My cousin gave a copy of this book to my mother back in the early 1970’s. She read it…and later let me read it. I was pretty young and unformed at the time…and this story of the commune Ideath had a big impact on my developing worldview.
Richard Brautigan was a troubled man who seemed to respond to his harsh early years with an innocent approach to his writing. Lawrence Ferlinghetti, one of the poets known for his work during the earlier Beat period and an editor and proprietor of City Lights bookstore, said of Brautigan,
“As an editor I was always waiting for Richard to grow up as a writer. It seems to me he was essentially a naïf, and I don’t think he cultivated that childishness, I think it came naturally. It was like he was much more in tune with the trout in America than with people.”
I think it’s this innocence that I was, and am, drawn to. Water seeks its own level…and even though, after all these years, I’ve seen enough to know that the world is not always an innocent place…I’m drawn to a benevolent way of looking at it. Richard Brautigan might have been trying to create an idealistic world in his head…and his writing was right for an idealistic time like the 60’s.
In the early 80’s, Brautigan’s writings were maybe not seen as relevant any more. His writing was tied to an era…represented an era to some degree…and when the era had passed his importance had passed also. In 1984, at the age of 49, he committed suicide with a 44 magnum pistol. His body was discovered a month or so later by a private investigator. Despite rumors to the contrary, he did not leave a suicide note.
He suffered from depression and alcoholism most of his adult life…his childhood was about as rough as it gets…but his writing was gentle and full of humor. Even after he started to slide off the radar of popular culture in our country, he had a big following in Japan and was popular in Europe. Much of his writing was compatible with the ideas of Zen Buddhism, so his popularity in Japan made sense. When I was a child I didn’t understand any of this…had no knowledge of who the man was who wrote the book about the “hippies”…but I loved this book. It had short chapters that read like poems…chapters that painted a picture and left room for my imagination to fill in the blank parts.
My mother wasn’t a hippy. She did want to put giant flower stickers on our new Fairlane station wagon…my Dad talked her out of it…but she wasn’t a hippy. In California, it was easy to have a little hippy living inside of you and be pretty straight-laced…easy to be a “covert hippy” in attitude and a horn rimmed accountant in execution. This book is one of the artifacts from my childhood…not as important as most of the events that really shaped me…but still a part of what matters to me. Many of his books are still in print…and available through any bookstore.