Re: RARA-AVIS: Heirs of Selby

From: Mark Sullivan (
Date: 11 Jul 2002

"And remember, without the Electric Prunes, Kenny Rogers might never have made it to a solo career, and then where would we be?"

Kenny Rogers was in the New Christy Minstrels, not the Electric Prunes.

I must admit that even though I jokingly recommended Selby to Mario as his follow-up to Walk on the Wild Side, I was blown away by Last Exit when I read it about 20 years ago. It was one of the first books I read that really wallowed in the filth and I was impressed both by this glimpse and by the writing style. I thought it an amazing tour de force. Somehow I doubt I'd have the same reaction today, but I don't think I'll test my fond memories (I didn't see the movie for much the same reason).

However, I think Selby may have provided a good model for some -- Richard Price has talked about the huge influence Last Exit had on him, letting him know it was okay to write about real people. And that book casts a long shadow over Price's Wanderers, though not so much in the style department.

As for the Beats, I think their main legacy may be the lives they led, as a sort of performance art, more than the words they wrote, which seem more and more dated as we get farther away. I think it's kind of telling that there now seems to be so little difference between the contemporaneous spoofs and much of the real stuff. Give a listen to the Rhino Beat Generation box set, for instance. It's hard to tell who's serious and who's joking, except when the real Beats take themselves far too seriously about things they should be joking.


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