Richard Brautigan

A bit over forty years ago I wandered into a Townsville newsagent and encountered a previously unknown-to-me-at-least magazine called Rolling Stone. It happened at the arse-end of the fabled Summer of Love if I recall correctly, and if Hughesy’s finances and the exchange rate were more favourable I’d be shelling out the $US 32 for the four-DVD version of Rolling Stone Cover to Cover so I could try to figure out what it was that attracted my attention.

Having grabbed that first copy, while copies weren’t always easy to track down the magazine became required reading over the next few years. Availability varied, since the US edition was hardly flavour of the month with the Australian censors at the time and attempts to incorporate some of the US content into an Australian version met with various degrees of success until they came up with a combination that seemed to work in the early- to mid-seventies.

Like a lot of things that emerged out of that strange brew of influences that bubbled up at the end of the sixties Rolling Stone gradually morphed from its original incarnation into something that would be unrecognisable to someone who hadn’t been along for the ride, so if you’re only familiar with the current version of the magazine you’ll probably be totally mystified by the awed regard survivors of that era have for something that was once a major countercultural icon.

There were a couple of things that emerged from San Francisco in 1967 that went on to be lasting socio-cultural forces, at least in the States. Rolling Stone was one of them, along with the concert promotion juggernaut that became Bill Graham Presents and the indefinable cultural phenomenon of the Grateful Dead. There were others like the Jefferson Airplane and psychedelic concert posters that shot to prominence for a short while before fading to fill niches somewhere between interesting footnotes and legendary cult status, while others remained in almost total obscurity, revered by the odd aficionado but almost totally ignored by the mainstream.

You could file some of Hughesy’s all-time favourites like Mother Earth’s Living With The Animals and the complete works of Dan Hicks under that last heading.

Given the magazine’s origin as, more or less, the unofficial house journal of the San Francisco music scene part of the reason for buying it was the record review section, which put me onto classic albums like Quicksilver Messenger Service’s Happy Trails.

And, scattered alongside the record reviews were snippets of writing by Richard Brautigan.

It wasn’t too long before I discovered that Mr Brautigan was the author of something called Trout Fishing In America (among other volumes) and over the next couple of years I managed to track down most of his literary output which I then proceeded to lose over the following decades as I moved from residence to residence. Various friends and acquaintances assisted in that regard by borrowing various volumes, passing them on to others, failing to return them or losing them in the process of their own re-locations.

The long and short of it was that until very recently the Little House of Concrete was an almost Brautigan-free zone.

And then, earlier in 2008 the rediscovery of Dr Strangely Strange’s Kip of the Serenes prompted me to go looking for the origin of the reference to a baker from Ferrara who "thought he was composed of butter, and durst not sit in the sun, or come near the fire for fear of being melted" which turned out to be a quotation from The Anatomy of Melancholy

And there, among the Google results were references to Richard Brautigan. After all, The Anatomy of Melancholy would have been a significant influence on Brautigan, his characters and his readership. From there it was a matter of a trip to Amazon and, several weeks later a parcel arrived in the PO box containing three hefty volumes comprising a substantial slice of Brautigan’s oeuvre.

One volume collects the iconic Trout Fishing In America, the poems of The Pill versus the Springhill Mine Disaster and the confectionery of In Watermelon Sugar.

The second volume comprises the collected short stories that make up Revenge of the Lawn, the historical romance of The Abortion and 1982’s So the Wind Won’t Blow It All Away.

Project Rediscover Brautigan started with the third volume, basically because the contents were three more or less separate novels - A Confederate General From Big Sur, Dreaming of Babylon and The Hawkline Monster - and will probably continue into the indefinite future since, once the novels are out of the way, there’ll probably be a volume of Brautigan nestled permanently amidst the I’m in the middle of these pile beside the Command Bunker’s comfy armchair.

So, who’s this Richard Brautigan?

© Ian Hughes 2012