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GIRL: an Untethered Life

Doug Collette By

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GIRL: A Life Untethered
Julia Dreyer Brigden
242 Pages
ISBN: #978-0578526591
Self Published
2019

Julia Dreyer Brigden's GIRL: A Life Untethered moves at the virtually same near-blurry pace at which she seems to have lived the life she recounts. But what reads like a personal journal invites sustained and/or frequent reading sessions through the quick succession of often very short chapters combined with her matter-of-fact and mostly peppy prose. In keeping with cover photos front and back depicting an effervescent visage years apart, the woman creates a bright, intelligent persona for herself that belies a more serious meaning, leaving it up to the reader to decide if, in doing so, she's fulfilled or denied her childhood ambition to become a waif.

Regaling readers of her peripatetic childhood as its international jaunts give way to some measure of stability in northern California, Dreyer Brigden's narrative is as energetic and largely unself-conscious as she is. Not that she doesn't take time to ponder the course of her existence—apart from her psychedelic experiences—but her life's quest has more to do with action than contemplation. How else to make it unscathed through a topsy-turvy trip into Mexico, then back home to end up in a juvenile delinquents in very short order,?

The writer's slow but sure immersion into the rock and roll culture of the Sixties is only one of the threads of suspenseful continuity weaving in, out and through these two-hundred some pages. Her connection to her family, tenuous as it sometimes seems, is arguably the most indispensable to her tale. But getting to know David Crosby of the Byrds and CSN, as well as Paul Kantner of Jefferson Airplane/Starship, is just a precursor to the profundity of her relationship with David Freiberg of Quicksilver Messenger Service.

And therein lies Girl's connection to a paradigm shift in culture that makes this book's self-publication so fitting during the fiftieth-anniversary celebration of the Woodstock. In retrospect, The Beatles' "She's Leaving Home" from Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Capitol, 1967) sounds like it was written for the seemingly wayward souls Dreyer Brigden encountered in her travels and whose numbers reached some discernible tipping point at the 1969 festival. And that's not to mention her own perpetually restless psyche: to say Julia Dreyer Brigden got around is to understate the case, but readers can further count themselves fortunate she does not indulge in self-pity or forced gaiety.

As Julia Dreyer Brigden tells her stories, she regularly hints at having at least some measure of a reliable internal compass, moral and otherwise. She certainly foreshadows feminism with her questioning of gender roles concerning her early passion for sports and other arbitrary societal assignments for males and females. But the situational/transactional nature of her approach to life becomes clear prior to her revelation less than fifty pages in of the childhood nickname from which this book derives its title. Still, naive, disingenuous or both, Dreyer Brigden's faith and optimism remain undaunted and irrepressible, even in the wake of one escapade where, in availing herself (with some hitchhiking companions) of the generosity of a traveling academic, she encounters beneficence turned sour with this scholar's unsavory overtures.

Such abiding belief in the benevolence of the universe, however, isn't what makes GIRL: An Untethered Life so worthy of reading. And it's not really the author's way of describing it either, though her self-effacing tone is fully and completely charming. Indicative of the title phrase, this is an action-packed journey that may speak on behalf of more than a few readers who will look back at their own past times behind to see themselves in her words. And while the freewheeling existence Girl recounts is hardly not without its adversities (drug busts) or mundane concerns (getting an offspring to school), she maintains an upbeat attitude through most of what she encounters. Her whimsy does become frayed round about a boat trip to Mexico, however, where the stubborn captain reveals the danger inherent in the spontaneous approach to life she prefers.

Therein lie the seeds of a slow-blooming process by which she begins to come to grips with the shortfalls of her lifestyle. A willful divorce from Freiberg is unwittingly the first step towards a precipitous downturn in Dreyer Brigden's fortunes; not coincidentally, this is where a hint of bitterness creeps into her tone and, perhaps as a natural defense mechanism, she injects overt dollops of humor into descriptions of begrudging attempts at more mainstream occupations. Such efforts ring hollow during the clumsy navigation of a trip to India and eastern Europe, however, then disappear altogether as she becomes drug dependent. Still, in her steady but somewhat fitful road to recovery, her chastened soul regains its pride, thanks in no small part to the continued candor of her relationship with daughter Jessica.

Julia Dreyer Brigden's eventual marriage to the Mick from whom she takes her current surname is the end result of a sequence of events recounted in only the most general terms. In fact, An Untethered Life seems to come to something of a hurried conclusion, which may explain the lack of fact-checking (on the exact title of David Crosby's ode to a threesome "Triad") and spellchecking (in the context of her acknowledgments, it's 'complement' not 'compliment').

Still, by the time GIRL ends, with a flourish in keeping with her self-deprecating yet staunch self-image, there's every reason to think (and hope) there's a sequel to elucidate her later years. Rendered with at least as much grace and style as this implicitly cautionary tale, it might well prove transcendent as this one does at more than a few junctures.

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