I’ve been struggling for a full week now on how to cope with the news of the death of Brian — a well-known figure in town who died last week from a particularly malignant form of cancer which he had only known about for a very short time.
Not because I’m lost for words (as I usually am in these circumstances); but because of my difficulty in situating someone who absolutely looked the part of a ‘Glastonbury alternative’ (a.k.a. ‘hippy’ in local parlance); yet who, in actuality, wasn’t.
There was a great deal more to him than the usual vacuous hippy of today.
And it’s taken me all of seven days to pinpoint to myself where I had come across just his type before. (Not that we knew each other extremely well — but enough to respect each other’s standpoint, even where we differed enormously.) It was back in the late fifties / early sixties; in dimly-lit coffee-bars, and awful pretentious jazz’n’poetry clubs in crowded smoky cellars in Edinburgh, or Soho. Half a century ago. The height of the beat literary scene in the UK.
The hair at the time was not quite as long or as straggly as Brian wore his; and the beards tended to be better trimmed. But the life attitude was identical. Above all, the ferocious desire to document it — as it happened. (It was, after all, a period of existentialism and deep personal introspection.)
And that’s exactly what Brian had. Except that, instead of the little notebook in which to scribble one’s poems, Brian carried a video recorder — and put it down that way instead.
A 21st-century beatnik.
Taking down the buzz of the conversation.
I wonder if anyone will take the trouble to collect together all his 30-second snippets from all over the internet — and elsewhere — and weld them into a coherent whole, expressing the philosophy and life-style that he tried so hard to capture for posterity ?
Visions of Ginsberg and Kerouac in Morocco, stitching together Burroughs’s scribblings, to produce The Naked Lunch.