We tend to hear about the simple things that make up a historical moment in time. Take the 1960s for example. For those of us who weren’t around to live through that era, we are bedazzled by simple images and concepts that made up that turbulent time. But we aren’t given insight of what the complexities and the difficulties of that time was like. That is the beauty of a good piece of literature. Through the eyes of a well-created protagonist, we can honestly understand what a time period was like. That is why Real Gone by Jim Christy is such a great read.
To San Francisco and back . . . (Page 9-10)
That summer, anyone my age and Ellen’s age who considered themselves anti-establishment in any way or were inclined to adventure or who were simply after kicks would have been foolish not to go to San Francisco. Larry Demeter and his Italian girlfriend Laura Longo were all for it and so was Ted Rogel but he didn’t have a girlfriend. I suggested he drive up to New York and put an ad in the Psychedelicatessen on Tompkins Square. He showed up at my apartment on Elderidge Street and I took him over to the place; he pinned his note on the bulletin board ‘Chick wanted for trip to San Francisco! Must travel light’, and when he got back to West Chester, just outside of Philadelphia, there had been three or four calls.
The next day, Ted was again knocking on the door, and with him was a beautiful 22 year-old girl in high heels, tight black satin slacks and a flowery blouse. Her name was Dalia and she was wearing three or four necklaces, a dozen bracelets, had rings on every finger and on most of her toes. She was part Vegas showgirl, part hipster road chick. In other words, she was just my type. We looked at each other and it was like there was a magnetic field connecting us. We both said hello, got into the fishtail Plymouth, and from then on ignored each other until we got to California.
In South Carolina I’d heard music when we pulled over to get something out of the trunk and down the road saw a few black people go into the forest, followed minutes later by several more, all carrying boxes, baskets, bottles of booze. I went over and found the trail, and my companions reluctantly followed me into the piney woods. There were bonfires in a clearing, lanterns powered by car batteries and a pig turning on a spit. Four guys in suits and bib overalls were playing rhythm and blues that was fifteen years out of date and just the way I liked it. People looked but nobody hassled us. The alto sax was held together by electrician’s tape. It was as if time stood still in the woods; it was eternally 1948, and Wynonie Harris was at the top of the Race chart. But the music either bored my companions or they were afraid the darkies would get them. So we left the woods and emerged into July 1967, and back on the road. The long, long road to the coast, and all the way across the country, the big song on the radio had nothing to do with white rabbits or flowers in your hair; it was Bobbie Gentry’s “Ode to Billie Joe.” It was the summer of love.
While it is a novella, Real Gone has a complex plot nonetheless. Readers travel with the protagonist through the turmoils and excitement that was America in 1967/68. We gain an honest understanding of the feelings and emotions of the time period, not just a saccharine review of those years.
To New Orleans and back . . . (Page 29)
“No, sir. I’m not in the Army and I don’t have to do anything you say.”
“When I get you in the back room, you’ll do what I say.”
While we were having our conversation, I glanced at the line of young men beyond him, many of whom looked over their shoulders with interest. I could see the fear in some of the faces. They didn’t want any port of the whoe deal. One fellow in particular, a tall, gangly black guy seemed particularly scared. I was nervour but I wasn’t afraid. I wanted to call to him, “Hey, man. It isn’t difficult. You don’t have to go in the Army.”
But who was I to say anything? What did I know? Perhaps he had no choice. It would be presumptuous of me to tell him: “Look around you. Look down the line. Three quarters of the others are brothers.Why fight for America when you can’t even get served in most restaurants despite some bullshit civil rights legislation that isn’t enforced anyway? Hell, I can’t get served in diners in this same state. You try going in and sitting down at the counter. What did America every do for you?”
He kept looking at me, just looking in my eyes, as if wondering what they’d do to me and how I’d handle it…
The book reviews several trends and events of the 1967-68 era but it is the interpretation of those events of the gives the books it’s true feel. Christy has a very simple style that makes the novella easy to read and comprehend.
I drove to Atlantic City to see Charlie Leeds. I hadn’t seen him since he pretended to be jack Ruby’s brother. He was actually at home when I telephoned, at his mother’s house at 44 South Windsor Avenue. We arranged to meet on the Boardwalk neat the Steel Pier.
The season was over and boardwalk nearly deserted. The saltwater taffy shops and souvenir stands, the tawdry lean-tos that would make a carnie blush, were all boarded up. Charlie came down the boardwalk with a kind of hobbled glide and he seemed to be listing, because of the wind, I thought, and the briefcase he held in his other hand didn’t help to balance him. But no, it wasn’t the wind, that’s just the way he was.
We leaned against the rail, looked out at the angry gray ocean and Charlie told me that he too was going to prison. I knew he’d been arrested and I’d heard the details from Nanette, Ellen’s sister, and Charlie’s long time friend. I remember how four years earlier I had made the rounds of Atlantic City bars looking for this character that had become legendary in my mind. And soon I realized was legendary in fact. He had played with famous and infamous musicians beginning at the end of the big band era. Charlie Shavers, Buddy Rich, Woody Herman, Stan Getz, Lennie Tristano and his great buddies Brew Moore and Joe Albany. Nanette and I finally ran into Charlie, two nights after we began the hunt, at a place called Cody’s Bar. He was playing his bass with a quartet on stage but he didn’t remain on the stage for long. He was so far gone into the music that he just fell over and onto the floor, working the strings the whole time. And he was a great writer, too.
Real Gone by Jim Christy is an detailed look at life in 1967-68. The novella gives honest insight to that over-discussed era and is a insightful read.