Barry Farrell

Barry Farrell wrote this Monk piece, making the cover of Time. I saw it posted on a jazz page. The past came rushing back, strong, like deja vu. You see, Barry Farrell was my creative writing instructor at UCSB. He was the one who told me I was going to be a writer. A prediction I tried to avoid for years, to no avail. Damn him. I remember someone asked him when he decided he wanted to be a writer. He said he never wanted to be a writer. He’d gotten out of the army and needed to make a living. Writing was just something he could do. It doesn’t seem to work that way now.

He turned me onto John McPhee, Barry Farrell did, which is like turning a young tenor player onto Stan Getz. He handed out a Xeroxed copy of the annotated manuscript for McPhee’s “Coming Into the Country”. I’ll never forget the opening line. Three little words. Pass the gorp. Perfection, though it took me a while to appreciate that. But it was perfection. I remember once listening to Sonny Rollins play Three Little Words and “pass the gorp” came into my head. I learned so much from that manuscript. There were huge passages crossed out, notes everywhere, add ins, corrections, pieces lifted from there and dropped here. All in John McPhee’s hand. My favorite writer of all time, that John McPhee. At some point later I tossed it out. I’ve regretted that since. I’ll never get anything like it again.

I probably have the writing I did in that class in my analog box–all handwritten or typed. Ancient times. The best was a profile of a student name Lori. A gorgeous thing, long black here, deep brown Mediterranean eyes. We met in her dorm room. She lolled across the bed. I asked the questions. I transcribed the piece later. Computer files last forever. I accidentally deleted it forever. Tossed the original. It’s gone now.

I took that class–there were maybe 8 students–back in the late seventies. 1978 maybe. One of those key experiences. We were tucked into a corner on some upper floor. Out the window you could follow the coast all the way to county line, where the surfers were. You could listen to Barry Farrell read some passage aloud and gaze across the Pacific till it passed over the horizon and onto China.

Wonderful guy, Barry Farrell, and I really wanted to talk to him again sometime, over whiskey, him with his incessant cigarettes, me with a cigar. But he had died in an auto accident in the 80’s. Had a heart attack and lost control of his car somewhere in L.A. I saw that on the internet. The internet can be cruel. I didn’t cry, but should have. A decade on it still bothers me. There are big holes where life used to be, memories vanish when the heart stops beating, and it seems such a shame to waste all that.

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