A look at the life of the writer Jules Siegel, best known for his articles, 1967's "Goodbye Surfing, Hello God!" about Brian Wilson's original recording sessions for the abandoned Smile album, and 1977's "Who is Thomas Pynchon and Why Did He Take Off With My Wife," about his former friendship with the reclusive author.
THE LONG STRANGE TRIP OF JULES SIEGELAdam Ellsworth
THE LONG STRANGE TRIP OF JULES SIEGEL When Jules Siegel stopped writing for publication, he felt like an unbelievable burden had been lifted. It was the early 1980s and he had recently moved to Mexico. I really felt as if I was released from the chain gang, he told me in October 2011 from his home in Cancun. Hed just had a book rejected sight unseen and he no longer saw the point. I felt, What am I doing? What is the reason for subjecting myself to these humiliations? He went so far as to sell his typewriter. He was done.1 Of course he wasnt really done. He still wrote and he occasionally even tried to get published, but from then on, writing wasnt going to be something he did to make a living. Almost everything Ive written since 1983 has been because I just wanted to write it, he said. I wrote only out of what I realize now is passion.2 It seems then that Jules Siegel has been passionate about a lot these past three plus decades. Online alone his writing has appeared on Huffington Post, Mexconnect, The Blacklisted Journalist and LA Progressive. He administers the websites The Peoples Republic of Moronia, Caf Cancun, and Newsroom-L.net. Since 1997, he has published or self-published four books: Lineland: Mortality and Mercy on the Internets Pynchon-L@Waste.org Discussion List, Cancun Users Guide, The Human Robot: Understanding the Emotional Effects of Industrialism, and most recently, Mad Laughter: Fragments of a Life in Progress. Today, its a piece of writing from Siegels more distant past that has him back in the spotlight. Goodbye Surfing, Hello God! his 1967 Cheetah magazine article that followed the creation and collapse of the Beach Boys lost masterpiece, Smile, has been published as an ebook by The Atavist to coincide with the release of the much anticipated Smile Sessions Box Set.
THE LONG STRANGE TRIP OF JULES SIEGEL The entire e-book project came together in about two weeks, Evan Ratliff, founder and editor of The Atavist said in a phone interview. He wanted to make sure it was out in time for the box set release, which not only meant getting Siegel on board with the project, but also getting him to read the story for the audio portion of the e-book. This was something Siegel was not keen to do. It turned out great, Ratliff said. We also have a lot of funny outtakes with him absolutely furious, saying, I will never do anything like this again in my life.3 The e-book itself includes more than just the text and Siegels audio. It includes footage of Brian Wilson, alone at the piano, singing Surfs Up during the fabled 1967 television special, Inside Pop: The Rock Revolution. Theres biographical and other information to enhance the story embedded in the text, and a music video for the Beach Boys hit Good Vibrations, with the band running around a firehouse. At one point in the clip Siegel himself makes an appearance, ambling down a hill, wearing a fire helmet, and, in his own estimation, looking like a complete idiot.4 As promotion for the e-book, an excerpt of Goodbye Surfing, Hello God! appeared on Rolling Stones website in early November 2011,5 Siegels first Rolling Stone byline since 1971. When I spoke with Siegel the day after the excerpt appeared, he admitted he was surprised, citing an early 1970s falling out he had with Rolling Stone founder Jann Wenner. But more on that later. Goodbye Surfing, Hello God! is the story Siegel is best known for, but it is just one story in a career that has spanned nearly half a century. From Cavalier to the Saturday Evening Post, and Playboy to the Internet; from New York to California to Mexico; from Kennedy and Nixon to Dylan and Brian Wilson; Jules Siegels trip through the past seventy-plus years has been a unique one, filled with highs and lows. Buckle up.
THE LONG STRANGE TRIP OF JULES SIEGEL ********** Jules Siegel was born October 21, 1935 on the Island of Manhattan.6 His father was born Elias Segalowitz in 1901 in what is today the north-eastern portion of Belarus7. Eli, along with his mother and his siblings, immigrated to New York in 1906, joining Siegels grandfather who had come ahead of the family. The family name was changed to Siegel when they arrived. The change was the result of a compromise between Siegels grandfather, who wanted something American, and his children, who thought any change at all was cultural treason.8 He was a gangster Siegel told me of his father. 9 Before Siegel was born, his father Eli, who was known among his friends as Jimmy, was involved with The Combination or, Jewish Mafia. He served eight years in Clinton Correctional Facility, a maximum security prison in Dannemora, NY, for armed robbery,10 a fact Siegel used to show up and shut up a contemptuous Bob Dylan many years later.11 In the early 1960s, Siegel worked with Mario Puzo, author of The Godfather, at the Magazine Management Company. Mario often said to me, You have to write a novel about your father. If you dont, I will. I urged him to do so, Siegel wrote in Mad Laughter. Siegel provided Puzo with stories and research materials, and while it would be going too far to claim that Don Vito Corleone is Eli Siegel, any resemblance is more than mere coincidence.12 Siegels mother, Evelyn, was born in 1911 and married Eli after leaving her first husband. She took Siegels half-brother, Kenneth, with her. Siegel would later write of his mother saying: I was only a young girl, but I knew that a child has to have a fatherWhen your father came, he was like a knight in shining armor.13 Siegel didnt know that Kenneth was his half-brother until many years later.14
THE LONG STRANGE TRIP OF JULES SIEGEL When Eli married Evelyn, his days with the Combination came to an end. In the 1940s, Eli worked as a plumbers helper at the Todd Shipyards in Hoboken, New Jersey, though even there he ran gambling and sold his fellow workers coffee he made using government beans and government equipment.15 There was no denying he worked hard though. He woke at four every workday morning, went to bed early at night and paid his income tax for the first time in his life, Siegel would later write.16 After three years, Eli left the shipyard to start making loans on Eighth Avenue.17 While his days with the Combination were long behind him, in 1960, Eli stabbed the son of a partner during a fight after the partner and his sons came to collect money they felt Eli owed them. The son survived and Eli was acquitted. Elis customers spoke on his behalf at the trial. Your father fed plenty of people around here, one of these customers told Siegel. I was proud to go in there and testify for him, the customer continued. We all love Jimmy on Eighth Avenue.18 Growing up in the Bronx, Siegel was artistic and liked painting and drawing, which his parents were less than thrilled about. They wanted him to become a writer. Among my earliest memories are of my mother and father in bed, each one with a nose in a book, he told me. I was not very interested in writing, but they were such huge readers.19 When he was in junior high, Siegel sat down at his rich Uncle Irvings typewriter and wrote a hundred words on another one of his interests, photography. He passed the piece in for an assignment and his teacher liked it so much that it was published in the school newspaper. Siegel was awarded the silver medal for journalism. I was really pissed off about that, he said, because some jerky girl who wrote in this flowery, poetic prose got the first prize. But his parents were thrilled. From then on, nothing was acceptable except that I should become a writer, he said. On the bright side, his parents did buy him a camera as a reward.20
THE LONG STRANGE TRIP OF JULES SIEGEL After high school, Siegel went to Cornell, but left after one year. He wrote later that he spent his nights drinking and his days reading in the library rather than attending class.21 He did stay long enough to befriend Thomas Pynchon, a relationship Siegel described in Who is Thomas Pynchon and Why is He Taking Off with My Wife, published in Playboy in 1977. After dropping out of Cornell in 1954, he joined the Army,22 and served as a photographer and military intelligence analyst in Korea after the war.23 Some of his short stories, including Dj Vu, which was published in Esquire in 1970 and was anthologized in Best American Short Stories of 1970, feature protagonists who fit this description. After the Army, he returned to college, attending Hunter College and graduating in 1959 with a bachelors degree in English and Philosophy.24 He was going to become a writer. Through all of this, Eli wasnt well. While Siegel was in basic training, Eli attempted suicide. Hed bet a large amount of money on the Yankees and lost. Unable to pay the rent, he had taken enough sleeping pills to kill himself several times over, Siegel wrote.25 Interestingly enough, when Eli woke from his coma, he was more thrilled than ever to be alive. But in 1960, there was another suicide attempt, this one successful. Police found Eli, who had been missing for days, in the trunk of his car. The autopsy showed suicide of acute barbiturate intoxication.26 It was at this point that Siegel learned Kenneth was actually his half-brother. Kenneth was afraid his half-brother would find out some other way and be traumatized, so he decided the best course of action was to tell him himself, right after Eli committed suicide.27 In December 1969, Siegel wrote about all of this. I took the largest dose of amphetamine Id ever taken in my life, he said. He was supposed to be working on a novel, but when he sat down to write, it was Family Secrets that came out. All I remember about it is twelve hours later, or however long it was, there was this
THE LONG STRANGE TRIP OF JULES SIEGEL pile of paper by the typewriter and the story was finished. Family Secrets was publ