Photo: Baron Wolman
The following is an edited version of an article I wrote on Dangerous Minds back in 2012 when Jubilee Hitchhiker: The Life and Times of Richard Brautigan, the then-new biography of the poet, was published. I felt I couldn’t improve upon it so am sharing it again in a different context, as a preamble to this new video I put together of footage I’d never seen before of Richard Brautigan. This is an excerpt from a documentary about The Summer Of Love which was broadcast on the Canadian TV series The Way It Is in 1967. There is very little Brautigan on film, so for fans of the bard of San Francisco this is a short, but sweet, visit with one of our great countercultural heroes.
Richard Brautigan, Jack Kerouac and The Doors were my saviors in the year of the Summer Of Love. I was stuck in the suburbs of Virginia, surrounded by jocks and greasers, mostly always alone in my room full of beatnik books, magical vinyl and a meerschaum pipe full of banana peel. It was the year I read Brautigan’s second book Trout Fishing In America and the year that I left home for San Francisco’s Haight Ashbury.
Those were the days when a book or a record album could change your life. If literature had a Beatles, his name was Richard Brautigan. It comes as no surprise that John Lennon was a Brautigan fan. They both had a whimsical point of view that started in the square inch field and expanded into the cosmos.
In 1968, I lived inside of a parachute inside of a dance hall in a ghost town near Los Gatos, California. It was my summer of In Watermelon Sugar. I read that book like a preacher reads the Bible. It was my new testament. Brautigan’s poems and prose had this uncanny ability to gently slap you upside the head while disappearing into what is being described. In Watermelon Sugar was Brautigan’s river Tao, a sweet subtle liquid that flowed through the pink flesh of our being.
William Carlos Williams famously wrote “no ideas but in things” and embodied that thought in poems like “The Red Wheelbarrow.” Brautigan wrote from a similar point of view - a kind of American Zen that was ordinary and transcendental, modern and prophetic…
I like to think (and
the sooner the better!)
of a cybernetic meadow
where mammals and computers
live together in mutually
like pure water
touching clear sky.
For many of us, Brautigan was a door into a consciousness that was liberating in its playfulness and here and nowness. Reading Brautigan is like taking a pure hit of oxygen. Things sparkle. There is a sense of boundless delight and eroticism in his prose and poetry - a promise of the unspeakable, where language transcends itself.
I’m rather certain that the beginning of the clip is Brautigan reading at The Straight Theater.