Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Tom Wolfe has died


He was 87 and lived a good long life. He accomplished much and I will allow others to laud his work and write his accolades. 

I first encountered his writing when I was living in Woodstock NY where I found a copy of The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test in my B-I-L's house. I read it. That was different. It was a story about  places I had only heard of but never been to - San Francisco, La Honda, the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway and so on. But I started my journey there and within a year I had actually seen Furthur in person and I had traveled a bit more. Within 15 years I was riding my bicycle up Old La Honda grade where the Hells Angels once rode their choppers to get to Kesey's place.

A few years ago his daughter graduated from a nearby university and Mr. Wolfe spoke there. I attended his talk and the first thing that struck me was his Richmond accent. Who knew? Makes perfect sense as he was born in Richmond in 1931 and he carried his roots with him throughout his life.

After the talk I got in line and got to meet him I had him autograph my copy of From Bauhaus to Our House, my favorite book on architecture, and I got to talk to him for ninety seconds. I asked him who his favorite current architect is and he said "Michael Graves". Well, what are you going to do - you can't argue with someone in a white suit so I nodded and said "Yeah, he does good work" or something to that effect. So from then on he was "My close personal friend Tom Wolfe".

Was Tom Wolfe our latest Mark Twain? Or, how did American writers go from Mark Twain to Tom Wolfe - maybe that's something that could be explored. I am currently reading Twain's autobiography and I will say this - those two dressed in a very similar way.

I am only a reader, not a scholar, but I do know this - we are an amazing country to have produced two authors of that caliber in less than 200 years.

24 comments:

Dad Bones said...

That you would put Tom Wolfe in the same category as Mark Twain, and the fact that I haven't read anything by him since the 1970's, tells me that I better catch up while there's still a little time.

MamaM said...

As a story teller, you have the gift, Sixty, in addition to an ability to encourage the wooden dead to tell their stories in bowls spun and left on tables to talk to others!

Real stories are the best, with the ones that grease the real with fiction coming in second.

My first exposure to Wolfe's writing was through "The Right Stuff", with portions read aloud to the Mfamily while traveling in the car, back in the day before CD's and Audible. The Man in Full was next, and from that one I can still remember the sense of anxiety and fear his description of a guy sweating in a meeting conveyed.

The wiki has this to say about the white suit: Wolfe adopted wearing a white suit as a trademark in 1962. He bought his first white suit, planning to wear it in the summer, in the style of Southern gentlemen. He found that the suit he purchased was too heavy for summer use, so he wore it in winter, which created a sensation. At the time, white suits were supposed to be reserved for summer wear.[30] Wolfe maintained this as a trademark. He sometimes accompanied it with a white tie, white homburg hat, and two-tone shoes. Wolfe said that the outfit disarmed the people he observed, making him, in their eyes, "a man from Mars, the man who didn't know anything and was eager to know.

ricpic said...

He made fun of so many people that I always felt apprehensive while reading him, in the sense of what would he find in ME to make fun of? If that sounds shallow and egocentric, well......................

Sixty Grit said...

No worries, ricpic - my concern was just the opposite - that he would find me too bland to even mention in anything he wrote - now that is a serious problem!

Dad Bones - I can recommend the aforementioned From Bauhaus to Our House - that explains how we got German worker housing pitched 50 stories high in every American city and The Painted Word, which is the story of how art got degraded and ugly.

I have read several of his novels and liked them. But I prefer his non-fiction.

As MamaM mentions, The Right Stuff is a great book. I wanted to read A Man in Full but read Charlotte Simmons instead. I often wonder about the interiors he describes in that book - I get the feeling that I have been in those rooms and on that campus. Hmm...

windbag said...

"A Man in Full" was very good. I don't spend a lot of time in Atlanta (at least willingly), but I'm there enough to have been impressed with his knowledge of the place. If he wasn't writing from experience, he definitely did his homework.

Sixty Grit said...

He did his homework, that's for sure. That's why I can read his descriptions of a college campus and know which one he is referring to. Boy was smart, I'll tell you what.

AJ Lynch said...

I read Electic Cool Aid Acid Test too long ago. I didn't realize he was the author.

Sixty Grit said...

Some of his obituaries make it sound as if Tom Wolfe himself rode with Ken and the Merry Pranksters. He didn't. He spent a lot of time interviewing those who did and could write from their perspective. He did ride around in SF with Stewart Brand - I remember that from when I reread that book a few years back - by then I knew who Stewart Brand was, which is helpful.

chickelit said...

This is a bit of spillover from TOP, but Sixty, you really should read John Barth. All his novels are set in MD. He probably speaks bawlmerese.

chickelit said...

But I understand if you don't. There's this WI writer who writes about the driftless zone. People said I should like him but I got bored.

deborah said...

Haven't read Wolfe, but The Right Stuff is a great movie.

Sixty Grit said...

I remember the John Barth discussion, primarily because of the name of the book "The Sot-Weed Factor". I have driven along Rolling Road which is the road the tobacco growers rolled their giant casks full of tobacco down to the market. Talk about some mighty cooperage! But all of that was long after the time that Barth was covering.


I think I might have read a bit of that book but didn't finish it. Now that I have read "Candide" by Voltaire I think I might have a better understanding of what Barth was going for in that book. But first I must finish my Twain - I got the complete works for $1.06 and by golly I intend to get my money's worth!

Sixty Grit said...

Deborah, it is a great movie. The book is even better. I haven't read it in years but I remember the description of Navy aviators as being the best of the best - they could land their aircraft on a greasy skillet that was pitching and rolling out in the middle of the ocean. Landing at an airport - ha - anyone can do that!

deborah said...

Sounds like it would be a good audio book for a car trip. It would be interesting to hear his words describing things like Grissom's splashdown, where he panicked(?) and blew the hatch too soon after splashdown. Apollo 13 was an awesome movie, too. I'm conversant in both movies, as my son had a prolonged space program phase.

deborah said...

Ordered it...had three credits, now two. You can listen to the sample, narrated by Dennis Quaid:

sample

Sixty Grit said...

I just got The Sot-Weed Factor - I like the price - zero dollars and zero cents Free is the right price for me.

deborah said...

Do you mean you borrowed it from Amazon, or even the library??

MamaM said...

It would be interesting to hear his words describing things like Grissom's splashdown, where he panicked(?) and blew the hatch too soon after splashdown. Apollo 13 was an awesome movie, too. I'm conversant in both movies, as my son had a prolonged space program phase.

Neither the movie or the book do justice to Gus Grissom, who didn't panic or blow the hatch on the Liberty Bell. Here's a 2016 excerpt from the blog, This Space Available on "Space Myths Busted: Gus Grissom Didn't Blow The Hatch on Liberty Bell 7".

While the movie isn't terrible, it's more of a history of “moods” than what actually took place during the Mercury program, and its portrayal of Grissom is one of its biggest failings...An interesting coda to the Liberty Bell 7 story occurred during another Mercury mission. Over a year later, Wally Schirra flew the program's flawless third orbital mission, Sigma 7, in October 1962. At the end of Schirra's flight, he further vindicated Grissom's story about the hatch blowing independently of any intervention. Burgess' book, Liberty Bell 7: The Suborbital Mercury Flight of Virgil I. Grissom, discusses this at length, and also contains testimonies by fellow Mercury astronaut Donald K. “Deke” Slayton and NASA aeronautical engineer Sam Beddingfield that Grissom would have had a deep bone-bruise on his hand had he manually blown the hatch...
But more on Schirra's mission. At its end, according to Burgess' book, Schirra blew Sigma 7's hatch when he was ready to exit. The book underscored, “He had to hit the plunger with five or six pounds of fist force; so hard that he injured his hand. He was not slow to show the tell-tale impact bruising and cut on his hand at his medical briefing.” Schirra stated further in his own book, Schirra's Space, that the brute force of hitting the plunger had cut through one of his metal-reinforced gloves. Slayton, Beddingfield, and Schirra all confirmed that Grissom had suffered no bruising of any type after his mission, thus nixing the theory that he somehow blew the hatch.

Gus Grissom should be remembered as one of the world's spaceflight pioneers, not as some hapless “hatch blower” flailing in the ocean – because the latter suggestion never even happened.

Grissom would go on to have a resounding success once again with the first human-helmed Gemini mission, Gemini 3 (jokingly dubbed The Molly Brown, because this time, it would be “unsinkable”), in March 1965; co-piloted by then-rookie astronaut John W. Young, this mission was a vital sequential step in the Gemini program, which proved to be the critical bridge between Mercury and Apollo, making the Moon landings wholly possible.

His story, however, wouldn't have a happy ending. On January 27, 1967, his life – as well as the lives of astronauts Edward H. White, II and Roger B. Chaffee – would be cut obscenely short by the Apollo 1 capsule fire. This time, an over-complicated hatch system – one that wouldn't open quickly enough – would seal his fate.


http://this-space-available.blogspot.com/2016/01/space-myth-busted-gus-grissom-didnt.html

However, the Audio of The Right Stuff has some awesome reviews! Almost enough to convince me to order it for car trips!

ampersand said...

I was a great fan of all his non fiction. "From Bauhaus to Our House" and the "Painted Word" really laid out the nonsense that became modern art and architecture. Would love to hear his poerspective on Frank Geary. I was really disappointed when he turned to fiction but "Bonfire of the Vanities" was a good book.

Sixty Grit said...

You see, that's what I was driving at, ampersand. When I spoke to him, and even to this day, to the extent that it matters in my life, I was a big fan of Frank Gehry. I read books that delved into his extensive use of CATIA and other CAD programs to take his design from the drawing board to the real world. It's not easy creating files for each specific titanium tile on the surface of a building with the precision required to make the skin perform properly. He does it. But my dilemma was that Tom Wolfe preferred the work of Michael Graves. I had been to Portland, I admired his building there, primarily because of the repoussé sculpture of Portlandia that resides on a ledge on the front of the building, just above street level. Great work, interesting building, but far from cutting edge like Gehry's work. I must say, however, that it would have been cool to see Portlandia floating up the Willamette river on a barge - there's something you don't see every day.

I would like to see tGehry's Disney concert hall in L.A. but I will never venture that far west again. That is a good looking building.

To answer your question Deborah, I ordered it from the Kindle store on Amazon. It's been delivered. Magic!

deborah said...

Oh, screw, I thought you meant Barth's, and I didn't see how a book written in the Sixties would be a free Kindle version. The 'look inside' of the Barth book already has me drawn in. Cheers.

MamaM said...

Did you see this at American Thinker?

https://www.americanthinker.com/blog/2018/05/no_wonder_he_never_got_the_nobel_prize_tom_wolfe_made_the_left_look_stupid.html

MamaM said...

Thanks for the Dennis Quaid/audio link, deborah. It provided a connect to a new book, "Rocket Men" by Robert Kurson, that came out in April.. I'll be ordering it for a June birthday present for the elder SonM, who is a fan of Gene Krantz and has read most of what's previously been published on the Gemini and Apollo missions.

The "From Earth to the Moon" mini series is good too, and the book even better. At one time we owned both and enjoyed them after The Right Stuff.

Sixty Grit said...

Good link MamaM. I like how he worked the word "gadrooned" into that story. That's a word I learned while studying furniture but I never find a way to ease it into a conversation. Heck, these days that word would likely get one arrested.

And the left makes the left look stupid. All he did was report the facts.