Seth Morgan was born in 1949 and grew up in privilege and amongst a literary culture that included friends of the family such as e.e. cummings, Robert Lowell, and Dylan Thomas.
In 1970 he dropped out of Berkeley and moved in with Janis Joplin, whom, it is reputed, he first made acquaintance with while delivering coke to her house.
After Joplin’s death, he was driving a new girlfriend on his Harley and crashed into a house that had once belonged to Jack London. The accident left the young woman’s face partially paralyzed and Morgan later said he married her in part so she wouldn’t sue him.
He became a heroin addict, a pimp, and an armed robber. All of which led, in 1977, to being sent to jail, where he served 30 months.
In 1986 he moved to New Orleans, where he was arrested twice in six months for DUI. The second time, he crashed into the police wagon used to pick up drunk drivers.
On October 17, 1990, shortly after midnight, Seth Morgan and Suzy Levine approached the right lane of a bridge in New Orleans at about 40 miles per hour. He lost it, they hit something, they died:
“If she’d been wearing a helmet, she might have lived,” one Officer Carmine Menchel was quoted as saying. “If he’d been wearing one, he might have had an open casket.”
Well, there you have it. A squalid little biography. Except for one thing. Seth Morgan also wrote Homeboy (1990. Random House/Vintage) which is a `novel’ charting the `sleazy San Francisco experiences of the former junkie boyfriend of Janis Joplin’.
And of its type (which is a type I am very fond of) Homeboy is a truly great work of American literature. And it’s no longer in print, unless you want to buy it second hand. The auction sites usually have a copy or two.
Like Jon Landau’s `I have seen the future of Rock `n’ Roll and it is called Bruce Springsteen’ hype years before, I read Homeboy for the first time a few months before he died and was immediately convinced Morgan was the best new hope for American `modern’ writing that had come along in past decade. His verbal virtuosity and plain re-invention of language had me thinking he was the Marijuana to Joyce’s Heroin and that once folks got a taste they’d be hooked onto a prose-poetry that would forever kill Dick & Jane. But the killing came by way of a motorcycle and Seth Morgan, dead at 41, has all but disappeared from any critical analysis of American writing.
If you’re at a lonely yard sale somewhere and see a Homeboy in battered paperback, pick it up. Pay your 50 cents, take it home.