Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Readings: Behind the Curtain, Part 1


Lest anyone think that I’ve been doing nothing but rummaging around in old boxes in recent times, I will now endeavor to write a few words about, and provide a few excerpts from, a witty and entertaining novel that I yesterday finished reading: Thomas Pynchon’s Inherent Vice.

The protagonist of Inherent Vice is a dope-addled hippie/beach boy/private investigator named Larry “Doc” Sportello. The novel is set in Los Angeles and vicinity, in the recent aftermath of the Charles Manson murders, the occurrence of which provides the book with one of its several noirish refrains.

It would be easy to read this book as a humorous blend of satire, parody and nostalgia; it is more than that. As with all of Pynchon’s novels, the subsurface preoccupation is with the mysterious, sometimes dark, sometimes benevolent, forces inhabiting our world and operating just behind the skrim of “reality” which ordinarily prevents them from manifesting at our conscious level. Pynchon, in this book, remains very much the postmodern Gnostic.

It will take me three or four posts to present, and say a few words about, each of the excerpts I have chosen as essential introductions to Inherent Vice. The first of these made me laugh out loud when I read it. The novel is replete with allusions to song lyrics and other pop-cultural markers of the early ‘seventies. In the excerpt that follows, Pynchon pokes fun at the emergent blaxploitation genre, which was one such marker:

East of Sepulveda the moon was out, and Doc made pretty good time. He peeled off the freeway at La Cienega, took the Stocker shortcut over to La Brea. Programming on the radio, appropriate to the hour, included one of the few known attempts at black surf music, “Soul Gidget,” by Meatball Flag—

Who’s that strollin down the street,
Hi-heel flip-flops on her feet,
Always got a great big smile,
Never gets popped by Juv-o-nile—
Who is it? [Minor-seventh guitar fill]
Soul Gidget!

Who never worries about her karma?
Who be that signifying on your mamma?
Out there lookin so bad and big,
Like Sandra Dee in some Afro wig—
Who is it?
Soul Gidget!

Surf’s up, Soul Gidget’s there,
Got that patchouli all in her hair,
Down in Hermosa she’s runnin wild,
Back in South Central she just a child—
Uh who is it?
Soul Gidget!

That's nearly perfect. The subject of the next excerpt will be (gasp!) Charles Manson himself.