Southern Breezes

Even in death, Terry Southern remains larger than life

There is no son more proud of his father than Nile Southern. Nile has a family of his own, a career of his own (writer, filmmaker, dreamer), a life of his own, but somewhere between ambition and loyalty, he chose to put his own imaginings on hold and make sure the world would never forget his old man, Dallas-raised Terry Southern. Nile's dad was once the very totem of hipster cool--the bridge connecting the Beat 1950s to Beatles 1960s, contemporary of William Burroughs and Jean Genet, friend of Peter Sellers and Ringo Starr, influence on Hunter S. Thompson and Tom Wolfe. He was the author of a handful of swingin' satirical novels, among them The Magic Christianand Blue Movie, and innumerable magazine articles and letters; screenwriter and script doctor on such films as Dr. Strangelove, Barbarella, Easy Rider and The Cincinnati Kid; even a writer on Saturday Night Live, though his sketches never made the air ("Sleazy Gyno" just didn't fill the bill). Hiding behind cool-cat shades, Terry even appears on the cover of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, sandwiched between Mae West and Marlon Brando. T.S. was monstro back in the day--but, somehow, he's nearly forgotten now, a man whose enormous shadow slinks further into the night.

That is where Nile comes in, the diligent son who refuses to let his father's death in the fall of 1995 get in the way of Terry's fame. Nile inherited his old man's debts, which were plentiful. He attempted to sell Terry's prodigious archives to any university willing to house his myriad unpublished pieces and unfilmed scripts (including one for Burroughs' Junky); he sought to have Terry's novels re-released and get his screenplays on the screen. But money is an ancillary issue: Nile is out not just to raise money but to raise Terry's profile. His life has become the ultimate Father's Day present.

To wit: This month, Grove Press is publishing Now Dig This: The Unspeakable Writings of Terry Southern 1950-1995, a collection of previously published gems and never-before-seen pieces that only hint at the works still buried deep within the archives. Edited by Nile and guitarist-songwriter Josh Alan Friedman (a frequent contributor to these pages and son of author Bruce Jay Friedman, one of Terry's old pals), Now Dig Thisassembles Terry's forays into New Journalism (a form he, more or less, invented), screenwriting (including his stabs at adapting the book Rhapsody, A Dream Novelfor Stanley Kubrick, who would turn the novel into Eyes Wide Shutyears later) and what Terry termed "Quality Lit," or what Nile refers to in the book as his father's "sardonic response to the commercialization of fiction and the consequential artistic limitations such commercialization breeds." The collection, along with Lee Hill's just-published Southern biography, serves as an indispensable introduction to the grand guy of American letters--a man who remains larger than life, even in death.

One of these men is Terry Southern.
One of these men is Terry Southern.

Details

Nile Southern and Josh Alan Friedman will attend A Celebration of Terry Southern at 8 p.m. June 2 at the Dallas Institute for the Humanities, 2719 Routh. Tickets for the event are $10 and can be purchased by calling (214) 821-9671.

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