As driven and talented a photographer as Jim was, I think deep in his heart it wasn’t images he was really in love with, it was words. It’s the only way I can explain his incredible affinity for writers, lyricists and, especially, poets.
Of course, it didn’t hurt that Jim spent his youth in a place and time (San Francisco in the ’50s and ’60s) that was practically exploding with creative energy; it was unleashed, free, uncensored, and roaming the streets looking for sounds and images with which to collide. And so was Jim.
And since we are always looking for ways to dive into the Jim Marshall Photography archive that can expand beyond the expected, we’ve decided, in honor of National Poetry Month, to focus the next few blogs on Jim’s literary passions.
Amelia suggested the San Francisco Beats as a natural starting point, which led her to find the wonderful shot of all the Beat poets and artists in front of Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s City Lights bookstore in 1965. In fact, I believe that is Ferlinghetti in the shadows under the umbrella right in front of Allen Ginsberg.
It got me to thinking about the Beats and Jim and SF in the ’60s and I flashed on a memory from October 1984 when Jim learned of poet, novelist, short story writer Richard Brautigan’s suicide in Bolinas. Though not as well known as Allen Ginsberg, Michael McClure and the Beat heavyweights, Brautigan managed to hold his own while struggling mightily with depressive alcoholism.
Brautigan was best known for his post-beatnik, pre-hippie 1967 novella “Trout Fishing in America.” If you want to see how weirdly inspirational somebody who you may have never heard of can be, just search the web for: Brautigan and Trout Fishing in America … it has inspired a commune, tribute band, some folks even legally named their child “Trout Fishing in America,” I kid you not.
In doing a bit of research for this post, Amelia found some wonderful shots of Brautigan, one of which I would hazard to guess is being published here for the first time, and I discovered this Brautigan poem with dedication that just jumped out at me:
“General Custer Versus the Titanic”
For the soldiers of the Seventh Cavalry who were killed at the Little Bighorn River and the passengers who were lost on the maiden voyage of the Titanic. God bless their souls.
Yes! It’s true all my visions
have come home to roost at last.
They are all true now and stand
around me like a bouquet of
lost ships and doomed generals.
I gently put them away in a
beautiful and disappearing vase.
More than once, Jim made fun of his teenage and 20-something self, saying he was “that pretentious asshole wandering around North Beach with a battered paperback copy of Camus’ ‘The Stranger’ in his back pocket.” This is, yet again, a moment when I would like to ask Jim so many things: Did you ever really read the book? How did it affect you? Do you feel differently about it now, 50 years later? And so many, many more questions that rattle unanswered in my noggin.
I am left instead with the echoes of throwaway lines from 25 years ago, searching for clues and linkages hidden in these archives and alive only in the memories of those Jim touched.
I remember when Jim and I first met, he was so jazzed that I was a writer … of course, I was a writer there to write about Jim, but after my defenses fell a bit I realized he was utterly sincere in his support and praise and it meant, and means, the world to me.
And, who knows, maybe Jim bought his copy of “The Stranger” at City Lights.