two-Lane follows below.

And just up at Chuck Palahniuk‘s website, an excellent, yet typically elusive, interview with Wurlitzer where he discusses everything from Dylan to Pynchon.  Regarding his new-ish novel, The Drop Edge of Yonder, Wurlitzer also addresses, politely, “l’affaire de Jim Jarmusch.”  Apparently, the director “pillaged” from Wurlitzer the raw material he’d later shape into Dead Man.  You can read the interview here.

 
See also in Arthur Magazine: ON THE DRIFT: Rudy Wurlitzer and the Road to Nowhere

Posted by Bradley Novicoff | Leave a comment
Sharon Tate’s Don’t Make Waves

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Yes, Woodstock, but last week also saw the 40th anniversary of LA’s darkest campfire tale.  You probably know the story by now (and if you don’t, you can read about it here, or here), but the shorthand goes like this…

On the night of August 8, 1969, Charles Manson disciples Susan Atkins, Charles “Tex” Watson, Patricia Krenwinkel and Linda Kasabian stormed the rented home of Roman Polanski on 10050 Cielo Drive.  Once behind its gates, they brutally and systematically took the lives of 5 people—including the life of Polanski’s eight-and-a-half months pregnant girlfriend, actress Sharon Tate.  Tate was the last to die, knived by Watson while she was pinned down by Atkins, who then took some of Tate’s blood and used it to scrawl “PIG” on the porch wall.  Manson had ordered her to leave behind a sign, “something witchy.”

The tragic events of that night, spilled into the following night and continued to ripple out through the decade(s) to come.  Even today, the events of August ‘69 provided Pynchon with the darkly seismic backdrop to his new novel, Inherent Vice.  The fallout was felt everywhere—even I had nightmares.  Not about the events themselves (I was too young to remember those), but about Manson someday going free, and moving down the block

After losing his wife and unborn child, Polanski was understandably devastated, and his life, eight years later, would go on to take another troubled turn.  And Sharon Tate’s legacy?  Beyond a still-loyal fanbase, all she left behind is a smattering of films and the promise of what might have been.  And that promise, in my eyes, is at its most tangible in Tate’s American debut, Don’t Make Waves
 
image
 
What’s it all about?  Not much beyond The Byrds’ winning title track and Tony Curtis’ “Carlo Cofield” moving to Malibu and mixing it up with the town’s free-lovin’ oddballs.  It was directed by Brit Alexander Mackendrick, a decade past his Sweet Smell of Success, and features one of my all-time favorite character actors, the criminally underappreciated Robert Webber.  Curtis and Webber aside, though, it’s Tate who steals the show as the always-bikinied skydiver, “Malibu.”  In fact, Tate made such a strong impression, she served as the inspiration for Mattel’s “Malibu Barbie.”
 
A physical copy of Waves is hard to come by.  But you can still catch it for yourself, in its 10-part entirety, on YouTube.  Part 1 starts right here.  The trailer follows below.

 
In The LA Times: Restoring Sharon Tate

Posted by Bradley Novicoff | Leave a comment
Inherent Vice: The Infomerical

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Thomas Pynchon‘s largely well-received 7th novel, Inherent Vice, drops today and if you’re still unsure as to whether or not it’s worth your while, Jason Boog over at Galley Cat cobbled together a “commercial” of sorts using “vintage footage of 1970s California, private detectives, old-time computers, and some choice passages” from the novel itself.  Whether or not it persuades you to plop down your $15.37, I’m always fascinated by how Pynchon inspires the type of fanaticism that yields such DIY projects as Zak Smith’s illustrated Gravity’s Rainbow, or home-movie versions of The Crying of Lot 49.  The internet certainly makes it easier to indulge all this (see today’s already thriving Inherent Vice wiki), but apparently Pynchon needs the web just as much as the web needs him.  Searching for just the right Vice cover, Pynchon found his surfboard-toting hearse here.

 

 
Updated, Pynchon speaks: The Penguin Group USA just released an Inherent Vice promo piece featuring “unconfirmed” voice-over work from the man himself!  Keep watching until the very end, though, where Pynchon mocks the high cost of his own book, and sighs, “That used to be like 3 weeks of groceries, man!  What year is this again?”
 

 
(Thanks, Frank Smith!)

Posted by Bradley Novicoff | Leave a comment
7 Days To Vice!

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One of my more interesting vacations involved a weekend in Palm Desert with Thomas Pynchon‘s just-released Mason & Dixon.  Fueled by coffee, date shakes and excitement, I plowed through that book’s 773 pages in 3 days, and emerged from it shaken…dazzled…moved.  Yep, moved.  What seems to get lost in the shuffle when those of us who still talk about Pynchon talk about Pynchon is how gracefully he can knit together a moment of Maximum Emotional Devastation.  I’m thinking now of Mason receiving comfort from his estranged son in the wake of Dixon’s death, or Zoyd Wheeler’s understanding that after so many wrong turns in life, in coming to Vineland, he was finally, FINALLY, guiding his family somewhere right—and good.  I could go on and on, and probably will, when next Tuesday sees the release of Pynchon’s seventh book, Inherent Vice.  The early reviews are in, and they do look promising—especially if you’ve been waiting for a Pynchonian take on Raymond Chandler set in the very beach towns where he presumably composed Gravity’s Rainbow.

And if you’re interested in that book’s construction, you might want to check out
A Journey Into The Mind Of [p].  The more interesting parts of Fosco Dubini’s (!) documentary trace Pynchon’s footsteps all the way to the apartment he was living and writing in.  The least interesting parts revolve around the chase for the man himself.
I mean, we (old fans) all know what he looks like by now, don’t we?!

Louis Menand on Inherent Vice in The New Yorker

Tim Martin on Inherent Vice in The Telegraph

Oh, and big FYI: the Inherent Vice wiki goes live next Tuesday morning!

Posted by Bradley Novicoff | Leave a comment