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Friday, August 1, 2008

Cover Lover – Poor Old Richard Brautigan, Begin Again

Cover Lover invites you to take a look at this series of books, Writers For The 70’s.

Thomas Pynchon? Check.

Kurt Vonnegut? Natürlich.

J. R. R. Tolkien? Someone tell Cover Lover how they say “yes” in Middle-earth.

Herman Hesse? Died in 1962, but lovingly embraced by the counterculture.

Richard Brautigan? Absolutely.

Richard Brautigan (b. 1935) began publishing his poetry in the late 1950’s. His first novel, A Confederate General From Big Sur, arrived in 1964, but Brautigan didn’t become a household name until 1967, when his second novel—Trout Fishing In America—was greeted with critical and commercial success. It went on to sell 3 million copies and almost surely inspired a lot of awful writing. Like Vonnegut, Brautigan’s prose is deceptively simple. If you’re a fan, it’s not hard to imagine Brautigan captivating an entire coffeehouse or bookstore audience with his poems and (mostly comic) stories.

Between 1968 and 1982, Brautigan published eight novels, five books of poetry, and Revenge of the Lawn, a collection of short stories. What makes all this especially interesting to Cover Lover is that many of Brautigan’s book jackets feature a black and white photograph of Brautigan and a young woman (Trout Fishing in America, In Watermelon Sugar, The Abortion, or (sometimes) just a young woman (The Pill Versus the Springhill Mine Disaster, Rommel Drives on Deep Into Egypt, Revenge of the Lawn).

A Confederate General from Big Sur was originally issued with a Larry Rivers painting on the cover, but it was reissued in paperback with the same photograph (of Brautigan and Beverly Allen under an umbrella) that was featured on the U.K. edition. Sharp-eyed readers will recognize Beverly Allen as the girl in the sandbox from Brautigan’s Rommel Drives on Deep Into Egypt.

The trend began with the cover for Trout Fishing in America. The publishers already had a photo of Brautigan standing in front of a statue of Benjamin Franklin in San Francisco’s Washington Square Park, but photographer Erik Weber encouraged Brautigan to pose again, this time with his “muse,” Michaela Clark LeGrand. Weber convinced Brautigan the new photo would make a better cover, and Brautigan persuaded Donald Allen, who ran Four Seasons Foundation, a nonprofit press. The subsequent cover photos were all taken by Edmund Shea.

Marcia Pacaud, the woman featured on The Pill Versus the Springhill Mine Disaster, was Brautigan’s girlfriend, and several of the poems are dedicated to her. A solo Brautigan graced the cover of Loading Mercury with a Pitchfork (1971), but it was the last time. Subsequent books like The Hawkline Monster and Willard and His Bowling Trophies featured cover paintings by Wendell Minor. Sombrero Fallout has an illustration by John Ansado. So on. The back cover of Brautigan’s Tokyo-Montana Express has a back cover photograph of Brautigan and Shiina Takako, owner of The Cradle, a Tokyo Bar.

Brautigan’s popularity had waned considerably by the time his last book, So the Wind Won’t Blow It All Away, was published in 1982. Cover Lover discovered the collected works of Richard Brautigan in 1984, the same year Brautigan took his own life with a .44 Magnum. His badly decomposed body was found five weeks later by a private investigator. The note Brautigan left was—like all of his writing—simple and honest: “Messy, isn’t it?”

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