The New Harry Styles Album Pays Tribute to... Oregon Poet Richard Brautigan?

Fine Line's second single might be an ode to a Tacoma-born, tall-hat-wearing, Eugene-living beat poet.

By Conner Reed December 17, 2019

Image: Harley Weir

Lots of people think the Harry Styles song "Watermelon Sugar" is about oral sex, which is neither here nor there. Frankly, it's tough to extract any coherent message from the lyrics, which see Styles' affections careening from strawberries to watermelons to stomachs. "I want your belly and that summer feeling"—what does it mean?

However, the culture is entertaining a parallel line of Styles-centered inquiry, and this one has my undivided attention. Fine Line, Styles's new, mushy, Laurel Canyon-indebted LP, is purportedly about his ex-girlfriend Camille Rowe, who shows up on on the record in a dreamy French voicemail at the end of "Cherry." One of Rowe's favorite books, per a 2017 Elle interview, is In Watermelon Sugar by Richard Brautigan. Richard Brautigan was a tall-hat-wearing, Tacoma-born beatnik who lived in Eugene for much of his life and wrote some insanely horny poems about ducks and some insanely beautiful poems about trout fishing.

Richard Brautigan in what I like to call a hat 

Published in 1968, In Watermelon Sugar covers pretty standard novel-by-a-beat-poet territory: opaque, paranoid musings about communes and shady organizations and a general sense of the center not holding. Brautigan's own life was a bit less standard—this 1985 Rolling Stone obituary  covers it well, from Brautigan's 1955 diagnosis with paranoid schizophrenia at the Oregon State hospital to his time in Montana with Rip Torn. (I am not a "millionaire British rock star" whom "Simon Cowell deemed worthy of world domination," but if I named a song after a guy who spent time in Montana with Rip Torn, I would probably bring that up in the song.)

Ever dodgy, Styles has neither confirmed nor denied the brassy tune's connection to Brautigan, but he has performed it with his chest exposed a lot of times, and we're not greedy. Watch him do just that on Jools Holland below, and think about reserving a spot in the room to see him do it in August when he comes to the Moda Center with Jenny Lewis(!!!!).


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