in advance of lew shiner’s “outside the gates of eden”

Es­ti­mated reading time is 12 min­utes.

ONCE AN ALIENATED, overly cre­ative teenage misfit, Lew Shiner has been a crit­i­cally suc­cessful writer for more than thirty years. His novel Glimpses won the World Fan­tasy Award in 1994 for Best Novel. He has also been one of my fa­vorite writers since I was turned on to his novels twenty-some years ago. Paul Williams told me that Glimpses was the best rock & roll novel he’d ever read.

And so I found a used pa­per­back copy and dug right in. And Paul (who hap­pened to be the founder of Craw­daddy mag­a­zine and the Fa­ther of Rock Jour­nalism) was right! What he didn’t tell me was that Glimpses was also one of the best six­ties novels ever! It’s one of the few books that made me think, “I wish I had written that!”

Paul did tell me that I should get in touch with Lew as we had a lot in common. It only took me twenty years to follow his ad­vice and lo and be­hold, Lew Shiner is one of my writing part­ners here on Tell It Like It Was. For more on Lew, refer to the “In­tro­duc­tion to Tell It Like It Was” and read his stuff here (es­pe­cially “Mys­tery Train”).

Now I want to talk a bit about his latest work, a 350,000-word novel ti­tled Out­side the Gates of Eden that takes place in the ’60s and re­volves around rock music and the coun­ter­cul­ture and other things once groovy that make con­ser­v­a­tives cringe with envy just thinking about.

“This book’s vi­sion is rooted in a re­trieval of those gritty, egal­i­tarian virtues that can make you willing to somehow get up in the morning and face it all.”

As I haven’t read the book—it’s not pub­lished yet—I have to make do with the ad­vance pro­mo­tional ma­te­rial that Lew’s pub­lisher, Sub­ter­ranean Press, sent out via email ear­lier today. But first thing’s first:

On Jan­uary 1, 1965, Bob Dylan recorded “Gates of Eden” for his fifth album, Bringing It All Back Home. The lyrics serve as the spring­board for Lew’s novel. As much as I would like to post the com­plete lyrics of Gates of Eden here, if I do I might side­track a few of you into spending sev­eral years trying to de­ci­pher them. In­stead, I am just going to post a few of the song’s refrains:

“And there are no sins in­side the Gates of Eden.”

“And there are no trials in­side the Gates of Eden.”

“And there are no truths out­side the Gates of Eden.”

A studio ver­sion of Dylan doing Gates of Eden is not avail­able on the in­ternet, and the live ver­sions by him are dif­fi­cult to un­der­stand. So here is Arlo Guthrie doing a fine reading of “Gates of Eden” with in­tel­li­gible lyrics from his equally fine 1973 album Last of the Brooklyn Cow­boys.

Back to Lew’s book: the cover fea­tures a pho­to­graph by leg­endary ’60s chron­i­cler Lisa Law. The first printing will be a lim­ited edi­tion of 1000 signed num­bered hard­cover copies and is to be pub­lished in May 2019. Pre­orders for this spe­cial printing are being taken now.

What fol­lows is the teaser that Sub­ter­ranean Press is using to get your at­ten­tion, an ex­cerpt from the novel, and the blurbs from promi­nent writers that is part of all modern promotion.


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While the first side of elec­tric rock & roll music of Bringing It All Back Home got all the at­ten­tion back then, in hind­sight I think the acoustic second side ac­tu­ally kicked off “The Sixties.”

The teaser

“What hap­pened to the ide­alism of the 1960s? This ques­tion has haunted a gen­er­a­tion. Out­side the Gates of Eden fol­lows two men from their first meeting in high school to their final des­ti­na­tion in the twenty-first cen­tury. Alex is torn be­tween his father’s busi­ness em­pire and his own artistic yearn­ings. Cole finds his calling at a Bob Dylan con­cert in 1965.

“From the Summer of Love in San Fran­cisco to Wood­stock, from campus protests to the SoHo loft scene, from a com­mune in Vir­ginia to the outlaw country music of Austin, the novel charts the rise and fall of the counterculture—and what came after.

“Using the music busi­ness as a window into half a cen­tury, Out­side the Gates of Eden is both epic and in­ti­mate, starkly re­al­istic and ul­ti­mately hopeful, a War and Peace for the Wood­stock generation.”


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This is the cover of Out­side the Gates of Eden with a killer photo by Lisa Laws that sums up one as­pect of “The Six­ties.” When I first saw this photo, I thought the guy was me, but I was re­ally blonde back then. And skinny.

The excerpt

Here is the 975-word ex­cerpt from Out­side the Gates of Eden that Lew chose as the teaser to get you to buy his book:

Friday morning, Au­gust 15, 1969, JFK air­port. A guy in a beard and mir­rored sun­glasses met them when they got off the redeye from San Fran­cisco, holding a sign that said QUIRQ. When Cole asked him if he was their limo driver, the guy laughed as if it was the fun­niest thing he’d heard in days. He hus­tled them into a golf cart and drove them to a he­lipad at the far end of the airport.

Once they were in the air, Cole got the joke. The main freeway headed north from New York City was a parking lot, and when they banked to the left and fol­lowed a smaller road, it was also at a stand­still. Soon Cole saw cars aban­doned by the side of the road and a con­tin­uous stream of human be­ings trudging north­west on foot.

The scene was eerily fa­miliar, and Cole flashed on a night­mare from his child­hood, refugees from a nu­clear war lining the roads as they fled their ir­ra­di­ated cities. That thought, in turn, made him re­alize that every­thing he had as­sumed about the fes­tival was wrong. Even the most wild-eyed pre­dic­tions of a hun­dred thou­sand people were clearly and hope­lessly low. Some­thing that had been building since the Bea­tles set fire to the Ed Sul­livan Show in 1964 had reached crit­ical mass, and if it wasn’t an atom bomb, it looked to be nearly as devastating.

At the Hol­iday Inn in Lib­erty, Cole slept for a few hours, then caught a ride to the fes­tival site. Un­like the copter he’d ridden in that morning, this one had a spher­ical glass front, like the one in the Whirly­birdsTV show from Cole’s youth. The seat next to the pilot was open. Country Joe sat in back, wearing a sergeant’s green mil­i­tary fa­tigues, his dark, shoulder-length hair held by a headband.

The com­bi­na­tion of Joe’s uni­form and the sound of the idling ro­tors gave Cole a jolt of Vietnam terror at the base of his spine. He strapped in and set his guitar case on end in front of him. It blocked at least part of the dis­ori­enting view through the Plex­i­glas floor.

“Hey, Cole,” Country Joe said, and Cole reached through the gap be­tween the seats to shake his hand, move­ment style. Most of the mu­si­cians that Cole knew were searching for some­thing. Joe seemed to have found it and tired of it and given it away a long time ago. He’d been a red-diaper baby, had spent three years in the Navy, was highly lit­erate and po­lit­ical and al­ways kept a level head, even when he was trip­ping, which was a good deal of the time. He had the best deadpan comic de­livery of anyone Cole had ever met, and as with so many truly funny people, the humor was fed by a well­spring of bitterness.

Joe ges­tured vaguely at their sur­round­ings. “It’s like being in the fucking USO, isn’t it?”

“Luckily,” Cole said, “you’re al­ready dressed for the part.”

The he­li­copter lurched and lifted off and Cole watched the motel and the city fall away, re­placed by a land­scape of rolling hills, lakes, and trees. Straight lines and pale olive colors where the land was cul­ti­vated, a darker, tex­tured green for the woods. Narrow roads cut the ab­stract canvas into in­ter­locking pieces. These were working farms with trac­tors that needed to be moved around and pro­duce that needed to get to market. Even from hun­dreds of feet in the air, Cole sensed some­thing peaceful that em­anated from the coun­try­side itself.

The he­li­copter banked down­ward and Cole felt a rush of ex­cite­ment. In a matter of sec­onds they began to see barns and fences and aban­doned cars and then, all at once, throngs of people. In the dis­tance a half-finished stage, a giant frame­work of raw white pine and a flap­ping sail of white canvas strung above it. Every­where else it was a pointil­list painting in daubs of pink and white and tan that Cole un­der­stood to be a con­tin­uous sea of human flesh.

“In­cred­ible,” Country Joe said. “They’re saying three hun­dred thou­sand by tonight.”

The number was mean­ing­less to Cole. What he saw was an area the size of a small town that con­sisted of nothing but one person sit­ting or standing next to an­other, and an­other, and an­other, in all di­rec­tions. When he thought there couldn’t be any more, thou­sands more rolled into view, and thou­sands after that.

The he­li­copter cir­cled the site. Pale green canvas tents clus­tered at the far end of the field, next to a board fence that ex­tended from both sides of the stage. Half a dozen towers of metal scaf­folding held spot­lights and speakers. A row of portable toi­lets, not nearly enough. Be­hind the stage, trailers and a giant tepee. Mostly he saw kids, mostly male, mostly white, mostly teenaged.

Cole re­mem­bered the crowds at the Haight two years be­fore. At least three times that many kids had come for the fair, all at once in­stead of over a pe­riod of months. His ear­lier vi­sion of refugees was wrong. They were here as an af­fir­ma­tion, not a de­nial. He thought of the way Dylan’s songs, more than anyone else’s, had cre­ated an “us” and a “them,” and that he was looking at the cul­mi­na­tion of all the songs like them. Hun­dreds of thou­sands of kids who saw them­selves as part of that “us” had an­swered the call that they read be­tween the lines of the fes­tival posters. The rev­o­lu­tion had hap­pened, in­vis­ibly and blood­lessly, in the end­lessly re­peated acts of packing a knap­sack or grab­bing a sleeping bag and hit­ting the road.

“Joe?” Cole said. “I think we just won.”

“You think? That would be nice. We’ve still got a war to end and a few de­tails like that.”

“Look at all those people,” Cole said. “They can’t ig­nore us now.”


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If you look Rude Awak­ening up on the in­ternet, you’re going to see a lot of less than glowing re­views. I have to as­sume those 1- and 2-star re­views are from people who ei­ther didn’t live through 1965-1975 or did but didn’t grok any of it. There’s a scene where Eric Roberts con­fronts a touchy, con­de­scending man at a party that I try to em­u­late in my everyday life (al­though I often fail).

The blurbs

I love blurbs! What a great job blurb-writing would be. Of course, part of the job would en­tail reading a book a day and while that might keep the doctor away it would also keep one’s pri­vate and so­cial life at bay. Here are the blurbs for Out­side the Gates of Eden from Sub­ter­ranean Press, in al­pha­bet­ical order by the blurber’s last name:

A story of the six­ties that is gen­erous but un­flinching, sweeping but in­ti­mate, fic­tional but true. For everyone who’s won­dered how we got from there to here and also where we might go next. Hugely am­bi­tious, simply beau­tiful.” (Karen Joy Fowler)

“In Out­side the Gates of Eden Lewis Shiner dis­plays the panoramic his­tor­ical con­scious­ness of a Pyn­chon or DeLillo, and yet every page is suf­fused with a humble and scrupu­lous hu­manity, scrubbed of ab­strac­tions or grandiosity—you simply live with his people and know them and love them. Shiner’s in­terest in the way the world ac­tu­ally works—how people write a song, or learn to dance, or play cards, or write a dis­ser­ta­tion, or raise a kid—reminds me of Howard Hawks or John D. Mac­donald; this book’s vi­sion is sim­i­larly rooted in a re­trieval of those gritty, egal­i­tarian virtues that can make you (still) willing to somehow get up in the morning and face it all.” (Jonathan Lethem)

Out­side the Gates of Eden is a pow­erful piece of work. Shiner writes about music, and the making of music, better than anyone I know. He gets across the tremen­dous ex­cite­ment of the early days of rock and roll, the peace move­ment, Wood­stock and the Summer of Love—but also the heart­break of failure, be­trayal, and loss. The prose is ter­rific, and the sense of time and place is first rate. A bril­liant re­quiem for our gen­er­a­tion and all our dreams.” (George R. R. Martin)

“Lewis Shiner’s Glimpses made me a life­long fan. His new novel, Out­side the Gates of Eden, is a page-turning tour de force. Anyone with a pas­sion for rock and roll sto­ry­telling at its very best must not deny them­selves the op­por­tu­nity to read this tale. A mas­ter­piece.” (Iain Matthews)

“Few works of fic­tion are con­vinc­ingly set in the world of rock music, and fewer still evoke coming of age in the 1960s with jour­nal­istic au­then­ticity and painstak­ingly ac­cu­rate de­tail. With Out­side the Gates of Eden, Lewis Shiner not only pulls off these dif­fi­cult feats, he also brings his char­ac­ters force­fully into our present age, fear­lessly probing their roads to blending their fiery ide­alism with the hard-gained wisdom of ex­pe­ri­ence.” (Richie Un­ter­berger)


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Free­wheelin’ Franklin was one of Gilbert Shel­ton’s Fab­u­lous Furry Freak Brothers. I sued to wear a tee-shirt with this on the front to work as a bar­tender at the Crazy Horse Sa­loon in Kingston, Penn­syl­vania, in the early ’70s. I had a half dozen of­fers a night from people wanting to buy it off my back.


I told Lew that if someone com­pared my writing to Pynchon’s I’d be pissed off. Pyn­chon has the type of rep­u­ta­tion that at­tracts me, but I pick up The Crying of Lot 49 every ten years and have yet to get past page 20.

In one of the few things we differ on, Lew is a fan of Pyn­chon. So now he’s got me reading Gravity’s Rainbow. If I get through it, I’ll write a book re­view for in­ter­ested readers.

Fi­nally, I pre­ordered my copy of Out­side the Gates of Eden a while ago. I ex­pect to enjoy it as much as I have Lew’s other novels. If you want to try Shiner, read Glimpses and then De­serted Cities of the Heart.


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FEATURED IMAGE: The photo—too poignant to com­ment on—at the top of this page was taken by Lisa Law in Truchas, New Mexico, in 1970. Lisa is one of the most fa­mous pho­tog­ra­phers of the var­ious facets of “the six­ties” and the coun­ter­cul­ture; a col­lec­tion of her photos was pub­lished as Flashing on the Six­ties by Chron­icle Books in 1987. It’s a lovely and often in­spiring chron­icle of the at­tempts of people to forge an Amer­ican life in an America that fights them at every turn. For­tu­nately, it has seen sev­eral edi­tions and is readily found for sale on the internet.



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