Billy Craddock was born July 16, 1946, and grew up in Los Gatos, the son of William and Camille Craddock. The family was well-off, with William Sr. an executive. As a teenager, Billy said he expected to die at twenty-two, but that he wanted to be a Hells Angel and a published author by the time he was twenty-one.
At nineteen he joined the outlaw Night Riders motorcycle club of San Jose for a few years. He finished writing his classic psychedelic novel three months after turning twenty-one. Be Not Content reads as if written by a mature professional.
Be Not Content appeared in a Doubleday Projections edition in 1970. In a note written for Gale Contemporary Authors, he reported, “Doubleday tentatively accepted Be Not Content in 1968. While waiting for the anticipated wild joy of actual publication I wrote a second and much longer novel (intended as a sequel and wrap-up of Be Not Content) entitled Backtrack, which followed the first book's main characters through the disillusioning reentry years immediately after the winter of 1967 and the death of hippie-hope. This grand opus was rejected after due consideration.” Craddock finished the first draft of Be Not Contentin September, 1967, and two months later he married Carole Anne Bronzich for a year and a half.
In 1972, Doubleday published Craddock’s downbeat Twilight Candelabra, a novel involving Satanism and a murder. In 1975 he married for the second time, to Teresa Lynne Thorne, a native of San Jose.
The newlyweds spent some time as the caretakers of an empty mansion above Los Gatos. Billy wrote a somewhat autobiographical California novel, The Fading Grass. For whatever reason it was deemed unpublishable. Finally, in 1976, aged thirty, Billy wrote one more novel, A Passage of Shadows, and that one also failed to sell.
At this point he abandoned his career as a novelist.
“It’s not the publishing that matters,” Billy would gamely tell Teresa. “It’s the writing.”
I got my first copy of Be Not Contentin 1972, shortly after taking a job as an assistant professor at a small college in upstate New York. I quickly began to idolize Craddock. I had my own memories of the psychedelic revolution, and when reading Be Not ContentI felt—“Yes. This is the way it was. This guy got it right.”
I wrote Craddock a fan letter. Billy wrote a friendly note back, saying he was happy to know someone was reading him “over on the other side of the island.”
The years went by. In 1986, when my wife, three kids and I moved to Los Gatos, I learned that Craddock had grown up in my new town. I had the feeling that, as writers, we’d inevitably meet without having to plan it.
More years went by. I’d lent out my original copy of Be Not Content without getting it back, and in 2003 I decided I couldn’t live without it any longer. I bought a used copy online for the exorbitant price of $140.
I had some hope of meeting Billy Craddock. But then it was too late. A fan who’d bought Craddock’s old motorcycle emailed that Billy had died over a year ago, on March 16, 2004. I went to the library to look up his obit. I pulled open a huge flat metal drawer with ranks and ranks of microfilm boxes. My hand reached in and plucked out the box with Billy’s obit.
I went to the microfilm reader, the same big clunky kind of machine as ever, and ground forward past March 16, 2004. I was looking for a big article, but it was just a little tiny thing on March 20, with a picture of Billy looking tired and sad, his eyes hidden in dark sockets, the obit written by, I think, his widow Teresa. How little recognition my hero received.
This year, I went ahead and made an agreement with Teresa Craddock that I’d republish Be Not Content myself. I feel it’s a very important book that needs to be remembered. A key point that he makes is that taking psychedelic trips was never, or at least not for very long, fun, in the usual sense of the word. There were three problematic areas: freak-outs, seeing God, and coming down.
My friend Nick Herbert of Boulder Creek, an aging hippie writer himself, puts it like this: Be Not Content is a little-appreciated masterpiece. Craddock truly captures the idealistic intensity of those days when we all felt that enlightenment, wisdom, telepathy, alien contact and/or Childhood's End was so close you could almost smell it. Where anything seemed possible and every encounter felt like it could be the door to another world.
Where did all that wildness go?
Be Not Content: A Subterranean Journeyis available in electronic editions for the Kindle and Nook for $6 from Rucker’s Transreal Books, and the new paperback edition can be purchased for $16 at Amazon.