Richard Fariña (1937--1966) was the songwriter, author, and political activist whose short life had more twists and turns than a Thomas Pynchon novel.

He was born in Brooklyn to an Irish mother and Cuban father. He had relatives in both countries and often visited them. There are reports that in his youth he smuggled rifles for the IRA and fought alongside Fidel Castro, but whether this is true or not begs the question does it matter?--Fariña was that particular brand of creative radioactivity that defines the 60's in America. His life was his art. So much happened to him in his few short years that it's hard to believe any of it was real. Yet his words survive, providing perhaps the truest version of events.

He attended Cornell University, which furnished the raw material for his seminal 60's novel Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up To Me. The book's infamous protagonist, Gnossos Pappadopoulis, is a psychedelically refracted and exploded version of the author himself. It was at Cornell that Fariña met the wild recluse of American letters, Thomas Pynchon, and the two remained friends. Pynchon wrote the forward to a second edition of Fariña's novel, detailing in insightful and hilarious manner the exploits in Ithaca that were its genesis.

During the long period of his novel's composition, Fariña married Carolyn Hester, the folk singer who was to lead him onto the singer-songwriter path for which he is perhaps best remembered. Hester provided ammunition for the "revolutionary youth" side of Fariña's legend, commenting in Eric Von Schmidt's memoir of their Greenwich Village days Baby Let Me Follow You Down:

"He was afraid the English were going to avenge themselves because he'd blown up a torpedo boat in Ireland. He was always carrying a .38 around. He thought the Protestants were going to bump him off. I couldn't believe it."

The marriage fell apart around 1962 when--after a European tour performing with Hester--Fariña met Mimi Baez in Paris ("a lovely piece of 15-year-old jailbait," writes biographer David Bowman). The sister of folk singer Joan Baez, Mimi was to provide Richard with the spark of collaboration that resulted in two important recordings for Vanguard Records, Celebrations for a Grey Day in 1965 and Reflections in a Crystal Wind (1966). The first record contains their most famous composition, the classic Pack Up Your Sorrows. The sophistication of Richard and Mimi Fariña's music, embracing as it did Appalachian folk song, Latin rhythms, and electric rock, makes them linchpins in the genesis of the 60's musical renaissance.

Richard Fariña died in a motorcycle accident during Mimi's birthday party on April 30, 1966. After inscribing copies of his well-received novel with the ecstatic word "Zoom!" at a book signing in Carmel Valley earlier in the afternoon, he took a joy ride on a new Harley Davidson Sportster with Willie Hinds, an outlaw biker wannabe who told police he didn't remember who was driving. Thomas Pynchon tells us about it:

"We talked on the phone the day before he died. His book had just come out. We arranged to connect in L.A. in a few weeks. The next evening I heard the news over an AM rock 'n' roll station. He'd been riding on the back of a motorcycle on Carmel Valley Road, where a prudent speed would have been thirty-five. Police estimated that they must have been doing ninety, and failed to make a curve. Farina was thrown off, and killed."

Thomas Pynchon dedicated Gravity's Rainbow to his friend Richard Fariña.

Pack Up Your Sorrows

No use crying, talking to a stranger,
Naming the sorrows you've seen.
Too many sad times, too many bad times,
And nobody knows what you mean.

Ah, but if somehow you could pack up your sorrows,
And give them all to me,
You would lose them, I know how to use them,
Give them all to me.

No use rambling, walking in the shadows,
Trailing a wandering star.
No one beside you, no one to hide you,
Nobody knows where you are.


No use gambling, running in the darkness,
Looking for a spirit that's free.
Too many wrong times, too many long times,
Nobody knows what you see.


No use roaming, lying by the roadside,
Seeking a satisfied mind.
Too many highways, too many byways,
And nobody's walking behind.

Ah, but if somehow you could pack up your sorrows,
And give them all to me,
You would lose them, I know how to use them,
Give them all to me.

--Richard Fariña

Mimi Fariña, Richard's widow, died Wednesday, July 18, 2001, of complications related to lung cancer. She was 56.

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