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Authors: John Nichols

The Nirvana Blues

BOOK: The Nirvana Blues
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Title Page

Copyright Notice

Author's Note


Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6


Books by John Nichols



When I sat down to begin
The Milagro Beanfield War
in 1972, I had no idea the story would grow into a trio of books. But I soon realized I had more to say about the vision of life essayed in
and so I wrote
The Magic Journey.
It was a different, and very difficult, book for me: I had an ambitious, even grandiose plan at the start, but wound up, as I usually do, desperately trying to salvage a novel.

Even before
The Magic Journey
came out in 1978, I knew I would be saddled with another Chamisa County novel. I felt bad, realizing this, because I had wanted to incorporate
The Nirvana Blues'
themes, mood, and message in one, or both, of the preceding and above-mentioned books.

But my stories often sprint away from their original intentions like delinquent children, gallumph blindly into all sorts of unforeseen pitfalls, and finally, with luck, stagger to the finish line as total strangers to the original schemes that launched them.

All three novels are set in mythical Chamisa County, where the folks, the situations, and the landscapes resemble parts of northern New Mexico and southern Colorado. Should they survive, I suppose future interested persons might refer to these books as “his New Mexico Trilogy,” even though the name of New Mexico never appears in any of the texts.

But that's okay by me. All I truly care about is that people realize the novels are spiritually linked: together, I believe they complete an overall picture.

An aside, here, addressed largely to my “regional” constituency, and especially to all my friends and enemies in the Taos area. Like most novelists, I often borrow physical traits or quirks or adventures of real people as the embryonic starting points for my characters and tales. Then I proceed to invent people and situations that exist solely within my works and nowhere else, hoping that these imaginary creations, by representing universal truths, will seem familiar to the reader. I have been perhaps too successful doing this, for I find that wherever I travel in northern New Mexico or southern Colorado, people are always telling me who my imaginary people are drawn from in real life. Hence I have learned that in actuality a certain character from
was born and raised exclusively in San Luis … and in El Rito … and in Alamosa … and in Santa Fe … and in La Madera!

But I abhor the roman-à-clef and work hard to avoid that naming game. Patiently, I explain to the curious that if I get locked into dealing with an actual person I usually blow the writing, because it's very difficult for me to invent stories and adventures and dialogue when in my mind I'm dealing with a real life human being.

So anybody who happens to pick up this book should realize that
The Nirvana Blues
is a make-believe story with invented people in it. All the usual disclaimers apply: any relationship of characters in the book to real people is absolutely unintentional. Put less officially: Please, give me a break and accept these fictional personalities as figments of my own imagination!

A final note. Occasionally I, and my editor, Marian Wood, have differences of political opinion. More than once, in fits of pique, she has angrily denounced me as a “Stalinoid!” and a “four-foot dwarf!” Nevertheless, we have managed to work together now for more than a handful of years. Marian not only salvaged my floundering career by publishing
in 1974, but she has also been an enormously careful and encouraging arbiter of my talent ever since. She was aided and abetted, during a time in the latter seventies, by her fine former assistant, Sally MacNichol, to whom I am ever grateful for having had the courage to believe strongly in
The Magic Journey
long before it was launched.

My editor's sanity, humor, and no-nonsense approach have kept me afloat on the chaotic literary seas. I love, depend on, and am very grateful for the friendship, and the working relationship, that I share with Marian Wood.

J. N.

Taos, New Mexico


(Our story so far)

Clouds and Thunder:

The image of


Thus the superior man

Brings order out of confusion.




The Vietnam War was “over.” Richard Nixon, ex–President of the United States, had been gently ostracized for making a mockery of his high office. All other archcriminals of the Watergate scandal had spent a few months in prison and then become millionaires from publishing their bad novels and self-seeking memoirs. Mao Tse-tung, Chou Enlai, and Ho Chi Minh were dead. Chile's experiment in democratically formulated socialism had long since gone down in Salvador Allende's fiery death and the emotional funeral of the Nobel poet, Pablo Neruda. New York Yankee owner George Steinbrenner had purchased two World Series for mucho bucks, but the Reggie Bar would never replace the beloved Baby Ruth. In Iran, the shah was beleaguered and tottering. But Israeli Zionists had no plans, as yet, for a “defensive” invasion of Russia and the United Kingdom. Notre Dame had won a national football championship. Pulp novelist Sidney Sheldon had raked in oodles of shekels. The noted evangelist Billy Graham was alive and flogging hellfire and damnation comme d'habitude. The current president's brother, Billy, was using a flagrant beerbelly and his White House connection to build on his initial million. Uganda's Idi Amin, impervious to assassination, was alive and well and hiding in Argentina, but poet John Berryman, a more effete personality, had jumped long ago, entering the legend books as one more precious aesthete down the pathetic self-destructive drain pioneered by the likes of Scott Fitzgerald, Sylvia Plath, Janis Joplin, and Elvis Presley. Alan Bakke had won his reverse discrimination case, but the Wilmington 10 had lost, of course, proving that all the regular prejudices were doing business as usual in the USA. The Ku Klux Klan was on the rise, and the Nazis had been granted a marching permit in Illinois, thanks to the American Civil Liberties Union. Heavyweight Champion Muhammad Ali was eternally young … but J. Edgar Hoover had proved to be mortal after all. California's Proposition 13 turned out to be just another tax-break scam that would ultimately pass on the hurt, as always, to the marginal consumer. GM profits were up, as was inflation. Horizontal cities continued to expand outwardly, magnifying all waste, while vertical cities collapsed. China was opening up, Russia was closing down. Former LSD experimenter Baba Ram Das was now messing with Hanumans, and the dollar was taking it on the chin from the yen and the mark. The prime lending rate had just leaped over thirteen percent. Harvey Swados, Jack Benny, James Jones, and Walter Lowenfels were dead; dictators Pinochet Uguarte and Tacho Somoza were still rolling merrily along, handsomely shored up by Jimmy Carter's Human Self-Righteousness. Rhodesia was on the brink of bloodbathhood, Angola had gone to the left, Cuban troops had rallied Ethiopians against Somalia, Argentina had won soccer's World Cup, Italy's Red Brigades had executed Aldo Moro, two new popes had been crowned within a month of each other, the Baader-Meinhof leadership had “committed suicide” in their German jail cells, Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau's estranged wife Margaret was making movies, the first test-tube baby had been born, Broadway Joe Namath had hung up his gridiron cleats, thus ending yet another era, and three out of every five American black girls living in big-city housing projects had been raped at least once by the age of fifteen.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Willie and Tammy and Waylon and Loretta and Ronnie and Merle and Crystal continued nasaling about divorce, adultery, alcohol, loneliness, alienation, and anger. Conservationist Barry Commoner was shrill, the ghost of Rachel Carson continued to haunt all ecologists, sociologist Seymour Melman was still laying it out in no uncertain terms, the Sierra Club bewailed, Buckminster Fuller looked drawn and unhappy, Ralph Nader was extended too thinly.

Eight out of ten leading authorities on the subject said that cancer had become the USA's national disease.

America's answer to all of this was more cars, more defense spending, more McDonald's hamburgers, more leach field, open-pit, and strip mining, more highways, more pork-barrel irrigation projects, less welfare, less education, less health care, less ERA, more rape, more crime, more violence, more cops, more smog, more nuclear power, more GNP, more GSA, more GOP. “Growth for the sake of growth,” wrote Edward Abbey, “is the ideology of the cancer cell.”

“Go fuck yourself, Abbey,” America replied.

As always, it looked like curtains for the world.

Those people tuned in to the situation had a tendency to hit the road, leaving the stink and tension of wherever they were at in search of a Safe Haven where survival could be more than just an abrasive chore. The Land of Milk and Honey, of Amber Waves of Grain, of Purple Mountains Majestic, and of an equal opportunity for one and all had come up dismally short in the Fulfillment Sweepstakes. Instead of a nation of plump, happy, blond, blue-eyed, milk-filled rubes, the boom of post–World War II capitalism had created a nation of paranoid, dissatisfied, shrink-badgered, alienated druggies and alcoholics and Maalox mainliners, befuddled by so much angst in the midst of so much plenty, having been brainwashed all during their early lives to lust for the “American Dream” (and its inherent promise of “Security” and “Happiness”). They were honestly bewildered by the fact that somehow they couldn't grasp it.

Middle-class college-educated folks especially were in search of a guru, an identity, and a meaningful relationship … though their working-class counterparts, of course, were only interested in loose shoes, tight pussy, and a warm place to shit.

Hence, millions of broken-down VW buses, crammed full of iridescent pot smokers, had set to plying the nation's ample highways and byways, searching—like the fabled boll weevils of a golden yore (and lore)—for a spiritual (a psychic), an actual (a beautiful, unpolluted, laissez-faire) home.

Thus it was that throughout the seventies they made pilgrimages to Bolinas, Woodstock, Stowe, and Carmel, Kennebunkport, Austin, Mount Shasta, and Bellingham, Taos, Aspen, Sun Valley, and Jackson Hole. And last—though of course not least—they also headed for the diminutive colorful southwestern Rockies' town of Chamisaville, where three cultures—Anglo, Chicano, and Pueblo Indian—existed in “radiant harmony” in the shadow of the glorious, thirteen-thousand-foot-high Midnight Mountains, in the heart of one of the heaviest “Karmic Playgrounds” on this battered and sputtering globe.

*   *   *

had gone by since electricity entered the Chamisaville Pueblo, and, thanks to the efforts of one Joseph Bonatelli, now known as the terrible Tarantula of Chamisaville, a dog-racing track and a resort development with a ninety-nine-year lease had been constructed on reservation land. At the completion of this large project, the town's surviving power brokers had redoubled their efforts to exploit every last inch of that once-pastoral burg's picturesque terrain.

BOOK: The Nirvana Blues
11.55Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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