Not Fade Awayby Jim Dodge
‘dodge is a poet, a philosopher, and above all a gifted storyteller.” –Los Angeles Times
George Gastin is a Bay Area tow-truck operator who wrecks cars as part of an insurance scam. One of the cars he is hired to demolish is a snow-white Cadillac that was supposed to be a present for the Big Bopper, who died in the Iowa plane crash that killed Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens. Gastin has a change of heart and takes off in the car, heading for Texas where the Bopper is buried. Armed with a thousand hits of Benzedrine and chased by adversaries real and imagined, Gastin navigates a road trip that covers many miles and states of mind. Traveling in time from the Beat era to the dawn of the sixties, from the coffeehouses of North Beach to the open plains of America, Gastin picks up some extraordinary hitchhikers’the self-proclaimed “world’s greatest salesman,” the Reverend Double-Gone Johnson, and a battered housewife with a box of old 45s. As the miles and sleepless hours roll by, Gastin’s trip becomes a blur of fantasy and reality fueled by a soundtrack of classic rock “n” roll.
‘reads like Kerouac’s On the Road as it might have been written by Hunter S. Thompson.” –Michael Heaton, The Plain Dealer (Cleveland)
“A wild paean to rock “n” roll, the freedom of the open road and the powers of unfettered imagination. Dodge pushes language to its outer limits. He stretches credulity and expands the boundaries of the novel itself. His surreal voyage into the chaos of night carries him into the heart of America’s darkest psychological landscapes. Not Fade Away shakes, rattles, and rolls.” –Jonah Raskin, San Francisco Chronicle
‘dodge is a poet, a philosopher, and above all a gifted storyteller.” –Los Angeles Times
“Hilarious and ultimately mystical.” –Greil Marcus, The Village Voice
“Wonderful. . . . Almost as fun as listening to Little Richard for the first time.” –Ed Ward, Austin Chronicle
“A good read, like being back in the beat generation: Jim Dodge’s main character could be Jack Kerouac on the road again. . . . The spirit is free in Not Fade Away.
The humor and the poignancy and the music interact. Dodge writes to the beat.” –Dean Johnson, Orlando Sentinel
‘dodge [demonstrates a] wonderful imagination, eye for detail and command of language along with a delightful backdrop of rock-and-roll.” –Publishers Weekly
“Blessed are those whose necessitiesfind their art.’ –Schiller
JUST AS GEORGE was taking off on his pilgrimage in “65, we arrived in the present, the tow truck bucking as he geared down for the Monte Rio stop sign. ‘monte Rio,” I announced. Given my nearly comatose condition resulting from the tangled combination of the doom flu, many milligrams of codeine, the paralysis of speed-induced terror, and the hypnotic lull of George’s voice, I was as impressed by my perspicacity as my ability to articulate it. ‘monte Rio,” I repeated, enthralled by its existential certainty. “Yes indeed,” George confirmed. “Five miles to Guerneville now; got it by the dick on a downhill pull and tomorrow will be a different world.” He hung a left on 12 and took it up through the gears. “How you feeling? Hanging in there? Ears bleeding?” I thought about it but I couldn’t find the words. I’d shot my wad on ‘monte Rio.” “Better?” George prompted. ‘same? Worse?” I nodded. “All of the above?” I nodded. He nodded back.
I couldn’t tell if he was sympathetically acknowledging my inability to construct and utter words or simply confirming some inner judgment of his own – about what, I didn’t know and didn’t care. I sank into that luxurious indifference like a high-plains cowboy sliding down into his first bath after five weeks of merciless heat and horse sweat on the trail. The words to ‘red River Valley” were floating through the remnants of my brain. “” hasten to bid me adieu “” Adieu? What sort of horseshit was “adieu.” Cowboys didn’t go around talking French. George was giving me a look of pure appraisal, friendly but frank. ‘might be smart to stop by the Redwood Health Clinic for a quick check-up. I think you’re fine, but opinions ain’t diplomas.” “Bed!” I sobbed, distantly astonished that I’d spoken. It was the voice of my involuntary nervous system seizing control from a cowboy-consciousness now bidding adieu to the home of buffalo roaming. Bed. A bed. A physical demand, the need of it pure, unsullied by lengthy evaluation, careful consideration, or thoughtful judgment. Rest, sleep, surcease. The last round-up. George was passing a log truck like it was frozen in time. Deft, decisive – no question the man could drive. As the log truck faded in the side mirror, he said, “You’re the boss. The first order of business, then, is to get you to bed. When you’re squared away I’ll haul your rig over to Itchman’s.” My head nodded itself. “If you got no place particular in mind,” George said, “how about the Rio del Rio? Bill and Dorie Caprenter run it. Good folks. Towed in their “54 Hudson when they snapped an axle up near Skagg Springs. They’d been out bird watching. The Rio del Rio isn’t fancy-ass, but what it lacks in glitz it more than makes up for in comfort. Very quiet. Always clean.” “Faster,” I said. George, laughing at my regrettably invincible wit, gladly obliged. Though all the windows were cranked up tight, I could feel the wind roaring against my face. It felt good. It felt even better to be a mile out of Guerneville and closing fast. The Rio del Rio was on the west side of town, set back in a grove of second-growth redwood on a plateau above the Russian River flood-plain. There were nine cabins, counting the office, all painted dark green with white trim, the green the same shade as the moss tufted between the cracks of the redwood-shake roofs. George flicked the floorshift into neutral and set the brake. I hadn’t realized we’d stopped. “I’ll check in with Bill and Dorie and see what’s what,” he said. “Hang tight. Back in a flash.” The rain had relented into a swirling mist. Through the wet wind-shield, George seemed to blur as he approached the office. I heard a loud knock, followed in a few seconds by a delighted female whoop, immediately sharpening into a mock scold: “You crazy ol” ghost, we see you about as often as we do a pileated woodpecker.” My brain refused the comparison as impossibly complex. I glanced down at my hands folded rather primly on my lap. They seemed far away and unconcerned. I wondered if they could open the glovebox for more codeine. The index finger of my right hand twitched. Where there’s communication, there’s hope. I was sure George wouldn’t mind; there seemed to be plenty, and I might need some later in case I hemorrhaged or something. Might save my life, a life, it was not lost on me, that seemed remarkably free of moral or ethical restraint. Why did generosity seem to inspire my rapacity? I was still pondering this when I heard the slish-slap of someone running toward the truck. The driver’s door flew open and George dumped an armful of paper and kindling on the front seat and swung himself in as he cheerfully announced, “Okay, pardner, you’re all set.” He held up a key, dangling it like bait. “Lucky seven. You have it as long as you need it, pay when you can. Dorie says there’s a special winter basket-case rate of three-fifty a day. Told you these were people with soul. Allow me to chauffeur you to your quarters.” In the middle of a time warp, this was way too much information for me to process. Ten seconds to the cabin. Hours to climb down out of the truck and get inside while George jabbered encouragement, comments, commands. “Easy does it now”. Watch those flagstones – slick as snot on a doorknob”. Now take a dead bead on the bed there, and I’ll put some flames in the fireplace. Little warmth and a couple of days’ sleep appeal to you any? You make a conked-out zombie look like a fucking speedfreak, but hey, lookee here, you made it to the land of your dreams! Just peel off those duds and crawl right in. Yes! Curl up like a baby and let it all go so far away your toes will have to shoot off flares to get your mind’s attention. That’s right. Now I’ll go prove I deserved my Fire-Building Merit Badge while you snuggle down solid and sing for the Sandman. Nothing like wood heat to get the warmth to the bones “” His voice trailed off as he disappeared through the door. It was complicated, especially the buttons on the shirt, but I got undressed, slipped shivering between the cold sheets, and pulled the quilt up to my ears. George was back with the paper and wood, saying something I couldn’t hear over the crackle of the kindling catching in the riverstone fireplace. He came over and grinned down at me in bed and said something about my wet clothes and picking them up at the office and I could leave his there or keep them if I needed a more diverse wardrobe with a working-class cut to properly woo the Guerneville women, but I was already gliding away, his words lost in the sound of fire and the rainy redwoods dripping on the roof. ‘dreamers awake,” a voice murmured. ‘soup’s on.” George held a steaming cup in his hand. “Hate to wake you, but even if you had a sword stuck through your heart I wouldn’t let you miss this soup. This is Dorie’s justly famous Cosmic Cure-All Root Broth. Over thirty different roots simmered down slow. And by slow, I’m talking a couple of weeks, you understand? Sloooow. Extracting essences. It’ll put some lead in your pencil or I’ve never been out of first gear.” I feebly accepted the cup. The broth was almost translucent, with a faint greenish-brown tint. Every swallow had a different taste: carrot, hickory, ginseng, licorice; now ginger, burdock, parsnip, garlic. It felt wonderful in my gut, a calm radiance soaking outward from the center. ‘more,” I asked hopefully. “Whole thermos on the nightstand here,” George said, reaching to pour me another cup. “Comes compliments of the house with best wishes for a speedy recovery. But it’s all there is, they ain’t no more – this was the last container from the freezer. You can only make it once a year. Best fresh, Dorie claims, but it doesn’t lose a hell of a lot in aging if you ask me. Incredible stuff. Cures flu and the bad blues, gout, malaria, shingles, impotence, schizophrenia, serum and viral hepatitis, terminal morbidity, most moral quandaries, senility, bad karma, and even that dreaded Hawaiian killer, lackanookie.” I drank greedily while my reviving brain analyzed corporeal input. My joints ached like decayed teeth, the fever (or perhaps the codeine) had turned my skull rubbery, but the piercing headache seemed blunted and the gastrointestinal maelstrom had definitely abated. “You getting on top of it,” George asked solicitously. “Leg up,” I mumbled. It was still a long way from my brain to my mouth. “Thought so. You got some shine back in your eyes.” “This soup’s good. Thank Dorie.” “I’ll do it for sure.” George smiled and turned toward the door. It took a great effort but I managed: “And thank you, George. Most of all. Your kindness is enough to make me––” George turned around, a gleam in his eye, the grin following. “Wasn’t leaving just yet. You’re not getting off that easy. Just wanted to grab myself a chair here so I could make myself comfortable while I finished my story. You should know how it turned out.” I was confused for an instant, then embarrassed. The story. Oh, shit. I felt like I’d insulted him, and tried to recover. “George, you’re living proof it turned out good.” “Hard to know for sure.” He shrugged, sliding the chair over next to the bed. “I want to hear it, George, but I’m afraid I may nod out on you. Full of flu and codeine. Piss-poor audience.” The effort of sustained thought and speech left me weak and breathless. “Whatever.” George waved a hand in dismissal. “I need to hear it more than you, anyway.” The hand abruptly reached toward me, as if to touch my face. I flinched slightly, and unnecessarily, for he was just reaching over to snap off the nightstand lamp. The only light in the room came from the windows, seeping through the redwoods and rolling mist outside. Unless I’d completely lost track of time it was around noon, but the quality of light belonged to dusk. The fire was burning down to a glow across the room, an occasional flare at a pocket of pitch, but its light seemed to reach us only as a change in the density of shadows. I could barely make out George’s face. I stretched out, clenched my muscles, then relaxed and closed my eyes, waiting for him to begin. A minute passed, then another. I could hear him breathing beside me in the dark. After another minute my pathological antipathy for dramatics crawled up my throat like bile. I tried to make it sound light and friendly, but I could feel the sarcasm in my voice: “George, what happened? You lose the key?” “Naw,” he said amiably, “I was trying to remember a feeling. It’s important that the feeling is right. You’d think the feeling would be unforgettable – and it is – but you never can recall it with the clarity of the original, never whole and present like it was.” “What feeling?” I said. “Free,” he said. That got him started, and he didn’t stop till the end.