Brian Barritt Versus The Grim Reaper

Brian Barritt died this morning at around 6am. He was 76.

When I first met Brian, nearly 15 years ago, he showed me the following passage from Tim Leary’s Confessions of a Hope Fiend. This was written in 1971:

"Brian is ancient but not old […] He has put as many drugs as possible into his body for thirty-six years and is obscenely healthy, diabolically wealthy, and looks about twenty. He intends to maintain this state for an indefinite period. He is not going to die; they will have to kill him."

“He is not going to die; they will have to kill him…” That’s quite a way to describe someone. The ‘ancient but not old’ description seemed as apt when I met him in the 90s as it must have in 1971. It still seemed pretty accurate in 2011. In this context the ‘they will have to kill him comment’ felt something more than flippant. There was a Rasputin air about Brian. You couldn’t rule anything out. It is hard to accept that someone like that has gone. Of course, knowing Brian, it’s entirely possible that he died a few months ago, but he just kept going in order to freak out the doctors.

Rasputin was a challenge for the Grim Reaper, of course. He was poisoned, shot, stabbed and beaten, but still needed to be drowned before he let go of life. Brian’s last six months were equally absurd and the Grim Reaper had to go all out to make a dent in him. His medical records became ludicrous: three blocked arteries, advanced melanoma, hep A, hep B, kidney cists, a heart attack, skin cancer, angina, TB (TB!) some gout and brain cancer. Nothing to affect his sense of humour, of course, but it was enough. This wasn’t the first time he died, but it will be the last.

There’s a section in Cosmic Trigger where Tim Leary tells Robert Anton Wilson that he should meet Brian Barritt. I only met Bob Wilson once, but I was struck by how much he reminded me of Brian – the only person that has ever done so. It was something in the wit, and something in the humour. The big difference between them, though, was that they were on the opposite sides of the health scale. Bob was struck down with polio in his youth, and suffered medically because of this for the rest of his life. This suffering made him a compassionate, understanding soul and a natural Buddhist. I have never found anyone who knew him who had a bad word to say about him. Brian on the other hand was overflowing with vitality. He was Pan incarnate. He just smelt like trouble. To quote Leary again, “Brian is an English Untouchable. His shadow falling across the path of the middle class is enough to contaminate twenty lives. He is highly toxic. He wasn’t sent to Coventry, he was born there.” This isn’t to say that there was a cruel or malevolent side to Brian; if he had a bad bone in his body I never saw it. He was just so overly alive that it shocked people, I think.

It’s hard to accept that he has gone. But then, it’s equally hard to accept that he ever existed. Everything about him was implausible. Adventure and incident followed him like love-sick puppies. The synchronicities that clung to him were so absurd that no rational philosophy could survive in his company. He was many things, was Brian; a soldier, a sailor, a krautrocker, a drug dealer, a writer, an artist, a convict, a traveller, an evacuee – but always, and in everything, he was an explorer.

I thought I’d make a list of some of the things that I learnt from him over the years:

  • If you step off the path and head out into the woods, you will no longer be able to see where you are going and hence you will never get bored.
  • Ugliness is in the eye of the beholder.
  • Pronoia is the irrational belief that somewhere, unknown forces are conspiring in secret to ensure that everything works out brilliantly and that you all have a marvellous time.
  • If you don’t see the humour in something, you haven’t seen the truth of it either.
  • Follow the synchronicities.
  • It’s never difficult to say whether something is art or not. If you cannot tire of looking at a picture, then it is art.
  • If an undertaking is ultimately fruitless, but produces 1000 epiphanies along the way, then you have not ended up with nothing. You’ve ended up with 1000 epiphanies.
  • You don’t see the light; the light sees you.

This is the last photo I took of Brian - on Jan 20th, so it is possibly the last picture of him. It freaked us all out a little, for it was so far removed from the atmosphere in the room when we took it. We were all just mucking around, really, and being daft with his radiotherapy mask. We weren’t prepared for this Giotto-like golden grace.

Brian Barritt, Nov 29th 1934 – Jan 30th 2011. The Grim Reaper claims the result for himself, but Brian Barritt won on points.


  1. What a wonderful tribute. Love the label :) I know you'll miss him.

  2. That's lovely John, especially the list of some of the things you learnt from Brian and the amazing 'Last Photo'. Thanx & love, LiZ

  3. Beautifully put John. Brian was an amazing character, a genuine one-off, and is already sorely missed.

  4. Brian phoned a few weeks back and we discussed meeting up. Not attaching any urgency to this, time and place stayed vague. I'm sorry now we didn't fix up something definite,

    We met in the seventies when both writing for IT and reconnected in 2006.Not an especially close relationship but I miss him greatly and appreciate and echo your warm tribute.

  5. Mr. Barritt had very important info to share with humanity, specially the one he gave within music through the Kosmische scene of the early/mid 70s... Those who understood the message, welcome they'll be...
    Thanks Brian!!!!
    Eternal Love & Light from the heights of the Andes!!!!!

  6. Great pictures and anecdotes. I have managed to find "Confessions of a Hope Fiend" but his other books seem hard to find.

    What a wonderful character! It makes you proud that Britain can produce people of this calibre at times when we are governed by the dangerously mediocre who are now attacking another country.

  7. Thanks for this post. I only discovered today that Brian had died, and was hoping to conatact him. I don't suppose you know of any audio recordings of him speaking/lecturing?

    Best wishes,

    Gregg, Hermetech Mastering, Milan

  8. Hi Gregg,
    He recorded a bit of his fiction - he recorded all of The Nabob of Bombasta with Youth and a few short stories, eg

    There may be some non-fiction stuff around as well, such as his 'psychedelic archaeology' talk at the Royal Institute which was filmed. Flinton Chalk (flint AT would have that, and he would know about other stuff as well.

    Best, jh

  9. Thanks John,

    I found Den Browne's excellent two part radio documentary here:

    I listened to it last night, and it was very good. I think I first knowingly heard Brian on the Youth (Black Sun) track, "Cosmic COurier", but had probably unknowingly heard him on some of the Krautrock albums he was involved with before then.

    I've managed to track down copies of his books, "The Road of Excess" and "The Nabob of Bombasta", and am eagerly awaiting them.

    Thanks for the Youtube link, I will listen tonight. I'll also try to get in touch with Flinton.

    I'm really so sad I never got to meet or correspond with him while he was still with us.

    Best wishes,


  10. John Higgs,

    I own a copy of your book "I Have America Surrounded" - which I bought (from a HMV store) when I was at Uni in 2006; it was in this book that I first heard about Brian Barritt. What a character he seemed. Much like the English equivalent to the legendary Timothy Leary.

    I only just discovered that Barritt had entered eternal sleep today, when I Googled his name for the first time in a couple of years or more. I am left feeling very numb and sad, in disbelief - such a shame. And I never even met or knew him!! Yet I feel so sad. Why? Because I feel that the psychedelic movement and that advocates of psychedelic substances and their benefits to mankind are rapidly dying off and becoming a very rare kind.

    Sounds like he led such a colourful, eventful and enjoyable life...a life filled with adventure. Much like Leary's life. R.I.P to both these men. Timothy Leary was the greatest and noblest human being to ever have lived in my own personal opinion, I love him so much! I try to follow his example and to live to his philosophy of being independent minded every single day, thinking for myself and living my life how I want to, not how the State wants me to or how the religious leaders want me to.
    R.I.P. to poor Mr Barritt and also to Timothy Leary. Two legends no longer with us but never forgotten.

    A 24 year old from the Midlands, United Kingdom

  11. Most of these names and personas are all quite new to me. I just was sent to your blog today because a friend knows I am an avid lover of The Illuminatus! Trilogy.

    It helps that vitriolic is insufficient to describe the level at which I express feelings about Ayn Rand. So your comparison was humorous to me. Enough so to read back through several of your earlier postings.

    I am thoroughly glad I did.

    Now I have the pleasure of tracking down the artists you have shared and learning about some remarkable children in this still quite young species of ours. Even in the sorrowful twilight of their passing, I can enjoy the contributions of their shared wisdom.

    This is a nascent point along my unfathomable road towards impossible completeness.

    Thank you.


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