Robert Branaman—The Rusty Truck Interview
Bob: Can’t really narrow it down to one poet, in my teens Poe, later Rimbaud, around the time I know Charles Plymell, when we started going to Wichita State, Pound. Later all the influences came in from the West Coast like Kenneth Patchen & Ferlinghetti’s Coney Inland of the Mind. I was given a copy of this in 1958 (just published) by the poet Alan Russo who had just returned from San Francisco . After going to university of Guadalajara, I moved to San Francisco in ’59. The influences continued and were many.
Scot: What do you count as your prized possessions?
Bob: A sense of humor, good health, and a connection to a higher power.
Bob: Some one would say “. Hey we are going too meet in front of City Lights…” Like the picture that was on the cover of Jerry Kamster’s Book
Scot: You are a poet, artist and filmmaker, what artistic endeavor came first for you and how are they tied together?
Bob: I first drew pictures and then painted. When I was in the 7th grade I won a
Scholarship and went to study art at Belmont Art Institute. It was on Belmont street in Wichita Kansas, one of the richest streets. I felt I had really made it. Later I went to reform school (I had just turned 17) there I did a lot of artwork and reading.
Eventually I was to study art at Wichita State, then Guadalajara Mexico.
After moving to San Francisco I got into 8 mm films. I made painterly films and Bruce Conner was an influence, he traded me my first 8 mm Bell & Howell camera for a TV. I had messed with and it just played patterns, which you could adjust. Later he asked me to work on some films with him. “Looking for Mushrooms” 16mm. only one in print. “My idea of the camera was something like an eye on the end of your hand that you could stick anywhere” my quote by Kathy Garitz in broacher for Big as life: An American history of 8mm Films. Museum of Modern Art. 1998-1999..Like sticking it “under the skirts of the prudes.” paraphrased Pound. As for writing I always wrote poems and kept journals. The poet Charley Plymell, also published little books starting with the poet’s corner in Kansas. He put my poems and letters in some of them like NOW; NOW NOW etc.
My whole life has been art and I try to make it all art (Groovy) whether it’s weeding in the garden, painting a painting, writing a poem. Or walking out the door and looking at the trash or flowers, it’s all art.
Scot: You were in a band the Gladstones that played on the same bill in 1966 with Janis Joplin and Big Brother…what memories came out of that experience?
Bob: A lot of memories. One that Janis was just a fantastic performer (artist).
At one point in our two-day concert, I was walking in front of the elevated stage and Janice was singing. I wasn’t paying any attention to her, was on my way to talk to the sound engineer…when suddenly her singing grabbed me, stopped me in my tracks and tears shot out of my eyes, I wanted to shout Yes or No I was profoundly moved. Then it passed and I walked on to talk to the sound man about the pick up for the cello. The Gladstones’s motto was “We are glad we are stoned.”
Donald (Raphael) Garret, who had played with Coltrane and Roland Kirk, was our musical shaman guide. He use to come to my house in big sur, in the early morning he would walk around the house playing a flute or thumb piano, after breakfast we’d start jamming he playing base, and I cello. Others came and joined us, and this would go on all day & into the night.
Scot: Who inspired you as a beginning artist?
Bob: Jackson Pollack, J.B. Bach & Jazz.
Scot: Tell me about the comic you created that predated Zap Comix? Is this the one in the youtube video?
Bob: The comic “Robert Ronnie Branaman” that was printed by Charles Plymell in 1963. I had a lot of “Car-Tunes” dating from the late 50’s some of which were published by Don Donheu (1967) in a large format called “Momma Daddies” it included the “Robert Ronnie Branaman.” (Yes, seen in the u-tube video) His printer thought they were so obscene he had all ten thousand of them destroyed. I got a copy from Don be for he passed away, that he had saved. Mike O. Danyurs is working to republish it plus more.
Scot: It has been said that you may have been the “first hippie” and helped establish Esalen, where others say you remained a beat?
Bob: Hippy smippy. I dislike labels. At the time no one liked being called a “Beat”I never identified as a hippie, have always been in search of myself, and a seeker. Yet (I don’t exist), reminds of a quote:
Knowledge teaches me I am nothing,
Love teaches me I am everything.
Between the two, my life flows.
~The Dali Lama~
I lived for a month at Esalen in 1959, when it was still “Slates Hot Springs” with Billy and Joan Jahrmarkt (who a few years later started the Batman Gallery) we had the butterfly cabin (no longer exists, they tore it down when they put the new road in). We smoked a lot of weed and took Peyote, maybe that helped start Esalen. Esalen will always be a sacred place for me. I did work there off and on, a lot of those rocks on walls, I helped truck there for Dick Price. I lived there after I lost my place in Gorda (they took us in, Sue & our then two kids).
About this time Timothy Leary and Dick Albert came and I hung with them. We (Esalen staff) had meetings & electing Selig Morganrath as our mother or architect of earth. One of Timothy’s comments was, we need moor beautiful girls.
I believe that was implemented.
Scot: Your band posters from the 60s are fantastic; did you also do the cover for the San Francisco Oracle?
Scot: Did you begin your art career with the poster art?
Bob: No. But in grade school I was always ask to do poster and signs for the losers running for student body president or etc.
Scot: If you had stayed in Kansas, what vocation would you have taken up?
Scot: Tell me about the Chances R artwork for Ginsberg?
Bob: The chances are was a gay bar on Douglas street ( it was a main drag, ) in Wichita Kansas. though it was primarily a gay bar some straight people went there too as it was a very lively and up beat place. So repeatedly through the night they would play the song it was named for. “Chances R”… I can hear the song in my head now after all these years.
Scot: What do you wish you had done differently?
Bob: Nothing. Once I was in the oneness I saw that everything was exactly perfect.
Scot: What do you think you might have been in a prior life?
Bob: I know I have Indian blood. A psychic told me I had been a Roman Senator. Once in a deep meditative state I saw my self as having been Asian.