Re: RARA-AVIS: Re: Sports Noir

From: John Williams (
Date: 14 Feb 2007 wrote:

The mention of all these boxing books reminded me of a book that has long sat unread on my shelves, Seth Morgan's Homeboy. I've heard very mixed opinions on this book, some seem to love it, others hate it. Any opinions here

It's a long while since I read it, but here's something I wrote when it was reissued in the late nineties that may be of interest.

Of all the fucked-up careers in modern literature, Seth Morgan's was the most perfectly disastrous. A golden boy whose dad ran an upmarket literary magazine called the Hudson Review, he headed off to college in Berkeley in the late sixties and promptly got caught up in the spirit of times. He dropped out, took up with Janis Joplin, was engaged to her when she died. There are those who still blame him for not being there the night she died in a Hollywood hotel. He was already selling drugs by then, and the seventies saw him taking a roller-coaster ride whose eventual destination was always down. He worked in the strip clubs of San Francisco's Broadway, dealing, pimping, robbing, before he finally got what was coming - a stretch in prison for armed robbery.

As with many a bad boy writer before him - Chester Himes, Jean Genet, Eddie Bunker - prison was the making of him. He pulled together all the self-wrought hell of his first thirty-some years on the planet to produce a great howling blast of a book, his one and only novel, Homeboy.

Imagine On The Road rewritten by Chester Himes and colliding violently with Tim Willocks' Green River Rising and you'll have some idea of the beat-pulp masterwork that is Homeboy.

Homeboy turned Seth Morgan, fuck-up, into Seth Morgan, celebrity. An instant cult hit in America, it also came out in Britain in the autumn of 1990, and that's when I got to spend a few minutes talking to the man. Morgan, accompanied by his spectacularly haute-trash attired girlfriend, was working a room upstairs in the Groucho club. In person he turned out to be completely charming: funny and, above all, passionate about writing. The next novel was on the way and he was seemingly ready to take on the world.

At the time there seemed no reason to disbelieve the story that he was a thoroughly cleaned-up, reformed character - after all, half the American writers you meet seem to be in Twelve Step Programs of one sort or another. It was only later that a suspicion began to grow that maybe Seth Morgan's electric good humour and enthusiasm might not have been simply due to being high on life.

That of course was after what happened next. For at the time it was an enormous shock to hear, just a couple of months after meeting him, that Seth Morgan was dead, and doubly so to learn the manner of his passing.

What happened, more or less, appears to have been that Morgan, flying low, had turned up on his great hog of a motorbike to a bar in New Orleans, where he was now living. He came in, picked up his former girlfriend and took her for one last wild ride. He drove up on the big bridge across the Mississippi, the bike hitting a hundred miles an hour, and then he just turned the wheel, took them both soaring out into space. In an awful way it was the perfect Seth Morgan exit - combining a spectacular, even glorious suicide with a shoddy, cowardly murder - a supremely fucked-up end to a fucked-up life.


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