Alan Taylor encounters New Journalism in the shape ofTom Wolfe.

Way back then when men were mice and wore flowers in their hair and everyone who was anyone was going to San Francisco. young Tom Wolfe went in the opposite direction. bucked the trend. SWAM AGAINST THE CURRENT. and went to New York. the Big Apple. to get the lowdown on customised cars. The rest is HISTORY. His story. Geddit‘.’ Geeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeesus. Esquire‘s editor‘s screamin down the phone. What gives Tom'.’ What‘s the delay. I got a two-page spread laid and no story. whaddya got'.’ Nothin. Nothin'.’ Come on. Tom (he‘s humouring him now. keeping the threats up his sleeve) you can do it. I know you can. Howdo you know? I just know. You‘re a genius. Come on. give it to me. Tom. Give IT to ME! Well. you‘re wrong. I need time to think. to get it together man. (Everyone talked like that then. when no one could get it together unless the Maharishi Yeti was around). ()kay. OK. But {gotta have somethin. anythin Tom. [‘11] desperate. 'I‘om. DESPERATE! I tell you what. You type up your notes and we‘ll lick ‘em into shape. Catch my drift '.’ You do'.’ So young Tom Wolfe from Richmond. Virginia. sat down and let it all hang out. And out it came. Words. Hot. like urine. like molten metal. stinging. ringing. zinging. whizzing. pouring out. Forty-nine pages. He was like Balzac. ‘cept he didn‘t drink 5(l.(l()().()(l() cups ofcoffee. speak French or wear a monk‘s habit. In that long. long night an enfant terrible gave birth to the New Journalism. A STAR WAS BORN. We‘re not just talkin‘ about newspapers or magazines. one off pieces. 'I‘omorrow‘s chip-papers. We‘re not just talkin‘ hip. man. We‘re talkin‘ books. B.0.0.K.S. The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine- Flake Streamline Baby. The Electric


I The European Tribe (‘aryl Phillips (I-‘aber £3.95) Angry young man‘s illsil} bitter. ifskctchy. \ iew OI. Iiurope. past. present and -- unless there‘s radical enlightenment —- future.

I John Aubrey and his Friends Anthony I’owell (I Iogarth £7.95) Welcome reappearance alter a fill-year hiatus of the acclaimed biog ofthe 17th centurygreen-lingered antiquarian and inimitable scribe of 'Briel I.i\c.s‘.

photo courtesy of Scotsman Publications.

Kool-Aid Acid Test. From Bauhaus to Our House. Radical Chic & Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers. Hyperbole. O'I'I‘. Alliteration. Verbal skitters. Two words where one would do. Rhythm. Rhyme. Style. In short. a spokesman for a generation that had lost its tongue. But lurking deep. deeper than the deep blue sea. deeeeeeeeeeeeeper than Jayne Mansfield‘s cleavage. young'I‘om. frorn Richmond. Virginia. lusted aftera NOVEL. In an exclusive interview he told poignantly. and with a minimum of italics. how everyone at college in his day (Thursday) dreamt ofwriting the GREA'I‘AMERICAN NOVEL. In fact we can reveal only for the four thousandth time that young 'I‘om (from Richmond. Virginia) ‘went into newspapers with the idea that this was a motel I was checking into on the road to the final triumph which would be a novel. I started

I Concertina .\t..l. l-‘itzgeraltl (I’icador £2.95) Slight but delightful and disturbing first novel in which (‘oriola pieces together her life by calling on an assortment of witnesses. each of whom adds to the jigsaw . and the enigma.

IThe Memorial Christopher Isherwood ( .\Iethucn £5.95) Ageing and adjusting in the ‘les before lsherw ood was a camera and while he was still playing the sedulous ape to V. Woolf and I5. .\I. Forster.

I A Dream of Belonging .Ianina Bauman (Virago £4.95) Second and somewhat sanctimonious slab of

working for newspapers with the idea that at some point I would just quit the business cold and write a great work.‘

Attaboy Tom! Go get ‘EM! But before we get to the meat. what about the suit. What a get-up! Is this the hotel commissionairc I see before me‘.’ Long coat. top hat. white three piece. double breasted waistcoat. spats. polka dot necktie and matching hose. Urbane. Flash. Chic (Copyright T. Wolfe). Impractical. The January sales. What can I ask this coat-hanger that he hasn‘t been asked a zillion times before‘.’ ‘You‘ll find something.‘ he says sipping Lapsang Souchong. I know I will but when? We‘ve got 20 minutes and already we‘re into the last quarter and we‘re still on Balzac and Scott and Zola and Dickens. THE BIG BOYS. The ‘A‘ team. Time to talk about the GREAT AMERICAN NOVEL. The Bonfire ofthe Vanities. a perfectly straightforward story ofperfectly ordinary millionaires. lawyers. journalists. black Bronx priests. megabuckers. big poissons in a big pond. justice. hit and run drivers. baddies and goodies and inbetweenies. grubbing around in the Bad Apple. the Rotten Core.

where for a million a year you can have a three bedroom apartment and not much else.

We can talk about all of this ifwe want to. How young Tom. ageing enfant terrible. took six years and purple heart-ache to grind out the words. first serialized in Rolling Stone. and then revised and rewritten by the man who would be

Balzac. five foot nothin‘. bad breath and teeth to match and with as many books to his credit as Babe Ruth had home runs. We can talk about this if we want to.

But we say NO. Instead we talk about Hunter Thompson. who should have been here but didn‘t make it last year. Not so young Tom. now ageing before my eyes under the incessant torture of interrogation. tells of the man who comes ‘completely as advertised‘ and of his first meeting with him after the Great Gonzo. the asp from Aspen. the Colorado Bugle. had lent him tapes ‘ofa party Ken Kesey and his group (the freaked-out. LSD dropping hippies. the Merry Pranksters) had given for the Hell‘s

autobiography etching a bleak picture of Polish anti-semitism. subversion and blind ideology. all of which left emigration the only answer.

I The Fatal Shore Robert Hughes ((iralton £4.95) Definitive account ofthe first settlers in Oz. Iinthralling and erudite.

I The Guide R. K. Narayan (Penguin £3.95) Released from prison Raju gets his hair clipped then holes up in an abandoned temple where he convincingly cons his way as a holy man. More magic from the master of Malgudi.

Angels. Hunter was very generous. So when I heard he was coming to New York. I invited him to lunch. We were walking to lunch on West 46th Street and we passed a marine supply store and he said. ‘Just a minute I have to go in here.‘ And he came out a few minutes later with a little white plastic bag and a sixth sense told me not to ask what was in the bag. so I didn‘t. We go to the restaurant. He puts the bag right on top of the table. My curiosity is mounting but again my better sense tells me not to mention it. Finally though my curiosity gets too much for me and I say: ‘Well. Hunter. what‘s in the bag‘?‘ He says. ‘I have something in here that would empty this place inside of 1() seconds. And he starts to open it. I say. OK. I believe you. You don‘t have to prove a thing. I believe you.‘But now you can‘t stop him. He pulls this thing out. It looks like a little can of shaving foam and he presses a button on top and a sound comes out just as I‘ve never heard in my life. The place doesn‘t empty. it freezes. It was a marine distress signal. The kind you‘re supposed to take out on your boat and it carries 20 miles across the water.

‘That was my introduction to Hunter. Well not long after that I was in Colorado with my wife near Aspen where Hunter lives. So he invited us to dinner. We go to this nice restaurant in Aspen where there are a lot ofnice restaurants. And my wife and I order a perfectly ordinary meal and the waitress turns to Hunter and he says. ‘I want two banana daiquiris and two banana splits.‘ So she brings them and while we‘re starting in on our soup he drinks the two daiquiris and eats the two banana splits. He then calls the waitress over and he says. ‘Do it again.‘ And she brings two banana daiquiris and two banana splits. I pledge you my word. He consumed four banana daiquiris. That‘s enough to blow your liver apart. And at the end of this he orders a tumblerful of Wild Turkey bourbon which he walked out the restaurant with. So he comes as advertised.‘

Et tu Tom.

The Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe is published by Jonathan ( ‘ape priced £11. 95.

I I Know My Heart: The Diaries of Anne Lister 1791—1840 Edited by I Ielena Whitbread (Virago £7.95) The life and lesbian loves ofa l9th-century country lady. partly transcribed from code. An intelligent. mannish and repetitive commentary on the minutiae of Austenian social nuance. domestic chores and the lady of the hall. spiced with unconventional passion and frustration.

I A Fatal Inversion Barbara Vine (Penguin £3.50) Spine-chiller set in East Anglia. by Ruth Rendell under a redundant alias.

The List I9 Feb— 3 Mar 1988 55