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Goshen Public Library and Historical Society

Across the Reference Desk

by Janet Hamill

November 29, 2000


New to the shelves at the Goshen Public Library is Been Here and Gone by David Dalton. Written in the style of a memoir, Been Here and Gone records the life of fictional blues man Coley Williams. From his vantage point as a centenarian (plus two years), Williams looks back on his remarkable career as a backup musician and recording artist. As much a history of a vital American musical genre as the chronicle of a life, Been Here and Gone takes us from Williams's youth as a tenant farmer in the Mississippi Delta to acclaim on the stages of swinging London. With the "assistance" of author David Dalton, Coley Williams spins a raucous, soulful tale with color and humor. His recollections of the hardships of the Great Depression in the deep south, the temptations of freedom in the Northern Cities, and the birth of the Civil Rights movement are as vivid and detailed as his anecdotes of blues legends Robert Johnson, Bessie Smith, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Ma Rainey, Muddy Waters, B.B. King, and even a young Elvis Presley. Indeed, Williams's "memoir" is invaluable to both the history buff and the blues fan. Former contributing editor to Rolling Stone, David Dalton brings to Been Here and Gone the extensive knowledge of American music and popular culture that informs his journalism and successful biographies of James Dean, Janis Joplin, and Jim Morrison.

On the shelves of current non-fiction at the library is yet another daughter's memoir of her famous father. You Can't Catch Death by Ianthe Brautigan is an intimate portrait of the life and tragic suicide of writer Richard Brautigan. Thrust into the public eye after Trout Fishing in America was published in 1967, Richard Brautigan's early books, In Watermelon Sugar, The Pill Versus the Springhill Mine Disaster, and A Confederate General from Big Sur became extremely fashionable with the counterculture movement. His original and subversive writing, with its extraordinary comic overtones, was never a favorite with critics or academics, but while his popularity among college students lasted, Brautigan enjoyed an almost rock star-like fame. Celebrity brought him a circle of famous friends and a large anch in Montana to replace his cramped, secure quarters on Geary Street in San Francisco. But it also disturbed his delicate balance and exacerbated his drinking problem. By the time he took his life in 1984, Brautigan was alone, his drinking was out of control, and his books were no longer in fashion. Despite the melancholy and the pain of her journey, Ianthe Brautigan has made a stunning literary debut with this memoir. You Can't Catch Death stands on its own as a piece of writing, a testament to a remarkable man, and the survival instincts of its author.