Who’s better: Harry Styles or Richard Brautigan?
One’s an eccentric genius, whose poetic twists and turns of phrase have masterfully improved our intelligence quotient and expanded our definitions of sex. The other is Richard Brautigan.
Harry Styles’ latest release proves he truly fucks with the sweet nectar of the summer melon just as novelist Richard Brautigan did before him. Both either wrote songs or skewed novels about the chin-dripping liquid gold. (Brautigan never got round to Sara Lee Bread before his untimely passing, unfortch.)
Brautigan, best known for writing the postmodern novel In Watermelon Sugar, had to have his Wikipedia entry updated in the wake of Harry Styles’ release of Watermelon Sugar to avoid any disambiguation. But who, in our eyes, deserves the spotlight the most? Let’s weigh it up.
The sex appeal this man exudes is unparalled. No man since Bowie has caused a generation of guys and girls to drool over them while dressed in a chiffon blouse. A huge part of that is the way he’s nailed the delicate balancing of wallflower and lothario. Once the brattish front boy of One Direction, he’s now known as a gentle rockstar. Mix ’em up and what do you get? The most sexed-up star of the decade.
Young Richard Brautigan was maybe a little ahead of his time when it came to sex appeal. His tamed quiff, plaid button-up and mousey demeanour was only fully appreciated decades after, in this Timothée Chalamet, e‑boy epoch – the era of the soft boy. Later in his career, Brautigan started cultivating a Yeehaw handlebar moustache and a penchant for wide-brimmed hats. Come the late’60s, he had well and truly started to fuck.
WINNER: Close one, but Harry clinches it.
Now, imagine you’ve just given the deuces to the biggest boyband on earth and have now got to navigate the music industry as a solo artist instead. Do you play to your strengths and give teenage girls everything they want (R&B‑pop with killer dance routines), or do you revisit a swaggering genre most popular with their mothers? If you’re Mr. Styles, you try the latter! While all the other pop boys pander to the masses, the people’s prince has gone all Jaggeresque. Is it paying off? You bet it is.
When Richard Brautigan released his breakout novel Trout Fishing in the US back in the 1960s, he was credited as one of the founders of the Beat generation, a group of literary stars who revolutionised American writing. Now, as killer as Harry’s work is – particularly in the solo sphere – he’s one-upped by Brautigan’s long standing reputation as a game-changing wordsmith who shook up his country’s literary scene. In this case, it’s a “Sorry to this man” to Harry: Brautigan’s won it.
You know what? We reckon no other man on planet pop can match Harry Styles’s clout. Who else is as universally liked by the public, respected by industry bigwigs and fancied by as many people as Harry? He has every right to be the biggest bastard the industry has ever birthed. Instead, he actually seems quite alright, doesn’t he? No Daily Mail stories about pissing in buckets or making defamatory statements about war veterans. No “I heard he’s an absolute arsehole” hearsay. An all-round alright bloke, who only notches up a few points for being so fit it’s disrespectful – but he can’t help that.
Everyone who writes does so because they believe their words are worthy of attention. In that sense, Richard has already one-upped his competitor in terms of arrogance. But there’s a fine line between choosing to step out of the spotlight and taking yourself too seriously. Richard despised criticism, but would happily reel off entire manuscripts over the phone to his friends, unconcerned with whether they had better places to be. But can you blame Richard for being a little boastful, considering his fans, not to mention his lover, gassed him up all the time? According to his friend, the author William Hjortsberg, tales of deification followed him around. He recalls rumours of a woman performing fellatio on Richard who then spat out the end result and stared at it in her cupped hand, like it was “some precious treasure [or] bright pearls from the crown jewels of an emperor”. Cute!
WINNER: For being the good boy, Harry.
RELATIONSHIP WITH ADMIRERS
Harry is known for his willingness to give fans what they want. He doesn’t charge massive fees for backstage meet-and-greets (in fact, he doesn’t do them at all), but he is known for stopping for selfies with them when they spot him in the street. He’s giving in the right ways, we guess.
Richard had swathes of fans just like Harry does, though he treated them like crap. As Wes Enzinna wrote in a posthumous profile of Richard in Harper’s magazine, “[h]e received enormous quantities of fan mail, little of which he answered, but most of which he filed under either ‘Unrequited Publishers’ or ‘Pests.’” Big fucking mood.
DEDICATION TO THE CAUSE
Kneeling at the altar in front of Simon Cowell – even if it is only for six years of your life – is proof that you’re willing to go through hell to do what you love. When he was a 1D boy, Harry did just that: working alongside the music biz’s most prolific dream crusher. It’s nothing short of a miracle that working under Simon’s piercing eye didn’t drive Styles straight back to the bakery job he came from.
Bored of the town you were raised in, dreaming of becoming a published novelist, unable to cobble together the means to keep writing: what’s an angsty young man to do? Richard decided to walk into his local police station and demand to go to jail. Hungry and depressed, he tried this back in December 1955 and was turned away, but got handed a 10-day sentence after he threw a rock through the station window. After prison (and a short stint in a psychiatric ward), Richard moved to San Francisco and regularly turned down paid work, writing 20 poems a day for pennies or nothing at all. Poverty, he said, should always be the poet’s natural condition.
Blouses, big trousers, and a single dangling earring – it’s even in his name, goddamnit! Be it on the cover of major magazines or live on stage, Harry has been 21st century pop’s most stylish male star. What he wears now – brands like Charles Jeffrey LOVERBOY and Palomo Spain – are monumental glow-up from the carrot-fit jeans and Jack Wills hoodie days of 1D. The epitome of growth!
Okay, let’s be real: plenty of Harry’s style cues come, at least indirectly, from Brautigan and his mates. The popstar embodies ’70s chic in the 21st century, but Richard was ’70s chic. When he left behind his early days of slicked-back hair and plaid shirts, Richard took the layering trend and ran with it… Think pinstripes over paisley, half a dozen beaded necklaces and headwear that would make Pharrell envious. Nobody could pull off crotch-hugging, acid wash jeans like Richard.