Remembering Richard Brautigan
All of us have a place in history. Mine is clouds. – Richard Brautigan
There have been four authors who have influenced my own writing, two in major ways and two in minor ones. In one way or another, these four have shaped my style, my attitude, my very approach to, and love of, writing.
James Lee Burke and Christopher Moore are the two minor influences. Burke showed me that a story heavy on description does not have to be a story too heavily burdened for the reader to carry. Moore taught me that you can write whatever you want to write, how ever weird it might get, that you can follow your heart into uncharted territory and if the story is written well, the readers will find you.
The two major influences are Kurt Vonnegut and Richard Brautigan. It’s harder for me to define exactly what those influences are. They have become so ingrained, that I can no longer see their edges. I do know that when I encountered each, nearly a decade apart, their writing impacted me so deeply that I began writing like them. In each case it took me years to separate their style from my own, leaving but traces behind.
I came upon Richard Brautigan late, long after he was popular and but a year and a half before he put a bullet in his brain. I can’t remember now how I discovered him. There was something about his quirky style, the underlying darkness of his stories that drew me in. I was going through a very rough period in my life, swimming in a sea of dark amber, shackled by sorrow and a shattered heart. In the Western Addition, cocooned in a narrow room beneath the stairs with but a single window that looked out onto an airshaft, Richard whispered to me through his poems and prose, the flow of his sentences intertwining with the jerky, heart-sick stumble of my own.
I almost met him, once, not long after I first found him. Sitting in a bar in North Beach, not far from City Lights Bookstore. I was nursing a beer, in the corner by the window when he walked in. I was sure it was him, or his twin. I had The Abortion: An Historical Romance 1966 sitting on the table in front of me, his picture on the cover. He walked to the far end of the bar, disappearing in the shadows. I was much to shy, not to mention a bit too drunk, to follow.
A little over a year later, he would be dead.
To this day I can’t read, nor even think about Richard without this accompanying feeling of loss, as if the space in which my heart resides is being pumped full of dark smoke. The past which I have worked so hard to wall myself off from comes rushing back and I am, once again, in that dark, narrow room beneath the stairs, staring out that airshaft window, stories dancing in my head.
I kind of wish, at times, that I would have followed him into the dark part of that bar, introduced myself, told him how much his words meant to me. It probably wouldn’t have kept him from his appointment with death. It’s got to be hard, reaching a summit you never thought you’d reach only to plummet back down to the obscurity below. It happens. Fate is fickle. Fame even more so. Still, I would have liked to have met him. Kurt, too, come to think of it.
I wish I had my books here with me. I own about half of what Richard published and I’m finding I’m having a real urge to read In Watermelon Sugar again, or maybe Revenge of the Lawn As it is, I just bought and downloaded the Kindle version of In Watermelon Salt — The Lost Richard Brautigan by B. Elwin Sherman. I’m looking forward to reading it.
If there’s a place writers go when their time here is up, I hope I go there too. There are a few I’d love to talk to. And more than a few I’d like to cuss at. Richard Brautigan would fall into both groups.