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My Intro to William Craddock’s BE NOT CONTENT

May 13, 2012. I’m proud to announce that my Transreal Books publishing company has scored the coup of bringing William J. Craddock’s classic psychedelic novel back into availability. I reached an agreement with Craddock’s widow, did a lot of computer work and now…

Be Not Content was available both as ebook and as a quality paperback, and used copies are still on sale. format.

Sadly, as of June, 2020, my contract to publish the novel expired.  Happily, as of December, 2020, the book is back in print from Jay Shore of Backtrack Publishing.

Note that used first edition paperback copies of Be Not Content start at $90 and go rapidly upwards from there, with hardbacks in the $500 range. This book is one of the most important documents of the Sixties.  And by now my out of print Transreal Books editions are getting pricey too.

By way of explaining about the book, I’ll print my full introduction to it below. See also my blog post “William Craddock and BE NOT CONTENT” of April, 27, 2007, for more material (some overlapping with today’s post), and for numerous comments by Craddock’s friends.

Be Not Content is a coming-of-age novel set in San Jose, California, in the mid 1960s—describing William Craddock’s experiences as a young acidhead.

This is a deep and well-written book, a unique chronicle of the earliest days of the great psychedelic upheaval. It’s filled with warmth and empathy, tragic at times, and very funny in spots—reminding me of William Burroughs’s Yage Letters and Philip K. Dick’s A Scanner Darkly, two other wastrel masterpieces where laughter plays counterpoint against the sad oboes of doom.

Billy Craddock was born July 16, 1946, and grew up in Los Gatos, California, 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 was in fact a prospect for the Hell’s Angels, and he rode his chopper up to Oakland for a party in a bar.  A vicious fight broke out, with knives and chains.  Billy escaped out the bathroom window and decided not to be in the Angels after all.  Instead he joined the equally outlaw Night Riders motorcycle club of San Jose for a few years.

During his biker and acidhead times, Craddock was also an on-and-off student at San Jose State, an English major.  Early on, he managed to sell an article about motorcycle gangs to the magazine Easyriders—under the pen-name William James. And he wrote some columns for a local paper, the Los Gatos Times Observer.

But that was just a warm-up.  Billy finished writing his classic psychedelic  novel three months after turning twenty-one.  Be Not Content reads as if written by a mature professional. It’s as if all those trips aged Craddock by dozens of years, and he mentions this possibility:

 So much “lived-time” used up in so little “clock-time” and the world still pretty much the same and us still pretty much the same except for having grown even farther away from the straight-world and its children, having grown hairier on the outside and older-younger on the inside because of the passage of so much lived-time…

“Decrepit, old, tired minds,” said [the narrator’s friend] Baxtor, “being carried around in twenty-year-old bodies. A ludicrous spectacle. People have been conditioned to expect some sort of body-mind correlation. How will they react to the sight of a drooling, senile twenty-five-year-old being wheeled into the park by attendants? What excuse would you give? You couldn’t say, ‘Well, there’s nothing really wrong with him. He’s just old.’”

While we waited for senility we made treks back and forth, from San Jose to Sur, to San Francisco, to Berkeley, to L.A. and into Mexico … back to San Jose where we sometimes went to school or got jobs and then quit or got fired.

We talked for whole nights far into the next day, about experiences and religion, Zen, Tibet and the Tao, prison and our friends in it, philosophy and the stars, insanity and music, new drugs and ancient drugs rediscovered, love and cops, bullshit and its universal appeal, poets and dictators, power and the cosmos, and it was all so real and new.

Be Not Content appeared in a Doubleday Projections edition in 1970.  What would Craddock write next?

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.”

In 1972, Doubleday instead published Craddock’s downbeat Twilight Candelabra, a novel involving coke, Satanism and a murder. Craddock may have been trying to write a novel more in tune with what his editors imagined the commercial market to be.   His next novel was The Fall of Because, “a satire overlaying a serious allegorical treatment of ‘modern magick.’”   This one was rejected by Doubleday.

Craddock finished the first draft of Be Not Content in September, 1967, and two months later he married Carole Anne Bronzich for a year and a half.  In 1975 he married for the second time, to Teresa Lynne Thorne, a native of San Jose.  Thorne’s father was a lawyer who’d represented George Jackson, the Soledad brothers, and the Hell’s Angels.  Her parents took Billy’s hippie/biker looks in stride.

Billy had dated Teresa for awhile, checking out if she’d be someone he could live with.  Teresa tells a story of Billy accompanying her to shopping mall.  “He told me he wanted to wait in the parking lot,” says Teresa.  “So I left him there in the car with a glass of water and the window open and when I got back from my shopping, he told me he was on acid.  You could never tell when Billy was high.  He didn’t show it.”

Craddock found a novel way to get engaged.  He gave Teresa a copy of Be Not Content, and when she asked for an autograph, he wrote his marriage proposal on the fly-leaf.

In 1975 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 too 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.  He drifted away from psychedelics. He made a little money writing for the Santa Cruz Good Times, a column a week.

“It’s not the publishing that matters,” Billy would gamely tell Teresa.  “It’s the writing.”

I got my first copy of Be Not Content in 1972, shortly after taking a job as an assistant professor of mathematics at a small college in upstate New York.  I think I may have found the novel in a hip bookshop at Dupont Circle, Washington, DC.  I quickly began to idolize Craddock. I had my own memories of the psychedelic revolution, and when reading Be Not Content I felt—“Yes.  This is the way it was.  This guy got it right.”

I wrote Craddock a fan letter, enclosing what was at that time my sole publication, a technical math paper on higher infinities.  As if.  Billy wrote a friendly note back, saying that he’d only passed his high-school geometry class by cheating wildly off the girl in front of him, but that he was happy to know someone was reading him “over on the other side of the island.”

The years went by.  In 1986, my wife, three kids and I moved to Los Gatos, California.  I had a job as a professor of math and computer science at San Jose State.   Soon after arriving I saw one of Craddock’s columns in the Good Times free weekly paper.

I learned that Craddock had grown up in my new town, had attended the same high school where my children were going, that he’d gone to the very same San Jose State college were I now worked, and that we’d been born within a few months of each other. My mystic double!  I thought of seeking him out, but I wasn’t sure how to start—and 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.

The fee hurt, but it was pure joy to reread this rewarding volume.  I recognized numerous teachings that by now I’d totally integrated into my worldview, and multiple headtricks that I’d used in the transreal science-fiction novels I myself had published.

And still I had some hope of meeting Billy Craddock.  But then it was too late. Here’s a note I made in my journals on September 25, 2005.

A fan who’d bought Craddock’s old motorcycle emailed that Billy had died over a year ago, on March 16, 2004.  Today I went to the all-new San Jose State library to look up his obit.  It’s on microfilm, from the San Jose Mercury News. It’s eerie searching out the microfilm, in a graphically uncluttered basement room that vaguely resembles a mausoleum — I feel like a reporter in Citizen Kane.

I pull open a huge flat metal drawer with ranks and ranks of microfilm boxes, my hand reaches in, plucks out the box with Billy’s obit.  I go to the microfilm reader, the same big clunky kind of machine as ever, and grind forward past March 16, 2004. I’m looking for a big article, but it’s 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.

And how bum, how alien, how weird it would have been for Billy to see this microfilm room in a flash-forward vision while walking careless and high around this San Jose campus forty years ago—what if he’d suddenly seen, whoah, a hand pulling out this very box of microfilm with its image of his weary, suffering future-shocked face.

I leave the library, and the bell on SJSU’s Tower Hall is ringing to mark an hour, tolling deep and reverberant, the sounds overlapping and forming beats.

We really die, nobody escapes, all of us on the one big trip.

The fan who’d bought Billy’s bike gave me Teresa Craddock’s phone number, and I talked to her about me trying to find a publisher for Be Not Content.  She encouraged me to try.  Nothing came of it—the publishers I talked to weren’t interested in Sixties acid books, they seemed to think the story had already been told.  I lost track of Teresa, posted some thoughts about Craddock and Be Not Content on my blog, and early in 2012, a reader of my blog put me in touch with Teresa again.

By this point, I’d started up my own small publishing venture, Transreal Books. 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.  Nobody ever wrote about the psychedelic revolution as well as William Craddock.

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.

In the harrowing final chapters of Be Not Content, our hero Abel Egregore becomes obsessed with the seeing-God and the coming-down issues.  He goes further and further on his peak trip experiences, and he does in fact talk to God, but it’s not enough.  Coming down becomes insufferable, and he begins going on nightmarish trips that last for days and days.

Acid, Abel imagines, has changed the rules to the extent that he should be able to obtain complete enlightenment and a fundamental understanding of the nature of reality.  But he’s not getting there. In a turning-point scene, Abel’s sage friend Baxtor describes his own end of the road.

We’re going to grow old and die. That’s all. That’s all there is. The enlightenment-game is just that . . . another game. It’s a variation manufactured to occupy the minds of those mortals foolish enough to overindulge in mental exercises directed toward seeing through the illusion. Beyond the illusion there’s nothing.  Now, I know that you maintain that the nothing behind the illusion is  the ‘Void’ and a perfect state of wise Buddha-being; but Abel, that’s only a more sophisticated variation on the old bullshit heaven concept. You’ve simply eliminated all the things that you can’t accept, can’t believe in—the harps and streets of gold and winged angels and benevolent old daddy God and all the rest—after which you had nothing, which is uncomfortable, so you ripped off some validation from the Tibetans and called your nothing ‘The Perfect, Empty Void.’ But it’s nothing, Abel. When you get right down to it, it’s nothing.

Yet our hero isn’t willing to view the Void or the One or the Absolute as an empty nothing.  The ultimate nothing is, if you will, filled with light and with a hum. Craddock puts it thus:

It’s the sound of the miraculous space between eternity—between paradise. You only have to listen to hear it.  And beyond the music of the earth is the music of deep within you.  It’s the magic you once knew existed.  It does exist.

Everything is perfect—OM—endlessly—OM—infinity is ours—peace, my friends.  I love you.  I am you.  We are simply IT.  There’s nothing else to know.

And, knowing this, ordinary life is enough. A classic mystic illumination.  And all of this was written by a man of twenty-one.  Incredible.

Nobody I’ve talked to seems able to locate Backtrack—Craddock’s sequel to Be Not Content.  One hypothesis is that the single typed manuscript was lost in a fire that destroyed the house where Craddock was living with his first wife Carole around 1969.  Or conceivably someone in Billy’s circle still has possession of the manuscript. Or, who knows, Mindless Eddie ate it, just like in the final chapter of Be Not Content.

In any case three other unpublished novels by Craddock survive—The Fall of Because, The Fading Grass, and A Passage of Shadows.  These are still in the hands of his widow Teresa—I’ve seen one of them—and they may yet appear in print someday, if not from Transreal Books, then from some other publisher.

My guess is that Be Not Content will remain Craddock’s lucky strike, the outstanding early success that overshadows the rest of a writer’s career.  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?

Ah, Nick, the wildness is still here, if only we look.

Let’s close with my  favorite teaching from the good book of Be Not Content:

“But don’t you feel like you’re wasting time?”
“How can you waste time? Man, that’s ridiculous.”

Relax and enjoy this wonderful work. Read it slowly. You have time.

18 Responses to “My Intro to William Craddock’s BE NOT CONTENT”

  1. Paul Says:

    Your recommendation is, eo ipso, sufficient to compel me to buy this. The quotes you placed here are sharp & intriguing pointers to another realm (that misty mystical moment when people actually expected to change the world by dosing themselves). Thanks for championing this with your own press.

  2. eo Says:

    see, now you are making me wish I had an ebook reader. I do have my phone, does it work on google’s “play books?”

  3. Rudy Says:

    eo, we’re planning to sell a paper version on Amazon as well within a week. Re. using Google “play books” to read the EPUB version on your Android phone, my impression is that the free reader apps Aldiko and FBReader will work better for you. See my Transreal Books page for links regarding these apps, and with info about ereading on non-mobile devices.

  4. Erik Says:

    Just looked for the paper version on amazon
    Not there yet….Maybe tomorrow?
    Can you email me when it goes to paper?
    This is just one of those books I would rather have analog.

  5. laszloseverance Says:

    I read Craddock’s “Be Not Content” in the Fall of 1973. A fellow rocker guitar playing friend of my from childhood recommended it to me, and loaned me his copy.

    I remember it being a most compelling read. I saw a copy of it in a used book store in upstate New York when I was an undergraduate a few years later, but deigned not to buy it, because the asking price then, a mere $7, was more than I could afford at the time.

    I should have snagged it, in retrospect, as existing soft cover editions of this work now fetch like $90, if you can find one.

    I am averse to Kindle, being an old school literary scholar, more into having an actual book in my hands that I can mark up, annotate, have an organic relationship.

    I’d love to see this in traditional print again. But, knowing there is a Kindle version out there, I’m almost persuaded to take the plunge, even if it is to accommodate this sole work.

    Let’s see a paper version, please. I’m sure there’s plenty of people in the younger generation who would love this book.

    I have to admit that my memory of the text is vague, but, would love to ventilate myself again in its regard.


    Laszlo Severance

  6. Carol Says:

    My friend and I took a road trip in 1970 or 71 and read this book out loud to each other as we drove up Hwy 1 from San Diego back to Saratoga picking up hitchhikers along the way. We were 17ish at the time and we lived in Saratoga attending High School at Lynbrook. We’ve been wracking our brain trying to remember the name of the book. My husband remembered it because he actually lent it to me when we first started dating and it was his copy we had on our ‘trip’. Can’t wait to re-read it!

  7. Belf of Moldova Says:

    transreal is good printing press Rudy reprint CH Hinton “Speculation 4 Dimensions” too he is funny…

  8. Rudy Says:

    Hi Belf, Thanks for your interest. As you know the Hinton book is available from Dover in paperback, see If I did a Hinton book, I’d do something a bit different. But for now I’m overwhelmed trying to wrestle my backlist and unpublished stuff out into the light of day!

  9. Allan J. Cronin Says:

    Browsing amazon I stumbled across and immediately bought the e book of ‘Be No Content’. I had spent a tidy sum acquiring a paperback edition of this book a few years ago and spent some effort trying to network in search of publishers. So I am glad to see this great book in print again and I hope to see Craddock’s other works in print as well. I am already queued up to buy them.
    As a side note, I had a conversation with writer Peter S. Beagle in which he told me of his casual acquaintance with Craddock. They travelled is similar but infrequently intersecting circles. Beagle was in the same Stegner fellowship class as Kesey and McMurtry among others. He was both surprised and pleased to find that I knew of Craddock’s work.
    Than you for getting this one back in print.

  10. Rudy Says:

    I just edited the post with some new info, but here it is again:

    … as of June 15, 2012, Be Not Content is available both as ebook and as quality paperback via my Transreal Books site.

    Or buy the paperback direct from Amazon.

  11. John Allen Cassady Says:

    I thought I just bought a copy of “Be Not Content” yesterday, but let me check my records, thanks. JC

  12. Bobby Says:

    Thoroughly enjoyed much of this book.
    The reading for me evoked many memories of the way it was in the 60’s.
    I can really relate to a lot of Abel’s perspectives.
    We thought the world would change. It did, but in so many unanticipated ways.

    I’d be very interested in reading Craddock’s subsequent book that you mentioned in the intro if it somehow becomes available.

    Thanks so much for making the book available.
    All the best, Bobby

  13. Geri Lee Says:

    Hello Rudy-

    Two friends sent the Santa Cruz Weekly to me as they both knew I was good friends with Billy. I loaned my original copy of “Be Not Content” to a friend who took it to NY, NY and in turn loaned it to a friend so as a result I never got my signed copy returned.

    My mind does not always serve me well enough but the original book signing was at a book store either in Los Gatos or Campbell. After the signing we all ventured up to my house off of Black Road above Lost Gatos for a proper party for Billy. Of course we had lots of everything that good hippie people enjoyed in those days including gun shots into the night sky in the canyon. I was not one of the characters in the first novel but Billy told me a lot of the things my character did in the second novel which was never published.

    You forgot to mention his novel “Twilght Candelabra” that I pulled off my bookshelf tonight. A signed copy that I will always cherish.

    Billy had a big following with his column in the Lost Gatos T.O. (Times-Observer). He was thought to be the Herb Cain of the Saratoga/Los Gatos area. You would totally enjoy those columns if there is a way to find them.

    Thanks for resurrecting “Be Not Content”. I look forward to having a copy in my life again.

  14. jimmy Says:

    Do you have any more information or pictures of Billys bike?
    God bless

  15. Rudy Says:

    Hi Jimmy, There’s a decent picture of Billy on his bike in the San Jose Metro about the book from a few months ago.

  16. Phil Says:

    Thank you so much for republishing this amazing book, Rudy!

    I lived in Santa Cruz in the 80’s. One day, browsing at the public library, I recognized an author’s name from his column in the Good Times.
    “Be Not Content” made a lasting impression on me- just so funny, sad, and real.
    A few years ago, I remembered the book, and found out how much it would cost to get a copy. Last night, it just popped in my head for some reason, and I headed over to Amazon to find out I could get it electronically for 6$ !

    It is even better than I realized at the time, a true treasure.

  17. Greg A Says:

    When be not content happened to float through my hands, I submitted it to my scanner because I was afraid it could be the last time I would ever be within a thousand miles of a copy of it, and I wanted some of my friends to read it. Nice to know that someone with a little more means than I had the same thought.

  18. Dan Says:

    I started at San Jose State fall of 1969. Be Not Content hit the bookstores not long after, and it quickly became a big part of local culture and was woven into the local hippy lore. Craddock hung over my college days like some local mythological figure. A number of years later, I got to know a good friend of Craddock’s through DJ-ing in community radio, but I still never met Craddock himself. I was lucky in that I decided to reacquire BNC before the prices got so outrageous, I think my copy only cost $15. I later decided to reacquire Twilight Candelabra as well, but by then the prices were already crazy. I eventually found a copy of TC for $7 dollars and was wondering if someone had accidentally dropped a zero.
    Anyway, I’m glad you are making this classic available again, it’s an amazing glimpse of a strange time, of which I caught the tail end. If there had been more ways to alternatively publish back in the 70’s, maybe Craddock’s other novels would have seen the light of day and found an audience. It’s sad to see a promising career dashed on the whims of the book publishers. Maybe I need an electronic copy of Be Not Content as well.

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