Tom Wolfe,1930–2018

Tom Wolfe’s passing takes me back to undergrad years and The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.

I loved Bonfire of the Vanities and The Right Stuff, but it was Acid Test—published 50 years ago—that made Tom Wolfe electric.

We were studying Ken Kesey under Barry Leeds and there was never enough to go around. Cuckoo’s Nest and Sometimes a Great Notion may have been 200 proof literary genius, but they were mere distillations of a mind living beyond bounds. Wolfe captured that extraordinary madness, put pen to a dynamic period in Kesey’s life better than Kesey himself.

We did our own lame version of ‘Toodling the Masses’ on and off campus, but  this was the 90’s at Central Connecticut State University. Nothing compared to visions of Neal Cassady—Dean Moriarty’s living, breathing spirit—driving Further, the bus that carried the Merry Pranksters around America. Wolfe brought Cassady’s muscular, hammer-throwing arms to life with a vibrant, dazzling style, even when it left him for dead on railroad tracks to nowhere south of the border.

To this day, when I tie up my plain black Rockports and head to work for Uncle Sam, I think of them as Shiny Black FBI Shoes.

I’m not big on dressing fancy. But Tom Wolfe sure could write, and his inimitable style goes with me everywhere.

Rest in Peace, sir.

 

 

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6 thoughts on “Tom Wolfe,1930–2018

  1. Hi Ben,

    I was sad to see the news about my old friend Tom Wolfe. His wife Sheila was my art director at Harper’s. He was a contributing editor. I have several books that Tom signed for me and drew pictures in. He was a cartoonist at heart.

    I remember the day his then-fiancee burst into my office in tears. “What’s wrong?” I asked her. “All my friends think Tom’s gay,” she wailed. “Is he?” I asked. “No,” she replied. “Then what do you care?” I countered. She sniffled, declared I was right, and married Tom shortly after that. They had two children, as i recall.

    Shirrel

    >

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow, Shirrel, great! I’d love to get a look at those drawings some time if I ever get down to Key West again. Sorry you’ve lost a dear friend this week…

      Like

    1. It’s a hard blow to literature. The Washington Post ran a great article covering his time as a correspondent here, ’59-’62:

      Wolfe soon began experimenting with other innovative devices. One was antonomasia, the usually derisive practice of describing an individual by a certain characteristic, then making it into a proper noun.

      Thus Wolfe depicted the gunman in a botched liquor store robbery as “slightly built and snappy-talking.” Seven paragraphs later: “Turner retreated but now the truck pulled up. Snappytalk opened fire.”

      https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/retropolis/wp/2018/05/15/piercingly-funny-tom-wolfes-years-as-a-washington-post-reporter/?utm_term=.bd0a4dc54ca6

      Liked by 1 person

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