mer, are also set in Texas; they concern a young white boy’s introduction to blues, whiskey, weed, and the wrong side of the tracks. Texas defined a stifling backdrop in Southern’s earliest stories in the mid1950s, to which he made a sentimental return in his final 1992 novel. A youthful A proximity to, and fascination with both sides of “the tracks” *constitutes another Southern theme learned first in Texas. Southern occupied his high school years in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, attending Sunset High School in Oak Cliff, where his increasing cosmopolitanism took the form of “learn[ing] how to get girls drunk on the original Greyhoundgrapefruit juice masking the taste of vodfollowed by the adroit and surreptitious use of sharpened roundedpoint kindergarten scissors to snip away that last bastion of defense, the panty crotch panel.” He studied for two years at S.M.U., then made his break from Texas by serving in the Army in Europe from 1943 to 1945. After the war, he first enrolled at the Univer.sity of Chicago, received a B.A. from Northwestern in 1948, then moved to Paris to study at the Sorbonne on the G.I. Bill, where he attended lectures by Camus and Sartre. In Paris, Southern joined a post-war community of expatriate writers that in cluded George Plimpton and Peter Matthiessen. He adopted, by contemporary accounts, a harrumphing faux-British accent and wrote stories like “You’re Too Hip, Baby,” about a white boy in Paris loafing after black jazz musicians because, as he explains to a confused black couple William Caxton he’s stalking, “I dig the scene that’s all. I dig the scene and the sounds.” The hornplayer lets him know that he’s “what we might call a kind of professional nigger lover,” and tells him to clear out. In “The Night the Bird Blew for Doctor Warner,” written during the same period, a starched musicologist endeavors to get down with jazz’s heroin culture in the name of anthropological empathy and ends up clubbed in an alley. Southern, early on, was not only hip, but hip to hip’s foibles. Southern’s short story “The Accident” \(an excerpt from his first novel, Flash and Filigree, Matthiessen and Harold Humes to ditch their plans for a Paris-based New Yorker imitation and launch a literary magazine instead; the resultant Paris Review published “The Accident” in its first number in 1953. The porn-lit-inspired Candy, co-written with poet Mason Hoffenberg, was published, also in 1958, in Paris, under the pseudonym Maxwell Kenton \(Southern was attempting to sell a children’s book, Candy was originally banned in both England and the U.S., where it later became a bestselling phenomenon. The Magic Christian followed in 1960. Actor Peter Sellers liked the book so much he is said to have bought 100 copies and distributed them to friends, among them Stanley Kubrick, who called on Southern’s then virginal screenwriting talents when he decided to film Dr. Strangelove: or how I learned to stop worrying and love the bombas a black comedy instead of his originally intended melodrama. Southern’s febrile imagination seemed to change minds on contact. Southern went on to co-script Barbarella, Easy Rider, The Loved One, and The Cincinnati Kid, also adapting his own Candy and The Magic Christian to the screen. With his reporting for Esquire and Paul Krassner’s The Realist, he helped usher in what would be called the New Journalism. In 1967, he published Red Dirt. Marijuana and Other Tastes, a collection of his short fiction and journalism \(the cover featured a photo of Southern and the young year the Beatles released Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, with Southern’s face pastiched into that cover-art’s collage of cultural icons. Alongside William Burroughs and Jean Genet, he covered the 1968 Chicago Democratic Convention for Esquire. In 1971, he published Blue Movie, a Hollywood satire dedicated to Kubrick, which plot concerns the fictional filming of a high-art, triple-X porn flick. After that he was mostly silent, though he worked as a writer on “Saturday Night Live” in the early ’80s, and was for a while listed on the masthead of Spin magazine. He emerged again in 1992, with Texas Summer, through which he returned to a Texas childhood he hadn’t visited since the early stories collected in Red Dirt Marijuana. It was Southern’s first and only novel of sentiment over satire, and it sank, more or less, without a trace. TRAGEDY INTO FARCE Two elements set Southern’s best work apart from that of his peers and would-be MARCH 14, 1997 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 23
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