Wednesday, December 15, 2010
From the Los Angeles Times
C.D.B. Bryan, whose 1976 book "Friendly Fire" about the accidental death of a soldier in Vietnam struck a chord with disillusioned Americans, has died. He was 73.
Bryan died Tuesday of cancer at his home in Guilford, Conn., said his wife, Mairi. He was holding one of his favorite shaken martinis when he died, she said.
Although Bryan wrote extensively for several magazines throughout his career, he was best known for "Friendly Fire."
The book, which started as an article for the New Yorker, is based on the 1970 friendly fire shrapnel death of Iowa soldier Michael Eugene Mullen. It chronicled his parents' doubts about the Army's official account of the death, their quest for answers and the transformation of his mother, Peg Mullen, into an ardent antiwar activist. She died in October.
"He was very proud of the fact that he exposed the friendly fire issue, and the fact that the government was lying to people who were as very patriotic as the Mullens were," Mairi Bryan said Friday. "Of all of his works, 'Friendly Fire' was the one of which he was most proud."
The book was turned into a 1979 Emmy-winning television movie starring Carol Burnett, Ned Beatty, Sam Waterston and Timothy Hutton.
C.D.B. Bryan, whose full name was Courtlandt Dixon Barnes Bryan, was born in New York City in 1936. He always enjoyed writing and credited his stepfather, novelist John O'Hara, with nurturing his interest in fiction.
Bryan, known to friends as Courty and Courtlandt, especially liked good conversation and good martinis -- always shaken, never stirred, Mairi Bryan said.
"He was one of the great conversationalists of his time. He could really hold a room," she said.
Bryan used those storytelling skills in several publications, including the New Yorker, Harper's and the New York Times Book Review, for which he did scores of reviews.
Bryan graduated from Yale University, was an Army veteran and wrote several books in addition to "Friendly Fire."
In addition to his wife, survivors include two daughters, a son, a stepson and a stepdaughter.
His son, St. George Bryan, said he will be cremated and his remains stored in martini shakers until a memorial service after the holidays.
From The Independent (UK):
The sense that the hearts and minds of the American people could be moved away from supporting their government's military actions was derided by neo-cons in the Reagan era as "the Vietnam Syndrome". That denigrates the real sense of disillusionment within middle America over the Vietnam war, a sense that was never described better than in Friendly Fire, the 1976 book by C.D.B. Bryan.
Originally commissioned as a single article by the New Yorker magazine, Friendly Fire told the story of the 1970 death in Vietnam of Iowa-born solider Michael Mullen, killed by shrapnel from his own artillery, and the process by which, in the face of official cover-up, his mother, Peg, had her middle-American faith shattered and replaced by anti-war activism. Bryan was so taken by the story he expanded the article into a series, and then a best-selling book, and eventually an Emmy and Peabody Award-winning television film starring Carol Burnett, Sam Waterston, and Timothy Hutton.
Although Friendly Fire is the book for which Bryan will be remembered, in many ways it was atypical of his career as a jobbing writer in the élite literary milieu of New York, and a formidable and entertaining presence at the cocktail parties which are the currency of that world. Bryan came to it naturally. Courtland Dixon Barnes Bryan was born in New York 22 April 1936; his father was a magazine editor and journalist. When his parents divorced, his mother Katharine Barnes married the novelist John O'Hara. Bryan grew up mostly in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, a rural retreat for many New York artists. He attended a number of schools and managed to enter Yale, graduating in 1958. After service in Army intelligence in Korea and Berlin, he returned to New York, working on the satirical magazine Monocle.
His early New Yorker short story, "So Much Unfairness Of Things", based on his being thrown out of one prep school for cheating, grew into his first novel, P.S. Wilkinson (1965) which won the Harper Prize for first novels. His second novel, The Great Deathcliffe (1970) was a reworking of The Great Gatsby. But little in his work reviewing, writing essays and stories and teaching in creative writing programmes, including three years at the University of Iowa, suggested the empathy he would find, and express so powerfully, for the Mullen family.
Friendly Fire became a signpost for the loss of what Richard Nixon called "The Silent Majority". They may have been won back in the Reagan and Bush presidencies, but the legacy of Bryan's work still carries power. The most highly-publicised critic of George W. Bush's invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq was not a politican, but Cindy Sheehan, like Peg Mullen the mother of a soldier killed in action, while the friendly-fire killing of the former football star Pat Tillman, and the attendant cover-up, was turned by his celebrity into a major story.
Bryan was married four times, and his best novel, Beautiful Women, Ugly Scenes (1983) is a bleak yet touchingly honest look at failed romance. He wrote two coffee-table books, on The National Air And Space Museum and National Geographic Magazine, as well as the introduction to an impressive collection of photographs from the first Iraq war, In The Eye Of Desert Storm. His last book, Close Encounters Of The Fourth Kind (1995), is a study of UFOs and those who believe in them, among whom was Bryan's father.
Bryan died of cancer at his home in Guilford, Connecticut, and was holding a martini when he died. According to his son, St. George, Bryan would be cremated and his remains kept in a cocktail shaker until a memorial service could be held.
Courtlandt Dixon Barnes Bryan, writer: born New York City 22 April 1936; married firstly Phoebe Miller (marriage dissolved; one son, one daughter), secondly Judith Snyder (marriage dissolved; one daughter), thirdly Monique Widmer (marriage dissolved; two stepchildren), 2007 Mairi Graham; died Guilford, Connecticut 15 December 2009.
Thursday, December 2, 2010
In late September, 1969, Dad learned that his brother Saint was missing from a catamaran he and a friend had been sailing off the coast of Maui. He and Aunt Joan flew out to Honolulu to do what they could. Notes from those frantic days include lists of people to contact.
The Coast Guard, Boat Yard, Newspapers, Radio & TV, Wailuku Police, Friends.
But there was no hope. Dad always said he lost not just an older brother that day but his best friend.
Among the letters of condolence Dad received is this one from family friend Finis Farr.
8 November 1969
It must have been an ordeal for you and Joan, going to Hawaii. I have thought of you often since I got the news about Saint. Losing a brother or sister must give one an especially desolate feeling, all the more poignant, I should suppose, when the one who died was still young. Saint was someone I always held in particularly high affection, because he was himself, gentle, responsive and bright.
It occurs to me now that he was ahead of his times--one of the first do-your-own thing people, and as such not fully understood by many But I think I had an inkling of what he was getting at. Perhaps I am patting myself on the back; if so, I should add that I spent one of the saddest afternoons I can recall a few weeks ago when I walked over to the post office around noon and picked up your father's note telling me that Saint and been lost and there was no more hope.
I telephoned your mother and father right away, and they were,of course, so brave and "good" about it that I found it heartbreaking, I say to you in confidence. The telephone to the voice is like the camera to the face, is it not?
Since then, in thinking of Saint, it occured to me that you'd told me, not long ago, that he was happy in Hawaii. So that part is all right. I just wish he could have gone on being happy in Hawaii.
Another thing--there's no doubt Saint had talent and I wonder if he was writing, and if you found material of interest among his papers. You understand I didn't think he was obliged to write or had to write, but I remember seeing some stories he wrote at college and they were good,
I do hope your work is shaping up as you want it, and that all goes well with you and yours
Yrs as ever,
When Dad called to tell us what happened (Lansing and I were both under 5 years old) he said Uncle Saint had dived off the boat to save a drowning friend but that the sea pulled both of them under. Recently, I was told the friend had suffered from "The Bends". He may have been partially paralyzed.
In The Great Dethriffe, Dad's second novel published in 1972, he writes that his brother had found happiness in Hawaii.
And I loved him because I knew for generations and generations back in all our other lives we had always been brothers, as we would be brothers in future lives as well...
"You know, pal" he said..."All these years I've been the older brother. I've always led and you've always followed. Well, I've just been thinking that I'd like to follow you for a while. You're my best friend and I want to be your best friend. I'd like you to lead."
"I know," I said, "but I like following you. I like you to lead. It's okay. And besides, farther on where the path gets wider, we can walk side by side."
"I'd really like that." he said.
Uncle Saint and Dad, 1938.
Monday, November 29, 2010
The music of Scotland has long been an inspiration to the highland warrior. The skirl of the bagpipes has accompanied brave men into the din of battle in all corners of the earth. There are few who would deny that the wild cry of pipes and the strong beat of the drums quicken the heart and stir the blood.
--liner notes to The Black Watch R.H.R. of Canada
Dad would often use the music of military bands to wake us up on lazy mornings, figuring the sounds from the glens of Scotland would jar even the sleepiest of schoolkids awake.
To hear a sample of what would stir our warring clan awake
simply press play
Friday, November 26, 2010
“Perhaps a body of work isn't necessary for a short story writer. If you do one story that survives in an anthology, that's enough.”
It was Dad's step-father, John O'Hara, who set up the meeting with the legendary William Maxwell. For 40 years Bill Maxwell edited fiction writing at The New Yorker. He made other writers (Nabokov, O'Hara, Salinger etc.) better at the expense, perhaps, of his own fame. John Updike said Maxwell's writing voice was "one of the wisest and kindest in American fiction".
Dad had already written a few short stories but none of them were right for The New Yorker. ( Nor were they right for Gent or Dude who sent him nothing but rejection slips.)
Maxwell said Dad had talent. He asked him what had happened in the past that really turned him around. It couldn't be anything in the last six months. But it must be something that made him so angry, so sad , so happy, so embarrassed or humiliated.
Dad said getting kicked out of school in Virginia for cheating.
And Maxwell said "Write it."
Dad wrote 17 typewritten pages. About 5,000 words.
Maxwell said "Not even God could have written that story in so few pages. Do it again, and this time put down everything you can remember about what happened".
And Dad did.
The next draft was 52 pages, about 16,000 words. The New Yorker cut maybe 500 words and bought it. "So Much Unfairness of Things" was, at that time, one of the longest short stories to ever appear in The New Yorker. In effect what Maxwell taught Dad was to write fat.
On his desk, Maxwell kept a framed quote from William Butler Yeats. Dad would frame the very same quote above his writing desk:
"Only that which does not teach, which does not cry out, which does not condescend, which does not explain, is irresistible."
Dad though the part about condescending was important.
As he told a writing class at St. Paul's School, where my step brother Derek went, "Too often the young writer adopts a sneering tone toward his characters. He patronizes them, he is condescending.He writes about the 'typical' prep school kid, the LL Bean costume, the Patagonia jacket, etc. Cut it out! Instead of impressing the reader with how perceptive you are, you make him loathe you on the spot."
The New Yorker link
Sunday, November 21, 2010
Family lore is often more powerful than the truth. The one surrounding my birth is that when the Kennedy assassination sent violent shock waves through the country, Mom's reaction was to go into early labor with me.
I was born in New York City the day after the assassination. One of the few baby boys born in Sloane Hospital NOT named "John Fitzgerald" in honor of the slain president.
No, I got named after my uncle and his grandfather: Joseph St. George Bryan III.
Hospitals were not so quick to discharge new mothers so I didn't get home to Tuxedo Park until the 28th.
There is a photograph of me taken within the next couple of weeks. Over my shoulder is a copy of the Saturday Evening Post with Kennedy on the cover.
Now I'll let Dad tell us how he felt that day, excerpted from a letter that was actually a bit of a snarler.
Dad wrote me in 1975:
You were the most extraordinarily beautiful baby--the most beautiful I have ever seen. Oh, I've seen a Japanese baby and a Chinese baby who were extraordinarily beautiful, but that was because they had such a lovely peach complexion. But you, of all the babies I have seen--and I have seen a lot, each time a friend's wife or the wife who was a friend had a baby, I'd always go see him or her. But you ( and I DON'T mean this just because you were my son) were the most handsome. You had the most incredibly fine features, so fixed and mature and all the bone structure was there which would turn you into a handsome man. I was terribly proud of you.
It would be well over twenty years before he'd refer to me as "mature" again.
Wednesday, November 17, 2010
Lansing, Magoo. CDB, Me Iowa, 1968
In a letter to Uncle Saint from January 22, 1968
Sam wanted a dog for Christmas and we now own a St. Bernard. Thank God she didn't want a car. The mind boggles. Well, this dog, Hannibal Sidney Greenstreet Magoo (H.S.G. Magoo) is now 10 weeks old, weighs about 25 lbs. His father at 19 months weighed 270 pounds. Fuck, I don't know what we're going to do with it, but by that time we'll work it out. He is a delight. Chunky, lambswool, panda bear that he is. All teeth and jowls. At 6 months they can pick up a football, I'm told. God knows he can already close his mouth around my calf and I can hear his teeth lock.
Magoo grew to be the size of a lion. A slobbering hairy mass of affection. When Dad would sing the Chet Baker standard "My Buddy" to him, Magoo's tail would wag so much leaves would flutter half way across the yard.
He truly was the Bryan family dog. But the winter Dad spent teaching at
The University of Wyoming, Magoo snapped. God knows why. But he bit my four year old sister in the face.
(Amanda said she didn't know what happened. "Suddenly it just got very dark."). He came to his senses immediately and released but Sam found Amanda covered with blood and crying. Magoo sitting quietly next to Babe the poodle.
Stuck in Wyoming, where he was teaching and finishing up Friendly Fire, Dad made a difficult decision that would certainly be hardest on Sam.
Magoo, Lansing, me and Babe the poodle
Home Movie still from 1974, Guilford, CT
January 18, 1975
I don't think we have any choice but to put him to sleep. I've thought about it and thought about it and I've felt that it is simply not a decision you should have to make. Magoo, whether it was intended or not, is my dog.
He may do it again, he may tear someone else's child up, he may kill someone and we have to be absolutely cold blooded about it. If it were someone else's dog we would, without hesitation, recommend that the dog be put down. The fact that he is our own and because of the circumstance of my being away and that being the cause of it, makes the decision all the more difficult because of our emotional involvement. But we must do it. And do it knowing that he has had a wonderful life, that it has been filled with love and joy and companionship, that probably no other St. Bernard has even been so indulged and pampered and loved and that he has had a full dog's life. He is getting old, obviously temperamental and I take full responsibility for the decision and leave you , to my dismay , and sense of inadequacy from afar, to do the ugly deed. But do it. I weep as I write it myself.
Monday, November 15, 2010
Children like to believe in fairy tales. Growing up, we thought the story of how Dad and Mom met on a Washington DC stage seemed magical. We've held on to those feelings all these years. Even though their marriage ended in separation before my second birthday. Before my sister's first birthday.
Phoebe Miller had been working in a bank when she won a singing and dancing role in a Hexagon Club production of "On the Rocks". Dad was one of the skit writers. Since 1956, The Hexagon Club has been producing satirical political musical and comedy revues. Dad and his writers had plenty of fresh material that spring. The Kennedy Administration had just taken office.
The writers of "On the Rocks" including Dad who was then one of the editors of the satirical Monocle Magazine. Said Dad upon seeing the photograph: "I was clearly more amusing then."
The dancers of On the Rocks. Mom is third from left.
March 1961 Washington DC
If Mom made an immediate impression it's not to be found in Dad's datebook. It's filled with "evenings of fun and frolic" with another woman. Dinner dates with yet another. In fact, he doesn't schedule mom's name in his datebook until October 3.
Mom made no mention of Courty that Summer when she visited her mother and sister in Colorado.
But they did fall in love with each other that autumn. In fewer than three months, they'd be married. But not before both his mother and father warned Dad it was a bad idea to make such a commitment so quickly.
Thursday, November 11, 2010
A buzzard flew over Lovers Lane on one of the last afternoons I visited Dad and Mairi. The leaves were just plummeting off trees. You could hear the snapping sounds as they hit the ground. Like "Rice Krispies" in milk turned up to 11.
Yes, I got it. No need for the symbolism.
Inside I could hear an oxygen machine wheezing day and night. With the help of a burly nurse named Martin, Dad was able to get washed up, dressed and pulled up to his feet so he could get his daily exercise. Walking from one room to the next. Then he would stop and catch his breath. My sister Amanda cheered him on. Dad looked at me with an expression that said "Can you believe this shit?"
There were seventeen bottles of medicine in various cupboards. Opium. Morphine. Lorazepam. Ondansetron HCL. Metoprolol. Diphenlatropine. Lerothyroxine.
Dad napped easily. His mouth open. The phone would ring. People wondering if they should visit.
At night, we'd all gather in "his" room, the living room where a bed had been set up, to watch Bones. Dad still getting a few hits off a cigarette and a very weak martini.
Dad was all "there". We talked ( I talked, he whispered) about work, about my family. I told him we would be OK but that he really should try to stick around for a good while longer.
My November 13 Journal entry
Well, I certainly wasn't going to let myself believe that I was saying my final goodbyes. Even as he lay on his bed with oxygen tubes attached around his ears and into his nose.
I said I'd be seeing him soon. Maybe next month. And that I loved him and I kissed him on the forehead, said "See you later". He nodded. Whispered "Bye Saint".
And I didn't linger. I walked out of the room.
I've learned there is such thing as The Last Conversation. There are four things that must be said: I love you. I will be alright. I forgive you. I hope you forgive me.
Dad and I did the first two.
Maybe this whole thing is about the last two.
Tuesday, November 9, 2010
My stepmother, Sam, once dated John Denver. At the time Peter Paul and Mary had recorded his "Leaving on a Jet Plane", John visited Sam and Dad in Iowa. We have home movies. He played some songs ( Leonard Cohen's "Sisters of Mercy", The Beatles's "When I'm 64", "Mr Bojangles" and an original or two). They had lunch. He rode his first horse --a shetland pony. It was 1967 and Dad was the more successful of Sam's men.
By 1974 that had all changed. Dad's latest novel, The Great Dethriffe, hadn't sold well and John Denver was at the peak of his fame. His 1974 tour would be recorded for the best selling "Evening With John Denver". John sent our family press box seats but only Sam went backstage to visit John.
With its comparisons to Nazi Germany, Dad's letter is a fun read. More fun, I think, with the back story filled in a little.
Your concert in New Haven was stupendous! My God, when you came on stage that first moment and the Coliseum roared...it must be an extraordinary sensation, rather frightening, rather pleasing, rather contemptible even. I mean how is it possible not to react with something approaching scorn at the animal that gets unleashed. There is that crowd aura, that same frenzied grip that politicians strive for, that Hitler achieved ( he, too, had at Nuremberg that astonishingly staged and managed show which created a crowd frenzy). I don't mean to compare you to Hitler, my friend, all I mean is you have achieved that same quality of having crowds react to you but that, unlike Hitler, of course you deserve it.
You gave the impression of being perfectly at ease, in control and professional all of which you are, but it came across. And I think your music--that is, the songs you write, are getting more and more beautiful and lyrical. I think "Sunshine on My Shoulder" (sic) is one of the loveliest songs I've heard in years. Very simple, very true like all good writing must be. And "Goodbye Again" is lovely too. Of course "Rocky Mountain High"--the title suddenly for the first time struck me as perfect for a high school in Denver. Wonderful idea, the little girl saying "I'm at Rocky Mountain High" and the other responding "I'll say..."--anyway , Rocky Mountain High is such a pleasing song and a nice thought.
I remember once being on acid at Vale (sic) and suddenly thinking I'd been dropped into a Nazi pre World War II training camp, getting nervous about it, knowing I was on acid, thinking if only I could piss it out of me I'd be all right. But every time I'd head for the can, I'd have to pass the wooden beamed staircase and all the ski boots clomping up and down would make me think I'd fallen into Gestapo Headquarters and I'd flee in a panic for the outside, terrified that someone would speak to me and find out I couldn't speak German. Which, of course, 50% of the people around me were speaking. It was German week or something. It was funny in retrospect and scary at the time.
The New Haven Coliseum->
Still, back to the concert, the children loved it. Little Amanda bobbed up and down, boogaloo'd, my 9 year old daughter, Lansing, ( who somehow managed to pass the word to her school that you were spending the weekend with us) is starstruck, smarmy with love for you and my 10 year old son thinks you sing okay.
Thank you for your kindness and especially for calling. As the man who led Sam back out to meet us said, "He's a star now." You earned it.
Can't say I ever heard the Vail story before reading this letter.The next year John came through town we all went backstage. I saw his ping pong table. He'd play before a show to work out all the nervous energy. We shook hands.
Twenty years later , as a reporter/ photographer in Colorado, I had to shoot John walking into court for a drunk driving trial. He stopped to pick up litter on the side of the street.
He had no idea who I was of course. I said I was sorry I had to shoot this and he said that I should then put my camera down. Which, of course, I couldn't do. You don't have to sell millions of records to live near Aspen but you do have earn some money.
I always thought he should have recorded an album like the ones Johnny Cash did at the end of his life. Just John and his guitar. His "Sisters of Mercy" is truly something worth hearing.
By the way, the home movie and John's version of "When I'm 64" can be seen in an April 1, 2011 post.
Posted April 1st, 2011.
Monday, November 8, 2010
This past weekend, while on business in New York, I walked over to 315 E. 56th Street where Mom and Dad moved ( with three cats) after he was honorably discharged from the army on August 1, 1962.
In apartment 2B, with furniture from Bergdoff Goodman and bookcases from Bloomingdales, I was conceived. And so was Dad's first novel, P.S. Wilkinson.
It's a quiet, fairly leafy street for Manhattan. A block from Cathedral High School.
While living here, Dad worked on the narration for a Swedish/Japanese documentary called The Face of War. It is a grisly history of the horrors of war from World War I to the Atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It ends with pictures of victims of atomic radiation.
Dad also wrote and edited something a bit lighter. An off beat satirical magazine called The Monocle which published a piece by Godfrey Cambridge on the joys of being a black man trying to hail a New York City cab ( I have spent so much time on my knees, praying for a cab to stop for me, that I have been arrested three times for holding an outdoor religious meeting without a permit).
Dad wrote a J.D. Salinger-esque story for the magazine about the presidential couple called "A Perfect Day for Honeyfitz: Jack & Jackie" ("I'm sick and tired of all those phonies who say they could tell by the way he brushed his teeth at Choate, for Chrissake, that he would become President of the United States")
The New Yorker published his short story "Christmas on Charles Street" about P.S. spending an uncomfortable holiday weekend with his newly divorced father in Washington DC.
The story would appear in P.S. Wilkinson and that, as you can imagine, did not please my grandfather. ( see "You Have Sold My Pride")
When it became clear that a baby would be joining all those grey cats in the small apartment, Mom and Dad began house hunting. Where should they live? Yardley, PA across from Trenton? Connecticut? They settled on a Gatsby-ish titled locale to the Northwest of the city: Tuxedo Park, New York.
Thursday, November 4, 2010
With his round glasses and thin lips, Dad was stopped more than once walking around NYC and asked if he were John Lennon.
Nothing could have delighted him more except, perhaps, someone asking if he were the distinguished author himself.
By the time he was in his 40's Dad bought maybe one album a year.
In 1980 he bought Double Fantasy
CDB Bryan ->
John Lennon with Yoko Ono in the "Woman" video
All of which reminds me of another NYC story.
Dad walked into Elaine's with Monty Python's Eric Idle one night. ( "Wait a minute! What do you mean you were with Eric Idle?" we'd ask. Dad was never much of a name dropper. Instead it was like pulling teeth).
They were hailed over to a table by a bunch of long haired English guys with whom they spent the next hour sharing drinks, laughs and conversation.
When they left the bar, Dad asked Idle who they'd just met.
Idle gave him a long withering stare.
"The Rolling Stones" he said.
Saturday, October 30, 2010
My own kids and the monster outside the door
It's become a family tradition. Filling up bags of leaves and dressing them in clothes. Topping it all off with a horrible mask. Then posting the monster in just the right place to make passers by look twice.
We've posted ours by the door.
Dad posted his on the fire escape ladder of our Guilford Connecticut saltbox. It would cling there between the 2nd and 3rd floor for several weeks not far enough from Lansing's window.
Clearly Dad was more interested in this kind of mischievousness than carving pumpkins as he stated in a letter to Lansing in 1976:
I had to go draw a face on Amanda's pumpkin. Then I had to clean out Amanda's pumpkin. Then I had to carve the face on Amanda's pumpkin. How come it's AMANDA's pumpkin and not MINE I'd like to know?
Then, of course, Saint wanted me to carve his. I told him he was goddam well old enough to carve his own pumpkin and the only way a father gets practice enough to carve a 6-year old daughter's pumpkin is by spending 40 goddam years carving them!
<---Saint at about 12
and old enough to carve his own goddam pumpkins
Amanda at about 6 years old (ABOVE)
I think Dad tried to make things sound just a bit less rosy than they were. He didn't want Lansing, who was living with our mother, to feel like she was missing out.
Thursday, October 28, 2010
For five days in June of 1992, on the campus of the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a "mixed and motley crew" of scientists and skeptics, UFOlogists and psychologists met to discuss UFOs and alien abductions.
The New Yorker sent Dad to write a tongue-in-cheek piece about the conference.
There was only one problem.
Dad found the people he met, even those who claimed to have been abducted by aliens, to be credible. If they weren't abducted, then something sure as hell had happened to them. And whatever the answer is, it's pretty scary stuff.
So what happened? It's all part of one of the most fascinating mysteries of our time and it led to his 1995 book Close Encounters of the Fourth Kind.
As part of a cross country promotional tour for the book, Dad stopped by Tom Snyder's talk show.
It's a great interview topped, in my opinion, by this exchange about five minutes in:
Snyder: Wouldn't you think (an encounter a sighting or an abduction) might have happened to one of the thousands of people who have served in Congress?...
Like if John Major went to Parliament and says "By the way I got picked up by a UFO last night." Now we'd say " We can trust him!".
CDB: What makes you think this hasn't happened to these people? Would you, if you were John Major and had been abducted, would you come forward?
Dad never did come up with an answer beyond "something must be going on " but my grandfather had no doubts. As an advisor to NATO , special assistant to Secretary of the Air Force and board member of The National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomenon (NICAP), Colonel J Bryan lll said "These UFOs are interplanetary devices systematically observing earth, either manned or under remote control, or both."
Dad interviewed in San Francisco
Outside Guilford's "UFO House"
"Interviewing" a small grey
Tuesday, October 26, 2010
And so he is gone. Courtlandt Dixon Barnes Bryan.
He wore bow ties, custom shirts, a handkerchief sprouting up from the breast pocket of his tweed jacket. In another time he'd be called a dandy! Fitting because he was his father's son...a man known in some circles as The Duke of Richmond.
At my grandfather's service, Dad gave the eulogy. It wasn't all praise. He called Grandpa Joe "a difficult demanding man ...utterly true to himself and his code of honor".
When, as a teenager, I failed to write a thank you letter to my grandfather within two weeks of receiving a Christmas present, J Bryan 3 wrote Dad a snarler: "You can assure (Saint) from your own experience that I have a very short fuse in the presence of bad behavior, and that the fall-out from the explosion can be lethal".
My dad could snarl as well. Genetics and upbringing are such powerful forces! On those long rides back from boarding school, it seemed as though 14 generations of disappointed Bryans joined us in the car.
"You are just too goddam easy on yourself, buckle too quickly under the slightest pressure. My God, Saint it's tough being a man on this planet and you've got to toughen yourself up...you cannot continue to float".
Every drive was the same. I'd wind up with tears streaming down my cheeks. ..and Dad would always conclude these lectures with "My God, I sound just like my father". That was my cue that the lecture was ending.
There were many lectures growing up. "Anticipate the Consequences" was the one we probably heard the most. It is a sad irony that shortly after he realized how much he sounded like his own father, he would light up a cigarette.
My sisters and I like to remember the soundtracks to our childhood. The Beatles Rubber Soul. Harry Nilsson's The Point. Paul Simon and Carly Simon. Songs in the Key of Life.
But there's another soundtrack: the tap-tap-tapping of Dad's typewriter. We're lucky. When we want to visit with Dad we have his words in Friendly Fire, P.S. Wilkinson, The National Geographic Society book and the Air and Space Museum book. We can find them in articles he wrote for Esquire, Rolling Stone, and The New York Times Book Review. I can even hear his voice for three hours on tape reading his alien abduction book, Close Encounters of the Fourth Kind.
In his work, Dad sought out the truth. Even in his fiction, he was trying to understand and explain himself and his relationships. Beautiful Women, Ugly Scenes. Despite those scenes, all of his ex-wives were his friends.
And in Mairi he found a soul mate. If love could have saved him, Mairi, he would not have died.
Dad's first battle with cancer was nearly 15 years ago. And it scared the hell out of him. He was moved to tears by everyone's concern.
His writing life soon came to an end.
He was always a gentleman but he became a much more gentle man.
His kids and grandchildren basked in his smile...so full of affection...such a true smile even with false teeth.
Dad became "the dear old man".
And when I finally got married he was my best man.
He was also his toughest critic as a father.
I said he was fine.
The Bryan males are notoriously slow to mature I'd tell him. We all need a swift kick in the pants now and then.
My own son is refusing to turn 5. He says 4 is his favorite number. 5 is the age of big boys who go to Kindergarten. He likes being a medium sized boy.
I can imagine the lectures I'll be giving over the coming years.
Dad loved Guilford,
movies where things got blown up
or famous beauties disrobed,
pets he named Magoo, Thud, Wretched and of course Odette.
Coffee at first at Hull's and then Cilantro,
watching football with friends,
dinner at The Stone House and The Place,
a good pulp-y thriller,
well-mannered grandchildren in 15 minute increments,
being called a distinguished author,
and of course a vodka martini.
I do believe he's up there right now hunting through God's freezer...and because he's in heaven I'm sure it's packed with Grey Goose.
And he loved you. His family, his friends, his neighbors, his fellow First Congregationalists. He'd be so pleased to see such a fuss!
Until his first bout with cancer-- he wasn't so sure there would be a fuss. And then he felt this wave of affection from so many of you. He wrote an essay for the Yale Class of 58's 40th Reunion. He called it In Praise of Cancer and I want to finish up by reading the last few lines.
My praise for cancer lies in the gift it gave me: the gift of knowing I was loved.
To be loved meant I was forgiven for having done all those things I ought not to have done--and we don't get to be our age without having done plenty of those.
My cancer is not cured. It is , as they say, in remission.
I can live with that.
But I would have hated to die without ever knowing that somewhere, by someone, I would be missed.