Once asked to describe his get-up, Mr. Wolfe replied, “Neo-pretentious.
May 15, 2018 9:25 AM   Subscribe

Tom Wolfe, the white-suited wizard of “New Journalism” who exuberantly chronicled American culture from the Merry Pranksters through the space race before turning his satiric wit to such novels as “The Bonfire of the Vanities” and “A Man in Full,” has died. He was 88.

Tom Wolfe, Pyrotechnic ‘New Journalist’ and Novelist, Dies at 88 (New York Times)
In his use of novelistic techniques in his nonfiction, Mr. Wolfe, beginning in the 1960s, helped create the enormously influential hybrid known as the New Journalism.

But as an unabashed contrarian, he was almost as well known for his attire as his satire. He was instantly recognizable as he strolled down Madison Avenue — a tall, slender, blue-eyed, still boyish-looking man in his spotless three-piece vanilla bespoke suit, pinstriped silk shirt with a starched white high collar, bright handkerchief peeking from his breast pocket, watch on a fob, faux spats and white shoes. Once asked to describe his get-up, Mr. Wolfe replied brightly, “Neo-pretentious.”
Tom Wolfe, Bonfire of the Vanities author, dies aged 87 (The Guardian)
Pursuing colourful tales of excess and status-seeking across America, Wolfe championed what he called “saturation reporting”: where a journalist shadows their subject over a long period of time, recording their observations in often minute detail. “To pull it off,” Wolfe wrote in 1970, “you casually have to stay with the people you are writing about for long stretches ... long enough so that you are actually there when revealing scenes take place in their lives.”

Wolfe became famous for his ruthless eye and sharp tongue, and was credited with introducing many new words into the English lexicon, including “statusphere”, “radical chic” and “the Me Decade”. He was also famed for turning that tongue on others, engaging in public battles of wits with the likes of John Updike, Norman Mailer and Noam Chomsky.
Tom Wolfe, apostle of ‘New Journalism’ who captured extravagance of his times, dies at 88 (Washington Post)
posted by not_the_water (95 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
 
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posted by condour75 at 9:32 AM on May 15


Wolfe became famous for his ruthless eye and sharp tongue

Coming from Atlanta, it was amusing that the Buckhead/Paces Ferry/Piedmont Driving Club set were so horrified at how he skewered them in A Man In Full- he had suckered them good when he was doing his research; they thought he loved and admired them, right up until they read it, I think.
posted by thelonius at 9:33 AM on May 15 [10 favorites]


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posted by Pendragon at 9:33 AM on May 15


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posted by Splunge at 9:39 AM on May 15


I could never get into his novels, but I will give him this: The Right Stuff was an excellent book, getting very well how early-sixties JFK-era America was determined to create its own space-race mythology, and the flawed human beings who found themselves cast as its new heroes.

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posted by Halloween Jack at 9:40 AM on May 15 [11 favorites]


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posted by the sobsister at 9:40 AM on May 15


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posted by riruro at 9:41 AM on May 15


. . ..... . . . !!!!!!!!! . . .
posted by queensissy at 9:48 AM on May 15 [2 favorites]


> Tom Wolfe, Pyrotechnic ‘New Journalist’ and Novelist, Dies at 88 (New York Times)
> Tom Wolfe, Bonfire of the Vanities author, dies aged 87 (The Guardian)

May we always have The Gaurdian.
posted by ardgedee at 9:49 AM on May 15 [16 favorites]


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posted by Thorzdad at 9:49 AM on May 15


David Frum:
"Wolfe once explained his dandified wardrobe: Try to interview hippies or NASCAR fans dressed like one of themselves - they'll instantly sniff you out as a fraud.

Show up dressed like the Man From Mars, and they'll tell you all you wish to know. People love explaining things."
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posted by JoeZydeco at 9:51 AM on May 15 [56 favorites]


His essays "Radical Chic" and "Mau Mauing the Flack Catchers" should be required reading for any student of the 60's.
posted by shnarg at 9:52 AM on May 15 [9 favorites]


Yeah, The Right Stuff was really one of my favorite books for a while when I was 13-14. I possibly missed the point a little bit, but damn if I wasn't fascinated by the dynamics of it.

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posted by phack at 9:53 AM on May 15 [1 favorite]


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posted by ZeusHumms at 9:53 AM on May 15


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posted by Joey Michaels at 9:54 AM on May 15


His essays "Radical Chic" and "Mau Mauing the Flack Catchers" should be required reading for any student of the 60's.

Probably Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test too. The chapter about the Beatles concert was incredible.
posted by thelonius at 9:54 AM on May 15 [9 favorites]


"If you wear the same thing every day, people will remember you better" - David Byrne, Stop Making Sense liner notes
posted by thelonius at 9:55 AM on May 15 [5 favorites]


Boston Globe briefly had it at 87, then changed it to 88.

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posted by Melismata at 9:59 AM on May 15


> Boston Globe briefly had it at 87, then changed it to 88.

Apparently some outlets have it as 87 because his birth date had once been misreported. According to Wikipedia: "He was born on March 2, 1930, not 1931 as has sometimes been stated. (His birthdate is listed in the Birth Records of Henrico County, Virginia as March 2, 1930. And he is listed with his parents in the U.S. 1930 Census of Richmond, Henrico County, Virginia.)"
posted by ardgedee at 10:02 AM on May 15 [1 favorite]


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posted by Cash4Lead at 10:11 AM on May 15




Now he's off the bus.

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posted by Gelatin at 10:15 AM on May 15 [6 favorites]


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posted by Going To Maine at 10:17 AM on May 15


Hopefully he will be buried in a 3800 sq foot coffin with columns, garden lions and maybe even a rearing stallion just like he would have wanted.
posted by srboisvert at 10:19 AM on May 15 [2 favorites]


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posted by SecretAgentSockpuppet at 10:19 AM on May 15


His essays "Radical Chic" and "Mau Mauing the Flack Catchers" should be required reading for any student of the 60's.

His essays "Radical Chic" and "Mau Mauing the Flack Catchers" should be required reading for any student of the 60's.

Probably Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test too. The chapter about the Beatles concert was incredible.


It would be the whole book if I was doing the assigning, though some skimming would be tolerated. In particular it captures two genuine pivot points for the entire 60s counter culture (not just the moments themselves but all the mad and complex energies that played into them). Here I'm thinking of:

1. that moment that Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters showed up at the gates of Timothy Leary's Millbrook estate ... and the two great powers of the psychedelic movement failed to connect (anarchy and meditation being problematic bedfellows).

2. that moment that Kesey and the Pranksters deliberately shit the bed at a pivotal anti-war rally (I think in Berkeley, 1965). Rather than egg the protesters on, they called them out for doing the same basic thing the war pigs were doing -- marching, rallying, trying to force their POV. As the story goes, it killed the energy of the day, the march went ahead but folks' just weren't that into it ...

Anyway -- essential stuff. But don't rely on my foggy recollections. Go to the source.
posted by philip-random at 10:29 AM on May 15 [8 favorites]



posted by MovableBookLady at 10:33 AM on May 15


I saw him speak at Indiana University in the late 1980s. The presentation was canned material from a recent book or essay that I had already read and I was disappointed about that. I suppose he must have been doing a promo tour for Bonfire of the Vanities. But he also did one of the damndest things I have ever seen. From the stage he announced that he was going to hang out in a nearby lounge area and take questions and stuff for a few hours and that everyone in the audience was invited. Now, my memory of this is that it happened immediately after the talk, which seems somewhat improbable, so maybe it was the next afternoon or something, but damn if he didn't do it.

There were probably a couple of hundred people there, students, professors, malingerers, random passers by - the whole cross section of community one finds in small university towns. Wolfe showed up in his white suit, parked himself standing up leaning against a high backed couch, and presented himself as an object of sparkling entertainment and fascination. It was really something. At some point someone thought to ask him about Mark Twain and he held forth on that man for a bit, a writer in a white suit who invented a public persona and reveled in it talking about another man who had done the same.

His books usually interested me but his later material, after The Right Stuff, tended to lean on snap judgements that appeared to me to often be wrong, ill-informed, and ungenerous. I certainly remain glad for both his writings and that entertaining public reception in the lounge above the hotel lobby of the Indiana University Memorial Union sometime in 1987 or 1988.
posted by mwhybark at 10:39 AM on May 15 [14 favorites]


Coming from Atlanta, it was amusing that the Buckhead/Paces Ferry/Piedmont Driving Club set were so horrified at how he skewered them in A Man In Full- he had suckered them good when he was doing his research; they thought he loved and admired them, right up until they read it, I think.

I'm more familiar with the Chamblee-Tucker area with all antique stores and used bookshops (that mostly seem to be disappearing) and I thought he captured that part of Atlanta perfectly. I later read that he spent a lot of time there.
posted by lagomorphius at 10:42 AM on May 15 [1 favorite]


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posted by sammyo at 10:47 AM on May 15


There was a demon that lived in the air. They said whoever challenged him would die.

Their controls would freeze up, their planes would buffet wildly, and they would disintegrate. The demon lived at Mach 1 on the meter, seven hundred and fifty miles an hour, where the air could no longer move out of the way.

He lived behind a barrier through which they said no man could ever pass. They called it the sound barrier.

So they built a small plane, the X-1, to try and break the sound barrier. And men came to the high desert of California to ride it.

They were called test pilots. And no one knew their names.


I'm having a hard time articulating how much the mythos of The Right Stuff spoke to me. Just *gesticulates wildly at username*
posted by The demon that lives in the air at 10:59 AM on May 15 [24 favorites]


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posted by ubiquity at 11:05 AM on May 15


My first exposure to Wolfe was his atrocious The Painted Word, a work of pure resentment, and I thought it best never to read another word. This was an impression only reinforced by his appearance shortly after that reading in the news as a supporter of George W. Bush's reelection for reasons that were (like his objections to conceptual art) vague, poorly reasoned, and seemingly motivated out of a desire to stick it to east coast "elites" as though he had not long ago become one of them himself. Maybe I'm giving him short shrift. I guess we aren't supposed to speak ill of the dead, and he was far from history's greatest monster, but I never understood the appeal.
posted by dis_integration at 11:07 AM on May 15 [9 favorites]




Yeah, The Right Stuff was really one of my favorite books for a while when I was 13-14. I possibly missed the point a little bit, but damn if I wasn't fascinated by the dynamics of it.

Put me down as someone who read it in their teens and was just absolutely blown away by it. I thought the movie adaptation did a real good job as well.
posted by PenDevil at 11:15 AM on May 15 [1 favorite]


It was an entire issue of New York magazine. Whole thing here:

Radical Chic: That Party at Lenny's
posted by young_simba at 11:32 AM on May 15 [2 favorites]


I think his last twenty years or so were pretty dire and the bad parts of Bonfire look even worse now than they did then, but I owe him for a few things. First, for Acid Test, which, along with The Doors Of Perception, introduced me to psychedelics*; second, for The Right Stuff, which, via the movie, introduced me to Sam Shepard and, as importantly, was one of the few books my Dad and I ever really bonded over; and lastly, The New Journalism, which, given to me by an upperclassman during my first week of college, really blew my little mind with everything it suggested could be done with words. I'd be a very different person, for better or worse, if I hadn't encountered all those books when I did.

(I suppose I'd be remiss if I didn't include Mauve Gloves & Madmen, Clutter & Vine here, too. I bought a signed first of that book in a thrift store once and sold it for a hundred bucks on the same day.)

*Coincidentally, Tao Lin has just published Trip: Psychedelics, Alienation, and Change. Everything old is new again.
posted by octobersurprise at 11:34 AM on May 15 [5 favorites]


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posted by bjgeiger at 11:37 AM on May 15


In terms of his novels I only ever read Bonfire, and although it definitely had some good parts that stuck with me, holy cow did it ever meander aimlessly and then kind of just peter out rather than end.
posted by The Card Cheat at 11:37 AM on May 15 [1 favorite]


Tom Wolfe, Bonfire of the Vanities author, dies aged 87 (The Guardian)

Typical Guardian sloppiness, crediting him with his worst work in the obit title. His journalistic pieces were so much better than his novels.

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posted by w0mbat at 12:05 PM on May 15 [1 favorite]


Yeah, The Right Stuff was really one of my favorite books for a while when I was 13-14. I possibly missed the point a little bit, but damn if I wasn't fascinated by the dynamics of it.

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Oh actually, I just realized I have a follow up to this. I actually met Sam Sheppard a few years ago. I didn't know who he was at the time, and only made the connection when I mentioned him in passing to my parents.
posted by phack at 12:06 PM on May 15


Here's a really interesting interesting rebuke to the Radical Chic article written by Bernstein's daughter: The Time My Parents ‘Took A Knee’ For The Black Panthers
posted by Omon Ra at 12:08 PM on May 15 [5 favorites]


“The Grateful Dead did not play in sets; no eight numbers to a set, then a twenty-five-minute break, and so on, four or five sets and then the close-out. The Dead might play one number for five minutes or thirty minutes. Who kept time? Who could keep time, with history cut up in slices. The Dead could get just as stoned as anyone else. The … non-attuned would look about and here would be all manner of heads, including those running the show, the Pranksters, stroked out against the walls like slices of Jello. Waiting; with nobody looking very likely to start it back up. Those who didn’t care to wait would tend to drift off, stoned or otherwise, and the Test would settle down to the pudding.”
Enjoy the onward journey Mr. Wolfe, It's a pity you won't be able to tell us about it.

posted by adamvasco at 12:12 PM on May 15 [2 favorites]


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His Esquire piece on Junior Johnson was another gem.
posted by whuppy at 12:12 PM on May 15 [2 favorites]


the world owes him for telling us of the pranksters - i read it and i knew sooner or later i'd find a bus and get on it
posted by pyramid termite at 12:36 PM on May 15 [8 favorites]


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posted by disclaimer at 12:39 PM on May 15


If you don't get his appeal, definitely read Electric Koolaid Acid Test. Just an outstanding book, and if he never got high, its even better that he was to capture it so well. "Not stoned, exactly, but soaring."
posted by msalt at 12:50 PM on May 15 [3 favorites]


Thanks Tom -- The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (paired with Hunter Thompson's Hell's Angels) changed my life in the early 1970s. Then, The Right Stuff did it again in the early 1980s.
posted by Rash at 1:02 PM on May 15 [3 favorites]


What I remember best about The Right Stuff was the harrowing description of what's involved in landing on an aircraft carrier. And from Bonfire it was the main character's wife's withering description of how he, a Wall Street bond salesman, made his money, imagining a cake being cut, and keeping the crumbs.
posted by chavenet at 1:16 PM on May 15 [2 favorites]


I always liked From Bauhaus to Our House, because whatever its failings, he wasn't wrong in pointing out the that Modernism led to some pretty despicable buildings, and I like a good art rant. (And nevermind that some of my favorite buildings are Modern.)
posted by surlyben at 1:43 PM on May 15 [3 favorites]


(And nevermind that some of my favorite buildings are Modern.)

as were some of his as I recall -- he just saw the overall impact of Modern architecture as AWFUL, particularly once it hit America. Big ideas in the wrong hands.
posted by philip-random at 1:54 PM on May 15 [1 favorite]


“GgghEzzzzzzzhhhhhhggggggzzzzzzzeeeeeong!” Not a lot of writers used words like that (from the Junior Johnson piece whuppy linked above) back in the mid-1960s. In the 15 years after that Wolfe wrote eight ground-breaking non-fiction books, including The Right Stuff – which as a number of people have said above, is a masterpiece. In the 40 years since then, after he turned 50, he wrote only four – which aren't nearly as good.

People get old and lose their spark, and the times change, but Wolfe was a leader of the gang that changed modern American journalism. Which happened almost two generations ago now, so many people don't realize how influential he was way back when.
posted by LeLiLo at 2:18 PM on May 15 [5 favorites]


Hopefully his cenotaph won't be yet another "turd in the plaza"...

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posted by jim in austin at 2:26 PM on May 15


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posted by ckape at 2:29 PM on May 15


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Really loved Bonfire, a Man in Full and I'll even cop to liking Charlotte Simmons.
posted by mmascolino at 2:36 PM on May 15


Nobody's yet mentioned the essay collections The Pump House Gang or The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby (which contains the Junior Johnson piece, but also a lot more)? His essay on Carol Doda was so sad and vivid that it came rushing into my head when she died a few years ago.
posted by queensissy at 2:48 PM on May 15 [2 favorites]


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posted by hap_hazard at 2:49 PM on May 15


I seem to remember he got in some kinda dust-up with another author back when A Man In Full came out. Was it John Irving? Anyways, yeah, up there with HST and Mark Twain as one of the best American writers who learned their trade as journalists and captured the American zeitgeist on the page. I always figured he stole the white suit thingy from Twain. RIP Mr. Wolfe.
posted by valkane at 2:56 PM on May 15


Probably Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test too. The chapter about the Beatles concert was incredible

Too true, especially for the people I know, ahem, who lived those chapters.
posted by y2karl at 3:11 PM on May 15 [1 favorite]


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posted by stanf at 3:24 PM on May 15


I seem to remember he got in some kinda dust-up with another author back when A Man In Full came out. Was it John Irving?

Yeah, if I recall the sequence correctly, John Updike and Norman Mailer reviewed A Man in Full unfavorably, Wolfe went after them, Irving joined in to agree with Updike and Mailer, and there were back-and-forths including Wolfe’s essay “My Three Stooges” that is collected in one of his books.
posted by chimpsonfilm at 3:31 PM on May 15 [1 favorite]


Observant and insightful, sometimes annoying and occasionally infuriating. Wolfe was a real prude, he seemed genuinely offended at the very thought that anyone younger than himself was having fun, which is kinda hilarious. He was an incisive critic of American culture, and his novels were all spiky with those sharp details about class and custom. One particular scene comes to mind in Charlotte Simmons, when the jock basketball coach drops his facade for a brief moment to casually toss in a few references to classical philosophy.

Wolfe was also a talented illustrator and cartoonist, In Our Time includes some of his drawings.
posted by ovvl at 3:41 PM on May 15


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posted by gusandrews at 4:27 PM on May 15


When I was a kid, my mother took me to the bookmobile, and I'd go to the shelf labeled "Humor". No one ever stopped me from checking out books from this shelf, even though it was an amazing mass of misogyny and self-loathing mixed in with a few jokes. However, it also (mysteriously) included Tom Wolfe's journalism, which I loved. As I grew up I read all of his essays, "The Right Stuff", "Bonfire of the Vanities" and I guess I'm one of the few who liked "A Man in Full". He got on my nerves, but he wanted to.
posted by acrasis at 4:50 PM on May 15 [2 favorites]


Best quotes from “The Right Stuff,” at least in my humble opinion:

“Dear Lord. Please don’t let me fuck up.”

“Our Germans are better than their Germans.”
posted by zooropa at 4:56 PM on May 15 [1 favorite]


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posted by dlugoczaj at 5:11 PM on May 15


I seem to remember he got in some kinda dust-up with another author back when A Man In Full came out. Was it John Irving?

Yes, a friend and I were talking about that over drinks tonight. It was Irving, in the NYRB, ‘97-98-ish. Even the review was some kind of dudely shove-match, more bravado than insight.
posted by octobersurprise at 5:41 PM on May 15


When I started grad school at Duke, my advisor recommended I read Charlotte Simmons because it captured the place so well. He got many things right, including the lacrosse team. But the deep misogyny of his portrayal of his main character and the racism of his portrayal of Durham both completely turned me off. Maybe the racism was supposed to be ironic (it is absolutely true that Duke kids are really fucking racist towards Durham), but I think he was just completely stymied as a man trying to write a young woman and fell back on some of the worst tropes of that genre.
posted by hydropsyche at 5:45 PM on May 15 [3 favorites]


He had the same birthplace as me. I never realized that.

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posted by 4ster at 5:48 PM on May 15


For me in the end, "Bonfire of the Vanities" became a useful metaphor for looking at the world cynically.
posted by ZeusHumms at 6:22 PM on May 15


Just going to copy and paste what I just posted on FB:

I have various issues with Tom Wolfe but "The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test" is a book I adore. And my father would very often say, "You can't go home again" when I was growing up, so I've always associated Tom Wolfe with him (also because it was his college copy of "The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test" I read in high school), so Wolfe's words have been part of my life for a long time. There's also something to be said for his style; when I turned on NPR this evening on my drive home and heard talk in the past tense about a dapper someone who wore a white vest, my immediate thought was, "Oh no, did Thomas Wolfe die?" RIP. I hope his spirit and talent live on and expand and grow in ways he may have hated but that honor his legacy, even if he couldn't see it.
posted by lazuli at 6:40 PM on May 15 [1 favorite]


I think he was just completely stymied as a man trying to write a young woman

I mean, he was a what 70-something year-old man trying to write as a 20-something year-old woman? That’s ludicrous on its face and only someone consumed with genius or hubris would even consider it a good idea. And Wolfe just wasn’t that much of a genius.
posted by octobersurprise at 6:48 PM on May 15 [2 favorites]


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Reading his books was really vastly influential on me at various points. I kinda thought he would live forever. (This just in: Contrarian elder white male writer not, in fact, immortal.)

When I was in college, a newspaper reporter interviewed me about my opinions on I Am Charlotte Simmons, which came out when I was a student newspaper editor. The writer misquoted me. That was an interesting turnabout to experience as a young journalist! Responding to a question about Wolfe's alleged tone-deafness in it, I noted that I identified with Charlotte Simmons in some ways and that he wasn't as tone-deaf as many critics suggested, and the writer took some part of that and made it sound like I was saying he was indeed tone-deaf—classic example of editing the quote to fit the thesis. So that was frustrating. I think Wolfe did as good of a job as he could have with the premise, and as a woman college student about Charlotte's age when it came out, I did find that it worked for me and was sufficiently cathartic.

Radical Chic & Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers is my favorite, I think. The Pump House Gang was also less heralded than it should've been. And yeah, Bonfire has some awful parts, but my mind still refers back to parts of it on a fairly regular basis, years after I read it.

Sigh. Just RIP.
posted by limeonaire at 6:56 PM on May 15 [2 favorites]


my mind still refers back to parts of it on a fairly regular basis, years after I read it.

I get a real Tommy Killian vibe whenever I watch Michael Avenatti.
posted by octobersurprise at 7:06 PM on May 15 [2 favorites]


Tom Wolfe introduced me to the phrase “Fucking-A”. It didn’t make sense, but it seemed useful.
posted by rlk at 7:18 PM on May 15


Tom Wolfe introduced me to the phrase “Fucking-A”. It didn’t make sense, but it seemed useful.

There were kids in my neighborhood who used it basically as punctuation.
posted by thelonius at 7:41 PM on May 15


There standard rejoinder was "fuck a B it's got more holes".
posted by idiopath at 7:43 PM on May 15 [3 favorites]


I never got past reading everything Wolfe wrote as coming from a reactionary conservative.

I have to go with Hunter S. Thompson who wrote to Wolfe “You thieving pile of albino warts…. I’ll have your goddamn femurs ground into bone splinters if you ever mention my name again in connexion with that horrible ‘new journalism’ shuck you’re promoting.”
posted by JackFlash at 7:50 PM on May 15 [5 favorites]


From the August 23, 1976 issue of New York Magazine, The “Me” Decade and the Third Great Awakening
We are now—in the Me Decade—seeing the upward roll (and not yet the crest, by any means) of the third great religious wave in American history, one that historians will very likely term the Third Great Awakening. Like the others it has begun in a flood of ecstasy, achieved through LSD and other psychedelics, orgy, dancing (the New Sufi and the Hare Krishna), meditation, and psychic frenzy (the marathon encounter). This third wave has built up from more diverse and exotic sources than the first two, from therapeutic movements as well as overtly religious movements, from hippies and students of “psi phenomena” and Flying Saucerites as well as charismatic Christians. But other than that, what will historians say about it?

The historian Perry Miller credited the First Great Awakening with helping to pave the way for the American Revolution through its assault on the colonies’ religious establishment and, thereby, on British colonial authority generally. The sociologist Thomas O’Dea credited the Second Great Awakening with creating the atmosphere of Christian asceticism (known as “bleak” on the East Coast) that swept through the Midwest and the West during the nineteenth century and helped make it possible to build communities in the face of great hardship. And the Third Great Awakening? Journalists (historians have not yet tackled the subject) have shown a morbid tendency to regard the various movements in this wave as “fascist.”
posted by readery at 9:29 PM on May 15


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Chalk me up as another person who read The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test in their youth and was affected. I never got into anything else, but I’ll always cherish that experience.
posted by Kattullus at 10:10 PM on May 15


This thread and a couple on FB have been most salutory with regard to the delightful and regrettable facets of the man as a writer and as a self-promoting character of no mean skill. I fully ran aground on Bonfire back in the day, really honestly just flabbergasted by its' failure to hold my interest, and never moved forward with his later material. Given that Charlotte Simmons' mise en scene is RDU and that I have been traveling back and forth to Chapel Hill for thirty years visiting my parents a skeptical read seems called for.

Sometime probably after the date of the lecture I mention upthread, Wolfe published "Stalking the Billion Footed Beast" in Harper's. The essay, as I recall it, is a defense of observational naturalism in fiction, counterpoised to a series of elitist pomo straw men. It closely echoes themes in The Painted Word and From Bauhaus to Our House, and was certainly intended as a provocation and self-anointing. I may reread it, but I recall it with loathing and sadness, taking it for the kind of defensive and resentful chaff that self-regarding folks toss up on the occasion of unexpected personal reversals. I suppose the precipitating event was likely the general (and consistent thru today) response to Bonfire.

Anyway. RIP dude. You wrote some great stuff, you also did not, and you were an entertaining character. Thanks!
posted by mwhybark at 11:15 PM on May 15 [1 favorite]


That scene in the Bonfire of the Vanities, where the cops are waiting to speak with the victim's mother. If they sat down they might have to stand up for this black woman as she entered the room. So by unspoken agreement they ignore the chairs and stay on their feet.
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posted by tirutiru at 12:29 AM on May 16 [1 favorite]


Tom Wolfe introduced me to the phrase “Fucking-A”.

i always thought it was fucking eh - i was introduced to it in canada
posted by pyramid termite at 2:54 AM on May 16 [3 favorites]


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posted by Slithy_Tove at 4:47 AM on May 16


He lived a great life, he gave of himself and we benefited.

I'm glad he was here and I'm sad that he's gone.

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posted by dancestoblue at 5:03 AM on May 16


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Bonfire has issues but it's very of its moment. A Man in Full seemed to me to be something of a millennial-moment Bonfire 2K.

They're both most memorable for the catchphrases: Masters of the Universe, whaddya whaddya, the Lender's Cactus.
posted by snuffleupagus at 5:37 AM on May 16


There standard rejoinder was "fuck a B it's got more holes."

A HS friend of mine had a bit where he did the entire alphabet.

Via Kliph Nesteroff, that time Tom Wolfe sued Russ Meyer for randomly crediting him on a screenplay he had nothing to do with.

Sometime probably after the date of the lecture I mention upthread, Wolfe published "Stalking the Billion Footed Beast" in Harper's. The essay, as I recall it, is a defense of observational naturalism in fiction, counterpoised to a series of elitist pomo straw men.

I read that at the time and what I remember being most puzzled by was Wolfe's belief that his own fiction was, in any sense but the broadest, observational naturalism, when all its virtues (and most of its vices) had more in common with the metafictional strategies of the "pomos" than with his champion, Emile Zola.
posted by octobersurprise at 6:05 AM on May 16 [2 favorites]


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I got to hear him speak at IU many years ago. I'm glad I did.
posted by SisterHavana at 9:44 AM on May 16 [1 favorite]


His first book was published in 1965 ~ The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby.
It certainly opened up a whole new world to me.
I don't mean for this to sound like "I had a vision" or anything, but there was a specific starting point for practically all of these stories. I wrote them in a fifteen-month period, and the whole thing started with the afternoon I went to a Hot Rod & Custom Car show at the Coliseum in New York.
This New Journalism was well encapsulated in the 1973 anthology and the linked wiki entry has some great sources and reviews.
posted by adamvasco at 2:16 PM on May 16


Didn't he once argue that gay people - men - shouldn't be in the military because it would fuck up bonding within combat units?

Some of his books are my absolute favorites (reading A Man in Full during my divorce gave me entertainment and a Stoicism for Dummies primer which I sorely needed at the time). He is a problematic fave though. Let us not forget.

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posted by MiraK at 10:39 AM on May 17


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