Monday, June 4, 2012

Novelist Richard Brautigan's Unrecorded One Day Marriage Certificate Surfaces

By Stephen J. Gertz

If you were an American Boomer breathing during the 'Sixites and a part of or a close observer of the Counterculture you likely read  Trout Fishing in America, the novella by Richard Brautigan published in 1967 (though written in 1961). It has sold 2,000,000 copies.

And it is just as likely that, forty-five years later, you, as I, can't remember much  about it if anything at all. Beyond its non-linear narrative - it is a series of loosely connected anecdotes, an admix of playful and gently satiric musings not without childlike charm - there is no story, however abstract, to hold on to. Brautigan demands nothing from the reader except, perhaps, suspension of critical judgment. Ultimately, his work is guilty of one of the worst sins in literature: it is utterly innocuous,  all gums no teeth. It was baby food for a segment of readers not yet weaned onto solids and reluctant to graduate to  literature that needed to be, at least, moderately chewed.

Trout Fishing in America was, as all of Brautigan's prose and poetry, very much of its time and place, possessing all the simplicity, innocence and naivety we associate with the peace and love aspect of hippie-dom with whimsical insights passing for wisdom that evaporate within ten minutes of reading them. "There is no there there," as Gertrude Stein said of Oakland, California. And when the Age of Aquarius died from lack of guile and a head-on collision with reality so did Brautigan's audience and career.

But for a few precious years Brautigan was it, a cult writer with a following of avid fans who consumed his every word, and he deserves  a solid place in modern American literature for capturing the Peter Pan aspect of 'Sixties counterculture.

In 1968, at the height of his popularity, he published an obscure broadside dated February 29 that soon became even more so.

The One Day Marriage Certificate is not found in John F. Barber's annotated bibliography of Brautigan (1990) nor in the Brautigan section of Gary Lepper's A Bibliographical Introduction to Seventy-Five Modern American Authors, published by the late Peter Howard's Berkeley-based Serendipity Books in 1976. How many copies were printed remains unknown. No copies are located by OCLC.  It's as if it never existed.

Yet a copy has surfaced and is currently being offered by Between The Covers.

Here, Brautigan channels Al Capp's Marryin' Sam, from the comic strip Li'l Abner, who presides over Sadie Hawkins Day, February 29th, that leap year ritual when the single girls of Dogpatch are let loose to lasso a husband.

The text, wrapped by a bevy of pre-Raphaelite/Art Nouveau beauties, reads: "This beautiful one day marriage is ours for February 29, 1968 because we feel this way toward each other and want forever to be a single day,"  followed by blank lines to be filled in. It is signed "Marryin' Sam in and for Golden Gate Park," San Francisco, and the credit at the bottom reads: "Words - Richard Brautigan. Pictures - The San Andreas Fault. Printing - Rapid Reproductions."

After the wedding you could truck on down to Winterland to see Cream perform Sunshine of Your Love on that night of February 29, 1968, the group's We're Going Wrong, presumably, not heard until the day after the One Day Marriage when the good vibes withered on the vine, the acid finally wore off, and the honeymoon was over. Sort of like the 'Sixties.

1 comment:

  1. Looks like it's already sold. Don't see it listed. Thanks for the post.


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