Kansas Heritage Group]

Beats In Kansas: The Beat Generation in the Heartland

Robert Ronnie Branaman
aka, "Barbital Bob"

by Charley Plymell

"I hadn't heard from him [Robert Branaman] for a while until the Doors movie came out. He called and said I could see him in the opening frames sitting on Venice Beach hawking his paintings that provided background throughout the movie."

[Oil painting: Robert Branaman self-portrait, from late 1950's when he was about 24 years old

The first time I remember Bob's drawings I was sitting in a club in the early 1950's in Kansas. There was the typical live combo of sax, bass, drums and singer. Bob had some paper and a pen and began sketching. We were among a large post-war sub-culture that associated itself with drugs, whores, and jazz and cars. We saw a lot of each other and went to parties and clubs and enjoyed the Benzedrine and Boo and cartoon life the nights had to offer.

[drawing image: Chances R, by Robert Branaman; Evergreen Review # 46, April 1967, illustrating Allen Ginsberg poem; copyright, R. Branaman; used with permission, all rights reserved.

He was serious about studies and talked me into matriculating in the university. I think he was familiar with names of other regionalist who had formally studied before they had gone to California: e.g. Conner, McClure, Brakhage, Haselwood, Hopper, et al. He encouraged me of course by the way man, you know there's some things going on at the U. I hadn't heard of them at the time but enrolled in classes in art and philosophy and English. He mainly studied art and was eager to use the facilities to make prints and paintings. The canons were much better in those days, not the idiot factories of the campuses today, so we enjoyed some legitimate studies. He was in an arts honors group right away, so this led to him pledging a fraternity. Again he tried to enlist me, but he soon clued me in to how weird it was...hey man, they have house mothers and shit and rules and you have to do these funny things before you become a member.

The last noteworthy memory of the 50's was "Barbital Bob" and I in the Wichita City Jail getting Oxybiotic nose drops past the guards. He then went to art school in Guadalajara and fell in love with Sue Mack there, who he later married. Bob had moved to San Francisco by the time I drove to Guadalajara with a mutual friend from the arts honors society. Bob joined other friends from Wichita, notably Alan Russo who had by then hooked up with Conner, McClure and Haselwood who gravitated around Haselwood's Auerhahn Press. He became good friends with Billy "Batman" Jharmark who owned the Batman Gallery on Filmore where Conner and I would show.

[image: Monterey Dance Concert Poster by Robert Ronnie Branaman, July 1966]

I moved to San Francisco about a year prior to the "Haight" and met other poets of Haselwood's group as well as some of the older literati such as Rexroth and the "Road" legend Neal Cassady. I had the famous party in 1963 where the beats met the hippies at the 1403 Gough St. pad. Later Neal Cassady and Allen Ginsberg moved in with me. Soon Leary came with his tune and the psychedelic days bloomed and the flower children blossomed. Bob lived in S.F. and in Big Sur where he invited formative groups such as Big Brother to his drop out homestead in Big Sur. During this time, Bob did a lot of seminal art work and I published some of it at places where I worked as a printer and on the old Multilith I printed the first Zap Comix on a few years later.

Those were very heavy years for Bob and we lived in several different pads in S.F., and I visited him frequently in Big Sur and Half Moon Bay. The sculptor, Dion Wright, who had known Leary at Milbrook arrived in S.F. and created a life size sculpture as a tribute to Robert Branaman. No matter where he lived and in what straits, Bob always had his art work laid out in various stages just like in the dives in Wichita that he and I frequented in a sub-culture that the somewhat square students at the university who had migrated to San Francisco earlier to become poets, artists, and publishers, missed. Bob stayed in Southern California to live and we moved to upstate New York. I hadn't heard from him for a while until the Doors movie came out. He called and said I could see him in the opening frames sitting on Venice Beach hawking his paintings that provided background throughout the movie. I saw the familiar features and creatures from the Wichita dives to psychedelic San Francisco to Hollywood. We were the second or third wave to migrate to S.F., but our backgrounds were different as can be seen in my writings about him in the books listed below.

Last of the Moccasins, City Lights (1971)
Europa Verlag, Austria (1980)
Mother Roads Publications (1995)

(Poetry) Rapid Ronnie Rap Back Jive(1955)
Forever Wider, Scarecrow Press (1985)
Hand on the Doorknob, Water Row Books (2000)

Also see: Monterey Dance Concert poster by Robert Ronnie Branaman, July 1966
Charles Plymell The Last of the Moccasins, 1996 ('Vortex' excerpt)
Charles Plymell, from Kansa, Land of the Wind People, autobiographical sketch, 12/2002
Return to the Beats In Kansas or to Kansas Heritage Group or to the WWW-VL: History: USA 1960s History.
Article © 2009, Charley Plymell; page © 2009 George Laughead, maintainer, Beat Literature, Open Directory Project. Page posted: 04 October 2009; updated, 11 October 2009. Hosted at WWW-Virtual Library @ www.vlib.us