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BIOGRAPHY/HISTORY LESSON/MEMOIR OF BRAUTIGAN AND THE TIMES
, April 2, 2012
This review is from: Jubilee Hitchhiker: The Life and Times of Richard Brautigan (Hardcover)
This heavy tome is aimed pretty much at long time/original Brautigan readers (like me) who want to know a lot more (or anything) about both the man and his work. This 800 or so page book (not including 16 pages of b&w photos, the 17 page Bibliography and an Index) delves deeply into Brautigan's life and his writings, and how everything in, and surrounding, his life coalesced into an entire whole. Readers of his poems/novels have wondered over the years about the person who wrote heartfelt yet (sometimes) seemingly nonsensical verse and passages (or entire novels) that seemed to fit with the era's (especially the 60's) thinking. It's quite possible that others may feel this biography/memoir/history lesson rates 4 1/2-5 "stars",which it very well could. One thing-if you have trouble reading smallish type-you've been warned. I say this because most people interested in this book are probably of a certain age (like me) where things like a small font is a consideration.
If you don't mind a personal aside-I remember Brautigan from his days in S.F. in the late 60's, when his writings began appearing in a new magazine, "Rolling Stone", then costing a quarter for a badly folded "newspaper". He was very popular with both the college crowd (me) and the "scene" around the Bay Area. He looked like a "hippie" to some (long hair, round eye glasses, his hat) but he really didn't identify with that period-even though some of his novels ("Trout Fishing In America", "A Confederate General From Big Sur", based on an actual person, and "In Watermelon Sugar" especially) seemed to fit the outlook of the time. His poems, too, were small gems of inward/outward thinking (or possible nonsense)-just right for the era, and taken up by many as an example of "new" writing. Brautigan was "deeply involved with the motion of reality in poems". But he was upset with his "failure to establish adequate movement".
I purchased "Trout Fishing In America" at the old Kepler's Bookstore (he was rumored to be some kind of "socialist/communist/subversive") in Palo Alto/Menlo Park, Ca. I was a student and short of money. But the guy behind the counter let me buy the book still owing money-which I later paid. This was the same store where Jerry Garcia and friends would occasionally stop by and play some old timey blues/bluegrass/folk music in the back, before he became "famous". This was the kind of store that had tables and chairs for it's patrons, and stocked a lot of books you'd never see in a "respectable" chain bookstore. The store has long since changed with "improvements"-but in it's day what a cool place to stretch your mind.
"If I write this down now, I will have it in the morning. The question is: Do I want to start the day off with this?". Poem by Richard Brautigan.
"I could never write about you. You are real life". Richard Brautigan.
"This is the age of Aquarius. The candles will go out by themselves". Richard Brautigan's reply on why he wouldn't blow out the candles on his birthday cake.
This book ties Brautigan the person, his work, and various periods in America, together to form a deep look into just who Brautigan was, and his influence on both the culture of the times, and writers just coming up. It's what long time readers of Brautigan have waited for-a deep biography of the many facets of his personal life (including his early family life-or lack of, an early stay in a mental facility in the 1950's, his small income from publishing his poems, struggles concerning his novels, etc), a sometimes critical look at his writings, and the various "movements" (the Beats, the whole S.F. scene in the 60's, both of which he claimed no involvement). The book also explores his writings in the context of his personal life-and their interaction with his decision to end it. It's long been said that very few were surprised at his committing suicide-Brautigan was always seen as somewhat mercurial and unpredictable. This book explains why (up to a point), and how his writings and actions were seemingly intertwined. You be the judge. A note-the book begins with a fairly graphic, detailed account of Brautigan's suicide. Don't be put off by the sometimes gory details-think of it as an example of the meticulous work done by the author in the rest of the book.
"Things slowly curve out of sight until they are gone. Afterwards only the curve remains." Poem by Richard Brautigan.
This fine look at Brautigan is well laid out, and is written in a somewhat conversational, chronological style (using quotes and remembrances of people who were there) with side trips along the way. Brautigan's entire life is unraveled piece by piece and then put together in an easy to follow biography/history of the eras in which he found more (the most) interest in his writings, their influences (if any), and how Brautigan lived his personal life until he chose to end it. The author, William Hjortsberg, was a friend of Brautigan, and that has given him insight into his friend and his life, which is woven all through this book. This is a book for Brautigan readers, and for anyone interested in the 1950's/60's when so many things seemed to be changing. Young people took his writings as an example of a new way of thinking/writing-when anything and everything seemed to be changing, or needed to be changed.
"He could spin a yarn". Beverly Allen, "blithe spirit" and cover model for "Rommel Drives On Deep Into Egypt".
More so than Paul Bowles' writings on wandering in Morocco, more so than Charles Bukowski or even Hunter Thompson (where is he now that we really need him?), Richard Brautigan's writings seemed a perfect fit during those years, when "new" thinking and "new" ways of doing things were the only constants. With the passing of that entire period, Brautigan's writing has fallen by the wayside-very few know of him or his writing today. Whenever I bring his name (and ex-patriot Paul Bowles for his short stories) into a conversation (to blank stares) of authors I like, I feel like an old hippie (which I never was) dredging up the ancient (but exciting, never to be repeated) late 60's. Maybe his style doesn't reflect current times, but for a while Richard Brautigan was a shining part of an exciting time. A time I'm glad I was lucky enough to witness first hand. This book will both reinforce your ideas about Brautigan, and surprise you with new details of his life and times.
"In watermelon sugar the deeds were done and done again as my life is done in watermelon sugar". Richard Brautigan.
For some still unknown reason those words captured some part of me way back then-and compelled me to read everything I could find by Richard Brautigan. Somehow those words were the prefect example of both that era and that period of my life. I still don't get it-but it doesn't matter.
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