Sunday, May 18, 2008

Readings: A Cultural Nexus

I was sorry to see in the New York Times an obituary of novelist, Oakley Hall. Hall was the author of one of the very few western novels I have ever read--especially with any kind of pleasure--an off-beat re-imagining of the legendary gunfight at the O.K. Corral, entitled Warlock. If you will read the obit, you will learn that Warlock was lauded as a major American novel by the radically reclusive, post-modern novelist, Thomas Pynchon. It may, therefore, have been something written by Pynchon that turned me on to Warlock. I certainly would never have picked up a western novel unless it had been recommended by somebody in whose endorsement I had complete confidence.

Pynchon is the author of three novels that I read in what might be called my “formative years.” In chronological order they are: The Crying of Lot 49; V; and Gravity’s Rainbow. Pynchon is an inventive and difficult writer whose major works have gotten longer and longer, and more and more obscure, over time. I have read a couple of his works since these three, but never with as much pleasure and sense of awe as these earlier works inspired in me at the time I read them, in the late 'sixties and early 'seventies.

Strangely enough, until I read the Oakley Hall obit with its mention of Pynchon, my memory had been that I read Warlock based on an endorsement of it in an interview with rocker, Lou Reed. Now I’m not sure. I would have trusted Lou Reed's opinion of a contemporary novel, due to his history as a devoted acolyte of writer, Delmore Schwartz.

I am sure, however, that I bought a CD entitled “Nobody’s Cool” by a band called Lotion, because I read somewhere that Thomas Pynchon had written liner notes for it. This was around 1995, and any contemporary rock album being promoted by a famous novelist of Pynchon’s age was too intriguing not to check out. I bought it “sight-unheard” and was not disappointed.

So here we have this strange nexus: Oakley Hall, Lou Reed (?), Lotion, and Thomas Pynchon. I have enjoyed the works of all four. I encourage anybody reading this, and who has not already done so, to give them all a try. (You might also try Delmore Schwartz, although he is not technically an element of this nexus. Recommended--by both me and Lou Reed--In Dreams Begin Responsibilities)