Posts Tagged ‘hippy literature’

Hippy days are here again…

January 17, 2021

   Most of Richard Brautigan’s novels have been sitting, slowly decaying, on my bookshelves since the mid 1970s when I had a phase of reading them. I’ve often wondered about them and finally decided to renew my acquaintance with them, which was a most perplexing experience: if I’d bought them all and read them all, some a couple of times, why had they lain there so long undisturbed? I read some bizarre stuff back then in my full-on hippy days, a phase of my life that I’ve never rejected or dismissed, but which I have certainly moved on from long since…

There is something dream-like, druggy, in Brautigan’s writing, and in his completely off-the-wall imagination too, which temporarily attracts and delights, but never lasts long, never attaches; it’s eminently readable – when there’s enough plot to carry you along – and equally eminently forgettable. The characters and settings are fantastical; I’ve wondered about magic realism, but I don’t think any of the texts are substantial enough to be classed in that genre. Many of his characters are misfits, failures in different ways

Willard and his Bowling Trophies is a weird yarn, with several mostly disconnected plots and inoffensive but largely uninteresting characters. The Hawkline Monster (A Gothic Western) was better in that the plot gripped me, and I enjoyed the characters and the poetical language too. I had great expectations of Dreaming of Babylon which was billed as a private eye novel and ought to have been reminiscent of Chandler or Hammett, but was in the end basically plain silly, apart from the caricature hard cop character. I re-read Trout Fishing in America, and A Confederate General from Big Sur too, but a couple of days later I couldn’t tell you a thing about either of them. The one exception, really, was The Abortion: An Historical Romance 1966, which gripped me rather more. The premise of a mysterious library which accepts and archives any book anyone has written and cares to deposit was interesting enough, and the rather sad, misfit character who finds himself in charge had some substance; hooked up with a new partner unexpectedly, and in the pre-Roe vs Wade days needing to head to Mexico for the inevitable termination brought in a more serious strand which Brautigan developed with some sensitivity as well as beauty…

     Brautigan can do decent poetical language in prose, with the occasional delightfully striking simile or metaphor, and witty turn of phrase, but this isn’t enough to sustain entire books. I kept reading hoping for something more substantial, and most of the time was disappointed by the sameness of it all.

Is this really how we thought, and what we enjoyed way back then? Obviously there was a lesson for me about how our tastes change over time, whilst our memories of something are tinged by those nostalgic spectacles. Brautigan briefly took me back to the 1970s and I could reminisce about the joy of visions, images, the surreal in the everyday; he writes about the joy of carefree sex, although very much in a seventies masculine way… there are things in his writing that I didn’t expect to see in print in those days. Mostly druggy, hallucinatory eye-candy, though, and ultimately eminently forgettable. I wonder if anyone reads his books nowadays?

On living in a bubble

April 15, 2017

I think I was probably a fully paid-up hippy in the 1970s, and that means I read quite a bit of what I suppose must be hippy-lit in those days, too, writers like Richard Brautigan, Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs, as well as others like Hermann Hesse who, though not hippies themselves, were adopted by them. One book I’ve hung on to since then – Another Roadside Attraction, by Tom Robbins – I’ve just been back to, for some reason, probably the trippy cover, I suppose. And it’s got me thinking…

I enjoyed the book back then, read it twice according to my back-page notes. This time around it was just ever so faded, dull, not boring but I didn’t really care whether I finished it or not: I’d out-grown it. And I’ve written before about this idea, too. It’s an amusing tale, full of zany characters and outlandish events, plenty of sex, drugs, music and anarchy, the kind of things I suppose I aspired to way back then.

I found myself realising how much of a bubble I lived in then, still do now, and thought that perhaps actually we all do, in our different ways. Here was a novel in which nobody did anyone any harm, everyone strove for pleasure and a happy life free of restrictions – what’s not to like? Except, of course, that there were plenty of people then who didn’t like such ideas, such freedom, such lifestyles: think of the ending of the film Easy Rider.

We all discover the things, places, people and pastimes that we enjoy and find superior to others; this allows us to look down on and make judgements about those who have different preferences. I don’t read chick lit, war novels, westerns, fantasy, novels about sport or horse-racing; I read proper literature, novels from other cultures, the classics, dammit! And when you realise that the entire world is actually fragmented into uncounted numbers of subgroups in terms of so many things – literature, food, drink, television, religion, politics, then you realise just how hard it would actually be to get enough people to agree on enough things to actually make any positive changes in the world we all share. I’ve read plenty of dystopian novels about overpopulation, pollution, climate change… most people haven’t, and probably don’t give a monkeys.

And this is where I find myself getting political, and remembering that feminist slogan from the 1970s: the personal is political. We all make choices, and choices have consequences. It serves the needs and continuation of the current system very well that we all live in our own little bubbles, that we all belong to so many subgroups according to our particular concerns, and that we don’t come together to make a bigger challenge to the status quo: divide and conquer, as the Romans realised a very long time ago.

Back to my hippy novels – which I’m revisiting prior to the next clear-out, I think – whilst I don’t actually think many people at all would disagree with the idea that we should all be nice to each other, not fight wars, enjoy ourselves, be nice to the world and cherish our environment, there are few places for ordinary people to discover that about each other or to share what they really believe in. Mass communications and the media are in the business of keeping us separate, individual. Ray Bradbury’s short story The Pedestrian is our scary world: utopia is a lot further away than I imagined.

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