Tag Archives: Counterculture

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”

nails

in your coffin, kid.

That’s what

they’ve done for you,

son.

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 who held such outside the box views of worth. 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

Spirit

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 collection of poems and novels.

Richard G Brautigan
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Bosheviks Sputniks Beatniks

Bosheviks Sputniks Beatniks

April 2, 1958
Bosheviks Sputniks Beatniks
Cartoon about the Bolsheviks

 


Jack Kerouac Reads from “On The Road”
Bosheviks Sputniks Beatniks

Bolshevik Revolution

When the Bolshevik Revolution began in 1917, the western economies viewed the uprising as a threat to theircapitalistic systems. The Bolsheviks challenged the notion of private property, private business, and personal self-determination.

When the nuclear arms race began after World War II, exemplified in particular between the United State and the Soviet Union, propaganda on both sides successfully demonized their enemy.

We Americans associated the suffix “-ik” with Communism and thus with evil intentions. When Senator Joseph McCarthy announced that he had incontrovertible evidence of Communist infiltration into the government and the arts, he launched hearings through the House Un-American Activities Committee. The Committees hearings and accusations damaged the careers of dozens of American citizens.

A corollary of the US-Soviet arms race was the space race. While on paper it looked like a race to get humans into space, the unspoken government goal was to design a nuclear weapon delivery system. 

Bosheviks Sputniks Beatniks

Sputnik

On October 4, 1957, the Soviets launched Sputnik 1 and Americans had  another Communist -ick to hate (NYT article).

Bosheviks Sputniks Beatniks
replica of Spunik 1 at US Air and Space Museum
Bosheviks Sputniks Beatniks

The Beats

In reaction to the horrors of World War II and the increasing emphasis of the American Dream equaling American Consumerism (the antithesis of Soviet Communism), some young Americans like Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, Jack Kerouac, Neal Cassady (future hippie and driver of Furthur), and many others developed a literary view and philosophy that de-emphasized conspicuous consumerism.

They deliberately did not fit in.  According to the Wikipedia entry, “Jack Kerouac introduced the phrase “Beat Generation” in 1948 to characterize a perceived underground, anti-conformist youth movement in New York.” Oxford Dictionaries site.

Bosheviks Sputniks Beatniks

Beatnik

Bosheviks Sputniks Beatniks
Herb Caen

 

Traditionalists already viewed the Beats with suspicion when Herb Caen, a well-known and popular San Francisco Examiner journalist, published a column on April 2, 1958 in which he wrote, “Look magazine, preparing a picture spread on S.F.’s beat generation (oh, no, not AGAIN!) hosted a party in a No. Beach house for 50 beatniks, and by the time word got around the sour grapevine, over 250 bearded cats and kits were on hand, slopping up Mike Cowles’ free booze. They’re only beat, y’know, when it comes to work.”

The term took hold immediately and the San Francisco Beats, already discriminated against, now carried the additionally negative Communist association.

Bosheviks Sputniks Beatniks

Ever ready to take advantage of a popular coinage, the media was able to convert the negative image of the beatnik into one to ridicule and have fun with. The Halloween costume.  The TV show The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis in which Bob Denver played Maynard G Krebs, the lazy air-head beatnik. Denver’s acting career, as successful as it was, never recovered as his even more successful character on Gilligan’s Island  is simply the same beatnik without the costume.Beatnik, beatnik, beatnik, beatnik, beatnik, beatnik

Bosheviks Sputniks Beatniks
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Weather Underground

Weather Underground

Weather Underground
from the movie Don’t Look Back

It was March 6, 1970. While the calendar may have indicated that the 60s were over, they weren’t. Drugs continued. Festival music continued. Civil rights demands continued. The Vietnam War continued.

The issues of the 60s had simply morphed into the 70s’ issues,  just as many of them continue today.

Weather Underground

SDS

Theodore Gold, Diana Oughton, and Terry Robbins were part of the Weathermen, a radical offshoot of the Student for a Democratic Society. The Weathermen’s mission permitted violence and Gold, Oughton, and Robbins were constructing a bomb that day in a Greenwich Village townhouse. The plan was to bomb a non-commissioned officers’ dance at Fort Dix, NJ.

The bomb accidentally exploded and all three were killed. At first the explosion was thought to have been the result of a gas leak (NYT article).

Weather Underground

Weathermen

“You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows” was a line from Bob Dylan’s 1965 “Subterranean Homesick Blues.” That line was the genesis of the group’s first name.

By 1969, like other frustrated groups whose mission was thwarted by the Establishment’s power and control, the Weathermen emerged when Bernardine Dohrn and other split with the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). The Weathermen felt that the SDS’s peaceful protests against the continuing Vietnam War were futile.

The ultimate goal of the Weather Underground was to overthrow the US Government. From its June 18, 1969 Manifestopeople in this country must ask in considering the question of revolution…where they stand in relation to the masses of people throughout the world whom US imperialism is oppressing.”

Weather Underground
from the movie, The Weather Underground
Weather Underground

Chicago

On October 6, 1969, the Weathermen had planted a bomb that blew up a statue in Chicago built to commemorate police casualties incurred in the 1886 Haymarket Riot (NYT article).

Chicago rebuilt the statue and unveiled on May 4, 1970 ironically,  the same day as the Kent State massacre The Weather Underground blew it up again on October 6, 1970 (NYT article)

Chicago repaired the statue again and placed it under round-the-clock surveillance before cost considerations brought about the decision to put the statue in the Police Headquarter lobby (NYT article).

Days of Rage

Weather Underground

Three days after the first bombing, the Days of Rage (October 8 – 11, 1969) in Chicago followed. To the Weathermen, protest meant direct action and direct actions included vandalization and confrontation. A huge Chicago police and State militia presence prevented most demonstrations from achieving their goals. Dozens were injured, and more than 280 protesters were arrested.

Weather Underground
FBI wanted poster
Weather Underground

Judge’s home bombed

Early in the morning on February 21, 1970 gas bombs exploded in front of NY Supreme Court Justice John M. Murtagh’s home.  Murtagh was presiding over the pretrial hearings of Black Panther Party members regarding a plot to bomb New York landmarks and department stores. No one was hurt.

Weather Underground

Into hiding

Weather Underground
from the movie, The Weather Underground

At that point, the Weathermen went into hiding and re-named the group the Weather Underground.

On June 9, 1970, a bomb exploded in the headquarters of the New York City Police Department. No one was hurt.

Weather Underground
from the documentary, The Weather Underground

On May 19, 1972, North Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh’s birthday, the Weather Underground placed a bomb in the women’s bathroom in the Air Force wing of the Pentagon. No one was hurt.

Arrests were often made, but mistrials and dropped charges often followed due to the illegal methods the government had used to gather evidence.

Weather Underground

Documentary

Weather Underground
poster from The Weather Underground documentary

In 2002, The Weather Underground documentary told the story of the organization’s rise and fall. (Snag films dot com)

A faction of the Weather Underground continues today as the Prairie Fire Organizing Committee. Their official site apparently read (though the site no longer is extant): We oppose oppression in all its forms including racism, sexism, homophobia, classism and imperialism. We demand liberation and justice for all peoples. We recognize that we live in a capitalist system that favors a select few and oppresses the majority. This system cannot be reformed or voted out of office because reforms and elections do not challenge the fundamental causes of injustice

Weather Underground

Today

Weather Underground

Ironically, today if you Google search “Weather Underground,” the top result is the commercial weather service. The Establishment has co-opted Che again.

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