Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Better picture


Blogger butch said...


What a great head shot! It is very dramatic. Who shot the pic? It is the kind of "great" photo that one would pay big bucks to have put on the jacket covers of their next book, or an actor would use as a resume shot. Hell, I haven't seen you without your glasses in forever. You look like a cross between Sam Shepard and Dennis Hopper. Your old photo was "humorous" --like one of those great profiles we see hanging in the Post Office; which did a lot for your image of muck-raker and ner-do-well, of political dissident, activist, poet, composer, and prince of putzes --but damn, this "new" photo is dynamic, powerful, and actually a bit frightening. Perhaps the SSO has a point, and you need to be kept off of public thoroughfares.


5:29 AM  
Blogger Lane Savant said...

I see this better picture often in my mirror. I grabbed the camera, held it at arms length, and smapped. Then edited out the flash. It's backwards,
So am I.

7:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

OMG!!! I loved you for your mind, your incredible intellegence, your humanity! I never realized you were such a gorgeous hunk!!!!!

8:51 AM  
Blogger butch said...

Dougie, Doug, Douglas, Don Sir Lane Quixote Savant --you are a man of many faces, and this "self portrait" is so very striking that it brings to mind Lord Byron on a good day, or a young Wordsworth or Whitman. Or for that matter the youngish Picasso, or even that Vincent dude before he went nutso with his straight razor. No, actually it looks more like a Dali on a bearded day. Wearing your hair and beard so wonderfully longish is so very brave of you in the age of skinheads and buzz cuts. It makes me realize that somewhere in your helix, deep in your genetic memory you do recall when we were lovers here in Mass. in the spring. But alas, you were a farmer, a man of the soil, with earth under your fingernails, and you kept getting my white dresses so very smudged up; albeit I did not mind. But realize as you stare in the looking glass that with a straw hat and a stiff collar, sitting astride a bay mare, bare tanned muscled arms sticking out of your one Sunday go-to-meeting suit, round metal framed glasses gleaming --you are but a heartbeat from my century, from your old century --and you were an old soul then. Christ, you must be ancient in your day, spiritually. I understand that you are now retired from being a laborer and small businessman, and you are embracing your true nature, Music and composing, and that you fashion wonderful stringed instruments and woodwinds out of discarded hunks of wood --oh how wonderful your endeavors, and how wonderful are you. You were the one man I could never get over. So now that I sit on the other side of the veil, here in my white dress, and I wait patiently for the moment we will meet again, and embrace.


11:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The other "Anonymous"

says great pic!! And thanks for the tip on the scenic shortcut to Pritchard Beach.

6:44 PM  
Blogger butch said...

OMG, I just suddenly realized that who you really look like is my new favorite author: Richard Brautigan. It is too bad you never met him. You would have fit right into that literary gang of his, those old Beat poets, pariahs, and dopplegangers. Of course, if you had "known" him, you, like everyone else probably would have regarded him as an unbalanced prick and bizarre fruitcake. Be that as it may --he was a hell of a writer. I am reading THE HAWKLINE MONSTER presently, and I just ordered (5) more of his books to put on the self, to please me when I get to them.

Richard Brautigan is a native of the deep Pacific Northwest, the same richly wooded territory that later produced the talents of David Lynch, Matt Groening and Kurt Cobain. Brautigan, who fits like a glove into this pantheon of weird brilliance, was born on January 30, 1935 in Tacoma, Washington.

His mother moved the family to a shack in Eugene, Oregon, where Brautigan spent his childhood. The utter poverty of his "white trash" upbringing seems to have affected him deeply. Many who knew him later in life noticed that he he never spoke the names of any family members or anybody else he knew as a child.

Hunger was a constant presence as he grew up. At the age of 20 he was arrested for throwing a rock through a window inside a police station. He explained that he wanted to go to jail so he could eat. Instead he was sent to Oregon State Hospital, coincidentally the same hospital where the movie version of Ken Kesey's 'One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest' would later be filmed. Brautigan was treated with electroshock therapy in this hospital.

He moved to San Francisco, married a woman named Virginia Adler in 1957, and managed to publish a slim book of poetry, 'Lay The Marble Tea', in 1959. Their daughter, Ianthe Elizabeth Brautigan, was born in 1960. The marriage broke up soon after. Brautigan wrote intensely during these years, cultivating friendships with Beat writers and other San Francisco-based poets. His first novel, "A Confederate General in Big Sur", was published in 1965.

He became famous for his 1967 classic, "Trout Fishing In America", a deeply odd book that is guaranteed to surprise anybody who reads it today. (For some thoughts on the significance of trout in Brautigan's work, click here).

He become an integral part of the mid-60's San Francisco scene, reading poetry at psychedelic rock concerts and helping to produce underground newspapers with activist groups like the Diggers. He had a great hippie look, with long blond hair and thoughtful granny glasses. His back was oddly bent due to a severe case of scoliosis.

Some writers evolve their voices over time, but Brautigan established a single signature style that barely wavered at any point during his career. His books usually featured stark black and white cover photos of hippies in victorian clothing (usually Brautigan with one or more of his girlfriends) gazing ironically back at the camera. His writing was as minimalistic as these photos.

His prose would lurch fowards in odd, surreal anecdotes or observations that crashed into each other with jarring incongruity. He liked to stitch novels together out of short, paragraph-length chapters that slipped back and forth between sudden expressions of emotional complexity and remarkably plain depictions of everyday life. Here is a sentence from a later Brautigan book showing how he would typically introduce a character:

"When I first met Vida she had been born inside the wrong body and was barely able to look at people, wanting to crawl off and hide from the thing that she was contained within."

Certain types of objects -- planks, trouts, rivers -- would invariably pop up in all his writings. His stories were also full of strange transformations: nouns would become verbs, people would become ideas, book titles would become characters. Here is a passage from 'Trout Fishing In America', describing a boy in Portland, Oregon who wishes to go trout fishing for the first time and thinks he has finally found a creek in his town:

The next morning I got up early and ate my breakfast. I took a slice of white bread to use for bait. I planned on making doughballs from the soft center of the bread and putting them on my vaudevilliean hook.
I left the place and walked down to the different street corner. How beautiful the field looked and the creek that came pouring down in a waterfall off the hill.
But as I got closer to the creek I could see that something was wrong. The creek did not act right. There was a strangeness to it. There was a thing about its motion that was wrong. Finally I got close enough to see what the trouble was.
The waterfall was just a flight of white wooden stairs leading up to a house in the trees.
I stood there for a long time, looking up and looking down, following the stairs with my eyes, having trouble believing.
Then I knocked on my creek and heard the sound of wood.
I ended up by being my own trout and eating the slice of bread myself.
The reply of Trout Fishing In America:
There was nothing I could do. I couldn't change a flight of stairs into a creek. The boy walked back to where he came from. The same thing once happened to me. I remember mistaking on old woman for a trout stream in Vermont, and I had to beg her pardon.
"Excuse me," I said. "I thought you were a trout stream."
"I'm not," she said.

If his writing had only been weird and surreal, though, I would not love it anywhere near as much as I do. His characters always seem real, and his stories always make sense despite the curviness of the narrative. My favorite Brautigan book is "In Watermelon Sugar", an extremely strange book depicting life in a beautiful commune called iDEATH, where people with names like Bill, Charley and Pauline fall in love, cook dinners and press watermelons into sugar, planks and lamp oil. But then a disgruntled former member of the commune joins forces with a several others, including a woman who has been romantically spurned by the narrator, and this dispute suddenly explodes in a surreal episode of sick violence. The war is over as suddenly as it had began, and eventually the gentle, peaceful lifestyle is again restored.

The story is both incomprehensible and stunningly real. Like many Brautigan novels it is naked of literary pretense or ornamental prose. It also has the confidence to be remarkably short; I read the entire book one night on a subway ride home from work.

Here are some further thoughts on this book, if you are interested.

Years before Abbie Hoffman asked readers to steal his book, Brautigan printed a book on a seed packet and called it 'Please Plant This Book'.

He also wrote much poetry. A prescient poem called 'All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace' may be his most well-known work of verse.

Brautigan was well-liked by his friends and broadly popular with young readers, but he also seemed to be deeply unhappy with himself. He began drinking more and more heavily, preferring alcohol to drugs. He had two homes, one in Bolinas in Marin County, California, and one in a remote area in Montana, north of Yellowstone Park, where he socialized with other hip novelists of the time like Tom McGuane and Jim Harrison. But they were rising stars in the 70s, while critics had begun dismissing him as a 60s has-been. His drinking became worse, his personality worsened as well, and he developed an unhealthy affection for guns.

He continued to publish novels throughout the 70s and early 80's. He married a Japanese woman and wrote about his Japanese connection in a book called 'The Tokyo-Montana Express'. His last novel, 'So The Wind Won't Blow It Away' was an odd fable about a poor young boy who contemplates whether to spend his pocketful of money on bullets for his rifle or on a hamburger. He buys the bullets and accidentally shoots and kills a young friend. Much of the book is about the fact that he wishes he had bought the hamburger instead.

This book was published in 1982. Two years later he shot himself to death in his second home in Bolinas, California. The body was not found until many weeks later, on October 25, 1984.

His daughter Ianthe published a book about her father, 'You Can't Catch Death', in 2000. She described with affection the odd years she had spent visiting her father in his various homes, and also told of many frightening suicidal alcoholic incidents before the final death. She ends this touching book with a visit to the grandmother she never knew, her father's mother, who still lived in near poverty in one of the houses where Richard had grown up. This old lady turns out to have the same unmistakably bitter, caustic wit that could only be called Brautiganesque.

Brautigan's daughter's book does not try to explain his death but rather encircles it sneakily in a classic Brautigan style. She reprints a photo of a bullet-ridden wall in Montana where Brautigan and a girlfriend once massacred a clock.

Richard Brautigan's sad death remains inexplicable, and points to hidden meanings even beyond those found in his books. I could put on a Brautigan deadpan myself and say "a great writer decided to transform himself into a dead body."

"In watermelon sugar the deeds were done and done again as my life is done in watermelon sugar."

There are various interesting Brautigan-inspired websites around, including the Brautigan Virtual Library and the Brautigan Pages.

And to think, Dougie, I owe all this new enthusiasm, this literary jones, to you, and some idle comment you wrote and I jumped onto. Thanks.


9:20 AM  

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