JUST USING THE LANDSCAPE



(Chapter 13 of
Dreaming As One
Poetry, Poets and Community in Bolinas, California
1967 - 1980
)

by Kevin Opstedal

 


In the early seventies Richard Brautigan bought the house on the mesa that the Meltzers had been renting. Brautigan had become very famous and successful as a writer by this time. His novels, such as Trout Fishing in America, A Confederate General at Big Sur and In Watermelon Sugar were noted for their dark, elegiac portrayal of human relationships along with a light, humorous, often fantastic and magical transformation of everyday phenomena, all in a very simple (some say na´ve) direct prose. His books could be found in dorm rooms across the country. He was immensely popular among the counterculture in the sixties and his photograph was often featured on the covers of his books (usually depicting him in the company of a beautiful young hippie chick). Brautigan was an iconic figure and often boasted during this period of celebrity that he could step out on any highway and get a ride in minutes since everyone recognized him. He was also a deeply odd guy, who drank a lot, and was essentially a loner. Brautigan never stayed for long periods in Bolinas, showing up only occasionally, usually to briefly visit friends there, Robert Creeley and Joanne Kyger in particular.

Lawrence Ferlinghetti, like Brautigan, also bought a house in Bolinas but rarely spent any time there.

Writer Dale Herd first visited Bolinas in the early seventies to visit Don Allen. He later rented a long room in Susi Whaley's barn which was where he wrote his novel Dreamland Court, tacking up the pages on a long wall. In 1975 he rented a cottage from Bobbie Louise Hawkins that was on a small ridge behind her house on Terrace Avenue. But Herd was on the move a lot in those days. In 1979-80 when Michael Wolfe was preparing Herd's novel Wild Cherries for publication by Tombouctou, Herd again rented the long room in Whaley's barn while finishing off on the book.

Another poet in town at this time was Jim Gustafson. Gustafson was a friend of Andrei Codrescu and it was Codrescu who introduced Gustafson to Bolinas. As Berkson remembers, ''Gustafson was a wild, nervous, huggy, committed writer, worked as a bartender at Smiley's, could jump the bar, like they say, and throw a guy out the swinging doors.'' His book Tales of Virtue and Transformation, was published by Big Sky in 1974 with a cover by Greg Irons.

When Jim Carroll moved to Bolinas in 1973 he was ''damaged goods''. Years of heroin addiction had taken their toll. He enrolled in the methadone clinic in San Rafael (Bill Berkson drove him over the hill once a week) and settled into Bolinas, at first sharing a room with Jim Gustafson and Sara Schrom at the Grand Hotel, before moving to a little cottage, in the midst of a dense grove of eucalyptus trees, at the intersection of Mesa Road and Bolinas-Olema Road.

''I lived in total seclusion,'' Carroll said in a 1980 interview in The San Francisco Review of Books, ''I'd just walk my dog every day for 12 miles, around Bolinas, Point Reyes.''

MacAdams recalls that ''Jim lived the most isolate existence . . . most people when they think of Jim Carroll in Bolinas, it's like this spectral person in a serape, with his dog, Jo-mama, and carrying a big staff, some big long stick.''

When he wasn't out on long hikes with his dog, Carroll stayed indoors and watched television, drank methadone, smoked, and wrote. ''I was a total recluse,'' Carroll says, ''just using the landscape.'' A brief retelling of Carroll's time in Bolinas is included in his book Forced Entries, and much of the writing he did while in Bolinas can be found in his Book of Nods.

In Bolinas Carroll put the finishing touches on The Basketball Diaries, his account of being a high-school basketball star, aspiring poet, and serious heroin addict in New York City. The book was published in Bolinas by Michael Wolfe and his Tombouctou Press. An elegant publication, this first edition featured an introduction by Tom Clark (in which an aged, tired Arthur Rimbaud shows up in Bolinas and hangs out with Clark discussing Carroll's book), along with illustrations from a sculpture by Mark Blane, and a cover photo of Carroll by Rosemary Klemfuss - whom Carroll met in Bolinas and later married.

It was also in Bolinas that Carroll began to experiment with writing rock lyrics. In 1978 Patti Smith, his longtime friend from New York, who had already been creating some attention with her punked-out Patti Smith Band, invited Carroll to a concert she was to perform at in San Diego. Smith had Carroll come out and, with her band behind him, read some poems. Carroll has said that he was instantly hooked on the energy and immediacy of performing for a rock audience.

Back in Bolinas, Duncan McNaughton turned Carroll on to a local band, a group of long-haired rockers who initially called themselves ''Bolinas'', but as that was the big taboo, they bowed to local pressure and changed their name to ''The Venusians'' and then to ''Amsterdam''. They would later form the nucleus of what would become the Jim Carroll Band.

''The next thing I knew,'' says McNaughton, ''Jim and the band were appearing at the Mabuhay Gardens in San Francisco''.

The Bolinas based performance artist Bill Talen organized the Move Poetry Series at Mabuhay Gardens. Move Poetry was an opportunity for performance artists to find an audience. Talen would often perform, as did Lewis MacAdams, and it was at a Move Poetry performance that Jim Carroll and the band Amsterdam made their first appearance at Mabuhay Gardens.

Carroll left Bolinas in 1979, returning to New York, where he signed a deal with Bantam Books to republish The Basketball Diaries (without Tom Clark's introduction), and also landed a recording contract with Rolling Stones Records. His first album was called Catholic Boy.

 


 
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