Saturday, October 01, 2016

Guttersnipe Bookshelf: Padgett on Joe Brainard

Ron Padgett, JOE: A Memoir of Joe Brainard
Coffee House Press, 2004

A year or two ago, I sat with my teacher, Bobbie Louise Hawkins, as she spoke of her friend, Joe Brainard.  So much love and tenderness came into her face and her voice as she spoke.  “You two would have loved each other,” she said generously, and with real frustration, as though he’d just stepped out of the room.  She spoke of his kindness, humor, generosity and directness -- all qualities found abundantly in this book.

Hooray for Ron Padgett, for recognizing he had to write this book.  This is a book that had to happen -- and did.  How perfectly appropriate that the book is direct, soft-spoken, a little curmudgeonly, even occasionally awkward -- it’s the real thing, a life of Joe Brainard from the perspective of his straight best friend.  Brainard is well on his way to being canonized -- thanks in great part to the Library of America's Collected Writings of Joe Brainard -- also masterminded by Padgett.  If you love the work of Joe Brainard, get this book, and save it for a day when you are running low on hope for love and hope and art.

One more thing: as your bookish pal from the wrong side of the tracks, a word of explanation might be useful about Brainard’s “diet pills”.  Desoxyn.  Whoa.  Not only is not the usual diet pill, even the word “speed” feels a little too innocent.  Desoxyn is something hard to fathom: it’s meth by prescription.  Having seen this stuff in action, I can well imagine how it might rocketize creative life -- and bring it to a halt.  That Brainard was able to use Desoxyn long-term, have a multi-faceted creative life, and preserve his good and loving heart -- is more evidence of his truly extraordinary nature.  Do NOT try this at home.    

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