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sort of exempt from politics, in spite of his involvement in it,” says Ronnie Dugger \(former editor and publisher of The Texas Though Bill must have had some kind of belief or value system that led him to help Dugger in the early days of the Observer, his values never seemed steeped in liberal moral authority or “religious” fervor. Therefore, he could not have been really vulnerable to inevitable disappointments. I recall that when Bill’s ex-wife, Dorothy Browne, announced her plans to go canvassing for a local politician in the mid-’70’s, Bill cautioned, `Don’t you know that kind of thing causes permanent brain damage?'” THE TWISTS AND TURNS of Bill Brammer’ s quietly volatile personal life have taken on legendary propor tions in some circles. But do they evidence a devastation capable of crippling his talent and spirit? You wouldn’t have known it from talking to him. His risible tales of served to obscure the plain fact that he loved these women and his children and that estrangement from them was intolerable. “There was a wistfulness in Bill right after the book came out,” says Halberstam, “…a sadness that had to do with the breakup of the marriage, separation from his children, and being still a little in love with Nadine.” Letters Bill wrote during the ups and downs of his second marriage indicate a degree of trauma that rarely surfaced in his self-depictions. And as deserving of these consequences as Bill Brammer might have been, the isolation from what remained of lasting love and family life might have caused some of his debilitation, as much as it was a source of his literature earlier in life. A wandering and curious nature, at once unfocused and obsessed and often perceived as stubbornly irresponsible, did not make for the best mate or parent. And it led him into melodramas that tried even his own indefatigable sense of humor. From there it’s easy to analyze his drug addiction, although addiction has a life or death of its own and doesn’t need reasons. It cannot be played down in a discussion of his decline. From my own vantage point, I can say that the man didn’t sleep properly for a couple of decades. He had an acquired physical handicap that paralyzed his ability to focus on anything for long, much less follow through on any piece of serious writing. Al Reinert suggests that Bill had a “strong depressive streak in him … I’ve been there. You don’t particularly like your life. It causes you to look for some thing to feel better. Anyone who closets himself and his talent the way he did has to have some unhappiness or pain going on inside.” By his late 20s, Billie Lee was already relying on amphetamines for the time and energy required for late-night writing on top of a full day’s work. It was a natural and logical progression to apply it to deeper, darker ends. Dorothy Browne describes her years with him as “a seamless party.” After the Kennedy assassination \(and Johnson’s reand New York, but became cynical and Billie Lee had a way of getting to the quick of your deepest despond, making you laugh at it, turning it to your own best end. bored with Washington politics and the literary scene. Looking for the next adventure, they found it in the ’60s counterculture. “He was more interested in that than anything,” she remembers. “He became everybody’s graduate school. He was my graduate school. He read everything, listened to everything … young people sat at his feet, talked about books, listened to music … and shared drugs of every kind. It was ‘All Skate,’ all the time.” MY SIBLINGS AND I recall this period with a more guarded affection than we do of our earlier times with him. We might have been the only teens in the whole beleaguered USA whose old man was more hip to what was going on in the land than we were. But we had difficulty seeing him as a generationgap-crossing guru. Too many times, we’d see him after the party, feeling lousy, barely coherent, words slurred, or just confoundedly, impossibly asleep, as if in a coma. As the years wore on and he wore down, it became almost painful to visit him in his rattrap apartments with the electricity turned off and no phone. We’d watch him poke through the wreckage of his bedroom for his Coke-bottle lens glasses or dentures \(he’d had cataract while we browsed through a cornucopia of literature that always seemed to have been flung in great disorganized piles into his living quarters. Once he’d gotten himself pulled together, we’d take him to eat Mex ican food, or drive him to the store for more Dr Pepper, or take him along with us to make some scene or another among the moveable feasts of Austin. As painful as it could be, one often had a need to see himbecause Billie Lee had a way of getting to the quick of your deepest despond, making you laugh at it, turning it to your own best end. His favorite cure for being sad was “to learn something,” a bit of wisdom from T.H. White’s The Once and Future King, which he often quoted to his children and friends. To the last days of his life, he continued to supplement my formal education with ideas, theories, writings, stories, music, art and experiences with the multifarious people who have become the cement of my adult life. He was my graduate school, too. And in the process, perhaps, he took himself away temporarily from his own desperate straits. Some believe that Bill’s greatest work was his own life, and that writing was only a facet of a rare gem of self. His first wife, Nadine Eckhardt, describes in him “a desire to please people in a fundamental way,” that is echoed by Al Reinert: “He made other people happy. He was one of the world’s great conversationalists, and could ferret out the center of your story.” Said Halberstam, “Bill had an abiding sweetness that really may have been why he didn’t or couldn’t write another novel. He got the book done, but just wasn’t tough enough to turn his life into another one.” Bill’s friend, Orissa Eckhardt Arend, once asked him directly why he hadn’t continued to write novels. “They just don’t understand,” he complained, “that I don’t have another book in me.” HIS LITERARY PERSONA and literal person continued long after he wrote his book. The younger writ ers he associated with in the early years of Texas Monthly and The Austin Sun credit him with both intellectual inspiration and hard-living example. Reinert describes him as “the best editor I ever had or knew … he was an intuitive reader, with a more instinctive grasp for what you’re up to as a writer than anyone, and an amazing grasp of the craft of writing … a wonderfully curious person who loved words. Just because he didn’t have the will power and determination to continue writing himself, doesn’t mean he wasn’t still a very active intellectual and literary person.” Jeff Nightbyrd, editor of The Austin Sun in 1975, squeezed what was perhaps the last published piece of journalism out of Bill Brammer. But what Jeff remembers is the effort it took to get Bill to finish his article, rather than the story itself. What was that story about? We can’t really remember 22 APRIL 21, 1995