1961 - GENTLEMAN JUNKIE

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1961 - GENTLEMAN JUNKIE

Postby Jan » Mon Jan 01, 2007 7:24 am

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GENTLEMAN JUNKIE
and Other Stories of the Hung-Up Generation

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The original 50c paperback edition of this book goes for $100 in rare book auctions. Why? Because it contains 25 of the best, hardest-to-find stories of the writer the Washington Post calls "one of the great living Amercian short story writers," the unpredictable Harlan Ellison. - Ace edition, 1983

I love this one most of all. - Harlan Ellison, 1975

The book is horribly titled 'Gentleman Junkie and Other Stories of the Hung-Up Generation.'... It turns out that Mr. Ellison is a good, honest, clean writer, putting down what he has seen and known, with no sensationalism about it.... I cannot reccomend it too vehemently. - Dorothy Parker

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Ten of the stories were first published in Rogue which Harlan edited for a while with Frank Robinson.

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Rogue 3/61 with "Lady Bug, Lady Bug"

Comments on MEMORY OF A MUTED TRUMPET and NO GAME FOR CHILDREN in the CHILDREN OF THE STREETS thread. Feel free to leave opinions about the book and anything in it, and thank you.

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FINAL SHTICK is the opening story of Harlan's book GENTLEMAN JUNKIE (it's also in THE ESSENTIAL ELLISON) and was first published by Rogue magazine in 1960. It's the story of a Jewish comedian, Morrie, who has hit the big time and returns to his hometown to be honored by it's citizens. To Morrie Feldman (who tellingly changed his name into Marty Field) this conjures up memories of his childhood which define his relationship to the Ohio town, and it forces him to reflect on his heritage, as well as what his position should be.

While it may not have been obvious at the time, Harlan uses his own childhood to furnish Marty with his background, down to such details as the names of streets and people. The story is very much a memorial to Harlan's past, with only the name and profession of the protagonist changed - and the town is called Lainesville instead of Painesville. As is to be expected in such cases, one's childhood is correctly portrayed as that which made us what we are, for all it's worth. Harlan has never shed any doubt on this fact.

Obviously, Harlan could have gone the other way in his life and become a comedian, like many Jews. We can easily see this today when he makes public apearances - he has all the requirements of a comedian, due in no small part (as is mentioned in the story) to how he had to develop his verbal skills, his knowledge of human foibles, his sense humor, so he could compete with non-Jewish Americans who never had to rise to the same challenges. FINAL STICK is an alternate reality story in which Harlan reveals a certain amount of pride for not having chosen the route of his alter ego.

Turning painful and sad childhood experiences into comedy, the bread and butter of many comedians in their early stages, can be pathological in that it can be indicative of a state of denial. Certainly, it's an easier way out for both the artist and the audience because it makes the experiences seem less painful than they were and probably continue to be. Neither the comedian nor the audience have to face reality, since that would not be funny. Leaving such conflicts unresolved and using one's pain to make a buck can create a (knowingly) sick personality such as Marty, who had a nose job done to look less Jewish and who struggles with the gap between the truth and his way of twisting the truth into something funny. This is especially true of Marty's Holocaust jokes. Marty has every right to feel like burning the town to the ground, yet his speech to the howetown public is very brief and harmless, despite his mixed feelings. Either he choses not to offend or he is too embarrassed by his heritage and former station in life. None of the people, who would have remembered him, are around, with the exception of the school headmaster, to whom Marty was just a boy among many.

After having been doubted by one's fellow men throughout youth and adolescence, being bestowed honors by one's hometown as a symbol of success creates a sense of self-validation, which I imagine is something that the Jewish people strived for harder than others. In Harlan's case, he does point out often which and how many awards he received. While being filled with personal detail, the story is certainly one of shared Jewish experience, and as such, like THE BOULEVARD OF BROKEN DREAMS (from STRANGE WINE), it's something that one feels highly priviledged to get a rare insight into. (Keep in mind that this was written way before Philip Roth became a household name, but perhaps you guys can name a few more authors.)

The fact that Harlan chose this very personal, autobiographically tinged story as the opener of his early collection is not only an act of courage but also one of exorcising one's demons, which he continues to do to this day, even though he usually disguises his personal experiences more than he did here. He's willing to serve us the truth, raising questions about ourselves and our society. Sure, like Marty, in a way he's turning his past into a buck, but he's giving us the whole package, making us pay for deeply unpleasant truths. At the core, what Harlan has been doing, is ramming prejudice down society's throat.

I was particularly touched by Harlan's memory (if it is one) of missing his own surprise birthday party due to staying away from home not expecting one. Words fail to describe the emotional impact of his childhood stories, which he always wrote with special care. Other such stories include FREE WITH THIS BOX! (written around the same time), the allegorical ISLETS OF LANGERHANS, and ONE LIFE, FURNISHED IN EARLY POVERTY. Am I forgetting any? I certainly hope we can look at all of those. We have already talked about the magnificient PALE SILVER DOLLAR (from SLIPPAGE). :| :| :| :oops:

Addendum: Check out the photo of Harlan's 6th grade class and Harlan's comments underneath in THE ESSENTIAL ELLISON (in front of DRVING IN THE SPIKES). Harlan was also asked about Wheeldon in an interview (with Clifford Meth):
Wheeldon died. Wheeldon shows up in my story “Final Shtick”—that’s me going back to my hometown. It’s a Lenny Bruce character, but it’s actually me.
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Postby David Loftus » Tue Jan 09, 2007 11:45 am

Summary

Marty Field, star comedian, is flying home in triumph to his hometown, Lainesville, Ohio. He imagines the lovely things people will say about him 13 years after he lit out of town to make his fortune, all fawning over his fame and the part they would claim to have played in his life. He knows the truth, and he wants to wipe it in their faces when they call him up before the whole town to honor him with a bronze plaque and a handshake.

Commentary

This story first appeared in Rogue magazine in 1960. Its first printing between covers was in Gentleman Junkie the following year. Collected in the first Love Ain’t Nothing, it disappeared from all subsequent editions, and ended up in The Essential Ellison.

In Essential, editor Terry Dowling placed this tale with a set called “Shadows From the Past,” which constituted “some of the most autobiographical of Harlan’s works.” This story has some parts that are obviously not autobiographical in origin; unlike the narrator, Ellison never legally changed his name to something “less Jewish”—never changed it to anything else—or had a nose job to get a Greek profile.

But many of the other details are either spot on or too close. Marty’s boyhood home address is exactly the same: 89 Harmon Drive. He attends Lathrop Grade School, same as Ellison. Jack Wheeldon appears here by name. The real Mr. Wheeldon was “the bully who took enormous pleasure in beating up the author every day” at Lathrop School in the oh-so-aptly named Painesville (the name is too perfect for believable use in a short story) and can be seen in a school photo that is printed between “The Man Who Was Heavily Into Revenge” and “Driving in the Spikes” in The Essential Ellison.

Lathrop, the Colony Lumber Company, Wheeldon, “dirty Jewish elephant,” and Mentor Avenue will turn up again ten years later in the more tender, less prickly story “One Life, Furnished in Early Poverty.” Ellison has told the story of Mrs. Shanks, who had his dog put to death while he was away at camp, elsewhere as well. It’s possible that real-life counterparts of Evan Dennis, Peggy Mantle, and Leon Potter existed at some point.

In sum, Marty Field is the person Ellison might have become, but didn’t. He has some of the same feelings and fears, memories and rage, as his creator but appears more cowardly. Perhaps Ellison knows, or knows of, men who lived a life a little less like young Harlan’s, but more like grown-up Marty’s.

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I think

Postby Onlooker » Thu Jun 21, 2007 12:57 am

there are elements of Lenny Bruce in there too, at least in the 'stand-up comedian' trope. Ellison and Bruce were friends at one point.

G.

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Postby Jan » Sun Jun 24, 2007 5:09 am

Oh yeah, that certainly makes sense. If I recall correctly, Harlan wrote some stand-up comedy and was always a great admirer of comedians who knew what they were doing.

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Postby Jan » Sun Dec 30, 2007 2:55 pm

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Rogue April 1960

GENTLEMAN JUNKIE (1960) describes a night in the life of Walter Cauler, who is a psychotherapist and a junkie. Is he going to get his fix tonight?

This is an interesting choice of subject for Harlan, as he has never used drugs. He had also moved away from New York by now, which serves as the setting for this story. I was reminded of the final section of NEITHER YOUR JENNY NOR MINE which Harlan wrote a few years later. The story is an experience and should be appreciated as such. He has the ability to convincingly get inside the minds of people under unusual stress of any sort. The desperation of a junkie in need of a fix is comparable to other kinds of desperation. I'm sure that any drugster would recognize him- or herself in the story. For a late-60s, L.A.-based look at drug addiction, check out SHATTERED LIKE A GLASS GOBLIN. :| :| :| :oops:

MAY WE ALSO SPEAK (1959) - four statements from the hung-up generation

1. Now You're in the Box!
A writer experiencing difficulties in getting into his characters' heads goes out to buy food and becomes involved in the murder of a black man. This is Hemingwayesque - you're not sure if the protagonist only observes the killing or if he could have done something about it. Personally, I think the question should have been answered.

2. The Rocks of Gogroth
A firm's advertising executive is about to have a meeting with the boss to tell him his plans for the next campaign are doomed to failure. As he thinks about the possible consequences of telling the truth, it becomes doubtful that he will have the guts. This one is about security and the compromises people are willing to make in order to keep their jobs, their wives, their cars etc. It's a great way of looking at the problem and explaining why so many things go wrong in corporations. I have only a minor complaint: The boss is presented in a very stereotypical fashion by implication. The protagonist seems awfully certain what his reactions will be while it's not clear that he would actually know him very well. Under normal circumstances, even if he's sort of like the boss in the story, there are still several ways of telling him what needs to be said.

3. Payment Returned, Unopened
Claude takes advantage of a crying girl in his rooming house and ends up with an unwanted pregnancy on his hands. He goes to a fortune teller who gives him a mysterious piece of advice. Like “Memory of a Muted Trumpet”, this is a forerunner of many later stories concerning men and women who have to deal with pregnancies, like “Neither Your Jenny Nor Mine” and “Croatoan”, though I’m sure Harlan had touched the subject before. If you want to like it, you should read it as a parable.

4. The Truth
The leader of a jazz band has to find a new trumpet player on short notice. He auditions one who’s been finding it difficult getting engagements and is astonished by the way he plays. Another parable, this one dealing with truth in art. It’s related to the second vignette as well as to what Harlan was doing or trying to do. The idea is that the truth is unpleasant and people don’t want to hear it. They don’t look for it in art either. Harlan wrote this in hip musicians’ vernacular which helps anchor the story in a certain era. Without the out-of-place Jesus references this would have been perfect.

The four vignettes aren’t really statements from the hung-up generation because that would imply first-person narration and dissimilar attitudes. The title also makes you expect something different in terms of the characters Harlan would use. For example, if someone doesn’t speak in most stories in the book, it’s women. No different in the vignettes. Consequently I think they were statements about how Harlan saw the world around himself and how he related to it. The last one is clearly more important and better than the rest, though none of them are very exciting. :| :|
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Postby Jan » Wed Oct 15, 2008 5:34 am

DANIEL WHITE FOR THE GREATER GOOD (1961) – In Georgia a black man named Daniel White is found guilty of raping a young girl. The white population of the town wants to take justice in its own hands. The NAACP sends someone down to appraise the situation.

This piece first published in Rogue is obviously a story about race relations. At its center we find a moral dilemma, someone using his brains and acknowledging his responsibility to do a not-so-obvious right thing, an element we know to be common in Harlan’s stories. White is portrayed from the very beginning, without ambiguity, as a man who is indeed guilty as charged and who, on top of that, feels no remorse. While the white people have no legal right to interfere with the way of the law, the NAACP man, Peregrin, realizes that their anger, in this case, has a solid foundation. He also realizes that he has to make a choice that takes into consideration the greater good – the fate of black people as a whole in the near and far future. Letting the white people have Daniel White would put an end to the social unrest that was just beginning, and by his death, White would do some good that he never could do in life. He would be forced into the role of a martyr, his death leading the public to examine what’s going on and to look for ways to prevent lynchings in the future.

Owing to its subject matter, this is a very carefully written and rather watertight story about a difficult subject. It mainly functions as a look at racial relations in the South, and as a story with a dramatic conflict based on an issue of the day. I wouldn’t call this Harlan’s statement on racism or something like that – it’s a story. In fact, Harlan’s insertion of a cinematic meta-language in two instances give the reader a sense of events unfolding under a storyteller’s terms. The story is by no means highly realistic since the characters and groups seem to serve plot functions despite some attention to characterization. I wouldn't say any of the characters are really interesting or that as a reader I'm drawn to identify with anyone's situation in a way that makes the story exciting.

Peregrin’s dilemma is worth thinking about. The only thing that troubles me is that the U.S. legal system is dismissed out of hand. Since David is in jail, one must assume he’s either waiting for his sentence or has already been sentenced. There is no reference to “official justice” being in operation in any way and no mention of how the townspeople do or would feel about decisions made. Some whites would surely like to see Daniel lynched, but it’s precisely those sentiments that no state can allow its citizens to act on. There is more to lynching that just killing someone – it’s not legal and it has plenty of repercussions of a personal and social nature for those involved or attending. Daniel’s death would also shock many blacks and provoke many small counter-reactions for sure. For my tastes, Harlan swept too many aspects under the carpet in what I think might have been a better story about the legal system without many changes.

The story was included in THE ESSENTIAL ELLISON and also happens to be an interesting time capsule about the South in the old days. Harlan deserves some credit, as usual, for seeing things as they are and not hesitating to write about them. The scene at the end indicates that Harlan felt the racial hate and vigilante attitudes in the South (or parts of it) were still out of control. :| :|

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Postby David Loftus » Wed Oct 15, 2008 3:34 pm

This is also the story that the great Dorothy Parker singled out for superlative praise in her Esquire book review column . . . which was like a nod from the gods to Harlan in the early 1960s.

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Postby Jan » Sun Mar 01, 2009 3:28 pm

FREE WITH THIS BOX! (1959) - David, an eight year old boy, collects the 32 comic character buttons that are sold with cereal boxes for a limited time and realizes he will not have them all by the time the comapny puts something else in them. - Also in THE ESSENTIAL ELLISON.

This is one of the few stories that Harlan wrote about his childhood, all of which now enjoy a special place in his canon. From a biographical viewpoint it features several interesting elements that help "explain" the Harlan that became what he is. First of all, these stories all show Harlan in a kind of content solitude which puts him in a position where he can observe, suffer, analyze, and scheme. "Free with this Box!" shows him at the earliest stage of personal independence. Then there's his love of collecting which has never gone away and which pleases him on several levels, as it does anybody who collects items of their choice, and which fills a gap somewhere in people's lives. The story also explains Harlan's dislike of policemen and gives us a sense of Harlan's mother at a point in her life when her husand was still around.

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Harlan offers a candid look into the mind of a child and makes it pretty clear that (some) adults do not know much about the world of children. They may make a big mistake in their dealings with a child when they really mean to do good. And I don't mean only the policeman or the A&P guy. I wonder if the grown-ups who work(ed) for cereal companies are/were behaving in a responsible way.

Both the A&P store and the police station as well as the characters in those places now seem to belong firmly to the past. It makes one remember that when Harlan talks about how times change, he must know. Perhaps none of us can ever really accept any other time than the one we grew up in. I think Harlan would still be right at home in the 40s if he moved back in time. He certainly carries it around in his mind, as stories like this prove. It's a time capsule that effectively tells about a time and a place and these people without the burden of fancy exposition that drags down a lot of "period" stories. :| :| :| :oops:

LADY BUG, LADY BUG (1961) - In New York, an artist named Ivan Balmi has popular parties at his appartment that he uses to get laid. A woman objects to the affair he has with her underage daughter, whom he doesn't care about.

This is a character study about an impulsive guy who lives mainly for pleasure and doesn't feel he owes anyone anything. He lives with a certain mindset of self-pity and inner isolation, owing to which nothing can touch him and he can feel secure. He finally realizes this is wrong - life without risk and pain is no life, especially not for an artist. A flawed and obvious story that's not well told, but that's still not completely lifeless or shallow. While not originally known to contain autobiographical elements, the story is based on Harlan's transition into a serious writer, particulary the change of lifestyle that enabled him to write the novel Spider Kiss. :|

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Re: 1961 - GENTLEMAN JUNKIE

Postby Jan » Tue Oct 12, 2010 11:50 am

THERE'S ONE ON EVERY CAMPUS (1959) - A student dates - but doesn't like to be seen with - a girl known among students for sexual willingness. - One of the few stories related to his year-and-a-half at Ohio State University. The incident may well be true, which would put the story among Harlan's unflattering, but all the more interesting, (half-)confessions. It has a true 50s feel, partly because it lacks extraordinary elements or the slight sensationalism of gang- or drug-related stories. :| :| :|

AT THE MOUNTAINS OF BLINDNESS (1961) - An average night of work of New York drug dealer Porky, who learns about the damaging effects of drugs from a group of jazz musicians. - This, too, is mainly notable for its authentic look at the main character and his customers. It's a regular, educational early Ellison piece, topped off with another interesting look at jazz music. :| :| :oops:

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Postby Jan » Fri Jun 03, 2011 2:05 pm

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THE SILENCE OF INFIDELITY (1957) - A married man encounters an attractive woman on the steet and cannot resist her wordless invitation. - A fairly typical story of the late 50s dealing with the taboo of infidelity, relatively close to what people like Updike were writing. It's short and poignant, showing Harlan's willingness to look underneath modern hypocrisy and to challenge social conventions. While in this case he picked one of the more obvious ones and wasn't the first to do so, he did an excellent job with it. The only flaw is that towards the end the narrator fails to keep any distance between himself and the hero, who interprets the woman's actions rather too much in accordance with his wishes. :| :| :|

SALLY IN OUR ALLEY (1959) - A janitor living in the "Alley" becomes an unwilling police informant. - A partial muder mystery that is one of Harlan's more successful New York stories, full of the atmosphere, the slang and the people of an artsy Beat generation community located somewhere in or around Greenwich Village. The would-be Caruso mentioned here would turn up again in "Neon" (Deathbird Stories). Since the hip janitor himself acts as the narrator, expect some fun subjectivity and colloquial-style writing. Underneath is a reasonably well-constructed mystery (slightly tongue-in-cheek) with an unexpected twist. A later story based on roughly the same time and place was "Up Christopher to Madness" (Partners in Wonder). :| :| :oops:


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