Sunday, 6 September 2015

Trout Fishing In America - Richard Brautigan


He flew his freak flag high did Richard Brautigan and for a moment the world noticed and waved back. It didn't last, however, and the world moved on leaving him sitting alone on his cloud of daydreams; scribbling away, recording his thoughts and observations. Just doing what he'd always done.
He was born into poverty and that's where he pretty much remained all his life apart from when in 1967 his novel, Trout Fishing In America, catapulted him to international fame.

At the age of 20, weary with hunger he threw rocks at a police station in a bid to be arrested, figuring this would at least be a way of getting fed. His wish was duly granted but this was America in the 1950s and the police brought in a doctor to look at him who pronounced Brautigan to be not only clinically depressed but also a paranoid schizophrenic so they committed him to a mental hospital where he was administered electro-convulsive therapy. Coincidentally, this was the same hospital where One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest would later be filmed.

On his release, Brautigan headed for San Francisco where the nascent Beat Generation scene was dawning, subsequently falling in with the company of Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Gary Snyder and Allen Ginsberg, et al. With the flowering of the hippy counter-culture in the 1960s, particularly around the Haight-Ashbury area, Brautigan seemed to have found his spiritual home and would often be seen handing out his poems on street corners and for a while was heavily involved with Emmett Grogan and The Diggers, handing out free food to the needy.

And then came recognition and critical acclaim with Trout Fishing In America, a collection of idiosyncratic thoughts and observations using the title as an idiom running through the whole book. Written in a gentle, innocent and amusingly off-kilter manner, to this day it defies description and is more akin to a fluttering butterfly that cannot be pinned down than to anything approaching conventionality. Like a literary equivalent of a collection of songs by Daniel Johnston.

With the recognition and acclaim, the offers started rolling in and as well as becoming a regular contributor to Rolling Stone magazine, he was offered the opportunity to record a spoken-word album for The Beatles' Apple label.
All was good but Brautigan was inextricably associated with hippydom California style and when that particular dream started to die in the 1970s, so too did the plaudits and the offers of work. Very soon after he started falling back into poverty.
Though he still continued to write and further books of his were published, by 1984 he seemed finally to have had enough and in September of that year he blew his brains out with a .44 Magnum.

Some decades later, who now remembers Richard Brautigan? Well, the fact that his books have now turned up in a charity shop in Exmouth means that someone does.
Even if it's only me.
John Serpico

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