Sunday, May 15, 2011

Homeboy

Homeboy by Seth MorganWriter Seth Morgan died October 18th 1990 at the age of 41 the same year his only book, a hardcore crime drama titled Homeboy, was published. Morgan was planning another book when he was killed in a motorcycle crash with his passenger 37-year-old Diane Levine. The couple crashed and burned anonymously on a deserted bridge outside New Orleans.

Morgan, an infamous binge drinker, complicated matters by maintaining a series of addictions to both cocaine and heroin and then going on full-blast tears through the countryside. The last ride he took - killed him.

It doesn't have to be pointed out that Seth Morgan was clearly a classic fuck-up. Right to the very end. No fluttering cape or chrome briefcase tied him to any collective aspirations of heroism. He was a counter-culture denizen who refused to acknowledge the losing hand that life continually dealt out to him. A fraction of his experiences as a drop-out, drug addict and convict are retold in fiction in his 1990 book Homeboy.

In the late 1960's, before Morgan became a sleazebag, ex-con or charred corpse he was a U of C at Berkeley drop-out. He loved a vibrant young woman from Texas who loved him right back. Morgan's woman was a blues singer who was well known for her personal warmth. Something was unmistakably present in her character that was missing in so many others. Something unmistakably alive. Morgan's squeeze loved him enough to accept his proposal of marriage, probably the first one she'd ever heard or first one that he'd ever given. Then, right before the marriage - she died from an apparent drug overdose. She died young, respected and famous. Her name was Janice Joplin.

Morgan never really seemed to get his feet back on the ground afterward. Like the Red Sea had parted for the man just long enough to lure him into the center of the dry sea bed and then crashed back down on top of him.

In the mid-1970's, Seth Morgan started and operated a part-time porn theater in San Francisco and jammed Rolling Stones songs as Deepthroat raged on the screen. During the day, Morgan played "art films" to a mostly deserted theater. To complicate matters, Morgan developed a junk habit the size of a silver-back gorilla. To maintain the quiet escape of a junk habit he burglarized Bay Area businesses. The habit eventually landed him in San Quentin for Theft from 1977 to 1980.

Morgan's only book was begun while Morgan was in San Quentin. Homeboy is a crime novel set in mid-seventies San Francisco. The book is not for the squeamish. It's harsh material riddled with trauma and addiction from the first page. The book does not glamourize murder or drugs - it simply lays them out in a bloody heap the way a hard-eyed prosecutor or coroner would. Homeboy belongs in the detective novel tradition of Dashiell Hammet and uses a whip-smart, sharpened awareness that's usually only very faintly perceived by junkies and writers. This kind of laser beam clarity is rarely articulated or captured. The fact that these impressions are recorded at all owes a debt to Bill Burroughs and Hunter Thompson's carefully crafted, critical insight into human character through it's marks, con men, crooks and unremitting, gleeful brutality.

Morgan uses hipster vocabulary to outline a criminal underclass who inhabit the fringes of society in the dicey Tenderloin District of San Francisco. Morgan himself stars as Joe The Barker, a small-time hood and junkie, who is eternally entangled with livid crazies, naive hookers and eventually a caper much bigger than he can handle in the form of the corpulent Mr. Baby Jewels Moses aka The Pimp Blimp.

Morgan writes his characters from the inside out rather than describing their physical appearance and riding the descriptions around for 400 pages. His characters are rendered with shocking clarity - describing hookers are wounded rape survivors:

"...it wasn't like intros were needed that night in the garage when she was twelve and he was drunk and bent her over the Pontiac's front fender and went to town...Rings 'N Things had been her handle since a biker named Sugarfoot broke her out of the Encino split-level where she'd been held POW fifteen years...".

Morgan's junkies are hamstrung with mental illness like The Barker's inept robbery partner, Rooski, who recalls being addicted to "Edison medicine" or Electro-Shock Therapy while in a state mental hospital to the point that:

"- with an addict's typical ingenuity figured out how to ground himself to the radiator...on his 16th treatment he snatched the saline sponge from the horrified technician, doused his testicles, and looped the wire around his penis. Like a lightning rod it sprang erect, buzzing blue and white sparks like sperm. 'Bringin' the rush home!' shrieked Rooski just before the hospital's circuits blew."

Homeboy is a hilarious and haunting portrait of where underground culture, a bleak underworld of sex and drugs, meets mainstream culture. Homeboys are the people on both sides of the law that make up this brutal exchange.

References:
Caught By The River, Pearls, Stones and San Quentin
Words Urge, The Umanageable Burden of Hope
New York Times, Seth Morgan Dies At 41
Mike Dennis.com, A Fellow Toiler


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