"A Couple Who Combine Scores of Talents"
By John L. Wasserman.
San Francisco Chronicle, April 15, 1966, p. 52.
Richard Farina, who appears with his wife, Mimi, at the San Francisco State College Folk Festival tonight, is a Renaissance Man of the "new" generation. He is singer, musician, songwriter, poet, essayist, playwright, actor, novelist, observer and critic. He cares about love, and people, and honesty and destruction.
Farina (pronounceed Fareenya) is 29 years old. He was born in New York of a Cuban father and Irish mother, and has lived in Cuba, Ireland, England, France and Spain before settling in Carmel Highlands three years ago, following his marriage to Joan Baez' younger sister, Mimi. They accompany themselves on guitar and dulcimer in their most recent recording "Reflections in a Crystal Wind."
"Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up To Me," Farina's first novel, is being published this month by Random House. It has the flavor, at least superficially, of "Catcher in the Rye," although it is older, funnier, hipper and much more complicated. Its protagonist is one Pappadopoulis Gnossos--who makes the March Hare look staid. "He is not 'based' on anyone," the matter-of-fact, super-articulate Farina said. "I think of him as an attitude, as a point of view..."
The earliest reactions to the book are encouraging to its author. "What I want is to have the book read, I want people to be involved, to be touched. I want it to work on them the way certain poems can--to move them. It will appeal mainly to a young crowd, but it'll be a drag if it doesn't reach an older, more traditional audience too. I studied a year at Cornell under Nabokov and," he smiled wryly, referring to his own reading, "I've spent a lot of time with a lot of writers. I much prefer musicians. It's not just the affectations--I like some affectations--but the literary affectation is putty-like. I've found very little love of life, or," he grinned again, "even hatred of life. They won't even commit themselves to that."
Farina spent four years at Cornell--two studying engineering, two in the literature department. "I wasted a lot of time. I had been lied to (educationally) all my life, they way everybody is. Like having one's heroes established in a very abstracted, patriotic fashion...not the way men live, or make love, or smell flowers, day to day."
"I think kids in America are lied to by sins of omission more than anything else. There is no three-dimensional familiarity with any of the American heroes. And a sense of expediency about American education--the sublimated patriotic ethic is in everything."
But Farina doesn't wish to beat "the subject to death. It's better now than 10 years ago. All I'm saying is that one of the things about kids today is that their legacy is intolerable.--it comes from some very appalling destruction, and I'm not a fan of destruction of any kind. But things are better now. Times of renaissance always seem to come with affluence."
He's been described as a new teen-age folk hero. A setter of psychic styles for the young. Or just: Zoom.
The sweep of long chestnut hair is to be expected. Less so, the cream-colored jacket and the mustard-brown trousers. Then, even more distinctive in a literate neo-Cole Porter way, are the words of Richard Farina's songs as he accompanies himself on the dulcimer:
"Society is never geared to people who wear a beardThen again, as part of the juvenile evangelism, there's Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up To Me, with chapter headings that go-go-go:
Or little girls with holes in their ears.
They're liable to hunt you down, dress you in a wedding gown,
And offer you substantial careers."
"Morning Martinis and Strontium 90: Smoke Gets in Your Eyes. The Beagle and the Bunny-Rabbit (an Interlocking Epiphany). The happy little Gruns, the Greenhouse, and the pot of Pot. The Great Rhetorical Question. Heffalump as Insightful Mother. A Credo?"Settling down for an hour from such clouds of tangerine-flaked rhetoric, Farina arrived in town yesterday from his Carmel Highlands digs with his hauntingly attractive 21-year-old wife, Mimi, sister of Joan Baez.
It turned out that the opinions of the new juvenile idol are revolutionary in an old-fashioned way. "There's a new trend I like that's going on between parents and their kids," he said over the fettucine at Oreste's. "The kids are rebelling less and less against their elders--they're not holding things against them anymore." The feeling that the generations are in the same boat "on stormy seas," Farina noted, has led to "this new compassion for parents--why, even the kids that take pot want to get high with their folks!"
Along with "new intimacies and confidences," he claimed that the trend is bringing about a common identification with "America's real heroes as opposed to its phony ones." Among the true, according to the Farina canon: Humphrey Bogart, Norman Mailer ("mostly for looking like Harpo Marx"), Ursula Andress ("for coming on so strong"), Bob Dylan, Richard Burton ("for endurance under trial")...
The Farina "phonies": Patty Duke, Teddy Roosevelt, Julie Andrews, L'il Abner ("about to join the Minute Men"), J.D. Salinger ("especially J.D.")...
"They're part of this prep school ethic betrayal of real experience thing, this belief that God is really a white Anglo-Saxon," Farina said. As for his own parents and their values, a hard-working Cuban machinist father and an Irish mother who "still believes in ghosts and witches," the Brooklyn-born folksinger author noted that "leaving home at an early enough age--17--helped us to remain friends."
Farina and his wife share a close family life, he said, with "Joan and her pacifists" when "we're not on tour" (Mimi strums the guitar and also sings).
"Joan and Mimi and I, we try not to take ourselves seriously," Farina said. "It's not uncommon for us to have dinner in Carmel with the three of us dressed as Indians or in horror costumes. In our own privacy, I mean. Of course, we usually end up giving long speeches. You know, on The Role of the United Nations in a Schizophrenic Society."
Farina's wife took up the thread of life with her famous sister. "She's spending more time now just being a human being," she said with a toss of her raven hair. "She's thinking over whether she wants to be famous any more. She's not singing for a year, and she may give up singing forever."
Farina, watching his wife intensely, said: "Isn't she intensely beautiful?"
And the idol of the teen-agers? "Beautifully intense," said his wife.
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