Have any of you ever read any of this guy’s stuff? The classic was Trout Fishing in America (1967), an absolutely bizarre yet delicious book that completely defies description. It was a classic and a best-seller.
In 1955, at age 20, he threw a rock through a police station window (!) in Oregon in an effort to get arrested so he could get something to eat (!). He was jailed but quickly transferred to a mental hospital, where he was dx’d with paranoid schizophrenia and depression and given electroshock. We never hear anything more about this dx, which seems dubious. A lot of people dx’d paranoid schizophrenia back in the 1950’s in the era of DSM-1 were actually suffering from other issues, often manic-depression or simply depression.
This list of famous schizophrenics seems weird (Joke!).
Ok, there’s the obvious: Syd Barrett (Pink Floyd), Brian Wilson (schizoaffective disorder), Skip Spence (Moby Grape), Valerie Solanas, John Nash (A Beautiful Mind is an incredible, gorgeous film – must see!), John Hinkley, Gary Heidnik, Ed Gein, Roky Erikson (13th Floor Elevators – the 1st album is out of this world, and his 1980 release The Creature With the Atom Brain is great too, especially when you realize the crazy songs were all written by a guy who was certified wacko when he was writing them), Peter Green (Fleetwood Mac), Philip K. Dick (yeah, we was definitely cookoo in his later years, Arthur Bremer, Juan Corona, John du Pont.
But Robert Pirsig (author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance – incredible book – read it!), Phil Spector, Cary Stayner, Nancy Spungeon, Francis Parker Yockey, Veronica Lake, Clara Bow?
Anyway, those of us who grew up as hippies in the 1970’s in the US, especially in California, sort of grew up with Richard Brautigan. He’s one of my favorite authors, but critics have sort of panned his work and they were panning it from about 1971 on. William Burroughs read with Brautigan at a reading once. Brautigan showed up, very overweight and extremely drunk and could hardly stand up at the podium. I don’t know about the schizophrenia, but he definitely had depression and alcoholism, which are epidemic among authors. Why is that anyway?
He seems to have been lonely his whole life, though he married and fathered a daughter. He never knew his father, growing up with a single Mom/waitress in Oregon. They were so poor that they often went days without eating. His stepfathers later beat him and his Mom. Around 20, he took off for San Francisco and lived most of his life there.
He is classed among the “Late Beatniks” along with Ed Sanders, Ken Kesey (although One Flew Over the Cookoo’s Nest is of course a classic movie from a Kesey novel, check out also the movie Sometimes a Great Notion, an incredible movie made from another Kesey novel; Demon Box and Kesey’s Garage Sale are also interesting), Ted Berrigan, Emmet Grogan, Bob Dylan, and Richard Fariña (check out his Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me – great book!). This group was sort of a transition between beatniks and hippies.
I would like to recommend A Confederate General in Big Sur (1964). The Wiki article says it was ignored by both fans and critics both and just dismisses it. But this book is out of this world! Wow, once again, words can’t really describe it. Is it a novel? Is it a short story collection? Is it a poetry collection? No one knows. One reviewer said that his books were things called “Brautigans,” as in none of the above.
I don’t know about the schizophrenia dx, but Thomas McGuane described Brautigan as an extremely odd person. Which, again, is something we hear over and over about writers, right?
McGuane is another killer author! Check out Ninety-Two in the Shade (1973) – too much! He also wrote the screenplay for the little-known Rancho Deluxe (1974). The movie is a kick, you never really figure out what’s going on, but it’s funny to watch it when you’re stoned, because it’s obvious that everyone in the movie, from all the actors (obviously) to the probably the director and screenwriter is stoned to the gills on pot in every scene.
In the early 1980’s, he was living in a house in Bolinas, California, and drinking himself to death. In 1984, he blew his brains out. He was so lonely and isolated (A famous writer, at that), that no one even found his body until a month later. He was found in his living room, next to the window overlooking the sea. A suicide note was supposedly found that merely said, “Messy, huh?” but that has not been confirmed.
He was 49 years old.
His novels have this kind of sadness about them, but it’s a whimsical kind that is very attractive.
Other novels of his I have not read that are said to be good: In Watermelon Sugar (1968), The Abortion: An Historical Romance 1966 (1971), The Hawkline Monster: A Gothic Western (1974), Willard and His Bowling Trophies: A Perverse Mystery (1975), Sombrero Fallout: A Japanese Novel (1976) Dreaming of Babylon: A Private Eye Novel 1942 (1977) and So The Wind Won’t Blow It All Away (1982) . The last five were panned by critics. So The Wind Won’t Blow It All Away (1982) was his last book. It was ignored by both critics and readers, almost as if it did not exist. It’s said to be quite good though, although it’s also very sad.
Also, poetry that is supposed to be good: The Pill Versus the Springhill Mine Disaster (1969), Rommel Drives on Deep into Egypt (1970), June 30, June 30 (1978). June 30, June 30 was panned. It was written in Japan, where Brautigan lived for a time in the 1970’s.
Revenge of the Lawn (1971), a collection of short stories, was panned, but is said to be excellent.
Tom Robbins was obviously influenced by Brautigan. Even Cowgirls Get the Blues (1978) is fantastic! Ishmael Reed was too. I’ve never read him, but he’s supposed to be excellent. Sort of a Black counterculture novelist.