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In Memoriam: Richard Brautigan

by Norbert Blei?

"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"
in your coffin
That's what
they've done for you

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
I don't care how Goddamn smart
they guys are: I'm bored.
It's been raining like hell all day
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
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?

Milwaukee Journal?
November 11, 1984: E9

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