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richard brautigan | in memoriam

The Art & The Artists of Self Destruction
(continued)

Richard Brautigan

I picked up Buddhism like an Indian child learned things before the white man came to America…I learned Buddhism by watching. –R.B.

AKA Richard Gary Brautigan | Born: 30-Jan-1935 | Birthplace: Tacoma, WA | Died: 14-Oct-1984 | Location of death: Bolinas, CA | Cause of death: Suicide | Remains: Cremated | Gender: Male | Race or Ethnicity: White | Sexual orientation: Straight | Occupation: Author, Poet | Nationality: United States | Executive summary: So the Wind Won’t Blow it All Away

Beat novelist and poet, someone “tainted” by the psychedelic movement. Brautigan committed suicide, his body discovered 25 Oct 1984, a .44 caliber firearm next to a bottle of liquor. The October 14 date of death is approximate.

Editor Note:

This is a rather long entry for the usual Basho piece, but I ran across Brautigan on the net the other night and was somewhat startled. I smiled sadly and immediately decided this is where he belongs. With Basho. They would have made great traveling companions on that narrow road to the interior. I can almost hear them laughing.

When I ran across Brautigan the other night I accidentally found myself.

This was the startling part. I was totally unprepared to see my name on something I had forgotten I had ever written. It goes back to that period when I did a lot of reviewing to buy groceries, when there were still real newspapers around with real book editors who would throw you a bone ($50) or whom you could approach with a note or a call: “Hey, I’d like to do something on Brautigan. He just off-ed himself.” It must have gone something like that. I had good book editors then, in Chicago and Milwaukee. Maybe nothing, no one’s ever lost. Including Brautigan. They say when they found his body on the floor, he was staring at the ocean through a picture window.

He would see it happened that way. Be the final poem himself. —norbert blei

“In Memoriam: Richard Brautigan”
Norbert Blei
Milwaukee Journal 11 November 1984: E9.

NOTE: The following material may be protected under copyright. It is used here for archival, educational, and research purposes, not for commercial gain or public distribution. Individuals using this material should respect the author’s rights in any use of this material.

“Oh, well, call it a life.” —from “Melting Ice Cream at the Edge of Your Final Thought”

He looked like a poet. Dressed, drank, moved, loved, lived and died as one. If a child were to ask: “What was a hippie?” one could point to any photograph of Richard Brautigan—flowing hair, droopy mustache, funny hat, vest, Levis, boots, mischievous expression—and know the man and his American-pie times, the ’60s.

The Reagan-culture ’80s deemed him history. He was disarmed, no doubt, and bemused.

Yet he was a writer in his time who attracted considerable attention. Thousands appeared at his readings. Trout Fishing in America sold more than two million copies. Brautigan tickled everybody’s funny bone. He was the heir-apparent to the Beat Generation’s Ferlinghetti. When the critics ask, where is the literature of the ’60s, they will have to come to terms with the world of Richard Brautigan.

The very titles of his books were cause for celebration: A Confederate General from Big Sur; Sombrero Fallout; The Pill Versus the Springhill Mine Disaster; Please Plant This Book; Rommel Drives On Deep into Egypt; Loading Mercury with a Pitchfork; June 30th, June 30th.

He was our Apollinaire (Baudelaire, Rimbaud) and then some. Cumming’s whimsy. Saroyan’s mustache. The shadow of Bodenheim. Variations on Vonnegut. He was all your eggs in one basket—small, extra-large, white, brown, Easter-colored, cracked; yes, throw in the kitchen sink. Wizard of weird metaphor. Savant of smiling similes:

“She’s mending the rain with her hair;” “Lions are growing like yellow roses on the wind;” “Like distant gestures of solemn glass;” “Six huge crows black as a blindman’s dreams.”

One can hardly read a line of the man and not smile. “I have never been able to understand umbrellas because I don’t care if I get wet.” You say you don’t like poetry? Begin with Brautigan.

He can teach the human condition:

I watched a man in a cafe hold a slice of bread as if he were looking at the photograph of a dead lover.”

He can deliver a social message:

You’ve got
some “Star-Spangled”
nails
in your coffin
kid.
That’s what
they’ve done for you
son.

He can humor love’s cause:

I’ll affect you slowly
as if you were having
a picnic in a dream.
There will be no ants
It won’t rain.

He can hit and run, as in these lines written Jan. 24, 1967, while he was poet in residence at the California Institute of Technology:

At the California Institute of
Technology
I don’t care how Goddamn smart
they guys are: I’m bored.
It’s been raining like hell all day
long
and there’s nothing to do.

He wrote novels, short stories and poems. Yet all his stories were poems, all his poems, stories. His one collection of stories, Revenge of the Lawn, contains this short classic: “The Scarlatti Tilt:

“It’s very hard to live in a studio apartment in San Jose with a man who’s learning to play the violin.’ That’s what she told the police when she handed them the empty revolver.”

Loneliness shadowed his later years: “I will sleep alone tonight in Tokyo/raining.”

Then the music died . . . too soon, too soon . . . Brautigan dead at 49. Lethal weapons—the bottle and the gun. Self-inflicted wounds. Always a poet’s death—and by his own hand, figuratively speaking. His body badly decomposed. The ghost of Brautigan musing in the corner. . . . When you guys going to find me? Discovery would take several days. A Western Gothic romance of Brautigan proportions. Hear the long-haired, white-haired hippie chortle. California dreaming.

“Death is a beautiful car parked
only to be stolen . . .
You joyride around for a while
listening
to the radio, and then abandon
death, walk
away, and leave death for the police to find.”

You won’t rest in peace, Richard. Promise?


Tokyo / June 11, 1976

I have the five poems
that I wrote earlier today
aaain a notebook
in the same pocket that
I carry my passport. They
are the same thing.


A Mystery Story or
Dashiell Hammett a la Mode

Every time I leave my hotel room
aaaahere in Tokyo
I do the same four things:
aaaaI make sure I have my passport
aaaamy notebook
aaaaa pen
aaaaand my English—
aaaaaJapanese dictionary.

The rest of my life is a total mystery.


Homage to the
Japanese Haiku Poet Issa

Drunk in a Japanese
aaaaaabar
aaaaaaI’m
aaaaaaOK


The 12,000,000

I’m depressed,
haunted by melancholy
that does not have a reflection
aaaanor cast a shadow.
12,000,000 people live here in Tokyo.
I know I’m not alone.
Others must feel the way I do.


American Bar in Tokyo

I’m here in a bar filled with
young conservative snobbish
aaaAmerican men,
drinking and trying to pick up
aaaJapanese women
who want to sleep with the likes
aaaof these men.
It is very hard to find any poetry
aaahere
as this poem bears witness.


Ego Orgy on a Rainy Night in Tokyo
with Nobody to Make Love to

The night is now
half-gone; youth
goes; I am

in bed alone
aaaaaaaaaaa–Sappho

My books have been translated
aaainto
Norwegian, French, Danish, Romanian,
Spanish, Japanese, Dutch, Swedish,
Italian, German, Finnish, Hebrew,
aaaaaand published in England

aaaaaaaaaaaaabut

I will sleep alone tonight in Tokyo
aaaaaaaaaaaraining.


Taxi Driver

I like this taxi driver,
racing through the dark streets
aaaaof Tokyo
as of life had no meaning.
I feel the same way.


Future

Ah, June 1, 1976
aaaa12.01 A.M.

All those who live
after we are dead

We knew this moment
aaawe were here.

[from: JUNE 30th, JUNE 30th, Dell Publishing Co., 1977]

Bibliography

Novels and novellas

  • * A Confederate General From Big Sur (1964, ISBN 0-224-61923-3)
  • * Trout Fishing in America (1967 ISBN 0-395-50076-1) Omnibus edition
  • * In Watermelon Sugar (1968 ISBN 0-440-34026-8)
  • * The Abortion: An Historical Romance 1966 (1971 ISBN 0-671-20872-1)
  • * The Hawkline Monster: A Gothic Western (1974 ISBN 0-671-21809-3)
  • * Willard and His Bowling Trophies: A Perverse Mystery (1975 ISBN 0-671-22065-9)
  • * Sombrero Fallout: A Japanese Novel (1976 ISBN 0-671-22331-3)
  • * Dreaming of Babylon: A Private Eye Novel 1942 (1977 ISBN 0-440-02146-4)
  • * The Tokyo-Montana Express (1980 ISBN 0-440-08770-8)[13]
  • * So The Wind Won’t Blow It All Away (1982 ISBN 0-395-70674-2)
  • * An Unfortunate Woman: A Journey (1982, but first published in 1994 ISBN 0-312-27710-5)

Poetry

  • * The Return of the Rivers (1958)
  • * The Galilee Hitch-Hiker (1958)
  • * Lay the Marble Tea (1959)
  • * The Octopus Frontier (1960)
  • * All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace (1963)
  • * Please Plant This Book (1968)
  • * The Pill Versus the Springhill Mine Disaster (1969)
  • * Rommel Drives on Deep into Egypt (1970)
  • * Loading Mercury with a Pitchfork (1971 ISBN 0-671-22263-5. ISBN 0-671-22271-6 pbk)
  • * June 30, June 30 (1978 ISBN 0-440-04295-X)
  • * The Edna Webster Collection of Undiscovered Writings (1999 ISBN 0-395-97469-0)

Short story collections

  • * Revenge of the Lawn, (October 1, 1971, ISBN 0-671-20960-4)

Unpublished novel

  • From December 1955 to February 1956, Brautigan was working on a novel called The God of the Martians which was 600 words long. Brautigan had sent the manuscript to three different publishers but the manuscript was rejected for publication. The God of the Martians remains unpublished.

Record Album

  • * Listening to Richard Brautigan, 1973 (was supposed to be Zapple #3 but came out on EMI Harvest instead)- consists of Richard reading several poems and stories, friends reading “Love Poem” and sounds recorded in his apartment in San Francisco.

10 Comments

  1. Thanks Norb,

    This is just what I needed on a snowy day when all my appointments cancelled! I’ve got myself a glass of wine and we’ll see where this goes.

  2. Ahhhh Brautigan. Unforgotten, never lost. You inspired a stroll to my book shelf where his collection still sleeps…

    Milk for the Duck

    ZAP!
    unlaid/20 days

    my sexual image
    isn’t worth a shit

    If I were dead
    I couldn’t attract
    a female fly.

    From -The Pill Verses the Springhill Mine Disaster

  3. He was always my hero except the suicide part.

  4. ..been a rb enthusiast since rommel arrived – still remember the day i found it in the bookstore, and thankful that i did…finding this site brought a smile to my face

  5. I never heard before of him. When seeing the photos, what strikes me first of all is his resemblance with Peter Handke. Then, I might quote what Greek poetess Katerina Anghelaki Rooke asked the other day (she had written it down in her own diary): “what is the difference between fiction and life? Answer: fiction has to make sense, life does not!” I am not suggesting this might be an answer to those artists who see no way out of self destruction. A deeper dimension would be the utility of such pain that one ceases to write and then cannot bear living any longer. That was as said before the fate of Pavese. But a real question resists ready made answers, so thanks Norb for including Brautigan in Basho’s road. I agree he belongs to this column.

  6. The Hawkline Monster, ©1975
    my Pocket Book bears the pockmarks of age
    after traveling from married to single, young to old,
    California to Washington, Edinburgh to Bradenton,
    where I find the “marauding magician of merriment”
    on my bookshelf today. Thanks for reminding me.

  7. From New Zealand. I’ve been collecting or acquiring his books – mostly in paper back however – since read Trout Fishing in America… His writing is very moving and beautiful. Poetic always, and humorous but also serious.. “Sombrero Fallout” has a power of emotion that is very intense – something I had never quite experienced before, except once reading a poem by Victor Hugo…

  8. Great job, Norb …

  9. Brautigan was an early post-Modernist who understood the relationship between the authorial identity and the projected image of character which occurs in media. He played that to the hilt–which is why a lot of his works function in the same way that some good advertising does. I think he had this in common with Lew Welch–who was himself a former ad-writer from Chicago. And they both committed suicide, in effect. How’s that for irony?

    As a “real person” Brautigan wasn’t that unusual. He liked to fly fish in Montana, which obsession I share with him.

    I never understood what the meaning of his book photos were: Were these women he was living with, or screwing, or were they just casual people or models put into peculiar situations. Ultimately, they’re meaningless, fake counterculture visions intended to create curiosity and camp mood.

  10. Hi
    I thought you might be interested in this video my friend Rebecca Tickle did to accompany my reading the opening chapters to my forthcoming novel, Following Richard Brautigan.

    best,
    Corey Mesler

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