Clinton St. Quarterly, Vol. 7 No. 1 | Spring 1985

happening in San Francisco. We would load up my truck and make the trek up the coast. I remember one evening when I attended a meeting of the Communications Company at Emmett Grogan’s apartment. The discussion was on distributing a book of pornographic cartoons. At the time, porn was only available under the counter. The idea was to devalue it by giving it away free. It wasn't until ten years later that I saw the book. The writer Don Carpenter had his apartment smokedamaged and I helped him clean up. He had a collection of the Communications Company editions and showed me the book. He said the work was dumped on the street corners of San Francisco and was out of print one day after it appeared. This reinforces my sense of the pace of events happening then, and the ephemeral nature of the period’s products. Recently I was talking to some Polish editors at a luncheon and I tried to explain how literary popularity on the West Coast depends on readings and word-of-mouth. There is no central magazine or press here. There are only the New York publishers for authority figures and not much of their gossip and news makes a dent here. Richard used to say about this geographical problem for West Coast writers: “It never gets past the Rockies." So in 1967, with the media closing in on the Haight Ashbury, the process was reversed and the news went back there. The media crush was on. And what they found were not published books, at least ones that could be bought in the stores, but writing that was given away free on the streets, if you were there to get it. Media overloads such as this one create incredible problems. Interviewers, TV and newspaper reporters—ali showed up to extract their five minutes of news and get somewhere else fast. With them came the middle-class kids to get wiped out on dope and free concerts and spread disease and despair and stupidity. By 1968 the only person I knew who was still living in the Haight Ashbury was a printer, Clifford Burke, who eventually moved out. Fame came quickly to Brautigan’s works and to the man himself. He told me once that he knew that he was in for a ride when he walked into his neighborhood Chinese grocery store and the teenage girl at the checkout counter was reading his book. Although he had shopped there for years, there was no way that he could have ever convinced her to read one of his books. Possibly the last time the media crush was evaded and the community of the Haight Ashbury tried to present itself free of it was when the Invisible Circus took place at the Glide Memorial Church. Since I had a truck, Richard enlisted me to help with the setting up of what he called THE JOHN DILLINGER COMPUTER COMPLEX. This was the mimeo machines and typewriters and stencil cutters, etc., of the Communications Company. It was to be an outlaw media center. Anyone who wanted to print something could come in and do it. There were also readings scheduled for that night, and I was invited to read along with others. There were no advertisements of this event, no tickets, no interviews or notice given. The word went out. And thousands showed up. The sheer volume sent the publishing center into breakdown. Machines ran until they broke. The church was filled with people doing events. Richard came back from going downstairs to a coffee shop that someone had set up in one room. There were tables and chairs and waitresses, he said, but there was also a large white sheet hung up at one end of the room and a pornographic movie showing on it. Richard said that I shouldn’t bother to go down and see it. It was already gone. He said he was talking to a friend when all the waitresses disappeared and the sheet was split in two and out came a bunch of belly dancers backed by a three-piece rock band. Another room had been filled with foam. This was a tactile room until someone turned out the lights and it turned into as group grope. The bridal room off the chapel had been converted into a sensual chamber and for a half hour each, couples could go in and do whatever they wanted on fur with incense, etc. All this sounds curiously dated now, but at the time it was not available anywhere else, and certainly not at the speed that it occurred. The saddest memory I have of that night is when Richard abandoned The John Dillinger Computer Complex and read. He had brought a bucket of clams with him. Or someone gave him one. I was behind .him when he started to read, and I saw that the audience was completely amok. The noise was deafening. I left. The Invisible Circus was closed down at 4 that morning by the police. The entire thing was a mess. I go into detail about this because it provides a background to what occurred to Brautigan’s work. There is only one way to become well-known in America as a writer. That is to have your work represent something sociological. Whatever literary values a writer’s work might have are of no concern. Kerouac's work was said to represent the media event of the beatniks. Brautigan’s work was said to represent that chaos that was out in front of the altar that night in 1968. And it was chaos. It is hard to imagine calling his writing chaotic. His books didn’t hold be-ins or smoke dope- or ride in funny buses. His prose style didn't overdose in an alley with a high school band uniform on. This has to be said. The events of those years had nothing much to do with writing the next book and the book after that, making something original and human out of sentences. As Robert Creeley has said in his interview with Michael Andre, Brautigan was well-aware of how fleeting it was going to be and he kept writing and making whatever money he could. Certainly the poetry he wrote was responding to everyday events, but the prose came out of a much longer and precise attention to the world, no matter if the books succeeded or failed. The media event of 1968 still taints the treatment his work receives from the critical press. The attitude is similar to the one shown Kerouac. Only Brautigan continued working. His life changed, certainly, but that is another story. Copyright ©1981, Keith Abbott POST SCRIPT—2/11/85 Gar Fish was written for Gunter Ohnemus, the German translator and publisher of Richard Brautigan. Gunther contacted me through my publishers, Blue Wind Press, after they travelled to Frankfurt for the book fair in 1981. Gunther was planning a volume of Brautigan’s selected works and was trying to find new material on him for the volume. Like most Europeans interested in Brautigan’s work, he was taken aback by the scarcity of criticism or even biographical material, especially about the Haight Ashbury days when Brautigan’s work became famous. Gunther asked me to write something personal about this period and its literary history as it related to Brautigan’s writing. However, the volume of Selected Works was never published. Although Richard had been through some very rough times, from 1976 on, he lived a good part of each year in Japan on his royalties, where he hobnobbed with Japanese literati and international artists. I took the publication of The Tokyo-Montana Express and its mild critical success as a good sign. Richard returned to touring and promoting, and so I was optimistic that this bout of work would restore some of the perspective he seemed to have lost during the late ‘70s when he isolated himself from most of his readers. Over the phone he said he was also writing a new novel. I thought it possible that he could work his way out of his gloomy state of mind. Richard never really felt accepted by the American literary community. The esteem which the Japanese and European critics held for his work only seemed to exacerbate his sense of isolation. His sense of rejection certainly has to be counted as a factor in his depressed state of mind. My own feeling is that the reported commercial failure of the new novel, So The Wind Won’t Blow It All Away, Brautigan’s depression about his own personal life and his continuing alcoholism all contributed more heavily to his suicide than any critical rejection. Keith Abbott’s comic novel of the late ’60s and early ’70s, Mordecai of Monterey, has just been published by Berkeley’s City Miner Books. 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