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Book One: Easy Rider - Chapter 1, 2 & 3

#175: April - June 2021 (Fiction)
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Chris OConnor

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Book One: Easy Rider - Chapter 1, 2 & 3

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Another Country by James Baldwin
Book One: Easy Rider - Chapter 1, 2 & 3
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Re: Book One: Easy Rider - Chapter 1, 2 & 3

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Wow. Just finished Chapter 1. What I get out of the world of Rufus is loneliness, emptiness, and a disgust for life. Even in his prominent and busy and social world of Jazz clubs, on display and seeking acceptance and love from the crowds as a performer, there was never any real fulfillment or connection for/with himself and others. There is also the anger. The rage. The hatred, especially of those who have the audacity to care about him.

He doesn't reject people who love him, he tortures them. Destroys them. And all because he hates himself. Loathes himself.
He remembered Leona. Or a sudden, cold, familiar sickness filled him and he knew he was remembering Leona.


I won't spoil the Leona reference. But... Yeah:
“I’m your boy. You know what that means?” “What does it mean?” “It means you’ve got to be good to me.” “Well, Rufus, I sure am going to try.”


We do not see much of his parents in this chapter, but we do get to meet his father:
A nigger, said his father, lives his whole life, lives and dies according to a beat. Shit, he humps to that beat and the baby he throws up in there, well, he jumps to it and comes out nine months later like a goddamn tambourine.
With a start in life like that...

The entire city of New York is just a bleak and lonely backdrop of doom, meaningless sex and disconnection.
The Avenue was quiet, too, most of its bright lights out. Here and there a woman passed, here and there a man; rarely, a couple. At corners, under the lights, near drugstores, small knots of white, bright, chattering people showed teeth to each other, pawed each other, whistled for taxis, were whirled away in them, vanished through the doors of drugstores or into the blackness of side streets. Newsstands, like small black blocks on a board, held down corners of the pavements and policemen and taxi drivers and others, harder to place, stomped their feet before them and exchanged such words as they both knew with the muffled vendor within...

... The great buildings, unlit, blunt like the phallus or sharp like the spear, guarded the city which never slept.


And underneath it all is the blight of racial tensions, permeating though out.

The colored people were having a good time because they sensed that, for whatever reason, this crowd was solidly with them; and the white people were having a good time because nobody was putting them down for being white.
When you refuse to learn, you become a disease.
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Re: Book One: Easy Rider - Chapter 1, 2 & 3

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Just started reading it and doing so while listening to 1960s jazz.

Makes me think of Fleshpot on 42nd Street (1973), a grindhouse film but a good one with a plot that pulls you in. Harry Reems is in it.

There seems to be some competition among friends going on, but it makes sense. I've seen it before in creative circles. Doesn't matter if you're writing, strumming, or painting, someone's going to feel a tad bit of jealousy. I'm nowhere near the end of the book, but that's one of the main things I feel driving the beat, the need to feel accepted.

I read on Wikipedia that James Baldwin began writing the story in 1948. Jealousy among friends in stories of The Beat Generation are a way I think writers had of showing how important friendship is in a world making judgements off outward appearances. I've had those late night talks with friends who needed to cry because they felt like nobody cared or liked their talent. To have a supposed enemy or rival in the circles you spin sit down and say, "Hey, it's alright. Let it out," is something I've experience and seen happen to others. It's very emotional.

Can't say much more on it. I'm still reading but enjoying it. Good call on this book. I'm glad it chosen for a read.
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Re: Book One: Easy Rider - Chapter 1, 2 & 3

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Mr. Pessimistic wrote:He doesn't reject people who love him, he tortures them. Destroys them. And all because he hates himself. Loathes himself.
I picked up on this too. This story has deep energy. It's a form of self-destructive behavior and one I imagine stems from knowing he's got amazing talent as a drummer but can't seem to rise out of the rut. Seems I read somewhere that jazz musicians of the period didn't get the recognition they deserved pay wise.

The sexual tensions are also there. He's around accepting circles but just how accepting are they? That's got to be a question on his mind.

I'm not as far along in the story as yourself, but it's a gem of a read.
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Re: Book One: Easy Rider - Chapter 1, 2 & 3

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A few quotes from the book that speak directly to your first statement.
“You know, every time they give me one of them great big checks I think to myself, they just giving me back a little bit of what they been stealing all these years, you know what I mean?”
“Nobody ever has to take up a collection to bury managers or agents,” Rufus said. “But they sweeping musicians up off the streets every day.”
As a musician, I can totally feel this pain... The pay to play shows, selling your own tickets to get paid, no free bar tabs at the least. Talent has always gotten screwed.
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Re: Book One: Easy Rider - Chapter 1, 2 & 3

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There was something frightening about the aspect of old friends, old lovers, who had, mysteriously, come to nothing. It argued the presence of some cancer which had been operating in them, invisibly, all along and which might, now, be operating in oneself.
More evidence of how Rufus see those close to him (and himself) Pretty harsh, but if I am being honest, I can relate. I like to seek the good in folks, but I can never totally get past the cancer that lies, and lays, beneath the surface. Human nature is not inherently good...in fact I think it is inherently ambivalent...if not apathetic. But I want there to be good.
Vivaldo was unlike everyone else that he knew in that they, all the others, could only astonish him by kindness or fidelity; it was only Vivaldo who had the power to astonish him by treachery. Even his affair with Jane was evidence in his favor, for if he were really likely to betray his friend for a woman, as most white men seemed to do, especially if the friend were black, then he would have found himself a smoother chick, with the manners of a lady and the soul of a whore.
Vivaldo is different though, although, only by a matter of degree. I believe he is the closest thing to a real relationship Rufus has. I am not quite sure about the Jane/betrayal part... And what that has to do with anything, but the passage struck me. Still thinking.

And a bit later, about Vivaldo:
Rufus watched the tall, lean, clumsy white boy who was his best friend, and felt himself nearly strangling with the desire to hurt him.
Different by degree.

And lastly on friends, just a poignant line: "We’re all bastards. That’s why we need our friends.”

Love this:
He looked around the room, which had once been so familiar, which now seemed so strange.
When I read this, my mind screamed turning point. Only because I have these feelings...when the familiar turn unfamiliar and portend a major life change. In the past, I have had this feeling many times and can so relate. We shall see if I am right as the story progresses.
When you refuse to learn, you become a disease.
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Re: Book One: Easy Rider - Chapter 1, 2 & 3

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Mr. Pessimistic wrote:selling your own tickets to get paid, no free bar tabs at the least.
And it's always the best venues that do it too, the one's who get loads of free press at the universities from the article written by the local college journalist who meets with the band in the tiny room behind the stage wreaking of urine, beer, vomit, and smoke to conduct an interview for the local scene mag. Yup! You're rising to the top when you get this experience.

When the floors sticks to your tennis shoe and the couch crackles when you sit, you know the owner cares about the band. lol
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Re: Book One: Easy Rider - Chapter 1, 2 & 3

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Mr. Pessimistic wrote:
There was something frightening about the aspect of old friends, old lovers, who had, mysteriously, come to nothing. It argued the presence of some cancer which had been operating in them, invisibly, all along and which might, now, be operating in oneself.
Quote 1: I sense this as a judgement call against himself, one of those internal arguments asking himself if he's wasted time by spending time with those who wasted theirs.
Mr. Pessimistic wrote:
He looked around the room, which had once been so familiar, which now seemed so strange.
Quote 2: I agree. This is a good one. Kind of like walking into an apartment you had good times in yet the room looks bigger because it's empty. You move on, yet it hurts to see it unoccupied with heart.
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Re: Book One: Easy Rider - Chapter 1, 2 & 3

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Great stuff going on in this discussion. I'm getting a little frustrated because I'm not making much time for reading, getting caught up in other things, even though I don't work for pay anymore. How crazy is that?

I've just read a little of it. I was struck by the lack of strong contrast between Rufus's really down and out life at the book's start, and the flashback to some months earlier when he had it better. He's not really very happy even in those good times, though he's really hit the skids in the book's present. What I found touching, actually, was one aspect of his attitude toward Leona. Though he only intends to use her for sex (and maybe to exult in having a white woman), he finds himself having feelings about her, to wonder about her own troubles, finding it hard to treat her only as a good screw.

Without any elaborate description, Baldwin gives us a great sense of the gritty nighttime world of clubs and parties in Harlem.
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Re: Book One: Easy Rider - Chapter 1, 2 & 3

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Brooks127 wrote: When the floors sticks to your tennis shoe and the couch crackles when you sit, you know the owner cares about the band. lol
HAHAHAAAA!! YES. I won't even mention the honor of having to stand next to the bathroom at CBGBs for the honor of playing there. That was a great club. Not sure if you've been?
When you refuse to learn, you become a disease.
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