Richard G Brautigan

Richard G Brautigan

Richard G Brautigan

Remembering with a sly smile
January 30, 1935 –  September 1984

Music filled the 1960s. Festivals with thousands of people, like Woodstock,  easily come to mind.

Demonstrations filled the 1960s. Anti-war demonstrations, again with thousands of people easily come to mind.

Fantasy literature filled the 1960s. Not mentioned as often nor demonstrated for (or against), but many authors come to mind.

J.R.R. Tolkien

Richard G Brautigan

George Allen & Unwin first published J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit in 1937, but its fantasy fit right in with the emerging consciousness-raising of  the imaginative mid-60s. That book and Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings sat beside Kerouac’s equally influential On the Road.

With Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince, another pre-60s publication (1943).

And an even earlier (1923), Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet.

Richard G Brautigan

Richard Brautigan

One of the “other” literary names associated with “those” 60s (although again beginning before that decade) is the wonderful Richard Brautigan.

I’m not sure whether the The Pill Versus The Springhill Mining Disaster or Trout Fishing In America introduced me to him, but no matter. I fell in love with the style and off-center views both his poetry and prose gave me.

Richard G Brautigan

“Star-Spangled” Nails

At a time when some Boomers had begun to question Vietnam we read:

You’ve got

some  “Star-Spangled”


in your coffin, kid.

That’s what

they’ve done for you,


Richard G Brautigan

Map Showers

At a time when we had found how much we loved love, we read:

For Marcia

I want your hair

to cover me with maps

of new places,

so everywhere I go

will be as beautiful

as your hair.

Richard G Brautigan

The Chinese Checkers Players

At a time when we searched for a different slice of life, we read:

When I was six years old

I played Chinese checkers

with a woman

who was ninety-three years old.

She lived by herself

in an apartment down the hall

from ours.

We played Chinese checkers

every Monday and Thursday nights.

While we played she usually talked

about her husband

who had been dead for seventy years,

and we drank tea and ate cookies

and cheated.

Richard G Brautigan

Tacoma > San Francisco

Brautigan was born in Tacoma, Washington. His father had left his mother before he was born.  He remained the the northwest, a place he described in Revenge of the Lawn as “a haunted land, where nature dances the minuet with people and danced with me in those old bygone days.”

He moved to San Francisco in 1956. His literary career was slow to succeed. He had written Trout Fishing In America in 1961, but it wasn’t published until 1967. It was a huge success and made Brautigan a household name in households that held such outside-the-box views worthwhile. My household did.

Of interesting historic note is that Apollo 17 astronaut Jack Schmitt named a crater explored in the Taurus-Littrow valley on the moon “Shorty”, after the character in the book.

There is also a band that named itself after the book.

Richard G Brautigan

…hard to label

Perhaps Sarah Hall best describes Brautigan’s writing in a 2014 Guardian article“…it’s very hard to label his work. Fairytale meets beat meets counterculture? Surrealism meets folk meets scat? The writing is bursting with colour, humour and imagery, mental flights of fancy, crazed and lurid details. There are wild inaccuracies and fever-dream occurrences. Bees living in hives made of liver. Bears dressed in nightgowns. Whisky-drinking geese. Heartbroken friends set fire to radios and the lovesongs being played melt into each other. People pay 237 cheques into the bank at once while the narrator waits, thinking of the skeleton buried in his garden holding a can of “rustdust” money. Men in debt have the shadows of giant birds attached to them.”

Richard G Brautigan


Brautigan had grown up in poverty and when 20 was diagnosed with mental illness that shadowed his life. A friend discovered his decomposing body on October 25, 1984. The coroner’s estimate of death was September 16.

Lawrence Wright wrote in Rolling Stone magazine of a gathering following Brautigan’s death.

“…the friends of Richard Brautigan gathered at Enrico’s, Richard’s favorite San Francisco bar, to drink his spirit to rest. Some famous people were there, movie people, poets and writers, some old hippies from times gone by, one of Richard’s ex-wives, several girlfriends and a double handful of the alcoholic idealists whom Richard collected like spare change. The bartender wore an electric tie. They talked about why Richard died, and what killed him. Some blamed Ernest Hemingway, but most of them spoke of alcohol, women — and ghosts.

Edwin McDowell wrote in the NY Times:

He never learned to drive, never owned a car and by his own admission was inept at almost everything but writing.

Richard G Brautigan

He published several collections of poems and novels.

Richard G Brautigan

Richard Rich Joffe Esq

Richard Rich Joffe Esq

Rich Joffe grew up in Maplewood, NJ and entered Columbia University in the fall of 1968. High school had not been the most enjoyable of years, he was more into folk at a time when rock had become king. Folk’s dominance had slowly faded since its early 60s-Hang-Down-Your-Head-Tom-Dooley-Kingston-Trio-Hootenanny  high point.  Many booed in 1965 when Dylan went electric at the Newport Folk Festival . Folk-rock emerged.

Richard Rich Joffe Esq

Kingston Trio to Kingsmen

Joffe had joined Columbia University’s a cappella group, the Kingsmen. Their repertoire was limited to standard pop songs, but an opportunity to record pushed them to expand that repertoire.  They didn’t have far to look: doo wop only needed a bit of dusting off and was a music that emphasized harmonies.

A 1978 Harvard Crimson article wrote how George Leonard, the brother of Kingsmen Robert Leonard, arranged a “nostalgia” show and suggested that the group dress in a ’50s style.

Before the show, George also distributed a flyer that read: “So you think you’re an Ivy Leaguer? Bullshit. Underneath your button-down shirt is the eighth grade greaser standing on the corner, whistling ‘Duke of Earl’ to yourself and watching the girls go by. Come down to Ferris Booth Hall where the Kingsmen will be reliving the old days. Come dressed up.”

Joffe remembers: A big crowd came to hear us. We dressed up in what we thought were greasy clothes at the time–white shirts and turtlenecks. And this bunch of about 20 or 30 jocks were sitting in the corner, basically being rowdy during the first part of our show when we were singing all our usual corny stuff.

“When we did the five Oldies, these people went berserk. From then on, it was simply pandemonium.”

The group used that night’s energy to develop their act and costumes.

Richard Rich Joffe Esq

Kingsmen to Sha Na Na

Their local popularity grew, but their international fame came out of Woodstock. And their appeal crossed both sides of the political aisle. Hippies loved the nostalgia; older greasers loved the affirmations.

He remained a student and included study on Sha Na Na road trips. And while the band’s appeal may have originally crossed the aisle, they gravitated toward peace activism. On August 8, 1970 they appeared on the bill of a peace concert at Shea Stadium in New York City sharing the bill with Dionne Warwick, Al Cooper, the cast of “Hair,” Richie Havens. Poco, Ten Wheel Drive,  Paul Butterfield and Big Brother, Creedence Clearwater, Miles Davis, the Rascals, Paul Simon, and Steppenwolf.

Richard Rich Joffe Esq


After most of the members graduated, each faced a choice: continue as a commercial entity or leave and get (back?) on their intended career path. Most chose the latter. Joffee was one of them, but at the same time he and some others felt that as founders of the band the commercial entity “Sha Na Na” owed them money for the band’s ownership rights.

The suit was settled out of court. Joffe went to Harvard but took Woodstock with him. He And would take off semesters and go to auto mechanic’s and welding school. He worked as a delivery boy and a police reporter.

He received his JD from Columbia Law School in 1993. He worked for the law firm Labaton Sucharow.

Richard Rich Joffe Esq

Robert Leonard Singing Linguist

Robert Leonard Singing Linguist

Chances are you won’t need the services of Robert Leonard Associates. It “consults with law firms, government and law enforcement agencies, and individuals in situations where language analysis may be helpful. We research, analyze, consult, write reports and testify in both civil and criminal cases.

See what I mean?

Robert Leonard Singing Linguist


Of course I’m not doing this piece on Dr Leonard because I somehow found myself in such dire straights. The situation I found myself in was Bethel, New York in August 1969. I was there for Woodstock’s  22 hour Saturday show and only the Joe Cocker opening on Sunday.

After Joe was the downpour and a few hundred thousand of us gradually went home.  That’s why we few hundred thousand were not around for Jimi Hendrix on Monday morning. Likely he was one of the performers, if not THE performer we had looked forward to seeing, but Mother Nature and Father Time threw some mud on that plan

Robert Leonard Singing Linguist

Sha Na Na

That meant we also missed Sha Na Na. Perhaps we’d heard of them, but likely not. We probably had heard their songs. We were familiar with our older siblings’ doo-wop musical tastes: the Diamonds, the Silhouettes,  Danny and the Juniors, the Monotones, and others.

Sha Na Na? The phrase “Sha Na Na” the Silhouettes’ “Get a Job.” And it turned out to be the name of a dozen guys from Columbia University who were in the right place  at the right time and got an invite to the most famous music festival of all time.

Robert Leonard was one of those Columbia students. They were part of the school’s a capella group who had some fun doing doo wop. That fun was initially a one-off. That one-off became some gigs at the famed Steve Paul‘s Scene.

The right people were hanging out there to attract others. Others being two guys who were putting on a music festival in Bethel, NY.


It is important to note before going further, that it was Robert’s brother (Dr.) George Leonard (Columbia Class of 1967) who strongly suggested an important change in how Sha Na Na presented itself, the image we all have of them on stage at Woodstock or later in the television series. George said that the singers in the group should wear the gold lamé suits. They found the suits in New Jersey leftover from a production of Bye Bye Birdie.

He also was their choreographer.

From Leonard’s siteIn 1969 the Columbia Kingsmen, a student singing group, insouciantly traded their jackets, ties and rah-rah spirit for an image with more flash. As Sha Na Na, outfitted in gold lame and Elvis Presley hairdos, they perfected a song and dance repertoire of classic Fifties rock’n’roll. Soon after their memorable “Grease Under the Stars” concert on Low Plaza they shot to stardom, playing at Woodstock, the Fillmores West and East, and many venues in between. Their success inspired the Broadway musical Grease,

So thank you Robert!

Robert Leonard Singing Linguist

Fifties Invented

Elizabeth E. Guffey, a Stanford Ph.D. and associate professor at SUNY Purchase, published Retro: The Culture of Revival. In that book Guffy wrote, ““On the fourth day of the Woodstock Festival of 1969, just before Jimi Hendrix’s celebrated finale, the stage was held by a group of unknown undergraduates from Columbia University … The rock-’n’-roll revivalist group Sha Na Na bombarded the audience with tightly choreographed 1950s classics like ‘Teen Angel’ and ‘At the Hop.’ The festival’s unlikely scene stealers sported dated looks, including greased ducktails, white socks and cigarettes rolled into T-shirt sleeves. Sha Na Na’s impossibly upbeat and exuberant version of the 1950s seemed the opposite of the arty psychedelica and hard rock that characterized Woodstock.”

Though not in the band itself, Robert Leonard’s brother George was integral in its genesis.  Guffey relates how George described himself as a ‘22-year-old Susan Sontag buff…(with) a vision of a group that would sing only ’50s rock and perform dances like the Busby Berkeley films that he ‘learned to love in college readings on Camp’ ”

The source of the quotes above is from a 2008 Columbia College Today article by brothers George and Robert. In it they discuss how Sha Na Na invented the “Fifties” as we think of them today. It is an interesting read, but beyond the scope of this piece.

Robert Leonard Singing Linguist

Higher Education

Robert Leonard Singing Linguist
slide from a 2016 presentation

As bright as a spot as Woodstock would be on anyone’s resume, like most of his  fellow band mates,  performing in Sha Na Na was never planned to be a career. Only two of the Woodstock dozen are in the latest Sha Na Na line-up: Donny York and John Marcellino.

Leonard left the band in 1970 for a Fulbright Fellowship (that he did at the University of Nairobi, Kenya) and earned his PhD at Columbia.

Today he is the Professor of Linguistics, Director of the Graduate Program in Forensic Linguistics, and Director of the Institute for Forensic Linguistics, Threat Assessment and Strategic Analysis at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York.

Robert Leonard Singing Linguist

Amazing list

Hofstra’s site on Leonard has an astounding list. He has:

  •  been qualified as a Forensic Expert Witness in Linguistics and Language in a number of state and Federal courts. As a forensic linguist, Leonard has provided expert opinions to clients that include Apple, Inc., the Prime Minister of Canada, the NYPD Hate Crimes Task Force, and the U.S. Department of Justice, in cases dealing with a wide range of forensic linguistic issues.
  • trained British law enforcement agencies
  • linguistically traced bomb-threat voice calls to the Nassau County, New York courthouse.
  • authored and co-authored both technical and popular articles in the field of linguistics and has lectured worldwide on linguistics—on theoretical advances in linguistic theory and the application of the science of linguistics to investigative law enforcement and counter-terrorism techniques.

And here’s a 2012 New Yorker article on a murder that Leonard was an integral witness for the prosecution.

Well done, Dr Leonard.

As he says at the beginning of this conference, “I am one of the very few people in the world who has worked with both the FBI and the Grateful Dead.

Robert Leonard Singing Linguist