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Richard Fariña

Richard Fariña

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Richard George Fariña was an American
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

A writer is a person who produces literature, such as novels, short stories, plays, screenplays, poetry, or other literary art. Skilled writers are able to use language to portray ideas and images....

 and folksinger
----Folksinger is an album by folk singer-songwriter Phranc, released in 1985.Phranc's first solo LP fused elements of her punk rock past with acoustic folk music...


Early years and education

Richard Fariña was born in Brooklyn, New York, of Cuban and Irish descent. He grew up in the Flatbush
Flatbush, Brooklyn
Flatbush is a community of the Borough of Brooklyn, a part of New York City, consisting of several neighborhoods.The name Flatbush is an Anglicization of the Dutch language Vlacke bos ....

 neighborhood of Brooklyn
Brooklyn is the most populous of New York City's five boroughs, with nearly 2.6 million residents, and the second-largest in area. Since 1896, Brooklyn has had the same boundaries as Kings County, which is now the most populous county in New York State and the second-most densely populated...

 and attended Brooklyn Technical High School
Brooklyn Technical High School
Brooklyn Technical High School, commonly called Brooklyn Tech or just Tech, and also administratively as High School 430, is a New York City public high school that specializes in engineering, math and science and is the largest specialized high school for science, technology, engineering, and...

. He earned an academic scholarship to Cornell University
Cornell University
Cornell University is an Ivy League university located in Ithaca, New York, United States. It is a private land-grant university, receiving annual funding from the State of New York for certain educational missions...

, starting as an Engineering
Engineering is the discipline, art, skill and profession of acquiring and applying scientific, mathematical, economic, social, and practical knowledge, in order to design and build structures, machines, devices, systems, materials and processes that safely realize improvements to the lives of...

 major, but later switching to English
English literature
English literature is the literature written in the English language, including literature composed in English by writers not necessarily from England; for example, Robert Burns was Scottish, James Joyce was Irish, Joseph Conrad was Polish, Dylan Thomas was Welsh, Edgar Allan Poe was American, J....

. While at Cornell he published short stories for local literary magazines and for national periodical publications including Transatlantic Review
Transatlantic Review
Transatlantic Review was a literary journal founded and edited by Joseph F. McCrindle in 1959, and published at first in Rome, then London and New York...

 and Mademoiselle
Mademoiselle (magazine)
Mademoiselle was an influential women's magazine first published in 1935 by Street and Smith and later acquired by Condé Nast Publications....

. Fariña became good friends with Thomas Pynchon
Thomas Pynchon
Thomas Ruggles Pynchon, Jr. is an American novelist. For his most praised novel, Gravity's Rainbow, Pynchon received the National Book Award, and is regularly cited as a contender for the Nobel Prize in Literature...

, David Shetzline
David Shetzline
David W. Shetzline is an American author residing in Oakridge, Oregon.Shetzline received his bachelor of arts from Cornell University in 1956 and his masters in literature from the University of Oregon in 1997. His dissertation was entitled “Quantum Dialogues: The Rhetorics of Religion and the...

 and Peter Yarrow
Peter Yarrow
Peter Yarrow is an American singer who found fame with the 1960s folk music trio Peter, Paul and Mary. Yarrow co-wrote one of the group's most famous songs, "Puff, the Magic Dragon"...

 while at Cornell. He was suspended for alleged participation in a student demonstration against campus regulations, and though he later resumed his status as a student, he ultimately quit during 1959, just before graduation.

Ascent on Greenwich Village folk scene

Back in New York City, Fariña became a regular patron of the White Horse Tavern
White Horse Tavern (New York City)
The White Horse Tavern, located in New York City's borough of Manhattan at Hudson Street and 11th Street, is known for its 1950s and 1960s Bohemian culture. It is one of the few major gathering-places for writers and artists from this period in Greenwich Village that remains open...

, the well-known Greenwich Village
Greenwich Village
Greenwich Village, , , , .in New York often simply called "the Village", is a largely residential neighborhood on the west side of Lower Manhattan in New York City. A large majority of the district is home to upper middle class families...

 tavern frequented by poets, artists, and folksingers, where he befriended Tommy Makem
Tommy Makem
Thomas "Tommy" Makem was an internationally celebrated Irish folk musician, artist, poet and storyteller. He was best known as a member of The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem. He played the long-necked 5-string banjo, guitar, tin whistle, and bagpipes, and sang in a distinctive baritone...

. It was there that he met Carolyn Hester
Carolyn Hester
Carolyn Hester is an American folk singer and songwriter. She was a figure in the early 1960s folk music revival.-Biography:...

, a successful folk singer. They married eighteen days later. Fariña appointed himself Hester's agent; they toured worldwide while Fariña worked on his novel and Carolyn performed gigs. Fariña was present when Hester recorded her third album at Columbia studios during September 1961, where a then-little-known Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan is an American singer-songwriter, musician, poet, film director and painter. He has been a major and profoundly influential figure in popular music and culture for five decades. Much of his most celebrated work dates from the 1960s when he was an informal chronicler and a seemingly...

 played harmonica on several tracks. Fariña became a good friend of Dylan's; their friendship is a major topic of David Hajdu's book 'Positively 4th Street: The Lives and Times of Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Mimi Baez Fariña and Richard Fariña.

Fariña then traveled to Europe, where he met Mimi Baez
Mimi Fariña
Mimi Baez Fariña was a singer-songwriter and activist, the youngest of three daughters to a Scottish mother and Mexican-American physicist Albert Baez .- Early years:Fariña's father, a physicist affiliated with Stanford University and MIT, moved his family...

, the teenage sister of Joan Baez
Joan Baez
Joan Chandos Baez is an American folk singer, songwriter, musician and a prominent activist in the fields of human rights, peace and environmental justice....

 during the spring of 1962. Hester divorced Fariña soon thereafter, and Fariña married 17-year-old Mimi during April 1963, with Thomas Pynchon
Thomas Pynchon
Thomas Ruggles Pynchon, Jr. is an American novelist. For his most praised novel, Gravity's Rainbow, Pynchon received the National Book Award, and is regularly cited as a contender for the Nobel Prize in Literature...

 as the best man. They relocated to a small cabin in Carmel
Carmel-by-the-Sea, California
Carmel-by-the-Sea, often called simply Carmel, is a small city in Monterey County, California, United States, founded in 1902 and incorporated in 1916. Situated on the Monterey Peninsula, the town is known for its natural scenery and rich artistic history...

, California
California is a state located on the West Coast of the United States. It is by far the most populous U.S. state, and the third-largest by land area...

, where they composed songs with a guitar and Appalachian dulcimer
Appalachian dulcimer
The Appalachian dulcimer is a fretted string instrument of the zither family, typically with three or four strings. It is native to the Appalachian region of the United States...

. They debuted their act as "Richard & Mimi Fariña" at the Big Sur Folk Festival during 1964 and were contracted with Vanguard Records
Vanguard Records
Vanguard Records is a record label set up in 1950 by brothers Maynard and Seymour Solomon in New York. It started as a classical label, but is perhaps best known for its catalogue of recordings by a number of pivotal folk and blues artists from the 1960s; the Bach Guild was a subsidiary...

 company. They recorded their first album, Celebrations For a Grey Day, with the help of Bruce Langhorne
Bruce Langhorne
Bruce Langhorne is an American folk musician. He was active in the Greenwich Village folk scene in the 1960s, primarily as a session guitarist for folk albums and performances...

, who had previously played for Dylan.

Due to his brief life, Fariña's musical output was limited. The Fariñas released three albums, one posthumously. Fariña, like Dylan and others of this time, was considered a protest singer
Protest song
A protest song is a song which is associated with a movement for social change and hence part of the broader category of topical songs . It may be folk, classical, or commercial in genre...

, and several of his songs are political. Several critics have considered Fariña to be a major folk music
Folk music
Folk music is an English term encompassing both traditional folk music and contemporary folk music. The term originated in the 19th century. Traditional folk music has been defined in several ways: as music transmitted by mouth, as music of the lower classes, and as music with unknown composers....

 talent of the 1960s. ("If Richard had survived that motorcycle accident, he would have easily given Dylan a run for his money." – Ed Ward
Ed Ward (writer)
Edmund P. "Ed" Ward is an American writer and radio commenter, known since 1986 as the "rock-and-roll historian" for NPR's program Fresh Air and one of the original founders of Austin's South by Southwest music festival....

). His best-known songs are "Pack Up Your Sorrows" and "Birmingham Sunday", the latter of which was recorded by Joan Baez and has become known better after it became the theme song to Spike Lee
Spike Lee
Shelton Jackson "Spike" Lee is an American film director, producer, writer, and actor. His production company, 40 Acres & A Mule Filmworks, has produced over 35 films since 1983....

's movie 4 Little Girls
4 Little Girls
4 Little Girls is a 1997 American historical documentary film about the 1963 murder of four African-American girls during the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama, United States. It was directed by Spike Lee and nominated for an Academy Award for "Best Documentary".The incident...

, a documentary about the 1963 16th Street Baptist Church bombing
16th Street Baptist Church bombing
The 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama was bombed on Sunday, September 15, 1963. The explosion at the African-American church, which killed four girls, marked a turning point in the U.S...

 in Alabama.

At the time of his death, Fariña was also producing an album for his sister-in-law, Joan Baez (which she would ultimately not release, though two of the songs were included on Fariña's posthumous album, and another, a cover version of Fariña's "Pack up Your Sorrows", co-written by Fariña with the third Baez sister, Pauline Marden, was released as a single during 1966).

Fairport Convention
Fairport Convention
Fairport Convention are an English folk rock and later electric folk band, formed in 1967 who are still recording and touring today. They are widely regarded as the most important single group in the English folk rock movement...

 recorded "Reno, Nevada" for a BBC session during 1968 issued as part of their album Heyday
Heyday (Fairport Convention album)
Heyday: the BBC Radio Sessions 1968–69 is an album by English folk rock band Fairport Convention first released in 1987. As its title suggests, it consists of live versions of songs recorded for John Peel's Top Gear radio programmes.-Side one:...

. The song featured both Iain Matthews and Sandy Denny
Sandy Denny
Sandy Denny , born Alexandra Elene Maclean Denny, was an English singer and songwriter, perhaps best known as the lead singer for the folk rock band Fairport Convention...

 who also recorded "The Quiet Joys of Brotherhood" for her album Sandy
Sandy (Sandy Denny album)
Sandy is the second solo album by Sandy Denny, and is generally considered to be her best. The album was released in 1972 and begun just a fortnight after her UK tour promoting her debut solo album The North Star Grassman and the Ravens ended in early November 1971.The first song recorded for the...

 LP. Matthews would later record "Reno Nevada" and "Morgan the Pirate" for his album "If You Saw Thro' My Eyes".
other Farina compositions would appear on subsequent solo albums and on recordings by Matthews' band 'Plainsong'.

Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me

Fariña is also known for his novel Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me
Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me
Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me is a novel by Richard Fariña. First published in the United States during 1966 the novel, based largely on Fariña's college experiences and travels, is a comic picaresque story that is set in the American West, in Cuba during the Cuban Revolution, and at an...

 (originally published by Random House
Random House
Random House, Inc. is the largest general-interest trade book publisher in the world. It has been owned since 1998 by the German private media corporation Bertelsmann and has become the umbrella brand for Bertelsmann book publishing. Random House also has a movie production arm, Random House Films,...

 during 1966). The novel, based largely on his college experiences and travels, is a comic picaresque novel
Picaresque novel
The picaresque novel is a popular sub-genre of prose fiction which is usually satirical and depicts, in realistic and often humorous detail, the adventures of a roguish hero of low social class who lives by his wits in a corrupt society...

, set in the American West, in Cuba
The Republic of Cuba is an island nation in the Caribbean. The nation of Cuba consists of the main island of Cuba, the Isla de la Juventud, and several archipelagos. Havana is the largest city in Cuba and the country's capital. Santiago de Cuba is the second largest city...

 during the Cuban Revolution
Cuban Revolution
The Cuban Revolution was an armed revolt by Fidel Castro's 26th of July Movement against the regime of Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista between 1953 and 1959. Batista was finally ousted on 1 January 1959, and was replaced by a revolutionary government led by Castro...

, and at an upstate New York university. The protagonist is Gnossos Pappadopoulis. The book has become something of a cult classic
Cult following
A cult following is a group of fans who are highly dedicated to a specific area of pop culture. A film, book, band, or video game, among other things, will be said to have a cult following when it has a small but very passionate fan base...

 among fans of 1960s and counterculture
Counterculture is a sociological term used to describe the values and norms of behavior of a cultural group, or subculture, that run counter to those of the social mainstream of the day, the cultural equivalent of political opposition. Counterculture can also be described as a group whose behavior...

 literature. Thomas Pynchon
Thomas Pynchon
Thomas Ruggles Pynchon, Jr. is an American novelist. For his most praised novel, Gravity's Rainbow, Pynchon received the National Book Award, and is regularly cited as a contender for the Nobel Prize in Literature...

, who later dedicated his book Gravity's Rainbow
Gravity's Rainbow
Gravity's Rainbow is a postmodern novel written by Thomas Pynchon and first published on February 28, 1973.The narrative is set primarily in Europe at the end of World War II and centers on the design, production and dispatch of V-2 rockets by the German military, and, in particular, the quest...

 (1973) to Fariña, described Fariña's novel as "coming on like the Hallelujah Chorus done by 200 kazoo
The kazoo is a wind instrument which adds a "buzzing" timbral quality to a player's voice when the player vocalizes into it. The kazoo is a type of mirliton, which is a membranophone, a device which modifies the sound of a person's voice by way of a vibrating membrane."Kazoo" was the name given by...

 players with perfect pitch... hilarious, chilling, sexy, profound, maniacal, beautiful and outrageous all at the same time."


On April 30, 1966, two days after the publication of his book, Fariña attended a book-signing ceremony at a Carmel Valley Village bookstore, the Thunderbird. Later that day, while at a party to celebrate his wife Mimi's 21st birthday, Fariña saw a guest with a motorcycle, who later gave Fariña a ride up Carmel Valley Road east toward Cachagua. At an S-turn the driver lost control. The motorcycle tipped over on the right side of the road, came back to the other side, and tore through a barbed wire fence into a field where there is now a small vineyard. The driver survived, but Fariña was killed instantly. According to Pynchon's preface to Been Down..., the police said the motorcycle must have been traveling at 90 mi/h, even though "a prudent speed" would have been 30 mi/h. Fariña was buried in a simple grave; its marker emblazoned with a peace sign, at Monterey City Cemetery, in Monterey, California
Monterey, California
The City of Monterey in Monterey County is located on Monterey Bay along the Pacific coast in Central California. Monterey lies at an elevation of 26 feet above sea level. As of the 2010 census, the city population was 27,810. Monterey is of historical importance because it was the capital of...


Fariña's widow helped to gather a collection of his final poetry and short stories, which were released as Long Time Coming and a Long Time Gone.

Joan Baez's song "Sweet Sir Galahad
Sweet Sir Galahad
"Sweet Sir Galahad" is a song written by Joan Baez that she performed at the Woodstock Festival in August 1969. She first performed it on Season 3, Episode 23, of The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour earlier that year and included it on her album One Day at a Time...

" commemorates Fariña's death, the grieving of his widow Mimi, and Mimi's eventual recovery and remarriage.

Further reading

  • Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me, by Richard Fariña. Penguin Classics, ISBN 0-140-18930-0 (paperback)
  • Positively Fourth Street, by David Hajdu. North Point Press, ISBN 0-865-47642-X

External links