DOWN AND IN: Life in the Underground by Ronald Sukenick

DOWN AND IN: Life in the Underground

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In this memoir of the N.Y.C. artistic underground, experimental novelist Sukenick (Blown A way, The Endless Short Story, etc.) mutes his usual opaque literary razzle-dazzle to offer an erudite, richly anecdotal history of American hipness during the past 40 years. Sukenick calls this a ""collective work in the sense that it is based largely on interviews."" Collective indeed; Sukenick offers reminiscences here from a firmament of underground stars--novelist Herbert Gold, poet/guru Allen Ginsberg, playwright Amira Baraka, Fug Tuli Kupferberg, actor Peter Coyote, et al.--but it's Sukenick's penetrating (at times acidly so) commentary that etches meaning into others' musings. (After presenting accounts of sexual freedom in the 60's: ""But the delight of eros did not come to us. . .without wrenching ambiguities. Fidelity, jealously, and exploitation were not problems that were going to be disposed of by ignoring them. . ."") Kicking off with his own 1948 forays into Greenwich Village while still a high-schooler in the middle-class enclave of Midwood, Brooklyn, Sukenick nails his pungent history to legendary bars that hosted the often drugged or drunk, visionary and searching denizens of the underground: the San Remo Bar in the 50's; the 60's Stanley's; Max's Kansas City (""Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway come in past put-down looks from regulars at the bar and sit in a booth looking haunted""); Chinese Chance. Sukenick underpins his bar-hopping (sharing stools with underground greats from Jack Kerouac to Andy Warhol to Jim Morrison) with a sensible thesis: the underground, after fertilizing the 50's Beatnik movement, rose up to influence the mainstream in the 60's and 70's (and nearly self-defused), only to go below ground again in the 80's--perhaps soon to resurface, ""knowing how to manage the impulse to succeed. . .without betraying its deepest political and artistic convictions."" Irascible, passionate, thoughtful--and one of the very best accounts yet of American bohemia.

Pub Date: Sept. 18th, 1987
Publisher: Beech Tree/Morrow